Friday, December 31, 2010

This one's for ALL of you

For the majority of family men or women who are rapidly approaching retirement, the routine work grind becomes a winding down process: use up sick days, vacation time or personal days--especially around Christmas, when a major New England storm is bearing down on your workplace.

But, like the vast majority of public safety officers, John (Jack) Maguire, age 60, doesn't fit the profile. And as a result he will never again hug his wife, celebrate the major milestones of his three grown children, or regale friends and neighbors at a backyard barbecue.

The 34-year veteran Woburn cop, also like the vast majority of police officers, had never outside of routine practice fired his gun in the line of duty.

The night after Christmas, in the middle of a blizzard, he broke that record--firing it for the first and last time.

The burden for a public servant like officer Maguire is that they serve the general public. To make a mistake using lethal force is unthinkable, thus they think v-e-r-y judiciously...and thinking s-l-o-w-s reaction.

But when dealing with a malevolent misfit who has nothing to lose, that brief pause can be fatal. Such is the thin blue line that protects us all--a line that has now grown even thinner.

Governor Patrick Duval has ordered by decree the American and state flags in the Commonwealth to half staff often over the past year to honor the passing of public servants from Massachusetts. The men and women range from politicians to police officers and, of course, the military.

And yes, all of the younger ones were
men who died in war--two of them World War II Veterans whose remains were only recently recovered. ##############################################

Cpt. Harold Brown killed in action in Afghanistan
Former Lt Governor and State Senator Sumner Gage Whittier
Former House Clerk Wallace Mills
Former Minority Leader, Francis W. Hatch
Sergeant Robert J. Barrett killed in action in Afghanistan
World War II Veterans Corporal Richard Loring and Staff Sergeant John Farrell
Former House Member Frances Alexander of Beverly
Sergeant Joshua D. Desforges killed in Action in Afghanistan.
Former House Member Ralph E. Sirianni
Former House Member Nancy Caffyn
State Police Sergeant Douglas A. Weddleton who died in the line of duty
State Representative Robert Nyman
Spc. Scott A. Andrews killed in action in Afghanistan
Corporal Paul Fagundes who died in the line of duty
Pfc. Clinton E. Springer II, who died in Afghanistan
Jonathan M. Curtis who was killed in action in Afghanistan
Middlesex County Sheriff James V. DiPaola
First Lieutenant Scott Milley who was killed in action in Afghanistan
Sergeant James A. Ayube, II killed in action in Afghanistan
Pfc. Ethan Goncalo who died in Afghanistan
Officer John Maguire Woburn Police Department killed in the line of duty

May the road rise to meet you. May the wind be always at your back.May the sun shine warm upon your face.May the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again, May the Lord hold you in the palm of His hand.

Thursday, December 30, 2010


So it comes as little surprise to me (see photo below) that our expensive town website--newly redesigned and indeed pretty spiffy--attracts a slew of visitors looking for information to pay their parking tickets. Because if you are one day over the 21 days allowed, the price more than doubles.

Gotcha again.

But from a public relations viewpoint I'm not so sure that is the kind of thing Amherst should advertise on the main page of the town website, which is quickly becoming the initial point of greeting with consumers, some of whom may be prospective residents.

Amherst has one of the highest property tax rates in the area; almost twice that of our next door neighbor Hadley--a farm community surprisingly welcoming of commercial business especially around Rt. 9, the main traffic corridor to the area's number one employer Umass.

Yet we enforce parking for profit the way a southern hicktown enforces speeding as a major contributor to municipal financing.

Sure, beleaguered small business owners in the downtown want efficiently controlled parking to allow for maximum turnover allowing more potential costumers threw the door, but it can also reach a point where folks will be turned off by the cold calculating overly efficient enforcement and take their business elsewhere, where the parking is free.

The Springfield Republican reports

Obviously an unhappy customer

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Death Row zoning decision

Jeff Bagg, town planner. ZBA Chair Tom Simpson, Hilda Greenbaum, Barbara Ford.

9:30 PM
The Amherst Zoning Board of Appeals shook off a constant chorus of complaints from nearby neighbors and
unanimously approved a special permit for family practitioner Dr. Kate Atkinson to occupy a 16,000 square foot LEED certified building she plans to construct in a Professional Research Park on the outskirts of Amherst Woods, an upscale neighborhood where Dr. Atkinson also resides.

The $2.5 million building will add to Amherst's anemic commercial taxbase (currently under 10%) while keeping a vital service in town.
########Live Blogging########Live Blogging######

The Zoning Board of Appeals is like the Governor in that they decide if a business venture will live or die. Tonight they play that role to the hilt. Holding off their final decision about whether Dr. Kate Atkinson, a general practitioner in the endangered field of family medicine, can build a larger facility in her hometown, in an research park until this final meeting of 2010.

Starts 7:30 PM. (On time). No public comment tonight, just a discussion of the board.

Hilda Greenbaum is concerned about adding additional office space when there are currently vacancies in the stock of town commercial properties now. (And of course Ms. Greenbaum would know as she owns a fair amount of property in town.)

Also concerned that the second floor would, gasp, also be occupied by medical practitioners thus turning the building into a "medical center."

Dr. Kate could add one medical employee and house them in the upstairs location but they would be limited to only 22 hours of operation. Ms Greenbaum wants to know how that would be enforced--especially during flu season when that provider may be, God forbid, tempted to stay in the office and put in extra hours.

Tom Simpson and Jeff Bagg both respond that it would be the job of the building commissioner to enforce the hours of operation.

Dr Kate: I do a lot of work from home on the computer.

Building commissioner Bonnie Weeks: "I don't think the bylaw is greatly concerned with a once in a while thing--especially if an emergency. As long as they routinely keep track of their hours it should be easy to see if they remain complaint with the bylaw."

Dr. Kate: We have evening hours now and it's very quiet. Many incidents are handled over the phone.

Hilda: What if she has a weight watchers group after 7:00 PM?

Dr Kate: And that would be bad, why?

Jeff Bagg: Limits on number of people who can occupy that space via conditions.

Tom Simpson: We can limit number of days for after-hours usage in upstairs meeting room by condition. Say, once a month. We can limit use of exercise room to only employees of the practice.

Dr. Kate: Exercise room is only for employees.

Jeff Bagg likes the idea they are starting to talk about "conditions" rather than voting no.

8:25 They seem satisfied now with hours and use of the upstairs space (with conditions).
Next issue: Retention basin for storm water runoff. Hilda G. wants a fence to protect kids from falling in.

Tom Simpson on the issue of traffic: 13 patients per hour is their max so it's not going to be a huge increase.

Hilda Greenbaum: "If we turned it down due to traffic we would get laughed at."

Jeff Bagg: Traffic study confirms traffic will not see a major increase.

Hilda G: Can this practice support the overhead of that building? (worried that Dr. Kate will belly up and sell to someone else.)

Tom Simpson: That's not our concern.

Tom Simpson: Are we agreed the (medical) use is allowed and acceptable with conditions?

Other two members agree.

8:45 PM

Conditions: Exercise room only for employees. Limited number of full-time employees. If second floor is rented, the tenant must come back to Zoning Board for approval. Fence around the retention basin at least 24" high. 2nd floor meeting room can only be used for educational purposes. Limit of three full-time medical practitioners, total max of 120 hours per week. Permit expires on change of ownership or management.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Let the record show; and a response

On Dec 23, 2010, at 10:54 AM, Debbie Westmoreland wrote:

Dear Mr. Aronson:

Thank you for bringing your concerns about the minutes of the December 21st Amherst School Committee meeting to my attention. As you know, minutes are not a transcript; but rather require a synopsis of any discussion that takes place at the meeting. I always attempt to capture the primary concern of the speaker when summarizing public comments. I believe you read from a prepared statement at the meeting. If you are willing to provide a copy to me, the minutes can state that you requested after the meeting that your comments be attached to the record (rather than having me try again to summarize your statement).

I do feel the need to address your statement "If the synopsis provided happens to be a deliberate misrepresentation, then these minutes are as disingenuous as Ms. Woodland's proclamation of 22 September and make a mockery out of any public comments received during School Committee meetings." I consider my job as the keeper of the public records for the Amherst, Pelham and Amherst-Pelham School Committees to be one of the most important aspects of my position and would never deliberately misrepresent anything discussed at a meeting. In serving under four different Superintendents/Co-Superintendents, I have always remained impartial in the recording of minutes--attempting to ensure that all discussions are portrayed accurately. I agree wholeheartedly that public records must be accurate and am dismayed at your suggestion that I would deliberately misrepresent them. If you have concerns about my job performance in the future, I request that you bring them to the attention of the Superintendent.


Debbie Westmoreland
Administrative Assistant to the Superintendent

On 12/23/10 11:35 AM, "Michael Aronson" wrote:

Dear Ms. Westmoreland,

I am not questioning the quality of your job performance. As you may note, I suggest that the speed at which I speak perhaps impaired your ability to hear all that I had to say. The sole request I have is for you to revise your notes to reflect what was said. Feel free to use the email sent yesterday to inform your minutes.

What I observe is that upon recording others' comments - especially those similar to that of Ms. Woodland that provide glowing assessments of the interim superintendent - there seems to be no limit on the detail provided. But as I noted in my comments, Ms. Woodland's comments are colored by both her conflict of interest and Ms. Geryk's failure to clarify the nature of those conflicts. The focus of my comments was an ethical breach and fiduciary irresponsibility, yet this is not reflected in the minutes. My concern is that comments critical of administrative practice are not being fully aired. That harms public welfare.

I understand that in the highly politicized environment inside the District at this time there is a lot of pressure - not the least of which is on you. The fact that the event I described occurred and is easily documented, clearly shows this.

Please do not interpret my comments as an attack on your integrity - which I do not question. Should I have offended you in any way please accept my apologies. My comments were not focused on the messenger.

I remain committed to being represented accurately in the minutes. Thank you for your efforts in this regard.

Best regards,

Michael Aronson

Friday, December 24, 2010

Fox News

Top story disparages Umass undergrads and boxed story under it praises them. Fair-and-balanced indeed.

So almost 30 years ago I learned to grab a cheap headline by simply attending the venerable Amherst Select Board Monday night meetings to use the 6:15 Question Period as a bully pulpit.

And over the years, there would almost always be one of the five who would make the mistake of engaging me--His Lordship Mr Weiss (a signatory on the anti-Gateway petition) once referred to it as my "target practice".

Princess Stephanie has permanently squelched that possibility--with help from the new Open Meeting Law regulations-- by enacting a policy of not discussing anything at Public Comment that has not already been published in advance on the agenda. But obviously, you can still grab a cheap headline--and if it happens to be a slow news week in Amherst...

Amherst Media, formerly ACTV, did recently reair John Fox's full 11 minute diatribe last Monday night (missing half of it during the live broadcast) that in public speaking terms equaled 'War and Peace'--although obviously he's way more interested in war.

And you can certainly tell from his opening remarks that he is indeed a Washington lawyer. Sucking up to the Select Board and praising ARA chair John Coull who just happens to be Princess Stephanie's dad. Kind of like when a lawyer says "With all due respect" right before ripping into opposing counsel.

Although he did make an error of fact saying the Select Board works for "virtually nothing." They actually get paid a whopping $300 per year. In his 7-page diatribe to the Planning Board, extensively cited in this Select Board appearance, Mr. Fox trashes student undergrads:

"To put this in context of future undergraduate housing on Old Frat Row: for every 100 students, 52 can be expected to engage in Binge Drinking, and 28 can be expected to engage in Frequent Heavy Binge Drinking. In the case of 500 students, nearly 250 would be Binge Drinkers, and 140 would be Frequent Heavy Binge Drinkers."

Obviously statistics can be used in many ways: some skinhead member of the KKK, for instance, could easily use statistics showing racial or ethnic minority groups are disproportionately represented in the state and federal prisons, thus the ARA should ban minorities from applying for any housing erected on the Gateway.

The good news is because of the work of Campus and Community Coalition to End High-Risk Drinking This number of "frequent heavy binge drinkers" is actually down 20% from five years ago.

And as I recently highlighted, because of the economic impact of the fine increase to $300 for alcohol, nuisance house, and noise violations (at CCC urging) the rowdy, noisy party houses around Amherst have diminished.

But these NIMBYs will continue to make noise--lot's of it. And in a sense, it's the taxpayers who will pay that penalty.

Part two of his diatribe

And as previously mentioned:
Disclaimer: Although I'm a longtime member of the ARA, Umass graduate, currently a Continuing Education student and 5th generation Amherst resident, I speak here, as I always do, strictly for myself (and for the hard-pressed taxpayers of this town) using that cherished American ideal known as the First Amendment.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Lemons to lemonade

The old landfill (capped and lined)

DPW chief Guilford Mooring opened up sealed Request For Proposal bids this morning at 11:00 for reuse of the Old Landfill on Old Farms Road. All four bids concerned solar panel farms which take advantage of the large open space and do not require employees on site, who may be put off but the whiff of methane.

Two years ago the town rejected the only bidder proposing a 2.5 megawatt solar energy farm due to low annual lease payments (under $20,000). Today's proposals are potentially far better because of state and federal incentives private companies can now utilize.

Benefits to the town include annual lease payments, hefty property tax payments since the landfill operation would be taxable, and a source of potentially cheap energy.

Although neighbors on Larkspur Drive will not doubt complain about anything getting approved near their exclusive enclave.

Let the record show

Ms. Debbie Westmoreland
Amherst Pelham Regional Schools
Dear Debbie,

I want to clarify the nature of my comments during the Amherst School Committee meeting of December 21. The minutes from the 12/21 meeting posted on the ARPS website characterize my comments with the following statement:

"Michael Aaronson, Amherst resident, requested that the School Committee carefully examine the contract between the current administration and UMass since someone who benefits from the contract made a statement at a School Committee meeting advocating that the current Superintendent be given the permanent position without a search."

I understand that I tend to speak quickly, so you may not have captured the intent of my comments. For that I apologize. However, the minutes as presented do not capture the tenor or complete facts of my comments.I began my comments citing verbatim from the minutes from the Regional Meeting of Sept. 22. Please note that I deliberately did not use Ms. Woodland's name in this citation.

I stated:(" ......., parent and UMass education professor, stated that she believes it is unwarranted and unwise to go forward with a Superintendent search and doing so would amount to a vote of no confidence in Ms. Geryk. She noted that she has worked with Superintendents across the state and Ms. Geryk has accomplished more in her seven months on the job than most new superintendents accomplish in three to five years. ")

I then read from the contract with Ms. Woodland that Ms. Geryk signed in July of 2010 - the first item from the "Specific activities to include" "coach the Superintendent in best practices related to leadership for curriculum instruction, and assessment (targeted reading list, online resources, one-on-one dialogue)"

I then questioned how Ms. Woodlands could possibly make her unqualified endorsement of Ms. Geryk when she was intimately aware of the nature of her personal contract signed just a few weeks prior to her comments (e.g. "coaching the superintendent," doing research for her on how to be a good superintendent,) On one hand she states she is as good as any superintendent in the state, on the other she is in need of a $96,000 contract that includes coaching in some of the basic functions of a Superintendent. I further question why the Interim Superintendent did not clarify that connection at the time of the meeting.

I then suggested that Woodland's remarks were disingenuous and that the whole incident including the contract suggested an ethical lapse that the Committee should consider when working with this administration.

I read the minutes of last night's meeting as selective at best. What they omit makes them inaccurate and misleading. While I am sure there are those who do not approve of declaring this unfortunate series of events, the fact is that I directly addressed my concerns and they are a part of the record.

That my comments are recorded in such a manner is unfortunate and should be corrected so that public comment is accurately reflected. If the synopsis provided happens to be a deliberate misrepresentation, then these minutes are as disingenuous as Ms. Woodland's proclamation of 22 September and make a mockery out of any public comments received during School Committee meetings.

Please let me know if it is necessary to return to the next Regional and Local meetings to rectify this misunderstanding of my comments. I would be happy to clarify my sentiments in more detail.

Kindly re-visit the minutes with the knowledge of what is provided here. Public records, in my judgement should be accurate.

Have a pleasant holiday break.


Michael Aronson

(Kindly note my name is spelled with one "A")

ARPS School Committee meeting minutes from 12/21/10

My original background report

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Above all else, do no harm

ZBA: Hilda Greenbaum, Tom Simpson, Barbara Ford, Building Commissioner Bonnie Weeks

Tonight the Zoning Board of Appeals continued the public hearing for folks to speak for or against Dr. Kate Atkinson relocating her successful family practice (with about 2,500 patients) from a 2,200 square foot building to a 12,000 square foot building she plans to construct in a Professional Research Park. The planning board has already voted in favor of a building going up. Now the only question is will that commercial building be allowed to house a medical practice.Dr. Kate Atkinson, family practitioner for 11 years and resident of Amherst Woods (neighbor to the NIMBYs)
Site is located between two existing commercial buildings and will be two floors as well.

Yeah, that too is one of those 'Only in Amherst' questions that should take no time at all, but in this case is taking hours on end. After two and half hours of testimony and discussion this evening the board closed the public comment portion but since the room had to be vacated by 10:00 PM continued the hearing to December 28 where they will render their decision, which requires a unanimous vote to pass.

The usual assortment of NIMBYs spoke against the good doctor, citing increased traffic. But a bevy of heavy hitters spoke in favor of Dr Kate: Former Town Moderator and land use planner Francesca Maltese, Barbara Shaffer Bacon who owns property nearby (with business partner Stan Rosenberg) Amherst Redevelopment Authority Chair John Coull and a handful of Town Meeting members who reminded the Zoning Board this concept already passed town meeting by a two-thirds vote.
Francesca Maltese
John Coull

Alan Powell, sidekick to BANANA (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone) Mary Streeter, defended the very concept of NIMBY saying "Who else is going to defend your own backyard?" Maybe he should get a dog.Alan Powell. Proud to be a NIMBY

And former Amherst Wildwood Elementary School Principal Mark Prince was at least honest saying, "I oppose this because it's in my backyard."Mark Prince
Friendly locals indeed

Party house of the $emester

UPDATE: Monday 4/18, Patriots Day

So these bad boys have been good as of late. But better weather brings on the "Mean Season" for partying, thus time will tell (only about a month)

Clearly the recent fine increase to $300 for the first offense for violating the town's noise or nuisance house bylaw (the maximum allowed by state law) has had a major impact. Hit them in the wallet and you get their undivided attention.

The vast majority of addresses ticketed in September and October learned their lesson and reigned in their rowdiness these past two months.

But naturally, there will always be "outliers". In this case we have 83 Morgan Circle, an address that garnered noise violations on four separate occasions, starting on September 18 with three and culminating on November 7 with two. And just to demonstrate the height of irresponsibility, three on October 1 and three more on October 2. Now that was an expensive weekend!

Their grand total for the semester: 11 tickets or $3,300 total.
Overall grand total for all locations: 176 tickets or $52,800 total.

Too bad APD could not set this up as an Enterprise Fund so that fines stay in the police budget since this four month amount alone could fund the addition of one more officer to our current strength, which is down 10 officers from ten years ago.

The raw statistics tell the story:

September: 21 Nuisance House, 44 Unlawful Noise or a total of 65
October: 13 Nuisance House, 53 Unlawful Noise or a total of 66

And here's where things get interesting:

November: 7 Nuisance House, 28 Unlawful Noise or a total of 35
December: 0 Nuisance House, 10 Unlawful Noise or a total of 10

Sure some of that is simply due to weather--a cops best friend. But certainly, the expensive tickets played a major role in bringing about such a dramatic decrease over the last two months.

A positive step in the march towards civility.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

NIMBYs at the Gate(way)

John Fox on the attack at ARA meeting earlier this month.

So Umass neighbor John (crazy-like-a) Fox seems spoiling for a fight at every opportunity--even when he has to s-t-r-e-t-c-h it a bit in order to engage.

He attended the 12/15 zoning forum (fair enough, as it was advertised as a "pubic forum") and joined forces with other anti-development BANANAs: (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone) to rail against anything remotely resembling progress--especially the Gateway Project, a once-in-a-generation joint enterprise between Umass, the town and the Amherst Redevelopment Authority, a quasi-state agency with a proven track record at urban redevelopment dating back 40 years.

And since the ARA did not attend the forum, Mr. Fox made sure to forward his 7-page diatribe to our entire 5-person committee (four elected by town voters and one appointed by the Governor) via Planning Director Jonathan Tucker, even though Mr. Fox has our individual email addresses.

Today's Springfield Republican article should answer what appears to be his central question asking where the "new" Town Manager John Musante stands on the this long overdue coalition/partnership with Umass, an entity where Mr. Fox was once employed.

Indeed his location to campus, only an underhand pitch away, must have been awfully convenient back then.

Mr. Fox purchased his home in December, 1983 when the total student population was 25,833-- not much more than the 27,569 hosted today. And if memory serves (since I was attending the University back then) the fashionable nickname at that time--deservedly so--was "Zoomass." An image the University has worked hard to change over the past decade, with good results.

So it's not like Mr. Fox can argue the real estate agent never told him about this giant entity that looms over his frontyard. And at that time "Frat Row"--at the entrance to his street--was in its absolute glory, with about 200 rowdy kids who loved to party hardy. Former "Frat Row", with depressing shadow cast by NIMBYs

Neither is it likely that this intimate close proximity to Umass has hurt his property value any, since Mr. Fox's humble abode is currently valued at $546,800 and he only paid $109,100 twenty-seven years ago when a dollar was worth 2.1 times what it is today, or $229,110 in current dollars. Not a bad ROI.

Last night Mr. Fox carried his cacophonous campaign to the final Select Board meeting of the year, where he submitted a petition (how very 60s of him) requesting the town stand down on spending $30,000 for a consultant to help facilitate the "visioning process"--a very long, involved public input period, which I'm sure Mr. Fox will take every advantage of to press his one-note protest song.

The ARA has never said student housing at Gateway would be "substantially" or "primarily" undergraduate housing. We are saying the University needs additional housing (undergrads, grads, faculty) and Amherst's downtown desperately needs an economic boost, and our anemic less-than-10% commercial tax base could use some reinforcements.

This mixed use, privately developed project substantially dresses up the main approach to Umass and will be--as Umass deputy chancellor Todd Diacon has stated many times--"a win win."

Umass gets upscale housing that will provide much needed competition to the local slum lords who take advantage of students by packing them into one-family houses in residential neighborhoods, while the town gets a much needed increase in the commercial tax base, and the downtown expands seamlessly into the heart of Umass via an attractive corridor.

The $30,000 consultant cost is not town tax money, it is ARA money. In fact, Amherst has no control over the ARA, although we do work closely together with the town for the common good--something these noisy neighbors should try sometime.

ACTV did not air live the first few minutes of Mr. Fox's diatribe. When they get around to rebroadcast, if they air the entire monologue, I will reedit.

Disclaimer: Although I'm a longtime member of the ARA, Umass graduate, currently a Continuing Education student and 5th generation Amherst resident, I speak here, as I always do, strictly for myself (and for the hard-pressed taxpayers of this town) using that cherished American ideal known as the First Amendment.

Free at last, free at last

So the Spring Street reconstruction, started last June by our DPW, is almost complete as vehicles can now freely pass to and fro. Private contractors are still busy on the Lord Jeff Inn renovation project and a sidewalk (paid for by Amherst College) is still to go in along the south side of Spring street nearest to the historic inn, scheduled for reopening this spring.
Engineering wing collecting final survey information for the reconstruction of the upper parking lot, where the Farmers Market will be displaced for, gasp, six weeks this spring.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Party house of the weekend

Obviously the "Keep out" sign did not apply to Amherst Police. They were called to this house at 675 Main Street in response to a fight in progress late Saturday night. The fight was finished when they arrived, but a large party was still in progress (the two of course are connected.)

So they broke up the party without having to issue a 'nuisance house' ticket (meaning the party goers were cooperative about dispersing) but did cite the responsible leaseholder with violating the town by law requiring a keg permit.

Yes, in Amherst a permit is required to have a keg. Just another arrow in the quiver for keeping rowdy parties in check. This past semester only one was applied for and granted; counting this most recent incident, Amherst police have issued ten $300 tickets.

And is seems to be working, as APD has not issued a $300 'nuisance house ticket' for the past two weeks.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Fast tracking an expensive project

Hawthorne from the middle of the meadow looking towards E. Pleasant St (barns in red)

Since the People's Republic of Amherst never met a conservation land deal it could hike away from, the $500,000 Hawthorn Farm purchase of 6.76 acres (40% of it unbuildable wetlands) not far from town center for community housing, open space and recreation breezed through Town Meeting by unanimous vote last spring.

The construction of soccer fields, however, rather than conserving open space (preventing a theoretical 4 to 6 houses) or "community"--Orwellian for affordable--housing was the main reason for the purchase; and that now brings another potent lobby group to enter the fray: soccer parents, who presumably drive mini vans and actually vote in local elections--the favorite demographic of the Amherst center.

Ah, but then an ironic bee came buzz bombing into the ointment. The town's own Historical Commission failed to march in lockstep and recently voted to enact a one-year demolition delay on the 150-year-old house and larger barn, which have provided a pleasing curb view along East Pleasant street for many generations.

The one year demolition delay bylaw to protect historic structures was only enacted by Town Meeting five years ago and was of course mainly designed as an anti-development device against those evil private developers.

As can be expected, the immediate neighbors are unhappy about the increased traffic that will surely result from soccer field(s), and perhaps more important the tree hugging, ground kissing farm preservationists are not to keen seeing another New England farm permanently plowed under . Throw in some landscape design/architectural academic types and this is shaping up to be a PC battle royal better than a schoolyard rumble between the Sharks and the Jets.
This 100-year-old row of quaint New England sugar maples are now on Death Row. Ironically, Stan Ziomek only recently retired as Amherst's Tree Warden, a position he held for 38 years.

Fiscal conservatives will also become aroused (admittedly a distinct minority in town) when construction costs for the soccer field commence--which will start out expensive and work its way up, like most municipal construction projects.

Considering the town spent $750,000 to develop the Potwine Lane fields, constructed from a parcel of land that already looked like a soccer field, it's hard to imagine the costs to tame the wild rolling topography at Hawthorne.

But soccer aficionados will no doubt rely on Community Preservation Act money, which Town Meeting squanders like manna falling from the heavens. The $500,000 purchase price, naturally, was appropriated from CPA funds and leveraged to the max by borrowing the amount and repaying over ten years.

And of course Stan Ziomek, chair of the Leisure Services and Supplemental Education (fancy name for a Rec Department) commission chair is the ultimate Amherst 'Don' of all things recreational--especially baseball. Stan is also a former acting Amherst Town Manager and also currently vice chair of--you guessed it--the Community Preservation Act Committee.

Does not hurt that his son Dave Ziomek is the Director of the Conservation Department. And according to minutes of the 3/19/10 CPA meeting: "Dave said that staff has proposed all along that this property be used for active recreation. It has been vetted by the Conservation Commission, the Agricultural Commission, and staff. He is not interested in a public process to vet different ideas because this property has been studied extremely well."

As in to Hell with the general public, I'm here from the government and we know best.

At the 2/4/10 CPA meeting the committee heard testimony that "The land would need significant grading and filling to create level fields." And the committee was also told the farmhouse--the one town officials now want to vaporize--was "structurally sound."

At that meeting the total "appraised value" of the property was pegged at $415,000--yet the town's assessor valued it at only $306,100. A second appraisal came back at $500,000 and six weeks later according to April 1st (no foolin!) CPA minutes "The new figure would help the negotiations with the owner be more successful."

And amazingly, LSSE director Linda Chalfant in no doubt bruising negotiations with the owner managed to land the deal at--you guessed it--$500,000. A lot to pay in a year when the real estate market was particularly frigid.

Only in Amherst would town officials be happy to spend W-A-Y more than assessed value to expand their empire at taxpayer expense. And that is only the beginning...

The other open area (except for pricker bushes) to the rear of the barns
Easternmost portion

From the barn looking towards the meadow

Centrally located for sure. Wildwood school on right.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Pride goeth before the fall

The most interesting exchange of the 12/14 Regional School Committee meeting perfectly underscores the hubris of Amherst--and it came from a member of the Regional Committee who is not even from the People's Republic of Amherst.

Kip Fonsh of Leverett trots out that tired old saw about Amherst educational superiority that may have been true at some point in the past, but certainly those days are long gone. Other than being the only High School in history to cancel a production of 'West Side Story' or allowing young girls to perform the R-rated 'Vagina Monologues', nothing springs to mind where ARHS has blazed a trail--at least with things of educational value.

And even Mr. Fonsh, a major cheerleader for the current administration, seems to indicate study halls are not exactly something worth bragging about. Notice too how Superintendent Geryk and Principal Mark Jackson (Amherst's two highest paid employees) are not overly quick to respond to Rob Spence's question about how Amherst compares to Northampton or Longmeadow on this issue.

"Prisoners of the budget" indeed. With ARHS currently having the highest cost per student in the area, hard pressed taxpayers have to wonder if perhaps those holding cell toilets are gold plated.

Turn the volume w-a-y up on your computer; and yes, I know the lip sync is something out of a Chinese martial arts movie. My $30 shareware editing program is being a tad funky today.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Mediocrity Confirmed

Left to rt: Superintendent Maria Geryk and Chair Rick Hood. Center (of the storm): Catherine Sanderson, (empty chair: Rob Spence), Irv Rhodes, Steve Rivkin 12/14

The dissident wing of the Regional School Committee (all three from Amherst of course) and the highly paid regional administrators--Superintendent, High School and Middle school principals--reenacted the Civil War clash of the ironclads: lots of cannon fire, but no real damage.

Unless of course you are student in the system or parent who subscribes to the theory "a mind is a terrible thing to waste."

The full committee--by not taking action--endorsed the concept of quiet time in a room with no actual teaching taking place, supposedly valuable simply because a certified teacher is acting as traffic cop.

According to the written opinion of attorney Regina Williams: a directed study can count toward time in learning so long as a teacher is present, and “where the teacher is available to assist students academically”.

The study may be held in “a classroom, computer lab, media center, etc.” However, it cannot cover a “large group of students with no clear educational focus who are housed in a cafeteria or auditorium where a teacher is present to monitor but is not interactive…”

As far as a I am aware, the last time the Department or the Commissioner issued any advisory on Time in Learning was in 1999 after the regulations’ amendments. The regulations have also included directed study as part of the “structured learning time” necessary to meet the 990 hour requirement."

But even with this lower setting of the bar (assuming it is indeed legal--and this attorney has been wrong before), the Amherst Schools just barely meet the minimum state requirement for time on learning. No real reason given as to why this seems to happen 'Only in Amherst', the Happy Valley's supposed flagship of public education.

Northampton and Hadley manage to get their teachers to actually instruct while in a room with students. And their average cost per student is--Hadley just under $11,000 and Northampton at $11,699--considerably lower than Amherst's $16,909 (state average including those upstart Charter Schools is $13,062.)

About 90% of the Amherst schools operating budget goes towards employee salaries and benefits. Hmm...

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Jones Library has a new (acting) director

Left to right: Tevis Kimball, Chris Hoffman, Kathy Wang, Patricia Holland (President), Emily Lewis

For the first time in a generation, the Jones Library will not be under the direction of Bonnie Isman, who retired December 10th after thirty years of steady leadership.

Last weekend the Trustees offered in house employee Tevis Kimball, Curator of Special Collections, the temporary position and she accepted. A pair of outside candidates withdrew at the last minute not wishing to sacrifice their current jobs for a short term position.

Presumably Ms. Kimball will return to her in house position after a permanent Director is hired. Next week the Trustees will discuss forming a search committee composed of trustees, staff and members of the general public (presumably library patrons).

December 14, 2010 8:53:29 AM EST
Subject: Jones Library Announcement

I am pleased to let you know that I have accepted the position of Acting Director of the Jones Library, effective today, with responsibility for operations of the Library, and will continue in a limited role as Curator of Special Collections. During this time, Kate Boyle will be the central contact for the collections.

As a crucial part of this transition, I will be supported by George Hicks, Sondra Radosh, and Maggie Spiegel, each of whom will also have new and expanded roles. Effective immediately, George, in addition to his current responsibilities, will oversee capital projects. Sondra will be responsible for day to day personnel issues, as well as her position as Children’s Librarian. Maggie will be responsible for special management projects, while maintaining her role as North Amherst Branch Librarian.

Over the next few days, I will be working with each department to answer questions and to further clarify our transition plan. As we transition to a new permanent Director, we all as a team play a very important role in shaping the future of this great institution, The Jones Library.

Together, in the spirit of teamwork and with a dedication to excellent service, we will continue to enrich the lives of this community. I very much look forward to our accomplishments in the coming months and want to thank you for all that you do for each other and for our patrons.

Best Regards,


Monday, December 13, 2010

A sad story of intersecting smiles

So once again the venerable Daily Hampshire Gazette has demonstrated poor taste, or perhaps their layout editor was simply suffering from a "senior moment." Most Amherst readers will recognize the smiling woman--or at least her distinctive name--dominating today's top right half of page B-3 local section, which is usually dominated by Amherst news.

As a former practicing Irish Catholic I know you are supposed to turn the other cheek, forgive and forget and all that. After all, it was a tragic accident.

But the Gazette should have considered how friends and family of slain cyclist Misty Bassi would feel seeing the smiling photo of the woman who ran her down and then ran away.

This photo op comes at a particularly disconcerting time, since this Christmas will only be their second one without Misty--a young woman who had a beautiful smile and, so I'm told, a personality to match.

Party house of the weekend

FACEBOOK UPDATE: April 12, 2011 (click here)

So my source material is getting slimmer and slimmer. Not a bad thing of course, since our our highly-trained police officers have better things to do than to act as babysitters. This past weekend officers issued only a few (three locations) $300 tickets for violating the Amherst noise bylaw and not a single one for a "nuisance house."

But a little one bedroom house, #23 Tracy Circle, gets the prize because it generated 4 tickets ($1,200 total) and it is getting close to my neighborhood. I figure if Mother Mary Streeter can cash in her political capital and use the power of the Web for NIMBY self interest, so can I.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Like walking on the moon

Journalists in the Movies. (Final Paper)

So my Journalism 393F instructor, John Katzenbach, has been overly nice all semester--keeping assignments relatively short and deadlines fairly flexible. Except of course for the final. Not less then 2,500 words and a drop dead deadline. Yikes.

And No, I do not mention the perfect 'Only in Amherst' connection to this historic event because I figure Mr. Katzenbach has lived here over 20 years so he probably remembers it as well: only days before Operation Desert Storm lit up Baghdad like a Christmas tree, venerable Amherst Town Meeting voted unanimously at a Special Town Meeting for a resolution addressed to President Bush and Congress--with that being the only article on the warrant--demanding we "continue negotiations" with Saddam Hussein, thus reaffirming Tracy Kidder's aside about Amherst being the only town with a foreign policy


Every good athlete dreams of that rarefied moment when skills acquired through years of long hours of physical training combine with competitive experience, and perhaps a little luck, and all come together at the perfect moment to make a decisive difference in the contest of a lifetime.

Just as every journalist dreams of being in the right place at the right time with the proper equipment to cover the story of a lifetime.

"Live from Baghdad" represents just such an event for Robert Wiener, the CNN producer who lived it. He points out to his editor that it could become, “The journalistic equivalent of walking on the moon."

Early on we learn that Wiener has regrets that he abandoned Viet Nam before the fall of Saigon--so vividly captured in videos carried on the major networks showing helicopters retreating from the roof of the American Embassy with marines pushing back panicked South Vietnamese; or the exclusive video captured by Australian photographer Neil Davis showing North Vietnamese tanks smashing through the gates of the presidential palace and raising the communist flag.

The opening scene set in a movie theatre sets up the good verses evil theme by going back six months to the day Saddam Hussein first attacked Kuwait. Civilians are watching an American science fiction movie--'Tremors', starring Kevin Bacon--where he is fighting a snake-like monster and the loud action on the screen is suddenly interrupted by the rumble and roar of tanks storming into the city. Saddam Hussein is of course the monster.

The main characters are introduced in a documentary style with names and job titles rolling across the screen as they first come into view. The CNN newsroom looks like a typical big-city news operation with phones ringing, a plethora of employees typing away on computers and the editors dressed in traditional business attire.

Weiner says to his boss as part of his pitch to get the assignment to go to Baghdad on the eve of war: "We're a 24 hours news station and we need a 24 hour news story, and this one just fell from the heavens."

This statement is also somewhat ironic in that the most gripping part of the story would end up being the bombs falling from the heavens on Baghdad (and anti aircraft fire spraying wildly into the night sky) dropped from US stealth bombers that lead the assault on the first night.

The moral dilemma Wiener would face as a journalist is also on display early on: as he and his crew arrive at the airport in Iraq a CBS journalist is leaving and somewhat jokingly derides him: "From us they (the viewers) get the news, from you they (the Iraq regime) gets access."

The tensions he and his crew would live under is quickly demonstrated by shots of all the surveillance equipment on the streets and in their hotel room (9th floor the of the Al Rasheed Hotel)

The first story they file underscores the depth of Wiener's news judgment and how clever he is getting things past Iraq censors. While watching government TV in their hotel room they notice a "news" story of Saddam Hussein welcoming British "guests" in one of his many luxury palaces. They all can tell that a 5-year-old child looks petrified as Hussein pats him on the head in a forced, stiff manner--reminiscent of Richard Nixon's clunky "checkers speech" (about his dog).

Wiener perceptively says to his crew: "This is not the story (tapping the screen image of Hussein), this is," as he circles with his index finger the image of the child's panic stricken face.

So they run that video on CNN and close with a stand up by their correspondent strongly suggesting that anywhere else in the free world these folks would be considered "hostages" but in Iraq under the regime of dictator Saddam Hussein they are considered "guests". A word play George Orwell would appreciate.

The scene showing this first feed back to Atlanta also demonstrates the resolve of the crew as they have to use an Iraq government TV station with antiquated technology and only at the very last second do they make it work, much to the relief of CNN bosses back in Atlanta.

At the obligatory bar scene after this first triumph other mainstream journalists criticize Wiener saying, “You give Hitler a microphone and call it journalism.” And another one chimes in about “providing context to a story.”

An agitated Wiener responds, “Who are you to say what it means!” And indeed he has a point. If a picture is worth a 1,000 words than a video is easily worth ten times that.

The next morning as they are off to do another story Wiener explains to one of his crew, “Got to get something to feed the beast.” A concept that underscores the then relatively knew concept of a 24-hour news cycle now taken for granted by journalists harnessing the power of the Internet.

This second story they file is not much of a follow up as all they get is a routine Iraq demonstration (“dog bites man” story) highly encouraged by the government with the clich├ęd anti-US chanting, burning of American flags and a small child holding a sign saying “We love Saddam.”

In the American embassy office Wiener looks out at the demonstration his crew is filming with a state department bureaucrat he has just given a box of expensive cigars (at CNN expense) who tells him, “As soon as you stop filming they pack up and go”--which of course happens on cue.

Back in Atlanta, his editors are not impressed with the story. At this point we learn Wiener is attempting to get the Mother Of All Interviews: a one on one with Saddam Hussein.

In order to accomplish this he meets with the Iraq Minister of Information (head government PR flack) and arrives dutifully at his office at 8:00 AM but is kept waiting until after 4:00 PM, thus demonstrating once again his resolve.

When he first meets with Naji Al-Hadithi (who is gazing out a window while slowly kneading prayer beads) the Minister demonstrates he is no inexperienced fool as he says to Wiener (referencing the first story with Saddam and the hostages), “You got your story out.”

Wiener requests an interview with Saddam Hussein and a four-wire circuit hook up so he can contact his office directly, although he does not make it clear that it is his office in Atlanta rather then the local one in the Middle East.

In another follow up story they file the crew gains access to the US Ambassadors Compound where American oil workers and businessmen are sequestered in order to avoid be taken and used as “human shields.”

One outspoken agitated American worker derides the crew, calling them “vultures” and tries to intimidate them into leaving without a story, which Wiener deftly deflects.

His crew interviews businessman Bob Denton who seems not worried at all with the words he’s using (in a monotone way) and praises the Iraqi people, but at the same time the cameraman notices--and zooms in on--his trembling right hand.

After the story airs Bob Denton disappears and Wiener feels guilty thinking he has put him in jeopardy, which of course he has. His able assistant, Ingrid Formanek, points out that Denton’s choose to go on camera using his own free will, something we Americans value. But Wiener is still deeply troubled.

His depression turns to exasperation when he and the crew discover Dan Rather has aired an exclusive interview on CBS with Saddam Hussein.

When he confronts the Minister of Information, who has now become a friend, Naji informs him that his request for a four-wire telephone hook up has been approved and as an additional consolation prize offers him a trip to Kuwait to do a story clarification concerning Iraq soldiers taking babies out of incubators and letting them die on the cold concrete floors.

The crew was promised access to three Kuwait hospitals but their Iraq handler cut them off after the first. The movie uses the same technique of the tight shot of a nervous face to suggest that the Doctor was scared (like the 5-year-old British youth with Saddam) and coerced into dispelling the rumor that babies were murdered, leaving the strong impression that the rumors were true.

Even before the CNN crew can file their story the Iraq Minister of Information has put out a press release saying the only Americans to visit Kuwait have verified that the awful stories of dead babies were in fact false.

His able assistant states the one thing most journalists take pains to avoid: “We have just become the story.”

At this point Wiener realizes he’s been used and Naji later confirms, “Both sides use the media.” Indeed. In a phone conversation with Atlanta his unhappy editors tell him next time to film and report whatever he sees but then admits they will still run the story absolving the Iraq military of the horrible rumor.

The movie clearly leaves the impression that the crew made a mistake filming the contrived story and furthermore CNN made a mistake in running it, but in fact that is far from the case.

Much like the violent scene in the movie “Cronicas” where the mob is attacking the man for accidentally killing a child who ran in front of his truck but he is in fact a serial killer who does prey on children.

This is a major weakness in the movie. The baby incubator story was completely fabricated, aided by a well-coached 15-year-old daughter of the Kuwait Minister of Information and a highly paid PR firm.

In the DVD I rented no disclaimer appeared updating viewers on that reality, although some sources on the Internet stated that HBO in subsequent airings--in response to criticism--added an addendum saying the incubator story was indeed proven false.

In a phone conversation on their newly installed four-wire circuit the president of CNN, obviously unhappy, demands to know “Why were we the only ones the Iraqis chose to do the incubator story?” With a pained expression on his face Wiener slowly hangs up the phone without answering.

Continuing to press his friend Naji for an interview with Hussein, Wiener says passionately “People are going to die...They are going to die when we stop talking!” His impassioned pleas works, and they land the interview with Saddam Hussein. CNN sends anchor Bernard Shaw to do the story.

As Wiener is placing the microphone on Saddam Hussein’s expensive tie he briefly looks into his stern, resolute eyes and casually remarks, “Nice tie.”
After the interview one of his crew says, “We were looking into the eyes of a killer.” No mention of course that the US, a few years earlier, aided Hussein in his war with Iran.

But Wiener is unhappy with the interview as it simply restated the routine: Hussein was not backing down and that giving up Kuwait would be the same as the US giving up Hawaii,

When one of his crew remarks, “If any interview with Saddam Hussein is not news, then what is?” “War,” he responds. Quick cut to archive footage of US troops in full battle gear with overdub of President Bush calling Hussein a “bully.”

Next major event they cover is Hussein releasing all the hostages (“guests”) and at the airport where they go to get footage Wiener spots Bob Vinton the missing man he interviewed earlier.

Vinton does not even recognize Wiener and simply says the Iraqis had moved him to another office building before he hurries off to one of the last planes out of Baghdad.

Cut back to a scene with Naji who tells Wiener “You deceived us,” referring to the four-wire phone. Wiener responds, “Are you going to take it back?” And Naji, spouting the Fox News tagline, responds, “No, you are fair and balanced and we trust you to use it responsibly,” adding the line Wiener used with him earlier, “As long as we keep on talking there’s still hope.”

At this point gun-ho correspondent Peter Arnett arrives exuding adrenaline and the thrill of covering something he obviously loves—war. Bernard Shaw has returned as Naji had dangled the opportunity of interviewing Hussein at the appointed hour of the deadline day imposed by President Bush. As he is taking a cab with Wiener through the abandoned streets of Baghdad he remarks, “High noon.”

The US sends out the code message “Baby has gotten the sniffles,” which means an attack is imminent. Wiener allows each crewmember to decide to stay or go as the CNN president had made it perfectly clear he did not want to lose any employees.

Surprisingly his assistant says she will go. Wiener had already told his editor in Atlanta, “I’m not going to walk away from a great story again”

Cut to darkened complete abandoned streets of Baghdad with Naji gazing out a window once again manipulating his prayer beads. And then all Hell breaks loose as American bombs fall and Iraq counter fire goes up. Since communication is the first priority in a coordinated attack the traditional phone lines go out instantly.

Only CNN is left with the opportunity to report the story live as it happens via the four-wire phone, reminiscent of Edward R. Murrow’s 1939 radio coverage live from the top of a hotel room describing the Nazi blitz of London.

Wiener moves his “non essential” crew down to the basement bomb shelter where he runs into an ABC employee who says, “You killed us Wiener…You own this war.”

Cut back to a tight shot of Saddam Hussein and President Bush’s face as they watch the live CNN broadcast.

After a night of continuous bombardment and a few close calls with all the major networks relying on the CNN phoned in live reports, the morning dawns over a devastated Baghdad.

Wiener’s boss in Atlanta tells him over the phone that the coverage he provided was “simply incredible…you are the envy of every journalist around the world.”

Walking in the debris with Naji who is now dressed in a battle uniform Wiener is thankful that he “kept his word.” Naji responds, “And you got your story.” Wiener gets the last line: “Not the one I wanted,” as he slowly ambles off stage right and Naji exits stage left.

The HBO production aired in 2002 just as the US was preparing to return to Iraq and finish the job started in 1991—deposing Saddam Hussein. And since one of the repeated themes in the movie is the value of negotiation, it was probably viewed by many as an anti war film.

Since the script was also written by Robert Wiener, based on his book of the same name, there’s no doubt the adaptation was true to his original vision. One reason why he probably kept the “incubator story” in the film—because indeed it happened.

The journalism ably represented by Wiener and crew is the traditional “get the story” type of journalism that occasionally gets reporters killed. Although Wiener, obviously distraught about potential harm brought on to one of his sources, exhibits more conscious than many journalists.

The hint of romance with his attractive assistant Ingrid Formanek--but confirmation that no actual affair occurs--also underscores Wiener’s family values.

He is told by the CNN president (who lost two reporters when he was at the LA Times) to make sure he “brings everyone back safe.” When the bombing is imminent Wiener allows a vote on who wants to stay or take a plane out of Baghdad, although it becomes a moot point as the bombing starts.

Wiener demonstrates he has faith in the viewer even though he takes heat from the other journalists for airing the propaganda film of Saddam patting the head of the five-year-old British boy.

Just before the bombs fall as he looks out over a darkened Baghdad with an anti aircraft gun slowly swiveling like a tiger pacing in a cage, he says to Ingrid Formanek, “What are we dong here?”

She responds with a memorable sentiment worthy of a close: “We don’t solve the world's problems, we report them.”

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Hot night in the People's Republic

John Fox presses his complaint yet again while Umass officials (left to rt): Todd Diacon, Eddie Hull, Nancy Buffone, Lisa Queenin and (rear) Dennis Swinford look on, sort of, at ARA meeting in the Bangs Community Center.
A hot night for public meetings that is:

The Amherst Redevelopment Authority continuing to press forward with Umass on the Gateway Project, the Zoning Board of Appeals meeting in Town Hall, where heavy-hitter, insider (Mother) Mary Streeter does her best to torpedo the plans of country Doctor Kate Atkinson to build a medical building in that neighborhood and a hearing concerning the town leveling the bucolic Hawthorne house and barn it recently purchased to create soccer fields.

And the NIMBYs were out in force at all three meetings.

Dr Kate Atkinson (2nd from rt) looks on as Mary Streeter wields her verbal scalpel at ZBA hearing in Town Hall. The Meeting was continued to 12/22 (Let's hope the ZBA gives Dr. Kate a nice Christmas, err, holiday present. Otherwise she builds in Hadley)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

And justice for all

Sending the Amherst Select Board to a "social justice training session" is like requiring a professional All-Star baseball team to attend a Little League summer training camp. Talk about preaching to the converted. Yikes!

And some of you may remember Dr. Barbara Love, UMass School of Education, who in 2002, as Chair of the Amherst Regional School Committee, played the race card to defend the pedophile principal Steven Myers as incendiary news broke about his pernicious interaction with a 15-year-old Amherst student: "As a black woman, I am leery of jumping to conclusions and condemning and convicting an individual on the basis of circumstantial evidence."

That same year, when school officials were discussing whether to disregard the state mandate that will require students to pass the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System test to receive a diploma, the Daily Hampshire Gazette noted that " ... Chairwoman Barbara Love countered that it is equally important to teach students to defy laws they find unconscionable."

Yes, by all means, sit down in the middle of the road to protest the MCAS. God forbid we test students to see whether their expensive education instills learning or not.

The private Kellogg Foundation (those purveyors of the "breakfast of champions") provided the $300,000 "social justice" grant to Amherst over three years to fund this auspicious project, so no taxpayer money was involved. Unlike the $96,000 Amherst schools recently donated to the Umass School of Education for tips on how to teach.

The Denver Westword News reported:

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

"December 7th, 1941, a date which will.."

"Some fine Sunday morning..." Colonel Billy Mitchell (1924)

“I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.”
Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto (12/7/41)

“With confidence in our armed forces - with the unbounded determination of our people - we will gain the inevitable triumph - so help us God.” (12/8/41)
Franklin D. Roosevelt

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Ace Amherst Schools, noncompliant?

According to the state Department Of Education: Traditional study halls are not considered "directed" or "independent" study solely because of the presence of a teacher in the room.

Last year Northampton High School had no mandated study halls while Amherst Regional High School had two. Even the diffident Regional School Committee voted down Principal Jackson's suggestion to up it to three study halls.

Meanwhile Northampton's overhead per student that year was only $11,699, below the $13,062 state average; Amherst's platinum plated Regional schools spent a whopping $16,909 per student--well above state average.

So even if principal Mark Jackson--Amherst's 2nd highest paid town employee--is correct that "directed study hall counts towards the state mandated time in learning," that still means the venerable Amherst schools barely beat (by only 3%) bare minimum state standards (990 hours) while spending almost 30% more.

For Champagne prices we should be able to avoid Piels beer performance.

Principal Mark Jackson is defending the warehousing of kids as long as a qualified teacher (the more qualified, the higher the salary) is sitting up front acting as baby sitter, rather than simply a responsible warm body.

If no actually teaching is taking place, what difference does it make? It would be lot cheaper to use para professionals. Or maybe we could get some volunteer grad students from the Umass School of Education.

And no, as of this evening Mr. Jackson has not provided a state legal source confirming that a certified teacher makes all the difference with study halls.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

When you play with fire

Pelham Police Chief Ed Fleury. Photo by Izzy Lyman (2003)

At my age, having seen and experienced a most traumatic moment or two, and still only an intermediate ranked father (green belt in karate terms) when it comes to child rearing, I simply cannot imagine anything even remotely worse than witnessing your child's head explode from the point blank impact impact of machine gun bullets gone awry.

So I wholeheartedly agree with former Pelham Police Chief Ed Fleury's lawyers attempt to quash the presentation at his manslaughter trial of video taken by the dead child's father at that most horrific moment. And I shudder to think the number of "hits" it would generate if it somehow was leaked to the Internet (WikiLeaks perhaps?)

But I don't disagree with Edward P. Ryan Jr., a defense lawyer and former president of the Massachusetts Bar Association who said the video would probably be allowed because "It depicts the gun in operation. It could help the jury make a determination as to whether or not allowing the boy to fire the weapon is wanton or reckless," he said. "They get to see the circumstances under which the gun was fired."

Fair enough. But even I--a lowly blogger using a $35 shareware digital editing program--could edit that video in a fair-and-balanced way, showing the gun in operation but stopping just short of "the horror...the horror."

As I said on this blog exactly two years ago:

Of course the DA is quoted saying that Machine Gun Shoots are "clearly a violation of the law.” Well gee Mr. DA, where the Hell were you over the past few years when these things having been routinely promoted—and I mean PROMOTED—in this state?

It’s not like they were secretly holding cock fighting in a basement somewhere. If you did your job and shut these events down a year ago that child would be alive today.

If you are going to indict somebody then how about the father who picked out the gun? Or your office for dereliction of duty.

The jury will never convict. But another life has been destroyed.

If, however, the judge allows that indescribable death video at trial--the jury will convict...the wrong man!

The AP reports

Friday, December 3, 2010

Merry Maple lighting 2010

Merry Maple. Tony Maroulis, Amherst Chamber of Commerce Executive Director recording the auspicious moment on his iphone

Yes folks, that's it. The (in)famous Merry Maple. Only in Amherst.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

It's beginning to look at lot like Christmas...

Ahhhhh, the Merry Maple--not to be confused with Christmas Tree--lighting ceremony tomorrow in town center (although not nearly the same without Umass superstar marching band leader George Parks, may he rest in peace) and the Boy Scouts selling Christmas trees on the north end of town as they have done for over 60 years.

God bless us everyone!

Oldie but Goodie (and naturally you read it here first)