The Baystate Objectivist

The Baystate Objectivist

Thursday, June 15, 2017


Pioneer Valley congressman Richard Neal isn't feeling the love from some of his hilltown constituents these days, but I wonder if much of their concerns about his level of constituent service are misplaced. I say this as a longtime critic of Representative Neal, a staunch Democrat whose voting record in Congress rarely coincides with my own libertarian views.

Grumblings about Neal's availability and responsiveness are not new. As far back as 1992, the refusal of Neal's office to respond to letters sent to him by a supporter of then presidential candidate Ross Perot named Tom Sheehan so exasperated Sheehan that he actually ran against Neal on Perot's third party ticket, garnering 16% of the vote. Last year Independent Frederick Mayock and Libertarian Thomas Simmons ran against Neal, both using inaccessibility as an issue, but combined they got only 27% of the vote. The point is that the issue of Neal's accessibility has been raised in the past, but has never translated into any kind of a serious threat to Neal's re-election. Despite the clever advertising campaign by his critics, I don't think the issue will have much impact this time either.

For one thing, elections are about candidates as much as issues, and I don't see any major figure on the horizon who might challenge Neal. I also suspect that the hilltown critics are a little naive about what they should expect from Neal. As top Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee, Neal is a major figure in devising the nuts and bolts of the resistance to the policies of the Republicans under Donald Trump. Neal will have the opportunity over the next two years to make a major impact on whether those policies advance through congress or are rejected.

Therefore, if I were as anti-Trump as the members of Indivisible Williamsburg claim to be, I would want Richie Neal to stay in Washington and on the job as much as possible. The last thing I would want him to do is wander far from the heat of battle by visiting the hilltowns to chat about the drop in the wholesale price of milk and the condition of country roads.

If Neal ever is spotted in Williamsburg, those crusading anti-Trumpers would probably be smarter to tell him to stop wasting his time visiting them and get back to waging the war in Washington.

Update - Neal couldn't be very happy about this cover story in the latest Valley Advocate.

Speaking of service, there was a really nice affair this week honoring the late Amherst blogmaster Larry Kelley, who tirelessly served the town with news, commentary and high quality photography since he made his first blog posting on St. Patrick's Day 2007. The memorial event featured framed versions of some of Kelley's better photographs and was held at the Sunrise Grill on Fearing Street, right across from where I used to live in the early 90's. I lived in the upstairs apartment and used to look out the window at the mob scenes that used to form outside that joint on Saturday nights.

The pizza and grinder place looks the same as it did then, although it had a different name that I can't quite recall.

Here I am at the event with Amherst Town Meeting member Emilie Hamilton.

Larry's beautiful daughters were also in attendance.

Mary Cary, who took most of the pictures you are looking at, is shown here with the legendary Amherst Bulletin reporter Phylis Lehrer.

Here's a video Mary Cary shot of the many nice things people had to say.

I leave you for the time being with this view of downtown Northampton through the front door of City Hall.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

999 Page Boulevard

Springfield, Massachusetts - 1939

This is what Google captured the address as looking like in October 2016.

View out the back window of Northampton's Starbucks.

Abandoned protest sign at a Hamp bus stop.

Vehicle parked at Amherst Town Hall asks a question everyone should be able to answer.

Here's an unusually sophisticated political graffiti I came across recently.

Sadly, one sometimes comes across evidence of anarcho-communist activism online, despite the fact that it is a political dead end due to its own internal contradictions. Anarchy is the abolition of all order, where no one controls the government and it is characterized by chaos, confusion and often violence. Communists have often favored the creation of anarchy in order to create conditions where the chaos becomes so disruptive, disorienting and dangerous that the public soon begs for a return to order by any means, at which point the communists step in with an iron fist and take over.

Some people, typically young idealists, are drawn to anarchy by an understandable disgust over the stale customs, traditions, regulations and laws of the current system. It seems wonderfully liberating to just trash the whole corrupt and incompetent system and replace it with....? Because of the poor quality of our public school system, many young people today have no clear understanding of what communism is. In fact they may have been given the false impression by their left-leaning educators that communism is somehow practical, moral and consistent with human liberty.

The truth is that communism is by its very nature a system of rigid controls designed to strictly regulate the economy and society in general. It's primary feature is the low level of freedom communism allows and its domination of all major areas of life. Claiming to support both anarchy and communism is self-contradictory, you cannot have total freedom and total control at the same time. Anarchy is always unsustainable in the long run because a productive and safe society must have at least some degree of order. Therefore, despite its radical, freedom loving rhetoric, anarchy always ultimately leads to some form of dictatorship. Although it is counter-intuitive, anarchy is actually a form of authoritarianism, since by its very nature anarchy creates the circumstances where repression of freedom is the inevitable long term result, especially when combined with communist ideals. No true lover of liberty is an anarchist.

Update - June 13, 2000

Today I noted that new graffiti has been added to denounce Anarcho-Communism as "childish." It also appears as though someone tried to cover part of the original message, but someone then rewrote it:

Only in the Pioneer Valley can you have a debate on sociopolitical concepts via scrawlings on a wall.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Libraries I Have Known

The golden age of libraries, at least as brick and mortar institutions, is now over. Indeed, it is hard to imagine what role they can play in a world where all the knowledge of all humanity is available to everyone through a device they carry around in their pocket. I doubt libraries will ever completely disappear, surviving in some cases as educational community space or depositories of special collections and historical artifacts. However, most of them will close in the coming years and certainly no community should be investing any serious money into new or existing library buildings. Are you listening Amherst?

I was lucky that I was alive during the golden age of libraries, before the digital revolution altered and diminished their role, so I thought I would list the libraries I have visited and that have influenced my life.

Liberty Street Library

When my father got out of the service and before my parents moved back to their childhood neighborhood of Pine Point, my family lived in Hungry Hill, Springfield's Irish ghetto. It's still a ghetto, but now it's a Spanish one. The nationalities change, but the poor are always with us. I got my first library card in this charming little stone structure, but can barely remember that event or anything about the inside. Despite its official, address based name, everyone always called it the Hungry Hill Library. Today it is a senior center, having closed as a branch library some three years ago.

Pine Point Library

I have fond memories of this longtime Pine Point landmark, especially their summer reading program. It was originally The Boston Road School, which my grandfather attended. The Boston Road School closed as unnecessary after the construction of the Balliet and Dorman Elementary Schools, so the building was converted to a library, a role it played until it was destroyed in a 1970 fire.

A newer but architecturally inferior structure replaced it, but that too is now defunct, closed in the same downsizing of the Springfield Library system that shuttered the Liberty Street branch.

Springfield City Library

My first bus trips downtown as a boy were to this central branch, a beautiful marble structure given to the city by the generous industrialist Andrew Carnegie. The first copying machine I ever used was located in Rice Hall at a time when such technology was new. I liked this library better before the remodeling of a decade or so ago, which improved the interior in some ways but at the loss of some of its former antique charm. Still a great place to spend a rainy afternoon.

Duggan Jr. High Library

This chronically under performing school, lousy even back in my day, actually had a decent library with a good science fiction section which I raided regularly. Today it is one of the Valley's most notorious leftist indoctrination centers, um, I mean, "An Expeditionary Learning Magnet School with a Social Justice Theme" according to their website. While I suppose Duggan must still have a library, I fear that today it is more likely to be filled with political fictions rather than science ones.

High School of Commerce Library

Commerce I love you, but I can't remember your library. I know there must have been one, but apparently I never went to it. I must have been too much into the Commerce social scene, which of course had to be cool if I was a part of it.

UMass Library

When I arrived at UMass in 1976 the library, then known simply as The UMass Library, was only four years old. As a boy, I visited the original Goodell Library, my main memory being the big seats just inside the main entrance on which students lounged and flirted.

The current library is nice, although digitization is causing whole floors to be converted from books to other uses. Ultimately, most floors of the library will probably be converted to housing. Hopefully, the library will someday have its name changed from honoring the Nazi-sympathizing, communist admiring W.E.B. Dubois to someone more worthy of the honor.

Robert Frost Library

I love this beautiful library, named after Amherst's second most famous poet, with no less a dignitary than U.S. President John F. Kennedy presiding at its groundbreaking.

Jones Library

Amherst's main public library is a gorgeous stone structure that should stand for centuries. Unfortunately, misguided do-gooders are currently plotting a major renovation that will significantly alter its historic appearance. Don't do it, Amherst!

Forbes Library

This is another wonderful stone structure, whose little known secret is the fascinating Calvin Coolidge Presidential Museum on the second floor (if you can find it open). Fantastic antique paintings can be found throughout the building.

Western New England University D'Amour Library

A modern, well designed library in Springfield, this is a hidden gem gifted by Big Y's D'Amour family, located on the borderline of Pine Point and 16 Acres. Unfortunately, the atmosphere is not very hospitable to non-students.

Springfield Technical Community College Library

Located in one of the original Springfield Armory buildings, this library features brick walls and hardwood floors. I haven't been there in years, but the Men's Room upstairs used to feature cool looking antique urinals. Once again, the library is not very welcoming to non-students.

AIC Shea Library

Despite its location in the heart of Springfield's black ghetto, this is a very functional library with a friendly staff and a surprisingly varied selection. Underutilized by the community, it is worth a visit.

Springfield College Babson Library

A beautiful library that is fully accessible to the public. It also features kinda homoerotic statues of college age athletes.

M.D. Anderson Library - University of Houston

From time to time I have visited my relatives in Texas, although I haven't done so since 2002. Whenever I went, I always visited this architecturally interesting library in Houston. I was looking at the Masslive website on a computer in this library when I first learned that Congressman Edward Boland had died back in Springfield.

So there's some thumbnail sketches of libraries I have known, used and sometimes loved. But don't try to go to the library this weekend. They will all be closed due to Memorial Day.


Sunday, May 14, 2017

Captain Meffen

I was saddened to discover in March that former Springfield Police Captain Robert Meffen had died at the age of 94. I was also surprised, since I hadn't thought of him in ages and if asked would have assumed that he must've died long ago. Meffen was a Pine Pointer and very active in the Boy Scouts, which is how I got to know him. As hectic as his life must have been with the endless list of personal, professional and civic obligations he had (see his obituary) he still managed to put aside Saturday mornings to help us with our advancement in scouting.

I was a terrible Boy Scout who only joined so I could go on camping trips. I belonged to Troop 53, best remembered today as the scout troop that unsolved murder victim Danny Crouteau belonged to. In fact, one of the leaders of Troop 53 was at one point a suspect in the investigation. I wonder if Captain Meffen played any role in investigating the Crouteau murder. Meffen was the head of what in those days was called "The Vice Squad" and would have been an obvious person to consult for information on the region's potentially dangerous perverts.

On at least a couple of Saturday mornings I reluctantly and even somewhat resentfully (as a schoolboy I preferred to sleep in on Saturdays) went to Captain Meffen's gatherings of scouts, just two or three of us at a time, and he would go over something to do with merit badges, tying knots and other scoutly interests. I remember him as being endlessly patient with us, in sharp contrast with how he spoke to his own sons, which was often in the tone of a drill sergeant speaking to a lazy recruit. His sons used to sass him right back, which sometimes resulted in a small hint of a grin on his face, suggesting that he wasn't quite as stern as he attempted to appear and his sons knew it.

Despite Robert Meffen's best efforts, I never earned any merit badges. However, that was all my fault and none of his, as I do recall how earnest he was in his desire that we boys of Troop 53 get something positive out of scouting. He never realized that the best thing I got out of scouting was the positive experience of spending a little time with him. Rest easy Captain, you were one of the good ones, in a landscape in which monsters roamed.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

A List

Springfield has released a list of over 200 convicted sex offenders known to live in the city, complete with photographs.

A few of them actually look quite pleasant.

Others, less so.

It may not be the best idea to leave the grandkids with the family patriarch.

To peruse the list in its entirely, click here.

Is this a baker or a stoner?

The Northampton Farmer's Market is open for business on Saturdays.

Haymarket lily.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Signs o' the Times

What's the matter with me?

I don't have much to say.

A flower upon the woodland way into downtown Northampton.

Thank heavens!

Female trucker.

UMass on the First Earth Day in 1970. That location is now a vast parking lot for Southwest.

Yesterday on the wall of the Fine Arts Center.

John O'Brien of WAQY in his Earth Day finery.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

On Larry Kelley

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.


Somewhere in heaven Larry Kelley is smiling. Defeating this boondoggle was his last political crusade. Now he can truly rest in peace.