Andrew Card Protest

Today I attended a peaceful rally on the UMass campus protesting the honorary degree for Andrew Card. There were 200-300 people -- mostly students -- who beat on plastic water bottles, shook rattles, and chanted. I particularly liked the sign that said, succinctly, "DIS CARD". Reportedly, there was a huge police presence lurking inside Whitmore with vans and paddywagons ready to swoop in if the protest became unruly. There was a brief moment when the crowd looked like it might try to enter Whitmore, but the organizers redirected the crowd off toward another building, telling them that they had already succeeded in shutting down the administators who had basically all left the building. They marched off toward Goodell.

The Hampshire Gazette this morning had an article with extensive quotes from Andrew Card saying that protesters "might want to do some homework." He continued:

'In my experience, protesters have taken quotes in newspapers out of context and the things they say don't always reflect the reality of the burden of the decisions we have to make,' Card said.

For example, when Bush asked him to rustle up some hamburgers or needed Card as a bicycling companion, Card said that he realized his wife, children, and grandkids suffer as a result of his service to the president. "[T]hat is a burden I carry," he solemnly told The Washington Post.

There may be some individual exaggerations, but on whole, I think the picture of Andrew Card that's presented by the protesters is correct. Andrew Card coordinated the White House Iraq Group that was charged with "selling the war" to the American people. Andrew Card was also at the center of weakening environmental protections (he issued the memo that prevented lower mercury standards from being put into place, for example) and setting up advisory committees with industry insiders and people with political connections, rather than scientific credentials. Hundreds of thousands have already died in the Iraq war as a direct result of the White House policies that Andrew Card advanced, but millions will probably die as a result of the White House blocking any meaningful response to global warming.

Not everyone at the protest was against Andrew Card. There were a few members of the Young Republicans there who protested the protest. One fellow would shout periodically that "Andrew Card kept you safe!" I have a hard time understanding why anyone would think that we're more safe now than we were before the Bush presidency.

Bicycle helmets

Mi biciklas ĉe GettysburgRecently, boingboing linked to this study about bike helmets. I first started using a bike helmet in the 1980's, when almost no-one wore them. I got one, more as a novelty than anything else, but quickly found that motorists gave me a lot more respect when I wore one. Now that most cyclists wear them, its not surprising that the effect is reversed.

This morning, I saw a link to the Bicycle Helmet Research Foundation that collects scientific study of bike helmets. Their conclusions appear to be that helmets might help some, but don't help much and do discourage people from riding as much. I've never been in an accident where a helmet would have made a difference -- I haven't been in a serious bike accident in years. Still -- I think I'll keep wearing my helmet and just try to compensate for its effect on preventing me from riding.

The Swift Way

Arthur kaj Alice SwiftToday we all rode to the bike path connector to attend a dedication ceremony honoring Arthur Swift, who was one of the key organizers who made the connector happen. Arthur used to ride his bicycle most days from Orchard Valley to UMass where he was a professor in the Physics Department. He's been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease and requires a lot of assistance now.

The bike trail is much more accessible the campus now than it was before the connector was built. It's been particularly useful to make the trail more accessible for children. Without the connector, it's difficult to ride to the trail from where I live without having to cross several busy roads. The connector makes these crossings much safer.

The ceremony was organized by Rob Kusner, a math professor, former colleague of Arthur's, and a controversial member of the Select Board. Rob is an avid cyclist when he's not embroiled in t-shirt incidents or leaving threatening voicemail. He reflected on various conversations he had with Arthur over the years and invited various other folks to speak briefly.

I knew many of the people there. Our state and federal elected governmental officials were there: Ellen Story, Stan Rosenberg, and John Olver. They didn't ride bikes to the ceremony, though.

MTA Day Two

We passed an agreeable night in Boston and started the business this morning at 8am. For the first hour and a half, the Higher Ed caucus met to discuss a variety of new initiatives and challenges. I wish we could get the Higher Ed caucus to meet more often -- Every time the group meets, I perceive that we have many of the same issues across higher ed that we could address better if we shared information more effectively.

The MTA Teacher of the Year, Jessie Auger gave an effective speech. She had spent 8 months in San Jose Las Flores in El Salvador and spoke movingly of the students growing up with the aftereffectis of the terrible war there. A delegation from El Salvador attended her speech and offered brief remarks afterwards. The speaker, among other things, condemned "neoliberalism". I wonder how many of the audience could give a concise definition of neoliberalism.

The rest of the meeting is primarily devoted to passing the budget. You learn a lot about an organization by looking where the money goes.

MTA Iraq War Resolution Passed

The first year I came to the MTA annual meeting, there was a huge controversy when an MTA member, Andy Sapp who was currently serving in the armed forces in Iraq, sent a letter asking the annual meeting to consider a resolution condemning the war in Iraq and requesting the immediate withdrawl of troops. The body was divided and a series of efforts were made to prevent the motion from being heard at all and, in the end, it wasn't considered. A less controversial motion was proposed and even that was defeated.

Last year, Andy Sapp had returned from Iraq and presented the motion again. Again, efforts were made to squelch consideration of the motion. The motion was postponed until the next day, but eventually came up for a vote and was defeated.

This year, a lot has changed. The motion came up and there was not a single comment made against it. A handful of people did vote against it, but it passed overwhelmingly.

[...] Be it resolved that the MTA opposes the United States' continued occupation of Iraq and diversion of federal funds from public education that it causes,

That the MTA calls for an immediate decision to expedite the safe withdrawal of US forces from Iraq [...]

It's about time.


I'm attending the annual meeting of the Mass Teachers Association at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston today and tomorrow. This is the third time I've come. I was supposed to ride with someone else, but they bailed at the last moment, so I ended up driving myself. Normally, I park at Alewife and take the T in -- I decided this time, since I was staying at the Sheraton, to just drive to the Sheraton to see what would happen. I left the car with the valet parking, left my bag with the conciereige, and walked about 100 feet and into the Hynes. I don't know what will happen when I need to check out of my room at noon, but have to attend meetings until 4pm.

The Western Mass Caucus and the Peace and Justice Caucus are organizing to pass a series of motions. Every year I've come, they've been trying to pass a resolution condemning the war in Iraq and a motion to force the MTA to use the "special campaign for public relations and organizing" for organizing. It will be interesting to see if we can pass those this year: support has grown for both each year.

Andrew Card

The University of Massachusetts is currently scheduled to confer an honorary degree to Andrew Card, Jr at the graduate student commencement ceremony in a couple of weeks. This is the Andrew Card who served as white house chief of staff for 6 years, who led the White House Iraq Group, who directed the reclassification of government documents, and who stacked government advisory scientific committees with incompetent, but pro-Bush, appointees. The students of the University are leading efforts to have the offer of the degree withdrawn. Unfortunately, it appears that the University's trustees are unlikely to reconsider the offer.

The process by which degree candidates are selected is shrouded in mystery. Reportedly, it was a faculty member who originally suggested Andrew Card as a candidate. The list can be amended by the Amherst Chancellor, the UMass President, and the Board of Trustees, but there is no review offered to the students or faculty at large. Some people might well decline to be considered if there would be a public review or vote up or down on their candidacy. At the same time, its clear that the process as it exists is hideously flawed to have produced such a controversial candidate.

Today, I presented a motion at the Faculty Senate condemning the honorary degree for Andrew Card. The motion was originally drafted by Tobias Baskin, who couldn't attend today to present his own motion. Unfortunately, there was not a sufficient number of faculty senators available today to consider the motion. Hopefully, it will be considered again at the next faculty senate meeting.

Andrew Card looks like a nice guy -- As John Stewart said, "You're the nicest man I ever didn't want to like". But I can't overlook the damage this white house has done to the role of science -- or any genuine inquiry -- in government policy. We're going to pay for the stubborn refusal of the white house to confront a whole range of scientific issues, from global warming to stem cells, for at least a generation. Andy Card helped make that happen. He does not represent the high ethical standards that I believe my University should represent.

Bosnian Mess

I skipped lunch when I left Montreal -- I thought I'd feel more alert for trying to navigate to downtown Montreal and then find my way back to the expressway home on an empty stomach. I watched for places along the way, but eventually decided to stop in Burlington, Vermont for dinner. I had planned to eat a churrascaria restaurant I had seen on my way through before, but which was too busy on Thursday night. I thought they wouldn't be too busy at 4pm on Sunday and I could grab a meal. Unfortunately they were closed. The Mexican place was closed too. In fact, every restaurant downtown seemed closed until at least 5pm. I spotted a "Euro Gourmet Market & Cafè" that was open and then noticed they had a menu with food. There was an item on the menu called "Bosnian Mess" -- no real description except to say it had some kind of beef and that you could get it spicy -- that I simply had to try.

It was kind of a scary place inside: it looked like a messy house, with old sofas and boxes stacked on the floor. The counters were covered with half-full and empty bottles. There was a data projector dangling from the ceiling from what appeared to be shoe-laces. It was projecting a soccer game (Madrid Real vs Sevilla) on a bedsheet or piece of paper tacked up on the wall. The proprietor was nonchalant: "You want something?"

I ordered the Bosnian Mess -- spicy -- and was directed to sit down. The woman cleaned the table for me, but didn't offer to bring me anything to drink. Another nearby table was left unbussed. Eventually some little girls came running out of a back room with a grandmother trailing behind. One of the girls began eating from the unbussed table (which I assumed meant it had been her plate -- not that she routinely started eating whatever was left behind).

When the plate of food came, the fellow set it on the table and tossed down a couple of paper napkins. But no silverware -- and still nothing to drink. I asked for a glass of water, which he eventually brought.

The Bosnian Mess actually turned out to be a sort-of panini with big green leaves, red oily sauce, and slices of some kind of dark red sausage. It was not at all what I had imagined from the meager description. It was actually a lot like two pieces of greek pizza stuck together and fried on both sides. It wasn't exceptionally good, but was perfectly tasty. And, as I'm still OK today, I appear to have escaped without getting food poisoning or anything. I got back on the road well before 5pm, but without my churrascaria.

Home again

I got home last night in good after after Libre Graphics. I'm pleased I went to the conference -- I learned a lot about the software and got some good leads on where to start improving my knowledge on how to help people create good posters. I think I really need to take a course on design, but I'll probably start with this book.

I was particularly excited by how far Free Software has come: Free Software is ready for prime time. I became converted to the rightness of the free-software cause when I was in graduate school and I had used Supercard to do my doctoral project. When the company that owned Supercard went belly up, it looked for a while like all of that work would be unusable and unsupportable. After that experience, I have tried very carefully to avoid building anything that depends on any proprietary software.

I do still use some proprietary software (principally, the MacOS) but last year I set up a laptop with Ubuntu and I was impressed. The previous time I ran linux on a laptop (on my tibook) it wasn't really ready: I had to hack textfiles everytime I wanted to switch between the wireless or ethernet interfaces. And don't even get me started on trying to get multiple video interfaces configured correctly. Ubuntu looked better when I tried it last year. I was impressed this weekend that even the video issues seem now to be relatively straightforward now in the distributions that people were using.

I'm planning to begin working seriously to persuade people (the department and students) to start moving away from proprietary software. I've been doing this in small ways for years, but I want to get creative with how else I can convince people. I've been thinking that the slogan "Free Software Liberates You" might be a start.

Vizito kun Normando

Mi vespermanĝis kun Normando kaj Zdravka en Montrealo hodiaŭ vespere. Mi veturis aŭte kaj, per la direktoj de Google Maps, mi trovis la ĝustan vojon facile.

Ili havas du gastojn en la domo nun kiuj ne tamen parolas Esperanton. Ni, do, plejparte parolis la anglan. Tre stranga estis paroli al Normando angle! Mia cerbo ne volis fari tion.

Zdravka preparis belan manĝon: salmon kun supo, salato, rizo, kaj banana kuko por deserto. Ĉio estis perfekta.

Poste, venis Boriso kaj ni parolis dum unudu horoj pri la kunfandotaj 2008 LK kaj TAKE. Morgaŭ mi vizitos la lokon kie ili proponas ke ili okazu kaj mi faros fotojn.


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