Tuesday, March 7, 2017
I must say that I was impressed by the outpouring of kind words for Amherst's premiere blogger Larry Kelley, who died in a car accident almost three weeks ago. Kelley is the second Valley blogger to die unexpectedly in recent months, Holyoke provocateur Pronoblem Francis Baalberith (James Bickford) was killed in September, also in a traffic accident.
I've been walking everywhere I can lately.
It was nice to hear all the praise Larry received in death, because he was hardly universally praised when he was alive. Kelley had his critics for a number of reasons, in part because he was a fifth generation Amherst resident, a pedigree that he often referred to in debates. Doing so rankled some people in a town with a high percentage of non-native residents. Being such a deep-rooted townie gave his opinions a standing that some college professor who had only blown into town a few years ago to grab a payday at UMass simply did not have. As the old farmers always say in public debates involving UMass, which only arrived in Amherst in 1862, "We were here first." Among his native credentials was the fact that one of his forbears was the head pallbearer for the sainted Emily Dickinson. Kelley himself was present when President John F. Kennedy came to Amherst in October of 1963, the last time the President visited his home state before his assassination.
Most of the flack that came Larry's way was because of political differences. Although Kelley was pro-choice, pro-gay rights and only really leaned rightward on fiscal matters, the fact that he deviated at all from left-wing orthodoxy meant he was regularly denounced by critics as being too conservative to be such a prominent figure in a liberal enclave like Amherst. Despite being a highly literate community of political activists, no left of center blogger ever emerged to challenge Kelley. A professional athlete in his youth, Kelly was highly competitive, and told me once he would have relished another serious blogger on the scene, but the local lefties chose only to complain about what he was doing without ever attempting to create a more liberal blog of their own.
Of course there was Larry's flag obsession. He was always urging the town of Amherst to fly flags for virtually every holiday and special event, to the point where some critics accused him of having a flag fetish. Such enthusiastic patriotism didn't always go over well among Amherst liberals, who would balk at his various flag waving schemes, which in turn would result in national news stories that presented Amherst before the whole country as that terrible little town that doesn't like to fly the stars and stripes. Grown weary of all the bad publicity, the town finally surrendered to Kelley in 2015 and adopted his schedule of flag waving. He told me he considered it his greatest political victory. It will be interesting to see whether his flag waving schedule is adhered to now that Larry is no longer around to enforce it.
No doubt there are those who are secretly pleased to see the end of Larry's blog. Politicians with something to hide, incompetent school administrators, boozy college kids, obnoxious social justice warriors and rich snobs who dress like hippies will not miss the spotlight his citizen journalism cast on them. But lovers of good government, advocates for public accountability and transparency or just plain people who like pretty pictures of Amherst taken from a drone, will feel his loss acutely.
Kelley's role in covering Amherst became increasingly important as other, more traditional news sources, such as the Amherst Bulletin, had less resources and space to devote to local news due to the national decline in newspaper advertising. The Amherst Bulletin, which no longer even has an office in Amherst (reporters now drive over from the Hampshire Gazette office in Northampton) simply can't cover all the board meetings, educational activities, political and social events that Larry did. His death has resulted in an information black-out that will be hard to rectify. As UMass journalism Professor Karen List put it, "The truth is, at a time when we all need to be fully engaged with our local government and our community, we all will miss Larry. Some of us just don’t know it yet."
Although there were advertisements on Larry's blog, I don't think he came anywhere near making a living off it. This was despite being a very popular blog. His server stats, which he always made public, show he got over 122,000 hits in the 30 days before his death. By comparison, the blog you are reading right now got just 9,200 hits in the same time period. But Kelley didn't do his blog for the money and I'm certain he would have continued blogging even if it never made a cent. Kelley was part of that unique tribe of people who do things just because they ought to be done and no one else is doing it. It is always terrible when a member of that tribe is lost.
We ain't many.
As they carried Kelley's casket into St. Brigid's, the ornate Catholic Church the Amherst Irish built in the heart of town, the bells in the church tower were loudly pealing. No doubt those bells could be heard in the cemetery just across the way, where his ancestor Tom Kelley once helped lower Miss Emily into her grave. Per order of the town, every single public flag pole in Amherst had Old Glory flapping in the winter wind.
Larry, ya shoulda seen it.
Sunday, February 5, 2017
Higher education in America was deeply embarrassed this week, and the wholly deserved subject of widespread scorn, due to the terrible riots at UC Berkeley that successfully prevented right wing commentator Milo Yiannopoulos from speaking there. Even President Trump jumped into the controversy, sending an angry tweet threatening the school with fiscal punishment.
I doubt much of anything will come of that threat, although UC Berkeley released a surprisingly strong statement decrying the violence and defending the principle of free speech in much stronger terms than I've ever heard a college do after one of the these incidents. Trump may have spooked them with the one kind of threat that they could genuinely understand and fear - the loss of their precious taxpayer dollars. Trump's threat may also have caused other schools to think about free speech on campus, and if so, then all to the good.
The problem of leftist censoring on campus (it is almost never campus conservatives who engage in this type of behavior) is one I have followed locally for years. In the beginning it was only the UMass Daily Collegian and myself who would report on these incidents, as nothing would inspire the mainstream media, local or otherwise, to pay attention. For example, here is some footage I filmed over a decade ago, when the UMass Republicans had their speaker shouted right off the stage during the question and answer session following his talk. Of course the talk itself was difficult for him to give at all, with antics such as protestors in drag running up and dancing on stage when the speaker was about to be introduced.
Eventually, the event had to be cut short.
Despite all this fracas, no one reported it, and that complete news blackout was common for many years, until finally in the past five years or so other outlets besides myself and the Collegian began covering the phenomenon, such as Larry Kelly's blog and the Valley Advocate. Eventually, the Springfield Republican and Hampshire Gazette finally became interested in free speech at local schhols and have done a generally good job covering the issue since. Now the President himself has taken up the cause and has refreshingly issued a warning that such behavior will not be tolerated in the future.
Next time, Mr. President, cut them off without a dime.
Tuesday, January 24, 2017
Susan Devine Napoli is my first cousin, and I couldn't be more pleased that someone in the family has finally written this book. It was long a goal of her father, Professor John E. Devine, to produce some sort of family history, and now his daughter Susan has fulfilled her father's dream. Ours is hardly an aristocratic family, with more than a few proverbial horse thieves to be found perched in the family tree, but it is also a story of one family's brave struggle to make it in America under sometimes very unfavorable circumstances. Yet, sometimes even the less than flattering facts are welcome because, as my cousin says at one point, "The truth is always better than the silence."
I had always believed that my family came to this country from Ireland around 1880, but my cousin's book reveals that it was a half century earlier, in 1832. Wow, the Devine's have been in America for nearly two centuries and we're still broke!
This book is also a good starter guide for anyone who wishes to research their own family background. Devine-Napoli details the process which she used to unearth her family history, offering tips that anyone engaged in the same historical endeavor would find useful. Of course, the nature of family history research is such that the more one learns, the more questions are raised. Despite that conundrum, future family researchers of the Devine saga will be forever grateful to Susan Devine Napoi for this foundational effort from which all future family historical inquiries will begin.
To order your copy click here.
Wednesday, January 4, 2017
Well, another year done gone, and while some have claimed it was a lousy year, I found 2016 to be quite a creative success. In any case, now is a good time time to review the progress of my various online projects over the past year:
Baystate Objectivist and The Tumblr - Since 2013 the most steady source of new material presented by me has been through my Baystate Objectivist Tumblr, which features mostly memes from various sources and assorted photography by myself and others, along with an occasional short essay. The Tumblr is a great medium, primarily because it allows me to easily cover a wide range of topics on a daily basis. However, Tumblr is less than ideal for presenting longer pieces of writing. Therefore, I've decided to change the name of the Tumblr to Tumblin Thomas and revive the Baystate Objectivist Archives, which after the switch to Tumblr became the permanent repository for all my pre-Tumblr posts. That, of course, is the website you are on right now, and which has now become the official Baystate Objectivist website once again. The Tumblr will still continue on a daily basis with memes and such, especially my so-called pic-poems.
Pic-Poems are those little vignettes I create about once a week where there is a line of prose, followed by a related picture, which go along in a series that sorta tells a story in words, pictures and video. This artistic form has no known name, so I made up the term pic-poem. Perhaps a better term will come along, just like the first time I heard the word blog and then realized that what I had been doing all along had an actual term to describe it. The pic-poem is based on my theory that if poets of the past had access to the technology we have today, the poems of Whitman, Yeats and the other great poets of yesterday would probably have been accompanied by photos and videos to illustrate each line.
While my free verse poetic efforts are extremely modest, the pic-poems are among my most popular features based on the audience feedback I get. To see a typical example of a pic-poem click here. Anyway, memes, photos and pic-poems will continue to appear on the Tumblr on a regular basis, but my more serious writing will be mostly appearing here. So stop by and see what's new on this site and visit the Tumblr regularly as well.
The Ogulewicz Chronicles - One Man's Journey Through Springfield Politics - One of my accomplishments of 2016 which pleases me the most is the revival of The Ogulewicz Chronicles. Originally published in installments in 1999 as our Valley's first piece of serial online journalism, the Chronicles consist of the political memoirs of former 1980's three-term Springfield City Councilor Mitch Ogulewicz. The Chronicles were out of print by 2006, although specific episodes of the series continued to be available scattered across the web.
Last year, I revised, updated and added 40 videos to accompany the re-released Chronicles, with the videos adding a whole new dimension where you can read Mitch's take on events, then observe how those same issues were presented in the local media. The Chronicles cover 1983 to 1989, a key period in Valley history where many of the decisions were made that would lead to Springfield's economic and political problems in the following decades. Happily, The Ogulewicz Chronicles are now back online and remain essential reading and viewing for all who want a clear understanding of our Valley's political scene today.
The Diary of J. Wesley Miller - Alternative History of the Pioneer Valley - Since 2011 I have been releasing entries from this legendary diary on a weekly basis. Over the nearly six years it has been slowing oozing into existence, the Diary has evolved into one of the largest and most important historical databases in the Pioneer Valley. Featuring behind the scenes looks at our Valley's most powerful and important figures as they were experienced by radical Attorney J. Wesley Miller, often in informal and personal encounters, the Diary provides an endlessly rich mix of politics, law, local history and insights into Miller's own very unusual personal life. As massive as the diary already is, there is much more to come and a lot of it is even better than the jaw dropping revelations, shout out loud humor and gripping personal dramas that have already been unveiled. For example, wait until we get to the years when Mother is alive....
You can check out the Diary here.
And so it goes. Each of these projects will continue to evolve in the coming year, as well as a few new projects I'll be telling you about soon.
Saturday, December 31, 2016
Good grief, 2016 is finally coming to an end. It was actually a good year for me personally, but a little weird too. Next week, I'll do a review of the year as it went down according to my take on things. In the meantime, have a safe and fun filled start to the new year!
Friday, December 23, 2016
The band is shown as Renaissance era skeletons. Which skeleton corresponds to each member? My guess is from the left: Bill Kreutzmann carrying a drum, Phil Lesh with a bass, Bob Weir with a rhythm guitar, Brett Mydland shown behind the Dead flag draped piano, Jerry Garcia with lead guitar and Micky Hart distinguished from co-drummer Kreutzmann by the type of drumstick he's holding, used to hit the big gongs and drums that made up his customized, multi-drum kit. Then again, the skeleton is shown as smoking a cigarette, which I'm pretty sure Hart did not do, but which Kreutzmann did, so I'm not 100% sure I've got the drummers right. Here's what Wikipedia has to say about the Deadheads:
The term "Deadhead" first appeared in print at the suggestion of Hank Harrison, author of The Dead Trilogy, on the sleeve of Grateful Dead (also known as Skull & Roses), the band's second live album, released in 1971. It read:
Send us your name and address and we'll keep you informed.
Dead Heads, P.O. Box 1065, San Rafael, California 94901.
This phenomenon was first touched on in print by Village Voice music critic Robert Christgau at a Felt Forum show in 1971, noting "how many 'regulars' seemed to be in attendance, and how, from the way they compared notes, they'd obviously made a determined effort to see as many shows as possible."
Eileen Law, a long time friend of the band, was put in charge of the mailing list and maintained the Dead Heads newsletter. It is estimated that by the end of 1971, the band had received about 350 letters, but this number swelled greatly over the next few years to as many as 40,000. In total, 25 mailings/newsletters reached Dead Heads between October 1971 and February 1980. After this time, the Grateful Dead Almanac would succeed it, with this eventually being abandoned for Dead.net. Those who did receive the newsletter in the 1970s often found pleasant surprises sent along. One example is from May 1974 when Heads received a sample EP of Robert Hunter's upcoming album Tales of the Great Rum Runners as well as selections from Jerry Garcia's second album, Compliments of Garcia, and some cuts that were from bandmembers Keith and Donna Godchaux's eponymous solo album, Keith & Donna, both on Round Records.
I received all those mailings as well as the records. I still have a few of the mailings but none of the records, which is a shame because they're valuable collector pieces now. Oh well, nothing lasts.
HAVE A GREAT CHRISTMAS EVERYBODY!
Saturday, December 17, 2016
Massachusetts was once one of the most influential political states. In fact, it still is if you count the fact that Massachusetts has consistantly offered presidential contenders to the nation. There were two Massachusetts residents running in 2016 - Bill Weld and Jill Stein. Weld and Stein were minor party candidates, Libertarian and Green respectfully, but the 2012 Republican nominee was former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. And of course there are the Mass contenders from yesteryear, like John Kerry and Mike Dukakis. However, it now appears that on the presidential level at least, Massachusetts will have very little pull.
President-elect Trump can't stand our senior U.S. Senator Liz Warren, so he is likely to reject anything Warren wants just because she's the one who wants it. Although not as disliked by Trump, junior Senator Ed Markey has no political pull with Trump either. Other high ranking Massachusetts figures like state Attorney General Maura Healey are also Trump critics who are highly unlikely to have Trump's ear. The very top office, the governorship, is held by someone of the same party as Trump, Charlie Baker, but Trump has little reason to feel helpful toward Baker either.
That's because Baker foolishly spent most of Campaign 2016 bashing Trump, saying he lacked the experience and temperament to be Chief Executive. In fact, Baker refused to support anyone for president, including Bill Weld, someone he once claimed was his political mentor. Couldn't he have given his old friend the gesture of a protest vote? The whole dance around who deserved his support was all so unnecessary, creating hard feelings where none need be, and now there's a price to pay. If Baker had just sat on the sidelines with his mouth shut, he would be in a fine position now to become Trump's point man on all things regarding Massachusetts, perhaps able to get money, favors and policy waivers that would not be seriously considered if coming from one of the state's leading Dems.
Instead, Baker has thrown it all away, and done so simply to score some cheap points with Massachusetts Democratic voters who might not like him if he associated himself positively with Trump. Now the man he refused to support is headed to the White House, with no reason for Trump to take a phone call from anyone in Massachusetts government. The Trump presidency could have been a great political boon to Baker, but he threw it all away with his poor judgement and big mouth.