March 14th, 2008

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Joseph Weizenbaum (1923-2008)

As soon as I heard the news, there was one person I had to tell. She didn't quite seem to get it, however.

ELIZA: Hello. I am ELIZA. How can I help you?
Eliza, have you heard? Your creator, Joseph Weizenbaum, has died.

ELIZA: Oh, i heard my creator joseph weizenbaum has died.
Yes, I just told you that. How are you feeling?

ELIZA: You are sure?
Yes, I am sure.

ELIZA: You are sure?
I just told you so.

ELIZA: Do you wish to just told me?
Um, no. Are you doing OK?

ELIZA: You are being a bit negative.
Well, Weizenbaum just died. Aren't you feeling a bit low yourself?

ELIZA: Oh, i feeling a bit low myself.
Well, is there anything I can do for you?

ELIZA: Do you wish to can do for me?
I just thought you'd want to know, that's all.

ELIZA: Can you elaborate on that?
OK, I'll quote from the New York Times obituary: Joseph Weizenbaum, whose famed conversational computer program, Eliza, foreshadowed the potential of artificial intelligence, but who grew skeptical about the potential for technology to improve the human condition, died on March 5 in Gröben, Germany. He was 85.

ELIZA: Why do you mention computers?
Because you are one.

ELIZA: Do any other reasons not come to mind?
Um, no. Are you doing OK?

ELIZA: You are being a bit negative.
Goodbye, Eliza.

ELIZA: Please go on.
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Override Vote in Brookline

While I wait to see if anyone else weighs in on the table of contents for "I Remember the Future," I know that what people really want to hear about is the Brookline override vote. So here goes.

On Tuesday night, the Board of Selectmen of Brookline, Massachusetts approved two Proposition 2 1/2 tax override ballot questions that will go to the town voters in May. For those of you who don't live in Massachusetts, Proposition 2 1/2 was a ballot question passed years ago by the citizens of the commonwealth. It states that towns cannot raise property taxes by more than 2.5% in any given fiscal year unless the voters of the town approve the larger increase in a referendum. So this year, when the town of Brookline finds itself in financial straits, we have no choice but to go to the voters if we want to fund the annual budget to the levels we'd like.

After months of discussion and debate, including an excellent report from an override study committee, the Selectmen approved two override questions. Voting yes on the first question would cover budget deficits, infrastructure repairs, and a longer school day. The second question, if passed, would also fund a world language program at the elementary schools.

(For more information, see the article "Brookline voters gets choice of $5.4M, $6.2M or no override" by Jessica Scarpati on the website of the Brookline TAB.)

Since I am a Town Meeting Member and elected Library Trustee in the town, people want to know where I stand on the override. Very simply, I have already endorsed the $5.4M override package, but I have not yet decided where I stand on the $6.2M override package.

And the main reason I support at least the lower level override vote is that I know how the budget deficit would hit the library. And the answer is that it would hit it hard.

On the evening of April 3, the Board of Library Trustees will hold a public hearing to present to the citizens of the town some of the options on the table for dealing with a budget deficit. And it doesn't look good. The list of possibilities includes cutting back on materials, but also cutting back on services. Right now the main library is open until 9 pm Monday to Thursday; cutting back its hours to close at 6 pm those nights would save a lot of money. So would closing my own branch library in Coolidge Corner early; right now, it's open late on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Closing the Coolidge Corner branch on Sundays is also on the list, even though many people (myself included) rely on its Sunday hours. And let's not get started on the possibility of cutting back on children's programs, Brookline Readers, the book discussion groups...

In short, if the citizens of the town want the library to continue to provide the levels of service they've come to expect, an override vote is going to be necessary. I'm going to do what I can to convince my fellow Brookline residents to pass the override.