Sunday, December 24, 2017
The woodland way into downtown Northampton was an icy deathtrap this morning, but I traversed it safely thanks to my nimble footed agility.
Something to be grateful for this holiday season - no broken bones!
This King Street restaurant is available if you happen to be having a "Christmas Story" type holiday.
Soon I arrived at a cozy coffee shop.
The view out the window.
It was a Santa-driver who drove me into Amherst.
The Boy Scouts sold out their whole stock of Christmas trees, as they do every year.
Here is me on Christmas morn about ten years ago.
This morning's bus driver wears a Santa hat better than I do.
Saturday, December 16, 2017
I was surprised and dismayed to see an obituary in the paper for ex-Springfield cop Robert Brown. Surprised, because I didn't know he was even still alive, and dismayed because he was a colorful character on the local political scene for many years. The picture that ran with the obit was obviously taken many years before his death recently at age 89:
In the Diary of J.Wesley Miller, there is a great anecdote about Brown and an encounter he had with the Springfield Police Commission:
Retired Police Officer and labor activist Robert Brown came to visit today. He arrived at 2:55 and I served strawberry shortcake and sherry, of which he had several refills. Brown told me that he used to go to First Church but the new minister there talks about Martin Luther King all the time instead of God so he stopped going. His father was a truck driver from Rumford, Maine. Brown is 76 years old and has six kids, three boys and three girls. He graduated from Tech High in 1945.
Brown said he hopes the Feds get something on Albano after all the trouble he caused the Patrolman's Union. Brown also told me of how "Efrem Gordon saved my ass!" It all started when Brown made an important arrest and two cops who arrived later wanted to put their names on the arrest report too. Brown refused to give them false credit and the cops got mad and said they'd get even.
One day Brown stopped to chat for a few minutes in a barbershop in Six Corners and the cops who were mad suddenly barged in and accused him of sleeping on the job and turned him in. He was hauled before the Police Commission chaired by the hard-nosed Beaumont Herman, who suspended him without pay for three days. Brown cried out, "Your Honor, I'm getting the shaft!" Bo Herman stood up and shouted at him not to use profanity and suspended him for another three days.
Brown went to see Efrem Gordon and Effie said he'd been before the Police Commission many times and that he would help him out. At the appeal Atty. Gordon showed that there were inconsistencies in the accusations against Brown and brought in dictionaries that showed the word "shaft" is not obscene. Bobby Brown was exonerated and thereby became the first guy to ever beat the Police Commission. Later Brown went to Efrem and told him that with six kids he didn't know how he could afford to pay him but Gordon said forget the bill because, "I've had so much fun beating the bastards!"
The dirt road that goes past my backyard is covered with ice.
Craig Chaquico of Jefferson Starship has a new band. As you can hear below, it is very good.
Monday, December 11, 2017
As the first rays of the rising sun struck the woodland way into downtown Northampton yesterday morning I was surrounded by beauty in all directions.
Hamp's Happy the Homeless Frog is all decked out for the holidays.
Snow on the pumpkins outside Iconica Cafe, in the alleyway outside the Haymarket.
While looking through my archives for something else, I stumbled across this old newspaper clipping from 1974 about my former Thomas M. Balliet Elementary School and Duggan Junior High School classmate Frank Bourbeau, describing the circumstances of his tragic death.
I put a scan of the article on Facebook, thinking there might be a few souls out there who may still remember Frank and his family. I was surprised by the response!
Amazing how much people still have to say about this family, 43 years after Frank was killed in an accident for which drugs and alcohol were blamed.
Also on Facebook this week....
Last week I went to a birthday party for Amherst's poetic superstar Emily Dickinson at the Robert Frost Library on Amherst College. The old gal ain't doing too bad for 187 years old. Here's 69 seconds of what went down.
Tuesday, December 5, 2017
Even the most harsh critic of Massachusetts State Senate President Stanley Rosenberg would have to feel pity for the pain expressed in the Senator's face in this Boston Herald photo by John Wilcox.
That is truly the look of a man whose whole world is collapsing right before his eyes. Rosenberg has stepped aside as Senate President while an investigation of undetermined length is undertaken into a sordid sex and influence peddling scandal involving Rosenberg's young husband Bryon Hefner. The step aside is supposed to be temporary, but no one expects Rosenberg to return. As Boston Globe columnist Scott Lehigh put it, “Make no mistake, he is done. When you step aside, you don’t step back, and Rosenberg knows as much.”
It is hard not to sympathize with Rosenberg, at least to some degree. He had spent most of his 32 year career as a state legislator, first in the House and then the Senate, as the ultimate political nerd and policy wonk. It is a common complaint that politicians don't bother to read the bills they pass, but that was never a complaint of the Amherst/Northampton voters who lived in Rosenberg's district. Everyone knew that Stan had no life, and spent most of his weekends in his lonely apartment, pouring over legislation. This made him invaluable to his fellow colleagues as the one to consult on questions about the finer points of legislation, which no doubt helped to pave the way for Rosenberg's long career climb. But Stan wasn't happy.
Or so he said when he suddenly announced that he was gay, which was something everybody already knew but which no one would talk about because Stan himself never did. While his emergence from the closet was greeted with yawns, people were quite surprised when he soon made another announcement: Stan was in love and having a serious affair with a man young enough to be his grandson. This was treated as happy news by most, who were glad to see that poor old nerdy Stan finally got himself a steady boyfriend! Almost everyone wished him and his young companion, ultimately his legally wedded husband, all the best.
However, problems surfaced early. It turned out that young Bryon wasn't content to just be Rosenberg's loyal companion, instead he seemed to want to get involved with some of the back room drama of statehouse political intrigues. Social network postings surfaced showing Bryon saying insulting things about major political players and trying to use his closeness to President Rosenberg as a means of injecting himself into policy discussions. The resulting uproar caused Rosenberg to promise that he would erect a "firewall" between Bryon and legislative activities. Thus did Bryon fade from view, at least officially.
There were, however, tidbits of gossip about the couple that kept surfacing. Unverifiable back channel sources long whispered that the sexual side of the relationship between Rosenberg, who is in his late sixties, and Bryon, who is barely thirty, was partially an open marriage. Allegedly, in deference to the stronger sexual appetite of the younger man, Stan agreed to look the other way if Bryon had an occasional fling with younger guys on the side. If so, this is not unheard of even in straight marriages, where the aging tycoon marries a young trophy wife and pretends not to notice that she has a thing going with the pool boy. If any of this accurately describes the Rosenberg/Hefner marriage, then perhaps the groping behavior alleged to have been committed by Hefner is merely this side of their relationship having gotten out of hand, quite literally.
Whatever the truth is, more and more salacious details are bound to keep surfacing for as long as Rosenberg is still on the statehouse scene, with a drip, drip, drip string of revelations that will keep producing sordid headlines like this:
So c'mon Stan, it's time to officially call it quits. You've been in the legislature over three decades, dude, it's supposed to be a legislative body, not a freakin retirement home! You've already had one cancer scare, go out and have some fun while you still can. Get Bryon out of that substance abuse rehab you stuffed him into to get him away from the media and instead take your cute, bow-tied boy-toy on a long, luxurious, around the world vacation, far from the reach of bad publicity back home, and don't come back until after the 2018 elections, when somebody else will have been elected to your seat. At this point, that's the only happy ending scenario you've got, Stan.
By the way, it will be interesting to see who will run to succeed Rosenberg. The instant front-runner would probably be Northampton State Rep. Peter Kocot. Another major contender would be Amherst State Rep. Solomon Golstein-Rose, although he is a political neophyte who is still in his first term. There are also other ambitious people in Northampton politics who might also be interested. Narkewicz? Dwight? Adams? Will Hampshire Gazette columnist Dr. Jay Fleitman seek the GOP nomination? Whatever happens, the battle to replace Rosenberg promises to offer political entertainment of the highest order.
A Majestic moon nestled in turbulent clouds over Amherst this week.
Tuesday, November 28, 2017
Much has been made of the complete freak out of the American Left over the election of Donald Trump. Indeed, in a lifetime of observing politics, I have never seen such a total refusal of the losing side to accept the results of an American presidential election. That refusal is all the more ironic because at one point during the 2016 presidential debates, Donald Trump refused to promise that he would accept the election results, causing a great outcry from Democrats who declared that Trump's hesitancy was a threat to democracy itself. The Democrat Party's media allies chimed in with solemn editorials demanding that Trump publicly accept in advance whatever the results were, with everyone of course at that time assuming that Trump would lose. So what did we hear from the Democrats when Trump unexpectedly won?
But is this angry denial on the Left so unique? Recently I discovered in the archives of The Diary of J. Wesley Miller this old issue of the Valley Advocate, which had on its cover a simple and concise response to the defeat of John F. Kerry by George W. Bush way back in 2004:
So maybe the more things change, the more they stay the same. Can it be that modern Democrats have pretty much always been graceless losers? Anyway, in that same issue of the Advocate, I was surprised to find a brief, pre-election interview with me that I had completely forgotten about. It was part of a series of interviews the Advocate did before the election with people like myself who have a reputation for sometimes sorta knowing what they're talking about when it comes to politics, but before the actual election results were known, with those results determining who was a guru and who was a fool. Here's the interview:
Tom Devine, the force behind the long running Baystate Objectivist website, told the Advocate in an interview that he is hardly optimistic about a future under Bush or Kerry.
Advocate: How do you see the future of the country if Bush wins the election?
Devine: Because of our system of checks and balances, it is almost impossible to govern America from anywhere but the center. Therefore, any tendency of Kerry to be too liberal or Bush too conservative is likely to be reigned in. For example, Bush's desire to insert religion into public life will continue to be slapped down by the courts, while any attempt by Kerry to socialize medical care will probably be no more successful than Clinton's was.
Ironcially, on the issue where there is the most passion, the war in Iraq, there is actually the least disagreement between the candidates once you cut through the rhetoric. Anti-war voters counting on Kerry to radically alter Bush's policies are likely to be bitterly disappointed. What I fear most in a second Bush term is further curtailment of civil liberties in the name of fighting terror. If we are not careful, such restrictions could send us down a slippery slope that may land us where we don't want to be when it's too late to do anything about it. And look for a big escalation of the war against the insurgents in Iraq. Bush has been holding back because of the fear of a lot of casualties before the election, but all restraint will be gone after November 2.
How do you see the future of the country if Kerry wins the election?
I have a digital copy of a picture Kerry once gave to the now disgraced former Springfield Mayor Michael Albano. On it Kerry writes, "Mayor Mike, you're the best!" I'm fearful of whether someone who would write that has the judgement to be appointing Supreme Court justices.
Do you see a difference for the future of your community if Kerry wins or if Bush wins?
As a Western Mass peson primarily interested in issues of liberty, I am not particularly hopeful about either candidate. I've learned over the years that politics is not likely to be a means of solving problems. I trust technology to fix things more than politics. Most of the time politics is a farce that will only break your heart.
These are some views from the top of the parking garage of Union Station in Springfield I took in September. Here's looking across towards the former bus station.
Looking towards the Springfield Newspapers.
Looking towards the post office and beyond.
Tuesday, November 21, 2017
It's been a year since the stunning presidential election of 2016, and I clearly recall where I was when the biggest electoral upset in American occurred. For reasons I won't get into here, I spent that Election Night in circumstances that meant I had no access to a television set or computer. Instead, all I had was a radio, and not a very good one. It had difficulty getting stations, and the only one that was coming in at all clear was WHMP in Northampton. For their presidential election coverage, they had the analytical team of Greenfield reporter Chris Collins and leftist Attorney Bill Newman.
I didn't mind my limited media access, because I didn't expect to hear much good election news that night anyway. I recall that the first time I realized something unusual was up was when I heard that exit polls were showing that about 25% of Hispanics voted for Trump, only a few percentage points less than Mitt Romney got in 2012, meaning that despite Trump's controversial statements about some immigrants, Republican Hispanics were sticking with their party. Later it became apparent that Virginia, the home state of Tim Kaine, Hillary Clinton's running mate, was not the landslide win that was expected, meaning Hillary was underperforming even where she should've been winning handily. Then one by one, each of the major states Trump needed to win fell into his column.
It was really something to listen to how the radio hosts Collins and Newman responded as the electoral momentum accelerated in Trump's favor. Chris Collins seemed surprised, but mostly amused to see all the conventional wisdom of the political experts get thrown out the window. As for Atty. Newman, he grew openly despondent, speaking in increasingly apocalyptic terms, until at one point it sounded almost as if he had fallen out of his chair!
A year later, the 2017 elections were much less dramatic, certainly there was little to knock anyone out of their chair. Still, there were some things worth noting, so here's a recap of what went down:
New Jersey - Despite being the state with the largest population in play, this race was basically a snoozer, with little doubt of the outcome at any point in the campaign. In this heavily Democratic state, to no one's surprise the Democrat won handily to succeed the very unpopular retiring Republican incumbent Chris Christie, who squandered his popularity trying to appease Democrats and Republicans equally, thereby succeeding in alienating both. Christie's terrible fall is a sobering warning to all GOPers who think they can play it both ways and win.
Virginia - This race was more interesting, but not on the gubernatorial level. Here, once again, the Democratic candidate had always been considered the front runner by a comfortable margin of about 15 points. Late polls indicated the race was tightening in the home stretch, but the final nine point win by the Democrat shows that there was only a modest five or six point rightward shift, far too little to make the race competitive. The governorship was already in Democratic hands, so no net gain for the Dems, but there were interesting developments further down the ticket, with Democrats winning a bunch of seats in the state legislature, although not enough to end Republican control.
In both New Jersey and Virginia, polling data showed that Republicans vote totals were just as high as they were in those states in 2015. The difference was that in 2017 the turnout by Democrats was significantly higher. That is good news and bad for the Democrats. The good news is that the Democrats were energized to head to the polls to an unprecedented extent. The bad news is that there is little evidence that the victories were because of Republicans switching their loyalty. Unless Democrats can find a message that can do more than energize the faithful and can actually flip GOP voters, it's hard to see how their modest, widely expected wins in 2017 translate into any longterm threat to Republican dominance nationally, despite wishful thinking by a number of media partisans.
Locally, there were some races of interest:
Springfield held its first municipal election with no mayoral race at the top, resulting in an abysmal turnout, although the political culture in Springfield is so dead at this point that turnout rarely tops even ten percent under any circumstances. One bright spot was the return to the City Council of Tim Ryan, who in a previous stint of service around the turn of the century had been a welcome voice of reason during the dark Albano days. It was also good to see commonsense Councilors Kateri Walsh and Michael Fenton returned by voters. Alas, the other open seat went to leftist activist Jesse Lederman, who while council business rarely has an ideological bent, the position gives Lederman a platform from which to aspire to a higher post in the future where he can do more mischief. Voters would have been far wiser to have chosen Kelly Moriarty-Finn or even Victor Davilla instead. Unfortunately, Henry Twiggs, former aide to sleazy ex-State Rep. Ray Jordan, narrowly survived a strong challenge from reformer Robert Kelly. Political has-been James Ferrara and perennial wannabe Bob Collamore were also not successful. The races for Springfield's rubber stamp School Committee were all yawners and without a single new idea in sight.
Holyoke progressives frowned last year when Mayor Alex Morse rejected lefty darling Bernie Sanders in order to throw his support big time behind Hillary Clinton. The move led to speculation that Morse may have had aspirations of heading to Washington as part of a Clinton administration, and it didn't hurt that Hillary seemed personally taken by the young mayor. Of course, such speculations were dashed by Clinton's defeat, but with Morse's re-election to a first ever four year term, he now has a safe perch from which to wait out Trump's term. He also gained new allies on the City Council, so Morse may have less political resistance from the council than in the past, especially with the unfortunate voluntary retirement of Holyoke's star GOPer Kevin Jordain. Despite a wave of bad publicity over a drunk driving incident earlier this year, David Bartley won re-election with 58% of the vote. And why not? If heavy drinkers were banned from politics, half the seats would be empty.
There were a smattering of interesting races in other locales. In Agawam, Republican City Councilor Robert Magovern made a political comeback, but retiring Mayor Richard Cohen's ambitions to serve on the Council got slapped down by the voters with surprising force. Guess everybody's sick of him. Northampton's Mayor David Narkiewicz romped to victory over one issue candidate John Riley, who ran primarily in protest of rising water fees. Meanwhile, an open mayoral position in Easthampton was won by Nicole LaChapelle, one clueless pink hatted lady beating another in a town being torn asunder by attempts to make the town a haven for foreigners who sneak into the country, and whose high school has been taken over by political correctness enforcers due to carefully orchestrated overreactions to minor so-called "racial incidents." Too bad, Easthampton used to be known for its level headedness, especially compared to its neighbor Northampton, but alas, no more. Greenfield continued down the path of folly it has pursued in recent years by putting incompetent liberals in control of their City Council, ensuring more of the same bad policies that have been dragging that city down.
Oh wow, this is the first time I've ever seen Richie Neal in a meme!
Pine Point 1987.
Pine Point 2017.
Monday, November 13, 2017
Last week I went to a meeting of the Philosophy and Free Thought Club in the UMass Campus Center. Here is a view of the campus out the window of the room where the meeting took place.
The guest speaker was Terry Franklin, best known as one of the Valley's foremost marijuana legalization activists.
However, it was not weed that was the topic of Terry's talk, but instead a room-wide discussion that attempted to answer the questions: Why is there war? How do we prevent it? Don't assume that Franklin is tackling fresh topics because there's nothing left for Franklin to do on the cannabis front since marijuana was legalized by the voters last year. The roll-out of legal pot has been a tawdry, anti-democratic and crony capitalist nightmare, requiring committed activists like Franklin to keep constantly vigilant.
It just happens that Franklin is a serious thinker about a number of issues, including foreign policy. The exchange with Franklin and the philosophically inclined, free thinking students was lively at times, but in the end, the question of why we have wars and how to stop them is one that many have pondered throughout history without finding a successful solution. By the end of the discussion, the challenges of war and peace remained unresolved. Yet, these are questions that are always worth raising.
Every so often, maybe two or three times a year, I like to cut myself off from computers. That means no going online for any reason and leaving my cell phone at home without checking it for 24 hours. Of course, the next day I'm swamped with unanswered e-mails and my voicemail is full, but it's generally worth it. I like to remind myself that the first half of my life I never so much as touched a computer. It may amaze some younger folks, but I was fine with it and had no sense that anything was missing in my life. It helps me to keep my head right to go back to that earlier, non cyber mindspace sometimes.
So what did I do on my phoneless and computer free day? I headed down to my old stomping grounds in Springfield, where I was invited to win and win until I won in ol' Pine Point.
I passed by the Hiram L. Dorman Elementary School, where my Dad and his sister attended.
I also paused at the abandoned gallery of Doyle the Twig Painter, where some sun-faded lithographs still stand in the window.
A nice little walk around the neighborhood, and a worthwhile use of computerless time.