Friday, April 30, 2010

Just Plain Fools: SJP Opts for Second Life in the Fantasy World

The appearance of Hampshire Students for Justice in Palestine's promotional film reminds me that I need to do a follow-up on an earlier post.

Every year around this season, I face a dilemma: should I try to concoct some sort of April Fool's spoof news, whether deliberately deceptive or patently preposterous? It's a busy time of year: the end of the semester is coming into sight, mid-term papers pile up, taxes nag and beckon. Usually, I therefore don't get around to the task. Fortunately, this year and last, Hampshire Students for Justice in Palestine came to my rescue by producing absurdities of the sort that I could not have dreamed up by myself.

This time, our college newspaper, the Climax, for some reason chose its April 1 issue in which to run a story on "Divestment: A year later." It was bizarre in several regards: (1) The College never divested from any holdings because of their alleged association with the Israeli Occupation ("O": remember to hold down that shift key!) of Palestine; (2) the actual anniversary of the non-event occurred in February; (3) the story appeared in an insert that bore the earnest statement, "The articles on the preceding four pages are meant to be taken seriously. The others are not."

Oh, really?

Let's consider what the article says: Although the typographically challenged piece does cite the administration view (including remarks by the President deploring the uncivil atmosphere on campus), the title seems to take the non-event as a fact ("Divestment: A year later") and the body of the text most prominently features an array of statements by SJP members insisting that their version alone is true, e.g. "We always say divestment is a statement and the statement was made. Whatever the administration says, we know what happened."

Yes, and I'm Napoleon. It must be nice to be able to live in the reality of your own choosing—except, of course, to the extent that it just underscores to others the fact that you're a total loser in the only game that we know. The divestment movement's desperate attempt to parlay defeat after abject defeat into a string of glorious victories reminds me of nothing so much as the bitterly cynical definitions of the online game, "Second Life," in the Urban Dictionary.

In any case, that stock refrain about the "statement" is starting to wear a bit thin for those of us stuck here on planet reality. It was on the banner that appeared on the anniversary of the non-event back in February, itself echoing the placards of 2009.

The obscure(d) message seems fortuitous. Did HSJP perhaps mean to say that divestment was a "state of mind" rather than a "statement"? That would certainly be more in line with the facts. If divestment indeed occurred, then why the insistent need to proclaim that it was "a statement" in 2009 and "still [!] is a statement" in 2010? Does an action taken by an official body not speak for itself?

Aye, there's the rub: no such action took place. Bummer, again, heroic activist dudes. When Hampshire College proudly and honorably divested from its holdings in South Africa a generation ago, there was never any doubt at the time—not to mention, a year later: The administration explicitly announced the step. In this case, it flatly denies it. (And, last I checked, only the administration has the right to represent official College policy to the public.)

It's easy to explain the difference:

If I sell my shares in Chrysler because I think it's a badly-run company that does not serve its stockholders, it's technically "true" that I have "relinquished" (to use the language of another recent student flier) my investment in a particular firm that profits from our irresponsible reliance on fossil fuels, but I have hardly "divested" myself—as a conscious and political statement (which is the only practical meaning that "divestment" can have in this context)—of participation in the carbon-based economy: especially if I continue to hold stock in Ford, Toyota, and Mobil. Simple enough, one would think.

Paradoxically and unfortunately, then, the HSJP-ers are thus forced to resort to the same logic that their nemesis, former Harvard President Lawrence Summers, employed to criticize the actions of their own movement as antisemitic: in effect if not intent.

Ouch. It's what we academics like to call: irony.

By so insistently focusing on the "statement," the HSJP-ers are attempting to divert our attention from the (non-)action itself—but in fact inadvertently calling attention to it. If the action indeed took place, why does the College refuse to acknowledge it? If the act was indeed so significant, why were there no consequences, why has no one followed the revolutionary leader?

Allow me to translate and simplify still further:
• an action can indeed be a statement
• this alleged action never took place
• thus, the (non-)action cannot have been a "statement"
• to state that an action occurred when it in fact did not: well, that's just a lie.

got that?

[note: because the online version of the newspaper is not available, I have uploaded a scan of the article after the original post]

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Dept. of Interior Approves Cape Wind: Shot heard around the world for clean energy, or just the latest shot in a nine-year war?

[logo on Environment
Massachusetts message]

The Department of the Interior today, at long last, approved the much-debated Cape Wind project, which will establish a farm of 130 turbines five miles offshore in Nantucket Sound. State Secretary of Environmental Affairs Ian Bowles said, "This will be the shot heard around the world for clean energy."

Many environmental groups—including Environment Massachusettslauded the achievement as a great victory for sustainability, climate action, and common sense. Some other environmentalists denounced the measure and vowed to continue fighting it.

A debate that had been raging on the Massachusetts preservation listserve flared up again today, as the majority of posters took harsh anti-Cape Wind stances, reiterating a host of concerns, ranging from dire harm to the ocean ecosystem to despoliation of historic views (though the project is to be located five miles offshore) or even destruction of presumed (for now submerged) historic landscape or archaeological remains (though whatever is there hasn't been seen since the Ice Age). Several Native American tribes likewise promised to keep up the fight.

Splits and alliances were unpredictable in the political world, as well: liberal Democratic Governor Deval Patrick and Senator John Kerry supported the project, whereas newly elected conservative Senator Scott Brown—like his liberal predecessor Ted Kennedy—opposed it.

We are a state that loves its process and debate, and nothing brings out that double-edged trait like what one blogger called "the mother of all NIMBY battles": it's got environment, historic preservation, Native American rights, and plain old nasty political mudslinging—something for everyone to get worked up and indignant about. Why stop when we're having fun?

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

SJP Slogan. Fail.

There they go again.

Hampshire College Students for Justice in Palestine (HSJP) just premiered its self-congratulatory documentary.

If the rather lame graphic design is any indication, this film won't be Oscar material. (Here you can check out some shots of the videographer trying to find someone at SJP demonstrations besides the organizers. Fail.)

The title is a bit more clever—or rather, too clever by half—and thereby hangs a tale.

Jon Haber, one of the shrewdest chroniclers and analysts of the divestment movement, has a particularly trenchant analysis of its strategy:
Because divestment activists represent such a small minority of student opinion (and an even tinier minority of US public opinion overall), their goal is to attach their message (that Israel is an “Apartheid state” worth of economic punishment) to a well known institutions such as a university, church or city. This allows them to “punch above their weight” by declaring their anti-Israel message is not simply emanating from a small, non-representative minority, but rather represents the policy of a respected organization.
Hampshire SJP offers a textbook illustration of the practice.

The title of the film, "To Know is Not Enough" (Non Satis Scire), also happens to be the motto of Hampshire College. What better way to affirm the persistent but fraudulent assertion that the institution divested itself of support for the "Israeli Occupation (remembered to capitalize it) of Palestine"?

Unfortunately, the use of "Non Satis Scire" only reminds us that we also have another Latin motto here, which serves as the title of the handbook governing academic life and community norms:
Non Satis Non Scire: Not to Know is Not Enough
The same principle applies to SJP's cavalier attitude toward historical complexity and the basic norms of civil discourse and intellectual honesty: Ignorance is no excuse.

So, nice try with that title. Fail.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Kundera on youth, politics, stupidity, cruelty, and history

"Youth is terrible: it is a stage trod by children in buskins and a variety of costumes mouthing speeches they've memorized and fanatically believe but only half understand. And history is terrible because it so often ends up a playground for the immature; a playground for the young Nero, a playground for the young Bonaparte, a playground for the easily aroused mobs of children whose simulated passions and simplistic poses suddenly metamorphose into a catastrophically real reality."
—Milan Kundera, The Joke, definitive edition (NY: Harper Perennial/Aaron Asher Books, 1993) 87

Thursday, April 22, 2010

E-Day/Earth Day turns 40

We mark 40 years of the international holiday dedicated to environmentalism. As noted in a recent post, Earth Day was the brainchild of distinguished Wisconsin Senator and environmentalist pioneer Gaylord Nelson (1916-2005), and I recall the celebration and events in school. Already on that first occasion, some 20 million people around the world took part.

Among the numerous actions this year:

Environment America created a "Declaration of Energy Independence" bemoaning the fact that, 40 years of progress notwithstanding,
America has had a failing energy policy that continues to reward polluters, undermines the health of the American people, threatens our national and economic security, and keeps us dependent on energy sources from overseas. We call on Congress to finally push aside the obstruction of the polluter lobby and stand with America's Clean Energy Patriots. We call for America's elected leaders to join us as Clean Energy Patriots and deliver on the promise of a clean energy revolution and climate action now.
By contrast, Repower America took the opposite tack, arguing that we are closer than ever to our goal (thus: the revolution of rising expectations rather than declining status). The goal is the same, though: call your senators and urge them to support the forthcoming bill for clean energy and action against climate change.

The National Council for Science and the Environment—which also celebrates its 40th anniversary this year—noting that only 2 percent of Americans buy clean energy when offered the choice, launched a Buy Clean Energy Campaign.

Jewish Funds for Justice asked members to support congressional action in favor of Green Jobs.

Repower America both addressed green jobs and sought to cash in on the shared birthday of hip hop and Earth Day by offering a Biz Markie remix.

The music and text in the first half remain good, though there's not much that one can do to save the maudlin and banal second part (still, not as disturbing as the picture of Al Gore on the top page of the site).

Environment Massachusetts sought to cash in, period: asked for 40 bucks in honor of 40 years. Simple and straightforward, at least.

As for Stephen Colbert, on tonight's Report, he declared: "I celebrate Earth Day because this is America's planet."

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Tragic Irony: Polish President & Entourage Killed on Way to Commemoration of Soviet Massacre of Polish Elite

From the Warsaw Voice:
BREAKING NEWS – Polish President Killed in Plane Crash, April 10, 2010

A Tu-154 plane carrying Polish President Lech Kaczynski and his wife Maria along with 86 others has crashed while coming in to land near a Russian airport, on 10 April 2010.

The governor of the Smolensk region, where the crash took place at 10:56 Moscow time (0756 CET), said there were no survivors.

President Kaczynski was on board along with several senior government figures and many of Poland's political and military elite.

They were on their way to Russia to mark the 70th anniversary of the 1940 Katyn massacre.

The list of distinguished guests accompanying the Polish president on the plane includes head of the Institute of National Remembrance Jacek Kurtyka, head of the Polish National Bank Slawomir Skrzypek, Poland’s last president in exile Ryszard Kaczorowski, former defence minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski, head of the Presidential Chancellery Wladyslaw Stasiak, presidential spokesman Pawel Wypych, Secretary of State Mariusz Handzlik, head of the Law and Justice party in parliament Przemyslaw Gosiewski, MP Zbigniew Wassermann and Bishop Tadeusz Płoski.

In relation to the tragedy Prime Minister Donald Tusk called all the ministers for an extraordinay session of the Polish governement to be held on Saturday.

According to Poland’s constitution, on the death of a president while in office, the second highest ranking politician takes over as head of state, in this case this is Speaker of Parliament Bronislaw Komorowski.
(Polish Radio and TV)

Sunday, April 4, 2010

And the Number of the Counting Shall Be. . . ?

Select Board Chair Stephanie O'Keeffe distributing census information on
behalf of Complete Count in front of Town Hall on Thursday afternoon.

Where we stand: this interactive map tracks participation, which as of today stands at 56%, with five midwestern states in the lead: Wisconsin (69%), Iowa (67%), Minnesota (66%), South Dakota (65%), Indiana (64%). As for Amherst, we're at 57%, barely above the national average.

As the Bulletin reminds us, undercounting—that is, not capturing data on all residents—is a problem not only among illegal immigrants or some communities of minorities and the poor (who may not understand the need for the Census or may fear interaction with governmental authorities), but also among students: obviously, a particular issue here in Amherst. Both the University of Massachusetts and Hampshire College have launched efforts to get students to participate.

About a year ago, I believe, I received a call from the Census Bureau, asking me to participate in a detailed survey to test the knowledge of Americans about the census. Detailed and long it indeed was. To my relief, I was generally very well informed about the Census, but I still missed a few minor points.

Most people are at least aware that the Census is a constitutionally mandated means of apportioning our legislative representation. Unless our count reveals 70,609 residents more than currently listed, our congressional delegation will drop from ten to nine members. Reason enough to participate, one would think.

But what most people don't know is the extent to which the Census count helps to determine our eligibility for numerous forms of aid. To cite but one example: As matters stand, Massachusetts annually receives $1,494 per resident from federal fund amounting to some $435 billion.

So, let's turn in those forms.

It's the best way to show that Amherst counts.

4 April: Creation of NATO (1949); Assassination of Martin Luther KIng (1968)

Two anniversaries today, which, separately and together, embody the challenges of the baby boom, postwar era: the birth of NATO and the death of Martin Luther King, Jr.

NATO never fought the war that it was intended either to win or to prevent. Rev. King did not, as he said in his final speech, live to enter the "promised land." Forty years after his death, America elected its first African-American president.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

3 April 1860: Birth of the Pony Express

Born on 3 April 1860. Yes, but can you tell me when it died? October 24, 1861, actually (and it had shrunk to a western regional service already by March 1861). Well, they never told us that when we were kids, did they?

The service closed just two days after the completion of the transcontinental telegraph rendered it obsolete.

NPR has a nice story today, calling attention not only to the beginning, but also to the problematic character and (actually quite timely) end:
The Pony Express dispatched its first rider from St. Joseph, Mo., on April 3, 1860. It was an all-out, high-speed information delivery service that traversed nearly 2,000 miles of open, desolate and hostile land.

The goal was to bring faster mail service to California. As a business proposition, it was a total failure. The service was expensive — $5 a letter (more than $100 by today's standards). But as a Western legend, the Pony Express has been going strong for 150 years. (read the rest)
In 1869, the government created a stamp commemorating the service: the first such issue that did not depict a founding father or early president. Wells Fargo adopted the rider as its logo, and the late nineteenth-century already artificial cult of the "West" and the cowboy did the rest.

Getting rid of an inefficient service, which nonetheless commands a strong emotional loyalty beyond its value and years? It would be interesting to think of contemporary parallels. (To start with: The Space Shuttle, anyone?)

Just Plain April Fools (those poor confused SJP kids)

Trying to think of something to write for April Fool's Day, when the fates again come to my rescue: The Hampshire College Climax has a feature story on Students for Justice in Palestine and "Divestment: A year later."

The follow-up title on the continuation page is even funnier and inadvertently more revealing:
"One year later, causes and results of Hampshire's divestment from [sic] remain contested"
Yep, that's right: "divestment from".....uh, . . . oh, I forgot. Whoops.

Although the newspaper coyly refers to divestment from over 200 companies found to be in violation of the College's ethical investment guidelines, it's still unwilling or unable to say just what the College divested from or why. (Thank you, Dr. Freud!) Not the Israeli Occupation (remember to hold down that shift key, or it's not official!) of Palestine, that's for sure.

But as if the preceding howler were not embarrassing enough, we find:
For SJP, the confusion didn't just start with the administration. The students in that group felt that a lot of confusing information was sent out and that many did not understand that the group was not trying to divest from Israel but companies that supported the occupation of Israel [emphasis added].
Huh?! Poor fools. No wonder they're confused.

[Note: this issue of the paper is not yet online, so I have uploaded a scan of the article here.]

Friday, April 2, 2010

Fooling Some of the People A Lot of the Time

The season of spring hijinks is a dangerous one for punker and punked alike. We all like to think that we are too sophisticated to be duped, and yet each passing year provides an opportunity to put that conceit to the test. We all fail from time to time on the other 364 days, as well. Often, for example, in this age of information overload, one simply reads an e-mail or an internet article too hastily and fires off a response that, to our subsequent chagrin, misses the humor or intended absurdity of the text; hence the otherwise inexplicable popularity of the "emoticon" [can we no longer read?], which functions like the friendly pendant to the sign warning of a minefield.

In the case of an all-too successful prank, the punker is reviled for being too successful in one of two ways: either because s/he is not understood (people take the joke seriously—not realizing it is a joke, they express their outrage at the opinions supposedly expressed) or because the punked discovers the deceit and then, humiliated, complains that the punker did not provide enough clues and warning signs.

This year, the pranksters found a particularly target-rich environment when they ventured into the realm of Jewish history and holidays. Strictly speaking, neither of the two examples cited here was an April Fool's joke, but they appeared in this season and do fit the general pattern. In the Jewish tradition, Purim (14th of Adar), the holiday that celebrates salvation from annihilation in ancient Persia, is the occasion devoted not only to merriment but to complete disorder: feasting and drinking to excess, rare performance of secular drama, even cross-dressing and other role reversals reminiscent of the Catholic carnival. Indeed, according to traditional religious teaching, one is commanded to get so drunk that one cannot distinguish between the names of Haman (the persecutor in the story of Esther) and Mordechai (the defender of his people). The holiday is thus the practical equivalent of Mardi Gras, but has also assumed characteristics of April Fool's.

The first piece, in Haaretz, Israel's left-leaning newspaper of record, suggested that capitalism and fiscal exigency had now definitively triumphed over traditional religion as well as the vaunted vestiges of socialism:
Israel approves plan to let sponsors beam messages onto Western Wall
By Avi Nalaf, Haaretz Correspondent
Tags: Israel advertising

Most people go to the Western Wall to pray, but now some will also head there to pay.

The cabinet has approved a plan that would allow for sponsorship messages to be beamed onto the Western Wall, sources in the Prime Minister's Office told Haaretz Monday.

According to the plan, any company will be able to project the image, logo or slogan of its choice on the ancient stones, for a price.

The proposal, drawn up by MK Mordechai Hidud, will take advantage of technology being developed by Kfar Sava-based start-up Kotelad. The company - the brainchild of U.S.-born Joe King - has come up with an innovative laser projector capable of beaming high-quality images onto walls, domes, minarets and steeples.

"After thousands of years of just being there, the Western Wall will finally be able to fulfill its commercial potential," King said. "The religious and spiritual center of the Jewish people should reflect Jewish heritage - and thus be dedicated to bringing in a healthy profit."

Kotelad held a trial run of the system last week, beaming the Coca-Cola logo onto the Wall, much to the bemusement of worshipers gathered below. And it seems that the trial was not only a technological success, with local vendors reporting a 14 percent increase in the sale of soft drinks.

The Western Wall Heritage Center plans to open an ad sales division, and sell wall space on a per-stone basis. Prices are expected to be upward of NIS 1,000 per stone per day. When no advertising is running, the wall will have the message "What are you waiting for? The Third Temple? Advertise now!" a source in the Heritage Center said.

Some companies that have already expressed an interest in the project, including Bank Discount ("Feel like you're talking to a brick wall? Talk to us instead"), Netvision ("If God didn't get your note, why not send an e-mail?") and Ytong ("If it's not Ytong, I'm not praying"). G. Yafit is reportedly also in talks to have her likeness beamed onto the wall 24 hours a day.

According to Hidud, the money raised will be used to replace the paper skullcaps that are stolen by the thousands by visitors to Judaism's holiest site, to set up a searchable online database of the notes that people place between the stones of the Wall, and to build a 14-foot high partition between sections reserved for men and women.

Happy Purim from Haaretz
The piece generated a vast amount of outraged commentary, on-site and off. However, it was just so implausible—indeed, impossible, for reasons too numerous but also too obvious to list here—that one is reduced to consternation: the closing line is like an alert, warning, "this is a joke!"

The second article was written by an American blogger to coincide with the Passover holiday, which formed its subject. Perhaps for that reason, the piece, falling as it did between Purim and April Fool's, did not set off as many alarm bells of skepticism as it should have. And in light of the rising tensions between US President Barack Obama and Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the implied criticism or even insult may have seemed all too plausible to some (that is in the end perhaps the most revealing and important aspect of the whole incident):
March 23, 2010 By The Associated Press Shana Habbab (AP White House

(AP) — An unidentified Israeli official has confirmed that private discussions between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu included a strong request from the President that the upcoming Passover holiday not include the familiar refrain of “next year in Jerusalem”, citing the passage as provocative and unhelpful for future peace talks.

The Administration suggested replacing it with “next year in peace” or “next year in Israel”, but leaving the final wording up to both the Israelis and Palestinians.

Netanyahu is said to have balked at the request, indicating that the refrain dates back well before the UN Partition of 1947. The Prime Minister reportedly attempted to diffuse the situation by noting that the declaration lacks any political significance, adding that most people living outside of Israel just “say the words without having a real desire to live anywhere in Jerusalem.” He further explained that, “at most, they would like to come for the Passover holiday, but only staying at one of the hotels located in western part of the city.”
In this case, though, the big, bright, urgently flashing warning sign was located at the beginning rather than end of the piece, indeed, in the very title:
"Passover Hagaddah Conclusion “Next Year in Jerusalem” Deemed Unhelpful by Obama Administration (Satire)"
And nonetheless, the story was picked up and treated with evident seriousness all over the internet (just try googling key phrases). How stupid does one have to be?

To see that this one was a joke, you had to, well, . . . just read—and think. Lesson: People believe what they want to believe, regardless of what facts and simple logic should dictate. That explains a lot about the Middle East as well as those who think they can solve its problems.

A mixed message, then: on the one hand, clear evidence of eternal human folly and stupidity, and on the other, clear refutation of the positive as well as negative stereotype of Jews as smarter than other people. Another victory over antisemitism! Happy Purim/April Fool's (NOTE: that's a joke :})

Thursday, April 1, 2010

April Fool's in Amherst

The student papers had their predictable fun today.

At Hampshire College, the Climax rather heavy-handedly poked fun at President Ralph Hexter as a presumed megalomaniac (or something). Not sure what was funny or clever there (or even what the point was), though there was something vaguely amusing in the Photoshopping of the President's face into a picture of Che Guevara. (the current issue is not online, so I can't link to it yet)

The UMass Collegian was funnier in its premise and broader in its reach, delving into town politics as a whole before succumbing to the weak parodying of some unidentifiable hick dialect not known to this region (or any other; northeastern condescension remains alive)
Town of Amherst Select Board votes 5-0 to approve new “goddamn kids” bylaw

By: Collegian News Staff | April 01, 2010 |

The Amherst Select Board voted unanimously, 5-0, on Wednesday night to approve the “Get Off My Damn Lawn, You Little Punks” bylaw, or as it is informally known, the “goddamn kids” statute.

Hundreds of concerned Amherst citizens showed up to have their voices heard, with a line of individuals riding electric scooters stretching around the block as they waited to enter Town Hall.

“Every day, I wake up, go outside, and what do I see? A buncha damn hoodlums makin’ more mischief out on the sidewalks,” said 92-year-old Amherst resident Myles Hutchinsgoode. “I’ve been living on this block for longer then these little pukes have been alive, and yet every weekend, just when I’m trying to sit comfortably in my living room and watch a color television program after Gertrude gets done making a TV dinner, right next door they are always blasting that damned hippity hop music and making a gosh darn racket.”

“My bowels get quite irritable, with all the hootin’ and the hollerin,’” continued Hutchinsgoode.

Select Board Chair Stephanie O’Keeffe noted that the bylaw will allow the town to “finally get control over dem hooligans runnin’ around our town.”

“There needs to be law and order in our here community, which is quickly descending into pure anarchy,” said O’Keeffe. “Now our police will have the tools they need to do what they do best: Whuppin’ ass.”

The bylaw includes new enforcement tools for the Amherst Police Department, such as the ability to spank rowdy students with a belt, or force them to shovel manure for hours at a time when they are caught slacking off in public.

“Kids nowadays think they know everything, which is exactly why we need this law,” said 107-year-old lifelong Amherst resident Cynthia Rockefeller, who was wheeled-in to Town Hall by her 85-year-old daughter, Claudia Rockefeller Hastings. “They ain’t never gonna learn nothin’ through their thick skulls unless we beat it into them. The only way – that’s whut my daddy always told me.” (read the rest; yes, it goes on)
* * *

On balance, Wikipedia's piece on the history of wife-selling in England (posted already last night) was one of the better contributions to the genre, because, rather than presenting mere satire, it actually fooled some people. Whether it will one day be ranked among the great April Fool's hoax stories is, of course, a judgment that only posterity can make.

* * *

My personal selection for best local satire this year goes, however, to Larry Kelley's blog (when he's good, he's good; when not, well . . . ).

The first story poked fun at one of his favorite targets, the Select Board, which I have just joined:
The Amherst Redevelopment Authority will take historical Town Hall in downtown center by Eminent Domain and sell it to private local developer Barry Roberts.

One of the main goals of the ARA is to stimulate the economy and reduce blight. Since not much happens at Town Hall this action falls well within the ARA purview. Although the Amherst Select Board, who meet weekly in Town Hall, also possesses the power of Eminent Domain and is chaired by Stephanie O'Keeffe, daughter of ARA Chair John Coull.

Next Thanksgiving should be interesting in that household...
(Note: Larry is a member of the ARA.)

The premise is actually not as far-fetched as it might sound. Well, actually, it is, so what I should have said is: this being Amherst, the far-fetched almost inevitably finds someone to propose it sooner or later. In this case: sooner.

Back in 2007, the Community Preservation Act Committee (CPAC) was debating the use (1, 2) of its funds for the restoration of the masonry on our historic Town Hall. Political activist Vladimir Morales, who, although a member of CPAC, somehow never understood the legal obligation to spend a portion of the funds on historic preservation, denounced the entire project as elitist and wasteful. Explaining that he was more familiar with locales in which the town hall was a sort of quonset hut on the edge of town rather than a grand building in the center, he proposed selling the Richardsonian Romanesque structure in order to raise money for human services (the rather laconic minutes do not capture the surreal quality of this intervention).

Back to Larry's blog. He posted a number of spoof topics, but the best was this one. It's funny and it could legitimately bear the testimonial: no human beings or human feelings were hurt in this blog posting. Poking fun at both the distinctive local pronunciation of the Town's name and our reputation for contentiousness, he ran a picture of one of the generic hospital signs (similar to this one, though his seems to have come from a semi-tropical setting):

with this caption:
After 250 years of proudly silencing the h in Amherst--thus exposing carpetbaggers, rookies and ne'er do wells only migrating here for the money or cute co-eds, town officials unanimously approved a by-law requiring the maligned letter of the alphabet be given full rights and respect when it comes to pronouncing the People's Republic of Amherst.