Sunday, April 9, 2017

For Palm Sunday: A Palm Sunday Donkey

From the vaults: One of the most charming pieces of Easter religious sculpture is the depiction of Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey.

When British General Allenby entered Jerusalem as conqueror in December 1917, he made a point of doing so on foot.

Full original post.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Amherst College Picks Emily Dickinson as New Sports Mascot

In Surprise Move, Amherst College Picks Emily Dickinson as New Sports Mascot
Edged Out Leading Contender: “Fighting Poets”

Image of Emily Dickinson from Amherst Colleges Archives and Special Collections

The long wait is over. Although the official announcement is not expected until sometime next week, sources inside the Amherst College administration revealed that, after months of controversy and speculation, they have chosen poet Emily Dickinson as their new sports mascot, replacing eighteenth-century British military leader Lord Jeffery Amherst, considered by many to be politically and morally unacceptable in this day and age. The move came as something of a surprise because, among the five finalists announced to the public, “Fighting Poets” was widely expected to get the nod. A few trustees, gathered for cocktails in the elegant and dimly lit bar of the Lord Jeffery Inn  (spoiler: yes, it’s ironic, but that name isn’t changing yet), late Friday night spoke on condition of anonymity about the process that had just concluded.

A Background of Controversy

The decision arose from the intersection of longstanding concerns and recent protests. For years, Native Americans and their allies have protested both the appropriation of American Indian culture and the related use of racist stereotypes as emblems of sports teams. American campuses have been roiled in conflict for several years over histories of white supremacy as well as continuing issues of institutional racism, but it was the recent activism associated with the Black Lives Matter movement that brought things to a head at Amherst.

The figure of Lord Jeffery Amherst, after whom the college’s sports team—the “Lord Jeffs”—was named, is no stranger to controversy on campus and beyond. In this case, the issue was not a symbol that appropriated  Native American culture, and instead, one associated with its destruction. As almost every Amherst resident and Amherst College student soon comes to learn, Amherst sought to exterminate Native Americans (“this execrable race”) during the “French and Indian War” through an early form of biological warfare by giving them smallpox-infested blankets.

For a long time his ubiquitous emblematic presence caused the administration no discomfort. The College commissioned elegant representations of him on “collectible” Wedgwood china.

Wedgwood plate on display in the library of Lord Jeffery Inn
a great way to start your day: old Amherst College dinnerware
And as late as the 1960s, a stylized depiction of Lord Jeff hunting down Indians was considered a light-hearted scene with which to greet the young WASP males of the “One Percent” as they began their day in the dining commons.

That dinnerware was in the meantime quietly removed, but the presence of Lord Jeff as sports mascot remained. When students of color and their allies rose up in protest in the fall of 2015, he became an obvious target.

Amherst Uprising protest poster, Frost Library, November 2015

A Symbol of Changing Times

The administration took the protests seriously, and President Caroline “Biddy” Martin  returned to campus from her travels to meet with protesters.  In January 2016, the College announced that it was giving Lord Jeff the heave-ho.

In late October, the College announced a public process to select a new mascot. By the end of the year, having received 2045 suggestions, the Mascot Committee chose 30 semifinalists. On Saint Patrick’s Day 2017, the College announced five finalists, to be winnowed through an online voting process ending March 31. They were:

  • “Fighting Poets” (“celebrates multiple poets who have taught, studied or written poetry in association with the college or town of Amherst")
  • “Mammoth” (a reference to fossils in the Beneski Museum)
  • “Purple and White” (the College colors)
  • “Valley Hawks” (“would reflect pride in the campus bird sanctuary and the college’s other connections to avian studies”)
  • "Wolves" (“Known for their keen senses, intelligence and power, wolves collaborate and care for one another in packs, but they can also represent individuality and independence")

Trustee Coup? “Fighting Poets” or not “Fighting Poets”: that was the question

Some of the 2045 suggestions were easy to reject for one reason or another. For example, although “Hamsters” was considered clever by some because Hamster is an anagram of Amherst, it is also the nickname of students at nearby Hampshire College. “A’s” was unimaginative. And “Pride” was just plain mystifying. A younger left-leaning trustee provided particular insight into the deliberations. In his view, it was much like the Trump White House: characterized by chaos and infighting.

The trustees faced a dilemma. Four of the five finalist names were anything but inspiring. Until just recently, “Fighting Poets” therefore seemed to be headed for victory: it was clever, had a light touch, and referred to the college’s intellectual legacy: Emily Dickinson did not attend Amherst College--it was among the last of the Ivies to go coed (1975), and only after great resistance–but her family was associated with the founding and administration of the College, and Amherst owns the Dickinson Museum, which attracts thousands of visitors to the town. Robert Frost taught at Amherst College, and the library is named after him. And Richard Wilbur, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and numerous other awards, is an alumnus (Class of ’41).

Still, as trustees weighed the choice, doubts arose. To begin with, none was really familiar with poetry. A few thought they had encountered Frost or Dickinson in a freshman English class but could not recall much else. Some remembered having seen Richard Wilbur at a dinner and admiring his tweed jacket. “Too bad that Joyce Kilmer didn’t go to Amherst,” one elderly gentleman mused over a Bone Dry Sapphire Gin Martini. “I really liked that poem about trees. But we didn’t let girls in back then.” “Wilbur who?” asked another. “Wasn’t he the guy on that show with the talking horse?” he snorted, as he took a sip from his third Macallan 18 Year Old Sherry Oak 1992.

A more politically aware younger trustee raised doubts even about Robert Frost: the poet came from a racist white nationalist family and was named for Robert E. Lee. His official biographer described him as (in the words of a reviewer) “a nasty piece of work, cruel to his family, dismissive and contemptuous of other writers, a liar and a manipulator.” The same reviewer summarized a fictional portrait of the poet by Joyce Carol Oates as: “racist, sexist, loathsome, bullying.” “’Fighting poets’?!” the trustee asked with some exasperation. “For the Confederacy? Against women? It would be worse than ironic if, after the anti-racist protests on campus, we picked this  guy. Just what kind of message are we sending?!”

“Besides,” another worried, “we might just be opening ourselves up to ridicule. “What are our boys going to yell when these ‘Fighting Poets’ take to the gridiron? You know that Haverford College football cheer: ‘Kill, Quakers, Kill!’ Come on. It’s the worst of both worlds.”

Purple and White Privilege: we’re the trustees and can do pretty much what we want

A group of more traditionally minded trustees therefore tried to come up with an alternative. When asked how they could circumvent the choices developed through an open public process, one who works in corporate law replied that it was perfectly legitimate, in the spirit if not the letter of the charge: “After all, you folks in town did the same thing: you held a flag contest calling for designs based on the theme of ‘the book and the plow’—which, I’ll have you know, was the invention of an Amherst College professor—and then chose the book and three sheaves of grain—even though they’re not a plow and no one ever grew wheat in Amherst. Sauce for the gander, you know. Anyway: we’re the trustees and can do pretty much what we want.”

This trustee faction settled on the figure of John McCloy as the new mascot. He was an alumnus, a major figure in twentieth-century American law, finance, politics, and government, and served on the Warren Commission: an ideal representation of Amherst men in the service of the nation. And of course he was male. That plan fell apart when a young leftish trustee pointed out that, as Assistant Secretary of War, McCloy had played a decisive role in the notorious internment of Japanese Americans, had refused to believe stories of Nazi artocities, and then, as High Commissioner for postwar Germany, had commuted or reduced the sentences of many of the worst Nazis:

“So: you’re dumping a guy who wanted to poison Indians but didn’t actually manage to do so—and replacing him with a guy who put loyal Americans in prison—and let German war criminals out? Bright move.” Besides, he added with a wink, “Just think about the nicknames: If the Lord Jeffs are known as ‘the Jeffs,’ then the ‘John McCloys’ would be known as ‘the Johns.’ I. Don’t. Think. So. Look, if you guys aren’t going to take the need for social change seriously, why don’t you just be done with it and call the team “Purple and White Privilege?”

Ironically, although he spoke those words with bitter sarcasm, they broke the logjam. The trustees began to think in concert about how to spin or improve upon the five final options. It was thus that they hit upon the idea of casting aside the generic “fighting poets” and singling out Emily Dickinson. It was an easy choice and a unifying one. For those on the left, it was thinking outside the box and a means to underscore the College’s commitment to diversity and modern values. For the conservatives, it was a cynical, cost-free choice. The Lord Jeff mascot was a clear liability, easily thrown off the back of the sleigh to appease the wolves. Choosing a woman as emblem would also help to distract attention from damaging news reports concerning an aggressive masculine sports ethos, ranging from rape culture to racist and misogynistic e-mail exchanges. Above and beyond that, the move would secure the future of athletics at Amherst. It is an open secret that, when the trustees reluctantly accepted former President Tony Marx’s demand for emphasis on greater ethnic and racial diversity, the quid pro quo was increased financial support for the sports teams. Was it only a coincidence that, when the trustees selected the first woman president as his successor, they chose Biddy Martin, a self-described “crazed sports fan”? The choice of Emily Dickinson as mascot thus hit the trifecta, solving numerous problems at once, changing things without really changing things.

even on March 31, search engines still show the description of the team under its old moniker

Early Reaction

Discreetly presented with the breaking news on Friday evening in the bar of the Lord Jeff, one professor of English sitting nearby looked up from her Chocolate Appletini and said, “Wow, that’s really disruptive!” “Transgressive, even!” chimed in her colleague from comp lit, giggling slightly as she took a sip from her squid-ink-garnished Firenze-Palermo cocktail. A member of the Hampshire College faculty known to be well versed in both academic and town politics happened to be at the bar, as well: “You know if I were conspiratorially minded—which I’m not: only idiots believe in conspiracy theories—I’d say that this was a cunning plan by the Emily Dickinson Museum to get the College finally to pay attention to its most valuable cultural resource. Everyone knows that, even though Biddy Martin was trained in literature, she has never really shown much interest in the Museum. She’s set foot there like, what: once in her life? But she always has time to go to a football game or tweet about sports.

With teams named after Emily Dickinson, she’d finally have to pay attention. It’s absolutely brilliant.” With that, he returned to his Vieux Carré and discussion of the upcoming Town Meeting with his two female companions.

Jeff, John, Dick, and Harried

Reached via telephone on Saturday, a spokeswoman for the Amherst College Office of Communications said that President Martin, on her way out of town for a full weekend of men’s tennis matches at Tufts, both women’s and men’s lacrosse at Middlebury, and women’s outdoor track and field at the Tufts Snowflake Invitational, would not be available for comment until late next week or whenever there is a break in the College’s sports schedule.

We pointed out that, although the choice of mascot was bold, there was one fly in the ointment. If the “Lord Jeffs” had been known as “the Jeffs,” then the “Emily Dickinsons” might come to be popularly referred to as "The Emilys"--or: “The Dicks.”

There was a brief but painful silence on the other end of the phone line. “Oh.” Pause. “We hadn’t thought of that. Boy, is our face red.” Another pause. “I’ll have to get back to you on that. First, I’ve got to check my calendar. Remind me: what day is this?”

Monday, January 2, 2017

Happy New Year, 2017 (and good riddance, 2016)!

Wishing all my friends a very happy new year!

A greeting from the vaults.

This is a sentimental old favorite from my collection: nothing special in itself, just an old greeting card from Czechoslovakia that I inherited from my father. The winter scene depicts Prague Castle and St. Vitus' Cathedral viewed from the hill of Strahov Monastery, circa 1930.

šťastný Nový rok!
  Boldog Új Évet!
Prosit Neujahr!
Happy New Year!

From the past: one of my 2014 New Year's entries featured a greeting card from an Austro-Hungarian railroad unit during World War I.

* * *

And: Good riddance, 2016!

For a variety of reasons, a lot of us have been saying that, even though we face 2017 with certain anxieties, we won't be sad to see 2016 use the exit.

Several publications, noting the national mood, decided to consider some other years, for comparison, and perhaps consolation:

 • Smithsonian helpfully offered "Why 2016 Is Only the Most Recent Worst Year Ever:
This year has been miserable for many, but it has plenty of competition from its predecessors in the 20th century."

• Not to be outdone, Charles Nevin in the New York Times made a foray as far back as 75,000 years about but drew most of his examples from the last two millennia (give or take): "2016: Worst. Year. Ever?"

Still, I won't miss 2016.

Not nearly as bad as 1916 or 1816 or many another year I could think of: You think you had it rough? what about 1941? 1348? But it's the lousy year we've had to deal with, so: good riddance. You can't be gone too soon for me.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Christmas Decorating With the Nazis: Literary Tree Ornaments

The Nazis were nothing if not culturally acquisitive. Although harshly critical of modernist art and literature, they portrayed themselves as the heirs and custodians of the great European and German national cultural traditions (the mirror image of the German Marxist claim). In some cases, the appropriation was easy. In others, a certain amount of manipulation or disingenuous treatment was required.

In the literary realm, the great Weimar Classicist writers and friends Goethe (1749-1832) and Schiller (1759-1805) stood at the center of the effort, though not all the works of these humanistic authors readily lent themselves to the messaging of a racist and dictatorial regime. Although Goethe's "Faust" could, with some gymnastics, be held up as the portrait of the archetypal "Germanic" soul, Schiller's drama Don Carlos proved awkward when audiences applauded the line, "Sire, give us freedom of thought!" And in 1941, Hitler requested that Schiller's anti-tyrannical drama Wilhelm Tell no longer be performed. Be that as it may, a general emphasis on the Nationalliteratur, reinforced by selective quotation, remained an effective overall policy.

The glorification of the national cultural tradition extended to Kitsch and collectibles. These small glass Schiller Christmas ornaments (c. 30 x 35 mm) were given to donors at street collections for the Winter Relief Work effort in March 1941.

Some recipients may actually have used them as tree decorations, but the Winterhilfswerk also offered an album for collectors.

Source: Antiquariat Wolfgang Friebes, Graz

The series,"Heads of Famous German Men," included Hitler (featured on the album cover above), historical military leaders, and artists and composers from Dürer to Wagner. Goethe and Schiller were, along with philosopher Immanuel Kant, the only literary figures.

It was a travesty of the German intellectual tradition. On the other hand: if only other countries took their literary heritage so seriously that they felt the need to co-opt and distort it.

[updated images]

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Christmas Decorating With the Nazis: From the War Diary of a German Girl

This is a document that my father acquired during his service with the US Occupation Government in Germany after World War II: confiscated, or just found in his office or quarters—I don’t know. It is described as a “war diary” for a young girl. Normally speaking, a war diary (Kriegstagebuch) is an official German record of a military unit or department, or occasionally, a private record kept by a combatant. The extension of this term—rather than, say, scrapbook—to a gift made for a child is indicative of the culture of militarism and indoctrination under the Third Reich. (more background at the bottom of the page)

* * *

The Christmas entries are particularly instructive.

Weihnachten with the Wehrmacht

24 December 1940

"Our soldiers, too, decorate the Christmas tree, for it connects them
with the homeland and recalls many a pleasant hour."
In one of the most famous military broadcasts of the War, German radio shared transmissions from the Arctic Circle and Stalingrad to Africa as soldiers sang "Silent Night."

Of course the tendency to seize upon Christmas as a respite from combat was not unique to Germany. 101st Airborne veteran Art Schmitz recalled being surrounded by the Germans at Bastogne in 1944. Hearing "Radio Berlin doing a request broadcast: German civilians asking for Christmas carols to be played for their soldiers serving in Narvik, Norway; Italy; or Novosibirsk, Russia," the Americans decided to sing their own Christmas carols. "There was 'The First Noel,' 'O Little Town of Bethlehem' and others before we began 'Angels We Have Heard on High.' What we heard was the sound of angels of death overhead." A Nazi air raid began and the singing ceased, but the memory remained.

The diary pages for the two days of Christmas (celebrated for two days in Germany) epitomize the blending of the military-propagandistic and bourgeois-sentimental.

25 December
The Führer on Christmas with his personal Guard Regiment
The Commander of the Guard Regiment
SS Lieutenant General Sepp Dietrich, greets the Führer
26 December
Santa Claus with the Führer's escort team
The sketch of the evergreen branch with a candle (a tree-decorating tradition maintained up to the present in some circles, though not without risk) is the only original art work in the book.

* * *

Compromised Christianity

Nazism was ideologically anti-Christian, but it readily availed itself of Christian imagery and symbols not only because they were familiar, but also because they were particularly well suited to convey the fascist message of "palingenetic" ultranationalism, or the urgent need for national regeneration: the propaganda film "Triumph of the Will" begins, after all, by speaking of Germany's "crucifixion" by the Versailles Treaty and "rebirth" after the advent of Hitler.

Christmas was in many ways the ideal holiday for the Nazis: a convenient means to affirm their connection with mainstream society (for even their most barbarous acts were committed in the name of decency and middle class values) as well as to impart their own inflection to it. Christmas was of course common to both Catholic and Protestant Germans, but the latter connection was most fruitful, for Lutheranism was associated with the national identity and heritage: the revolt against Rome; the translation of the Bible, which laid the foundations for the modern German language; and (at least according to popular tradition) even the introduction of the Christmas tree. Further, the natural-seasonal aspects of the holiday, which coincided with the winter solstice, were multivalent, allowing for easy identification with either a Christian or a Nordic-pagan message (or some combination of both), as the need dictated.

Finally, the holiday, with its themes of both domesticity and light versus darkness, could incorporate varying ideological messages about the relation between battle front and home front, depending on the course of the war: from the early expectations of peace and national renewal, to later, increasingly bitter denunciations of the barbarous enemy--whether the advance of the Red Army or the allied air campaigns against German cities--as a motivation to fight for the preservation of the innocents at home.

Thus, the page facing the photo of the soldier trimming the Christmas tree was devoted to a an address by Hitler.

The Nazis as the Peace Party?

24 December

Prepared for the Final Call!

When this war will have ended, then there will begin in Germany a great process of creation, then a great "Awaken!" will resound throughout the land. Then the German people will cease the manufacture of cannons and begin with the work of peace and task of reconstruction for the masses in their millions!

And then from this labor will arise that great German empire of which a great poet once dreamt.  It will be a Germany to which every son is attached with fanatical love, because it will be a home even for the poorest.

Adolf Hitler!
If this strikes us as preposterous as well as utopian, it is because we are so detached from the perceived reality in that time and place. Today we associate Hitler and Nazism primarily with war, but we need to recall that this was not always the case, at least domestically. Another book that my father acquired was a propaganda album of cigarette cards issued to commemorate the first year of the new regime (1934), which it praised as "The State of Labor and Peace."

Indeed, as Ian Kershaw so clearly demonstrated in his modern classic, The Hitler Myth, Hitler succeeded for so long precisely because he was credited not only with achieving domestic recovery but also securing--without war--the consensus international goals of the military and geographic revision of the Versailles Treaty. This presumed evidence of his genius as a leader reinforced his standing among the loyal and cut the ground out from under the would-be critics. When war finally broke out in 1939, the German people, fully aware of what had happened in 1914, were more sober and anxious than enthusiastic, but the relatively easy victories in Poland and then in the west following the end of the "Phony War" in 1940 merely reinforced Hitler's reputation for wisdom and infallibility.

What the mother writing this diary--and the rest of the public--did not know was that peace was in fact further away than ever: on 18 December 1940, Hitler had ordered the military to prepare for the invasion of the Soviet Union, even if the war against Britain was not brought to a conclusion.

From Peace Party to Pagan Turn

Thus, when Himmler greeted the SS and their families in the 1943-44 volume of the holiday annual Weihe Nacht (a deliberately archaic spelling of Christmas, connoting pagan origins), it was in a very different tone:
Women and mothers! Men of the SS and Police!

Implacably harsh is the enemy power, against which we have to defend and augment the Reich as the legacy of our ancestors and obligation for our children. Once again the season of the solstice and Christmas summons us to the gathering of clans [a term with a pagan-racial tinge] and families. Once again the task in the longest night of the year is to yearn for the victory of the sun with the faithful trust of our ancestors. May this deep faith in the victory of the light characterize us more deeply than ever today, when we in the privacy of the family or comrades kindle our lights. The lights on the green boughs will, spanning the distances that separate comrades in the front lines and the women and children at home, form bridges between hearts.
You mothers and women truly stand, as in all the great hours of destiny of our Teutonic-German past, truly also personally in battle. The enemy's dishonorable conduct of the war has reduced to rubble the homes of many, and yet you have lost neither courage nor faith. The harsher the struggle, the more cordially the clans must close ranks . . . .

* * *


The culture

About a generation ago, there was a rather sterile but revealing debate among scholars of women’s history. One view, which passed for a radical political and feminist stance of a sort, maintained that, because Nazism was a masculinist racial system, women could not have been complicit in the crimes of a regime that also oppressed them. A countervailing and more plausible view called attention to their neglected role as “accomplices,” providing the stable private sphere supportive of the tasks of the politically and militarily active males. As others pointed out, one does not have to choose between victim and accomplice: it was entirely possible for Aryan women, individually and collectively, to be both.

In 1935, Hitler declared, “I would be ashamed to be a German man if only one woman had to go to the front. The woman has her own battlefield. With every child that she brings into the world, she fights her battle for the nation. The man stands up for the Volk, exactly as the woman stands up for the family.” The continuation of that battle meant raising girls to understand the culture and course of warfare.

The bibliographic object

The document takes the form of a notebook of blank pages (c. 16 x 25 cm, with lines ruled in with pencil), bound in faded purplish boards with a black cloth spine. A handwritten label (in an indeterminate hand) on the cover calls it “Kriegstagebuch For [name],” whereas the title page, in the large printing of a child’s hand reads, “Mein Kriegstage Buch [sic].” By contrast, the text entries are all in an immaculate version—thus evidently an adult hand—of the Sütterlin German script taught from 1915 through 1941: under the Nazi regime, the only one from 1935 on. The contents consist of dated entries—generally excerpts from or summaries of press reports, speeches, and the like—accompanied by photographs clipped from newspapers and magazines. Unfortunately, the book covers only the period November 1940 to early February 1941; the reason for that choice is unclear.

An 18th-Century French Nativity

Since we've been on the subject of Baroque Christmas art and depictions of the Nativity, I'll share this little piece from my collection.

It's a French eighteenth-century pencil sketch with sepia wash, on laid paper (c. 40 x 25 cm, with no apparent watermark).

The geometry suggests to me that it was a sketch for a wall painting, but that's just my best guess.

Oddly enough, the depiction of the central figures of the Virgin Mary and Christ child seems somewhat awkward in comparison with that of the flanking shepherds, who observe the miracle in quiet dignity.

In any case, the piece just radiates the spirit of the period.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Merry Christmas, 2016

Wishing a merry Christmas to all my readers who celebrate the holiday!

Here, from a past post, are two images of the Nativity from southwest German eighteenth-century bibles. (Full story.)

Happy Hanukkah, 5777

Wishing a happy Hanukkah to those of my readers who celebrate that holiday.

In lieu of writing a new piece, I'll just share this image of a menorah from last year.

Israel Hanukkah coin, 1973, depicting eighteenth-century Iraqi menorah

Full background on the coin and its subject matter here.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Human Rights Day 2016

This year, as every year, Amherst celebrated Human Rights Day, marking the anniversary of the promulgation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (10 December 1948).

Members of the Amherst Select Board have few ceremonial duties, none of them obligatory. Still, I do relish the ones that have both historical and civic meaning. Participating in this commemoration, like those held on Veterans Day, Memorial Day, and the 9-11 anniversary, is among such quasi-obligations that I value most. The others are held in spring or summer weather. This one, by contrast, is the most universal in significance but the least well attended, held on what invariably proves to be one of the most frigid days in December, as we remind ourselves that winter has not even begun. The fact that the event usually takes place after dark, by electric candle light, only adds to the sense that we are doing something important, keeping something very important alive.

"Many of the assumptions about who wrote the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are wrong"

Attendance is also low, however, because, whereas the other dates are established US holidays, this one is not. Few of us know of the Declaration, and even among those who are familiar with it, few are aware of the real story. At best, we "know" that Eleanor Roosevelt had something to do with it. Well, not that much, and she certainly was not the only one.  I always refer people to an admirable article by the equally admirable and courageous Gita Sahgal, a founder of the Centre for Secular Space. She reminds us of two crucial points:

(1) "Many of the assumptions about who wrote the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are wrong. The less known story of the men and women who wrote this foundational, emancipatory and anti-colonial document must be told in today's world."

(2) That in turn should serve as a rebuke to those on both right and left who dismiss the notion of human rights as, respectively, a sign of liberal elitist weakness or a reactionary bourgeois affectation, not to mention those who claim an exemption from these universal standards for a particular culture or faith.

Universal Human Rights--and now, more than ever, the rights of immigrants

This year's ceremony was a little bit different. Because the anniversary fell on a weekend, Human Resources and Human Rights Director Deborah Radway and the Human Rights Commission decided to begin in the afternoon and daylight, at 4:00 p.m.

And, given the toxic climate surrounding the recent presidential campaign and the rise of new nativist, anti-immigrant sentiment, the Select Board proclamation of the holiday explicitly reaffirmed the Town's decision (represented by a Town Meeting vote of 2012) to do the utmost to protect the rights of immigrants, including the undocumented, from what was regarded as unnecessary and excessively aggressive government intervention:
Key excerpt:

Then THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Town of Amherst and its officials and employees,

to the extent permissible by law, shall not participate in federal law enforcement programs relating to immigration enforcement, including but not limited to, Secure Communities, and cooperative agreements with the federal government under which town personnel participate in the enforcement of immigration laws, such as those authorized by Section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act. Should the Commonwealth of Massachusetts enter into an agreement or Memorandum of Agreement regarding Secure Communities, the Town of Amherst shall opt out if legally and practically permissible. To the extent permissible by law, immigration detainer requests will not be honored by the Amherst Police Department. Municipal employees of the Town of Amherst, including law enforcement employees, shall not monitor, stop, detain, question, interrogate, or search a person for the purpose of determining that individual’s immigration status. Officers shall not inquire about the immigration status of any crime victim, witness, or suspect, unless such information is directly relevant to the investigation, nor shall they refer such information to federal immigration enforcement authorities unless that information developed is directly relevant. The use of a criminal investigation or arrest shall not be used as a basis to ascertain information about an individual’s immigration status unless directly relevant to the offenses charged.”

(Full text here)

Above: Amherst political notables take part in the reading of the Declaration. At left: Select Board Member Andy Steinberg, State-Representative-elect Solomon Goldstein-Rose, Town Manager Paul Bockelman.

For the record, this is the first time that I (or anyone else, as far as I can tell) can recall a Town Manager taking part in this event: big props to Paul, who doesn't even live here yet on a permanent basis and is still commuting from Somerville.

Human Rights Commission Chair Matthew Charity gives the nod to the next reader.

Amherst Health and Community Services Director Julie Federman and Amherst Survival Center Director Mindy Domb read the first two articles of the Declaration.


Human Rights Day in Amherst: the 2015 post, describing the origins of the Declaration, with still and video footage from Amherst commemorations, 2011-2014.

18 December 1916: Battle of Verdun Ends

The Battle of Verdun, which had begun on 21 February 1916, at last came to an end on 18 December. The meat-grinder, as it came to be known, occasioned some 700,000 to 900,000 French and German casualties--among them at least 300,000 dead.

The medal below was issued by the city to the defenders. As historian and security expert John Schindler notes in a piece written on this week's centennial: because of the French system of rotating units in and out of Verdun, "virtually every division in the French army fought at Verdun at some point in 1916."

Details in the post from the February anniversary.

* * *


"The Butcher’s Bill of 1916: Europe’s Blood-Drenched Year of Horror:
A century ago, Europe was busy killing itself—a nightmare we still live with today," Observer, 17 Dec. 2016

John Schindler (@20committee) places the Battle of Verdun in the context of other bloody operations of 1916, including the Somme (intended to relieve the pressure on France arising from Verdun), and the lesser known battles in other theaters: Isonzo, on the Italian Alpine front, and Russia's Brusilov offensive against Austria-Hungary.