Presto! Delusionary Zoning, Part III

In the manner of the conjurer pulling a rabbit from his hat, Amherst’s Planning Board has produced something of a surprise for Town Meeting.

Because Amherst’s current affordable-housing mandate has failed to generate any affordable housing during its 10 years of existence (see Vox Vickery passim), the Planning Board drafted a longer, more complex version. The avowed purpose of the new version is to encourage the development of new affordable homes. Now, with that purpose in mind, try to synthesize both clauses of the following sentence uttered by the chair of said board on the subject of its last-minute motion to radically amend its own proposal: “I think it may have the effect of damp[en]ing development, but it does meet the town’s express charge to us to come up with something better.”

So dampening development of affordable housing = better affordable housing bylaw. Got it?

What exactly will have this effect (i.e. dampening development)? The Planning Board’s motion to designed to assuage the fears of those who think the new bylaw will lead to too much density in residential neighborhoods. They do want affordable housing, you see. Just not in residential neighborhoods.

Rather than bleat on about this any more* I shall simply draw your attention to this article in last October’s Atlantic Monthly: Why Middle Class Americans Can’t Afford To Live in Liberal Cities.

* Final Cato the Elder ceterum-censeo style bleat: Please repeal this wretched bylaw root and branch before it kills any more potential home-building in Amherst.


It’s Cromwell’s Birthday, Cry If You Want To

cromwell statue

Oliver Cromwell: Advocate of Plain English

On April 25, I note without celebration the anniversary of the birth of Oliver Cromwell: squire, soldier-statesman, and slayer of civilians. During the wars of the 1640s Cromwell ordered the slaughter of innocents in Ireland, an abomination that not even the most ardent of Roundheads (of which I am one) should attempt to rationalize or excuse.

So, mindful of the aphorism attributed to Fritz Perls regarding the fimetic quality of everything that precedes the word “but,” I now have to explain why the birthday of this bloody man is worthy of note in the relatively pancytopenic field of legislative drafting.  My reason has to do with Cromwell’s belief that writing should be simple, a principle I flouted in the preceding sentence by using “fimetic” and “pancytopenic,” words that are not exactly in everyday parlance.  My word choice would have annoyed Old Noll, as his adoring public called him.

As Lord Protector, Cromwell appointed a law-reform committee and charged it with making the laws “plain, short, and easy.” This was one of the achievements he announced in his speech to Parliament on September 12, 1654, in which he urged the honorable members to adopt the Instrument of Government, which would make him life-long Lord Protector.  Standing in a room full of politicians and referring to the establishment of a committee as an accomplishment deserving of reward is evidence that Cromwell knew his audience.

After listing his other successes, (e.g. peace with the Dutch, Swedes, and Danes) Cromwell told his listeners to think of him not so much as a “lord over them” but more as a “fellow servant.” Then he cautioned that before making him dictator for life they should look for evidence that the Almighty considered him up to the job:

[F]or men to entitle themselves to be the only men to govern nations and rule kingdoms and give laws to the world, to determine of property and liberty and everything else, needs a great manifestation of God’s presence before wise men will submit to it.

The Members of Parliament took Cromwell at his word and debated the proposal. However, when their search for a great manifestation of God’s presence took rather longer than he had anticipated, fellow-servant Cromwell sent four companies of the Scots Guards to summon them into his presence in the Painted Chamber at Westminster Palace. There he explained to the representatives of the people that their unanimous endorsement of the Instrument of Government in the “spirit of union and concord” really was the “best expedient and pilot to conduct them to the Haven of Happiness.” Surrounded by men bearing muskets, swords, and pikestaffs, a majority of the parliamentarians suddenly discovered the elusive manifestation of Divine approval they had been looking for, and voted aye.

Just to be on the safe side, the following morning Cromwell locked the doors to Parliament and took possession of the ceremonial mace, so as to put an end to what the official report of the speech and its aftermath called “these distractions.” Historians differ as to whether it is reasonable to describe the ensuing period (which entailed carving the country into military districts to facilitate the rule of the major-generals, a vigorous campaign against immorality, the ejection of dissident preachers, and the imposition of a decimation tax on Cromwell’s royalist opponents) as a Haven of Happiness.

What lesson does this episode offer to aspiring legislative drafters? Simply this: If promises of plain, short, and easy statutes do not prove persuasive, send in the army. But students thinking of enrolling in my one-credit Legislative Drafting course next semester should note that due to time constraints and lack of resources (the ROTC commandant has not returned my calls) we will not be exploring said option in much depth. Instead we shall look at less controversial approaches to lawmaking, such as this.

Delusionary Zoning, Cont’d.

My previous post about Amherst’s inclusionary-zoning bylaw opened with a quote about the appropriate direction in which to move when standing at the edge of a precipice.  As if to compensate for its potentially Brian-Williamsical quality, a Facebook commenter provided a substitute, which I must remember to use from now on. After impugning my motives (stage two in the Kuebler-Ross model of online discourse) and asking who I am really working for (answer: Koch Brothers, obviously) he asked:

“[A]re you just interested in stampeding the herd with you at the front?”

In the unlikely event that I ever attempt to stampede a herd, I assure you that the front will be the very last place to find me. But I appreciate the image, and shall cherish the quote forever. You can read the whole, jolly FB exchange here.

Yesterday evening I joined the discussion off-line, a term not synonymous with “real world.” The Select Board was discussing the Planning Board’s proposal to replace the current inclusionary-zoning bylaw, Article 15, with a new version. Readers will recall that the purpose of Article 15, which Amherst adopted in 2005, is to increase the number of affordable units. Although fundamentally flawed, the current version at least has the advantage of being simple and, at about 400 words, relatively short. Moreover, it is constitutionally sound, applying only to projects that would require a Special Permit, as opposed to by-right projects.

How well has it worked so far, asked the chair?

At that point I heard the snarky little voice inside my head mutter, “We haven’t gotten any affordable units out of it. It’s been a deterrent.” Only it was not the snarky little voice inside my head. It was Rob Crowner speaking on behalf of the Planning Board, the proponent of the new Article 15.

“We haven’t gotten any affordable units out of it,” he said.  “It’s been a deterrent.”

Inclusionary zoning, whose sole raison d’être is the production of affordable homes in Amherst, has produced absolutely none. Not one. In ten years.

Repeal the bylaw before it does any more damage, send it the way of the Corn Laws; that would be my advice. Unlike my advice, however, the Planning Board’s observes the immutable law of zoning physics, which decrees that bylaws can only ever expand, never contract, let alone disappear.

Therefore, because the short, straightforward bylaw has proved an execrable failure, we must replace it with a bylaw that is not only long and complicated but also extends its reach to by-right developments, i.e. home-building projects that would not require a Special Permit.

Inclusionary zoning has produced no affordable housing, said Mr. Crowner. Rather, it has been a deterrent (as in, something that deters). It has discouraged, not encouraged, affordable housing. If the herd was ever going to stampede away from inclusionary zoning, you would think this announcement would have provided sufficient spooking. But the floors did not vibrate with thundering hooves, and nobody got trampled. That said, there was an odor in the air redolent of the ranch.

Switching metaphors to matters nautical, picture this: His vessel holed below the Plimsoll line and sinking fast, the captain says to his crew, “Lads, we are taking on water. We need to let it out. Larry, you go below-decks and make holes, big ones and lots of ’em.  Take the sledgehammer and a stick or two of dynamite. Curly, you swim ashore and fetch a rock. Something about the size of an Easter Island statute should do.”

That is what the new Article 15 represents. More — much more — of the same.

The current Article 15 consists of about 400 words; the new version weighs in at around 2,000. The current version applies only to Special Permit developments; the new version covers by-right as well. Because of its potential to infringe on property-owners’ Fifth Amendment rights it contains a “nexus statement,” which claims the policy is necessary because affordable housing in Amherst is diminishing, even though it is not. In 2005 the stock of affordable housing stood at just over 10% and ten years later it still stands at just over 10%, which is not a diminution no matter what dictionary you use.

The Planning Board report described this dodgy nexus statement as “legally necessary.” I had emailed my doubts to the Select Board the day before the meeting, and the Town Manager had called counsel for clarity. Yesterday evening the Town Manager stated that the latest legal opinion describes the nexus statement as something that “would be helpful.” The thing went from absolutely necessary to just potentially helpful in next to no time. In a couple of days it will be, “Meh, probably couldn’t hurt.”

So the new Article 15 – all 2,400 words of it, legally indeterminate nexus statement and all – is what the Select Board voted in favor of, unanimously. Onward to Town Meeting, where I am sure it will engender much reasoned, thoughtful debate.

On the subject of reasoned, thoughtful debate, my coming out in opposition to inclusionary zoning led to a robust Facebook exchange that culminated in the quote about my stampeding the herd from the front. It thereby produced something of value, which is more than you can say for inclusionary zoning.

Decorated combat vet hates America, says cartoonist: No threats or atrocities ensue

Congratulations to Lalo Alcaraz, creator of Vox Vickery’s inaugural Clunkily Unfunny Cartoon Award, which appears in the March 16 edition of the Daily Hampshire Gazette. Alcaraz’s cartoon consists of the words “Dear Iran, We hate the USA too” in a child-like scrawl on United State Senate letterhead, signed Tom Cotton and David Perdue.  Senators Cotton and Perdue are the first two signatories of the letter to the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran that points out that any nuclear-weapons-enabling agreement President Obama enters into with Iran will be one that the next President can revoke should s/he so choose.

For those who failed to receive and absorb the Obama administration’s message via other media, the cartoon will convey the news that the 47 elected members of the United States Senate who signed the letter to the misogynistic homophobic theocrats in Tehran are not merely the President’s political opponents but traitors who hate our country.

Does Senator Tom Cotton hate America? I cannot see into the man’s heart, of course, but judging by the decorations he earned over the course of his combat tours in Afghanistan as an officer in the 101st Airborne, I suspect he holds his country in high regard. But I could be wrong, and for all I know the brass hats in the Pentagon may be handing out Bronze Stars like candy nowadays to all and sundry, including people who hate America.

Sen. Tom Cotton: finally outed as a Hater of America

Mr. Alcaraz may not have put his life on the line, but he knows how to fight back against the forces of Islamic supremacism. When he learned of the murder of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists by Islamist terrorists, Mr. Alcaraz was quick to respond. Apparently “overcome with outrage,” he drew a cartoon of a black-clad jihadi fleeing a swarm of pen nibs.  It went viral, I gather. But much as he supports free speech, he does not personally “feel the need” to draw Muhammad. Why? Because he respects Muslim religion and culture. Nothing to do with cranial-amputation anxiety, of course.

When not creating sledgehammer-subtle illustrations in the service of the Obama administration, Mr. Alcaraz rewrites the history of the United States so as to make clear what a wretched tale of oppression it is, draws the La Curacha comic-strip for the Los Angeles Times, and works as a “consulting producer” on Seth MacFarlane’s forthcoming Bordertown, an alleged comedy show coming to Fox all too soon. He must have an increasingly busy schedule. Let us hope he still has time to produce presidential propaganda so as to be in with a shot at next week’s Clunkily Unfunny Cartoon Award.

Ongoing consent: not one of the laws of war

daniel hannan

Daniel Hannan, MEP

Daniel Hannan is a statesman and author whose speeches and writings I enjoy, and I recommend his latest book, Inventing Freedom, to anyone with a taste for liberty. It is rare that I find myself disagreeing with Hannan. His recent CapX column about the terrorist attacks in Paris (“Terrorism is a crime, not an act of holy war”) is one of those rarities, however. Better to treat Islamist terrorism as just another form of criminal behavior, Hannan contends, rather than accept the jihadists’ premise that they are waging a holy war. Before picking away at this contention, let me start where I am more comfortable: concurring with Daniel Hannan.

“Repudiation by the wider Muslim community is of limited importance,” says Hannan. “Extremists regard mainstream Muslims as traitors; indeed, in numerical terms, Muslims are by far their most common victims.”

He is absolutely right. Loath as I am to deploy historical analogies, I shall make an exception and draw a comparison between Islamic supremacism and another nasty ideology devoted to creating a hellish heaven on earth: communism. Back in 1917, there were plenty of reform-minded socialists, but they did not isolate and marginalize Lenin let alone persuade him to switch from bloodthirsty Bolshevik to moderate Menshevik. To the contrary, Lenin dubbed the compromisers “liquidators,” perhaps with an ironic little chuckle because promptly upon seizing power he set about liquidating them. Alexander Kerensky was lucky to escape with his life; millions were not. Similarly, Islamic supremacists are not likely to lay down their carving knives and Kalashnikovs at the behest of their victims-in-waiting, i.e. those Muslims who advocate religious toleration and pluralism.

But after pointing out what will not work, Hannan goes on to ask, rhetorically, what will work. And as a first step, he prescribes mockery.

“Let’s treat them, not as soldiers, but as common criminals. Instead of making documentaries about powerful, shadowy terrorist networks, let’s laugh at the numpties who end up in our courts. Let’s mock their underpants bombs and shoe bombs and pitiable street slang and attempts to set fire to glass and steel airports by driving into them.”

No fair-minded person would deny that “Laughter is the Best Medicine” has proved successful as a feature in Reader’s Digest (its jokes have calmed my nerves in many a dentist’s waiting room) but as a strategic response to militant Islamic supremacism I fear it falls short. The folly of attending a gunfight equipped only with a knife is so apparent that we have a cliché on the subject, one that may soon require an update, e.g. don’t take a joke to a jihad, smirk at a salafist, or tackle a takfiri with tickles. We are, remember, participants in a conflict of arms and ideas that one side perceives as — and has repeatedly declared to be — a war. Treating the enemy as a bunch of bumbling buffoons may help bolster morale on the home front, but it does not rob the conflict of its status.

Even if only one side defines it as such, a war is a war. Those of us in the legal profession, in particular, need to remember that while the law of contracts requires offer, acceptance, and consideration, warfare does not. For those lawyers who can see the world only through legal lenses, think of the current crisis a unilateral contract. Try to put concepts like mutuality and reciprocity in a mental box for a while.

Because no matter how much we, along with former attorney and current President of the United States, Barack Obama, might wish that the tide of war was receding, it is not. Wishing, even out loud, will not transform a war into a law-and-order problem. Nor is combat subject to the same rules as Californian campus coitus, which requires ongoing consent. When the enemy is at war with us, we are at war with the enemy until we win or lose, whether we like it or not.

Our Congress acknowledged this truth in September 2001, when it passed the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) as a “specific statutory authorization within the meaning of section 5(b) of the War Powers Resolution.” Since then, has the enemy surrendered? Far from it. They are waving the black flag, not the white one.

But in his 2013 speech at the National Defense University, President Obama declared that “this war, like all wars, must end.” All wars end, true enough, but not according to some prearranged schedule. War is not a sport, so there are no rules about duration and no referee to blow the whistle at full-time. So although there has never been a Thirty Years’ Soccer Match, seventeenth-century Europe definitely experienced a Thirty Years’ War. That said, I feel like there may well have been at least one Thirty Years’ Cricket Match, and possibly a Hundred Years’ Baseball Game.

At the National Defense University, the President said that the time had come to revise the AUMF that Congress passed in 2001. Why? Because with al Qaeda, or at least the “core” thereof, “on the path to defeat,” and today’s terrorists “less capable” than the Osama bin Laden crew, “the scale of this threat closely resembles the types of attacks we faced before 9/11.” Perhaps that is true. But after “the type of attacks we faced before 9/11” came 9/11. And it was the policy of putting self-declared enemies of the United States in the same category as common criminals that helped make 9/11 possible.

Writing three years after the attacks, the authors of the 9/11 Report stated at p. 343, “It is hard now to capture the conventional wisdom before 9/11.” Not any longer, it seems. The President’s candid return to a September 10th mindset is one we shall all come to rue, here in the United States, the wider Anglosphere, and across the free world.

So, with all due respect to Daniel Hannan, while I am all in favor of kicking back for a good laugh at the Best Terrorist Fails, we are still at war. Making fun of the enemy is certainly cathartic but, as the brave souls at Charlie Hebdo learned, it won’t stop them trying to kill us.

Mensch and Grubermensch

I am stupid and, as if that were not bad enough, I lack economic understanding. These characteristics are innately mine by dint of my status as an American voter, according to the criteria established by Jonathan Gruber. We are all Grubermensch now, and any resemblance to Nietzsche’s Ubermensch is purely phonetic. Some kudos is due to Gruber: while I don’t know about the rest of you, I have to admit that he was right about me. Any jury presented with a representative sample of the public policies I have propounded over the years would convict me on both counts–(1) stupid and (2) lacking economic understanding–and they would not have to deliberate for more than a minute or two.


For those of you who do not attend to the news, Jonathan Gruber is the MIT professor who helped design the Affordable Care Act (ACA). In 2006, Candidate-in-Waiting Obama described Gruber as someone whose ideas on health care he had “liberally stolen,” and six years later the Obama campaign described him as the man “who helped write Obamacare.” In between, the administration had paid Professor Gruber $400,000 for the use of his proprietary method for predicting how the Congressional Budget Office would score said health-care measure. Now the President calls him just “some adviser who never worked on our staff,” a dismissive description that may have something to do with the reason Professor Gruber has been in the headlines recently: In front of two separate audiences he referred to Americans as “stupid,” and quipped to a third audience about “the lack of economic understanding of the American voter.” And those are just the instances that were digitally captured for posterity.

Yes, a man who repeatedly denigrated the entire country in a snide and condescending manner while he knew he was being recorded thinks we are stupid.

Gruber became a person of interest to conservatives, and an embarrassment to progressives, because he contradicted the administration’s key argument in King v. Burwell, a case about the ACA now pending before the Supreme Court of the United States. The administration claims that the ACA permits the IRS to treat state exchanges and federal exchanges alike for the purposes of subsidies in the form of premium tax credits. It does not. The intent of Congress, as Professor Gruber explained, was to allow subsidies to state exchanges—not federal exchanges—so as to give states an incentive to establish them, rather than leave the job to the feds.

In January 2012, Gruber said: “By not setting up an exchange, the politicians of a state are costing state residents hundreds and millions and billions of dollars… That is really the ultimate threat, is, will people understand that, gee, if your governor doesn’t set up an exchange, you’re losing hundreds of millions of dollars of tax credits to be delivered to your citizens.”

Later in 2012, Gruber said: “What’s important to remember politically about this is if you’re a state and you don’t set up an exchange, that means your citizens don’t get their tax credits, but your citizens still pay the taxes that support this bill. So you’re essentially saying [to] your citizens you’re going to pay all the taxes to help all the other states in the country. I hope that that’s a blatant enough political reality that states will get their act together and realize there are billions of dollars at stake here in setting up these exchanges.”

You can watch a lengthy video here (skip to minute 31:30 for the pertinent part), or via the July edition of the libertarian magazine Reason, which describes Gruber’s position prior to the lawsuits.

I write about Gruber not to join the chorus of commentators castigating him and his former client for the contradiction, but to raise a point about the definition of victory. Professor Gruber’s statements about the dirty little secrets of the ACA’s passage sound like those of a famous thespian conducting a master class, someone who believes that he has already won his bouquets and plaudits, that the curtain has fallen, and that the drama is over. Or if I may tweak the metaphor a little, Gruber, breaking through the political equivalent of what theater-types call the fourth wall, speaks as if the audience will hear him but that the actors, having quit the stage, cannot. Professor Gruber seems not to have noticed that the show is not over. The fat lady ain’t sung yet.

As an American voter by choice not by birth, I wear my slow-wittedness as a badge of honor. Call me a Grubermensch and I will puff out my chest with pride. But even I, an open and notorious dullard, was not so stupid as to think that after the enactment of the ACA the law’s opponents would simply shrug, sigh, and shake it off. And my understanding of economics was not quite so lacking as to lead me to suppose that those whose bank accounts the Act threatened to drastically diminish would, post presidential signature, just let it go.

Politics, like other contact sports, is a game of two halves. For example, some rugby teams pride themselves on being strong second-half teams, able to absorb losses in the first 40 minutes only to bounce back with such gusto after half-time that when the referee blows the final whistle they have more points than the other guys (who don’t look so smug any more). When the President signs a bill into law, what is over is merely the first half, not the whole contest. In the second half of a political match-up, rather than switching ends the players relocate the whole game to the courthouse. Often it is there, in the judicial branch, where the laurels and trophies are handed out.

Perhaps Professor Gruber forgot how many branches of government we have (there is a nasty strain of constitutional amnesia going around Washington, D.C., these days) and figured that success in the legislative and executive branches amounted to total victory. Perhaps he has never played rugby, by which I certainly do not mean to imply that as an MIT man his veins carry dilute cat’s milk instead of blood. Or perhaps as a professor of the dismal science Gruber has no time for the political kind.  Political scientists Theodor Skocpol and Lawrence R. Jacobs mention in their 2010 book Health Care Reform and American Politics: What Everyone Needs to Know the fact that even while the President was signing the bill into law “conservative Republicans were filing lawsuits to try to have key provisions of what they derisively called ‘ObamaCare’ declared unconstitutional” (p. 7). Gruber should have perused the book. He gets a mention on page 191, footnote 8, as the “health economist… who advised both the Romney and Obama Administrations as they instituted health care reform.”

I admit that events can range from the highly improbable, those that Nassim Nicholas Taleb would categorize as Black Swans, to the well-nigh inevitable, those that are bound to occur absent some novus actus interveniens. But Republicans filing lawsuits over Obamacare would tend to fall toward the Sure-Thing end of the spectrum.

Take, for example, those Republicans who had already expressed the intention of doing so. In early 2010 Governor Rick Perry of Texas and the State’s then Attorney General, now Governor, Greg Abbott, said they would bring a case, as did a number of other Republican governors and conservative groups. That should have been a heads-up.

So you did not have to be a genius to foresee that some Republicans somewhere might challenge the law in court. Just Grubermensch like you and me.

It’s Hallowe’en, but Spring is Just Around the Corner

October 31, 2013: Today the Daily Hampshire Gazette ran my letter to the editor on the subject of the Blarney Blowout.  I wrote it a couple of weeks ago in response to an editorial that unfairly criticized the Amherst Police Department, but in my fervor I exceeded the word limit. Here is the full, unexpurgated version.


 I suppose some credit is due to whoever thought of using the pathetic bar-crawl/riot known as the Blarney Blowout and Ed Davis’s all-have-sinned report as a hook for discussing the First Amendment. (Editorial: ‘Find right tone, tactics for policing in our times,’ Monday, October 13). But that is where the credit runs out.

After reading the editorial, a reasonable reader could be forgiven for thinking that the focus of Davis’s report was the police rather than, say, the failure of the University and Town to respond intelligently to the sudden, but not unanticipated, arrival of 7,000 guests on campus, some of whom had cunningly stashed their booze in back-packs rather than brown paper bags in the knowledge that RAs will search the latter but not the former. RAs heard “glass bottles clanging together inside back-packs,” but thought they were not allowed to search them, the report explains. Nor would readers suspect that the report describes how some undergraduates chose to respond to the University’s request for appropriate behavior: it was “with defiance,” Davis notes.

Instead, readers would conclude that the Amherst police had used “heavy-handed tactics” of the sort that Eric Holder decried in his speech to mayors and police chiefs. They did not.

You are correct that “while no one died at the pre-St. Patrick’s Day party [sic] in Amherst, the potential for serious injury was there.”   If we want to know why serious injury was possible that day, we can look to the rioters. For the fact that it was potential not actual, we can — and should — thank the police. Some people were injured, in fact. They were police officers. Other people, residents going about their lawful business, faced a real threat of physical injury as well, such as the woman who was attacked while driving and the other woman who was accosted while jogging.

If the police had not dispersed the crowd, we could well have had a repeat of the sort of incidents that have characterized previous Blarney Blowouts, e.g. drunks propositioning children. Instead, a small group of officers without body armor stopped a drunken mob from hurting people. That’s the sort of policing Ed Davis and the Gazette should be commending not condemning.

You refer to the practice of Occupy protestors reading the First Amendment aloud to the police as an “inspired idea.” Here is another constitutional provision worthy of public recitation. It comes from Article 7 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights, and next March (assuming the Town and University ignore the recommendation on page 50 of his report that they put a stop to the Blarney Blowout) perhaps ex-Commissioner Davis could swing by the festivities and declaim it to anyone sober enough to listen: “Government is instituted for the common good; for the protection, safety, prosperity, and happiness of the people.”

Your editorial concludes with the announcement that “the people are not the enemy.” Indeed we are not, but the word “we” includes the public employees who work for our protection and safety while we pursue prosperity and happiness. I look forward to the editorial that examines what steps, if any, the Town and University have taken toward Davis’s unequivocal recommendation that they end the Blarney Blowout.


Could our Town officials really end the Blarney Blowout? They could certainly try, and they already have one of the tools fit for that purpose.

Last year, and again this year, I drew the Select Board’s attention to the power that the Massachusetts Legislature has given towns to prevent alcohol-fueled violence.  In cases of “riot or great public excitement” a select board has the statutory authority to order the holders of liquor licenses not to sell, give away, or deliver alcoholic beverages for up to three days (M.G.L. c. 138, §8).  I am no prohibitionist, but given the failure of current policies to prevent annual disorder I believe that a one-day booze ban is worth a try.  A joint approach would be ideal, with neighboring towns enacting a simultaneous ban, but we should be prepared to go it alone.  Closing our downtown bars that day would remove the attraction that encourages already intoxicated youngsters to wander through town en masse, blocking the roads and intimidating drivers and pedestrians alike.

To that end, I have drafted this advisory ballot question for next year’s town-wide elections, which will occur soon after the 2015 Blarney Blowout:

“Shall the Select Board be instructed to (1) ban the sale of alcohol in Amherst on Saturday, March 12 (the Saturday preceding St. Patrick’s Day) 2016; and (2) request that neighboring communities impose a simultaneous ban?”

If you feel as I do, that this particular tradition needs to end, please consider signing the petition. If you would like to add your name, just email me ( and let me know when I could stop by with the petition.

If You Like Your Fourteenth Amendment, etc.

Our public schools have started making decisions about student discipline on the basis of race. Out-of-school suspensions are out of favor, because of their disparate impact on students of color. It was naïve of me to expect that a formal school committee discussion (a vote, even) would precede an announcement of such import. After all, this is 2014 and lawmaking has moved on from the primitive process of passage, presentment, and enactment into the new constitutional era of Legislation by Presidential Press Release. Sauce for the federal goose being equally appetizing fare for the local gander, if my children’s school system decides to shred the Fourteenth Amendment I should expect to read about it, after the fact, in the newspaper, rather than beforehand in something so passé as, for example, a lawfully posted school committee agenda.  Naïveté must be yet another symptom of my cultural incompetence (Vox Vickery passim).

You may ask, who needs a system of checks and balances, democratic accountability, and all the rest of that lawyerly folderol when we have walking among us experts who know best? I have no reason to doubt the expertise of Superintendent Maria Geryk and Dr. Faye Brady, the two professionals the Daily Hampshire Gazette quotes in its story. But I didn’t get a chance to vote for or against them, and neither did you.

In our hurry to fend off charges of racism we are letting some things slide, things like the rule of law, including but not limited to the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. Deciding to reduce or eliminate a form of discipline because so many of the disciplined students are not white is fundamentally unequal, no matter what the Department of Education would have you believe: “Schools… violate Federal law when they evenhandedly implement facially neutral policies and practices that, although not adopted with the intent to discriminate, nonetheless have an unjustified effect of discriminating against students on the basis of race.” Here the administration is unabashedly misrepresenting the law. The Supreme Court has made clear that race-neutral school policies with a supposed disparate impact do not violate federal law, whereas race-based policies would.

Perhaps motivated by the Department’s assertion, Dr. Faye Brady hopes that by renouncing out-of-school detentions, we will exorcise the specter known as “Discipline Disparities.” Although only 7.6% of Amherst-Pelham’s students are Black/African-American according to state figures, 12.7% are Hispanic, and 8.6% are multi-race/non-Hispanic, (in total 29%) students of color make up 58-65% of the students punished with out-of-school detentions.

Do suspensions encourage the suspended students to modify their behavior, and make it easier for other students to learn? Is the school suspending students because they engage in the sort of misbehavior that leads to suspension? These are wrong questions to ask, apparently. Far better, so far as the Disciples of Discipline Disparities in the federal Department of Education are concerned, that you make comparisons more along these lines:

The University of Massachusetts, Amherst, is a community that consists of thousands of undergraduates, graduate students, faculty, and staff. But during the riot known calumniously as the Blarney Blowout the overwhelming majority of the arrestees were male undergraduates, young men in the 18-22 age range. I reviewed the arrest list and found no graduate students, no staff, and no professors. Not so much as one emeritus, or even a librarian. Why the disparity, why the disproportional representation of young men aged 18-22, why the police bias?

You spotted my statistical error, of course.  I am in the wrong universe (in more ways than one, I hear you say). The correct universe is not the University population as a whole, but the rioters. If the rioters had consisted of roughly equal numbers of undergraduates, graduate students, staff, and faculty, we could expect (1) some awkward encounters at Rao’s; (2) at least one additional big-name, top-dollar consultant to conduct the Blarney Blowout post-mortem; and (3) the police to have arrested as many professors as undergrads. The rioters, however, were predominantly 18-23 year old men, hence the arrest figures.

Returning to the discipline matter, there seem to be two possible explanations for the over-representation of Black and Hispanic students in the ranks of the suspended. The first is one that former school-committee member Kathleen Anderson described in the Daily Hampshire Gazette (7/9/14): “white teachers more harshly disciplin[e]… [students] of color for the same or similar behaviors the same white teacher will ignore in white students [and]… white educators continually and persistently demonize students of color.”  If Ms. Anderson is correct, and white teachers are picking on and demonizing students of color, then we had better send all the white teachers off to the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination for re-education, then fire the lot and replace them with non-white teachers, who alone are apparently fit to teach non-white students. And somebody should call the board of Amherst A Better Chance and tell them to wind up the program, dissolve the organization, and shutter the ABC House. Then we should inform the Black and Hispanic parents from Springfield and Holyoke whose children are on the School Choice waiting list for Amherst that they need to bale right now, before their kids end up here, in the Aryan Nation’s version of Dotheboys Hall.

Or perhaps Ms. Anderson is wrong. The facts and some deductive reasoning suggest that she is. As Jason L. Riley (author of Please Stop Helping Us: How Liberals Make It Harder for Blacks to Succeed) observed, “if racial animus toward blacks explains higher black discipline rates, what explains the fact that white kids are disciplined at higher rates than Asian kids? Is the school system anti-white, too?”

So perhaps the real reason for the out-of-school suspension disparity is a misbehavior disparity. We might find out whether that is the case by looking at the correct universe and asking, “What proportion of acts warranting out-of-school suspension are committed by students of color?” Then we could try to figure out why.

Nationwide figures suggest that working-class students of color tend to experience and witness more violence than their white classmates, and are more likely to come from what we used to call broken homes, with all ills attendant thereto. Now, I concede that it is possible that multi-generational poverty and welfare dependency, an absentee father, low expectations, the inculcation of victimhood, and the ever-present threat of potentially fatal violence will have absolutely no effect on a young man’s response to authority in the classroom. Indeed all things are possible to him that believeth. But rather than trust to belief, I would like to see some empirical data.

I realize, merely raising this possibility makes me not merely a cultural incompetent but also – you know what word comes next – a racist. Not in the reasonable and intelligent sense of the word, obviously, but that is not the sense that the word “racist” carries any more.

Speaking of the R word, the three chairs who rebuked Professor Amilcar Shabazz now stand accused of violating the professor’s civil rights, issuing a “threat designed to raise racial tensions and racial fears” and thereby engaging in “a veiled attempt to silence the racial dialogue.” That is according to Stockbridge attorney Mark W. Siegars, who claims to represent “several citizens of and parents of students in the school district.” I did not know you could be a citizen of a student, but acknowledge that I may have missed that class in law school. Anyway, what exactly did the three chairs do to violate Professor Shabazz’s civil rights, attempt to silence the racial dialogue, and raise racial tensions and fears?

To recap, at a meeting of the “equity task force” that he had persuaded the regional school committee to establish, Professor Shabazz referred to an assaulted white student as someone his non-white attackers considered to be “the greatest student racist they could find.” Although he did not announce the white student’s name, Professor Shabazz revealed enough information to violate the victim’s privacy, and based on federal statute and state regulations plus ample precedent, counsel concluded that Professor Shabazz’s statement had exposed the district to legal liability. So the chair of the regional committee and the chairs of the Amherst and Pelham school committees issued a rebuke so as to make clear that Professor Shabazz had not spoken for the district. The purpose of the reprimand was to remove the large “Sue Me” sign Professor Shabazz had stuck on the district’s collective back.

This did not sit well with Professor Shabazz, or with Trevor Baptiste, who decided to call a special meeting of the regional school committee. The rules of the regional school committee provide that the authority to convene special meetings belongs to the chair. On July 14, five individuals who are members of said committee gathered in a room in Pelham at the invitation of Dr. Baptiste, who is not the committee’s chair. He is the vice-chair, certainly, but he is not the chair. Rather than illustrating the distinction between the two offices by way of a lengthy analogy, I mention just two names: Barack Obama and Joe Biden.

Dr. Baptiste asked the various towns to post an announcement that referred to the gathering as a meeting of the committee. The gathering occurred. The five individuals purporting to be the regional school committee purported to repudiate the reprobation. All in all, quite the [insert dysphemism ending in “storm”].

Fans of traditional educational values (e.g. reading, writing, and arithmetic) scanning this squall for some trace of sunshine should note that the regional school committee has, at least, embraced its own version of the 3Rs: Reveal, Reprove, and Repudiate. That is a comfort, albeit very small. But there is another, less factious, reason to avoid becoming too downcast about the July 14 meeting, namely its status as a legal non-event.

The July 14 meeting had all the legal significance of Nantucket’s separate peace treaty with Great Britain during the War of 1812. Note to high-school students: Yes, Nantucket in effect briefly quit the Union but our republic endured, malgré tout.

Despite its curiosity value, Nantucket’s treaty with the British Empire is not a document that tourists will stand in line for hours to ogle, even during this the year of its bicentennial. The dearth of interest may reflect lack of both publicity and legality. International treaties being squarely in the province of the federal government, not the individual states, still less little islands off the coast thereof (no matter how picturesque) the Nantucket-Great Britain concordat of 1814 fell considerably short of what a court of competent jurisdiction would deem lawful.

Readers will recall that it is the President of the United States who signs treaties, subject to Senate approval, not the Nantucket selectmen. The special session of the Nantucket Town Meeting could not confer legality on the instrument signed aboard a H.M.S. Superb on August 28, 1814, not even after voting in favor of neutrality, unilateral disarmament, and withholding taxes from the federal war machine, years before Amherst Town Meeting thought of such things. With the Constitution of the United States in full force and effect, including the parts about treaty-making (art. I, s.8, cl. 3, and art. II, s.2, cl. 2), the islanders’ decisions were not legitimate. Embarrassing, yes; legitimate, no.

So too with the gathering in Pelham Library some 200 years later, and the effort to re-attach that “Sue Me” sign to the regional school committee’s collective back. But litigation abhors a vacuum, so the story does not – must not – end there.

Did I mention what Attorney Siegars’s clients want in order to resolve their civil rights claims short of filing suit? Not much, really. The committee can forestall a legal action by the simple expedient of removing Lawrence O’Brien and Katherine Appy. All the committee has to do, in exchange for a quiet life, is ditch two members, the voters’ popularly elected representatives. Given my line of work I have become somewhat inured to unusual and unrealistic demands, but this one is a doozy.

On the other hand, the demand is not so shocking when you consider the context. Without so much as a town-wide let alone statewide vote, we have permitted school administrators to enact a federal Department of Education policy that bases disciplinary decisions on race, contra the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment as interpreted by the Supreme Court of the United States. With equal protection getting fed through the shredder, why should we expect to keep our elected representatives?

Diversity, Voting, and Perverse Incentives

Many high school students feel alienated and alone. For some non-white students attending a majority-white school, such as Amherst Regional High School, the feelings can be exacerbated by the soft bigotry of low expectations and a sense of racial isolation. Rather than writing off these feelings as just a non-white variant of universal teenage angst, we should recognize that they are well grounded. Amherst is part of the Pioneer Valley, where the degree of racial segregation is a disgrace. Partly the legacy of sundown towns, partly the result of economic decline, and partly a function of white flight, the city of Springfield, in particular, exemplifies our failure to produce a more racially integrated society. A few years ago I wrote about the problem and proposed one possible step on the path toward a solution in a paper entitled Desegregating Our Schools.

Having noticed that my proposal found no takers, I believe that while Desegregating Our Schools gathers dust we need to address segregation in the Pioneer Valley by a variety of means. Electoral politics is one of those means. But I do not believe that voting against white people qua white people in the name of diversity (usually presented as voting for the non-white candidate) can possibly help. Equally unhelpful, in my opinion, is bandying about unfounded allegations of voter intimidation.

Perverse Incentives

Like many public policies, attempts to achieve and perpetuate greater diversity in public office sometimes work and sometimes backfire. Racially-gerrymandered districts, for example, ensure that non-white candidates get elected but tend to reinforce segregated housing patterns, counter to the policy of the federal Fair Housing Act with its statutory requirement that public and private actors alike promote integration. Politicians who depend on racial bloc voting have a vested interest in discouraging zoning and development measures that promote racially integrated neighborhoods.

Admittedly, proponents can cite examples from history to demonstrate that racial bloc voting produces visible, quantifiable results. For example, a racially-homogeneous district ensured that African-American voters in Boston had at least one voice in the State House during the latter part of the Nineteenth Century. From 1867 until 1902, the historically black neighborhood on the north slope of Beacon Hill elected more than a dozen African-American representatives to the Legislature, including George L. Ruffin, who went on to become a judge. But after black voters became less concentrated in that legislative district (whether through the voluntary movement of black residents from Beacon Hill to other parts of the city, or through racially-motivated gerrymandering, or both) no African Americans sat in the Legislature again until 1947.

As with racial gerrymandering, making it standard practice to always vote for the candidate who represents greater racial diversity (i.e. the non-white candidate) is prone to worsen matters rather than improve them. It sends white politicians an important signal. If I know in advance that whatever I do — no matter how hard I work, how many risks I take, how much political capital I expend — you will not vote for me, that knowledge will influence my conduct in office should I happen to win. While I might not deliberately harm you, I will not go out of my way to help you. Why should I, when I already know that you are irrevocably committed to my opponent and that there is absolutely no act, practice, or promise on my part that could possibly woo you away? My melanin level is beyond my control, and you are beyond my reach.

Putting to one side the foot-in-mouth moments that make election campaigns so entertaining, most of the time most candidates act rationally, using that adverb in its narrowest, Economics 101  sense. They have limited time, money, and other resources, which they have to deploy efficiently in order to secure re-election. I base this assertion on experience not conjecture, by the way, having run for Governor’s Council twice, the first time successfully and the next time less so. For those of you who have not run for office but are on record as having a party affiliation, I feel sure that in the run-up to general elections you have observed or inferred this phenomenon yourself, from the deluge of direct mail from your chosen party and the dearth of same from the other side.

Did you hear about that Democratic candidate in the overwhelmingly Democratic district who blew half his budget trying to persuade the handful of registered Republicans to recant and vote Democratic? No, neither did I. Elections are largely about identifying and then mobilizing voters, not converting them.

Voter Intimidation

When I became an attorney in 1998 I took an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States, and four years later when I became a citizen I took it again. Just to be on the safe side they made me take it a third time at my swearing-in ceremony for the Governor’s Council at the State House in 2005. Among the provisions I am thrice oath-bound to uphold is the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection. So when I hear or read an allegation of voter intimidation in my home town I feel obliged to make reasonable inquiry, particularly when the source of the allegation is an elected official.

Professor Amilcar Shabazz, the Faculty Advisor for Diversity and Excellence to the Chancellor of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and member of our town’s school committee, made a claim of voter intimidation on March 25, 2014 (see previous blog post). He wrote:

“We have a real-world election taking place right now with people to help to get to the polls. We have our signs being taken down and voters being intimidated right now. We have a school committee meeting tonight where a teacher who was horribly attacked in our high school wants to make a statement but… So sorry folks but I don’t have time to ponder and debate with a lawyer who ought to know better” (emphasis added).

Despite the use of the passive voice (“voters being intimidated”) I concluded that somebody was doing the intimidating. Unless Professor Shabazz meant that Ms. Douangmany’s supporters were going around intimidating one another (unlikely) or that neutral parties with no particular axe to grind were to blame (also unlikely) I inferred that supporters of the opposing campaign were the ones engaging in this felonious conduct. Voter intimidation is a crime and a serious allegation to level at somebody, even by innuendo.

By juxtaposing his claim with a genuine act of racial hatred, namely the graffiti targeting one of our high school teachers, Professor Shabazz left no doubt that there were instances of voter intimidation taking place, “right now” in the course of the “real-world election.” No reasonable person would make an allegation of that sort — one that implies, none too subtly, that Ms. Appy’s supporters were violating their opponents’ civil rights — without a good faith basis.  Any reasonable person with a good faith basis would inform the relevant authorities, e.g. the police, the town clerk, or the elections division in the Office of the Secretary of the Commonwealth. So last week I  asked those official agencies whether they had received any such complaints or reports. They had not.

When I asked Professor Shabazz for details, this is what he wrote:

“My only comment here will be to ask if anyone would message me privately with info on attys I could recommend–esp. ones who won’t charge someone for a discussion of their experience–who could advise someone on how to file a complaint. I did not hear of any threats of physical violence from anyone, but I did hear other reports of people who felt intimidated. I am not a lawyer and I have no knowledge of any statutory or case law definitions of voter intimidation. Since I am messaging with lawyers let me add that I made NO representation about any ‘side’ doing anything. I think it is quite a leap to go there but I have found that Peter Vickery can easily make such leaps and others can to. That’s all folks.”

Guilty as charged: I did make a leap. When I read Professor Shabazz’s words “we have our signs being taken down and voters intimidated right now” I thought he meant there were signs being taken down and voters being intimidated right now. Now I am supposed to believe that (1) he meant nothing of the sort, and (2) he would like to talk to a lawyer about filing a complaint anyway.

Disclaiming knowledge of the meaning of the phrase “voters being intimidated” might pass the straight-face test coming from a middle-schooler, but not from a professor in the W.E.B. DuBois Department of Afro-American Studies at the flagship campus of the University of Massachusetts, the presenter of Law Written in Blood: Trying to Vote in Hale County in the 1960s, and Civil Rights in America: The Journey Toward a More Civil Society, 1964-2014 who has taught the undergraduate course “The Struggle for Equality in the U.S.,” and who states on his ScholarWorks website: “My  research interests include African Americans in the history of education, cultural and political movements against oppression, and comparative studies in the African world. I am active in educational policy affairs and public history.” It is with confidence that I leap — as is my wont, apparently — to the conclusion that such scholarship must entail at least a passing familiarity with the topic of voter intimidation.

The saddest part about Professor Shabazz’s semi-sort-of-not-quite-retracted allegation of voter intimidation is the way he bracketed it with the factually established racist graffiti incidents at Amherst Regional High School:  “We have our signs being taken down and voters being intimidated right now. We have a school committee meeting tonight where a teacher who was horribly attacked in our high school wants to make a statement.” By uttering the two statements in the same breath, Professor Shabazz prompts readers to put them both in the same category. Casting a shadow of doubt on the graffiti incidents was probably not his intent, but few laws are as inflexible as the law of unintended consequences.

Professor Shabazz should now remove the doubt he has generated, and make unequivocally clear that while the graffiti is real, his claims of voters being intimidated in Amherst on March 25, 2014, are not.

Questions: A Symptom of Cultural Incompetence

Amherst, Mass. (March 24-25, 2014): Election day was looming and we had a two-way race for school committee.  I saw a Facebook post suggesting that I should vote for the non-white candidate primarily because she is not white. My questioning the soundness of this advice triggered a lengthy exchange, which I post below in its entirety, omitting only the thumb-nail images, time stamps, and “likes.”  If you suspect that the exchange involved the predictable accusations of race-baiting and its more cloying variant, cultural incompetence, you will not be disappointed. Read on so long as (1) you have the stomach for jargon, cant, and condescension (2) you keep, within easy reach, one of those bags usually found down the back of the seats on most commercial aircraft. First, some background:

I can surmise a great deal about a person at first sight, most of which often turns out to be wrong. One feature I notice almost immediately is skin color, an observation that shakes loose various assumptions previously tethered to the bed of the mental deep, whence they shoot upward unbidden, unwelcome, and largely unhelpful. In other words, your skin color tells me something about you, but not much. Skin color is such a notoriously unreliable indicator of character, competence, intellect, and intentions, that it strikes me that come election day I should not base my voting decision on a candidate’s relative wealth or paucity of melanin.

Some people feel otherwise. Among their number, Professor Amilcar Shabazz, who teaches at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where he serves as the Chancellor’s Faculty Advisor on Diversity and Excellence, helping further the University’s efforts “to institutionalize a climate of inclusivity that promotes a robust exchange of ideas, cross-racial and cross-cultural interaction and engagement, and the opportunity for all to participate.” The day before the election Professor Shabazz announced that his “number one reason” for supporting a particular candidate for our local school committee, Vira Douangmany, is the fact that she is not white. According to Professor Shabazz four of the five current committee members being white constitutes “an unacceptable level of domination by one racial/ethnic group.” So regardless of their abilities, performance, and even their cultural competence (more of that below) the racial identity of these four white committee members — and that alone — means one of them has to go. Fodder, you might think, for a robust exchange of ideas and some interaction of the cross-racial and cross-cultural variety.

So, I wondered, should voters take into account factors such as, say, a non-white candidate’s political opinions? As you will read below, Professor Shabazz construed this line of questioning as evidence that I “do not recognize diversity as a compelling community desideratum” and announced that he did not “have time to ponder and debate with a lawyer who ought to know better.” Yes, a lawyer: the cruelest cut.

This might not merit our time and attention but for the matter of Professor Shabazz’s role as a sitting member of the school committee, whose statutory tasks include establishing policies for the school district, heaven help us all. For all I know, dismissing questions as evidence of ignorance may be standard operating procedure for Professor Shabazz in the classroom, although it would tend to vitiate any claims that he is helping foster a “climate of inclusivity that promotes a robust exchange of ideas, cross-racial and cross-cultural interaction and engagement, and the opportunity for all to participate.” But coming from someone who holds elective office and occupies a position of some influence over our school district’s policies, this contempt for discussion about issues of race and voting is regrettable.

Now, here is the unexpurgated Facebook exchange as of close of business on March 25. Enjoy.


Amilcar Shabazz

I have been asked why I support and encouraged VIRA DOUANGMANY to seek to fill a seat on the Amherst School Committee, here are three reasons:

Reason #1

I am a strong advocate for diversity. I am the only member of our five-member committee who does not identify as white or Euro-American. This is an unacceptable level of domination by one racial/ethnic group in the face of our current demographic reality:

Enrollment Data by Race/Ethnicity (2013-14)

Race/Ethnicity % of District

African American 9.1

Asian 12.9

Hispanic 19.8

Native American 0.1

White 49.3

Pacific Islander 0.2

Multi-Race (Non-H) 8.5


So with more than 50% of the children in our schools identifying as an ethnic group NOT white it is unacceptable to me to have a school committee that is 80% white.

I have gotten to know Vira over the past five years and I know her as someone who will bring fresh perspectives and insight to the school committee that can make it more representative of and responsive to our diverse student body and their families.

Reason #2

Vira has a keen analytical mind that will keep asking the right questions until she gets answers that make sense and will not surrender or compromise on matters of principle.

Reason #3

She is fearless and will not be intimidated by the Amherst mentality where only the “h” is silent.

For these reasons and more I look forward to exercising the democratic right to vote that our ancestors shed blood for people who look like me to have. My vote will go for Vira Douangmany for Amherst School Committee

Peter Vickery

Just to be clear: Your number-one reason is the fact that she is not white?

Amilcar Shabazz

Peter Vickery: Yes, was my message unclear?

Stefanie Cole

Peter, you seem to be suggesting that diversity is not, in and of itself, an appropriate goal for a policy. Until the institutions of power are regularly populated by people of diverse race and gender identities, identities that are somehow inline with the existing community populations, we are still in a position where the power structures of our communities reinforce white male patriarchy. Until the power institutions reflect the population realities, we will never be able to deal with the pain of our history and move beyond it to a world where race and gender are the neutral conditions of existence that they should be. We have a long way to go before we get there, it is imperative to empower members of the non-dominant groups if we are ever going to build an anti-dominance world.

Peter Vickery

So anyone who votes for Katherine Appy is reinforcing white male patriarchy?

Stefanie Cole

They aren

Peter Vickery


Stefanie Cole

They aren’t voting to break it down, at least with regard to race. They aren’t taking into account the fact that we indeed live in a world where your race and gender can act as a cue to your worth in leadership roles. If the committee was anywhere near representative of the racial dynamics of the population, it would be a different story. The composition of leadership in a community should reflect the people of the community. However, since the other candidate is also a woman, then it depends on her own relationship to patriarchy whether or not voting for her will reinforce that aspect of the problem. If the candidates are equally qualified, or nearly so, and appear equally capable, then yes, absolutely diversity should be an electoral goal.

Peter Vickery

Hang on a minute then. I’m just going to check with Katherine and find out whether she’s for patriarchy, against it, or somewhere in between.

Stefanie Cole

Welcome the ‘red herring’ to the argument:)

Amilcar Shabazz

Peter Vickery wants to personalize things and take us down a straw man road (or Aunt Sally in his case). Not going there.

Kate Atkinson

I sincerely hope that none of us is voting based on the color of the candidate. I would like to think that Amherst of all places can make decisions based on the best applicant for the position

Kate Atkinson

let me add however that she has my vote based on #2 and #3

Peter Vickery

If I understand the terms straw man and Aunt Sally correctly, I think I stand accused of having misrepresented an argument. So a quick reminder: I asked Amilcar to confirm that his number one reason for voting for Vira is the fact that she is not white. Amilcar did so. I then asked Stefanie whether she meant that people voting for Katherine Appy are reinforcing male patriarchy. She said they are. Where is the misrepresentation?

Stefanie Cole

I did not say that at all. I said the point is pretty much mute when you have 2 female candidates. After that, it depends on to what extent the dominance attitudes are dealt with. Both female candidates address the problem of underrepresentation of women, only one addresses both race and gender issues, again, assuming they are otherwise capable people, diversity in leadership is an important community goal.

Peter Vickery

Before you deleted “are” that is indeed what you said.

Stefanie Cole

I expect most adults are quite capable of the functions necessary to perform well on a school committee. The point is to faithfully represent the constituents of the school. That can be accomplished through diversity initiatives and excluding known criminals or people with conflicting financial interests.

Stefanie Cole

That was a typo. It said aren… I accidentally hit enter before I finished my comment. You will notice the wording of my published response has the word aren’t.

Carol Ross

Peter Vickery, question for you. What is your point and goal?

Carol Ross

Amilcar, your reasons are sound and respected. Thank you for bringing light to the whole. Only those who question their own validity will find issue with your stance. Pro diversity does not mean anti white. Unfortunately for some lacking cultural competence, that is the interpretation.

Perry Conley

Diversity does not exclude white people. I wonder if any research has tracked the pragmatic and empathatic knowledge of white v. Nonwhite people with disabilities. My subjective take it that is much easier to discuss pragmatic issues with people if color.

Peter Vickery

In an election where both candidates qualify by Stefanie’s standards (neither corrupt nor criminally convicted) and one of the candidates is white, must I vote for the non-white candidate? What is the culturally competent thing to do? Is the answer the same or different if the white candidate is Bernie Sanders and the non-white candidate is Bobby Jindal?

Stefanie Cole

Now you are talking national politics. School committee’s are typically non-partisan. They are suppose be about representing the broad interests of the local constituency, especially children and their caretakers.

Stefanie Cole

As opposed to the typically over-represented interests of administrators, lawmakers, and business interests.

Kurt Geryk

Peter, people can use their vote however they want and to seek to fulfill whatever agenda they please–Peter, echoing Ms. Ross’ question, be clear and tell us, what is your issue?

Peter Vickery

OK then, let’s drop the party labels and make the candidates a white social worker who ardently supports the reasoning behind the federal DoE’s “dear colleague” letter about remedying disparate impact in disciplinary decisions, and a non-white business owner who believes teachers should make disciplinary decisions based on conduct not skin color. Who should the culturally-competent voter support?

Kurt Geryk

Whoever you say they should, Peter, you obviously know the “correct” way to choose a candidate.

Stefanie Cole

Dunno. I’m from Kansas City and will not be voting in the election. My point is about the purposes of school committees, to represent the interests of children and their caretakers. A diverse community needs diversity on its school committee as a result of said purpose. You came into the argument seemingly focused on the validity of diversity as a social goal. If you have a genuinely deal-breaking issue that caused you to have preference for the one candidate over the other, it would have been easier to leave out the race-bating complaint, which is in and of itself a tactic to bully and dominate.

Kurt Geryk


Peter Vickery

My issue? If I question the wisdom of making skin color your number-one reason for supporting a candidate I can almost guarantee that I will be called, before too long, various synonyms for bigot, e.g. a culturally incompetent, race-baiting, dominating bully. As issues go, I think that is one worth raising and demonstrating.

Stefanie Cole

So says the guy from the dominant group. Again, diversity is a very important goal in and of itself. It you don’t understand that, I assume it is because you cannot admit to the existence of systemic dominance, call it whatever you want. You don’t have to be racist to be race-baiting, you likely think you are post-racial or something. That because you don’t openly abuse people of color, that you are somehow neutral toward issues of race. You might think everyone gets where they are based on merits and that there are significant differences between individuals that make them more or less capable for jobs. That really isn’t true, the differences between individuals performance is largely determined by the power positions they hold in institutions. If you want to give a non-dominant group a chance to perform, they have to have access to power positions in the existing institutions of their community.

Peter Vickery

For those of you keeping score at home, that was the argumentum ad hominem.

Stefanie Cole

Do you admit that there is systemic dominance? I suppose there are many reasons why you could do not agree that systemic dominance exists that don’t have anything do to with your status as a member of the primary dominant group.

Peter Vickery

I shall be happy to answer that question just as soon as you have answered mine with something a little more reasoned than “dunno.” By way of a reminder, my question concerned a hypothetical election in which the candidates are (1) a white social worker who ardently supports the reasoning behind the federal DoE’s “dear colleague” letter about remedying disparate impact in disciplinary decisions, and (2) a non-white business owner who believes teachers should make disciplinary decisions based on conduct not skin color. Who should the culturally-competent voter support?

Peter Vickery

Forgive the forthcoming pause. I have to engage in such culturally incompetent, dominating, race-baiting, patriarchy-perpetuating pursuits as work and child-care. But I look forward to rejoining the dialogue.

Stefanie Cole

I really don’t know. I would need a couple of months to study the issue in detail, it would be important to unpack the philosophical underpinning of the differing positions. Issues are complicated. I have spent many years studying issues of race, power, and institutional will, on that I have plenty of confidence in my stance.

Amilcar Shabazz

Peter Vickery started us down the road of fallacious arguments and I immediately tuned out. I was tempted to be kind and think his issue was that I put my commitment to diversity in our representative, democratic bodies like our School Committee as “Reason #1” was tripping him up. I was going to say that my numbering did not indicate a rank order of significance. I now realize that Peter does not recognize diversity as a compelling community desideratum. If he did he would not be making these comments and raising these questions. We can spend time pondering an infinite number of hypothetical situations asking what should a “culturally competent” voter do. Why would I want to spend my time doing that. We have a real-world election taking place right now with people to help to get to the polls. We have our signs being taken down and voters being intimidated right now. We have a school committee meeting tonight where a teacher who was horribly attacked in our high school wants to make a statement but… So sorry folks but I don’t have time to ponder and debate with a lawyer who ought to know better.

Stefanie Cole

My spring break has given me too much time to argue with people who are wrong on the internet. I should have followed your lead and bowed out earlier. I have a paper to write, my first political economy oriented paper on the Oklahoma City Sit-ins, coincidentally. Peace.

Carol Ross

Peter Vickery, your question is a valid question for someone who has not had a lot of experience with multiculturalism. Cultural competence is simply a matter of having had experiences and exposure to a diverse range of people on many social levels. I feel that perhaps your intensions or your reasoning may be misguided and uninformed. Both Ms. Appy and Ms. Douangmany and most of the people in Amherst, of all colors, understand the need for diversity. This issue is not widely contested by those who understand the value of diversity in communities, which is why I asked what your point was. What is contested is hegemony. We cannot begin to consider playing a leveled game in a field that has not been leveled. What makes Amherst unique is what this current election is all about. What makes Amherst special IS it’s diversity. Amilcar, as he should, is supporting and upholding the values that we have ALL come to value…diversity!! If a homogenous society is preferable to you, and that’s your point, then perhaps that’s just what you should say, because a culturally competent person would already understands this. Contrary to popular belief, there are lots of culturally competent white people in Amherst, who share those values and beliefs.

Peter Vickery

Thank you for your patience and understanding. If I truly valued diversity I suppose I would write things like the post below. [link]

Peter Vickery

But now it’s definitely over and out from me.

Amilcar Shabazz

i have read the blog and that is why the whole thing was so perplexing. Of course things are complicated and I respect that the election poses many with a difficult decision to make. I made my decision and will accept whatever decision the Amherst electorate makes. I have served with the incumbent for the past two years and can continue to do so for the remainder of my term if that is how this plays out. I hope, however, that voters will not miss the opportunity to seat a person who is as dedicated as anyone I’ve known to the betterment of all, especially the least fortunate, AND who will add much needed diversity. Vira will tell the immigrant child, yes, you matter too; her presence on our school committee will tell the child living in public housing you matter and should do your best in school; she will tell our Asian children that they matter and can bury the model minority myth and step out boldly into the public sphere (regardless of whether their politics are along the lines of bobbie jindal or yuri kochiyama); GO VIRA!

Kurt Geryk

Peter, I think Amilcar’s point is that considering numberless hypothetical election match-ups is a futile endeavor and we should rather focus on local and real world exigencies (and not that we should shut down the debate because the issues are complicated.)

Carol Ross

Peter, thanks for sharing your post! And thanks for speaking up and being willing to have real and honest dialog. This post represents precisely why I returned to Amherst. Critical thinking, passion, an ability to agree and disagree…and diversity. I so appreciate being able to tackle the real issues instead of pretending they don’t exist. Thank you, Amilcar, Peter, Kurt, Stepanie and Perry!! Great discourse!!!



Great discourse, mon oeil. Unlike Ms. Ross, I cannot put the foregoing into that category. Ms. Douangmany’s qualities and opinions seemed of little if any relevance to my interlocutors in comparison to her skin color, and by raising this issue I was, in their eyes, not only culturally incompetent but a bullying race-baiter to boot. Melanin trumped all.

One participant did state, “I sincerely hope that none of us is voting based on the color of the candidate. I would like to think that Amherst of all places can make decisions based on the best applicant for the position.” This statement did not elicit accusations of cultural incompetence, perhaps because the participant immediately followed it with the reassuring announcement that she would, indeed, vote the right way, i.e. for Vira Douangmany.

Finally, if you know of any instances of voter intimidation in Amherst on March 25, 2014, per Professor Shabazz’s claim, please let me know.