Saturday, March 31, 2007

Notes from Pittsfield

Well, it looks like I'll be reporting from Pittsfield for a while. Dad's back in the hospital, where I am learning a lot! Photo is a beautiful painting in the Jones or psychiatric wing of Berkshire Medical Center by Kathy Porter, one of six children of Dr. Porter, a LONGtime pediatrician dad always spoke highly of, probably a lot like Scott Merzbach's grandfather in Amherst. Learned a catheter is called a Foley. Thought it must be some kind of slang, but my brother Ed who is town looked it up on his Blackberry and found it's named after the Boston doctor who invented it the 30s. They must be able to design something better than this, I said. "Better brains than us have obviously tried," Eddie replied. I've been thinking about contrasts between Pittsfield and Amherst. Amherst has much better wireless access for one thing! But in Pittsfield, there are a lot of native Pittsfieldians whereas in Amherst about the only native I know is Larry Kelley.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Election Day in Amherst

Could be a turning point. If Robie Hubley is not reelected today, it will reverse Select Board Chairwoman Anne Awad's steady consolidation of power. Elected in 2000, a year students turned out to vote for referendum asking police to deprioritize marijuana arrests, Awad was a minority of one. By the time I started reporting on the board in 2004, Gerry Weiss and Robie Hubley had come on forming "the new majority" with Awad. Hubley and she would marry two years later. Carl Seppala left the board -- and town -- in Nov. 2004, driven in part by frustration (see background below), and when Eva Schiffer didn't run for reelection the next year, Rob Kusner and Hwei-Ling Greeney came on. Kusner frequently abstains; Greeney goes her own way, and when Weiss did not agree with Hubley and Awad to put a lower override figure on the May 1 ballot, the majority began to seriously crack. If Alisa Brewer is elected today, the majority is history. I could even envision Awad leaving the board before her term is up in 2009.
"On occasion, life on the Select Board would be kind of frustrating," Seppala, an auto mechanic at Pelham Auto Service, said. "So my way of dealing with it is, I didn't get angry, I just grabbed the real estate section of the newspaper and started looking. Then something nice would happen, and I'd get over it. Meanwhile, my wife was looking over my shoulder and she saw something she liked. That's real world stuff then."Under the Amherst Town Government Act, if a Select Board member resigns more than 90 days before the next election, the board is supposed to call a special election. Town Clerk Anna Maciaszek said it would be at the discretion of the Select Board whether to schedule a special election or wait until the regular election on Mar. 29. Seppala has served on the board for almost six years and was the former chairman. He and Select Board member Eva Schiffer had both said they would not run for re-election next year.In recent months, Seppala and Schiffer often parted ways with board members Gerald Weiss, Robie Hubley and Anne Awad, the chair, including on the volatile issue of whether the town should borrow $1.2 million to reconstruct sidewalks in the downtown. Awad, Hubley and Weiss favor borrowing smaller increments over time and completing the project in phases with the details to be negotiated along the way.Seppala and Schiffer both have said the town should have funds and firm plans in place, because reconstruction of the downtown sidewalks is likely to disrupt downtown business and should be completed as quickly as possible.Several weeks ago, Awad moved to have Seppala removed from the influential Joint Planning Capital Committee, which recommends funding for projects to Town Meeting. Awad, Hubley and Weiss supported having Weiss and Hubley represent the Select Board on the capital committee. Awad said that Seppala and the board's three-member majority didn't share the same vision for the future of Amherst. Seppala, who is also an elected member of the Amherst Redevelopment Authority, notified the Select Board in September that he might be moving to New Salem. He said that he would reconsider whether to run for re-election if he stayed. "I had people offering to rent me rooms for a dollar just to maintain my residency," Seppala said. Seppala and his wife Karen Stevens have moved to a 15-acre property in New Salem bordering the Quabbin Reservoir watershed. "It's beautiful and quiet," he said.He said he has mixed feelings about moving before he could attend the Special Town Meeting that begins Nov. 8. "There is still, I feel, a lot of people trying to make Town Meeting work," he said, adding, "I don't think it works."

Monday, March 26, 2007

On hagiography

Every semester I tell the journalism students that profiles are NOT supposed to be hagiographies or saints' lives. I always mention this big book by that name -- "Saints' Lives," that is. I grew up looking at it on the living room book shelf. Chapter subtitles include, "Why Am I Suffering So Much?" "A Man of Modest Tastes and Engaging Manners" (that would be Pius X) and "Which is the True Church of Jesus Christ?"
I quote: "Nothing is easier than to know if you belong to Jesus Christ and to His Church. You need only to know which Church has the Pope for its Head, and then to enter into this Church. It is a test which requires nothing but simple reason, and which is open to the whole world." See? No PROBlem.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Dad sprung from hospital, About Amherst posting from Pittsfield

Dad leaves Berkshire Medical Center after a week. I'm going to stay in Pittsfield while he recoups from pneumonia etc. Learned some good expressions at the hospital, like "DC the IV" (Discontinue the intravenous fluids) for example. Doctors also like the expression "I have no crystal ball." Hedges things a bit. Some great fading murals in Pittsfield . Photo is excerpt of one from 1987 painted by Dan O'Connell et al. of Lee Leahy Stanfield, a Berskhire Eagle writer. Her columns about going out to lunch with her husband used to bug my mom (maybe they were an early predecessor of About Amherst? Yesterday, Dad questioned whether anyone reads it. "Et tu, Dad?") Other guy in the mural is local character O.B. Joyful. Made me think we need a mural of some contemporary figures in Amherst, including Bill Elsasser.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Post from Pittsfield

My dad in the hospital since St. Patrick's Day and has been in the woods but there's a clear path out now. Some great doctors and nurses. Today the cardiac doctor made us all feel good when he told Dad he looked like "Mick Jagger on a bad day."
Lots of ghosts from childhood at the hospital, including in the gift shop Mrs. (Erika) Winn, swimming director of the Girls Club for 24 years.
"Mrs. Winn? I've never seen you when you weren't in your bathing suit," I said. She said a lot of people say that.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Really About Amherst

Photo is drawing of Emily Dickinson's house by Diana, my boyfriend Brian's Ohio friend, while she and HER boyfriend Doug were thoroughly loving seeing the Belle of Amherst's headquarters, no doubt. MY boyfriend i.e. Brian, we learn in a comment a few posts back, was at the same time thinking Dickinson was mentally ill. Lots of good photos and drawings on Diana's blog
Interesting Gazette story by Nick Grabbe today on John Mullin, a UMass dean and economic development expert, who says of Amherst that it is "in danger of becoming a place for the relatively affluent... If it doesn't want to be that," he said, "it has to balance its tax base. And if Amherst is going to do economic development, it has to embrace it fully. There's no halfway."
Mullin, according to Nick, "recommends between 15 and 20 percent of a town's tax levy come from business and industry. Amherst's commercial share is less than 10 percent."
Meanwhile.....Here's what Jonathan Tucker, the town planner, says in a recent report about hurdles to development: "Amherst has a long-established and well-deserved reputation for being a difficult place for development. The permit process is extensive, time-consuming and rigorous, and citizens defending their neighborhoods against new housing projects are increasingly well-organized, well-financed and persistent."
I'll personally vouch for the latter.

My boyfriend's a Philistine

Photo is a book of Emily Dickinson poetry my Dad gave me on my 16th birthday. It's inscribed, "To Mary on her 16th! Mom & Dad." But I know my mom didn't pick it out. She didn't go in much for poetry.

Dare I say it? I'm not much of an Emily Dickinson fan myself. But I know a Philistine when I see one (Reminds me of my favorite scene in the movie "The Squid and the Whale," where the little son asks his father, an annoying but endearing English professor played by Jeff Daniels,what a Philistine is. Hearing the answer, the son says something like, "Well, I want to be a Philistine). That would be Brian, my ecologist boyfriend. Get this excerpt from a comment he left at a previous post in which he alleges the Belle of Amherst was mentally ill:

"I toured her house with some friends this summer and they really described a sadly crazy person(a potentially loaded word but you probably use the word and get it without splitting hairs; like people would come play piano for her and she would refuse to appear to thank them in person but just send out a note). You can befriend and sympathize with a crazy person like anyone else, and read their words, etc., but make them such an icon and hang on their every word and quote and symbolize an era with them, of all the other people in the world...etc.??? "

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

More borrowing from local bloggers

Discovered Laura of Bay Road, who works or did work , I gather, at Wal-Mart and lives in Ware. Love her nature and toy photos. Sorry more violence.

Sorry this is gory

But I Had to share this little cartoon posted by UMass journalism student Becky Martin at the class blog where it's getting a lot attention -- it's mid-terms time. Rated R for violence.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

News Carnival

Photo is of sycamore tree outside the Strong History Museum. Seems when I step out of the Amherst Cinema lately, I see the world a little differently for a while. I'd never reflected on this tree before but was struck by its haunting quality after a sneak preview of "Live and Become" Saturday.

PBS has shown three episodes of a four-part series on journalism today, called "News War." It's been interesting -- to some of us wretches at least. But it occurs to me today that the title reflects the fact that most of the people who the lead reporter talks to are MEN. I'm not saying they're warmongers, but maybe "News Carnival" would be a better title. The business at the moment, to the extent that I'm exposed to it , feels a little like that to me -- a raucous Brazilian carnival. Not that I've ever been to one. Are you kidding? I'd rather sit in front of the fire in the living room.

To use another analogy, the news business these days seems like the Wild Wild West. Some of the bosses are being run out of town or they're drinking themselves to death while all the upstarts start up their own saloons. Reminds me of seven years or so ago, when I rode into town (in a covered wagon, my sister Kathy was on a horse pulling it) during the Wild West era of online retail. I did a story about all the stay-at-home moms like Kathy logging in and signing up for free stuff at pet food sites, etc. Guys from the Post Office and UPS were delivering stacks of free merchandise to their houses every day!

Check out my journalism class's Web site to see a funny little mini-video thing (I'm sure there's a name for these things but I don't know it yet) posted by Becky Martin. Illustrates how some students are feeling around midterm exam time. Beware, though, it's a cartoon but it's gory.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Kelsey Flynn comes to journalism class

WRSI radio personality and blogger Kelsey Flynn came to class to talk up blogging today. I was definitely on board. As for the students, who knows? Guess I'll have to wait and read what they write about her presentation. "Have you heard the Cinderella stories?" Kelsey asked them about bloggers who have made it into the big time. Not sure they had. No problem. "If you're really serious about making a living as a writer, having a blog, is, really, I would say, necessary," Kelsey said. They'll be outblogging me soon, I know.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Middle of March

Every movie I see seems to remind me of the Iraq war. Today, Dad and I saw "Amazing Grace," in Pittsfield, about William Wilberforce, a British member of Parliament who tried 15 years or more to pass a bill abolishing slavery. He was building a lot of support until war with the French broke out and conformists and lawmakers profiting from slave labor-supported sugar plantations accused the abolitionists of being unpatriotic. It's kind of a wonkish but gripping movie about how you can carefully build political capital and have events overtake you anyway. I wonder what movie would NOT remind me of Iraq that I would also be interested in seeing.
Lunch with Dad at Bob's Country Kitchen on Route 7 in Lanesboro. Good amber bock on tap, chocolate cream pie and cole slaw (had to look this up, because I'm never 100 percent sure whether it's cole or COLD slaw -- comes from the Dutch koolsla, which means cabbage salad). Photo is Pontoosuc Lake, in Pittsfield, where I spent a lot of, lot of time as a kid.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

How sweet it is

M-m-m-m-m-m-m. Co-worker Phyllis Lehrer pours maple syrup at the North Hadley Sugar Shack Saturday and offers some to UMass students Shangzhu Wang, of China and Mandy Cheung, of Hong Kong.

Dinner and dessert in Amherst

Maple syrup breakfast at North Hadley Sugar Shack Saturday. But more about that later. Friday night, it was dinner at the Crazy Noodles on 36 Main St. in Amherst followed by desserts to go from Black Sheep with my sister Kathy and my nieces. Recommend the seafood pasta dish Brian got and Thai tea (see photo). Helpful reviews at Foodpundit:

Friday, March 9, 2007

Clarifications and additions

Ouch! Big typo in my story in today's Gazette about an ambulance cam to catch scofflaw drivers who don't get out of the way. Leaned too long on the zero key with my right ring finger and said Amherst gets 35,000 calls for an ambulance a year. Make that 3,500.

Hope I didn't give the impression my nephew William's a ladies man in posting the Spring Break photo a while back. Actually, he's a TREE HUGGER (photo).

Comment on last post from Larry Kelley explaining more about his ancestor's role in Emily Dickinson's funeral. Excerpt follows:
"Actually my great, great grandfather was the Chief Pallbearer at Miss Emily’s funeral. And as he and the five other Irish domestics carried her white coffin out the backyard to her final resting spot they were trailed by butterflies.... And unlike her dad Edward, who died in the summer of 1874 and had the grandest funeral the town had ever seen (businesses in town center actually closed for the day) she kept it simple. Miss Emily, Amherst and Erin go bragh!"

Thursday, March 8, 2007

When down some awful Battlement, The rest of Life is dropt-"

I love to visit former Northampton City Councilor Bill Dwight's radio show to discuss "Amherst hijinks" as Bill puts it with him and DJ Chris Collins. Today Chris watched the YouTube video of Larry Kelley KOing Tae Bo champ Billy Blanks, a set up to one of Chris's schticks where he says something like, "Whoa, I will never mess with Kelley." "Kelley's aces in my book," he says here (see video). Larry's such an Amherst institution his ancestor One-armed Tom was a pallbearer at Emily Dickinson's funeral.

As it says of her funeral, in 1886, at "Virtual Emily,",
Typically, funeral processions passed up Main Street and then turned right onto North Pleasant to enter into West Street Cemetery. As Emily had instructed, however, her pall bearers, six Irish caretakers of the homestead property, carried her casket through the barn, across the back field, and into West Street Cemetery. There she was lowered into the earth onto a cradle of pine boughs. "Escape-, it is the basket, In which the Heart is caught, When down some awful Battlement, The rest of Life is dropt-"

Best thing we did this winter

Supposed to be the coldest night of the year tonight, possibly 5 below! G-r-r-r-r. Good thing we had this wood-burning stove installed in late December. It's a mini Jotul, the most popular stove at Olde Hadleigh Hearth and Patio, according to the guy who visited the house to measure the living room. Price of stove and installation: about $3,200. Sitting in the cozy living room with the fire going: better than going anywhere -- any day. The advance man, as it happened, looked exactly like Santa Claus. Had I had my wits about me at the time, I would have asked if I could take a photo for the blog.
Which reminds me. Had my first blogging anxiety dream last night. Dreamed I was driving to a landfill and the sky was a radiant blue with two vintage balloon-like contraptions floating out of sight. "I WISH I had my camera," I say to myself. So I can take a photo for the blog. Then, I realize, I DO have my camera. Unfortunately a SWAT team bursts out of nowhere and tells me to get on the ground. Attempted convenience store robbery is about to transpire.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Aspen trees forever

So glad Libby jurors rejected this kind of arrogant baloney as uttered by Scooter to grand jury after stressing how heavy his workload is: “I can’t possibly recall all the stuff that I think is important, let alone other stuff that I don’t think is as important.”

Photo by Krista of my Floridian nephew, Spring Break 2007.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Not too shabby

Mixed reviews from the journalism class of Globe reporter Charles Sennott's talk last week surprised me. I thought he was terrific. I'll allow he's a swashbuckling kind of guy, but I wouldn't use the word "slick" to describe him like the students did. Pressed to offer some observation, our exchange student from Taiwan said he was "attractive." She expected a reporter would have a big pot belly and grey hair --- and he had no pot belly at all , she said. What a tough crowd, but she's probably right about reporters. Note to self: get hair done.
Photo is another treasured item retrieved from the basement: a dragon sculpture by Nicky c. 6-8 years old. It's an incense and candle holder. The smoke from the incense comes out his nose and the candle lights his scary face. Nicky conceived of and made it in one of Katie George's craft classes, an Amherst institution as far as I know.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Spring forward early, buy more water

Spring forward; Fall back. That's how I remember which way to set the clocks at the beginning and end of daylight savings time, which starts Sunday, three weeks ahead of time (and ends a week later on the first Sunday in November), thanks to Congress. Note to self: DON'T FORGET. I read it could cause a "Mini-Y2K" for some computer systems. Maybe I'll buy some more bottled water. Just kidding. But I really do think it is a good plan to have emergency water and provisions and we do have a few gallons of water in the basement. I really think do we should have much more. Photo is a tulip at the Smith College Bulb Show Sunday.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Better than snow

Brian and I check out the Smith College Bulb Show Sunday. Later this week or next weekend we'll visit Mount Holyoke's. Photo is ecologist Brian examining something he calls a pitcher plant.

Scenes from Smith College Bulb Show

Saturday, March 3, 2007

What are the Libby jurors DOing?

To the disrespected cat bloggers of the world (photo). Sorry I have detoured into dogs. So what IS taking the Scooter Libby trial jurors so long? It comes down to whether we should roll over when an "important" person, like Libby, tells the rest of us chumps and cat bloggers that he can't remember telling a bunch of reporters something because he is SO busy and SO important. On the premise that some people are more important than others rests a whole bunch of other excuses that should be rejected out of hand. Example: Dick Cheney is so important he can court the Christian right AND tell a reporter he OUT OF LINE asking him whether he supports his lesbian daughter having a baby.

Movie and to Mom's House for lunch

Saw an advanced screening for reviewers of "The Lives of Others," German movie that won Best Foreign Film at Academy Awards this year. Opens at Amherst Cinema Friday. Never have I so felt like breaking into applause at the same time I had to fight sobbing as I did at the end. A truly stunning movie.

Then, it was off to Mom's House, the Chinese food store at 318 College St. (photo)which also does a brisk take-out business. Highly recommend the eggplant and fried tofu.

Friday, March 2, 2007


Could be seeing a lot more of the Geico caveman. One of my blogging mentors Stephanie O'Keeffe just sent me this:
TV is So Easy, Even a Caveman Can Do It
Posted Mar 2nd 2007 12:02PM by TMZ StaffFiled under: TV
ABC is looking to an unlikely place to find the next big television show: Geico TV commercials. Yes, the net is developing a half-hour comedy based on the cavemen characters from the popular insurance ads. The show would revolve around three pre-historic men who must battle prejudice as they live their day-to-day lives in modern Atlanta. Who smells Emmy?The Geico spots feature cavemen pissed off over Geico's slogan for its website: "So easy, a caveman can do it." At least they didn't try and make a show out of that stupid gecko, although that's probably next.

On Peckerhead, confidence, the media and Iraq

On the charge of wanting to post another dog photo (of Mary Andrews' Shar Pei at the Pittsfield dog show), I plead guilty.

Got the day off and I keep thinking about poor Peckerhead, that is the dog in my co-worker Nick Grabbe's charming story about dog names. Incensed a school marm who wrote a scathing letter (see a few posts back) and now Nick's story is in the dog house.

Reminds me of Globe reporter Charles Sennott, a former Mideast correspondent, at UMass this week on the question of WHY the U.S. media failed so miserably in the lead-up to the Iraq war. He's not shifting blame, but he wrote a story quoting U.N weapons inspector Hans Blix saying he was 95 percent certain there were no WMD. "Nice job and everything," the editor told Sennott, and put it on Page 11, i.e. buried it. Why? "Lack of CONFIDENCE," Sennott said. "We're the Boston Globe. Why didn't the Times write that first?" was the attitude. Meanwhile, "The powerful media has too much access." Case in point, Judith Miller. "The old media is failing and they should suffer for it terribly," the colorful Sennott said.

Jogging by Wagner Farm on North East Street

Small and colorful houses along jogging route

I love looking at houses as I jog. Here's one by Strong and North East that looks like a little chalet in the snow; a tiny immaculate North East Street home hiding behind a thick row of arbor vitae like our cat crouching behind a table runner hiding the stereo. A neon green house on Strong with a mandala on the garage and the late Prudencio Gomez's multi-colored headquarters on Main.

On photographer Jeff Wall

I've been thinking a lot about photography after reading NYTimes Magazine article about Jeff Wall. Among other experiments in photography, he re-creates at great expense scenes/vignettes he has observed that do not buy into a place's "myth of specialness." He spent two weeks, for example, photographing a scene of guys hanging out in front of a non-descript place waiting for someone to hire them to work for a day. (photo) The guys are all people he's hired, the place determinedly non-descript. "It's a semblance of life occurring on the fly, but it is a semblance," he tells the Times. "A semblance has its own value."
It's the opposite, I think, of what local bloggers are doing when they post a photo taken at a specific moment in a specific place with an eye on authenticity and posterity and less so on art. But it's similar in representing scenes whose "specialness" takes some contemplation to identify.

Thursday, March 1, 2007


Photo is by my sister Kathy of her dog Rory.
I'm a bit of a prude. A huge one. Maybe. Grades 1 through 6 at Sacred Heart (Catholic) School in Pittsfield were some of my finest years. I don't like swear words. Think Vagina Monologues is nasty. But even I was surprised that someone wrote to the Gazette complaining about Nick Grabbe's dog names story. (There are just so many ways to offend people without trying.) Here's what she said: "On February 20, your paper had a wonderful article for kids on the front cover. 'Places, foreign languages add intrigue to pooches' names was an easy to read article about people's choices for their dog's names and the sources for those names. I read the article with interest and hoped to cut it out to share with my elementary students until I got to the end paragraph. The blatant use of a derogatory male body part as part of your article was and is not acceptable and should not be tolerated in your newspaper."

The offending dog name? Peckerhead.

Boston Globe reporter talks to students at UMass

Journalism class heard Globe reporter Charles Sennott, a UMass alum, yesterday, on his career as a correspondent in the Mideast, tabloid reporter at the New York Daily News and the future of newspapers and journalism. Very engaging and a vivid personality. Loved his little riff on how the media is like a "middle child," in answer to a question about how in God's name the media failed so badly in the lead-up to the Iraq war.
In Sennot's view, the middle child is "frequently more gifted than the oldest. More gifted. (Hey, I'm the oldest of six.) But at the end of the day, you feel like telling them, 'Keep it down.'" he said. When there was a trauma in Sennott's family, (like 9/11 was a trauma to the U.S.) "the middle kid would know if we had a trauma, it's not the right day to ask questions."
Video is of Ghana-born student Fred Obeng-Ampofo asking Sennott why there is such a paltry presence of U.S. media stationed in Africa. There are six full-time reporters from U.S. newspapers -- total, Sennott said, and one of them, the Globe's John Donnelly, is being withdrawn.