Thursday, January 31, 2008

Routine returns?

Former blogger and forever friend Izzy Lyman once warned me about installing a sitemeter because you become "obsessive" about visitors.

Over the last few days I could not help but notice many of them coming from the Chicago area via a Goggle search for "Jenny Kim," sometimes adding "Amherst College" oftentimes THAT term...the one that makes the word death redundant.

I had noted Amherst College was flying their vibrant, well-lit American flag at the top of Johnson Chapel overlooking downtown Amherst in a position of mourning to remember and honor Jenny Kim, a 22-year senior with a prosperous life awaiting suddenly, stunningly, by her own dominant hand, gone.

Growing up in Amherst I can remember when Umass Southwest High-rise dorms were once rolling open fields. And it wasn't long after they first scraped the sky before a troubled youth used the top floor of one or the other as a platform for certain death.

After a half-dozen fatalities Umass, finally, instituted security measures and the regrettable ritual stopped--or at least took on a different form.

I feel bad for Jenny; I feel bad for her friends and family; and I feel bad for invoking her name over this medium where anyone can instantly arrive from anywhere in the world after typing her name.

Hopefully flying the American flag at half-staff high over Amherst College brought them some comfort; if indeed, anything can bring comfort to those she left behind.

On THAT awful day, as dusk descended over a forever-changed New York City, three tired firefighters desperately looking for fallen comrades break to hoist a borrowed American flag over the debris. The photo captured and inspired our national resolve and I, for one, took some comfort there.

So for those of you who arrive here now looking for information about Jenny Kim, I'm sorry; I did not know her in her life, and I'm saddened that I only became aware of her in death.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Many rivers to cross

So today is a milestone…of sorts: my 53’rd birthday and the Amherst Athletic Club’s 26’th. Thus, I have been running a small business--or I should say it has been running me--for almost exactly half my life.

What my wife (a co-founder who is gainfully employed elsewhere as an Entrepreneurship Professor but still teaches Karate, Spin, Aerobics, does the bookkeeping, etc--all for no pay) calls a “lifestyle business.”

The “business” opened 1/30/82 on my 27’th birthday. It was either that or suicide. Ten years earlier, fat and introverted, I fell in love with karate at the crossroads age of 17.

My single minded series of goals were nothing if not ambitious: to become a Black Belt by age 19 (usually takes 4 years), attain a Regional Ranking in Sport Karate by age 21, become Nationally Ranked by age 23 and, finally, #1 in the nation at age 26.

My first instructor said to me that an average person has one chance in 10,000 of even making Black Belt but my chances were ten times worse. Grrrrrr.

I attained the first three goals ahead of schedule (Black belt at 18.5, six times ranked #1 in New England and four times ranked Top Ten in the nation), but as 1982 dawned I knew that I was going to fall just short of the last goal. I figured I would move up only one from my #5 ranking, but ended up at #3, just ahead of archrival Billy Blanks (pre Tae Bo days) at #4.

His manager was so angry she threatened to suit Karate Illustrated the magazine in charge of ratings. Billy had accumulated way more rating points than I by winning small local events against nobody’s but I had beaten him in Florida at an A-rated event where I took my one and only Grand Championship.

Since my goal had not technically failed until my birthday, and I did not want to be suicidal on that day, I decided to distract myself by opening a Karate School at the Mt. Farms Mall in Hadley, otherwise known as the “Dead Mall”.

We moved to The People’s Republic of Amherst a year later; and the rest as they say is history…ongoing.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

"Well, isn't that Special?"

So a battered and beaten Select Board Chair, his Lordship Gerry Weiss, threw in the towel late last night on calling a Special Town Meeting to discuss our budget plight (or I should say the Schools) in February, opting instead for a “public forum.”

Score one for transparency.

The Budget Coordinating Group—the ultimate insiders—should simply disband, as average taxpayers will never take them or their “recommendations” seriously again.

(“Could it be…SATAN?")

Monday, January 28, 2008

High Noon Town Hall Budget Meeting

After the Donnybrook on Wednesday night at the Special Select Board meeting where the vote was 2-2 to run to Town Meeting on advice about the upcoming budget (think Override) today the Budget Coordinating Group (BCG) is meeting to take a second bite at the apple.

When your mix includes the Town Manager, Superintendent of the Schools, (two highestpaid employees in town) the chairs of both Regional Schools and Amherst Schools you can pretty much get as many bites as you please.

12:30 PM
Kusner is 25 minutes late because he’s been upstairs helping to draft the warrant article for a Special Town Meeting. Kinda gives you a hint as to how he will vote tonight (or would have voted on Wednesday night) at the Select board meeting to call the Special Town Meeting (only requires a majority vote)

12: 35 PM
Andy Churchill, Amherst School Committee chair asks what happened at the Wednesday evening Select board meeting. Weiss says the other two Select persons who voted NO had “made up their minds” prior to the meeting, so there was “no negotiation.”

Churchill I want the entire town to know about “the problem” and to get their input. It would be nice if we had a clear majority of the SB (at least 4).

12:43 PM
Kusner is pushing for the 3% Community Preservation Act tax (that needs Town Meeting approval to get on the April 1’st election) and nobody else seems interested--knowing it will be a suicide bomber for the Override.

12:50 PM
Town Manager: We could also do a public budget forum instead of Special Town Meeting. Weiss: getting sense of Town Meeting is different from informing the public. Churchill: Forum attracts small group of people (insiders). Special Town Meeting gets more attention and shows we’re serious. Molly Turner (Library). Special Town Meeting “looks like a set up for the Override.” Town people have sent the message they cannot afford a tax increase. Churchill: needs to be done now in order to include the potential for an Override on April 1‘st “preserves our options.”

1:05 PM
Brighty: Have BCG run an informational meeting for Town Meeting members (but not an official Special Town Meeting) in late February.

Assistant Town Manager John Musante: Will a Special Town Meeting generate heat or light? If it’s going to confuse people then “why do it?”

1:17 PM

Kusner to Superintendent Hochman: Are you going to be asking the Select board to place an Override on the ballot for the Schools?
School Committee folks answer for him (but not very directly).

Weiss: what do I say to Select board tonight? Town Meeting or forum?

1:24 PM (final one)
Hochman: Do we want to get info out to public? How do we get input in? What’s the Select board’s solution?

No clear call as to whether they will ask the Select board for the Special Town Meeting or not (no wonder the May 1 Override failed). The item is on the Select Board agenda at 9:15 tonight.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Oh say can you see...

Whenever I spy the American flag at half-staff I worry something extraordinary has tragically occurred, as in 9/11 or the Virginia Tech Campus massacre, or an X-president has died.

But with Amherst College, you never know. As of this evening their prominently placed illuminated flag (high on a hill overlooking the downtown) has been in mourning for almost a week, probably for Jenny Kim a 22-year-old senior who took her own life.

According to flag protocol only the Governor of our state or President of the United States can order the American flag to half-staff. It’s like “crying wolf”, because if Old Glory is routinely down to half-staff, you no longer notice.

I too am guilty of symbolic flag abuse as a noble gesture. In mid-May, 1994 when Jackie Kennedy Onassis succumbed to cancer about a month after Richard Nixon died, and President Clinton enforced flag protocol for President Nixon I thought “that lying SOB gets the flag down, but because Jackie was never officially anything (besides a President’s wife who carried our nation thru the darkest hours of my childhood) she’s ignored?”

So I called Amherst Town Manager Barry Del Castilho who was, naturally, on vacation, and got Nancy Maglione the Finance Director who was “acting Town Manager”, and earnestly requested the Amherst flag in town center go to half-staff to honor Jackie.

Ms. Maglione at first balked: “The flag is scheduled to be down for Nixon until this evening, so if we keep it lowered for one extra day nobody will even notice,” she replied.

“I will, and so will you!” I responded.

The next day the flag stayed down…and surprisingly some folks noticed. When one or two called Town Hall to enquire they were told it was down an extra day to honor Jackie Kennedy Onassis.

A conservative local radio jock complained most vociferously about the breech of flag protocol. “What an ass”, I thought.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Friday, January 25, 2008

Ground Control to Principal Jackson

So, it’s been a week. No sign of Mr. Jackson. Either the space aliens got him or he called up that Override PR flak from Unicom ARC for a consultation and was advised to never meet with the enemy. Oh, well.

Date: Fri, 18 Jan 2008 15:18:10 -0500
From:"Mark Jackson" To:"larry kelley"
Subject:Re: VAGINAS! Vaginas, VA GI NAS


Rather than spar, I'd rather meet and talk. Can I buy you coffee?


Mark Jackson, Principal
Amherst Regional High School
21 Mattoon St.
Amherst, MA 01002
W: 413-362-1701
F: 413-549-9704

Date: Sat, 19 Jan 2008 05:07:19 -0800 (PST)
Subject: Re: VAGINAS! Vaginas, VA GI NAS
To: "Mark Jackson" From:"larry kelley"


No offense to Dr. King but I'm open on Monday (1/21). First
coffee is at 5:35 am and second one around 9:00 am.


Thursday, January 24, 2008

LIve From Amherst!

(6:35 PM. Scroll down for updates) Well, okay almost live. Four or five minute delay for spell check (and Blogger does not allow live text messaging).

First impression: lousy turnout. As in 8 people in the audience—all of them insiders. Only one reporter.

His Lordship Gerry Weiss opens. Talks a lot but doesn't say much.

Ms Awad protests the idea of a Special Town Meeting. We are abdicating are responsibility. “There are alternatives”. She also talks about how the BCG seemed overly interested in the Override. Move the start date of Town Meeting to early April. Not an appropriate use of Town Meeting.

UPDATE: (6:50 PM)
Ms. Greeney (citing a survey of 90 people): Goes after LSSE( Recreation Department). Library branches in No and So Amherst.

New Town Meeting members coming in on April 1, so why get opinion in February from some who may not be around to vote on the budget in the Spring. Not enough information available (state aid) for this early a Town Meeting.

Reads statement from a survey responder who also takes LSSE to task. Keep it simple: summer pool, groomed playing fields but not the bloated empire they have become (Tango lessons anyone?)

6:58 PM

Ms. Brewer: To hell with surveys. Not interested in talking about an Override (her nose is starting to grow). At this point not Pro Override (her nose is getting bigger). Not a huge turnover in Town Meeting, so February folks will still be around this Spring to vote on the budget.

Andy Steinberg (Finance Committee and BCG member): Town Meeting stands in for the public. Special Town Meeting on budget would be helpful.

Brian Morton (Finance Committee and BCG member): The idea for this Special Town Meeting is not just the BCG. Some Town Meeting member on a list serve came up with it (damn internet). Any member of the general public can speak at Town Meeting (yeah, but they don't).

7:05 PM

Vote is 2-2 . It fails!. Weiss, Brewer "yes"; Greeney, Awad "No". Rob Kusner was not present (and he most certainly would have voted Yes). But Weiss, obviously a sore loser, is talking about bringing it up again this Monday when Mr. Kusner is around.

7:25 PM (I'm home now). As the scant crowd dispersed I asked Select Board Chair Weiss if he knew Rob Kusner would not be present tonight (I had assumed Kusner would rush in at the last minute, bike helmet in hand, to cast the deciding vote). And he said "Yes". I then said something about wasting folks time as even the flagpole in front of Town Hall knew Awad and Greeney were going to vote NO and there are only five Select board members and you need a majority vote for something to pass. Great leadership there your Lordship.

The Vagina Override...Fore!

(6:45 am) So apparently LifefromMA, my new buddy on Masslive/Amherst forum and I have more in common than first thought. He has not played golf in years (not that I’m anti-golf, only anti-subsidizing the grandiose game with taxation) and he’s not anti-Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School, the elementary school my daughter attends here in the People’s Republic Of Amherst. He only opposes the concept of Charter Schools in general (although on average they outperform public schools and at a cheaper cost).

But damn, now he agrees with me on ‘The Vagina Monologues’, as well as the tax Override. And, seriously, he hits a hole in one on as far as it demonstrating how clueless our top school leaders are.

I was sitting last week at the Budget Coordinating Group meeting at Town Hall with Hochman on my immediate left and Shaffer on my immediate right and I just wanted to slap them (metaphorically speaking of course).

Here you guys—the two highest paid Amherst public officials ($300,000 per year combined) are sitting here plotting with ‘All The Usual Suspects’ for a tax Override to make your bureaucratic existence easier and both of you have stepped in deep Do-Do recently on God, Country and Apple Pie issues that seriously calls into question your judgment.

Well, anyway...I will be attending the BCG meeting later this morning at Town Hall (I think it starts at 9:00 am) and if anything of interest happens will post live from the meeting (love that free wireless).

UPDATE: 9:15 AM Ooops. I guess they did enough damage last week. Bumped into the always gregarious Town Manager in the hallway who confirmed there was no BCG meeting. Well maybe I'll try the LIVE FROM AMHERST thing later this evening at 6:15 pm when our illustrious Select Board holds a Special Meeting to decide whether to hold a Special Town Meeting, setting the stage for an Override vote this Spring. Look for a 3-2 vote with Greeney and Awad dissenting (you know the same duo who opposed the May 1'st Override)

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

SELL, Sell, sell the Override

As usual the Gazette on Tuesday gives us one of their typically wishy-washy “on the one hand…but on the other” kind of editorials--although the headline was perfect.

Any Group, Task Force, Blue Ribbon Panel or Ad Hoc Committee--as opposed to just a plain old Committee that has to abide by the Open Meeting Law--formed by Town officials with cherry picked, insider committee members is suspect when it comes to a Proposition 2.5 tax Override.

And the Budget Coordinating Group is the perfect posterchild! They immediately considered raiding the town treasury for $100,000 to hire consultants to lead a “public engagement process,” to package a "bulletproof" Override. Superintendent Hochman even brought a company flack from Unicom ARC to the November 7’th BCG meeting to sell, Sell, SELL the idea.

Unicom’s webpage proudly hypes feedback from a School official that obviously benefited from the hired guns: “They can steer a district through a public engagement process, secure accurate survey data, and guide election efforts to achieve even the most ambitious district goals.”

And after the May 1’st Override failure, Superintendent Hochman and school committee folks are nothing if not “ambitious.”

Select board member Greeney outed the shady aspects of the BCG Override aspirations yet the Gazette thinks, “Ms Greeney needs to exercise caution in making claims that could unfairly tarnish the budget group’s reputation.”

Well, if the Gazette took its watchdog role seriously, maybe Ms. Greeney would not have to act as whistleblower.

So somebody on Masslive/Amherst Forum who doesn’t like my Cherry Hill stance (a golfer who plays there) and doesn’t like the Chinese Charter School my daughter attends (parent with kid in Amherst schools) posted a link to my blog because he does likes that I’m keeping tabs on town officials behind the scenes maneuvering.

So he’s probably a homeowner concerned about yet another tax increase. Pocketbook politics indeed makes strange bedfellow.

And O’reilly wanted me to post a link to the town budget. Not that anybody would read it. So I’m posting a link to BCG meetings minutes. Especially interesting is the 11/7/07 meeting where the PR flak gives a free sample of his propaganda campaign. And I especially like the Town Manager’s comment just after the presentation: “Facts can kill a campaign. Message is critical.” Hmmm….

Monday, January 21, 2008

A final note

I was happy to see a couple Letters in this morning’s Gazette partially criticizing their coverage of but mostly lamenting Neal Ryan’s tragic loss, killed by either bumping his head after being hit by a slow-moving car or dying from other medicinal problems triggered by the shock of the accident.

Kind of like arguing about what killed Benazir Bhutto, the assassin’s bullets or the bomb. Either way they are gone. And their respective communities diminished.

Because of his disability (that many saw as a gift) he didn’t’ drive, and when the PVTA buses were on reduced schedule Neal walked everywhere. This month of course, with the University and colleges on intersession, the buses barely run.

Neal joined the Amherst Athletic Club a few years ago to lose weight and reduce high blood pressure. He was always wearing headphones and could rattle of trivia associated with whatever artists he listened to. A 1982 graduate of Amherst Regional High School, friends said he was picked on for being older than fellow classmates and, even more, for liking Elvis.

On Thursday morning, the day of his accident, Neal unexpectedly came in at 6:00 am to exercise--and he worked hard. His personal trainer later told me that he had promised her he would add an extra workout to make up for slacking off the previous week.

A promise kept…a promising life lost.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Scouts can use Kendrick Park!

As long as they are wearing skates.

Yeah, so last year the nubie Town Manager tried to make water freeze uphill on the Town Common. And like the $10 million heating plant Umass built in the 70's expecting water to defy gravity…it didn’t work.

So now he’s going to create a skating rink at Kendrick Park, even before the committee has even been formed to come up with a use policy. And Shaffer has already told the Scouts to take a hike on Christmas tree sales next year. Hmmm… This was Front Page. 3'rd largest paper in Mass. comments on right)

Friday, January 18, 2008

And the Captain fiddles while...

Subject: 'VM" morning announcements
Date: Fri, 18 Jan 2008 08:20:01 -0500
From: jacksonmk@arps.orgj

Gee, Larry, I've always spoken highly of you.

Mark Jackson, Principal
Amherst Regional High School
21 Mattoon St.
Amherst, MA 01002
W: 413-362-1701

Date: Fri, 18 Jan 2008 05:41:44 -0800 (PST)
From: "larry kelley"
Subject: VAGINAS! Vaginas, VA GI NAS!

Hey Mark,

And I once spoke highly of you. Especially last year when you stood up to the girls and said “No” we can't allow school sanction of ‘Vagina Monologues’ because, as you told the crusty Amherst Bulletin:

"... the experience of those who were responsible for organizing the event three years ago was that it took over their professional lives. The level of detail to attend to was inordinate," Jackson wrote in an email.

Jackson also cited other priorities, such as the upcoming estimated budget shortfall that will occupy administrators' attention and deprive them of extra time to devote to the logistics of staging the controversial production.

Soooo, Superintendent Hochman is currently whining about a $300,000 shortfall in your budget for FY09, but I guess you don’t consider that significant; or maybe you have more administrators than you know what to do with this year.

And you must think that 2004--when you were not around--was just a tempest in a teapot. Yeah, Bill O’Reilly (three times), Time Magazine and The Today Show were all having slow news days.


Thursday, January 17, 2008

Mark be nimble, Mark be quick...

In a message dated 1/17/08 2:04:04 PM, Amherst AC writes:
Hey Mark,
I am in receipt of your apologetic email to a couple of folks who complained about the insensitive, asinine promo for 'The Vagina Monologues' that was scheduled to be announced this morning.

When you say "I will address this issue today to ensure any future announcements are written in an appropriate fashion" one could get the impression that the original announcement was read school wide this morning but that it would not happen again (at least in so egregiously stupid a manner).

So my question is: what exactly was read to the kids in our High School this morning concerning 'The Vagina Monologues'???

Larry Kelley

In a message dated 1/17/08 2:14:02 PM, JacksonMK@ARPS.ORG writes:

What was read today was the same thing that was read yesterday. But it will be different tomorrow.


Mark Jackson

Mark Jackson, Principal
Amherst Regional High School
21 Mattoon St.
Amherst, MA 01002
W: 413-362-1701
F: 413-549-9704

In a message dated 1/17/08 2:17:06 PM, Amherst AC writes:
Hey Mark,
What the Hell are you, an aircraft carrier floating in a sea of molasses?

UPDATE: 3:00 pm So just for the record here is the announcement they will make tomorrow:

The Vagina Monologues is coming to the high school stage, Friday, February 15th! Mark your calendars, and get ready to become part of the worldwide phenomenon.

Of course, I'm still shocked that Jackson is told by his Boss the previous afternoon about the inappropriate nature of the announcement that apparently was made anyway twice and Jackson even sends an apologetic email to two complainants at 6:18 am but somehow the original tacky announcement was still made this morning. For the record, ARHS starts at 7:45 am. And are they going to hype (albeit lower key) this monstrosity every day between now and February 15'th???

No Vagina For You!

From: "Mark Jackson"
To: ;
Cc: "Jere Hochman"
Sent: Thursday, January 17, 2008 6:18 AM
Subject: Morning Announcements

Ms. XXX and Mr. XXX,

Dr. Hochman first brought the phrasing of the morning announcement regarding The Vagina Monologues to my attention yesterday afternoon.

He shouldn't have needed to do this. I should've have scrutinized this more closely.

Morning announcements, which are read to all students every morning, should be written in a more neutral fashion. I will address this issue today to ensure any future announcements are written in an appropriate fashion.

Again, my apologies.

Mr. Jackson

Mark Jackson, Principal
Amherst Regional High School
21 Mattoon St.
Amherst, MA 01002
W: 413-362-1701
F: 413-549-9704

Breaking 'Vagina' News 10:17 am

I'm sitting in a boring Budget Meeting (where town officals are trying to come up with a "bulletproof" sales pitch for a tax Override) so I will upload the new news by noon. God I love this free wireless in town center!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Vagina Monologues: PT Barnum promo

Okay, this is the Internet and we're all adults here, so sure the V- word is fine. The C-word synonym, however, is not.

But I find it weird that even the more benign word "vagina" is repeatedly shouted in a Public School announcement tomorrow at the Amherst Regional High School. Just another 'Only In Amherst' moment. Maybe they should use 'Somewhere, There's a Place For Us' from 'West Side Story' as background music.
As the frustrated parent who just forwarded it to me said in her email: “So much for sensitivity”.

ARHS Morning Announcements
Thursday, January 17th, 2008

* VAGINA! Vagina. Va. Gi. Na. Get used to saying it, because The Vagina Monologues is coming to the high school stage, Friday, February 15th! Mark your calendars, and get ready to become part of the worldwide phenomenon.

UPDATE: 9:00 pm (yeah, past my bedtime)

In a message dated 1/16/08 4:13:57 PM, writes:
Hi Larry,
I always check the high school daily announcements to be an informed parent. Thought you'd be interested in entry #9 in tomorrows.
So much for sensitivity, etc.
Trying to compose my letter to Dr. Hockman now.

>>2008 4:32 pm >>> 1/16/
Good afternoon Mr. Hochman,
I try to stay informed by reading the HS announcements online a day early.I was taken aback a bit by the ninth entry for tomorrow. While I think you have been sensitive with the whole "V Monologue" situation so far, this seems a bit "in your face" for some kids and quite insensitive. I know you don't write the announcements, or even see them beforehand. It just seemed a bit crude and I wanted you to be aware of it before tomorrow.
Thank you for your time,

----- Original Message -----
From: "Jere Hochman"
Sent: Wednesday, January 16, 2008 5:14 PM
Subject: Re: ARHS morning announcements
Dear Ms XXX:

I have not seen the announcements but will review them. We have worked at keeping this topic and performance in perspective and a parameter has been to avoid being in one's face. I am sorry about that. I will review this with Mr. Jackson. Thank you for bringing this to my attention.
Jere Hochman

In a message dated 1/16/08 5:49:09 PM, writes to Only In Amherst blogspot:
Well, what do you know!

Sent: Wednesday, January 16, 2008 6:18 PM
Hey Mary,
Wow! Mind if I post it on my blog????

Sent: Wed, 16 Jan 2008 6:41 pm
I'll have to think about it. I had enough heat after the no vote. You should see the reception I get at some school meetings! I know it wouldn't pull much weight if it didn't have a name to it.

Sent: Wednesday, January 16, 2008 6:46 PM
Hey Mary,
I would xxx-out your name and email address but leave in your letter and Hochman's response. So obviously he would be the ONLY person to know and if other people found out we would know it HE leaked it (obviously I can keep a secret)

To: That sounds fine Larry. I am being optimistic that whoever wrote it wasn't thinking and it won't be announced that way tomorrow. Not only thinking about the students but the teachers that may not feel like reading that to a bunch of teens! Ich!

In a message dated 1/16/08 7:57:42 PM, Amherst AC writes:
Thanks Mary,
They were not thinking when they decided to allow 'VM' in the first place (let alone the second time!)

FINAL UPDATE: 10:00 pm

Questions to ponder:

Will a bucolic little High School in a state Mitt Romney described as “the most liberal in the nation” really trumpet "VAGINA, vagina, vagina” at tomorrow morning’s announcements?

Will the Crusty Daily Hampshire Gazette have any of this in tomorrow’s edition, since an Editor has been aware of this development since 5:00 pm? Or at the very least their equally crusty "newsroom blog" that's "updated Mon thru Fri".

And will Superintendent Hochman take Amherst Regional High School principal Mark Jackson to the woodshed for a well-deserved spanking?
Another, more sagacious, Jackson:

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The price of good deeds

Just as she proved with rosy but wrong Cherry Hill revenue figures last year, Selectman Awad still has trouble with numbers. Trying to blunt a firestorm of criticism directed at the Town Manager over his Scrooge tax on the Boy Scout Christmas tree sale, Ms. Awad declared use of the park for “eight weeks” by this local non-profit was different than groups like the Pot Rally who only use town land for a day.

Fortunately Selectman Greeney knows numbers and corrected her by saying the scouts’ use the property for only a month and, furthermore, they clean it up like good scouts do when they are done.

During the discussion Selectman Brewer (herself a Den Mother) asked Shaffer directly if he was going to allow the Boy Scouts to use the property at all, even with the tax, for Christmas sales next year.

Saying he didn’t want the park usage to become “unduly encumbered”, Shaffer suggested the scouts start scouting a new location. All the negative publicity generated by his clueless, un-American decision indicates to his bean-counter mind that the scouts have a “degree of entitlement” to the land.

Let’s see, the Amherst Pelham Boy Scouts have used that location for fifty years with the owners blessing, who set up a trust to purchase the entire property and donate it to Amherst for a “landscaped park”.

The general public--who unfortunately can’t vote him out--took Mr. Shaffer to the woodshed for a well deserved spanking; and rather than learn from his mistake he shifts the blame to the victim.

According to this morning’s crusty Gazette the Town Manager is awaiting his ill-gotten gains, estimated at $700-$800 (or two-months of his auto/cell phone allowance).

I hope the Scouts pay him in pennies!

UPDATE: 9:00 pm. I forget the crusty Gazette actually uploads to the net (many hours after I read hardcopy at 5:30 am.) So I just went to gazettenet and found a couple of cute comments to the cyberstory:

Miss Ellie [ Posted on: Tuesday - January 15, 2008 at 10:09 AM]
I think it would be wonderful if the Senior Center or Leisure Services accepted the so called "donation" and donated it right back to the Boy Scouts.

Julie T [ Posted on: Tuesday - January 15, 2008 at 12:28 PM]
What a crock for Town Manager Larry Shaffer to say , "I appreciate their generosity and kindness," to the Boy Scouts, since he is the one who mandated that they pay to use the land. Perhaps instead, he should say, that he is sorry for being greedy, and that yes, he sees the contribution that the boys make to the town , and that is enough and greatly appreciated; so here is your check back. Instead every year, he will be more greedy and raise the fee to the boy scouts. I real live "scrooge".

Monday, January 14, 2008

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Crows in a 'V'

Although I’m 100% Irish, I don’t consider myself overly superstitious, but today was a tad weird.

I had decided not to upload until Monday late-morning so my Friday post stayed front-and-center until the Bricks-and-Mortar Media awakens Monday morning around 8:30 am or so…otherwise known as the start of a new news cycle.

So I pull into the Amherst Athletic Club this Sunday morning around 10:45 am (we open at 11) and I’m listening to WDRC the oldies station running a “one hit wonder weekend” and the tune ‘Indiana Wants Me’ is playing.

Including the great line “If a man ever needed dying he did…No one has a right to say what he said about you” And I thought to myself, if we go uptown tonight and some aggressive goof calls my wife or daughter the ‘C-word” how would I react?

And as I exit my car a couple crows sound the alarm from a tree I have probably looked at ten thousand times over the past 25 tears and never noticed the V formation at the top.

The Chinese Kenpo Karate Creed that I have observed for almost 35 years states that “Should I be forced to defend myself, my family or my honor then here are my weapons…. my open hands”

So yeah, branding my wife or daughter the “C-word” definitely trips the “honor” thing, and I would physically engage. And yeah, if he reached into his pocket for what I thought a weapon I would use all-out force…as in lethal.

Better to explain it to a Judge than risk the unthinkable.

Friday, January 11, 2008

No Victory in 'V'

You can’t tell by the cyber-version, but Mary Carey’s article from last week’s Gazette made today's Amherst Bulletin Front Page, above the fold. And, as they did four years ago, the squeamish Bully headline editor avoids “vagina” in a headline. Talk about underscoring my point.

So it’s okay for young girls to publicly scream the actual C-word, yet the Bulletin hides behind the euphemistic V-word? Yikes! And it’s not like they are know for being a (Christian) conservative publication.

Although not the overall lead story…it’s a good start. Four years ago the first shots fired came from my column 3 or 4 pages inside the late-December issue, when almost nobody was paying attention.

Interestingly the TOP story exposes public officials (lead by School Superintendent Hochman) still smarting from the May 1’st Override failure, eyeing tax money for a professional survey of citizens to discover how best to jam a tax increase down our throats.

According to today’s Gazette the Elementary Schools are $1.4 million and the Regional High School $300,000 in the hole for FY09. So rather than concentrating on filling that budget gap, Hochman and principal Mark Jackson (unless he designates his wife to handle it) will be preoccupied defending this ridiculous ‘Only In Amherst’ decision.

In a message dated 1/8/08 10:28:15 PM, writes:

Hi Larry -- Do you have a comment on the decision to produce the Vagina Monologues that I can use in the Bulletin story. If they decide to cut out the parts you think are most offensive either because of the language or because they seem to condone pedophilia, would you think it is OK to produce a cleaned-up version (if that is allowed)?

In a message dated 1/9/08 7:58:22 AM, Amherst AC writes:
Hey Mary,
I will be a lot less inclined to unleash the Dogs of War if they do a cleaned up version.

In a message dated 1/9/08 9:10:25 AM, writes:
What is YOUR ultimate goal, given the current situation, that is that the play will be produced and there may be certain things you can not do with it thanks to the copyright?

In a message dated 1/9/08 9:59:04 AM, Amherst AC writes:
My martial arts philosophy is don't engage in battle unless you are absolutely sure of your position and then if you think for whatever reason you will lose, do SOOOOOO much damage that the opponent will never want to deal with you again. (hand them a Pyrrhic victory)

In a message dated 1/9/08 12:56:20 PM, writes:
D'oh. I didn't get a chance to include this.

In a message dated 1/9/08 1:17:03 PM, Amherst AC writes:
That's okay: That's why God invented blogging!

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

And the answer is...

And NO I have not heard back from Amherst School Superintendent Jere Hochman as to whether the Amherst Regional High School performance this year of ‘The Vagina Monologues’ with be an “edited for High School” version or the orgasmic original version (as long as you don’t count the 1996 First Edition) with the monologue that attempts to “reclaim” the C-word where the vile word is often repeated.

Yes, soon after the 2004 performance of ‘The Vagina Monologues', the ONLY high school in America to allow it, ARHS also banned the word “freshman” for incoming 9’th graders. And of course, this is the same school that banned a production of ‘West Side Story’ in 1999.

In his rather long email to me on Saturday Superintendent Hochman explains that High School principal Mark Jackson saw the performance at the Northampton Arts Center last year and was so impressed he decided to damn the torpedoes and go full-speed ahead on this year’s performance on school property.

I don’t know Jackson as he was not here in 2004, but his daughter was in my daughter’s kindergarten class at Crocker Farm Elementary School last year for a few months before he placed her in a private school.

According the Gazette article his wife Lynn Phillips has “written on feminism” but the only thing I could find on a Goggle search was a blurb she wrote for the book ‘Packaging Girlhood’.

Two years ago when the Amherst Regional High School performed ‘Urinetown’ as the official school play, Mr. Hochman emailed me a couple days before the first public announcement just to say it was nothing to get excited about and not to judge a play by its title. After a quick Goggle search I thought it was fine for a high school.

Of course this past week when it was announced that the school would reprise ‘The Vagina Monologues,’ my first notice came by way of the crusty Gazette article. And yes folks I have read the entire book/play, watched Ensler’s DVD and, UGH, attended the 2004 Amherst Regional High School performance (Bill O’Reilly made me do it!).


UPDATE: Thursday 3:30 pm I’m waiting for the ultra-crusty Amherst Bulletin to go cyber (got my hardcopy five hours ago) so I can link to their Front Page story. But this was pretty funny. I get an email yesterday from Superintendent Hochman’s office that looks like it went to a bunch of folks:

On Wednesday, January 23, Superintendent Jere Hochman will present an overview of the Amherst-Pelham schools.

This brief presentation will be followed by and important hour of dialogue about our school districts' MISSION and VALUES. What do YOU believe to be the most essential values our schools should characterize? What do YOU believe to be the mission of our public schools?

Gee, off the top of my head, maybe the public schools should try to teach moral values.

UPDATE: Thursday 9:30 pm. So the ultra-crusty Amherst Bulletin finally uploaded but I'm too tired to respond with a new blog upload tonight. But if you go you can read the 'V' story and my instant cyber reaction. More of a prepared response tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Slight Correction

So journalistic neophytes will be tempted to cite the infamous “Dewey Wins” (actually the headline reads “Dewey Defeats Truman”; but if I really thought it was a mistake I would simply delete the 12/30 post and pretend it never happened. Just consider it an inevitable prognostication.

Ultimate Fitness, true to the sign posted two weeks ago, reopened for business yesterday. Hmmm…Bummer!

Their hours are reduced until the start of the semester 1/28. Goes to show how much they target the students. No explanation for taking off the biggest week in the Health Club industry for new (non-student of course) sign ups.

And so they will continue to beat on like boats against the (muddy) current...

Sunday, January 6, 2008

The $64,000 question

NOTE: THIS UPLOAD IS RATED R (but if teenagers can use the word...)

In a message dated 1/5/08 9:25:06 AM, Amherst AC writes:
So what did we mean by "portions of"?

In a message dated 1/5/08 1:21:54 PM, hochmanj@ARPS.ORG writes:
Lots of details to work on this.

On your "portions" question - last time there was a scene or two omitted or modified. I have questions for this performance and what's included and what's not.

We'll have the same restrictions on age for attendance (last time no middle schoolers or below) and parent permission for others. Parent permission to be a participant. No school day or assembly type performance. Done in context of a week of awareness raising. In other words, choice for those who want to be near it with parent permission and choice for those who don't want to be near it.

Some context - last year the students wanted to do the show. They did the performance off campus in Northampton. Principal (who was not here last time) found it to be an important performance.

I continue to struggle with this (and I did last time, too). It's high school. I get that. These are teenagers. I get that. On the other hand, the world of sex and violence to which they are exposed is outside of our control and the messages are horrendous and they are routine. The movies - the music - and the stories from their college campuses. And although the language and content of this show is as extreme of some of those exposures, it is a message presented in a way that counters much of negative messages they see and hear in the real world.

As I left the performance last time, what struck me was the message that the young men in attendance got. Yes - there was laughter, language, and sexual references - but there was also a powerful message that I have to think continues to run through their minds as they are now young men on college campuses, in fraternities, and out in that real world. The Duke lacrosse team members were not guilty of rape - but two messages came out of that event: that such situations DO occur on campuses (and in spite of what the media does not cover, there is sexual violence on campuses) and what was forgotten was that a group of young men hired strippers for a regular old college party. Perhaps a dose of a few scenes of the performance would get them to think twice.

So - with that - and drawing a circle around it so only those with permission and readiness to attend/participate do so, that may be the balance to strike for high school - and for those who don't get the message - perhaps they get it in other ways as they get older.

Finally - this fits in with recent efforts at raising awareness and focusing on responsiveness for student well-being and safety. We had a committee of counselors and teachers address the issue of a "code of silence" among students and adults. What we learned was that such a code does exist - that students do have incidents and issues - and many do not tell a trained adult. Bullying - internet bullying - all that students are exposed to on the internet - it's only getting worse. We have been addressing that with faculty and staff all year starting with identifying boundaries for the adults and their responsibility as "first responders" to kids and adults with issues. We spend a lot of time on calculus and our six world languages - but these issues, too, are important and who/what Amherst is. If we push the envelope, it will be researched and well-thought out.

More than you asked, but I feel I owe you as much explanation as possible.

In a message dated 1/5/08 1:33:45 PM, Amherst AC writes:
Hey Jere,
Yeah, a bit more than I asked for. Let me rephrase: Are you going to allow "Reclaiming Cunt" monologue?

In a message dated 1/5/08 2:18:25 PM, hochmanj@ARPS.ORG writes:
I'll get back to you on that.

In a message dated 1/5/08 2:26:42 PM, Amherst AC writes:
Her Jere,
And while you're at it: "The little Coochie Snorcher" is #2 on my list. You know, the one where a 24-year-old has sex with a 16-year-old after warming her up with alcohol (and in Ensler's original 1996 edition she was only 14 years old).

Sunday: 11:45 am. Now that I think about it there are two questions: Will ARHS censor that particularly offensive 'VM' skit (thus vindicating my 2004 crusade) and will the Superintendent of the Amherst Schools actually use the C-word in writing?

Friday, January 4, 2008

She'ssss baaaack! (Ensler that is)

As I recently mentioned in my comments section to Blog Guru Tommy Devine, my only regret concerning this blog (started March 17’th, St Patty's Day) equaled the one I had over my hip replacement surgery: why the Hell did I wait so long?!

For the surgery I simply thought I was way too young; and for blogging I was unsure if enough material would present itself for my musings at least 5 days per week or roughly the publishing schedule of the Crusty Gazette.

So as I’m driving home this morning from dropping my daughter off at the Chinese Charter School (conveniently located next to my Health Club) I flip open the Gazette to the break page scanning headlines while driving to see if they got around to covering Fitness Club closings yet: Nope. But I spot a headline on the Boy Scout Christmas tree tax debacle and I figured there’s today's upload.

Ahh, but then (now sitting at home with coffee in hand) I turn the page: ‘Amherst Regional High School to perform Vagina Monologues.’ Wow, we’ve come a long way: the crusty Gazette used to never allow the word "Vagina" in a headline. Gee, maybe they have progressed to where they will also use the "C-word" (rhymes with bunt.)

Yes folks hold on to your hats, it is going to be a Hell of a ride. The last time (2004) the Amherst High School allowed teen-agers to publicly perform R-rated material it was announced the first week of December.

After all, V-Day is Ensler’s way of trying to reinvent Valentine’s Day (just like she tried to reinvent the "C-word"), thus the play is performed around mid-February, nationwide. Which of course doesn’t give the kiddies much time to reherse.

And it's a pretty safe bet that--like in 2004--no other K-12 school system in America will allow this embarrassing travesty, thus making Amherst the ONLY entity to cancel a production of 'West Side Story' but allow 'Vagina Monologues'.

And you would think a disjointed School system--with four-out-of-six principals having just abandoned ship and a long-time teacher busted for kiddie porn--would have better things to do then spend the next six weeks defending this controversial, ‘Only In Amherst,’ decision.

UPDATE (4:20 pm): Just received this weekly email from highly-paid Superintendent Jere Hochman to the schools listserve:

You may have read or heard by now that there will be a production of portions of the "Vagina Monologues" at the High School this year. This is a single performance and is part of a week of activities and awareness raising on women's rights, safety, and responsiveness. Although the performance is important with powerful messages, we are mindful this not for everybody. As was the case in the previous production four years ago, several parameters will be placed on production. Details are still being worked out on these parameters, but they will include the same "parent permission" approach for student participation and student attendance; no school day or assembly performance; and others.

For those not familiar with our high school programs, this is not the single annual "school play" or musical. "AIDA," this year's school musical, will be performed later this year. The annual High School Cabaret is this weekend and several other musical and drama performances have occurred and will take place this year.

Of course I’m a tad curious about the term “portions of the Vagina Monologues”??? Four years when I suggested they simply edit out the Monologue that used the “C-word” repeatedly, or the other one that glorified sex between a minor female and adult women who plied her with alcohol (suggesting that since it was a lesbian affair it was fine) that would be, borderline, acceptable.

But Her Highness Eve Ensler legally REQUIRED her artistic masterpiece be performed as written and it was all or nothing. Hmmm...

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

And the winner is...

Okay if the bricks-and-mortar Media can recycle the tired, traditional, Top Ten stories of the past year I suppose this blog can name the single most important story in the People’s Republic of Amherst for 2007. Of course if I were a clever blogger you would have a drum roll MP3 file to click.

The May 1’st Proposition Two and a half Override FAILURE. I emphasize failure because if it had passed the story would have been one of those journalistic “dog bites man” stories and would barely have made anyone’s top-ten list BUT...because it failed in education oriented, overly enlightened Amherst it's a “man bites dog story.”

Why did it fail? Let me count the ways! The oldest martial arts truism in the 'Book Of Secrets' unequivocally states: “Never underestimate your opponent.” In this case, Overriders didn’t even know they had opponents until after heavy artillery had been brought to bear.

With ample ammunition: like the $4.3 million Amherst had hidden in reserves thus translating to town officials wanting taxpayers to consume their savings so the town could keep money stashed in its Stabilization and Free Cash accounts (currently at $3.9 million.)

The Town Manager made the rookie--throwback to the 1980’s--mistake of threatening cuts to Public Safety that he would never implement (although, unfortunately, Police did take a hit); and he turned down a guaranteed $30,000 annually for a retched municipal golf course that squandered an average of $100,000 per year for six consecutive years.

And for some inexplicable reason all the Heavy-Hitter, Usual Suspects in the 'Save our Schools' crowd let a guy who had absolutely no political experience whatsoever run their inept campaign.

Overconfident Overriders failed to order lawn signs; and that monumental mistake plus some immature High School kids stealing the “No More Overrides” lawns signs the first night they sprouted all over town, combined for a Perfect Storm of publicity. One clueless kid was caught by police after dropping his cell phone and paid $250 in restitution that Taxpayers for Responsible Change donated to local charities.

Of course all the dire predictions failed to materialize and the Regional School finished the year with an extra $1 million left over in their operation budget (which they promptly spent) and no teacher layoffs. Now we learn Amherst taxpayers subsidize the Ambulance service we provide to nearby towns and Umass by about $650,000 per year. And those empty outreach buses cost just over $100,000.

Thus, town officials have their managerial work cut out for them in 2008—especially since an Override is out of the question. But hey, that’s why we pay them the Big Bucks.

My Christmas wishes (A leprechaun granted me three) for next year: The Grinch/Scrooge Town Manager learns from his most recent mistake and axes the tax on our Boy Scouts Christmas tree sales; Amherst police catch the culprit who stole money destined for children from the Christmas light display on Whippletree lane; and the Chamber of Commerce actually decorates downtown Amherst like an American town rather than a North Korean village.


Tuesday, January 1, 2008

A crime against children.

So in spite of some sick Grinch stealing a day’s worth of Christmas donations, the Pastorello’s epic light show--unfortunately their grand finale--on Whippletree Lane went over the top for overall donations going to help children at the Shriners Chrildren Hospital, surpassing a record set in 2001.

Since the crusty Gazette (amazingly) managed to get the article in today about the depressing theft Sunday night and the Pastorello’s mentioned they only needed $29 to break the record I dropped off a check this morning for $30 (note to thief: It’s made out to Shriners Children Hospital, so don’t bother returning to the scene of your despicable crime.)

And I can only hope a lot more folks in Amherst got the same idea as me and dropped off a check as well.