Monday, December 31, 2007


The Chinese consider 8 a lucky number. I hope they're right.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

My Christmas present (s)

So yeah, I’m supposed to ooze that sappy sympathetic “There but for the grace of God…” routine, but to Hell with that! These clueless amateurs should NEVER have initially opened.

Simply put, this side of the River--that would be the Connecticut-- dividing us, The People’s Republic of Amherst, from our Sister City Northampton (with Hadley stuck in the middle) can support two decent sized Health Clubs; and the other side of the Coolidge Bridge can also support two. That’s all folks. We’re not exactly Boston, The Big Apple or LA.

Thus when you have six or seven facilities on this side of the river all scavenging for half the pie, something has to give--as in DIE! A duo did this week; a duo more to go. And then, gloriously, homeostasis returns to the Happy Valley Fitness Universe.

Gold’s Gym and Planet Fitness (that has not even opened yet) are next on the Devil's shortlist.

Ultimate Fitness opened almost ten years ago targeting the same student demographic Flex Gym on University Drive lived and died by a year or two earlier.

James “Bruiser” Flint had inherited the Umass Basketball Head Coach position after Coach Cal left the building (Mullins Center), and he Pollyannaishly decided to open a Health Club while simultaneously trying to coach a nationally ranked (at times #1) basketball team. He failed, miserably, at both.

Umass basketball slid into the toilet, where they remain today, and Umass quietly benched Coach Flint (they, like the town of Amherst, hate it when a minority hire fails.) He would return once annually for the past few years to tour his albatross business (no reason really, since they have not changed a single thing) and that was the extent of his long-distance involvement.

Curious that they would surrender now. Unlike most Valley businesses January is, mainly due to New Year’s Resolutions, the peak month for the Health Club industry.

Probably a confluence of concerns: the recent ownership change at Hampshire Fitness in Amherst, the pernicious predatory pricing from Planet Fitness in Hadley and the daunting prospect of a shiny new $50 million Recreation Center at Umass (guaranteed to absorb the vast majority of students.)

Curves was never a concern, as they only target women, thus ignoring half the market. A few years ago Curves was the #1 franchise in America with thousands of units springing up like summer weeds. Many have now wilted and died.

Aerobic circuit training is fine (we have just added a one-hour Friday class), but to limit your entire business model to a 30-minute circuit routine performed two or three times per week guarantees boredom, the #1 cause of dropout.

An exercise science study showed if women actually followed Curves recommendations (three workouts per week) they burned under 300 calories total, or one-twelfth of a pound.

American College of Sports Medicine recommendations, however, suggest moderately intense cardio 30 minutes a day, five days a week. So even if the entire Curves chain vanishes nationwide it would have zero impact on the average health of American women.

And in the Happy Valley, consumers (men and women) who patronized a dead club mostly migrate to another--thus ensuring the financial health of those hardy Health Clubs that remain.

Like the Marine Corps motto: The few. The proud!

Not sure why Dead Men Walking still do this (put up a sign suggesting they will return). Used to be local owners wanted a few days to get out of town so members who just paid for a long-term membership can't catch them, but since Flint left Amherst a long, long time ago...

Hey, at least Curves had a sense of humor with their obituary:

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Un-American assassination

Kennedy observed, not two weeks before his head was ripped apart, that if an assassin really were willing to sacrifice their life to accomplish murder then the Secret Service would likely someday fail him.

But Oswald (and that guy on the grassy knoll) had no intention of giving up their life to accomplish murder most foul. Neither did John Wilkes Booth who fled Forbes Theater and made a beeline for the South. Sirhan Sirhan could easily have saved a bullet for himself and Dr. King’s assassin died from cancer after years of rotting in jail.

Only outside America do we have idiots willing to slink into a crowd and detonate themselves and everyone in the vicinity! At least the Japanese Kamikaze’s restricted their suicide strikes to military targets.

Note to terrorists: When you start murdering women or children, you lose the hearts and minds of people EVERYWHERE.

Friday, December 28, 2007

And so this was Christmas

Descending toward Bradley International airport after almost 19 hours in the air I was anxious to land…but not that anxious! Listening in on the planes communication channel plus the dramatic increase in turbulence confirmed the Nor'easter had beaten us. The air traffic controller calmly reported wind gusts of 60 mph and snow falling at rate of 10” per hour.

A brief pause…and I thought about knocking on the cockpit door and telling the pilot I had only been a dad for 72 hours, and I could use a lot more time. The pilot confirmed he was redirecting to Dulles Airport.

My sis worked for Independence Air a small, low cost airline based at Dulles (since gone bankrupt) and her spacious home was only five minutes from the airport. We spent our first Christmas as a family there in 2002 and have gone back every Christmas since.

This year we drove, as three plane tickets would have set us back $900, leaving Amherst on Christmas Eve and stopping first in New Jersey to stay overnight with Donna’s brother. His house is almost exactly the halfway point to Washington, so it broke up the travel into two manageable legs.

The Air and Space Museum located at Dulles Airport, like many attractions in DC is government owned and operated, meaning We The People are shareholders and as a result there’s no admission charge.

The modern building is really just a giant hanger with one monstrous door that opens to the outside so airplanes could enter fully assembled. My sis said that the entire airport practically came to a standstill a few years back when the last remaining Concord flew in and took up permanent residence.

Gazing on the Enola Gay, a B-29 that delivered the first atomic bomb, it’s easy to imagine why we won the war. And the Space Shuttle Enterprise demonstrates our industrial, technological edge continues fifty years later.

We left DC for home on Thursday stopping in Manhattan to break up the drive. Dinner at an Italian Restaurant in the heart of Little Italy.
then a dessert from a bakery in nearby Chinatown. Donna has been taking Chinese lessons for a while now and managed to understand when the two women who waited on her called Kira “beautiful”.

We zig zagged around Times Square taking in the light show but police were everywhere keeping traffic moving and blocking off Rockefeller Center to autos.
Now the tallest manmade object in the Big Apple, the Empire State Building stands like a proud beacon...

Left the City at 7:00 pm and pulled into Amherst at 9:30 pm.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Coal in their stocking too.

So the crusty Gazette, not know for showing bravado, waited till today to take on the Town Manager’s terrible Christmas tree tax debacle, knowing perhaps passions would subside after Christmas.

While acknowledging his timing was terrible the Gazette still lauded the idea of a public policy for the use of Kendrick Park. Considering the Gazette published a front page banner headline story about an Umass professor calling 9/11 an inside job on the morning of that awful anniversary they should know about lousy timing.

Of course there should be a public policy—with equal access for all—to our parks and town common. That could have been easily crafted without the idiotic $1 dollar per tree tax on the Christmas spirit.

Let’s hope the Town Manager discovers some common sense in the New Year (and the Gazette develops some chutzpah).

Monday, December 24, 2007

And then there were none...

While the Boy Scouts Christmas trees may have sold out a day or two early from all the publicity, in the end nobody wins. All the extra money kindly donated will maybe make up for the loss of 100 trees not harvested and sold due to last week's storm.

And the Town Manager has squandered credibility and political capital the way President Bush sacrificed 9/11 world sympathy by declaring war on Saddam Hussein.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

There are two East Streets

North East Street looking East:
South East Street looking West:

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Death’s Juxtaposition

This weeks Bulletin obit section could give the wrong impression of the political leanings of the People’s Republic of Amherst. Nathaniel Reed and Fred Steinback, both former Amherst Select men and, amazingly, both conservative, passed away recently with their final news wrap up landing one over the other on that depressing page.

I never met Reed, a popular Dean at Amherst College (yeah, who would have thought the bastion of LIBERAL arts would hire a conservative) he was a tad before my time (the early 1970’s) but I heard about him from old-timers. We shared the same Sisyphean task of running for the state legislature (he in 1972 and me twenty years later) in a district where conservatives were indeed an “endangered species.” And it has only gotten worse.

Fred Steinbeck may not have been a registered Republican but he was a WW11 vet who made a living with his hands and the sweat from his brow. He served on the Board for two terms circa 1980.

My first public speech ever was before our illustrious Select board in 1983 requesting they reign in the Recreation Department from using my tax dollars to fund competing lower priced but lower quality programs for my karate school, Hampshire Gymnastics and Amherst Ballet Center.

I was about halfway into my presentation and just starting to get on a roll when Steinbeck stopped me and asked, “Was your Dad the plumber?” “Yes sir,” I responded, and then when back into my rant.

Naturally the other four socialists voted down my proposal; Steinbeck supported it and gave a brief speech saying Amherst doesn’t allow the Highway Department to pave homeowner’s driveways or plow them in the winter, so why should we allow this unfair competition to small business owners who employ local teens and spend money in town?

Up against a liberal chorus, Steinbeck and Reed were most often the only public voice of dissent. Something Amherst desperately needs.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Reap what you sow

So it’s gotten to the point where the Town Manager must hate to pick up a newspaper. Take today’s Amherst Bulletin, for instance. The Gazette’s Thursday article “No cash windfall for Boy Scouts” appears on the Bulletin's Front Page, above the fold. Usually Wednesday is the cut off for stories from the Gazette to make this week’s Bulletin.

Now for those of you unfamiliar with the intricacies of journalism in the Happy Valley the fold is the dividing line between A-rated stories and B-rated stories. Note for instance the article on Rob Kusner not running for a second Select board term is, appropriately, at the very bottom of the page.

And of course the banner headline number one story concerns our failing schools (or at least gives that impression). Although in Amherst nothing is more important than education I would still have switched the placement of those two lead articles.

Because parents packing a School Committee meeting to demand better quality education is kind of the journalistic equivalent of dog bites man story; stealing candy from a baby or initiating a tax on Christmas trees sold by Boy Scouts is a man bites dog story.

The Gazette only has a few thousand subscribers in Amherst as opposed to the Bulletin that is mailed free to every household (about 8,000). And while I subscribe to the theory “you get what you pay for” it is still incontrovertible that the Bulletin, in Amherst, is more widely read than the Gazette.

The article about the Town Manager forming a “blue ribbon panel” (how come nobody ever forms a “green ribbon” panel?) to peruse the budget is located below the fold.

So the Town Manager, who is praised by the Gazette for his economic initiates and heralded to the heavens by our lackluster Chamber of Commerce, finds his positive puff piece pushed down the page by this notoriously negative Christmas tree fiasco.

Today’s Gazette reveals the Town Manager has been reigned in by the Select board from charging groups for using the Town Common. We can’t charge the Pot Rally (A Umass Registered Student Organization) for purposely attracting 1,500 folks requiring over $1,000 in extra police details but we can charge the Boy Scouts $775 to use a chunk of space nobody else wants?

Only in Amherst!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Time is running out...

The crusty Gazette must have felt guilty over their coverage of the Grinch Amherst Town Manager’s Select board “report” Monday night on the odious Christmas tree tax: the Springfield Republican splashed their version (with clever comparisons to “It’s a Wonderful Life”) on Page One above the fold no less and the Gazette had a rather perfunctory bland retelling buried inside the second section.

But this morning’s Gazette follows up on the sad story and somewhat contradicts a previous article (by veteran reporter/editor Nick Grabbe) that this entire episode would be a “windfall” for the scouts because all the publicity stimulated donations, and individual tree buyers paying the extra dollar.

Scoutmaster Lyle Denit points out they usually sold out anyway and their stock was usually limited to 800 trees. But this year the Sunday snowstorm killed sales for that important day and—even worse—prevented the scouts from going in the woods and cutting down the final 100 trees to sell to last minute shoppers.

So even with the DPW donation and businessmen Roberts and Shumway giving the town its pound of flesh the scouts will make about the same $8,000 net profit as last year. Seems like an awful lot of work over the course of a very cold month for $8,000.

Ron Chimelis had a great column in today's Republican about steroid abuse from coddled athletes. Our Town Manager could use his sage PR advice (not that Shaffer does steroids, but he could stand to pump a little iron):

I thinks apologies count. Not for full exoneration, but as a necessary step toward perspective and closure.

Saying "I was wrong, and I'm sorry," is worth more now than ever, if only because hardly anybody does.

Let’s hope (sorry to mix movie metaphors) the Grinch has a Christmas nightmare or two over the next week and changes his mind.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

You won't have Rob Kusner...

I suppose like Jay Leno I should root for the biggest goof to win the all-important election. With his national audience the President is a natural target and the bigger the goof in the White House the easier it is to write material for a monologue (especially now that he has to write it himself).

Considering my provincial concerns that means the Select board contest coming up, appropriately enough, on April 1’st.

So am I disappointed that Selectman Rob Kusner announced on Monday that he would not be seeking a second term? Not really, he stood little chance of reelection anyway.

People were going to create an attack website and upload his famous t-shirt incident at Town Meeting, the mp3 file of his threatening phone message to the Amherst school committee chair and maybe even the goofy election picture ad he used three years ago in the Amherst Bulletin of him hugging two trees.

Of course now it becomes entirely more apparent why Professor Kusner should have abstained at the September 17’th Select board meeting. With his sabbatical announcement (amounting to six months off with pay) coming only three months after his tie-breaker vote awarding Umass, his employer, a $200,000 gift of water effluent, some folks are going to wonder…

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

No Miracle on Boltwood Ave

Last night Amherst Town Manager Larry Shaffer once again reaffirmed that his unfair tax on the joy of Christmas has not been his “…most glorious moment in public administration.”

He also garnered little support from the Select Board. Kusner (looking at Shaffer): “We were caught off guard by this; I just want the public to know it was your decision.” Select person Brewer distanced herself: “Even though the Town Manager has the legal authority under the town act I would hope he will continue to talk to us about this…”

Brewer also (looking at scout representatives) wanted to publicly “thank the scouts for being so agreeable; I realize you didn’t have much choice…I’m glad we’re still talking about it.”

Clueless to the core (if indeed he has one), Shaffer still doesn’t get it. His bland” report” was a rehash of cold bureaucratic excuses.

Explaining his $1 per tree tariff Shaffer states: “They went away, set up their sale of Christmas trees. And I expected that arrangement would go on unbeknownst to anybody. Little did I know this would become the cause célèbre going forward.”

For a public official to arrange a deal in private, hoping that his dictatorial terms remain "unbeknownst", is bad policy.

UPDATE: 2:36 Yeah I know, the video just uploaded 10 minutes ago but my friend and fellow investigative blogger Paolo at just forwarded me the link to WHMP radio's softball interview with Shaffer. I love his comment at the outset "I don't know if anything went wrong." Talk about clueless.

UPADATE: 3:30 Ch. 22 enters the fray (what took them so long?). Where's the AP?

Monday, December 17, 2007

Breaking News: Grinch Report

9:20 pm. So the Select board heard a Town Manager Report on the Christmas tree tax fiasco. He started of by announcing that developer Barry Roberts and hotel magnate Curt Shumway, both local boys who made very good, will pay the town the entire tax (between $775 to $800) and we also know--although the Town Manager did not give them a plug--Amherst DPW workers already donated a check to the Scouts for roughly that amount.

Thus the new Spin is Amherst did the Boy Scouts a favor, because now they are getting all these extra donations from concerned citizens. Hmmm...

Kinda like saying getting mugged is fine if the culprit is caught and then loses a sizable civil court case for damages.

His Lordship Mr. Weiss decided not to act as The Inquisitor and coerce the local Boy Scout troop into branding their national chapter as discriminators simply to use town property.

More tomorrow. I'm tired.

The joys of ownership

Rt. 116—one of the busier stretches of highway was once state owned and maintained. Five years ago the state decided to install a badly needed traffic control signal at this busy South Amherst intersection as well as other road improvements—all with state money.

With the design work about 80% completed, Amherst decided it didn’t like the cookie cutter design and wanted to “calm” traffic in the Village Square, enticing folks to pull up a park bench whip out a copy of the New York Times and slowly suck down a few cappuccinos while discussing global warming.

So now we own about three miles of busy roadway that yesterday required a fleet of DPW trucks, tons of chemicals and lots of peoplepower (many working on overtime). $10,000 here, $10,000 there…pretty soon you’re talking real money.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Notch Excursion in a storm.

2:00 pm. For those of you who do not live in Amherst, The Notch is a bump of a mountain on the Southern most part of Amherst. We started out at Atkins Fruit Bowl, a local institution that normally does so much business on a Sunday that they have to hire a police officer to direct traffic. I don't even want to think about how much money they lost today being closed during the Christmas shopping season.

We made it to the top in about a half-hour using lightweight snowshoes and cross country ski poles.

Then we took a sharp left off the old logging road and entered the woods.

The Woodpeckers abandoned their Totem Pole.

A river runs thru it (more like a stream.)

My lovely wife leading the way.

And we didn't get lost, didn't have to call 911. Finished around 3:30. Way more fun than, ugh, shoveling snow.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas

So believe it or not the Crusty Gazette actually published a Letter on Saturday supporting the Town Mangler’s Scrooge Tax on the Boy Scouts Christmas tree sales: Alex Kent, a member of the Kanegasaki Sister City Committee closed with:

“All who use town property for their activities, whether they are for profit or not, should compensate the town for their use of public land. Mr. Shaffer's $1 fee is well within the bounds of reason, a welcome if small contribution to hard-pressed town coffers, and in no way undermines the good intentions or positive contributions of the Boy Scouts.

Alex Kent

So Alex ol boy, perhaps we should start charging the PeaceNiks who inhabit the corner of town center every Sunday at noon (and if we back charge them for the past 35 years we could afford to hire an Assistant for Assistant Town Manager John Musante.

Ch 3 TV out of Hartford, Ct. covers the story (yeah, I emailed a packet of material to the Connecticut media mentioning Shaffer's Vernon Ct. background):

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Taking the town by storm

Town Center: 9:30 pm Just after the last flake fell.

Hickory Ridge Golf Course 2:00 pm. The next day. As serene as town center.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Ax the Tax!

The Town Mangler’s bewilderingly bad decision to tax our Boy Scout's Christmas tree sales has most certainly taken on a life of its own and may prove a bonanza for the intrepid scouts. As first reported on this Blog (and the Crusty Gazette caught up today) the DPW is donating over $600 to the Boy Scouts. No strings attached.

And more than a few folks have stopped me in the Bricks and Mortar world to say they are going to drop in on the beleaguered tree encampment specifically to buy a Christmas tree they might have purchased elsewhere, or just going to give them a few bucks.

This phenomenon reminds me of the idiot teenaged gang (none of whom I bet were Boy Scouts) stealing the bright yellow-and-black, angry bumblebee “No More Overrides” lawn signs one night before the May 1’st tax Override. Now that was the PR gift that kept on giving.

Of course His Lordship Gerry Weiss is going to demand public action that could risk their charter: 'Before we go any further, I would want the local troop to distance themselves from the national organization's stance,' Weiss said. 'We can't allow groups that discriminate to use town property.'

Select board Chair Weiss also stated that Shaffer might make a statement during his Town Manager Report on Monday. Let’s hope the Pot Rally police fee for using the Town Common also comes up on Monday.

I would love to watch His Lordship look honest, law-abiding working-folks in the eye as he advocates for taxpayers to subsidize the rights of potheads over the rights of Boy Scouts. Only in Amherst!
UPDATE: 5:00 pm. So even though the Crusty Gazette takes a while to get to a "story" and publishes hardcopy before uploading on the Net, at least they allow cyber comments on their (snail-like) Internet edition. Funny stuff:

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Christmas at Camp David (the day after)

Well, the day after I shot the photo for the post below. What's wrong with this picture? Hint: No it's not a crop circle. At least the Christmas tree is still there (although the Town Mangler may impose a tax).

And the Walls...came tumbling down.

Even though today’s headline reads “Amherst Town Manager holds firm on Boy Scout tree sale policy,” let’s keeping blowing them horns folks as the Walls of Jericho are definitely starting to crack.

In the biggest understatement of his 1.5 year tenure the Town Mangler sagaciously observed to the Crusty Gazette: “It’s not been my most sterling moment in public relations.” Duh!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Christmas at Camp David (Keenan that is)

And I'm not even going to ask how a decorated illuminated Christmas tree managed to appear inside a condemned, sealed homestead.

Elves, perhaps?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Grinch Gets (deservedly) Scrooged!

(6:10 am) So I guess this is what you call BUZZ (more like what the Brits called"Buzz Bombs"). Yikes! Remind me NEVER to do anything so stupid in public, private or even after I'm dead.

Of course the crusty Gazette was especially quick to publish these response Letters to Saturday's Front Page article, but you will still have to wait God knows how many hours to read them in the online edition (or you could click the photo to enlarge). UPDATE: the Gazette went cyber around 10:00 am.

Now the question of the day is will the Gazette do an editorial? At least we can tell whose side they're on.
UPDATE 9:42 pm (yeah, my bedtime). The cyber comments to the Letter section were also interesting:

Monday, December 10, 2007


On Saturday folks who parked their cars next to Puffers Pond to watch church members jump into the icy water to protest Global Warming garnered a card under their wiper. On the back of his official Town Hall business card (who would have thought they get cards?) Select man Rob Kusner printed: "walk, bike, take the bus."

So when Kusner gets voted out of office this April 1'st (no foolin), does he have to turn in his remaining cards? And you have to wonder: were they printed on recycled cardstock?

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Take that! (Sunday, 2:00 pm)

Forecast: Freezing Rain, Sleet, Snow, Locusts, Dead Fish and Frogs.

NO Green boxes distributed around town with sand/salt. NO sand left at the DPW. See what happens Amherst voters when you don't support the Override!

UPDATE 3:30 pm I'm not one of those who wish bad things to happen so you can say "I told you so", so I just called 911 to request they get ahold of SOMEBODY at the DPW to refill the sandpile. After all, if the forecast is correct they should have an army arriving about now.

UPDATE: 3:45 pm. Damn, that's what I love about our 911 emergency response professionals (and the DPW)! We now have a MOUNTAIN of sand available,so 'come on down' folks . Let is snow, let it snow, let it snow.

UPDATE: Monday 6:00 am. So I gave up counting after 100 the numbers of cars and trucks coming to get sand last night (my home/office overlooks the pile). Maybe the DPW should reconsider the ban on Green Sand Boxes around town?

Saturday, December 8, 2007

A smile is just a frown turned upside down

So the bricks and mortar media gave the Town Manager’s Select board evaluation the old positive spin and missed the most interesting paragraph of the wordy two-page report card.

“Larry (Shaffer) has taken on the task of looking at the organization of every department and quickly made changes at Cherry Hill Golf Course, Town Counsel and the Veteran’s Services Department that have cut costs and improved services.”

Hmmm. So he “quickly made changes at Cherry Hill Golf course,” by
firing long-time superintendent Dan Engstrom (on St. Patty’s Day 2007, the day I started this Blog) for misusing a company credit card and taking up residence in the Clubhouse.

Yet seven months earlier on August 18, 2006 Shaffer wrote “The town is fortunate to have Dan Engstrom, Course Manager, to continue his expertise in maintaining of the of the highest quality public golf courses in Massachusetts.”

And his unfortunate firing of long-time, well-respected Town Council Alan Seewald sparked controversy; and now His Lordship Mr. Weiss seems to say our new advisor, Kopelman and Paige—the BIG BOX McDonald’s of the legal profession is “improved”?

If I were the former Town Attorney, I would suit for defamation of character.

Shaffer almost single handedly torpedoed the May 1’st tax Override by bluffing with Public Safety cuts he would never had implemented; and turning down the $30,000 per year offer to take the terminal Cherry Hill Golf Course off our hands.

And the current fiasco of charging a tax on every Christmas tree sold by Amherst/Pelham Boy Scouts is an astounding error demonstrating the Town Manager is clueless with culture.

Let’s hope the Select board gives him an appropriate Christmas bonus: a lump of coal.

Friday, December 7, 2007

"This is no drill!"

“I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.”
Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto

“With confidence in our armed forces - with the unbounded determination of our people - we will gain the inevitable triumph - so help us God.”
Franklin D. Roosevelt

UPDATE (Noon): University of Massachusetts @ Amherst REMEMBERS

NATURALLY the Town of Amherst FORGETS.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Say what?

Yeah, Only in Amherst would a town committee waste half the exposure provided by the most premier location in town. Fortunately Amherst needs a Human Rights Commission like Saudi Arabia needs snow plows.