Tuesday, June 30, 2009

What a difference a century makes.

Hadley was of course the birthmother of Amherst, ejecting us from the nest 250 years ago (we were swampland at the time.)

So Hadley, in celebration of their 350'Th anniversary, repainted Town Hall, decked it out in red-white-and-blue and note the absence of a UN flag. Not to mention, unlike Amherst, they have their own town town flag flying under Old Glory (and in the Boston State House.)

Monday, June 29, 2009

Does anybody really know what time it is?

A newly refurbished clock and a new UN flag spruce up Town Hall. Now if we could just fill those potholes.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Heart & Seoul

Americans being, well, Americans

According to some folks "All Asians look alike." In Korea that ism is closer to being true. The only difference between North and South Korea is ideology, resulting in completely differing economies. And there the difference is like night and day.

When viewed at night from outer space North Korea is black as coal while Seoul, the capital of South Korea, glows like a giant Christmas tree. doctorbulldog.wordpress.com/2006/10/13/

If allowed one photo in the restricted zone (you had to check your camera) during the tour of the "Third Tunnel of Aggression," our second stop on the DMZ tour, I would have shot the point of intersection where South Korea had dug a tunnel down deep and steep to the unfinished North Korean effort.

The South Korean tunnel was well lit, ventilated, about eight feet high by 8 feet wide, smoothly cylindrical and completely coated in concrete; the North Korean tunnel was as crude as it was cramped. Perhaps 5.5 feet high by 5.5 wide, with rough jagged edges all around. The average person had to duck the entire time.

Fortunately, as I whacked my head four or five times, yellow construction hard hats were required.

When North Korea hastily abandoned their pernicious project, they left behind definitive evidence: small holes drilled in the solid rock just large enough to hold the dynamite used for excavation.

Obviously the placement of the holes--now highlighted in red paint--indicated the tunnel was a North to South endeavor.

According to our tour guide (and Wikipedia) if the tunnel had become operational an entire division of soldiers with artillery could have passed per hour. Since we had to walk single file while hunched over I doubt even highly-trained soldiers could move at a rate of 30,000 per hour. But I'm sure an awful lot of them could.

And they would then have had a terrifying advantage: the element of surprise.

To date South Korea has uncovered four different tunnels all pointed towards the capital city of Seoul, where one-quarter of the population resides. And government officials fear many more tunnels are out there.

So now a Great Wall of barbed wire extends all the way from the city limit of Seoul to the DMZ, running parallel to the Imjin River and Freedom Highway. Interspersed every half-mile or so, an elevated guard tower staffed by soldiers with machine guns.

At a military checkpoint we are boarded for a passport check by a young soldier dressed in camouflage uniform and sporting black reflective sunglasses. About half way to the back of the bus he slowly raises his glasses and says sternly in broken English "Who took picture?"

Everybody looks surprised (myself included) while shaking our heads side-to-side. "I saw a flash!," he declares and then looks around for a reaction. Getting none, he turns and marches off the bus after hardly glancing at our passports.

This was about 11:00 AM on a beautifully clear sunny day, so I'm fairly sure a digital camera would not have flashed. It could simply have been bright sunshine bouncing off a shiny object on the bus...or maybe the border guards always play that game just to reinforce the posted warnings (verbally reinforced many times by our tour guide).

In South Korea men are required to perform 2 years of military service. Every 6 months they get a bar added to a shoulder patch on their uniform to indicate length of experience, and by easy deduction amount of time left to serve. Our interrogator had earned only one bar.

Seated behind me on the bus three American 20-something women had been chatting up a storm on the one-hour journey from Seoul, pausing now and then to softy sing Beatles songs. Immediately after passing the military checkpoint one dials her cellphone: "Sorry Mom, I forgot about that...(probably referring to the 13-hour time difference.) "But we're here, we're at the DMZ!"

After the brief conversation ends she said to her friend soberly "Grandma had two brothers who served here, and they're still missing."

Freedom Bridge was our first stop on the tour, so named because when prisoners of war were exchanged after the 1953 cease fire they shouted "freedom" as they sprinted towards their respective homelands.

Now it is unused and heavily guarded on both sides. Overhead a helicopter gunship flies in a slow--but probably very precise--grid pattern.

Our 3'rd stop was the furthermost observation outpost of the ROK army, the ground where--according to a dedication plaque on cite--outnumbered American and South Korean soldiers stood "shoulder to shoulder" to withstand a massive assault by fanatical Chinese troops.

Naturally the base is located atop a peak of one of the ubiquitous Korean mountains.

Perhaps 100 people hover around the dozen binocular stations that allowed a view of yet another neighboring mountain, only this one was located in North Korea. Young South Korean soldiers numbering in the dozens were among those who came to gawk.

The last stop on the tour was Dorasan Train Station, a beautiful modern facility that opened in 2002 with the hope that reunification would allow passenger service thru North Korea. The architect designed the building roof to resemble a hand shaking another hand.Click to enlarge

Women who volunteer serve in the military. And they start at higher rank.

The $35 half-day tour ended at noon so I did not get to up to Panmunjom where the cease fire treaty was signed in a building now--like the country itself--a "house divided". Where guards stand glaring at each other from within spitting distance.

The Korean (undeclared) War never concluded...they just came to an official truce, which at times--particularly now--seems precarious. Yet at all the stops along the DMZ, powerful symbols exist dedicated to reunification: A sculpture of the globe split in half with Koreans on opposite sides trying to push it back together.

Or the repetitive use of the terms "freedom" and "reunification" for infrastructure around the DMZ, including roads, bridges and even entire villages. When asked, our young S. Korean tour guide said quite confidently that reunification would happen within the next ten years.

Meanwhile a North Korean inter ballistic missile--capable of hitting Hawaii--warms up in a silo with an estimated launch date of July 4, perhaps a symbolic message to the United States.

Thursday June 23'rd marked the 59'Th anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War, a day that South Koreans treat with the same respect as Americans do Memorial Day. In North Korea's Pyongyang 100,000 residents turned out for an anti-American rally.

Millions perished in the Korean War and even now 59 years later, the catastrophic conflict is agonizingly unresolved. But still, they have hope. And it is strong.

If indeed, hope is a muscle--then South Korea is the strongest nation on earth.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Last Korean sundown

For the Kelley's anyway.

PS: I did get in and out of the DMZ without incident. But it will take a day or two to get my head around it for upload.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Like a bridge over troubled water...

Click to enlarge

Strictly business (of the non-profit kind)

A recommendation from the Amherst College Advisory Budget Committee:

"Plans for major renovation or building projects, with the possible exception of the Merrill Science Center project, should remain on hold"

It sounds like they dare not speak the name but that recommendation must mean the Lord Jeffery Inn will remain shuttered, so it can continue to cast a grim shadow over the downtown.

Great timing guys! The state will up the local hotel/motel tax from 4% to 6% (the last year of operation the Lord Jeff generated $40,000 to the town at the old rate.)

And it's not like the Umass Campus Center Hotel is going to start paying the tax anytime soon (North and South Korea will be reunited first) since Senator Stan Rosenberg wants town officials to lay off picking on poor little Umass for more money.

Amherst College can buy the Fiber Arts building for $2.3 million (twice accessed value) renovate houses on Snell street and Hitchcock Street into offices taking them all off the tax rolls and spend millions more renovating the tax exempt ornate buildings leading into town center, but to Hell with the Lord Jeff.

A pox upon them!

A fish story

The Coax is a giant mega-mall/convention center in the heart of downtown Seoul that hosted the International Council for Small Business World conference my wife was attending to both present and moderate a presentation.

While she worked I went to the Aquarium.
Fish in a harp (maybe they were Irish.)
Obviously the designer had a sense of humor.
Fresh fish in a refrigerator
Alien turtle with two heads.
Another Alien fish eating small child
Back to "school".

Sunday, June 21, 2009


Fountain at entry to Seoul National University of Technology.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Welcome Amherst Fire Department

The greatest thing about the Internet is you can still feel close to home. Got an email an hour ago requesting a link on my blog to the AFD Local 1764 web site. Happy to oblige--and sorry for not thinking about it sooner.

Interestingly the person reported that they had a hotlink on the official town website, but it disappeared a while back. Hmmm....

Probably about the time the Firefighter Union had problems with the way the Town Mangler was portraying ambulance service costs in his "negotiations" with Hadley. Where, like his "Strategic Agreement" with Umass, he was taken to the cleaners.

Kind of ironic that a town supposedly into 'Free Speech' is pretty quick to squelch it when they don't like the message.


Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Wonderful World of Lotte

Since Lotte World is celebrating 20 years of operation it's safe to assume they learned a few things from Disney World. In a nutshell, Lotte World is simply a mountainous indoor Disneyworld.

Numerous amusement rides--including a high speed full sized roller coaster--merry go rounds. ubiquitous refreshment stands, costumed animal characters, Broadway type shows, and a daily parade.

The Lotte company owns the adjacent mall--that resembled a cross between Harrads International and Saks Fifth Avenue connected by a marble underground tunnel to the amazing amusement center.

Like Disney, one price gets you unlimited usage all day long. Unlike Disney, admission was around $20. By 6:00 pm the kids passed out (as did I.)

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Korea War Memorial/Kids Playcenter

Proud symbol of the ROK Marines.

Russian T-34 Tank. The North had a couple hundred and used them effectively at the onset of the invasion.

Russian made anti-aircraft gun used by the North.

South Korea's anti- aircraft gun.

I guess some would consider it a rather strange juxtaposition: a cavernous modern granite and marble museum dedicated to all things war but with generous floor space set aside as a children's playground featuring Thomas the train, a giant slide, and an ocean of soft rubber balls all overseen by exuberant young workers.

The Korean War Museum covers battles from ancient history up to those not yet fought on the peninsula of Korea, illustrating the terrible tools of war. And like the Air/Space museum in Washington they have the original machinery on the floor and hanging in the air above.

The cost for all six of us to enter (three adults, two kids, one toddler) was only $2.50 total, but did not include access to the ground floor play center--that cost an additional $25 for the two kids and toddler.

We were there midmorning Tuesday and while not crowded there was still a fair number of folks slowly ambling among the displays while down below the kids play center was packed. We of course stood out and young school kids in uniforms came up to us (Donna more often probably because of her red hair) and asked in practiced English for our autographs.

The South Korean government purchased the property upon which the museum sits from the US government, when our army base moved across street. Considering that chubby whacko in the North is once again rattling his saber, let's hope there's never a need to expand this place.

The priceless cost of war.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Greetings from Seoul

Since President Obama has troubles with waterboarding as torture perhaps he should look into herding terrorists W-A-Y in the back of a United 777 international flight all middle seats and make sure to break up a family traveling together with the two children. Yikes!

Lousy service, lousy food, with no legroom.

And naturally as we approached Japan the 3 MPH tailwind became a 100 MPH headwind and slowed us down. Just what you need after 13 hours in the air. We were also told to stay seated after the plane landed so Japanese authorities could come aboard and test travelers for body temperature and collect health forms (the last thing you wanted to acknowledge in writing was coughing, sneezing or runny nose.)

They never bothered to do either but a when we landed two hours later in Korea those authorities did.

A smattering of passengers on both flights were wearing surgical masks and the workers at the airport taking body temperatures with a small wand like device placed near the forehead or ear canal all were wearing them.

Yes, my Mac laptop survived the trip--although Japanese security folks did pick it up and turn it around a few times, looking puzzled. Still trying to get the cable modem working where we are staying so my posts may get as crusty as the Gazette.

Speaking of torture: Since we are 13 hours ahead (it's Tuesday morning here) Amherst Town Meeting is probably still in session.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The dangers of blogging

So yeah I'm a little concerned about bringing my MacBook Pro 17" by Airport Security or Customs as we enter Korea...with black electrical tape and oversized paper clips making it resemble a bomb and all.

It started as a crack in the very back corner where the monitor hinges to the main frame and I noticed it a day or two after live blogging the Select board meeting where the Town Mangler announced he was withholding a permit for the private committee who has run the July 4'th Parade after a 26 years hiatus for the past seven years, in other words, the People's Republic was "taking over" the July 4'th Parade. I guess I closed it a little too hard that night.

I joked on my post back then that "no chairs or desks were injured in the making of this film" (turn up your volume at the very end of the clip) little realizing my computer was indeed injured.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

There he goes again...

So once again the People's Republic of Amherst has a Field of Dreams--errrrr, I mean wheat, growing smack dab in the middle of Kendrick Park.

The Kendrick Park Committee is issuing their report about what to do with the donated landscape and cheered the Town Mangler's sorry attempt at a skating rink. Last year we spent thousands in DPW labor and got only one or two days of skating out of the deal; way cheaper to have rented ice time from the Mullins Center.

Maybe this winter Mr. Shaffer should hire a expert consultant to create an outdoor skating rink.

Ironic isn't it? Larry Shaffer loves the Rockwellian idea of an open small-town public skating rink for families to enjoy, but he bullies the July 4'th Parade Committee by withholding police and fire vehicles because he wants anti-war protesters to get the free publicity paid for on the Parade Committee's dime.

Last year's fiasco

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Out with the old, in with new

Dave Sullivan would hate for me to say it, but now that District Attorney Elizabeth Scheibel has announced she will not seek re-election next year, he's a shoe in to replace her.

And no, it has nothing to do with his Irish heritage, adopting a beautiful daughter (along with the other two beautiful daughters) or that he marches in the Amherst July 4'th Parade (not to mention donates money.) Or...maybe it does.

Dave has also reorganized and streamlined the Hampshire County Probate and Family Court into a fine-tuned working machine--something I almost never see in government. He financed their web page without tax money because he knew how accessible it would make all the important documents dealing with personal family matters.

And, like Lady Justice, he treats everyone the same--in a good way of course.

DA Scheibel stepped in deep do-do with the embarassing Pottygate affair (wasting taxpayers money on a silly turf fight) and she's a Republican in a state where that party is a decidedly endangered species.

Simply put, Dave Sullivan is a stand up guy.

Monday, June 8, 2009

A Mexican standoff

Helen Thelen , Stephanie O'Keeffe, Alisa Brewer, Kevin Joy. Friday

So the trials and tribulations of the July 4’th Parade in the People’s Republic of Amherst is starting to resemble an old Buck Rogers movie serial with every week a new cliffhanger ending to the ongoing sad saga.

At last week's Select Board meeting (out of nowhere) former Lordship Gerry Weiss issued a public “plea” for the private Parade Committee to relent “just this year” and allow “free speech” in the Parade line of march so that the town could allow Police and Fire vehicles so that retiring police chief Charlie Scherpa and Fire Chief Keith Hoyle could lead the parade as Grand Marshals.

I asked the previous week: why can’t the town—just this year--allow the Parade Committee their First Amendment right (upheld by a 9-0 Supreme Court decision) to decide "what not to say" and allow town equipment so that two retiring chiefs with over 75 years of service could be publicly thanked by the people--especially children--in the community?

On Friday Princess Stephanie and Alisa Brewer (one shy of a Select board quorum) came to the VFW to press the issue with the July 4’th Parade Committee. No shots fired, but no treaty signed.

Interestingly last Monday Alisa Brewer said the town’s 250’th Parade Committee had created a superb float that would be in the Hadley 350’th Parade this coming Saturday and the Amherst July 4’th Parade.

Hmmm…even if the float is built with all volunteer labor and donated materials it is still town property. But town officials are allowing this vehicle in the July 4’th Parade even though enforcing a ban on police and fire vehicles unless the Committee surrenders their principals?

Oh, I forgot: the town’s 250’ th Parade is being held to a totally different set of standards than is the private July 4’th Parade.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

What so proudly we hailed...

-----Original Message-----
From: Anthony Marx
To: amherstac@aol.com
Sent: Fri, 5 Jun 2009 2:29 pm
Subject: Your majestic American flag on Chapel Hill

Dear Larry,

Thanks for bringing this to our attention. I believe that it is important for the College to honor courageous Americans in accordance with state and federal edicts. We have been working to improve our observance of proper flag protocol, as I see you noted on Memorial day. I have asked staff in the Public Affairs office to subscribe to the state listserve you mention. They will also conduct further research into all federal guidelines regarding display of the flag and be sure to act in accordance with them.

Thanks again for writing, and best wishes for an enjoyable summer.

Tony Marx

From: amherstac@aol.com
To: marx@amherst.edu
Sent: Fri, 5 Jun 2009 3:06 pm
Subject: Re: Your majestic American flag on Chapel Hill

Hey Tony,

Thanks! I and plenty of other caring Amherst residents will applaud this. That particular flag is so majestic and so well placed...

And yeah, you did great on Memorial Day (W-A-Y better than the town of Amherst.)

All you really need do is to subscribe to the state listserve as it covers both Federal and Governor ordered lowerings. And Suzzette--the person in charge--honestly cares.

Thanks again (you too have a great summer)


PS: The next official Federal lowering is 9/11 (and I believe you lost some alumni that awful day.)

Sent: Friday, May 15, 2009 3:09 PM
To: Anthony Marx; sh.events@state.ma.us
Subject: Your majestic American flag on Chapel Hill

Hey Tony,

So Wednesday was one of those state-wide local edicts issued by our Governor to fly the flag at half-staff, commemorating the ultimate sacrifice of Massachusetts resident Explosive Ordinance Disposalman John Trahan, age 22--and with that "job description" you can imagine how he died (at least it was quick.)

But today is Peace Officers' Day--and the President of the United States has ordered all flags to half-staff to commemorate those men and women in blue who have also given up their "last measure of devotion" to keep us safe.

Your flag on Chapel Hill is the most prominent in Amherst. Could you maybe please (since the College tends to bring it down to half-staff for employees) subscribe to the Mass state listserve for those rare occasions when the Governor orders it down, and also observe the Federal ones as well (also rare) for flag protocol? Memorial Day is coming up.

Top be perfectly honest, it's kind of embarrassing.

Larry Kelley

Memorial Day 2009
I should also note the main town American flag in town center stayed down at half-staff for an entire week. Amherst College got theirs back up around 10 minutes after noon on Memorial Day (protocol calls for it to return to full-staff at noon, and lots of folks keep it at half-staff till dusk, like all the other Federal remembrances.)