Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Steve's Book

For Bohemians

UMass cartooning legend Steve Lafler received a lot of emails when the following image appeared in the fashion mags:

The model is wearing headgear that UMass alumnus of a certain age would recognise. Lafler explains:

People have emailed me since yesterday regarding the appearance of a funny hat in New York during fashion week on a male model. The hat, from designer Thom Browne, looks just like the foil hood that my character Gerald Forge wore in my college comic strip, Aluminum Foil.

Gerald appeared with his side kick Benb for four years in the Massachusetts Daily Collegain. The strip was so popular in it's hey day in the late Seventies that the foil hat became the default Halloween costume for the tripping masses at UMass (yup, the late 70s saw Halloween become a three day psychedelic bacchanal at the UMass, Amherst campus).

Was Thom Browne even alive then?! Who knows. But I got a huge kick out of seeing Gerald's doppleganger on the runway. The only thing missing was a GIANT DOOBIE OF STINKY BUD!

As Steve explains, he also has a new book out:

Part entrepreneurial primer and part swashbuckling memoir with lots of hilarious anecdotes, Self Employment For Bohemians is available for $12.00 plus shipping. The book offers a lot of nut & bolts advice for freelancers, wound up with tales of my adventures in cartooning, publishing and running a wholesale custom T Shirt shop. Just like the header on this blog says, if having a regular 9 to 5 job is your idea of a living death, this is the book for you!

To order your copy go here.

An Outrage!

From Google News:

NEW YORK — New York's iconic Empire State Building will light up red and yellow Wednesday in honor of the 60th anniversary of communist China.

The Chinese consul, Peng Keyu, and other officials will take part in the lighting ceremony which will bathe the skyscraper in the colors of the People's Republic until Thursday, Empire State Building representatives said in a statement.

The upper sections of the building are regularly illuminated to mark special occasions, ranging from all blue to mark "Old Blue Eyes" Frank Sinatra's death in 1998 to green for the annual Saint Patrick's Day.

Just last week the tower turned bright red.

However, that was not to mark some other communist achievement, but the 70th anniversary of the film "The Wizard of Oz" in which Dorothy wears ruby slippers rather than the silver of the original L. Frank Baum novel.

So those are moral equivalents? The Wizard of Oz and Chairman Mao?

Hamp Things

This truck parked in downtown Northampton this morning reminded me of the amazing Paolo, still twittering away in New York City.

Is this sign in front of First Church serious?

On the woodland way downtown this morning after the rain stopped.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Happy Birthday Amherst

Two Hundred and Fifty Years Young

Today is the 250th birthday of my beloved Amherst, Massachusetts. When I arrived at the Amherst Starbucks this morning, looking out the window I felt sure the parade would be cancelled by heavy rains.

But despite Amherst's reputation in some quarters as a heathen haven, God stopped the rain in time for the festivities to get underway on time. Among the spectators was local libertarian leader Terry Franklin.

Springfield was represented by this Cat in the Hatter.

Politicians onhand included State Rep. Ellen Story and Congressman John Olver.

Of course Emily Dickinson had to be represented, and she was by school children marching with placards bearing Miss Emily's poems.

Northampton sent their most distinguished emissaries - The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Amherst blogmaster Larry Kelley was covering the scene.

He was taking a picture of me.

Amherst used to be a section of the town of Hadley, which sent this float to honor their rebellious offspring.

250 years ago you might very well have seen a family looking just like this walking down the street.

Of course Motown Bernie was there.

A local bear perched atop the Cowls Lumber truck.

Good advice for the next 250 years.

Among those participating in the parade was the Amherst Survival Center. I marched with them.

Here's a video I made of the parade from the inside looking out.

Platonic Solids Journey to Infinity

Buckminster Fuller was heavily into this stuff. From the Kyoto Observer:

Diagram via Robert Lawlor. The five Platonic Solids fit into one another, starting with the Father, the Icosahedron, followed by the universe's Mother, the Dodecahedron. Touching the Mother are the Cube and Double Tetrahedron. Inside the Double Tetrahedron is the Octahedron. The inner Octahedron, from our perspective, also seems like a hexagram and inside that another Icosahedron can be drawn, thus starting the process again...infinitely.

Sorry to disappoint you, Carl Sagan (and other flatland materialists), but there is a geometric order underlying the cosmos. And these shapes fitting into one another suggest the Creator's fingerprints.

Start with the 6 points around the circle, thus forming a hexagram. You have the 6 directions, east, west, north and south, up and down, with you in the middle, the seventh point--a summary of the days of the week and the seven note octave. 1 x 2 x 3 x 4 x 5 x 6 = 720, the basis of the 5 Platonic Solids, starting with the 720 degrees of the tetrahedron. The Sun appears to precess (go back on its path around the 12 houses of the zodiac) 1 degree every 72 years. The 22 alefbet correctly written are done with 72 strokes.

Doing this diagram won't necessarily transform you into an angel and gain you access to the summit of Mt Olympus but it is a wonderful meditation showing you that in spite of the crises facing us, the world is inherently perfect.

Scene From a Nightmare

Today's Video

The UMass Minuteman Marching Band (above) was among those participating in today's Amherst 250th birthday parade. Here they are in 2001 doing White Rabbit.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Great Smokeout

Featuring Karma the Smokehound

This was back in the old times, before everyone started smoking pot. The marijuana scene was still underground then. No one ever spoke about it except to those who you knew also partook of the weed, or unless you had a really strong suspicion. I never guessed wrong, and it was always a delight as well as a relief to find out that someone else you knew was a toker.

In those times there was a real feel of doing something subversive by smoking marijuana. It automatically made you a member of a secretive world that separated you from mainstream society, and we liked that about it almost as much as the buzz. But it couldn't last. The first time I realized that marijuana had gone mainstream was when the football players at the High School of Commerce started bragging about their reefer consumption. Except they didn't call it toking, they called it "partying." I didn't like that phrase. Our parents went to parties. The pot scene couldn't be underground or subversive anymore if the jocks were doing it and making it just an appetizer at their beer blasts.

As more people started smoking, the coolness of the scene also declined. Suddenly you saw people who had no sense of the customs and rituals of the herb. They smoked too much, too fast, they "bogarted" the joint by talking and holding it in their hand, taking hit after hit and not passing it on until it was half gone. The worst of this new breed was someone we called High Hank, who was like the guy who shows up at the party with one half drunk beer in his hand and then proceeds to stay the whole night drinking everybody elses.

We called him High Hank because he was so bold about his greedy weed-crazed ways. All around Pine Point he would flutter like a stoned butterfly from group to group, wherever he saw weed being toked or thought he could bum a joint, and invited himself into every circle of cannabis friendship, even though he wasn't really anybody's friend. He was so shameless that he liked to boast about his consumption, claiming that he could smoke more than any other person in the Point. Some people thought it might be true while others were unsure, but none doubted that he intended to smoke everyone's pot, wherever it was or in whatever quantity.

One day we were over my friend Jerry's house playing pool. My other friends Jim and Jay were there as well. Jerry's little dog Karma was sleeping under the pool table, like he always did. Watching the game from the sidelines was a girl we called Patty Pot, so called because of one time at a stoned gathering everyone was telling their best sexual fantasy. There were some pretty raunchy fantasies described, but when it came to Patty she surprised everyone by saying that her fantasy was to run naked through an endless field of marijuana. For that weird wish she earned her name Patty Pot.

Also present that day was High Hank, who had followed us over from the Nora's Variety Store where we had the misfortune to run into him when buying rolling papers. We probably should have rejected him with an insult or a threat or something, as some people did, but we sort of felt sorry for him for being friendless and so we let him tag along. That particular day Jerry was waiting for the pot dealer Leon to come over. No one anticipated Leon's arrival more than High Hank, who boasted that he could smoke Leon's whole stash.

Patty Pot decided she had heard enough. "I could smoke you under this table anytime!" she dared. Hank High scoffed, "Are you crazy girl? I'll smoke you unconscious." It went on like this, getting a bit heated, until Leon the dealer showed up. He seemed amused by the boastful sleaze and charmed by the brave young lady who said that she could outsmoke him. Leon had a good business, and was the sort to act on a whim, so we were surprised but not shocked when he suddenly said, "Let's put it to the test!"

Leon, whose weed was always above average, reached into his knapsack and threw a bag on the pool table. There was a gasp as we saw what it was - a whole ounce of primo Acapulco Gold intermingled with some pungent Panama Red. "I don't care who you are, no one can smoke that entire bag." Leon said. "But let's see which one of you can smoke more!"

So it began. A big thick joint was rolled. To enhance the enjoyment of the spectators, each joint was to be passed around among all present until it was half smoked. Then the second half would be smoked exclusively by Patty Pot and High Hank. Every hit had to be held in your lungs for at least ten seconds. When the joint came round to me I was amazed by the smooth rich taste. By my second hit I was noticeably stoned. By my third I was glad that it was time for Harry and Patty to go at it one on one.

Despite the incredible power of the righteous weed, neither contestant seemed overly stoned. When the second joint went around, Jim announced that he could smoke no more. The third joint saw Jerry drop out. Jay and I declined after joint number four. Leon, who smoked this powerful weed all the time, had very high tolerance, but even he had to quit at joint number five. That left Patty Pot and High Hank to go at it head to head for the coveted title of the Highest Head in All Pine Point!

It was obvious that joint number six would be the last, which was just as well because there was no pot left for another joint anyway. Both Patty and Hank had bloodshot, unfocused eyes. A dreamy sleepiness had overcome them and their words were slurred. But back and forth the joint went. Patty's head began to nod, as if she was about to pass out, but she suddenly rallied and managed to snap to attention just in time to pass the joint to the equally woozy High Hank. Slowly Hank tried to raise the joint to his lips, but seemed unable to focus on what he intended to do, staring at the joint like it was something from another planet.

It seemed as if victory might be within Patty's reach, as the stupefied High Hank began swaying on his feet. Then suddenly Karma the dog came bounding out from its spot beneath the pool table, where everyone had forgotten he was sleeping, and the dog leaped onto the pool table, something he had never done before! The dog's eyes were all bloodshot. The poor animal had become stoned out of its mind by the smoke that filled the cellar from the powerful weed. All at once the dog lunged for the joint in Hank High's hand and with a cry of fear he dropped it.

To our utter amazement the dog took the joint in its mouth and scarfed it down its throat whole, the burning head of it and all. Karma then calmly returned to its place under the table, walked around in a small circle a couple of times, then lay down, curled up, and slept for twelve hours.

So we never did find out who was the biggest toker in the Point, because Leon never sprung for a free bag again. He said he would, but we never pressed him on the matter because everybody knows that its the dope dealer's creed that the first bag is always free, but then you pay top dollar for the rest of your life.

Today's Video

Bill Dwight of WHMP took this photo of Greg Saulmon from Local Buzz with the big black dude from the Haymarket performing among the fruits (and lezzies) and vegetables of Serios Market.

This is something called The Snizz performing in Northampton a few nights ago.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Pictorial Parade

From Around the Valley

I'm been busy the last few days, but even if I can't write my camera is always close at hand. Here's a potpourri of stuff:

The Amherst Resevoir this afternoon.

Hampshire College barncat.

This waterfall is located on the townline between Montague and Sunderland.

The reason I was in Montague was to visit the Bookmill.

Located as part of the Bookmill complex is a branch of Northampton's Turn It Up records.

The restoration of the front of Northampton's Academy of Music appears to be complete. Looking good!

Pumpkins for sale at Northampton's Stop and Shop.

Pumpkins for sale at Northampton's Serios. That picture of a woman in the window is someone (the owner?) who I remember used to always sit in front of Serios and when she died they put her picture in the entrance so that she could continue sitting there posthumously.

The pond in the back of Springfield's Saint Michael's Cemetery showing the old Picknelly Estate, which is now a daycare center for MassMutual.

An entrance to a crypt in Saint Michael's.

The playground of Springfield's World Famous Thomas M. Balliet Elementary School. At least now it has grass, when I was a kid it was a rocky dustbowl.

A time capsule now abandoned by the closing of the original Balliet.

Balliet totem of a sort that was put up at schools all over the city in the 80's. I wonder which politician's relative in the cement business cashed in on making those worthless things.

Look at how badly designed this strip mall on Boston Road in Springfield is from an environmental perspective. I can remember when I was a kid how it was all woods here before they cut down all the trees to put in a Topps Department Store and a Shoprite. It is set so far back from the road that there's all this dead space where no one parks. Those trees died for nothing.

The environmental crimes against Springfield are surpassed only by the political ones.

Today's Video

Goldwater is a new Northampton band. The name may refer to a famous Arizona Senator, or some kind of musical alchemy or maybe they just call themselves that because every band needs a name. Here's Goldwater playing in Hamp last weekend.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Discriminatory Practices

Erasing the Legacy of the 80's

The University of Massahusetts has a proud history, despite having had students like me. But even in the rogues galelry of my family history there was my Uncle Steve Willis who played for UMass in the 1920's and then went on to play professional football for the Springfield Acorns. In fact it's safe to say that during every period since its founding UMass has always had much to be proud of.

However, some eras were certainly better than others, and a certain low point was reached at UMass during the 1980's. That was when political correctness ran rampant on campus, and a number of bad policies were implemented. For example pages of the UMass Collegian were set aside weekly for various "grievance groups" to rant about how oppressed they felt. Sections of dorms were set aside to segregate such groups. There were takeovers of campus buildings with the demand that members of the grievance groups receive more money or power or both, and the administration usually caved-in to their demands. There were also a number of racist or sexist "incidents" where no perpetrators were ever caught but the incidents resulted in actions favorable to the grievance group even when suspicion fell on persons belonging to that group. The university library, which never had a name in the more than a decade since it was built, was rededicated in the 80's in honor of W.E.B. Dubois, an admirer of both Adolph Hitler and Mao Zedong. Eventually even the beloved UMass Minuteman came under attack as a "white patriarchal oppressor bearing a gun."

Fortunately, like all fevers this foolish phase of political correctness passed, and the bad policies were gradually repealed, leaving only the misnamed library as its legacy. However in an excellent article in this morning's UMass Collegian, writer Alana Goodman reveals that another unwanted vestige of that era remains - automatic seats on the student government which are allocated by race and ideology. Some excerpts:

As we prepare to swear in our elected representatives to the SGA Senate next week, UMass students should be aware that 13 percent of our SGA Senators will not have even competed in Tuesday’s elections. Instead, they will be appointed to their positions before the election results even come in, solely on the basis of skin color.

This portion of the Senate is appointed by a registered student organization (RSO) called the African American, Latino, Asian American, and Native American (ALANA) Caucus (no relation to this columnist). Only minority students who fit one of those four racial categories– or other students who the Caucus approves as “minority allies”– are considered eligible for these Senate seats.

Proponents of the ALANA Caucus will argue that anyone can be a member of the group and have access to its appointed seats, and they may be right– technically. On paper, RSO’s like the Caucus are open to all fee-paying UMass undergrads. But while most RSO’s actively work to recruit a large membership, the ALANA Caucus doesn’t; you will almost never see their members “tabling” in the Student Union or advertising their meetings to the general public. They seem to prefer their organization small and close-knit, and why shouldn’t they? Unlike other RSO’s, ALANA’s annual funding isn’t contingent on the size of its membership – the SGA’s “ALANA Caucus Reserves Fund” earmarks an exorbitant $10,000 for the Caucus each year.

Not only is this practice undemocratic and unfair to non-minority students, but Goodman explains that it appears to be illegal as well:

In a December 23, 2003 memo, the UMass General Counsel Terence O’Malley informed former Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Mike Gargano that the Caucus seats violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which prevents state governments from discriminating against individuals based on race or ethnicity.

“It is my opinion that the approval of the ALANA representation provision by the Board of Trustees would be unconstitutional,” wrote O’Malley. “The proposed [ALANA Caucus] amendment reserves positions in the student senate on the basis of race or ethnicity.”

On the advice of the Counsel, Gargano asked the SGA to remove the race-based appointments. Instead, the Caucus promptly branded Gargano a “racist” and held campus rallies comparing him to Satan.

In the wake of controversy surrounding the issue, the illegal race-based seats were never removed.

But now the subject is being broached again by the new Vice Chancellor, Jean Kim. On August 26, Kim sent a memo to SGA President Ngozi Mbawuiki asking that the race-based seats be removed by March 1, 2010. Hopefully Mbawuiki complies and puts an end to the Caucus’ exclusion of students who don’t possess the “right” skin color or the “correct” mindset.

It was nearly 55 years ago, after all, when Rosa Parks stood up against race-based seating on public busses. But today, right here at UMass, seats of a different kind are still being allocated on the basis of race and ideology. It wasn’t right then, and it isn’t right now.

Radio Blogging

Hey this is one of my pieces for WHMP. I like how they added polka music and Rod Stewart. To listen click here.

Tasteless but Funny

Around Amherst

Mount Norwottock.

The last sunflowers.

It's sad to see another school year begin and the Jeffrey Amherst Bookstore standing vacant.

Anti-war activists in the UMass Campus Center.

Today's Video

Today Bruce Springstein turns (gulp) sixty. Gosh, everybody's getting so old - good thing that ain't happening to me!

The first time I saw Bruce Springsteen was as a teenager when I hitchhiked from Springfield up to UMass to crash their Spring Carnival. Here's an account of that UMass Springsteen show by Jim Laford (class of 1976) with photos:

On a cold June day in 1973, close to 18,000 UMass Amherst students streamed into the football stadium to eat, drink, and listen to music as part of Spring Carnival week. Three bands were scheduled to play: Cold Blood, It’s a Beautiful Day, and the Elvin Bishop Group.

A few days before the event, the concert committee learned that the Elvin Bishop band had split up. Luckily, they had a replacement, someone they described as “a breaking talent.”

At 1 P.M. on June 5, to no fanfare, a young Bruce Springsteen and his band took the stage.

Because they were unknown, you can see from one photo that students just walked by the front of the stage with little notice. Not until a few years went by did I realize who that opening band was.

I still consider myself a Springsteen fan, although my enthusiasm faded as the music became more acoustic and the songwriting got preachy. But this video from 1975 captures the original magic.