Thursday, December 30, 2010

Tweener Week

The time between Christmas and New Year's is sometimes called Tweener Week because it falls be"tween" the holidays! It is not to be confused with the term "tween" which refers to people who are ten, eleven or twelve years old and thereby too old to be considered just children, but still not yet old enough to be teenagers. Tweeners can be distinguished by their devotion to their king, Justin Bieber.

Not too much happening really. I saw Bucketman on the bus.

The UMass campus is a scene of silent serenity with the students gone for winter break.

With Christmas over, the Amherst/Pelham Boy Scouts dismantled their tree stand.

A scene from Raos Coffee Shop in Amherst.

A view out the window of the Amherst Starbucks.

We didn't have snow for Christmas, but Mother Nature soon obliged the day after, transforming the woodland path into downtown Northampton into an icy snow-way.

Arriving downtown, I saw our magical town made even more so.

With the snow piled high in the middle of the street.

The only remnant of summer's green was this pot leaf in the window of The Hemp Store.

Happy New Year everybody! I predict that 2011 is going to be a really cool year. If you want to follow me, better look up, because that is where I will be, rising towards the Big Time.

Two boys making fools of themselves in Holyoke in 1978.

Bus passing through downtown Springfield by S.P. Sullivan.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

It's a Holiday

A living statue of Amherst's Emily Dickinson in Thorne's.

At dawn today along the woodland way into downtown Northampton I came upon a scraggly little tree that someone had strung a strip of decorations on.

Here's a video by Northampton artist Dann Vazquez about a real-life local Christmas mystery that concludes with a happy ending.


Monday, December 13, 2010

An Assortment

Of Things

Reclining Buddha in a Northampton alleyway.

Avant-garde filmmaker Ted Lee at Feeding Tube Records.

Here is renowned rock fiddler Eric Lee at Amherst's Black Sheep Deli.

Luke Arevill outside the Haymarket in Northampton.

The old piano in Sam's.

While deleting old pictures from my camera today I came across these shots I'd forgotten about that I took this summer at the abandoned quarry on Mount Tom (that's Mount Thomas to you, buddy!)

No photo can capture the enormity of the wound to the mountain.

Of course in order to go there to get that picture meant ignoring a No Trespassing (or thanks to a prankster vandal, "No Assing" sign) but such barriers mean nothing to the determined citizen journalist.

But be careful when exploring such a place - you never know what kind of maniacs you might run into!

View from atop Tower Square (Baystate West) in Springfield by Roger Devine.

In 2008 some people snuck into the old Uniroyal plant in Chicopee and created a fascinating photo essay.

To check out their adventures click here.

A major new release by Henning Ohlenbusch of Northampton.

Rare 1980's bag from State Line in Wilbraham
from the Pete Sorbi Collection.

Sunday, December 12, 2010


I mean weather.

It is raining like mad today, as you can see from this picture I took this morning as the bus was crossing the Calvin Coolidge Bridge over the mighty Connecticut.

But yesterday morning there was a dusting of snow by my back steps.

Fortunately my trusty Conz allowed me to safely traverse the icy woodland way into downtown Northampton.

Snowprints by the Northampton Courthouse.

It's been so cold lately that the campus pond at UMass appears to be frozen solid.

But looks can be deceiving.

Rebels in the window of Broadside Books.

Getting loud and sweaty in a small space in Amherst.

Holyoke, MA, Nov. 11 2010 by Greg Saulmon

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Ideology of a Pothole

Back in the early 1990's I attended some sort of public meeting devoted to changing the charter of Springfield in a number of ways, but primarily to allow for ward representation. Ward representation did indeed come to Springfield many years later, but not as the result of anything that happened at the dull affair I'm referring to. In fact the only reason that I recall that meeting at all is because of an interesting exchange that took place between the then Mayor Robert T. Markel and a citizen (Fred Whitney?) who wanted a change in the charter to make the city's non-partisan elections reflect the political party the candidates belong to.

In response to that suggestion, Markel said that he felt it would be an unnecessary distraction to introduce party politics into municipal affairs, because he thought that there was no real philosophy of government behind most local issues. "There is no ideology to fixing potholes." Markel said.

I believe that the Mayor was wrong on several points. First, it is silly to say that because the city elections are officially non-partisan, that party affiliation doesn't matter. If you doubt that, ask anyone who ever tried to run for office or get a government job in Springfield who wasn't a part of Springfield's Democrat Party machine.

But even in the specific context of what Markel referred to - the fixing of potholes in the streets - there are profound philosophical questions that must be answered before one can cast the first shovel of pitch into the hole. For example, whose responsibility is it to fix holes in the street? The public or the people who live on the street? Who should pay for it? Taxpayers in general or the people who drive on the road? Who should do the repair work? City workers or a private firm hired to fix it? There is even a moral dimension: Where does the city get the material to fix the pothole? From the lowest bidder or from a firm with political connections? Who will be hired to fix the pothole - the most qualified person or a politician's unemployable brother-in-law? All these questions and more, and how you answer them, are directly related to what political ideology you believe in.

So actually the reverse of what Markel suggested is true. Not only is there an ideological dimension to even the smallest matters of government, but the smaller the matter, the more clear the ideological issues are and therefore the more passionate the feelings of the electorate. It can be easy to get lost in the complexities of a big tax bill being debated in Washington D.C. but everybody knows what the issues are when a pothole is being repaired (or failing to be repaired) and the public reaction is likely to be much more fierce.

Take for example the trash fee controversy in Springfield. It is hardly an issue of enormous importance in the range of Springfield's problems, but it has none the less been the subject of a long, bitter debate. The trash fee dates back to when Springfield was placed under a State Control Board. The Board's job was to sort out Springfield's finances after several decades of grossly incompetent management by a corrupt Democrat Party machine that had driven the city to the brink of bankruptcy. In trying to raise some desperately needed cash, the Control Board decided to temporarily charge an extra fee to residents to get their trash picked up.

The public was righteously pissed-off. For one thing, picking up the trash had always been just another public service included with the price of your property taxes. To suddenly treat it like a special service requiring a special fee felt to most citizens like an obvious rip-off. But more importantly, it was just plain wrong, after all the money that had been stolen by Springfield's crooks, to then turn to the long-suffering taxpayers and demand that they cough up the cash to cover the resulting shortfall. Whatever Springfield's problems, absolutely none of them were in any way caused because the residents of Springfield were under-taxed. On the contrary, the struggling remnants of the city's business community were (and still are) the most highly taxed of any of the 351 cities and towns in Massachusetts. To many observers, the trash fee seemed like a case of punishing the victims.

So it was no surprise that the public debate has been very heated over the years over the trash fee, in many ways more passionate and more personal than any other issue in Springfield. The only silver lining was that the trash fee was, at least technically, supposed to be temporary and due to expire in June of next year. Of course no one believed that it would actually be temporary. Rainbows, summer days and orgasms may be temporary, but never taxes.

Therefore it is no less than miraculous that the Springfield City Council (or Clowncil, as it is generally called) actually voted the other night to let the trash fee die as scheduled in the spring. If the vote sticks (nothing is necessarily permanent in the Alice in Blunderland world of Springfield politics) then the ideology of good government will finally have triumphed, at least on this one issue, over the ideology of insiders playing the public for a sucker any way they can. Then perhaps at last the infamous trash fee can be permanently dismissed as just another sordid chapter in the perpetual mismanagement of Springfield.

Saulmon/Murray graphic

At UMass I noticed this fading fragment of a political sticker on a lamppost. I'll be damned if that isn't a leftover from the Vietnam War era!

There's Waldo!

Unite? Behind what?

Damon in Northampton.

Sasquatch in Amherst

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Valley Violence

We haven't had any snow yet this year, but the weather was still pretty cold today for Mayor Higgins' charity race through downtown Northampton to raise money for a domestic violence shelter.

Hey, no fair letting goats compete - they have four legs!

A drummer boy on the sidelines.

No doubt there is violence to combat, domestic and otherwise. For example, look at this video of a domestic disturbance on the streets of Holyoke. Frankly, the commentary of the videographer is also disturbing.

Me, I like to hang out in the Haymarket.

Where all is mellow.

Trippy mellow in downtown Hamp.

Springfield 1980's

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Naming Names

The Boston Globe has published a long list of government employees whom they suggest got their probation department jobs through political influence, often involving Ludlow's State Rep. Thomas Petrolati. Another name that appears again and again on the list is retiring State Senator Stephen J. Buoniconti of West Springfield. He is retiring against his will because voters refused to elect him Hampden County District Attorney earlier this month. Oh how the mighty are falling! Just weeks ago Buoniconti was a power-player with an unlimited political future - but now he has lost it all and frankly it couldn't happen to a more deserving guy!

Anyway, who were the people on the Globe's roll call of shame that are from Western Mass? Well you can look through all 250 names searching for the one's with local ties, but I've already done all the hard work for you and hereby present them right here for your perusal. The drum roll please:

Stephen Ashe
Acting Chief Probation Officer, Hampden Superior Court
Son of Hampden County Sheriff Michael Ashe

It's all in the family when it comes to passing out the jobs!

Alfred E. Barbalunga
Chief Probation Officer, Southern Berkshire District Court
Son of retired Pittfield District Court Judge Alfred A. Barbalunga

It was the Judge's judgment that his son was the most qualified!

Brian Clune
Probation Officer , Palmer District Court
Former aide to Sen. Stephen J. Buoniconti, D-West Springfield

Voters may have shown Buoniconti the door, but not before his aide snagged a permanent payday.

Antoinetta DeAngelis
Probation officer, Holyoke District Court
Daughter of former Probation Supervisor Nicholas J. DeAngelis

Isn't it amazing how often the most qualified applicant turns out to be someone in your own family!

James J. Ferrera III
Springfield City Councilor

How nice to be able to supplement your measly Council salary with a full-time state job. Two government checks are certainly better than one!

Frank M. Glenowicz
Acting Chief Probation Officer, Franklin Superior Court
Bartender at Joe's Pizza in Northampton, a bar frequented by former Probation Deputy Commissioner William H. Burke III

It must have been a hell of a pizza he served to get a state job for a tip!

Christopher Hoffman
Acting Chief Probation Officer, Hampshire Superior Court
Bartender at Joe's Pizza in Northampton, a bar frequented by former Probation Deputy Commissioner William H. Burke III.

Hey bartender make mine a double - a state paycheck with a fat pension on the side!

Jennifer Crespo. Martins
Associate Probation Officer, Chicopee District Court
Niece of Probation Officer John Crespo. Married to Probation Officer Jason Martins

After searching far and wide for a qualified candidate, only a family member could be found.

Jason Martins
Probation Officer, Springfield District Court
Husband of Associate Probation Officer Jennifer Crespo Martins

Keeping the paychecks and the bennies all in the family!

Kevin M. McDonald
Probation officer, Eastern Hampshire District Court
Son of former Greenfield District Court Chief Probation Officer Paul McDonald

Hey Daddy, I need a job!

Maura E. McDonald
Probation officer, Springfield District Court
Daughter of former Greenfield District Court Chief Probation Officer Paul McDonald

Yes Daddy, and don't forget daughter dearest!

Sean P. McDonald
Probation officer, Hampshire Superior Court
Son of former Greenfield District Court Chief Probation Officer Paul McDonald

Yeah Pop, and don't forget loyal son number two!

Andre Pereira
Assistant Chief Probation Officer, Eastern Hampshire District Court
Former legislative aide and childhood friend of Rep. Thomas M. Petrolati, D-Ludlow.

Growing up with Petro can prove quite profitable.

Kathleen Petrolati
Regional Manager, Electronic Monitoring Program
Wife of Rep. Thomas M. Petrolati, D-Ludlow

After an exhaustive but futile search for a qualified candidate, Petro discovered the perfect applicant lying right next to him in bed!

Francine Ryan
Supervisor, Probation Services, Office of the Commissioner
Daughter of the late Hampden County District Attorney Matthew J. Ryan, Jr.

Yet another way that Matty got the last laugh on the taxpayers.

Robert P. Ryan
Chief Probation Officer, Eastern Hampshire District Court
Husband of Rep. Thomas M. Petrolati's aide, Colleen Ryan

No family member need suffer unemployment when you're in with Petro.

Elizabeth Pereira. Tudryn
Probation Officer, Springfield District Court
Niece of Andre Pereira, Assistant Chief Probation Officer in Eastern Hampshire District Court and former aide to Rep. Thomas M. Petrolati.

There may be a few I missed, so if you look at the list yourself and spot any others please let me know. In any case, one thing is for sure, once you're in with Petro the paydays never stop!

Of course it is good to be reminded that not everything politicians do is evil, for example here is State Senator Stan Rosenberg collecting for charity on Main Street in Northampton.

In the window of Broadside Books.

Yesterday morning at the Haymarket.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Amherst Thanksgiving

The students at UMass have all fled the campus to head home for Thanksgiving. The normally mobbed and chaotic Student Union lobby is like a ghost town.

All that remain are the campus pond ducks.

But where a crowd could be found was at the Amherst Community Thanksgiving put on by The Amherst Survival Center at the Lutheran Church.

I sat and ate with my young friends named Sage and Ursa. "I hate camera flashes!" said Sage.

Of course two Springfield boys will always spot each other in a crowd - Kevin Noonan is not presently on a political hunger strike.

State Representative Ellen Story was among the town dignitaries in attendance.

But the radical political activity was outside, where the Marijuana Liberation Front was engaging in a little activism in the parking lot.

Hey everybody, hope you have a great Thanksgiving!

Here's some people acting weird and dancing down by the Holyoke canals.

Time Traveler by A. Mateus