The Baystate Objectivist

The Baystate Objectivist

Friday, March 21, 2008

Downtown Stroll

Poking around.

Every morning we start the day by contemplating a little snippet of philosophy, then we go around the room and everybody has to say something about what they feel about it. As an addict I find it a refreshing way to start the day, because the night is when demons prey on hidden doubts and weaknesses and plant tempting drug dreams. To ponder good ideas at dawn is a way to chase demons away, and return oneself to a calm and reasoned mindset for the day.

Yesterday the saying contemplated was by Massachusetts author R. W. Emerson. More often he is referred to as Ralph Waldo Emerson, but I think "Waldo" sounds silly, don't you? Like you can't find where he is or something.

What lies behind us and what lies before us are but small matters compared to what lies within us.

When it was my turn to speak, I said that the past can't be changed, and the future can't be known, but we can handle anything if we have the right attitude. How you feel inside will greatly influence how you react to what happens to you, both good and bad. Of course the unanswered question is "How should you feel about what?" The only reliable guides we have for that is Reason and God.

Because of blather like mine, the discussion went on for longer than usual and when I walked to the bus stop, just when I was almost there, the bus zoomed by. The buses are running only once each hour, since the students are away on Spring Break, so that meant I had a 59 minute wait until the next one. That could have spoiled my mood and upset my day, but I decided instead to take a walk downtown.

There is no excuse not to live in interesting times. If things ain't interesting, make them so. But that is seldom necessary in Hamp.

Downtown Northampton at 8:30 in the morning. What a concept.

This grand old downstreet house was built in 1796. Yikes! America was only twenty years old.

It's ancient door is an entranceway to a bygone era.

Unfortunately, it was impossible not to notice that the place is going downhill, being in need of a paint job and missing a shutter.

You have to act quickly with really old places like that, because once they start falling apart the deterioration continues at a fast pace. The house is owned by the city historical society, but I assume, like most historical societies, that they have very little money. Can some be raised?

Walking near the courthouse, I saw that instead of Amherst it was Hamp where they were driving funny cars. This belongs to station 93.9 The River.

Parked in front of it was the much more conservative looking van for WHMP.

I'm not sure why the radio cars were there except that there were some tents being dismantled nearby that suggested the stations had been broadcasting their morning shows from downtown. Signs also suggested it was some kind of cancer fundraiser.

From behind the locked doors of Faces, Albert Einstein waits for opening time.

Once upon a time a hippie head shop called Faces of Earth it is now a novelty shop for Smithies looking for excuses to use Daddy's credit card.

The Haymarket Cafe should consider getting a new sidwalk sign, ya think?

Then again why bother? The cafe's legend alone is enough to draw a crowd.

Near Memorial Hall, I saw this colorfully decorated tent.

It turned out it was the headquarters for all the Save Tibet protests that have been going on downtown this week, now abandoned until later in the day. As usual I just walked right in anyway, it's amazing what you can get away with if you'll just act like you have a perfect right to do it. I saw that the tent had leaked during the torrential downpour the night before, and that there were muddy puddles on the floor.

It really is a shame what is happening in Tibet. Even more disheartening is that the Tibetans don't seem clear about what kind of government they would make if somehow they won their freedom. The Dalai Lama is not the answer. The answer is a capitalist democracy, but we're not hearing much about that.

Anyway, that's how I spent my 59 minutes waiting for the next bus. When it arrived I climbed aboard and rode contently away.

One of the clearest thinking people on the scene today is Thomas Sowell. His article on the recent scandals is essential reading and well worth re-printing.

What was he thinking of? That was the first question that came to mind when the story of New York Governor Eliot Spitzer's involvement with a prostitution ring was reported in the media.
It was also the first question that came to mind when star quarterback Michael Vick ruined his career and lost his freedom over his involvement in illegal dog fighting. It is a question that arises when other very fortunate people risk everything for some trivial satisfaction.

Many in the media refer to Eliot Spitzer as some moral hero who fell from grace. Spitzer was never a moral hero. He was an unscrupulous prosecutor who threw his power around to ruin people, even when he didn't have any case with which to convict them of anything.

Because he was using his overbearing power against businesses, the anti-business left idolized him, just as they idolized Ralph Nader before him as some sort of secular saint because he attacked General Motors.

What Eliot Spitzer did was not out of character. It was completely in character for someone with the hubris that comes with the ability to misuse his power to make or break innocent people.

After John Whitehead, former head of Goldman Sachs, wrote an op-ed column in the Wall Street Journal, criticizing Attorney General Spitzer's handling of a case involving Maurice Greenberg, Spitzer was quoted by Whitehead as saying: "I will be coming after you. You will pay the price. This is only the beginning and you will pay dearly for what you have done."

When you start thinking of yourself as a little tin god, able to throw your weight around to bully people into silence, it is a sign of a sense of being exempt from the laws and social rules that apply to other people.

For someone with this kind of hubris to risk his whole political career for a fling with a prostitute is no more surprising than for Michael Vick to throw away millions to indulge his taste for dog fighting or for Leona Helmsley to avoid paying taxes -- not because she couldn't easily afford to pay taxes and still have more money left than she could ever spend -- but because she felt above the rules that apply to "the little people."

What is almost as scary as having someone like Eliot Spitzer holding power is having so many pundits talking as if this is just a "personal" flaw in Governor Spitzer that should not disqualify him for public office.

Spitzer himself spoke of his "personal" failing as if it had nothing to do with his being governor of New York.

In this age, when it is considered the height of sophistication to be "non-judgmental," one of the corollaries is that "personal" failings have no relevance to the performance of official duties.

What that amounts to, ultimately, is that character doesn't matter. In reality, character matters enormously, more so than most things that can be seen, measured or documented.

Character is what we have to depend on when we entrust power over ourselves, our children and our society to government officials.

We cannot risk all that for the sake of the fashionable affectation of being more non-judgmental than thou.

Currently, various facts are belatedly beginning to leak out that give us clues to the character of Barack Obama. But to report these facts is being characterized as a "personal" attack.

Barack Obama's personal and financial association with a man under criminal indictment in Illinois is not just a "personal" matter. Nor is his 20 years of going to a church whose pastor has praised Louis Farrakhan and condemned the United States in both sweeping terms and with obscene language.

The Obama camp likens mentioning such things to criticizing him because of what members of his family might have said or done. But it was said, long ago, that you can pick your friends but not your relatives.

Obama chose to be part of that church for 20 years. He was not born into it. His "personal" character matters, just as Eliot Spitzer's "personal" character matters -- and just as Hillary Clinton's character would matter if she had any.

Finally, with the students gone, the computer room downstairs in the UMass Library called "The Learning Common" was all but deserted, as you can see.

A certain private school in Massachusetts was recently faced with a unique problem. A number of 13-year-old girls were beginning to use lipstick and would put it on in the bathroom. That was fine, but after they put on their lipstick, they would press their lips to the mirror leaving dozens of little lip prints. Every night the maintenance man would remove them, and the next day the girls would put them back.

Finally the principal decided that something had to be done. She
called all the girls to the bathroom and met them there with the maintenance
man. She explained that all these lip prints were causing a major problem for
the custodian who had to clean the mirrors every night (you can just
imagine the yawns from the little princesses).

To demonstrate how difficult it had been to clean the mirrors, she
asked the maintenance man to show the girls how much effort was required.
He took out a long-handled squeegee, dipped it in the toilet, and
cleaned the mirror with it.

Since then, there have been no lip prints on the mirror.

There are teachers .... and then there are educators.


Anonymous said...

I would have loved to see the princess's faces after that mirror cleaning lesson.

Bill Weye said...

Even more disheartening is that the Tibetans don't seem clear about what kind of government they would make if somehow they won their freedom. The Dalai Lama is not the answer. The answer is a capitalist democracy, but we're not hearing much about that.

Come on, Tom! Are you serious? Think about the implications of what you wrote . . . that every country should be like us? Then it's just a short hop to argue that we need to "help" people become capitalists. Tibet can't decide what kind of government it wants? Hell, this country can't figure that out!

Try this hat on for size: let Tibet and other countries be what they want, as long as they're good neighbors.