The Baystate Objectivist

The Baystate Objectivist

Friday, September 24, 2010

Political Potpourri

Boy, all the polls are unanimous in predicting bigtime victories for the Republicans in the national mid-term elections to be held on November 2nd. Some are predicting gains in the House of Representatives of as much as 80 or 90 seats, which would dwarf the Republican landslide of 1994 - the so-called "Gingrich Revolution" when 52 House seats were taken from the Democrats.

But the Republicans better be careful. No matter what the polls say now, no one can actually cast their vote in September. What counts is what people are feeling on Election Day! Back in 1948, all the polls were predicting that Republican presidential nominee Thomas Dewey was a shoo-in. However the effect of those polls was to cause Republican voters to become complacent, so that many stayed home on Election Day because they felt certain they would win. On the other hand the Democrats, frightened by the constant warnings of their impending doom, flocked to the polls. That was how Harry Truman got a second term that no one thought he could win.

Personally, I think a greater threat to the Republican's chances than complacency is the recent shift in their message away from the economy, where they have commonsense solutions for economic recovery, to social issues, where they come across as mean and hypocritical and just plain loony. The Republican Party can never be taken completely seriously until they jettison the Christian Right.

In other words, it is time for the libertarians to take over the Republican Party.

Have you seen the new advertisement for south-Valley Congressman Richard Neal? It looks like Richie has got himself a new hair stylist!

However, he'll need more than a new haircut to favorably introduce himself to an electorate that hardly knows him anymore after year after year of automatic re-election. You gotta believe that there is no way that Neal would be hitting the airwaves this early unless he's bought some polling data that shows he's in trouble.

The Student Prince launched its always popular Oktoberfest festivities this week. A great time was had by all despite the attendance of certain undesirables, as captured in this photo by Richard Bulda of Springfield Mayor Dom Sarno and the controversial dealmaker Heriberto Flores.

Meanwhile, here are some Jill Stein for Governor supporters last week at UMass.

A poster on display the same day by the campus conservatives.

Tea Party recruitment even in Northampton.

Me at the monument for Dominic Daley and James Halligan, who were executed unjustly during a wave of anti-Irish hostility that swept Northampton in 1806.

I stumbled upon this graffiti about Northampton Mayor Clare Higgins on the bike path through downtown. I'm not sure if it is intended to be a complement or an insult.

A mud party at UMass.

Last night's harvest moon over Holyoke by Greg Saulmon

Friday, September 17, 2010


For some reason straight people like to think that gay people have special codes or clothes they wear to alert other people that they are gay. I think it makes the straights feel safe, that they don't have to worry about who's queer because they can tell just by looking. It makes them nervous to think that an athletic he-stud or a glamorous sex-kitten might be queer as a three dollar bill. In the dark days of the past when it when it was genuinely dangerous to be open about sexuality maybe you needed certain subtle symbols that only other gays would know, but that hasn't been true in a long time. The truth is that gay people are just like any other people, and generally act and dress the same as straight people, unless of course they're just playing up to stereotypes for fun in order to mess with the heads of the straights.

That's not to say that there won't always be fashion trends among subcultures. When I was growing up the hot clothing item for gay guys was the baseball cap. Almost no one wore baseball hats on the streets in those days, unless they were on their way to play on a baseball team, and it was sort of an insider gay thing to wear one. But as they say, if you live long enough you'll see everything come back in style, and I have lived to see the day when almost everyone wears a baseball cap, as it has become our unofficial national hat. Although it's lost its status as an item of gay chic, I still wear a baseball cap most days, in that stubborn way most of us have of clinging to the fashions of our youth, even as the hair beneath my hat turns grey.

Oh well, better grey than gone.

Sometimes people buy me baseball caps as gifts. Recently someone gave me a rather unique Pink Floyd baseball cap. Of course there is nothing particularly special about an item of Pink Floyd clothing, as they've been selling them since at least the early '70's. What was unique about this cap was that it looked like it was manufactured many years ago. The Pink Floyd Dark Side of the Moon logo was scuffed and the cloth of the bill was worn ragged in several spots. The black color was faded as if it had been exposed to many years of washings and rainstorms.

Yet the truth was that the hat had been purchased by my friend at the Hampshire Mall the day before! In fact, when I flipped the hat over, I could see on the inside the clean virgin cloth of a hat that had never been worn! I realized that the hat had actually been manufactured to look old and beat up on purpose. Since then I've learned that clothing that is meant to look worn out on the first day you wear it is actually a new fashion trend. Or new to me anyway; look at these allegedly ultra-trendy jeans promoted in a January trend alert.

The trend alert explains:

The vintage/worn look has never been so in. Everywhere you look, you can find a pair of distressed jeans, cut offs, tees, and even tights! While many people opt to ‘distress’ their clothing themselves, many retailers and designers have caught on, and started to make their new clothing look not so new....

According to the trend alert there are also strict rules for wearing new clothes that look old:

The distressed look isn’t for everyone, and can be done completely wrong. There is a fine line between keeping up with a trend and looking like you just rolled out of a garbage bin. Its important to remember that sometimes less is more, and never wear something with a massive hole in it or more than one distressed piece of clothing at a time.

Only one high-priced rag at a time? So if I'm walking down the street wearing my raggedy hat, then I am a true fashionista, but if I wear it with a pair of old jeans then I am suddenly just a bum. Sheesh, with the subtle, hard to follow fashion rules of today no wonder the popularity of nudism is rising.

And don't assume that this fad has anything to do with trying to save money in these times of economic stress by making old clothing seem fashionable. It actually costs EXTRA to buy your clothes already worn out. My scuffed and faded Pink Floyd hat retails for almost $25 dollars, which is about an extra ten bucks to buy it looking like it was rescued from a dumpster!

I realize that some of this is just the silly randomness of fashion. In fact, there is something humorously reflective of the general affluence of our society that we can afford to pay extra just to look like we can't afford new clothes. Tattered hats, ripped t-shirts and holey jeans - hey, it costs a lot of money to look that broke!

Yet I can't help but see in this fad something more disturbing. It's part of a modern phenomenon I first became aware of with the arrival of the national chain Applebee's Neighborhood Bar and Grill.

The food at Applebee's isn't bad, at least not as national chains go, but I remember thinking when I went to my first Applebee's, "Can you really mass produce a neighborhood bar?" I have to say that I share many sentiments with this person's review of a Applebee's in California:

I'm probably opposed to Applebee's as much on principle as I am on the generic food they serve. It really upsets me how these huge national chains are homogenizing our country, erasing all of the regional character that used to differentiate one city from the next. What really gets my goat about Applebee's, however, is how they try to cultivate the false image of a long running family owned neighborhood hang-out joint. You can see this in their obnoxious TV ads and in the sometimes fake local memorabilia that they use to decorate the interior of their restaurants. To the uninitiated, all of the local crap on the walls would seem to lend an air of authenticity to the place, as if it had been a local icon for years and years, when in fact most of the items are likely to pre-date the chain restaurant's existence.

In the Springfield neighborhood of ol' Pine Point where I grew up, we had a genuine neighborhood bar appropriately called The Pine Point Cafe. Here's a picture Jay Libardi took of me outside the joint in 1993.

As you can see, architecturally it was nothing special, really just a cinderblock box. Inside it was just as plain, decorated with nothing but electric booze advertisements and some faded pictures tacked up of drunken evenings from long ago. It was indeed a hard drinking place, where the only barriers to your consumption was your wallet, as no one was ever asked to leave as long as their money held out. If that meant you got so drunk that your friends had to help you home, then that was okay, because it was easy to sympathize with that, Pine Point being the kind of neighborhood where everyone seemed headed toward a tragedy, or getting over one. Everybody knew everyone else, and they sorta cared about everybody else, and that made it a place that was special from anyplace else you could go. I have fond memories of the Pine Point Cafe that even my alcoholism couldn't erase.

The Pine Point Cafe did not have corporate backing. It would not have made an appealing setting for a national TV advertisement. It was not fashionable to say that you went there. Actually it doesn't even exist anymore, unpaid taxes and neighborhood do-gooders having finally forced its doors closed several years ago.

But that dive was real in a sense that I don't think an Applebee's could ever be. Or a pre-tattered Pink Floyd baseball cap. Because no matter how much you pretend that the Applebee's is your oldtime neighborhood bar, or that your tattered cap is the treasured relic of your years of devotion to a classic rock band - deep in your heart you know that the Applebee's just opened last year and that you bought your hat at the mall last week.

What the Applebee's and the hat are meant to be are substitutes for something that's supposed to be authentic in our lives - places and things that reflect memories to be treasured - and the fact that so many people need commercial substitutes for those places and things, in numbers sufficient enough to support a restaurant chain and a line of clothing, says something about the way we live today that is sorta sad.

A pumpkin sale in front of a UMass frathouse yesterday afternoon.

Recently I walked a bit of the Knox Trail in Holyoke. It is a beautiful stroll through the New England forest.

This waterless brook bed illustrates what a dry summer it's been.

Pulaski Park in Northampton continues to be the canvas for a chalk artist. Whoever it is I hope they keep it up. That's a lot of work for something that will only exist until the next cloudburst.

out the bus window on route nine.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Primary Results

What They Mean

Well, the people have spoken, damn them. As usual, nearly all the candidates I endorsed went down to defeat, although there were a few bright spots. Perhaps brightest of all was the unexpected success of Worcester area Attorney James P. McKenna (above with family) who ran a sticker campaign to get on the ballot to challenge State Attorney General Martha "The Wicked Witch" Coakley, who was crushed in the Senate race last winter by the heroic Scott Brown. Coakley was left ripe for being removed from office altogether, but the pathetically inept Massachusetts Republican Party failed to field a candidate against her. Yet now against all expectations Coakley has a challenger after all, proof that once again the Fells Acres Curse is still relentlessly pursuing justice.

Overall turnout sucked. In Springfield and Holyoke a measley 11% voted, leaving it a mystery how the other 89% felt. Democracy has essentially collapsed in those communities, which are now run almost entirely by corrupt political machines. Here are the candidates I endorsed, and the voter's mostly foolish choices, with an analysis of what went right or wrong.

2nd Congressional District

Dr. Jay Fleitman

Dr. Fleitman was defeated by Tom Wesley (above) despite winning in most of the district's largest cities. However, the good Doctor was no match for Wesley's landslide victories in the small towns in the eastern part of the district. Actually that was how Scott Brown was able to carry the district back in January, and reveals the probable path to victory for Wesley in November - let Neal carry the big city machines and then cream him in the suburbs. But first the disappointed supporters of the Doctor must quickly climb aboard the Wesley campaign. Sour grapes divisions are an unaffordable luxury in this noble quest to - as Wesley puts it in his campaign signs - Repeal Neal. Now is the time to unite and move forward.

State Treasurer

Stephen J. Murphy

In this worthless race between the evil political boss Steve Grossman (the winner above) and Boston hack Murphy there could be no victory for the public - any way you look at it neither candidate deserves the office. Karyn Polito is the only credible contender.

State Auditor

Kamal Jain and Michael E. Lake

I believe libertarian Republican Kamal Jain (above) was the better candidate, but alas he had no money to get out his message. However the woman who beat him, Mary Z. Connaughton, is still far superior to the unqualified career politician chosen by the Democrats, Suzanne Bump. The Auditor's race is probably the Republican party's best chance at winning a statewide office this year.

Hampden County District Attorney

Jim Goodhines

I said that Goodhines(above) deserved to win by a landslide margin, but instead he ended up finishing dead last in a field of five. What happened? Hard to say, but my impression is that many voters identified Goodhines with the regime of retiring D.A. Bill Bennett, which was not a plus in this anti-establishment year. The winner was the ethically challenged Steve Buoniconti, who reformers from across the political spectrum must now do everything possible to block. Finishing a distant third was Albano era flunkie Michael Kogut - and somewhere in heaven Gerry Daniele is smiling.

Hampshire/Franklin District Attorney

David Sullivan

My guy won, but who cares? This was the dullest, most over-rated race of the primary season.

State Senate Hampden District

Kenneth G. Condon and Susan Dawson

Condon (above) was narrowly defeated by Agawam's Bob Magovern, who is still a much better choice than Democrat contender James Welch, who has failed to distinguish himself in any way during his time as a state representative. Why perpetuate the incompetence?

2nd Hampden House District

Enrico “Jack” Villamaino

I was shocked when voters failed to elect Villamaino (above with Scott Brown) but the woman who defeated him, Marie Angelides, comes with the highest recommendations and deserves to win in November against the do-nothing incumbent Ashe.

Third Hampden House District

Mark A. Del Negro

Incumbent Rosemary Sandlin (above with the shady Buoniconti) has been a disappointment in every way. It's a mystery how challenger Del Negro could have lost.

6th Hampden House District

Dean C. Vogel

It's a shame that a candidate of Vogel's high caliber was defeated, but winner Gregory Neffinger is more than qualified to go on to victory in November.

9th Hampden House District

Sean F. Curran

Hey, if Curran couldn't win against a convicted felon, who could he beat?

Well, moving on from politics here's a local example of truth in advertising.

The other day I visited the site of the old Mount Tom Ski Resort in Holyoke that closed in 1998. Today the former ski slope is all overgrown.

Here are the ruins of the resort as seen from the top of the slope.

Over the dozen years the resort has been closed all of the buildings have been vandalized. This swimming pool was installed in a futile attempt to keep the resort alive by having facilities that could be open in the summer.

Some of the vandals were conspiracy theorists.

Speaking of the towers, Saturday was the day known by everyone simply as 9/11. A solemn vigil was held in front of Memorial Hall at UMass.

As usual, the town of Amherst made an ass of itself with a silly controversy over whether to fly flags today. Meanwhile the UMass Republican and Democrat Clubs united to turn the "Gossip Wall" (where students sit gossiping each day at lunch) into a sea of flags.

In Northampton there was a display of chalk art on the sidewalks downtown. Included was this flag tribute.

A very artistic dragon.

And this being Northampton, not everyone used the chalk in service to art.

Northampton multi-media artist Dann Vazquez has released this video featuring a variety of Hamp bands.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Saratoga Again

Well I'm back from the big horse races in Saratoga, where I went this weekend with Jordan Williams and photographer Jeff Ziff. There were real horses.

And fake horses.

But no winning horses, which can sorta piss you off.

Meanwhile, sleepy ol' Amherst came roaring back to life over the weekend with the infusion of about 20,000 students from UMass, Amherst College and Hampshire College. Here the UMass Quidditch team rallies the Potter fans this afternoon.

The opening of a new store called Ode in downtown Northampton marks the first time I can recall in years that this block has had every storefront filled.

Say what you will about the bad economy, Northampton is hopping! In fact if you're looking for work, the Mutant Teenage Ninja Turtles (originally created in Northampton) are hiring, provided you know which Smith College sewer to knock on.

Speaking of the Ninja Turtles, here's a song about them being sung on Main Street in downtown Hamp. The words are hard to make out but it's fun to watch the people walk by.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Labor Weekend

Here is a sticker on a car parked in Springfield last night. Is it meant as a warning or a threat?

The reason I was in Springfield was for the last "bike night" concert. I went to three of the ten this summer, and for all the reputation of Springfield as a city of violence, I never once felt a single moment of concern for my safety while attending those events.

I did however feel a twinge of sadness as I passed the vacant site of the old Cafe Manhattan. I had many a fun night there back in the day.

Among the bikes present was this new model Indian, once manufactured in Springfield but now built down South.

Last night's concert featured Kal David, best known in these parts for his days with the Fabulous Rhinestones. Just the kind of show to bring out a historian of local music like Rick Knightly and his wife Sherri.

My neighbor is a parrothead.

Flag over Florence.

The students are returning to the upper-Valley this weekend, and these UMass fratboys have already started the fun with this sign outside their partyhouse.

Big concert this week at Northampton's Look Park, where all the major local bands performed as various nationally known groups. I didn't go, but the ever intrepid Bill Dwight did, with his camera in hand. Here's a shot he took showing the good turnout.

Radio dude Monte Belmonte.

Big Ed Vadas prepares to take the stage.

Paul Rocha and Jim Armenti.

Word is that Spouse stole the show with their impression of Tears for Fears. On the basis of this video I agree, but notice how only the little kids have the sense to dance.

Well I'm off to Saratoga again for the races and hope to return a millionaire! Have a Happy Labor Day and I'll see you in the Big Time.