Sunday, November 30, 2008

Senator Matthews?

But has he the judgement?

In Boston for the Democrat National Convention of 2004, former Springfield City Councilor Mitch Ogulewicz and I ran into MSNBC journalist Chris Matthews. He graciously agreed to pose for a picture with Mitch.

Personally, I would have preferred to run into the wrestler Chris Matthews.

Later we saw Matthews in Quincy Market smoking a cigar and trying to disguise himself with a too small baseball cap.

But disguising himself is not what he'll want to do if this article in the Boston Herald turns out to be true:

HARRISBURG, Pa. - A Pennsylvania Democratic party leader says MSNBC pundit Chris Matthews may be considering a run for U.S. Senate in 2010.

The Patriot-News of Harrisburg reports Matthews met with state party leaders this past week in Washington to discuss a possible bid to unseat Republican Sen. Arlen Specter.

Party official Mary Isenhour says she left the meeting feeling that Matthews still hadn’t made up his mind.

The 62-year-old Matthews hosts MSNBC’s "Hardball" and provides political commentary on NBC’s "Today." He ran unsuccessfully for a Pennsylvania congressional seat in 1974.

I hadn't realized Matthews is 62, he looks considerably younger than that. I don't question Matthews intelligence and experience, but I do wonder about his judgement. During the presidential campaign Matthews seemed to completely forget his objectivity and his proper journalistic role. According to the

He frequently commented favorably about Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election. On February 12, 2008, on MSNBC, he said: "The feeling most people get when they hear an Obama speech...I felt this thrill running up my leg." He also said, "Obama comes around, and this is the new testament." On November 6, 2008, after the election, he stated on the MSNBC television program "Morning Joe," that "I want to do everything I can to make this thing work...this new Presidency work." When asked whether that was his job as a journalist, he stated "Yeah, that's my job." In response to his description of journalists' duties, Time Magazine managing editor Richard Stengel stated that the United States Constitution required journalists to "hold [the President of the United State's] feet to the fire."

Although a Pennsylvania native, Matthews has close ties to Massachusetts. He graduated from Holy Cross College in Worcester and vacations frequently in Nantucket.

Whether Chris Matthews would make a good Senator depends on the success or failure of Barack Obama. Obviously Matthews would run as an Obama supporter, so if Obama does a good job then one would want someone like Matthews in the Senate to back him up. But if Obama turns out to be a dud, then even the tiresome incumbent Arlen Spector, who should have retired years ago, might still be worth re-electing. In other words, it all depends on where things stand two years from now.

Flashing back to the year 2000, I recently unearthed this EXTRA flyer printed by the Springfield Newspapers during that cliffhanger election.

Of course in the end Bush won the election in the Electoral College, while losing the national popular vote by a half-million votes. I originally thought that the Democrats had a point in questioning Bush's legitimacy because of that discrepancy, until in the aftermath of the 2004 election I heard Democrats complaining that John Kerry would have won in the Electoral College had he won in Ohio, despite losing the national popular vote by three million. If Bush was illegitiment losing by 500,000 votes, how legit would Kerry be losing by three million? Sorry Dems, but you can't have it both ways.

Included was this listing of local races.

This is an advertisement for an appearance by me on The Tony Gill Show from 2002. (click to enlarge)

It was so cold this morning that everyone woke up with a layer of ice on their windshields.

In Amherst this afternoon it even snowed for a little while, although not much of it accumulated.

Still the first snow of the season is always a major event, however sleight.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Politics of Death

Recalling the Schoolfield incident.

In 1994 a shooting occurred that plunged the city of Springfield Massachusetts into controversy and threatened to cause racial unrest. Here are excerpts from a New York Times article on the affair.

A month after Officer Donald Brown's welcome-back party, people here are still talking about it.

Officer Brown, who is white, had been on a paid leave of absence for killing an unarmed black man last winter, a case that had already caused an uproar, not least because of what many saw as the Police Department's unlikely portrayal of it: as an accident growing out of a mistake that stemmed from a hoax.

A grand jury cleared Officer Brown of wrongdoing, and a police commission decided not to hold disciplinary hearings, so his friends and colleagues decided to give him a party at the Ale House, a downtown tavern.

"Congratulate Don on a job well done (Keep up the good work)," read the invitations, which were posted at Police Headquarters.

The party-givers say they were just trying to cheer up a colleague who had been devastated by the shooting. But to many others, the party sounded like a celebration of the death of Benjamin Schoolfield, the 20-year-old man whom the officer had shot to death. Blacks also point to a ham that was given to Officer Brown as a present at the party -- a gift traditionally exchanged, they say, by white vigilantes of the Old South....

"Why would they congratulate someone for a shooting?" said Chelan Jenkins, an 18-year-old friend of the Schoolfield family who has helped organize marches and vigils to protest both the shooting and the party.

Actually, no historical evidence was ever presented that such a ritual has ever existed, in the South, in Springfield or anywhere else. In retrospect, apparently the myth of the ham ritual was created out of thin air simply to inflame the situation. Also from the Times article:

The events that led to the killing began when a woman dialed 911 and reported that her van had been stolen at gunpoint. That call, the police now believe, was a hoax, perpetrated by the woman because she was afraid to tell her boyfriend that she had lent the van to an acquaintance, who in turn lent it to Mr. Schoolfield....

At its recent convention in Chicago, the N.A.A.C.P. passed a resolution condemning both the shooting and the party.

To Chester J. Ardolino, the president of the Patrolmen's Union in Springfield, the N.A.A.C.P. response was an overreaction. "I don't think anybody was intentionally intending to offend anyone," said Mr. Ardolino, who was at the party. "At the worst, it was in poor taste."

Mr. Ardolino confirmed that a ham had been presented as a gift but said that he -- and, to his knowledge, everyone else at the party -- had been unaware of any ritual significance to it.

Of course I had to put my two cents in.

Originally published in The Baystate Objectivist in 1994

The work ethic, apparently, is in decline even among car thieves. In the old days, if you wanted to take possession of another person's automobile, there was a certain minimal level of skill and hard work involved.

First, you had to stake out your intended vehicle, in order to be sure you wouldn't be surprised by its owner's unexpected arrival. Then you had to get into the car, despite it being locked, and then hot-wire the ignition. These are not skills requiring a degree in engineering, but it's not the sort of thing you could necessarily expect to do successfully on your first try. You have to have a little practice, or a short apprenticeship under the tutelage of a more seasoned thief. At least that's how it used to be. Today - like the chimney sweep and the blacksmith - the skills of the traditional car thief are becoming a thing of the past.

Nowadays, if you want a nice car to drive around in without the inconvenience of having to pay for it, you take a much simpler and direct route. First, you pay a visit to your local unlicensed gun dealer, who sells you an appropriate piece on the spot, no ID required and no questions asked.

Next, position yourself near a major intersection, preferably one with a reputation for having a long running red light. As the cars line up waiting for the light to change, pick out your intended vehicle. Don't be afraid to be choosy, after all there is always a remote chance you'll be apprehended by the police, and why risk weeks or even months in jail for a beat-up Chevy? Hold out for the Mercedes or the Lexus, or if it's your lucky day, the Lambourghini. Even if you're a juvenile or a first offender, you still may as well steal a car worth your while. If caught, it's terrible the number of tiresome hours you have to spend hanging around the courthouse waiting to be assigned your probation officer.

Once you've singled out the appropriate victim, walk up to the car on the driver's side and place the end of the barrel of the gun directly on the glass, preferably so that it makes an ominous, attention getting sound. Once you have the driver's full attention, shout out some variation of the command "GET OUT" perhaps accentuated by an obscenity. You'll be amazed by how quickly and obediently most drivers will exit the car. Then jump inside (remember that the light will change momentarily) and long before the car's former owner can dial 911 you'll be on your merry way.

That's it. No fumbling with stubborn locks. No messy playing with shattered ignitions. So simple that even a graduate of the Springfield School System can succeed on their first try!

Some people who own expensive cars now drive out of their way to avoid neighborhoods like Mason Square or the North End due to the fear, rational or not, of who may come tapping on their window if they're forced to stop at a red light. Something terrible happened in Springfield on the night of February 7, something we still don't understand but which continues to send shockwaves, both social and political, throughout our Valley.

A woman called the police claiming that her van was taken from her in Mason Square at gunpoint. Later, she would admit that this was a lie. The woman was actually a drug addict who lent the van to her drug dealer in return for a fix. The drug dealer then lent the van to Benjamin Schoolfield, for reasons that are not yet clear. In any case the police spotted the vehicle cruising the city's streets, and naturally believing that it was the armed carjacker who was behind the wheel, prepared for a possibly violent confrontation. What happened next is a question of fierce debate, but this much is known for certain: When it was over, behind the wheel of the van was the 20 year old Schoolfield, who was wanted on default warrants but was not a violent carjacker, and he was dying from a bullet wound inflicted by a policeman's gun.

At this writing, an inquiry into the tragedy is underway. If the past is any guide, it will produce findings that will be considered unsatisfactory by all concerned. However detailed the inquiry may prove to be in a factual sense, it is impossible to recreate the emotional and high tension atmosphere in which it occurred, thereby leaving any conclusions open to any second guessing anyone chooses to make.

The shame is a lot of that second guessing is likely to be politically motivated by people with an axe to grind. There are powerful forces in Springfield who are trying at all costs to discredit the police in the eyes of the public. They are doing so in order to advance an agenda of "reform" whose real purpose is to bring the police department under tighter political control. While most city departments are completely political extensions of those in power, the police department has remained a mostly independent entity immune to political pressure.

In recent years, the political independence of the police has proven to be an embarrassment to the Democrats who dominate Springfield's city government. In 1988, when local Democrats were falling all over each other trying to promote the presidential campaign of the then Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, the Springfield police gave their endorsement to George Bush. That a police department in Dukakis' home state endorsed Bush deeply humiliated our local Democrats, especially when Bush himself flew into town to accept the endorsement in person, causing the event to receive national attention.

Another embarrassment for the local Democrats occurred when contractless Springfield police picketed the Civic Center during the Democrat State Convention of 1990. A fracas broke out when some delegates tried to cross the picket line, causing an incident which made the Democrats look anti-union and anti-cop. In local politics the police union has repeatedly endorsed candidates for local office outside the city's political establishment, most recently opposing Mayor Robert Markel's re-election bid in favor of challenger Kateri Walsh.

The result has been repeated political retaliation designed to bring the police to heel. First came the article "House of Hate" in the Springfield Newspapers. That article portrayed the police department as a haven of bigotry, sexism and discrimination, with unproven allegations printed in tones implying they were facts, even though most of the allegations came from one disgruntled female officer, Paula Meara.

Around the same time, a group described by the Springfield Newspapers as "concerned citizens" called for a study into possible "reforms" in the police department. Not everyone recognized that the leader of those "concerned citizens" was Brian Long, an executive with the Springfield Newspapers.

The ultimate result of the demands of these "concerned citizens" was the infamous Wasserman Report. Ridiculed from the moment it was released, the report was dismissed as a collection of rehashed ideas and vague goals. But buried among the bromides and flotsam were a few very specific recommendations, which if implemented would bring the police department under strict political control.

For example the report called for the Police Chief (who now comes up through the ranks) to be appointed by the mayor, including granting the mayor the right to appoint someone from outside the police department. This would mean that the mayor could appoint a political crony, or an ideological soul-mate from another state, to head the police. In short, the Police Chief would be beholden not to the public, or to the police officers, but to the politicians with the power of the chief's appointment. Would such an appointee oppose the mayor's re-election or step on any politician's toes?

The politicization of the police department is the hidden agenda behind these relentless attacks on the police, chiefly being made through the political establishment's primary mouthpiece, The Springfield Newspapers. Mindful that the the public is not likely to be inclined to support such a naked political power grab, every attempt is being made to create the impression that the police department is out of control and in need of "reform."

It is this ongoing political agenda that explains the bizarre coverage of the carjacking tragedy. Virtually no mention has been made of Schoolfield's prior criminal record. Instead there has been lengthy accounts of his hobbies, family ties and other irrelevancies, to the point that if you knew nothing of the circumstances that brought Schoolfield to his unhappy end, you might think he was on his way home from a prayer meeting! Distraught family members (the least objective commentators imaginable) were given lengthy quotes in which, with nothing to back up their accusations, they were allowed to accuse the police in print of committing murder.

Political battles in Springfield are typically mean, vicious, manipulative and unprincipled. But this exploitation of a tragic death, inflaming racial tensions for political ends, is a new low. It's the politics of death, and don't fall for it.

2008 Update: They did fall for it. The leaders of the Schoolfield protests, Benjamin Swan and Chelan Jenkins, rode the controversy into political office and taxpayer financed positions. The Schoolfield family itself sued the city and received hundreds of thousands of dollars. Mayor Michael Albano implemented the recommendations of the Wasserman report, appointing to the Chief's job department critic Paula Meara and to the Police Commission Gerald Phillips. Meara was later forced from office by Mayor Charles V. Ryan amidst widespread charges of Meara's incompetence, while Phillips was sent to prison amidst an array of allegations of misconduct both financial and sexual.

It was so cold this morning even my neighbor's dog had a coat on!

Later at the bus stop I saw this guy with some cool Grateful Dead stuff embroidered on his bag.

And whether mankind is to be
A complete success or utter failure
Is in such critical balance
That every smallest
Human test of integrity
Every smallest moment to moment decision
Tips the scales affirmatively or negatively
Wherefore we recognize that
It is both fear and ignorance
That delays popular comprehension
Of our historically unprecedented option
Of total human success

-R. Buckminster Fuller
Epic Poem on the History of Industrialization

Friday, November 28, 2008

Post Turkey

On to Xmas!

Hey, hope you all had a nice holiday! The day before Thanksgiving the Amherst Survival Center put on a free holiday meal for the entire community at the Lutheran Church just down the road from UMass.

Lots of folks from the community volunteer for that event, leaving regular volunteers like myself the freedom to do what we never get the chance to do - just show up and eat. My friend Damon Reeves entertained everyone on piano while they ate.

Mary Carey of the Hampshire Gazette/Amherst Bulletin was there in her professional role of reporter. She took my photo....

And I took hers:

So now it's on to the next big holiday! Sure enough, by the library I ran into campus activist Ed Cutting, who was enroute to start setting up the UMass Christmas tree.

Recently I've been going through some old photographs and I thought I'd show you a few. This is my family on Thanksgiving on Hood Street in ol' Pine Point in 1948. My father is the person on the far right.

This is Wally's Fruits and Vegetables on Boston Road in Pine Point in 1954. Dig the five cent Cokes and Dreikorn's Bread sign!

My Uncle Wally was the proprietor, until he sold the business to a local vendor named Angelo, who developed it into one of Springfield's most popular food stores. Today Angelo's is out of business and the building is vacant.

Here are my sisters outside the World Famous Thomas M. Balliet Elementary School in 1968.

This is me at age 13 with my grandmother at the former Riverside Park (now Six Flags). I remember the day, dig that haircut and shirt!

Like most observers, I was not surprised by the conviction of Jason Strickland in the child abuse trial regarding Holly Poutre, the poor child who was abused into a permanently brain damaged state. The evidence against him seemed overwhelming, although most of the abuse appears to have been carried out by his late wife.

I was sickened by some of the details of the case and the sheer evil of of the acts. For example Holly loved to dance, so they hit her on the knees with a hammer. The terrible cruelty of that fills me with hatred. I can forgive a lot in the way of human failings, but child abuse of any kind I have zero tolerance for. That is the lowest of the low, and I hope Jason Strickland gets the harshest possible sentence.

I am not a death penalty supporter, but I can't help but wish that Jason Strickland could somehow meet the same fate as his wife, who was shot in the head by her own mother (who then shot and killed herself) thereby thankfully imposing on her monster of a daughter the just punishment the courts could not.

Bill Dusty made this interesting video about Monday's panhandling rally in downtown Northampton.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


Happy Thanksgiving everybody!

The church across the street from the Amherst Survival Center has the following banner up:

I have a lot to be grateful for this year. Last Thanksgiving I spent heavily sedated in front of a television in rehab. None of my family came to visit me because I told them not to. Why ruin their holiday too?

I'm a bit bummed out lately because a friend of mine who I was in rehab with died Thursday of a drug overdose. He had relapsed recently and went down to Holyoke with another friend of mine, who I also know from a drug rehab program, and they bought some heroin. In rehab there isn't a lot to do, so you spend a lot of time talking with the other patients whose lives have crash landed in the same joint. We tended to talk about what we had in common, which is to say we talked about drugs.

My buddy never mentioned heroin as part of his drug tales. That must've been something new that he took up this last time out, which probably explains why he died. The old junkies never overdose, they're so attuned to it they can feel the junk as it enters their veins and they know exactly when to stop pushing the syringe. It's the newbies that OD because they don't know their tolerance yet or the proper rate of injection.

In rehab they used to take us sometimes to the Holyoke resevoir to walk around. It was considered a form of therapy. Me and my recently departed friend often walked together and he told me once of the hopes he had for what his life would be like when he got back out in the world. That is the way I will always prefer to think of him, as he was that day in Holyoke, full of hope for the future. A future, it turns out, that was very short.

Because now my friend is dead. My other friend, the one that drove my friend down to Holyoke to buy the heroin, is crushed by guilt and is currently in a psychiatric detox in Pittsfield under a 24 hour suicide watch. I guess I know of two families who won't be having a very Happy Thanksgiving this year.

But I'm still standing, and still sober and still hoping for a better future that might yet unfold. My friend's death reminds me of how fragile it all is, how quickly one can lose everything on what seems like otherwise just another day, and I am grateful for the luck I've had and that God has given me more chances than I deserve.

How did I miss this? I was surprised recently to find out that the father of Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, a man named Pat Patricks, was a longtime member of the weirdo jazz combo Sun-Ra, whose leader used to claim with a straight face that he was from Saturn. has this to say about Sun-Ra:

Sun Ra (born Herman Poole Blount, legal name Le Sony'r Ra) was a jazz composer, bandleader, piano and synthesizer player, poet and philosopher known for his "cosmic philosophy", musical compositions and performances.

"Of all the jazz musicians, Sun Ra was probably the most controversial," according to critic Scott Yanow, due to Sun Ra's eclectic music and unorthodox lifestyle. Claiming that he was of the "Angel Race" and not from Earth, but from Saturn, Sun Ra developed a complex persona of "cosmic" philosophies and lyrical poetry that made him a pioneer of afrofuturism as he preached awareness and peace above all. He abandoned his birth name and took on the name and persona of Sun Ra (Ra being the ancient Egyptian god of the sun), and used several other names throughout his career, including Le Sonra and Sonny Lee. Blount denied any connection with his birth name, saying "That's an imaginary person, never existed … Any name that I use other than Ra is a pseudonym."

The future governor and his father did not have much of a relationship, with his parents marriage being shattered by infidelity when Deval was only small. Again the

Pat Patrick's children are Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and Rhonda Sigh by his former wife Emily, and at least one child outside of his marriage. In 1959, an unknown woman called for Patrick, and his wife asked for a message. "The message was this: 'Tell him our baby needs shoes.'" News of this precipitated his marriage breakup that year. He refused to sign Deval's application to Milton Academy, arguing that Deval would lose his African-American identity. Deval, whose tuition was paid by scholarship, was accepted anyway.

Pat Patricks died in 1991. Here's a video of the father of the Governor of Massachusetts in performance with Sun Ra.

One of my neighbors has a peace sign on his tree.

Another of my neighbors has typical post-weekend recycling boxes.

One of the few (only?) advantages of all this cold weather is that the season's pumpkins have had an exceptionally long life, like these in Hamp.

This chapel by Northampton's Saint Mary's cemetery intends to have a manger display, if they ever get around to taking the plastic off Jesus.

Hampshire County hunters shouldn't have their deer checked by this guy. He's a real dummy.

I'm not a supporter of Peta (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) who despite their tame name strike me as extremists. But I am a fan of rocker Tommy Lee, and any excuse for him to get naked is fine with me.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Wilkerson's Fall

A classmate's perspective.

The recent arrest and resignation of Massachusetts State Senator Dianne Wilkerson is exactly the sort of corruption story I usually pounce on. But in this case I have hesitated to say anything. The reason is that I once knew Dianne Wilkerson when we were both teenagers at the High School of Commerce in Springfield.

Wilkerson was not born in Springfield, having moved to Massachusetts from Arkansas at the age of five. She was part of the first generation to suffer under Springfield's busing policies, and has spoken on the feelings of alienation she felt when forced to attend a predominantly white school. In Commerce I knew her as a smart, quiet kid who suddenly became the center of controversy when she became pregnant in her senior year. The custom at that time was for pregnant students to quietly withdraw from school, but Wilkerson demanded, and won, the right to graduate with our class.

Later she went to American International College, also in Springfield, and then to law school in Boston. Since she stayed in the Boston area after obtaining her law degree most of us lost track of her, until she suddenly resurfaced in 1993 as a Boston based State Senator, the first black woman to achieve such a high post. Of course as her former classmates we were all very proud of her, but then came the scandals, and there were a lot of them. According to the

Wilkerson was sentenced to house arrest in December 1997 after pleading guilty to failing to pay $51,000 in federal income taxes in the early 1990s. She was suspended from practicing law for one year in 1999 because of the conviction and did not seek reinstatement.

In 2001, she was fined $1,000 by the State Ethics Commission for failing to properly report that a bank she lobbied for as senator was paying her more than $20,000 a year as a consultant.

In September 2005, the state Attorney General and head of the state’s campaign finance office filed a lawsuit against Wilkerson, alleging she had not reported nearly $27,000 in donations and refused to explain more than $18,000 in personal reimbursements. She agreed to pay a $10,000 fine and forego about $30,000 in debts owed her to settle the allegations.

The state Office of the Bar Counsel filed a complaint on October 3, 2008, accusing Wilkerson of violating the rules of professional conduct by lying under oath at a 2005 court hearing at which her nephew, Jermaine Berry, requested a new trial on a manslaughter conviction.

On October 28, 2008, Wilkerson was arrested by the FBI on public corruption charges. A federal criminal complaint was filed against her that alleges she was caught on tape stuffing a cash bribe into her bra and accepted those cash payments in exchange for her official duties and responsibilities. She is currently free on a $50,000 non-surety bond after having appeared in U.S. District Court.

On November 18, 2008, a federal grand jury indicted Wilkerson on eight counts of accepting bribes.

Wilkerson also had an annoying tendency to denounce as racists anyone who questioned her. But even those who want to be supportive of Wilkerson now find it very difficult to explain away those videos. Of course no one could feast on a scandal like this quite like Howie Carr, who has compiled this list of the winners and losers in the Wilkerson affair:

• Attorney General Martha Coakley, loser. This happened, literally, under Martha’s nose. Martha, the Crime Watch in your neighborhood failed.

• Speaker Sal DiMasi, loser. Martha is now going to have to start turning over some rocks that the culprits are hiding under, and her No. 1 target these days is Sal’s, ahem, accountant. I predict she turns up the heat.

• Secretary of State Bill Galvin, winner. No need to worry about Dianne’s sticker campaign now.

• Gov. Deval Patrick, winner. Now he doesn’t have to give her that $107,000-a-year job on the Industrial Accident Board. But we won’t forget the robo-calls he made for her before the primary.

• Mayor Mumbles Menino, loser. So what if he only took a call from her, he still has some ’splainin’ to do, about why he was such a big Dianne backer in the primary campaign.

• Black ministers of Roxbury, losers. Remember that sticker campaign for Sister Dianne - never mind, brethren!

• Public Corruption Unit, U.S. attorney’s office, winner. This is a nice appetizer, now it’s time for the main course - the Boston Fire Department.

• Sen. John Kerry, winner. Wasn’t Dianne supposed to be some big speaker at the 2004 Democratic convention here in Boston, but then got yanked at the last minute? Good move, somebody.

• Sen. Barack Obama, winner. She’s been with him at a Boston event at least once, but so far we haven’t been able to come up with a picture. So far.

What happened to the Dianne Wilkerson I knew at the High School of Commerce? I could be nice and say that she was corrupted once she moved east to the big city, but then she comes from Springfield, one of the most corrupt cities in Massachusetts! Now she must learn the hard way, like Gerry Phillips, Papa Ray Asselin, Anthony Ardolino and Frankie Keough, that the scams can go on for only so long before the inevitable arrest - after which all your worst nightmares come true.

At the First Congregational Church in Amherst today there was the annual "Cranberry Bog" fundraising event. Here a Seuss hat wearing Pat Vittum and her assistant Eric Allen supervise the silent auction.

I also noticed in Amherst today that the tables and chairs that usually sit outside of Rao's Coffee shop have all been put aside and chained up.

No surprise, with the arctic weather we've been having who would want to sit outside? Indeed, the re-appearance of Rao's outdoor cafe culture is one of the surest signs of spring in Amherst every year.

Speaking of cold, let me take you back to the Cold War year of 1985 for this otherwise beautiful song which unfortunately wrongheadedly declared the Cold War unwinnable. In fact it was only a short while after this song was popular that the Cold War was won by the United States under the leadership of Ronald Reagan.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Obama Mementos

What it's worth.

Just past dawn this morning in downtown Northampton the rising sun struck this flag.

It was the start of another day in America.

Paolo the King of Kool is reporting from New York City that people are scrambling to collect copies of the post-election New York Times.

Paolo says that people were paying up to $300 dollars per copy on Ebay, unaware that the Times itself was selling them for only fifteen bucks apiece. With a little searching around, Paolo was able to locate one for a mere eight dollars.

Why is everyone snapping up these keepsakes? Well, I'm sure some are doing it out of genuine emotional attachment to the day a black person was elected to the presidency. But the majority I'll bet are saving the paper in hopes that on some future day they will be able sell it to a collector for big bucks. But if the past is any guide, they shouldn't get their hopes up.

When President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, the major news magazine was something called LIFE, a subsidiary of Time magazine which focused on photographs and the celebrity side of the news. It was sort of the People magazine of its day, although it also had a journalistic depth that People magazine has never aspired to. Many people saved the LIFE magazine that came out after the JFK assassination, no doubt believing it would have monetary value in the future.

They believed wrong. According to this website, the actual assassination issue is worth about 18 bucks. However the funeral issue (below) which fewer people saved, is worth $35.

What happened? The problem is everybody saved that same damn issue of LIFE, and therefore over four decades later it really isn't worth much. That's because the value of a collectible is not just based on its historical significance, but on the rarity of the artifact. Since everybody and their mother saved the JFK assassination LIFE magazine, there are hundreds of thousands of them still in existence. Antique dealers tell me that they frequently encounter sellers who whip out a copy as if they were presenting the most valuable historical artifact since the golden mask of King Tut, and then they are crestfallen to discover the assassination issue isn't worth twenty bucks, and even combined with the funeral issue is barely worth fifty.

Now what's really worth money are copies of this issue of LIFE of which only a few copies had been printed before the presses were stopped by a raid conducted by the FBI and the CIA.

Just kidding!

There are no doubt things associated with Obama's election that will be worth serious money some day. But it will be the rare, obscure things that will be collectible, things that hardly anyone saved. That's what you should be looking for if you intend to save something from the election that might be worth money someday. That definitely will not be the New York Times post-election edition, which the whole city of New York is stashing in boxes, attics and dresser drawers, only to discover forty years from now that the copy they bought for $300 dollars on Ebay will be lucky to be worth $30 bucks.

Can we stand one more thing about the election? Walking past Downtown Sounds in Hamp the other day I noticed this clever sign in the window making fun of the fuss over Joe the Plumber. (click to enlarge)

Actually McCain probably could have gotten some mileage out of the Joe the Plumber affair, where a plumber named Joe complained to Obama in person that his suggested tax policies might be bad for business. However McCain overplayed his hand by accusing Obama of being "a socialist" and no one believed that. For McCain, that was just one more mistake in a campaign dominated by them.

Personally, I agree with this Northampton driver's political platform.

This morning there was some kind of shindig held at the historic First Congregational Church in Hadley where cake was served. I guess the diet conscious church ladies didn't want to eat much of the cake, because they brought ninety percent of it over to us at the Amherst Survival Center to serve at lunch. What was special about it was that the frosting had been made using the most advanced culinary technology to look like a photo of the church. Before everyone had a chance to gobble it down, I preserved its fleeting beauty by taking a picture.

Besides being a beautiful cake, it was also delicious!