Monday, June 30, 2008

Streetcleaning

Of the wrong kind.



I can't believe this plan I read about in the paper to curtail panhandling on the streets of downtown Northampton. I almost never give to panhandlers, but only because I can rarely afford to. Towards the end of the month I'm pretty much just a step above them - and not a very far step.

The proposed restrictions sound quite severe as reported in the article:

Among other restrictions, panhandling would be prohibited within 15 feet of a bank, ATM, parking pay box, pay phone, public toilet or bus stop. Panhandlers would not be allowed to solicit from any park bench, in any public park or under any railroad or street overpass.

Panhandlers would also be barred from passively standing or sitting while asking for money.


Gee, where is there a space not within 15 feet of the things that are on that list? Three square feet near the curb somewhere that if you stand on one foot and lean to the left with one arm outstretched you won't be in violation? But of course they forbid "passively standing or sitting" which leaves you to do what? Levitate?

Obviously the real purpose of this ordinance is to make panhandling impossible on the streets of Northampton, only no one has the honesty to just come out and say so. Part of the reason for that has to do with free speech. The courts have ruled that you have a right to say what you want in public, including the words, "Hey buddy, got a quarter?" Therefore they're trying to put up all these silly restrictions so that arrests can be blamed on the proximity to bus stops, parks, pay phones, etc. and not on a desire to restrict anyone's First Amendment rights.




Which is bullshit. And expensive bullshit too if you get caught, according to the proposed penalties.

Another proposal accompanying the panhandling ordinance would allow police to fine people $50 for a first offense, $100 for second offense, $200 for a third offense and $300 for a fourth or subsequent offense.

Boy, you'd have to bum a lot of quarters to pay those fines!

Who are these uptight people who are bothered by panhandlers? Why not just ignore them if you don't want to give them anything. Is your conscience bothering you or something? You know, the people who are asking for money are the same ones playing guitar and flute and other instruments, that hang around keeping the place lively and that add so much to the ambiance of downtown Hamp. It is what makes Hamp unique from other communities where you don't see that sort of thing. People hanging on the street is part of what makes the downtown special and vibrant and conducive to attracting the sort of creative people who like and require that kind of loose environment.



But some people want a bohemian atmosphere without having to put up with any bohemians.

They are the one's trying to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs. If they succeed in creating the sterile environment they desire, then the panhandlers will be gone, but soon so will everyone else.

Over the weekend I was walking past the Hotel Northampton when I saw a wedding party heading inside the Calvin Coolidge banquet room.



Not a single panhandler was bothering them.

Late Saturday night I was walking past the UMass library and took this pic:



Arty, eh?

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Temporary

Like the world.

Near the English Department at UMass I came upon this snatch of poetry scrawled in chalk.



This is the poem in its entirety:

WHY DID THE CHILDREN PUT BEANS IN THEIR EARS?

"Why did the children
put beans in their ears
when the one thing we told the children
they must not do
was put beans in their ears?

"Why did the children
pour molasses on the cat
when the one thing we told the children
they must not do
was pour molasses on the cat?"

---CARL SANDBURG


On my way to a Narcotics Anonymous meeting in Northampton I saw that someone was praying with chalk in front of the Haymarket Cafe.



Everyone knows that God is Irish.



Except when he's being cosmic.



Beautiful images whose lifespan is measured between cloudbursts.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Top Ten Attractions

Best of the Valley?


The Greater Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau has a nice little website that has a section devoted to what they claim are the ten best tourist attractions in the Pioneer Valley. I don't know how they arrived at that list, but as I have visitors from out of state coming to the area soon I thought I'd check it out. It turns out I've been to every one of those tourist spots save one. Here's a review of these attractions as seen from my perspective.

Yankee Candle Company
Routes 5 & 10, South Deerfield, MA

Who'd a thunk there'd be that much money in hippie candle making? The company website describes their humble beginnings thusly:

Christmas 1969. Seventeen-year-old Mike Kittredge, too broke to buy his mother a present, melted some crayons to make her a candle. A neighbor saw it and convinced Mike to sell the candle to her. With that small stake, he bought enough wax to make two candles - one for his mom, and another to sell. That was the birth of Yankee Candle.

And I'll bet a Grateful Dead record was playing in the background. Things have changed a bit since then:

We sell our candles and other products through a growing nationwide base of over 450 company-owned retail stores (423 Yankee Candle stores and 27 Illuminations stores). We also have a vibrant and growing catalog and online business, an expanding North American wholesale customer network (including approximately 17,500 specialty retailers in the U.S.), our Yankee Candle Fund-Raising division, and international distribution.

Yikes, makes me wish I'd taken the money I used to buy a bong to buy a candlemaking kit instead! I've been to the factory, and it's a pretty nice display. Men can be entertained there for an hour, women for a few hours more. But let's face it, candles are only so interesting, and the kids will be bored unless you go at Christmas time.

Grade = B

Six Flags New England
1623 Main Street, Agawam, MA

Part of a multi-billion dollar national chain, this outfit specializes in knock your eyes out special effects and take your breath away thrill rides. Unfortunately, it is hard not to look behind the glitter and not see the remnants of the old Riverside Amusement Park. Considered chintzy by modern standards, Riverside was none the less more charming, family friendly and a hell of a lot more affordable than this pre-packaged corporate experience. Don't get me wrong, you can have fun here if you bring a lot of cash, but something in me will always yearn for the old Riverside, in particular its white trash car racing subculture. The Valley ain't never been the same ever since you could no longer go to Riverside, get shitfaced on beer in paper cups and stagger down to the racetrack to scream with joy over car crashes! And while they're at it, they can bring back Mountain Park too.

Grade = C-plus

The Big E/Eastern States Exposition
1305 Memorial Avenue, West Springfield, MA

Thousands flock to this event every year, and only God knows why. The smelly pigs, noisy fowl and stupid cows are the same year after year. Most kids will weep with boredom unless you leave them in the carnival section. In fact the only thing about the fair that ever changes is the constantly rising prices. Anyone who attends this predictable yawner more than once every five years is a fool who deserves to get ripped off.

Grade = C-minus

Old Sturbridge Village
1 Old Sturbridge Village Road, Sturbridge, MA

I have very fond memories of coming to this magical land of the past as a child on school field trips. A beautiful setting and high educational value combine to make this an essential visit for all who appreciate the wonders of history.

Grade = A

The Springfield Museums
220 State Street, Springfield, MA

Surprisingly underrated and overlooked by the locals, outsiders who visit the Quadrangle museums are very impressed to see something so special in a place so small. Unfortunately the Quadrangle itself has become cluttered by an otherwise fine Dr. Seuss display that actually should have been erected over on the far more appropriate Mulberry Street. Hey, it is still not too late to move it there! Anyway, the museums themselves are endlessly fascinating and well worth the pittance you have to pay to get in if you are a non-Springfield resident.

Grade = A-minus

Bright Nights at Forest Park
Sumner Avenue, Route 83, Springfield, MA

How many times can you say, "Oh look at the pretty lights!" before you want to just slam on the gas and go screeching out of the park? Kids are only mildly entranced, and even then they have to be under age ten. Irony abounds, as a lightbulb version of the Barney Mansion, destroyed as the result of a crooked political deal, now exists as a ghostly electric outline. What next, a glow in the dark Phillips hanky?

Grade = D

CityStage/Symphony Hall
One Columbus Center/Court Street, Springfield, MA

Although a fiscal boondoggle from the taxpayer's perspective, from an artistic one this is a first rate pair. The theater always has solid shows now that Dave Starr is no longer meddling with the line-up, and the Symphony is the Valley's most respected live music ensemble. The conductor is a maniac, and talented enough to get away with it.

Grade = A

Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame
1000 West Columbus Avenue, Springfield, MA

A good test of whether someone is a Springfield native is to ask them if they've ever been to the Basketball Hall of Fame. If they answer no, chances are they were Springfield born and raised. I've never been there, and it's not because I have no interest in basketball. In fact my team at the Our Lady of the Sacred Heart catechism league won the diocese championship one year. But nothing I've heard about the Hall has ever intrigued me. There's a place where you can shoot hoops? Yeah, so does Balliet playground. Once you've seen one superstar's smelly old sneakers you've seen 'em all. I'm told some of the attached restaurants and bars are nice, but I also hear that Michael Albano and his friends hang out around there. I may be a reformed drug addict, but I never fell in with a crowd that bad.

Grade = Who knows or cares?

Brimfield Outdoor Antique Shows
Route 20, Brimfield, MA

There's gold in them thar trash piles! Brimfield is where the Valley's attics and cellars open up to surrender their treasures. You have to know what you're looking for, but the astute Valley historian and antique lover will shout with delight over what they can find at this affair. Of course the dealers are sharp, and know the value of their wares, but there's still a bargain to be found by the true connoisseur.

Grade = A

The Zoo at Forest Park
Sumner Avenue, Route 83, Springfield, MA

This is a worthwhile place to visit. Essentially a petting zoo for small children, it suffers by comparison to the old Forest Park zoo which had lions and tigers and bears oh my! There's nothing here that could hold a candle to the old monkey house, where the rude simians used to wave their hard-ons and throw their shit at the audience. Now that's entertainment! Yet judged on its own merits the current zoo is a fine educational experience and a solid weekend morning's adventure. Adults will not be bored.

Grade = B-plus

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Edge of the Cliff

The days leading to the Control Board.



Here is something I wrote in 2004 just before Boston brought in the Control Board to run Springfield. Sadly, much of it still reads as if it were written this morning.

I'm getting interesting feedback about what's happening on Boston's end as the Romney Administration and the legislature consider Springfield's fate. Supposedly the attitude of Governor Romney and the state legislature toward Springfield has deteriorated due to an article that appeared in the Springfield paper on Saturday. In that nearly Orwellian front page piece, former Mayor Michael Albano was allowed to pompously and absurdly claim that it was entirely the state's fault that Springfield is on the brink of receivership.

The article was obviously written strictly for local consumption, with its main purpose being to provide political cover for the Albanoites who fear being politically ruined by the current crisis. It may also have been meant to protect the newspaper's own credibility, since they enthusiastically supported Albano in 1995, then again in 1997, then again in 1999 and again in 2001. They also supported for election and re-election the local politicians who backed Albano. If Albano is the bad guy, then most of the local media, and the daily paper in particular, look like fools or stooges or worse.

Over the weekend, someone (Eamon O'Sullivan?) went to the trouble of mailing that article to all of the key players in Boston, where it went over like a lead balloon. The article's implication that it was the mean ol' Romney Administration and the unjust legislature that was the sole cause of Springfield's problems, while Albano and the local politicians were mere innocent bystanders, infuriated many of the people holding Springfield's fate in their hands. It supposedly was what inspired the presentation offered by Eric Kriss yesterday detailing the financial mismanagement in Springfield.

That presentation was only sketchily described in the local media, but I've been told that it was absolutely devastating in its utterly irrefutable demonstration of the obscene party the Albanoites had at the public's expense. I'm told that at some points the Springfield people present could only look at the ground in embarrassment, unable to think of a thing to say in their own defense.

My heart goes out to poor Charlie Ryan. Politically he is in an absolutely impossible situation. He needs the help of the local legislative delegation and other elected officials in order to block receivership. It is a terribly difficult balancing act he's trying to perform requiring great diplomacy in a lot of contradictory directions, but trust me, privately he is under no illusions about who is responsible for this trainwreck.

If we can just stumble across the July 1st deadline without going bankrupt and with a control board instead of full receivership, then I'm certain Charlie will leave us with a budget surplus obtained under conditions Springfield can live with and use successfully as a platform for recovery.

Sadly, if the political bickering and evasions among the various parties on the local level continues much longer, Governor Romney is likely to lose all patience and just tell us to go to hell. Then we will have a one person dictator come in and fire and cut at will until the books balance, no matter what the quality of life is like when it's all over.

The current crisis doesn't have to mean the end of Springfield. In fact it can be the beginning of a new era of revival and renewal. But to be that we have to be honest and accept this bitter medicine, and not lie to ourselves and others about who got us here. Now is the time for the city to unite so we can get through the next few weeks.

For years Springfield has floated in a bubble of unreality, dreaming it was "The Comeback City of America." Meanwhile the rest of the state could plainly see that for eight years we had a charlatan mayor, a do-nothing City Council and a craven local media. Springfield in general, and those who served under Michael J. Albano in particular, do not want to face the reality of their own responsibility for the financial crisis the city now finds itself in. They prefer to insult the Governor, blame the legislature and walk off with a $52 million grant while leaving themselves unharmed. It is a measure of how deep in denial Springfield is that no one realized how audacious and ridiculous that pose looked to the people in Boston. Any discussion of the issues that does not begin with a condemnation of Albano lacks credibility.

I'm told that when Charlie Ryan was making one of his presentations of how he intends to take Springfield in a new direction, Eric Kriss ruined Charlie's momentum by asking, "But how long will you be in office?" In that question was raised the spectre of what appears to be the biggest stumbling block to Springfield getting the bailout, which is the uncertainty in the legislature over whether Springfield has really decided to change. While Mayor Ryan has done an excellent job of removing the worst scoundrels from City Hall, like Dougherty, Haberlin and Santaniello, there is still no guarantee that the Albanoites and their cronies will not return once the city's finances are sound enough for them to resume their orgy of greed.

A financial bailout is something the state has shown a willingness to consider, but a political bailout is out of the question. As long as the name Albano is still respected, as long as his supporters remain poised to return to the feeding trough, no one will trust us with any money, nor should they. After the name Albano has been turned to mud, with his cronies and supporters politically humiliated, stripped of all power and, if necessary, prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, only then will Boston be convinced that a truly new era has dawned. What Boston fears is that the current reforms are just an aberration, where Charlie Ryan cleans things up only so the bad guys can make a comeback. Boston wants to be reassured that the public knows who the bad guys are, what they did, and understands why they must never be allowed to return.

In other words, Springfield cannot embark on a new future, until it finds the courage to fully face its past.


Now it is 2008, and I'm still not convinced it really has.



Just call me Tang.

There is a person at the Amherst Survival Center who speaks Chinese. I asked her what my name was in Chinese and she said this is how "Thomas" is written.



Actually, Thomas is a Christian name and therefore has no native Chinese translation. However, my friend said that a Chinese name that begins with a T and is as common in China as the name Thomas is in the United States and Europe is "Tang." Gosh, if I went to China would I be mistaken for an orange flavored powdered soft drink?



China has one of the fastest growing populations of internet users in the world. However, it also has one of the most strictly censored. Therefore it is unlikely anyone in China can read my blog, as there are at least two aspects of this blog that would be forbidden in China. For one there is my libertarian views supporting maximum liberty for everyone, as China remains one of the world's last surviving Communist dictatorships. The other is my homosexuality, which is technically illegal in China. In reality, there are well-known gay bars in every Chinese city, where you can openly dance with same-sex partners and go home with a new lover every night if you want to without interference. It's okay as long as you don't force anyone to openly acknowledge what you are doing. Because if you so much as whisper the phrase "I am gay" in public, then you face arrest and imprisonment.

The love that dare not speak its name indeed!

After all that rain it is nice to finally have a sunny day. Below Metawampe is chief of all he surveys of the UMass campus this morning.



Here is my neighbor's barn, now converted to a garage, last night at dusk.





Sorry Ladies, but I can't help what makes me laugh:

How many men does it take to open a beer?
None. It should be opened by the time she brings it.

Why is a Laundromat a really bad place to pick up a woman?
Because a woman who can't even afford a washing machine will probably never be able to support you.

How do you know when a woman is about to say something smart?
When she starts her sentence with "A man once told me..."

How do you fix a woman's watch?
No need to. There is a clock on the oven.

If your dog is barking at the back door and your wife is yelling at the front door, who do you let in first?
The dog, of course. He'll shut up once you let him in.

In the beginning, God created the earth and rested.
Then God created Man and rested.
Then God created Woman.
Since then, neither God nor Man has rested.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Last Laugh

Will is an Amherst College student who is working at the Amherst Survival Center this summer. He attracted more than a few stares with the t-shirt he had on today.



Reformed Northampton politician Bill Dwight has a photography project going called Peepolz that features photos Dwight has taken of people around our Valley. Frankly, some of them are pretty hot, and I'm not talkin' about the weather.




Among the people appearing in Peepolz is former Hamp hotboy Paolo Mastrangelo, captured by Dwight in shades of grey in the photo below.



The thing about Paolo is that photographs never seem to capture his most endearing trait - the intense sexuality that radiates from every atom of his being. However it was always his mind we loved more than his body (well almost) and to get back into the head of the recent New York resident go to his long awaited new blog. It's got all the sass and smarts of his Valley work, with an endless new cityscape to work with. Check it out by clicking here.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Long Ago

Reflections on a stone.



The other day I was walking past the cemetery in downtown Amherst where Emily Dickinson is buried, and decided to stop in for a few minutes.

I am sorry to report that Miss Emily is still dead.

I guess I felt a little tired or in a contemplative mood or something, and wanted to sit down. Nearby there was an old wall that had a sort of octagonal seat built into it. Once seated, I turned my attention to the two grave stones directly before it.



The writing on the one on the left had worn away to the point that it was unreadable. However, the one on the right, although faded, still had legible markings if you squinted a bit.



The name across the top I can't make out. Will something? But directly beneath it clearly says:

Son of
A.E. & Nettie
Chandler
Born Dec. 20, 1891
Died Mar. 31, 1892

That's not much information to go on, or is it? In cemeteries sometimes you have to read between the stones. The most obvious fact of course is that this is the grave of a baby, born in December and dead the day before April Fool's, three months and eleven days old.

A human baby doesn't develop much in that time, but you can still look in a baby's eyes a lot of times in three months and eleven days. An interesting fact is that the baby was born on December 20th. That made that baby boy something special - a Christmas baby. It must have been a very merry holiday for Amherst's Chandler family that Christmas of 1891, to have a newborn in the house. A little later came another holiday, New Year's, and again it must have been something special to start the new year with a new member of the family.

I wonder how the baby died. It may have been born sickly, and in those days of primitive medicine if you were born in the winter in New England in less than robust health you wouldn't last until spring. Then again the boy may have been born healthy, but in the days before anti-biotics a common cold could be a death sentence. My grandmother had a saying from her childhood that went, "It isn't the cough that carries you off, it's the coffin they carry you off in."

What I find most remarkable about the marker is its size. It is a pretty big stone for just a thirteen week old baby. There was real emotion involved to make that kind of investment in commemorating that short a life. The funeral was probably April 2nd 1892. Miss Emily's nearby gravesite - she had died three years earlier in 1889 - would have borne silent witness to the somber gathering.

Ah, but it was a good stone they planted above their son, one that endured and is still legible 116 years later, when I came to sit for a spell, and to think too much of times gone by and the past that can never be fully known, nor fully forgotten nor fully redeemed.



I remember when my parents reached a certain age they started complaining about certain mysterious aches and pains they were starting to feel despite having done nothing out of the ordinary. As a typical young person I responded with a cold indifference bordering on contempt for any talk from oldsters about the effects of aging. But time is a joker, and we live, if we're lucky, to endure the old age we once mocked.

For example, this morning I was kneeling on a chair to reach behind my bed to get something I'd dropped (don't ask). All morning I felt a mysterious pain in my knee, and realized it must be one of those annoying but inexplicable aches my elders used to talk about. There was nothing about kneeling on the chair that was injurious, yet it hurt just the same. I mentioned this to an old guy at the Amherst Survival Center where I work. All he did was shrug and say, "Welcome to the club."

I cried out in protest: "But I never wanted to belong to that club!"

Saturday night I came upon this artwork in chalk on a sidewalk in Northampton.



Friday, June 20, 2008

Last of the Zinesters

At Food for Thought.

Last night I went to see famous Zine writers Erick Lyle and Cindy Ovenrack Crabb speak at Food for Thought Books in Amherst.



The book store is widely known throughout the Valley as the setting for the classic SCREWY video about a zombie invasion of Amherst, where the brain-eating zombies get all hungry and excited when they see a place called Food for Thought.



It is also one of the last leftist bookshops in Massachusetts. Once a staple of college communities, the left-wing bookstore has all but vanished, with even Cambridge unable to sustain one. Food for Thought is helped to survive through the sale of college textbooks which leftist professors at the area colleges order through the store. Otherwise it would have to try to survive on the sale of things like this collection of Chinese Communist propaganda posters, a book not exactly on the New York Times best seller list.



A member of the self-described "non-profit worker's collective" that runs the store introduced Lyle and Crabb.



Both Erick Lyle and Cindy Ovenrack Crabb came out at the same time and took seats in large chairs in front of the audience.



The event was very well attended with some people even forced to sit on the floor.



The first to speak and read from her work was Cindy Ovenrack Crabb, a person very unique in her appearance.



Her writing is very personal, dealing with intense subjects not usually discussed in public. I could relate to the challenge of doing that, as I sometimes write about the drama that evolves out of my homosexuality and drug addiction in ways that some would consider taboo. Crabb writes about her ambiguous sexuality, and how she has been taunted for having a mustache and by people demanding to know whether she is a boy or a girl. It's painful, gritty stuff but her attitude is a positive one. She talked about her hope for "a place where all things are possible" and transcending despair through a utopian vision. In all she came across as likable and very human.

The Zine movement came out of the word processing technology of the late 1980's. No longer did you have to rent a large press belonging to a newspaper or other publisher if you wanted to print something. Through so-called "desk top publishing" using only a personal computer and a printer you could create a master copy that would then be reproduced at cheap cost at the local copy shop. Suddenly anyone could print anything on any subject.

Erick Lyle started his influential zine SCAM in 1991, which also happens to be the year I printed the first copy of my zine The Baystate Objectivist. Like Lyle, I was trying to write about an aspect of urban experience that was otherwise not being covered. In my case it was the corrupt machine politics of my hometown of Springfield. For Lyle it was an effort to record the mostly futile struggle of those attempting to prevent the gentrification of San Francisco. Here is Lyle with his book The Lower Frequencies: A Secret History of the City.



Lyle is smart and funny, but his story is mostly a sad one about how even success has its dark side as urban development relentlessly squeezed out the lower and middle classes from San Francisco. From the excerpts he read aloud, his book seems very informative and entertaining, especially if you are interested in urban activism.

After the talk ended, they passed out free posters.



Most zines vanished when they morphed into websites and blogs, but neither Lyle nor Crabb seem much interested in doing that. When I told Lyle that I was going to put a review of his talk in my blog he replied. "I've never been blogged before. Does it hurt?"

Good line, but the fact is Lyle and Crabb may be the last purists of the zine scene. They are stubbornly resisting the pressure to take their act online as they still pretty much insisting on doing it the old fashioned way. Well if that's the way they want to do things, then more power to them, but I predict cyberspace is in their long term future.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Conversing

On a Wednesday evening.


She says to me: "Sometimes I wish you weren't gay."

"Why?" I ask her. "So I would fuck you?"

She laughs and replies, "No, because I think you would've been an excellent father."

She isn't the first woman to say that, and I replied to her like I did the others.

"No, you're wrong. I would be a terrible father. You think I would be good because I get along so well with your kid, but that's just because children appreciate it when you treat them like people. I don't talk down to them or hold their smallness or their cuteness or their lack of life experiences against them. Not many adults show them that kind of respect, and that is what makes them respond to me with such earnestness.

"Parenting on the other hand," I continued, "requires a lot of things I'm not very good at. Like long term commitments. Creating and maintaining a stable environment. Staying home a lot. I woulda had to been sober. If I'd started a family all I would have to show for it today would be a bitter ex-wife and some neurotic kids."

"Gee, she said, "you have a compelling way of talking your way out of a compliment."

"You're wrong again," I explained. "I'm very good at accepting compliments, as long you direct them toward praising my body or my brain."

She threw a couch pillow across the room and it hit me square in my bare chest. She has a good arm and good aim.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Washington Monument Syndrome

How it played in Springfield.

I'm too busy today for preparing much original material, however here's something worth re-reading from January of 2005.



I was down at City Hall in Springfield the other day, accompanying my sister Beverly as she got a copy of her birth certificate. The city workers we encountered were nice, efficient and helpful in every way. It was a sharp contrast to the time in 2003, during the Albano Administration, when I went to City Hall to get something. It wasn't that anyone was mean or unhelpful to me, it was that I couldn't see anyone at all. The place was closed because of the then recent budget cuts.

Now there is one thing you've got to remember about budget cuts and politicians. When required to cut spending they follow a simple rule: Always cut essential services first! Why? Because that's how you get the suckers, I mean taxpayers, to cough up the cash for more spending. If you cut the fat, why would they give you more money?

This scam is called "The Washington Monument Syndrome" and the term dates back to the Reagan Administration. When President Reagan heard media reports of widespread waste and fraud in the National Park Service, such as employees at national parks playing cards all day, he slashed their budget in order to force them to fire the unneeded employees. However the Park Service responded not by firing the card players, but by closing the Washington Monument, one of the most popular attractions in the capitol, causing such an angry outcry from tourists that Congress quickly restored all the budget cuts.

Here's a nice short definition of The Washington Monument Syndrome from Michael Williams:

Symptoms of Washington Monument Syndrome are generally manifested by legislators who feel under political pressure to cut taxes, cut spending, and stop wasting public money (WMS can also be displayed when legislators want to raise taxes). Regardless of what bloated programs and superfluous bureaucracy is available to be slashed, politicians will pretend there's no fat to cut and insist to the public that if one single penny is taken away from the government budget they'll have no choice but to shut down the Washington Monument.

Such pleas and threats can take many forms. Some of the most popular services that greedy politicians like to line up first for the chopping block are police, firefighters, and education. These services are important to the average voter, and politicians hope that when the public is faced with the false choice of either losing police officers and teachers or raising taxes, people will meekly hand over their paychecks.

The best treatment for WMS is to simply ignore the politicians' apocalyptic warnings. The threats are empty, and there are always lots of expenses that can be cut before the Washington Monument will have to be closed.


So what Mayor Albano did when faced with a fiscal crisis was resort to using the Washington Monument Syndrome by cutting police, firefighters and teachers and reducing the hours at City Hall. He did not attempt any of the multi-million dollar savings since instituted by the Springfield Financial Control Board which have not required any lay-offs. Instead he hoped the long-suffering citizens would dig deep and hand over the money so he and his cronies could have another round of payraises and hiring.

Others in the city have used the same technique. Remember how the old Library and Museums Association used to constantly scream that they were in financial crisis and that the libraries would have to close? But once Charlie Ryan, Sheila McElwaine and other activists finally succeeded in prying the libraries away from the SLMA, they discovered that it was possible to keep all the libraries open, increase their hours and do it all with less money than the SLMA used to spend. Once Charlie Ryan was elected mayor, he saw the reduced hours at City Hall and realized that by simply assigning people's schedules differently so that employees could fill in for each other, he could restore all of the reduced hours without spending one extra penny.

Albano liked to resort to the Washington Monument Syndrome. Charlie Ryan likes to get things done.

Speaking of these changes as we left City Hall, I turned to my sister and said, "God Bless Charlie Ryan," to which she replied, "Amen."


Have you seen the newly revamped Channel 40 website? It's a thousand percent improvement over the embarrassingly bad one they had until recently. Check it out by clicking here.

UMass is putting a new roof on the Goodell building.



Now used as an office building, Goodell used to be the school library before the current skyscraper library was built.

This painting in the UMass Blue Wall should be in a dictionary under the heading, "Lousy Art."



Finally, everybody thinks of a specific person whenever they hear this song.



A man appears before St. Peter at the pearly gates.

"Have you ever done anything of particular merit?" St. Peter asks.

"Well, I can think of one thing," the man offers. "On a trip to the Black Hills, out in South Dakota, I came upon a gang of bikers who were threatening a young woman. I directed them to leave her alone, but they wouldn't listen. So I approached the largest, meanest and most heavily tattooed biker. I smacked him on the head, kicked his bike over, ripped out his nose ring, threw it on the ground, and told him, "Leave her alone now or you'll answer to me".

St. Peter was impressed. "Wow, when did this happen?"

"Just a couple of minutes ago."

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Rao's Wall

The hangout.

This is Rao's Coffee Shop in downtown Amherst.



It is the favorite coffeeshop for tourists, although many local people go there as well, especially students. Townfolk however generally prefer Amherst Coffee a few blocks away, alongside the Chamber of Commerce.



Alongside Raos is this area mainly occupied by skaters and bikers and teenagers who all pretty much hangout by this big reddish wall.



The wall's centerpiece is this graffitied "freedom" and a broken heart.



Unfortunately when it comes to romance, the two often do come together.

The wall has the predictable dope humor on it.



As well as drug warnings, this particular one delivered with a political twist from the past.



A lot of it is just good ol' teenage humor.



I hope I didn't ruin anything by showing you this hangout on my blog. But sometimes teens consider something uncool once adults become aware of it.

I can't believe the menacing clouds there were over Amherst last night around suppertime. I was quite impressed by them when I took this picture.



However, it only got worse until this scary sight was overhead.



Not surprisingly, just moments after that photo was taken a torrential downpour began! You never know about the weather in New England, which reminds me of something humorous I witnessed on the bus the other day. About five oriental students were sitting in the back of the bus talking. I was sitting nearby where I couldn't help but overhear them.

One of the students complained about how cool the weather was, especially considering how hot it had been just a few days earlier. A girl student brightened up and said, "If you do not like the weather in New England, then just to wait about ten minutes!" She was of course, in her broken English, attempting to recite the famous quote by Hartford's Mark Twain. Her companions burst into such loud, delighted laughter over this old saying that the girl beamed with pride over how well she had entertained her friends with her clever remark.

Of course they had never heard that saying before, so it was totally fresh to them, in contrast to native New Englander's who have all heard that Twainism by the time they are five years old. But their laughter made me hear the quote anew, and refreshened it for me, and I was surprised to realize that I was laughing too.

Speaking of naked people someone sent me this snapshot they said was taken at an end of the semester party at UMass.



Finally, the Quicksilver Messenger Service always got you the message on time.

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Chelan Incident

What it means.


My main memory of Chelan Jenkins (now Brown) when she ran for Mayor of Springfield at the age of 19 in 1995, was the Chelan Mobile. It was a van, or maybe it was a pick-up truck, it was hard to tell because it was so plastered with big signs and stickers, that went roaring down the streets of the city on Election Day blaring music while someone - sometimes the candidate herself - called through a megaphone for people to vote for her for Mayor.

Springfield hadn't seen anything like it, at least not since the days of Danny Brunton, who used to give speeches from front porches standing next to a keg of beer that would be opened for all, but only when his speech was done, thereby always guaranteeing a very attentive audience and very loud applause at the end. Of course people tended to laugh at the Chelan Mobile more than vote for its owner, but at least everyone thought it added much welcome life to the otherwise drab, cold and often predetermined political machine campaigns. Her innocent enthusiasm was a breath of fresh air in an otherwise stale and corrupt environment.

The leader of the stale and corrupt administration that took office instead of Ms. Jenkins - Michael J. Albano - did not fail to notice that despite her general lack of credibility she had none the less garnered nearly seven hundred votes. Chelan would not always be 19, and to keep her from threatening his administration he kept her in it by giving her appointed positions the whole time he was in office. Meanwhile, Chelan herself kept pretty busy.

She got married, had kids, opened a shoe store and got involved in the human services rackets. She got herself an organization, called AWAKE, whose letters break into the typical collection of inspiring sounding words. AWAKE supposedly does something to curb youth crime and violence, but like most such programs the only really visible results are a nice office, a nice title and a nice salary go along with it and with beautiful bennies. Everything else is relative.

But the former Chelan Jenkins is back in the political arena, this time setting her sights higher than mere local office by seeking a representative seat in the statehouse, one currently held by the longtime incumbent Benjamin Swan. There is a growing consensus in the community that Swan has served too long, but that doesn't mean that it will be easy for Chelan, or anyone else, to take him down.

For one thing, whatever his flaws, Ben Swan is a genuine civil rights hero. He comes directly from the era of Martin Luther King and he was there at all the biggest, most historic marches. There isn't a milestone in the civil rights history of Springfield that Swan cannot claim a role in. To many voters, replacing Swan would be like tossing out Frederick Douglas. No matter how long he's been in office you just don't do that!

On the other hand, Swan at times has trampled on his own legacy. He seems to have an endless series of petty tax squabbles with the city. While he has excuses for them that may be technically correct, no other politician would let them fester so and would just pay them to get them out of the press. That he won't do that makes him look at worst a deadbeat and at least a miser. Plus as a tax and spend liberal, Swan does not look good seeming so hesitant to pay his own share.

But this is Springfield, and politicians who have had far more serious scandals associated with them have coasted to re-election, so Swan is probably safe in that seat for as long as he wants it. But rumors are rampant that Swan has indicated to close insiders that this will be his last term, and if so then Chelan will have positioned herself as the frontrunner to succeed him if she runs a credible campaign and doesn't lose by too wide a margin.

However, the credible campaign part is becoming more and more difficult to maintain. Several weeks ago Chelan's people put up a website for her, and the political junkies at Masslive's Springfield Forum rushed to read it. Something didn't seem right. First of all, a graphic that was supposed to refer to Washington D.C. instead showed Washington State. Didn't the person who made the website know the difference? Also many of Chelan's positions on the issues appeared to be word for word exactly the same as other candidates running for office around the country. Was Chelan getting her positions by mindreading?

With the whole blogosphere getting into the act of ripping it apart, before long Chelan's website had become the laughing stock of the Valley. At a hastily called news conference, Chelan accused a mysterious hacker of ruining her website in order to embarrass her. Such an action would be a serious crime, but Chelan had no interest in calling for an investigation. She just yanked the website, held her press conference and waited for the whole thing to blow over. A few days ago, she re-launched her campaign with a formal announcement and rally, but even that had the occasional odd moment, as captured by Greg Saulmon of Local Buzz:

An Ad-Libbed Endorsement


Oh well, at least Chelan is providing the public with some entertainment in an otherwise dull local election year. But that's what sad about this, why is the talent pool so small? There is a third candidate in the race, Lorenzo Gaines, but for some reason he is always treated as an also ran. Certainly he seems at least as credible as Chelan, so howcome he can't get anyone to pay attention to him? The whole system stinks, and if Chelan's prattfalls do nothing but draw attention to that fact, then her campaign will not have been in vain.

No matter how far and wide my fame may spread via the miracle of the world wide web, will I ever escape the shadow of the most famous Devine who ever lived?



Andy Devine was born in Kingman, Arizona, where his father ran a hotel. During his youth, Devine was a self-confessed hellraiser, and stories of his rowdy antics are still part of Kingman folklore (though they've undoubtedly improved in the telling). His trademarked ratchety voice was the result of a childhood accident, when he fell while carrying a stick in his mouth, resulting in permanent vocal-chord injuries. A star football player at Santa Clara University, Andy decided to break into movies in 1926; he was almost immediately cast in Universal's two-reel series The Collegians. When talkies came, Devine was convinced that his voice was unsuitable for the microphone. He reportedly became so despondent at one point that he attempted to commit suicide by asphyxiation, only to discover that his landlady had turned off the gas! Devine needn't have worried; his voice became his greatest asset, and from 1930 until his retirement, he was very much in demand for bucolic comedy roles. In 1937 he became a regular on Jack Benny's radio program, his howl of "Hiya, Buck!" becoming a national catchphrase. During the late 1940s and early 1950s, he was a popular comedy sidekick in the western films of Roy Rogers. Later film assignments included his atypical performance as a corrupt Kansas City cop in Jack Webb's Pete Kelly's Blues (1955). Most baby boomers retain fond memories of Devine's TV appearances as Jingles Jones on the long-running western series Wild Bill Hickock, and as host of the Saturday morning kid's program Andy's Gang. In his later years, Devine cut down his performing activities, preferring to stay on his Van Nuys (California) ranch with his wife and children. Made a very wealthy man thanks to real estate investments, Andy Devine abandoned moviemaking in 1970, resurfacing only to provide voices for a brace of Disney cartoon features; he remained active in civic and charitable affairs, at one juncture serving as honorary mayor of Van Nuys. ~ Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide



Amherst singer/songwriter Will Adams has a new album out (above) which you can purchase by clicking here.

Speaking of music, let's revisit a magic summer night in New York.