Wednesday, May 8, 2019

UMass is for the Birds

The first rays of the rising sun appear around the bend on the woodland way into downtown Northampton.

With all the rain lately, the UMass ducks have puddles big enough to play in.

The big bird news on campus is the birth of the first falcons born to the pair that live on the roof of the UMass Library.

However, a different bird story is unfolding at the opposite end of the building, down in the courtyard in front of the library, where campus bands sometimes perform for people eating lunch.

At one such concert recently that I watched from indoors, I was intrigued to see caution-tape on one of the doors leading to the courtyard.

Imagine my surprise when I realized the tape was intended to keep people from using those doors and disturbing a bird's nest that had been built resting on the bar to open the door!

Sure enough, checking back after the concert, I saw there was a red-breasted Robin sitting in the nest.

The Robin must have been a first time mother, who in her inexperience did not realize what an unsafe place she had chosen to construct her nest. I decided to check the courtyard each day to see whether the attempt to nest on a door entrance bar would be successful. Two days later, I saw the first pale blue egg had been laid.

The next day there were three!

What on Earth! The next day there was four!

The weather was not co-operative, with rain and wind almost daily, but without fail each day I would find the Robin dutifully protecting her eggs.

Finally, a few days ago the eggs were gone, replaced by a pink, pulsating blob of baby birds.

They have changed markedly in just a few days, acquiring feathers and moving around. This morning I saw this seemingly smiling beak looking up at me. Looks like the Robin family is gonna make it. Congratulations Momma Robin, despite the weather you did it against all odds!

Elsewhere on campus, a giant puppet marched past the Old Chapel on Founder's Day.

In downtown Northampton, Jimi rocks the window.

Also seen in a Hamp window - who is buying these obnoxious votive candles?

Finally, keeping with our avian theme:

Bird on a wire over King Street by Dann Vazquez

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Hot Heads

All was not mellow at this year's 28th Annual Extravaganja, and not just because the event was marred at times by a steady downpour of rain. Organizers of the combination drug law protest rally and cannabis culture vendor fest were annoyed by changes made to the event this year by the host city of Northampton.

For the first time attendees were required to pay a $5 entrance fee, through a ticket which had to be bought online prior to the event, and there was increased security around determining the age of participants. The city also put a limit on how big the event could be, limiting ticket sales to 12,000. The 2018 event attracted an estimated 15,000 people.

The rain made certain that attendance limit was never reached, but the new restrictions did raise eyebrows in civil liberties circles. The question is whether the event is primarily a political protest rally against unjust drug laws, or just a big party needing strict supervision so it doesn't get out of hand. As radio dude and ACLU attorney Bill Newman noted, if the event is primarily political, then restricting the size of the protest and demanding ID's and an entrance fee raises First Amendment questions.

Many are suggesting that since the event originates at UMass, the Extravaganja should be held somewhere on their campus. However, the University has always balked at that suggestion because they fear they could lose federal education funds if they appear to formally endorse a drug that is still technically illegal on the federal level.

In any case, the primary organizers of the event, the UMass based Cannabis Reform Coalition, have vowed that they will not hold the event in Northampton next year, and a site in Holyoke is reportedly already under consideration. Speaking for the angry stoners, Extravaganja founding father Terry Franklin urged the crowd to punish Northampton for harshing their mellow by refusing to support Northampton Mayor David Narkiewicz if he seeks re-election.

On a lighter note, an allegedly clueless non-stoner decided to attend the event and make a video, with humorous results.

Hey, look who I ran into at the Haymarket yesterday. McGovern was in town to make a speech at UMass.

I also ran into my neighbor Ruthie the Pedal Person, who was out gathering the trash downtown (without burning one drop of oil) with a spring orchid in her basket.

It saddened me to see a dumpster in front of Sam's Pizza, where workers were cleaning the joint out. I hope a type of establishment similar to Sam's moves in.

Finally, a misbehaving umbrella gave me a challenge recently.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Hobbled Hampshire

My wanderings over the past week have brought me to the campus of Hampshire College. Here's Johnson Library, a really cool place.

In fact "a really cool place" is a phrase you often heard about Hampshire College in general over the past half-century. But lately, not so much, at least when it comes to finances. Hampshire appears to be hobbled by a life or death fiscal crisis as the college president and several board members have abruptly resigned.

However, as I traversed the gorgeous Hampshire campus, hands-down the prettiest of the Five College system, I could detect no sense of impending doom. This sign announcing a pro-abortion conference, however, may be one small symptom of what has gone wrong.

Like a lot of Liberal Arts schools, Hampshire's once famously free style has been choked by political correctness. Good grief, even their gym has a pro-abortion sign overhead!

For some reason, people appear to be reluctant to spend over $50,000 per year to be turned into an unemployable social justice warrior so buried in debt you have decades of monthly bills as big as a mortgage payment - except you don't have a house. Hampshire's problems are just the symptoms of a wider crisis in higher education, which is that colleges today have become absurdly expensive, indoctrinate more than educate and do a poor job of preparing students for productive lives.

Only when this changes will students once again be willing to go to college in sufficient numbers to sustain small colleges like Hampshire. Right now, the smartest kids are avoiding college altogether and just plunging into whatever interests them, learning their field from the bottom up. Such people do not remain on the bottom for very long, and they by-pass all the leftist hooey and ruinous expense of what passes for a college education today.

Hampshire may be fading, but already gone is the Northampton Faces, a Valley commercial fixture since its origins decades ago in Amherst. The day after they closed, a mysterious wreath appeared in their doorway.

Lo and behold, it was a sympathy wreath from Packards, the bar around the corner.

Northampton's downtown business environment is the most cut-throat in the Valley, as merchants compete for dominance in our area's most successful downtown market. But bonds of friendship still form across the business district, and whenever a member goes down, the whole commercial community is saddened.

On a happier note, UMass had their literary bake sale, where students make funny and punny spoofs of famous books. This is so corny I had to laugh.

Never has a chocolate cake looked less appetizing.

Meanwhile, I was in arty mode this weekend as I attended an opening at the Oxbow Gallery on Pleasant Street in Hamp.

There was a good crowd.

I was never previously aware of the joint, but I'll be back.

The gallery undoubtedly gets its name from the nearby Oxbow section of the Connecticut River, which was painted by Thomas Cole in 1836 and entitled, View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts, after a Thunderstorm. Learn all about this Pioneer Valley masterpiece in the video below.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Casino Quickie

Last week while I was in Springfield, I made a quick stop at the MGM casino, just to see what was going down. Across the street from Union Station, the former Peter Pan bus station is completely leveled.

That end of Main Street shows little improvement attributable to the casino, as seen by this trash strewn doorway.

I was shocked to see that the old City Hall hangout Cafe du Jour has closed. It was a great place for politico spotting. Owner Khaled Saleh told 22News, the landlord has refused to renew the lease.

Soon I arrived at the casino itself.

Just inside the door is this great mural based on a photo of a bustling downtown around a century ago.

By contrast, the Main Street of today was not quite so vibrant, but then I was there early.

The casino itself, however, was pretty lively, especially since it was only around 10:30am. As usual, the food court had steady customers.

The casino is not performing at the level that was hoped for, nor is it having as much of an economic impact on the surrounding area to the degree that was hoped. However, there has been a slow, but steady stream of announcements of new economic developments directly related to the casino. So, although the pace has been gradual, economic growth is occurring and the trends are still moving in the right direction.

Meanwhile, there was a Johnny Cash fan in Northampton recently.

Look at this corny sign in Urban Outfitters.

What on Earth? Faces is closing!

Thank God the nearby Haymarket shows no signs of going out of business.

Here's a video someone made in February showing Northampton from the front of the Academy of Music.

be positive

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Littleton Street

I'm best known in the Valley as being a guy from Pine Point, but not too many know that when I was a little kid I lived in Hungry Hill at 151 Littleton Street.

Both my parents grew up in the Point, but when my father got out of the service, they couldn't afford a house in their old neighborhood. Therefore, we lived on the Hill until they could afford to return to their beloved Pine Point.

My main memory of that period is how when I was in kindergarten at Liberty School, I once got my parents to agree to let me sleep in the big, old garage behind the house in a wagon (blue, not red) with some blankets and pillows. My parents were just humoring me, thinking that when I was alone in the dark I would quickly decide to come inside to the safety of my own bed.

They were wrong.

When my parents decided they were going to bed (and both were real night owls), my father had to come out and carry me back inside. I remember how I was so disappointed to wake up and discover that somehow I had ended up back in my own bed. Anyway, here's a video I made on a visit to my kiddie stomping grounds last week.

The plans for the Extravaganja 2019 are up, which you can check out here. One of the bands featured is Shobazoba, a band that was involved in a controversy some years back for being cancelled by Hampshire College for being too white! Here's a video of their music:

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Wonking With Neal

Western Mass Congressman Richard Neal was at UMass yesterday afternoon as seen below in this photo taken at the event by Judith Gibson-Okunieff.

Of course I attended, and when I arrived at the Old Chapel where the event was held, there were protesters by the door.

The socialist flavor of the moment.

Suddenly Neal himself appeared in our midst, waving a greeting.

One of the woman protesters shouted at Neal, "Why are you the only member of the Massachusetts delegation that hasn't endorsed the Green New Deal?" Neal then stopped to directly confront her.

First he asked her who she was, to which she replied, "I'm from Easthampton, I'm one of your constituents," and then she added, "When are you going to hold a town meeting so we can tell you why we want the Green New Deal?"

Neal responded firmly, "I already agree with a lot of its aspirations, but sorry, I can't support anything until I can find the money to pay for it."

The Congressman then entered the Chapel, as the woman turned to the other protesters and asked, "What do we say when told we can't afford it?" The tone of her voice suggested she had never thought of the fiscal side of the Green New Deal before.

The Old Chapel, which holds around a 120 people, was over 90% full, but not nearly the crowd of students that showed up at Amherst College last month for former Republican Governor John Kasich.

As it turned out, the doorway confrontation with the protesters was about as lively as the event got, with Neal's talk being heavy on insider insights into pending legislation before Neal's Ways and Means Committee. I found most of these topics interesting, but I suspect a lot of Neal's talk about pension reform, infrastructure negotiations and changes in tax law pretty much went over the heads of most of the people present.

The average person doesn't usually follow these fiscal issues to the degree of depth to be able to fully appreciate what Neal was talking about. In fact, the moderator, Professor Lee Badgett of the Department of Economics, repeatedly requested Neal to provide background information, such as the meaning of something he kept referring to as SALT, which Neal then explained as being an acronym for state and local taxes.

You can read more about the whole policy wonk fest here.

Meanwhile, here are some highlights from Bob Weir's latest solo band as they performed in Northampton last month.