Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Happy Birthday America!

So yes folks, even though you have not read a thing in the local papers about battles with the town over anti-war protesters crashing the party, the July 4th Parade will kick off from Amherst College up the hill to town center starting at 3:00 PM.

And those fabulous F-15 fighter jets from Barnes Air National Guard will swing by low and fast to start things off with a bang.

No, Robert Cohen and his famous "F_ck the draft" jacket will not be appearing, and neither will the KKK. Just good old fashioned firetrucks, police cars, marching bands, clowns and lots of smiling kids.

Moms everywhere will be serving apple pie after the show.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Journalism Ethics #2

Just as truth is the ultimate defense in a libel case its pursuit provides a fantastic fuel that should drive a journalist, a sacred core value immune from external coercion, greed, or delusions of grandeur. But in the rush to be first in this new 24/7 newscycle brought on by the instantaneous Internet the whole truth is often partially obscured, yet the publish button is still clicked.

For me the most important founding principal of the online news association under 'Seek Truth and Report It' was the last (the reverse of a reverse pyramid is a pyramid): "Recognize a special obligation to ensure that the public's business is conducted in the open and that government records are open to inspection."

Because government oftentimes purposely use its considerable power to keep the populace uninformed, it is the job of the journalist to know by heart the Open Meeting Law and Public Documents Law the two best weapons for keeping government honest.

About 15 years ago when I was writing columns for the Amherst Bulletin an anonymous (older) woman caller tipped me that "something was wrong out at the Cherry Hill Golf Course." She said a popular young female summer worker just suddenly disappeared and the other employees refused to talk about it.

I hit the town manager with a public documents request for a list of seasonal employees at the start of the season and a current list (it was mid-summer) and any letters of resignation for the one name that may not show up as currently still employed.

He refused on the grounds of the "privacy exemption" the most frequently invoked (out of a handful of allowed exemptions) by government officials. I appealed and Alan Cote the Secretary of Public Records agreed with me that because the Golf Course is municipally owned and tax supported any documents related to employment are public.

But then they tried to withhold them because they were of a "sensitive nature." Again the State agreed with me and said the documents could be redacted to protect the young woman but they still had to turn them over.

Turns out the Golf Course manager, Dan Engstrom (who was married at the time) engaged in "banter" of a sexual nature with the young woman employee, making crude suggestive remarks about her body and it even escalated to where he physically touched her.

The towns "Human Rights Director" investigated (it was her redacted report they grudgingly turned over) and found him guilty. The woman was paid a full season compensation and then some (just under $10,000) and Mr.Engstrom was giving one month leave with pay.

Of course the reason town officials wanted to keep it secret is because the golf course superintendent would have been hard to replace (especially mid-season) if fired for engaging in the behavior that in a PC town like Amherst would almost guarantee dismissal if word got out to the general public.

About ten years later I requested a season pass customer list with names and addresses to ascertain how many patrons are actually from Amherst which heavily subsidizes the operation of the golf course with town tax money. Town officials refused saying it was a violation of individuals privacy. The state agreed with me and the list demonstrated that over the half the patrons lived outside Amherst.

About five years ago I received a call from Cindy Pepyne, investigator at the District Attorney's office, saying the Springfield Republican wanted from their office a short list of people who had successfully used Public Documents and Open Meeting Law so the paper could request they write a guest column during "Sunshine Week."

The DAs office refused to comply because the names (as whistleblowers) were exempt from public documents. But the DAs office called the people directly and informed them about the idea with contact information for the newspaper editor; and I of course returned the call and wrote a guest column on the matter for the Springfield Republican--and they did note it odd that the DAs office charged with enforcing Sunshine Laws were themselves exempt.
Minimize harm is kind of like the military attempting to neutralize only combatants while minimizing "collateral damage" to innocent civilians. And that is always a lot harder than just ordering a B52 "carpet bombing" of an entire area and returning it to the stone age.

Just as an uncaring journalist can name innocent civilians related to the target of their investigation and by tying them to a negative story damage their reputations. Sometimes it is unavoidably as when the media exposes a national politician like John Edwards cheating on his cancer suffering wife, and unless you are a columnist you cannot be overly sympathetic but can still skip some of the more lurid details bound to bring pain to the immediate family.

Three months ago Catherine Sanderson and I received an anonymous three-page letter in the mail from a school employee lamenting "the coup" that had just brought down rookie Superintendent Alberto Rodriguez.

The letter was filled with enough seasoned personal observations--many of them about administrators who are public figures--to indicate the writer was indeed an insider but also contained information about some people who would be considered private, one of them a young child.

I redacted the names of almost everybody and published it in its entirety. A few people figured out their own names and were furious, but interestingly most of them were public figures where I probably did not have to redact their names in the first place.
Under 'Act independently', my pick as number pick is of course: "Be vigilant and courageous about holding those with power accountable." I think for me it's a personal thing. I started martial arts training in 1972 the year of the "Olympic massacre" at Munich, where Israeli athletes (in a martial art like sport) were massacred simply because of their nationality and the same year as the Watergate break in where I first learned a President could lie.

Like your first kiss, a media junkie will always remember their first 'Letter To The Editor'. Mine was to the Daily Hampshire Gazette in 1982 lamenting the Munich Massacre on the 10th anniversary (even in my early stages I knew the media loved anniversaries) and warning about the tremendous abuse of power exhibited by those zealots known as "terrorists," out for self styled glory and massive media attention, with the conscious of a great white shark.
Under "Be Accountable"--like most bloggers who take their art seriously--I consider it job #1 for a journalist (and bloggers who take their art seriously are journalists!) to "expose unethical practices of journalists and the news media."

The profession should be able to police itself. Half of all doctors, lawyers or hairstylists graduated at the bottom half of their class. It's up to those who take their profession seriously (possibly those in the upper-half graduation levels) to police their own.

And the ubiquitous Internet is the perfect platform for that.

Monday, June 28, 2010

And the children shall lead...

So Amherst Regional High School 'Student News' sendoff off edition (the youngsters get the summer off) was unintentionally hilarious--as the cub reporters and "executive editors" once again ended up in hot water for publishing a less than ethical episode.

After getting pounded in the blogosphere for their rude, childish portrayal of School Committee member Catherine Sanderson--a stand up publicly elected town official who happens to run a very popular blog with ratings far greater than theirs--for a piece where they repeatedly spliced together Sanderson at a School Committee meeting subtly bobbing her head to music (superimposing a spotlight so you could not miss it) with an overdub of their musical choosing.

Hey, at least she was not falling asleep!

After the fallout (in journalism that kind of video is considered doctored deliberate distortion) you would think they learned their lesson. Not in Amherst, where obviously some grown up Wizards like to manipulate marionettes from behind the curtain; so the kids decided to take another shot.

This time they generously allowed Sanderson 40 minutes of unedited airtime, which she managed to fill without having to consult cue cards (unlike their "reporter"). Considering Student News is normally a half-hour show, pretty sweet. But then later, back at the Amherst taxpayer subsidized ACTV studio, the "Executive Producers" could not resist adding another 20 minutes of editorial follow up. An ambush where the prey was not even physically present to rebut.

Obviously at their tender age they have no firsthand experience with how committees and sub committees work. A sub committee is less than a quorum of the main committee and they can meet separately and talk as long as they want pretty much about anything they want providing, the meeting is open to the public and posted 48 hours in advance.

When Catherine explained that the Union 26 issue had been discussed in subcommittee extensively but only for 10 minutes or so total by the entire School Committee who voted unanimously to consult an attorney--that is certainly no "contradiction" (wherein they suggested she lied with the introductory comment, "even if Ms Sanderson misspoke").

That's why you have subcommittees! So they can hash out details and take up far less time of the full committee.

And as this clip shows Mr. Wolfsun--and, apparently, a committee of his teen aged peers--the venerable "High School Student Advisory Committee"--took tremendous offense at an offhand comment made by a paid education consultant regarding the wisdom of letting children evaluate their teachers, prompting laughter from the audience, mostly comprised of concerned parents of Middle School kids I would imagine.

Maybe Wolfsun should have just held his breath until he turned blue.

But somehow that supposed disrespect (and I agree with the professional consultant) gets blamed on Catherine Sanderson, who I assume was in the room at the time, yet Wolfsun offers no evidence whatsoever--like a video spliced to repeatedly replay the scene--that she joined in the "laughter". The old guilt by association, paint with a broad brush routine.

And in the interest of "full disclosure" Mr. Wolfsun should have mentioned that both he and "Associate Producer" Graham Churchill (son of now somewhat discredited former School Committee Chair Andy Churchill) both graduated from their local neighborhood Marks Meadow Elementary School, the smallest of four in Amherst now closed, mainly because of Catherine Sanderson's blog. A taxpayer savings of $850,000 annually, but met with bitter resistance by those with a vested interest.

Comment to Student News: If you are going to masquerade as journalists, may I recommend "Online Journalism Ethics: Traditions and Transitions" by Cecilia Friend and Jane Singer.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

My General McChrystal moment

So eight years ago in the still dismal days running up to the first anniversary of 9/11, July 4 Parade Committee members joined forces with the American Legion to put on a one-year anniversary memorial service that would stand out anywhere in America. I of course was in charge of media relations.

My fellow Irish--equally family rooted in Amherst for 5 generation--friend Kevin Joy had fashioned a replica of the Twin Towers and Pentagon on a large flatbed. At first I thought/worried that somehow it would be kind of tacky turning a somber symbol into a parade float (it lead the July 4 Parade in 2002) but his artistic talent was such that it could not help but remind people of what we lost that day.

We actually initiated the ceremony on the eve of 9/11 when we held an "Irish wake" on the town common, parking the monument and illuminating it overnight with a powerful portable generator lighting system (the same ones used to illuminate Ground Zero at night for workers engaged in recovery operations) that the air wing commander of Barnes Air National Guard let us borrow.

People solemnly trudged in all night long to pay their respects.

At the break of dawn we ferried the float over to Northampton and had is slowly escorted on Rt. 9 at parade speed all the way from Sheldon Field back to Amherst town common escorted by Northampton, Hadley, Amherst and Umass public safety vehicles.

At around 8:40 AM the two hour ceremony started with speakers, but mainly I remember the ringing of church bells and brief moments of silence to mark those agonizing moments when the planes struck and those magnificent towers fell.

My main job was to get the word out so we could attract 3,000 people back to the Town Common that night to hold a candle (donated by Yankee Candle) where we had printed out all the names of the victims and gingerly attached them to each candle.

The media attention was impressive leading up to the day (considering every community in America was have a ceremony of some kind) The AP called me and said they were sending a reporter and photographer. The Boston Globe sent a reporter the day before for an extended interview and we gave her lots of our time.

Around 3:30 PM she asked if she could use my business office to finish up her story and tap the Internet to send it back to the newsroom, and I instantly agreed. Kevin and I were still busy making phone calls sending out faxes and desperately trying to make sure all the names were attached to the candles. In other words busy work, the kind that goes better with beer, but we did not have any beer.

The left leaning activist First Congregational Church in town center was also holding an event on the first anniversary having something to do with a labyrinth outlined in empty shoes with native American drummers, Buddhists and Muslims afterward sending the footware to Iraq.

Yeah, go figure. But it was still getting some media attention. I think their goal was to get 500 pairs donated on 9/11.

At one point while the reporter was still tap, tap, tapping away on her laptop in my small office and Kevin and I were bantering about that, while attaching stickers to candles, I said somewhat sarcastically, "Yeah, I'll see your 500 shoes and raise you 3,000 candles!"

Indeed nothing I EVER would have said on the record, and to this day it still sounds crass--but I was pretty wired and beyond tired at that moment.

The next morning that callous quote appears in the Boston Globe article front page Metro Section, ruining a heartfelt endeavor. I was crestfallen. Yes I said it, and no I did not tell the reporter that anything she hears in my office is "off the record." But she had stated the interviews were over and she was simply cranking out the copy.

But PT Barnum would have approved, because back then the Boston Globe was still considered the paper of record for the entire Northeast if not nation. And although the story was framed as a contest between our ceremony and the shoes-to-Iraq ceremony, the coldly efficient reporter still got everything else right.

That morning storm clouds and brisk winds dominated into the very late afternoon. A well known Amherst "peace activist" came up to me in the late morning and taunted me about the potential for high wind and rain (not great conditions for candlelight) saying we would be lucky to get "100 people to turn out" that night.

At the twilight's last gleaming, the skies cleared and the wind receded. We ended up with just over 2,000 somber citizens. Some took two candles to hold. I kept one that I will light next year on the 10th Anniversary of the saddest day for our country in my 55-old existence.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Art House Cinemas, Golf Courses, Wine and Cheese

So pretty much the entire 6/21 Select Board meeting was taken up by a "public hearing" required by the state to issue yet another alcohol permit to a highly regarded--and some would would argue PC--business here in the People's Republic.

A few weeks back it was Atkins Farm Country Market (much to the regret of a local package store located nearby) and now the Amherst Cinema "art house" in downtown Amherst.

Many years ago the town created the "seasonal license" (April-to-January) strictly for the town owned Cherry Hill Golf Course as a means of increasing anemic revenues, and although it carried a value/price tag of $700 (a tad below the year round beer/wine license of $1,000) the Golf Course never actually paid it since it was a municipal tax exempt operation and losing taxpayer money hand over fist. But of course town officials don't want you to know that.

The Amherst Cinema is also tax exempt but not municipally owned (but that crazy idea was actually floated about ten years ago). Interestingly Select Board member Alisa "seems logical" Brewer dares to question the cost of the license and the Town Manager tells her it will be the same $700 "charged" Cherry Hill.

But Cherry Hill has never paid that charge, so you gotta wonder if the Town Manager will ever actually bill the Amherst Cinema? Although safe to say their gross annual revenues far exceed our lackluster golf business.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Board of Trustees comes clean

So the parent revolt over at the Pioneer Valley Immersion Chinese Charter school seems to have made a difference as we learned at 7:00 AM this morning that the Board of Trustees voted on 6/14 just after the public 'Parent Speak Out' to reopen the search for an 'Executive Director' to oversee the school like a Public School Superintendent.

Problem in this particular case is the person originally appointed, Richard Alcorn, happens to be married to the Principal, Kathy Wang. And Mr. Alcorn is the current (volunteer) Board of Trustee Chair and has been since the founding of the school. The Board of Trustees--that he Chairs--voted him into the highly-paid position, although I assume he abstained.

Still, a clear case of Conflict of Interest. And according to PVIC bylaws: "Members of the Board of Trustees shall serve the Pioneer Valley Immersion Charter School with the highest degree of undivided duty, loyalty and care and shall undertake no enterprise to profit personally from their position with the Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School."

What upset some of the parents was the shadowy, inside deal nature of the process. Yes, Mr. Alcorn founded the school and without his blood, sweat and tremendous time commitment the school would never have been granted a Charter (in fact the first year the state turned it down).

But the school is now in a growth spurt and can no longer be considered a small Mom-and-Pop startup. Oftentimes in entrepreneurial ventures the founders who have the vision and determination to get a business started are not necessarily the ones to guide it to the next stage.

Besides, neither of the two founders have a background in the education industry. Having one or the other in top management is fine for sure, but certainly not both.

Thus the parent listserve came alive last month when rumors spread that Mr. Alcorn was appointed to the top position. Comments flew back and forth like ping pong balls at a Chinese tournament.

I invited the media to the 6/14 Speak Out, although only the Springfield Republican covered it. After all, the Charter school is a public school subject to the Open Meeting Law just like any other school in the district.

This actually prompted a minor backlash on the listserve, with some other parents (happy with the status quo) questioning if anyone should be airing "dirty laundry" in public and pointing the finger at one (of the many) vocal parents--but the only one who happened to get quoted extensively in the Springfield Republican article.

But now this late course correction by the Executive Board of Trustees underscores that there's nothing wrong with dirty laundry. It is, after all, natural: all you do is throw in a load of wash.

The Springfield Republican Reported

Thursday, June 17, 2010

First Amendment blog assault continues...

So School Committee Chair Michael DeChiara has not seen his name in print for a few weeks and conveniently decided to continue stoking the fires of censorship by sending a follow-up missive (this time only signed by His Majesty and not the other 4 School Committee Chairs) to the District Attorney attempting to rebut the rightfully concerned ACLU counter-letter that garnered equal headlines to his initial PR ploy.

Okay, fair enough. But one thing you probably should not do in a letter to the DA, who is after all an attorney, is to admit you are "not a lawyer and cannot offer case citations," but then go on to suggest the ACLU lawyers who are lawyers--and well respected ones at that--did "not read the 5/18/10 letter carefully."

DeChiara whines, "Because many of us perceive the possibility of a conflict between Freedom of Expression and Massachusetts' Open Meeting Law it is my/our public belief that many of us are that many public officials are self censoring; limiting their freedom of expression as a result of murky legal waters."

Oh really? So who are all these public officials holding back their desire to found a free blog on Blogger or Wordpress because they fear violation of state law? Can you name one or two? And last I looked the state of Massachusetts has one of the weakest Open Meeting Laws in the nation--as individuals do not get fined for (intentional) violations, so they certainly don't have to worry about ever going to jail.

So if a current public official is that timid to hold off on founding a blog because state government has not issued "Blogging and Open Meeting Law for Dummies," then chances are their blog would be boring as Hell and nobody would read it anyway.

The state Open Meeting Law, as toothless as it is, was enacted to ensure public discussion takes place in public; it's the intentional, deliberate circumvention that should concern citizens--not the once in a blue moon unintentional serial discussion where one board member bumps into another at the grocery store and comments about an issue before them and then that member bumps into another at the Dunkin Donuts and regurgitates the brief comments.

But on a blog, EVERYBODY can look over your shoulder and bear witness to the conversation--all of it time date stamped!

I'm glad DeChiara professes to "wholeheartedly supports the ideas and values behind government acting 'in the sunshine'. However, without clear guidelines from the District Attorney, this is not possible."

Hmm...the First Amendment is a Federal Law enacted to prevent government--even lowly town government--from restricting the rights of 'The People and The Press' to voice their opinions. Asking a (state) government agent for "clear guidelines" about free expression is kind of like asking the fox to come up with organizational rules for the henhouse.

And yeah, I kid you not, he even signed off with:

"Michael DeChiara
Shutesbury, MA
An elected public official seeking guidance from my government."

(Although to his credit, he did at least forward a copy to the ACLU--but not to School Committee blogger Catherine Sanderson who is the obvious target of his egotistical ire.)

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A Comment about 'No Comment'

My Journalism prof sent the class a link to the current American Journal Review editorial where the editor, Rem Rieder rants about Anon comments on news websites. The subheadline says it all: "It's time for news sites to stop allowing anonymous online comments."

Since the AJR doesn't allow Comments, I thought I'd try to do that Journalistic fair-and-balanced thing and talk about the other side--not that I'm overly fond of Cowardly Anon Nitwits.

First off, I can tell Mr. Rieder has led a sheltered life as the ONLY example he uses of a horrible Comment was this, and it was referring to a public official in--of all places--rough and tumble New Orleans:

"Theriot, just another Jefferson Parish politician thug mobster trained by his mentor..dressed up in a fa├žade of respectability by a corrupt Louisiana Legislature."

Hmm...sounds like Mr. Theriot (who briefly filed a defamation suit against the paper over the Anon Comments published) has pretty thin skin as well.

My Irish mother taught me a long time ago that "sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never hurt me." Geeze, if he really thinks that one is so bad, I should send him some of the choice comments I've had hurled my way over the past three years here and for seven or eight years earlier on Masslive, the Springfield Republican website.

What I worry about most--and what the editor completely ignores--are folks who post Anonymously because they fear retaliation, as in losing their jobs (which we saw here in Amherst when the Town Manager fired an Information Technology employee for copying a job related letter of complaint to the entire Select Board.)

And no, "Whistleblower Protection" does not trickle down to a town level as it is a Federal Law that only protects Federal employees who blow the whistle on corruption.

Catherine Sanderson (you know--the School Committee blogger that five school committee Chairs would love for the District Attorney to shut down) defends Anon posts on her blog because she knows some of them come from "insider" employees who could lose their jobs, or parents worried administrators or teachers could retaliate against their kids.

Family comes first.

"No Comment" Editorial June/July American Journalism Review

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Journalism's hope and power

Edward Kennedy closed his eulogy to brother Bobby with a variation of a George Bernard Shaw quote: "Some men see things as they are and ask why, I dream of things and say why not."

For me that sentient represents the power, nobility and awesome potential of Journalism. To see wrongs and expose them--but better yet, try to replace those wrongs with something right, while minimizing collateral damage. To make a difference, sometimes THE difference.

If you stand in Amherst town center at high-noon on the 4th of July and send up a flare, hardly anyone will notice. It will get lost in the bright background of a nice sunny summer day and even those who do see it will simply consider it a routine byproduct of a holiday celebration.

But if you trudge to that same spot during the coldest darkest days of February in late afternoon and launch that same pyrotechnic anybody in the center of town will stop and take notice, and they will tell their friends who will maybe pass it on to their friends.

Such is the power of the Internet, where stories can go viral simply by folks taking a moment to post the link or pass along an email and suddenly more eyeballs take in something on their computer screen or smartphone than will see the same story on network television later that night or in print the next morning.

In 1986 soon after the Challenger disaster, Professor Ziff had as guest speaker the editor of the Concord Monitor, Christa McAuliffe's hometown newspaper. I asked him what he would have done if he absolutely knew beyond a shadow of a doubt the Challenger would explode that morning but had no corroboration. He looked me directly in the eye and said (with his voice somewhat trembling) he would have done "Anything--absolutely anything--to get the word out, including standing in town center naked with a warning tattooed to my butt."

A page one story or editorial may also have done the trick, and at the time he was in a position to make that happen (probably over the objection of his managing editor or publisher if he only had once source). I got the impression he almost felt guilty.

We are hearing only now of all the economic shortcuts and chances BP took with their Deepwater Horizon oil rig that exploded killing 11 workers and perhaps forever staining the environment. Only now! Where was the investigative media spotlight teams a few months ago when it could have made a difference?

Yes, Twitter and Facebook garner fawning media attention for number of users and the ability to instantaneously transmit thought (much of it mindless); and it's safe to say some of those who died on the oil platform had an account with one or the other.

But is it their job to blow the whistle on safety shortcomings when it could easily cost them a very lucrative job? Perhaps, and considering they are now dead, a better choice indeed. But would the old guard mainstream media, who's supposed to act as watchdog, have paid attention--especially when Big Oil companies are lucrative advertisers?

Give voice to the voiceless. Stand up to the 'Powers that Be'. Seek the truth knowing full well that rarely is the truth pretty or easy to come by. And do so proudly by signing your name.

I wish the mainstream media would embrace the Internet rather than curse it. It has been over 15 years now and they still don't appreciate it. Print media rely on BIG expensive presses that "go to bed" after putting out a daily edition. The Internet is always on, with a publish button simply a click away. A blessing and a curse.

The wisdom of the masses is now infinitely easier to tap into as anyone with expertise, knowledge or an eyewitness account can instantly add to a story..or Anonymous trolls can ruin it for everyone by posting malevolent drivel.

And while the First Amendment allows for a lot of things, propriety and good taste can still be maintained. As William Woo pointed out, wearing a jacket emblazoned with "F_ck the draft" in a public place is legal, but may not be tolerated at Sunday family dinner.

The rules of Journalism have not changed, only the method of presentation. "The trick in effective change," according to Woo, "learning what from the past should be retained and what should be replaced." Or as Thomas Jefferson pointed out, "A little rebellion, now and then, is a good thing."

Behind every print byline or website posting sits a human being trying to have an impact on other human beings. Words and good writing are still of paramount importance. Principles will always matter.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Flag Day: There they go again...

(9/27/09) The Select Board added that day for the 250th Parade

: 11:20 AM The flags are now up in town center (yeah, behold the power and all that). And they will stay up until Bunker Hill Day, June 17. Although now that the state is thinking about nixing that hack holiday, maybe the Select Board will nix it as well for the flying of the flags. Until then the casual observer passing through town center will mistake Amherst for a quaint, patriotic, Rockwell kind of New England town. Mistake indeed.

Original Post 10:00 AM

So for the second time in six years town center is barren of the 29 commemorative American flags on Flag Day. And no, I do not think it's a conspiracy hatched by flag haters or any sort of political statement, they just, quite simply, forgot.

Now you know why I tried to trade Flag Day for 9/11 a few years ago as one of the six official days the commemorative flags could fly with the rulers of the public way, our venerable Select Board.

Back in 2004, the last time this happened, I biked through town center and Selectman Gerry Weiss held the only extra flag out that day, in the upside down position (sign of distress), to protest the war in Iraq.

And at the time I said that scene perfectly illustrates what our flag represents: the precious right of individuals to protest government policies.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Consonance and Dissonance

So if I were--God forbid--the editor of the esteemed Amherst Bulletin, I would have been a tad more, errr, snarky with my Page One layout.

I loved the main above-the-fold top story placement for "ACLU backs 'official' blogs" as well as the almost equal placement (folks read left to right) of A-Rods rant about his brief tenure as highest paid Superintendent in history. Hey, at least he did not blame the blogosphere this time.

But the just below-the-fold, "Amherst Boycotts Arizona" contiguous with Amherst Regional High School baseball pitching phenom Kevin Ziomek getting drafted by the ARIZONA Diamondbacks where the Bully purposely left Arizona out of the headline "Ziomek drafted by Diamondbacks" is what I'm really talking about.

Oh well, I guess the diffident Amherst Bulletin doesn't want to piss off the Amherst powers that be.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Boycott Amherst?

Amherst Regional High School pitching sensation Kevin Ziomek was today drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks. Is that karma or what?
Original Post: 9:00 AM
It was one of those great bluffs from the original Star Trek where Captain Kirk, with his venerable ship about to be destroyed by a hostile Death Star bluffs the opposing captain by suggesting the Enterprise hull was imbued with "corbomite"; so if any destructive energy touches it, a reverse reaction of equal strength reverberates back--destroying the attacker.

Obviously Amherst Selectboard members are not Star Trek fans and, even worse, none of them have any small business experience (yeah, you would think one or the other is mandatory for the "job".)

Last nights grandstanding 'Boycott Arizona' resolution is, unfortunately, going to rebound back with many times the destructive force intended. And it will be the small business owners of Amherst, already outnumbered and under siege, that will pay the heavy price.

The Springfield Republican Reports (as always, reader Comments are the best)

My previous report

Monday, June 7, 2010

Score (another) one for the blogosphere!

6:15 AM (Tuesday) So the print Gazette put this ACLU spanking of school committee chairs for trying to censor blogs story on the Front Page--but, alas, below the fold. My friend Vladimir Morales hogged the above the fold location with an article about him getting the Select Board to endorse a boycott of Arizona (geeze, like how hard was that to do?) Just another typical 'Only in Amherst' idea, so naturally it attracts undue media attention.
9:25 PM Gazettenet just put up tomorrow's edition of the Daily Hampshire Gazette and it contains a "guest column" by
Michael DeChiara, chairman of the Shutesbury School Committee defending his idea to get the DA to issue a (restrictive) guidebook for public officials daring to use the open transparency and power of the blog.

The ACLU counter-letter railing against that Free Speech chilling idea could not have come at a better time. Let's hear if for the cavalry!

1:15 PM
(hot copy)

Those White Knights of Freedom, the ACLU, has come to defense of the blogosphere--or at least Amherst School Committee member Catherine Sanderson's piece of it--with a common sense official letter of concern to the local District Attorney who was recently asked by five School Committee chairs to provide a legal opinion potentially shutting down the freewheeling discussion that takes place on blogs if maintained by public officials--that as an Amherst Redevelopment Authority member include me.

They share the tremendous concern of all of us who value the freedom and New World Order brought on by that great equalizer for Democracy, the Internet.

According to the dispatch signed by William Newman, Director ACLU western Massachusetts Law Offices and his legal partner Thomas Newman, "The Supreme Court has been unwavering that expression on public issues rests on the highest rung of the First Amendment values."

They also point out that which should be pretty obvious: "Blogs are completely open to the public for inspection and response. And where there are no secret meetings or deliberations by a quorum, there is no violation of the Open Meeting Law."

Even more to the point: "The goals of the Open Meeting Law, we suggest, are enhanced, not jeopardized, by the use of blogs by public officials, who invite public comment and debate and allow an elected official to state his or her views and to invite criticism and comment, much as elected officials regularly do when newspapers ask for , and then report, comments and positions of elected officials on pending issues."

And they conclude with "We urge the greatest caution in any formulation of the Open Meeting Law that might tend to compromise the guarantee of the First Amendment."

Or to quote Scottish Braveheart William Wallace's dying word (at least as enunciated by Mel Gibson): FREEDOM!

My initial breaking of this story

The Bully Reported (better late than never)

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Coming Full Circle

My 'Journalism Ethics' course just started, # three-of-five required for a Certificate of Journalism. I'm reminded of my first J course taken on campus 28 years ago, 'Newswriting and Reporting'--where our initial in-class assignment, tapped out on electric typewriters, was to compose your own obituary. Not much to say at age 27.

The Amherst Athletic Club, my life for all these years since, is now dead. And no, it's not a planned or even at this point well thought out process. I had planned to close the Club--but not until 1/30/2012, our 30th anniversary.

The last year of business would have been fun, hopefully with numerous former members returning for a "going away workout" and casual remembrances of our youth.

The last few years have been far from fun. Three years ago we were the lowest priced club in the Valley. Last year we looked downright expensive compared to Planet Fitness at a predatory $9.95 month. And the collateral damage was even worse, as other full service clubs lowered their prices to compete.

And of course, Umass opened the $50 million Recreation Center (I affectionately dubbed 'The Deathstar') free to Umass undergrads and fairly cheap to join for employees or alumni, a demographic category that probably encompasses about half the population of Amherst.

But the Martial Arts will continue at this location...retreating back to our roots, as that is how we debuted at 'The Dead Mall' back in 1982. And the new 'Karate Kid' remake will certainly boost the instruction school industry as it did back in 1984.

Like the typical disgraced politician I could always invoke the "wants-to-spend-more-time-with-the-family" spin, and that would not be untrue. Since the coming of daughter #2, Jada, my physical involvement at the Club lessened rather dramatically. Plus my wife's professional travels to Asia are increasing; we've decided never to part for more than three weeks, so now the entire family goes.

What the Hell, there's always my first love, journalism--and isn't that a wide open field for employment these days? (Yes, sarcasm needs a special font.)

The Bully reports


Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Remembering Misty

As millions of Americans from sea to shining sea marked the day with somber ceremonies commemorating those military men and women who gave up their lives in service to our country, the Ghost Bike reappeared for the one-year anniversary of the untimely demise of lone cyclist Misty Bassi, heading to work on a bright sunny Memorial Day morning only days after graduating from Umass (also her employer) unfortunately fated to interact with a distracted driver who fled the horrific scene.

The family recently endowed a scholarship to University Without Walls so others can pick up where Misty left off.

The Springfield Republican reported

But above all, she's remembered in the hearts and minds of friends, family and many who never met her: Misty is the Poster Child reminding us that those we hold most dear, without warning or regards to fairness, can be suddenly ripped away...forever.