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