Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Dance

Of Valley Politics

I've been to a lot of public meetings over the years. Many of them were quite dull, while others were more interesting. Many were a waste of time in terms of what was accomplished. Yet believe it or not, occasionally I attended a public meeting that I recall as having been informative and productive!

In the early days, I used to sneak around these public gatherings as an anonymous presence, positioning myself here and there, wherever I might overhear or observe something enlightening. But all that changed after I began appearing on the now defunct Dan Yorke TV Show on WGGB-TV Channel 40, first as a reoccurring guest and then later as a member of Yorke's stable of fill-in hosts. I soon became aware of the subtle transformations brought about in my life by appearing regularly on television.

No longer could I just blend into the background at public meetings, an intrepid spy in the midsts of the politicos. It wasn't long before politicians I had never met before were greeting me by my first name and talking to me as if we had always been friends. Some of them seemed nervous to have me around. Whenever I tried to inject myself into groups of people whom I suspected were having an interesting political discussion, I often discovered that I was mistaken. In fact it seemed that wherever I went, no one was discussing anything besides sports or the weather.

So with my cover blown, there didn't seem to be much point in my going to public meetings as much. Besides, in all immodesty, I probably have one of the best networks of informed whisperers and anonymous sources in the Valley. It's rare that I can't find out what I need to know if I'm really determined to know it, even if the information comes to me in forms that libel laws don't allow me to print. That may be just as well. If I told you everything that goes on around here, you'd burst into tears.

One thing that I have always found intriguing about public meetings is observing the complicated and unique rules of interaction among the governing class. A sociologist looking to study exotic manners, customs and rituals needn't go searching for a lost tribe in the jungles of Borneo. They need only pop in on a typical public meeting in Springfield.

For example, if you or I were going to a public event, we would simply arrive, open the door, and walk inside. Few politicians, however, would dare be so casual about their entrance. There's a hierarchy to it, with the least important people (the wanna-bees) always arriving first (they want all the time they can to shmooze before the meeting begins) while the most powerful dignitaries (who the wanna-bees wanna shmooze) arrive last.

The ultimate display of status is to arrive at the last possible moment, thereby guaranteeing that your arrival will be seen by everyone present while at the same time showing your contempt for the frustrated wanna-bees who were hoping you would arrive early enough to be approachable. The master of this technique is Congressman Richard Neal, whose impeccable timing always insures that the audience is already seated and thereby can't help but watch him march up the center aisle to his reserved front row seat. He does this while smiling and scanning the room with a look that somehow manages to acknowledge the audience in general but ignore any specific individual. He really has it down to an artform. I've sometimes thought they should give awards for such things.

Once the meeting is underway, the proceedings are ignored except by the cynical media and the clueless public. After all, the purpose of the meeting is usually simply to ratify in public a decision that was already made behind closed doors - and every true insider is already aware of what that decision is. Everything else is just play-acting for the public and the media. In the meantime, what you see are heads turning, necks straining and eyes darting in every direction, as everybody tries to size up just who is present and to place each attendee into a category reflecting their relative importance. Those categories and the way politicians respond to them are as follows:

Me at City Hall in 1992

The General Public - Easily recognizable because they are usually slightly nervous, confused and much too respectful toward the dignitaries at hand. The common taxpayer is the least important category and the most easily dismissed. If forced into an encounter with an everyday citizen, politicians usually adopt the "Big Ears" approach. That means letting the citizen do all the talking, while the politician appears to be listening intently, making it appear that they are sympathetic to what the taxpayer is saying while never actually committing themselves to a thing. Then the member of the public walks away thinking that the politician is a good listener and responsive to their point of view, nevermind that the politician's real views were never revealed. Springfield City Councilor Bill Foley has a special talent for employing this technique.

The Lords - If the public are the least important people present, then at the other extreme are what you might call The Lords. They are anyone in the room that you absolutely must see (or be seen by) in order for the meeting to be considered a success. Depending on your needs they might be anyone, but in general a Lord is any person who can a) get yourself or a supporter a job, b) get yourself or a supporter a government contract, or c) someone whom you are already politically indebted to where it might be dangerous if you didn't kiss their rear end everytime you meet.

The Snubbed - These are the people present that you are having disagreements with and want to show your displeasure towards by pointedly ignoring them. You or I, if we were having a disagreement with someone, would simply make our views known to whomever we disagreed with. In Valley politics however, such an honest and frank confrontation would be considered unforgivably bad form. Instead, you must treat those with whom you disagree as if they were invisible, no matter how often they come within your range of view. It is said that no one can snub you into quite so complete a feeling of non-existence as Springfield Newspapers president David Starr.

So the entire evening there are all these bizarre, yet finely tuned exchanges going on at the public meeting, as people angle and maneuver to engage their Lords or blank out those to be snubbed. It is a symbolic dance whose many subtleties would require a book in order to properly describe every nuance. Yet to an outsider observing the scene it might appear that nothing very remarkable was taking place.

But nearly everyone present is involved in a complex social waltz, whose ultimate effect is to prevent any possibility of an open, honest, spontaneous or sincere gesture of any kind. Still, at rare but key moments it is suddenly not like a waltz at all, but becomes a funky boogie where you can pick up points for style, with a deftly executed knife in the back separating the men from the boys.

It's a scene you can get sick of pretty quick, and a lesson in democracy no schoolboy's textbook can teach you.


If the preceeding article seems sorta familiar to some of you longtime regular readers, it's because it first appeared in the print version of The Baystate Objectivist around 1993. It's interesting, and sad, how well it still holds up after all this time. Since 1998, it has existed online at a Geocities website that was a predecessor to this one. But now Geocities is going out of business, as reported in TechCrunch:

Not with a bang, but with a whimper. Yahoo! is unceremoniously closing GeoCities, one of the original web-hosting services acquired by Yahoo! in 1999 for $2.87 billion. (Fun venture fact: Fred Wilson’s Flatiron Partners was an investor). In a message on Yahoo!’s help site, the company said that it would be shuttering Geocities, a free web-hosting service, later this year and will not be accepting any new customers....

There are plenty of other Website creation and hosting services out there, including blog platforms such as Wordpress, Blogger, and Typepad, as well as Website creation and hosting services such as Ning, Webs, Jimdo, Snapages, Weebly, and countless more. GeoCities never really kept up with the times, but always remained a decent pageview generator.

One of the pioneers of web-hosting sites, GeoCities gave users personal publishing tools and created “neighborhoods” within its web platform for users to be able to create pages, add a picture, text, a guest book and a website counter. Long before MySpace, Geocities was known as a place where teenagers, college students, and eventually others could impose their own garish taste upon the rest of the world.

So with Geocities headed into cyber-oblivion, I'm going to have to transfer all of my old stuff that's worth preserving from the Geocities site to this one. Some of it I might expand or update, if warranted. Others I may let slip with Geocities itself into the void. But in any case, if some blasts from the past start showing up here in the coming days and weeks, you'll know the reason why. Hey, I'll bet you'll find it fun to read some of them again.

Another 100 Day Verdict

In 1927 the great Austrian economist, Ludwig von Mises, wrote: “Whoever does not deliberately close his eyes to the facts must recognize the signs of an approaching catastrophe in the world economy.” He did not base his prediction of the Great Depression on specific economic policies, such as federal deficits, or improper money policy. It was based on the rise of philosophies antithetical to market capitalism and limited government, including fascism, socialism, and progressivism. The first 100 days of the Obama administration have been marked by a similar movement away from belief in the market system and individual liberty and towards belief in a centrally planned state....

The Economist, in its most recent issue, warned against calling Obama a socialist or a fascist. Yet if we accept a common definition of fascism as a system of private ownership of the means of production with government control, certainly the administration’s policies exhibit movement towards such a system. At the same time, if we define socialism as a system of government ownership of the means of production, then the Obama administration has moved us in that direction as well.

In The Road to Serfdom, Nobel Laureate Friedrich Hayek explained that socialism and fascism are really a common system based on the belief that central planning is superior to individual liberty and market capitalism. So it matters little whether the Obama administration is moving us towards socialism or fascism. It certainly is moving us away from market capitalism and limited government and towards central planning.

- Gary Wolfram

Down by the River

As little as a week ago there were no leaves on the trees. But spring has sprung, as you can see from this pic I took today of my woodland way into downtown Northampton.

The other day I was in Deerfield under the bridge over the mighty Connecticut. This was the view.

A woman was sitting under the bridge writing while watching the river flow.

There is lots of graffiti under the bridge, some of it of unusually high quality. For example, dig this abstract done in gold paint.

Do these sayings make any sense?

Some of the images are beautiful yet haunting.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Neal Challenged

Democracy at Last

Keep cyphering Mr. President, in the meantime let's look at some political developments closer to home:

Dr. Fleitman

After years of not having any opposition, Congressman Richard Neal is finally facing a credible challenger, as reported in this morning's UMass Collegian:

United States Rep. Richard Neal, a University of Massachusetts journalism lecturer and former Springfield mayor, will face a challenger for his second district house seat for the first time since 1998.

Republican Jay Fleitman, chairman of Northampton’s Board of Health, a Republican ward chairman, and a former school committee member will run against Neal, who has held his seat since 1989.

Fleitman said he is running for a variety of reasons, but primarily because he disagrees with Congress’ recent spending moves.

“They’ve let loose with this almost criminal barrage of spending,” Fleitman said of the federal bailouts, furthering that “this government is accruing debt equal to the entire debt that the U.S. government has accrued in history prior to this.

“The chickens are going to come to roost on this, it’s going to burden the whole economy, the people who are going to be paying for this are you and your children,” continued Fleitman as an emphasis to students....

On whether the Fleitman campaign poses a challenge, Neal’s staff was silent, as his press secretary, William Tranghese, would not comment on the matter.

I wonder if Neal will explain to the students in his journalism class why his press secretary considered it best not to comment to the student paper. Interestingly, the UMass newspaper is located in Amherst, which is in the district and hometown of Congressman John Olver, yet the account in the Collegian of Neal's challenger is much longer and more detailed than the one that appeared in The Republican which is printed in Neal's district and hometown of Springfield. Once again, you have to leave the area in order to find out what's going on in Springfield politics.

No matter what your political persuasion this has to be considered good news. In a healthy democracy every public official should be forced to explain to the public every election cycle what they have done while in office and why they should be re-elected. It has been far too long since Neal has had to face such a reckoning.

However, both the Republican and the Collegian get it wrong when reporting when Neal last faced a challenger. The Republican said 1996 and the Collegian 1998, but actually Neal faced a Democrat primary challenge in the year 2000 from the crackpot activist Joe Fountain. But by any measure, it has been far too long since Neal has been required to defend his record in a seriously challenged election, and therefore nothing but good can come from Dr. Fleitman's candidacy.

Richard Neal with Bax and O'Brien

Honor Roll

In a shameful episode last night the Massachusetts Democrats under the leadership of jackass House Speaker Robert DeLeo (above with Deval Patrick) voted to raise the sales tax. Of course that is the tax which hits the poor the hardest and will also hurt our chances of an economic recovery by slamming the business community. Fortunately, time exists to defeat this abomination when it reaches the State Senate. However, we should at least pause to acknowledge the brave state representatives from our Valley who voted against the sales tax increase.

Rep. Donald F. Humason (above)
Rep. Todd R. Smola
Rep. Angelo Puppolo
Rep. Sean F. Curran
Rep. Rosemary Sandlin

Now, who are the Western Mass Senators who will join this honor roll in the next phase of the battle?

Shake It Baby

Here I am this weekend at the UMass Renaissance House posing with my pal Billy.

Today's Video

This is Wolfmother.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Extravaganja

A Big Success

In recent years there seems to have been a jinx on the annual rally in Amherst for the legalization of marijuana, otherwise known as the Extravaganja. The weather always seems to be rainy, too cold, no sunshine or whatever the weather can do to discourage atttendance. This year however, perhaps in deference to the decriminalization of marijuana possession by voters last year, Mother Nature smiled upon the rally with some gorgeous weather.

In the course of my travels today I passed through the rally site three times. The first time was at ten o'clock this morning, when things were still being set up.

When I returned around one o'clock a serious crowd had gathered.

On my final visit at three o'clock the place was mobbed.

The Extravaganja was a wonderful economic windfall for downtown Amherst. I wanted to stop at Bart's Homemade Ice Cream but the place was packed with a line going out the door.

I didn't smoke anything myself, but the smell of reefer in the air was stronger than at any past Extravaganja I've attended, and I may have attended them all. No doubt decriminalization had something to do with that, and indeed the police appeared willing to let people do what they wanted as long as everything stayed mellow.

The dynamic organizer of this year's rally was Heather McCormack, shown here second from left with her band.

The Amherst Common was transformed into a sea of tie dye.

All aspects of high society were represented, like these hula-hooping followers of the String Cheese Incident.

Of course smoking paraphernalia was for sale.

The music was extremely wide-ranging, like these folks playing weird instruments.

From the main stage crusading libertarian Terry Franklin urged the crowd to remember that as long as one person is still being arrested for marijuana, their work is incomplete.

I don't know how I didn't see this sooner, but here's a video of Franklin at the Justice for Michael Phelps rally held at UMass in February.

Humanity Enslaved

Bad news folks - the human race has been conquered by brain eating hordes of zombie undead. At least that's what happened at UMass at the conclusion of the week-long human versus zombie war. Although I missed the climactic final battle, I arrived just in time to see women tending to the wounded and the humans surrendering to their zombie lords.

The weapons of the humans lie discarded in a pile as they were led away to become slaves to the undead.

I had to leave so I never found out what the zombies made their slaves do, but I'm sure it was something fun.

Today's Video

Heat Wilson at Hampshire College on High Pride Day.

"Mr. Clark, I have reviewed this case very carefully," the Divorce Court Judge said. "And I've decided to give your wife $775 a week."

"That's very fair, your honor," the husband said. "And every now and then I'll try to send her a few bucks myself."

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

I'm Down

Another Rainy Day

Today I went to three libraries. The first was the Robert Frost Library at Amherst College.

Inside is this bust of the poet Robert Frost, a teacher at Amherst College after whom the library is named.

The rain to the wind said,
'You push and I'll pelt.'
They so smote the garden bed
That the flowers actually knelt,
And lay lodged--though not dead.
I know how the flowers felt.

— Robert Frost

I was also at the UMass Library. I never use its official name because I disapprove of it.

Someone knocked over the cigarette disposal thing in front.

What a mess for someone to clean up!

I also went to the library at Hampshire College, which like UMass is located in Amherst.

Love is in the air at Hampshire - or at least on the ground by the picnic table.

At the Hampshire College bus stop, at first I didn't notice this smeared graffiti. Then I realized it said, DON'T TAKE MY PANTS OFF, DAD.

Is that some kind of sick joke or a cry for help?

Today's Video

No comment.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Augusten is Back

From his Tour

Burroughs and dogs at home in Amherst

Amherst's literary homeboy Augusten "Running With Scissors" Burroughs is back in town from his national lecture tour. On his blog he tells how his first night back Burrough's dog did #2 in his bed - with Burroughs going to sleep without knowing it - and with predictably yucky results:

So yeah, home. The first night back, Bentley had a night-poo on the bed, which we of course did not see. Pity us restless sleepers. I will let your imagination fill in the sordid details. Take comfort knowing your imagination is dead right.

When not rolling in dogshit, the world famous literati has been drooling over wedding cakes, in particular this one:

I love the wedding cake above because, imagine bending over and opening your mouth right on the edge, on top of a clump of white frosting roses

Does this fascination with wedding cakes mean that Augusten and his longtime boyfriend Dennis have a forthcoming announcement to make? Anyway this is the cake I personally would like to have give me a sugar overdose by the same confectionery artist:

Always the contrarian, Burroughs defends sugar from modern society's attacks:

Our society's vigorous anti-sugar mentality, which is primitive and incorrect, only serves to incite prejudice and fear. If we must hate something, let's agree to hate yeast. Or ham.

When not salivating over cakes, Augusten and Dennis are trying to score a dinner date with national media personality (and former Pioneer Valley radio star) Rachel Maddow. So far it isn't going well:

Rachel Maddow and Bill Dwight

So four weeks ago, Dennis -who won't even let me use my name when making a restaurant reservation because he thinks it's pretentious and loathsome- made a special trip downstairs to my office and said, “You need to invite Rachel Maddow over for dinner.” He suggested I contact her “people.”

I just looked up at him and blinked.

And he asks me now each week, “So, how's that letter coming?” Meaning, my letter to Rachel Maddow inviting her to dinner.

I tell him, “I'm working on it, I haven't forgotten.” What I have not confessed is that each version of the letter begins like this:

“Dear Rachel, I know this is kind of creepy and stalkerish but I think we both live in the same general area of Massachusetts and...” So it's the “I'm your neighbor not your stalker!” approach. I just can't figure out the segue from “We're your neighbors” to “come over for dinner with your girlfriend.” No matter how I phrase it, it comes out sounding odious. Like I want to know her because she's famous or I want to be on her show.

To read more about the dinner date seduction of Rachel Maddow as well as more about our Valley's most eccentric author's opinions about dogs, pigs, cakes and other matters click here.

Bipartisan Guilt

Remember, everything Obama's doing, Bush started last year. If you're going to talk about big spending, the mistakes of the Bush administration last year are fully as bad as the mistakes of Obama's first two, three months. ... If the Republicans can't break out of being the right wing party of big government, then I think you would see a third party movement in 2012. ... The current system is so sick, so out of touch and so arrogant that you're going to have a nationwide rebellion at the polls of people in both parties who are just fed up."

-- former Congressman Newt Gingrich speaking at the College of the Ozarks in Missouri, March 31, 2009.


These flags appeared outside the Student Union today, each one representing 5,000 deaths in the Nazi Holocaust.

I think there should be a similar display commemorating those who died in the Socialist Holocaust. There would be at least ten times as many flags required.

Old Shirt

Here's an official UMass shirt from 1992. (courtesy of Andrea Murray)

New Pizza Joint

Hillside Organic Pizza has opened on Route Nine!

I predict it will be a big success.

Today's Video

Garcia near the end.

There were days
and there were days
and there were days between
Summer flies and August dies
the world grows dark and mean
Comes the lighting of the moon
on black infested trees
the singing man is at his song
the holy on their knees
the reckless are out wrecking
the timid plead their pleas
No one knows much more of this
than anyone can see
anyone can see

There were days
and there were days
and there were days besides
when phantom ships with phantom sails
set to sea on phantom tides
Comes the lightning of the sun
on bright unfocused eyes
the blue of yet another day
a springtime wet with sighs
a lonesome candle lingers
in the land of lullabies
where headless horsemen vanish
with wild and lonely cries
lonely cries

There were days
and there were days
and there were days I know
when all we ever wanted
was to learn and love and grow
Once we grew into our shoes
we told them where to go
walked halfway around the world
on promise of the glow
stood upon a mountain top
walked barefoot in the snow
gave the best we had to give
how much we'll never know
we'll never know

There were days
and there were days
and there were days between
polished like a golden bowl
the finest ever seen
Hearts of Summer held in trust
still tender, young and green
left on shelves collecting dust
not knowing what they mean
valentines of flesh and blood
as soft as velveteen
hoping love would not forsake
the days that lie between
lie between

Monday, April 20, 2009

Lost War

Was the Cold War for Nothing?

In an incredible opinion poll by the respected Rasmussen company only 53% percent of the public supports capitalism! That is tempered by the fact that they are not endorsing socialism either (only 20% are that foolish) with the rest undecided. Yet those results are still depressing.

Liberator Online has a few theories to explain the poll's shocking results;

* Government ("public") schools, themselves thoroughly socialist institutions, have failed to educate young Americans about the failures and dangers of socialism. Or, for that matter, failed to educate millions of them on just about anything. Many poll respondents probably couldn't coherently define either socialism or capitalism if asked.

* Many people greatly prefer the term "free market," which they associate with abundance and freedom, to "capitalism," which they associate with monopolies and corporate fat cats gaming the economy for their own benefit. This would explain a December 29, 2008 Rasmussen poll, which found that 70% of U.S. voters said a free market is better than one managed by the government. (It should be noted that many of those 70% also wanted government regulation of big business). This is why the Advocates has long suggested that libertarians use "free market" instead of "capitalism" when appropriate.

* The Bush administration has given the word "capitalism" a bad name. The Bush administration pursued gigantic social spending and an unprecedented assault on our fundamental constitutional liberties, all the while calling the system they favored "capitalism." Millions of Americans, understandably outraged by these policies, want nothing to do with anything the Bush administration favored.

All three of those reasons are probably true, but that's still unforgivable. To think of the thousands who gave their lives during the Cold War years to defeat socialism, and who succeeded in overthrowing it in nearly every nation in the world, only to have the winners (that's us) be confused about what we won.

That's pathetic.

Randians Speak

The Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights has released a statement on the growing "tea party" movement:

Today, thousands of Americans are joining modern day tea parties, named after the Boston Tea Party of 1773. They are protesting a government that, in the wake of today’s financial crisis, is rapidly strangling their freedom, with endless bailouts, mounting regulations, reckless spending, and the promise of a crippling tax burden. Correctly sensing that the American system is being discarded, they seek to battle this trend by taking to the streets to register their outrage.

But today’s statist onslaught is the result of a deeply entrenched set of ideas about the proper purpose of government. Virtually everyone today believes that unrestricted capitalism is immoral and dangerous, and that the government’s role is to actively intervene in the economy in order to achieve the “public good.” So long as these ideas remain unchallenged, and no positive alternative is offered, no protest will be able to change the country's course.

What’s needed today is not a tax revolt, but a revolt against today’s intellectual mainstream.

To read more click here.

Happy Patriotic 420

Today is April 20th, the international day of High Pride, when we pause to celebrate the many contributions to society by those have been stoned. Just think of all the wonderful music that has been gifted to the world by those who have been intoxicated?

Of course there's also the dark angle of the high side, and I could tell you a lot about that too, but this day is not the proper time. Today is also a special holiday celebrated nowhere else in the nation except Massachusetts, Maine and Wisconsin. It's called Patriots' Day and the has this to say about it:

Patriots' Day (sometimes incorrectly spelled Patriot's Day or Patriots Day) is a civic holiday commemorating the anniversary of the Battles of Lexington and Concord, the first battles of the American Revolutionary War. It is observed in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and state of Maine (once part of Massachusetts) and is a public school observance day in Wisconsin. Observances and re-enactments of these first battles of the American Revolution occur annually at Lexington Green in Lexington, Massachusetts, (around 6am) and The Old North Bridge in Concord, Massachusetts (around 9am). In the morning, a mounted reenactor with State Police escort retraces Paul Revere's ride, calling out warnings the whole way.

Traditionally it was designated as April 19 in observance of the anniversary of the Battles of Lexington and Concord, the first battles of the American Revolutionary War. Since 1969, however, the holiday has been observed on the third Monday in April, providing a three-day long weekend. It is also a school holiday for many local colleges and universities, both public and private.

UMass was among those universities that closed, which might explain why the UMass Cannabis Club office was shut for 420.

Or at least their entrance was shut. There was a distinct odor wafting out from beneath the door.

This morning in Northampton I saw that Patriots' Day was being acknowledged with flags flying all along Main Street.

Try to get away with that in Amherst!


It looks as though the Countryside Vegetable Farm on Route Nine is out of business.

The hothouses in back are completely in ruins.

It's a prime location, I wonder what will become of it?

Today's Video

And the children shall lead us....

To feel envy and hatred towards young people is the surest sign of a wasted life.