Saturday, January 31, 2009

Red and Blue

Final Figures

For you political junkies, here's a graphic showing how each county in the nation voted in the 2008 Presidential election. Notice how in New England only one county up in Maine voted for McCain. The Republican Party is indeed all but dead in our region of the country.

Farewell Poem

Here's a great poem by the recently departed Massachusetts writer John Updike about getting too old to die young.

It came to me the other day:

Were I to die, no one would say,

‘Oh, what a shame! So young, so full

Of promise - depths unplumbable!

Instead, a shrug and tearless eyes

Will greet my overdue demise;

The wide response will be, I know,

‘I thought he died a while ago.’

For life’s a shabby subterfuge,

And death is real, and dark, and huge.

The shock of it will register

Nowhere but where it will occur.

(From Endpoint, a new collection of Updike poems to be published by Knopf in September ‘09)

In Danger

People in Northampton are concerned because the gay store is for sale. Shops of that type don't always find a buyer.

Then again, if a store like that can't prosper in Northampton, where can it?

Missing Animals

I went over to the farm at Hampshire College to check out the animals. However when I got there not a creature was to be found anywhere with not even any footprints in the snow. Wonder where they went to?

I decided to walk a little ways up to the Hampshire College sugar shack, perhaps to purchase some of their delicious Pioneer Valley maple syrup. But alas, they were closed.

Some days you just can't win for trying.

Going Overboard

I've said before that I think alcohol should be illegal, but even I can't abide this silly political correctness controversy playing out in England. According to the BBC:

Drunken sailors" have been removed from the lyrics of a nursery rhyme in a government-funded books project.

But the Bookstart charity says the re-writing of What Shall We Do With the Drunken Sailor? has "absolutely nothing to do with political correctness".

The charity says that the shift from drunken sailor to "grumpy pirate" was to make the rhyme fit a pirate theme, rather than censorship.

"Put him in the brig until he's sober," has also been lost in the new version....

The original includes such suggestions as: "Shave his belly with a rusty razor", "Stick him in a bag and beat him senseless" and "Put him in the hold with the captain's daughter." The captain's daughter was a euphemism for a lashing from a cat o' nine tails.

This is the latest in a series of disputes over nursery rhymes. There were complaints in 2006 about pre-school children attending two nurseries in Oxfordshire being taught "Baa Baa Rainbow Sheep".

Last year, a story based on the Three Little Pigs fairy tale was turned down by a government agency's awards panel as the subject matter could offend Muslims. A digital book, re-telling the classic story, was rejected by judges who warned that "the use of pigs raises cultural issues".

However, a study in 2004 showed that nursery rhymes exposed children to far more violent incidents than an average evening watching television - including Humpty Dumpty's serious head injury.

That reminds me of the reformer who wrote in the paper that politicians were "spending money like a drunken sailor." A Navy vet wrote in and complained that as a former drunken sailor he resented being compared to a politician.


I like this picture someone sent me of Stephen Geoffreys:

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More Endless Winter

You know we've had enough of winter when you see this:

It snowed again today, not much but enough to dust the frog statue over the container in front of Hamp's First Church where you give money to the poor.

I was surprised to hear an advocate for the poor criticize that statue because the frog seems to be happily relaxing, giving the impression that the poor are just lazily waiting for a handout.

Today in Amherst I ran into Local Buzzer Greg Saulmon.

He was at UMass to cover the rally on behalf of Jason Vassell, who was arrested a year ago over a fight that some say had racist overtones. I don't really know what to make of the case. While Vassell hardly seems the purely innocent victim his defenders claim he is, there also seem to be legitiment questions about how he's being prosecuted. To check out Greg's coverage click here.

Today's Video

I like this hot clip of Marines doing the Cha Cha Slide in Iraq.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Boehner Rising

For Obama it's Getting Harder.

House Minority Leader John Boehner

Occasionally congressional leaders become nationally known figures, like Tip O'Neil or Newt Gingrich did. More often they are more low-key, known to political junkies but not very well known to the average person. That was certainly true of U.S. House Minority Leader John A. Boehner until just recently. Now with the Republicans in full rebellion against the wasteful $800 billion spending bill currently being rammed through Congress (with more and more Democrats also expressing their misgivings) Rep. Boehner is emerging as the point man in the growing struggle to save the public from a major rip-off.

Amazingly, not a single Republican voted for the stimulus bill. President Obama, who was supposed to be the great unifier of a post-partisan era, has instead proven to be instantly polarizing and has completely alientated the other side after less than two weeks in office. But it isn't just against the stimulus rip-off that Republicans have united, they have also rallied behind their fast rising leader Boehner. According to Politico he received a hero's welcome last night:

The assembled Republicans rose in a standing ovation Thursday night when Minority Leader John A. Boehner of Ohio showed them a C-SPAN video of the vote itself, according to people present. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) told the group that Wednesday’s vote reminded him of a roll call in 1993, when Republicans forced Democrats to pass a tax increase without a single GOP vote. And conservative Arizona Rep. John B. Shadegg offered a toast to many of his more moderate Republican colleagues who opposed the legislation.

“If the Republican Party takes care of America, America will take care of the Republican Party,” the former speaker said.

He then predicted Boehner, his onetime rival, would be speaker “at a speed that will shock Democrats,” according to one person in the room.

Gingrich appeared to be predicting that history will repeat itself and Obama, like the last Democrat president Bill Clinton, will lose control of Congress two years after taking office, a blow from which the Clinton presidency never recovered and which would be equally devastating to Obama.

In a statement on his website Rep. Boehner made the following statement on the worsening prospects for the stimulus bill:

“This was a bipartisan rejection of a partisan bill. Families and small businesses across America are struggling, and they are counting on their leaders in Washington for ways to strengthen our economy. House Republicans want to work with congressional Democrats on legislation that fulfills the goal set by President Obama: crafting a bipartisan plan focused on job creation. Unfortunately, the trillion dollar government spending bill before the House today was not that plan, and a bipartisan coalition of Members rightfully rejected it."

Indeed eleven Democrats walked out on Obama and joined the Republicans in trying to kill the bill. The total lack of bipartisan support for the stimulus bill puts Democrats in a position that no politician likes to find themselves in - standing alone in a do or die situation. With no Republican support, if the stimulus fails, as a rising chorus of economists predict it will, then the Democrats are trapped with 100% of the blame. This puts enormous pressure on the Democrats to give in, give up and compromise like mad to do whatever is necessary to get at least some Republicans onboard.

Fairness for All

I'm pleased to see the article this week in the Valley Advocate by Mark Roessler on the use of the publicy owned Academy of Music in Northampton to hold a public gathering celebrating the inauguration of Democrat President Barack Obama. I couldn't help but wonder whether a similar event would have been held had the election been won by Republican John McCain.

Still, I didn't think it was that big a deal, but according to Roessler the event violated the terms of the deed giving the once privately owned Academy to the city:

"First, said granted premises shall be devoted and used solely and exclusively for the delivery of lectures, the production of concerts and operas and the impressions and delineation of the drama of the better character; and such other kindred subjects as shall be approved by the unanimous vote of the Committee or board of management hereinafter named; but said premises shall never be used for political meetings or rallies or for the distinctive presentation of party politics."

I'll still give the city a pass, since no real harm was done, but I'm glad to see this issue being raised, because the use of public property for partisan purposes is a slippery slope. In fact I saw it at its worst when I lived in Springfield.

In Springfield in the Albano era, whenever candidates loyal to the local Democrat political machine ran for office, they were allowed to use the inside of City Hall to hold campaign announcements and press conferences. There was no doubt that this gave the favored candidates an advantage in how they appeared on TV and in photographs, impressing people by making it appear as if the candidates already belonged in City Hall. However, when critics of the local machine tried to use the facilities for their campaign affairs, they were told it was not allowed!

Enter into the picture Brenda Branchini (above) a local hairdresser who decided in 1997 to run for office and wanted to use City Hall for her formal campaign announcement. Branchini was a colorful character, whose Court Square shop was notorious for offering, for an extra fee, the option of having your hair cut by females in very skimpy lingerie. Sadly, that sexy side of her business overshadowed the other aspects of her candidacy, which was a shame because in many ways she ran exactly the kind of issues based campaign one always hoped to see in Springfield but seldom did.

Branchini was bold, sassy, unbossed and unbought, and at one point she held a campaign parade that included homeless people, dogs and cats, sex workers and radicals of all stripes marching down Main Street with flutes, whistles and horns and demanding to be allowed to hold an inside City Hall rally just like those candidates blessed by the political establishment were allowed to do. She was turned away, but the incident attracted media attention. Once it became public that City Hall was being used to stage campaign rallies for priviliged insiders that were forbidden to other candidates, the policy was correctly changed to close City Hall to all partisan political activity.

The situation in Northampton is not as serious as it used to be in Springfield, but lest it devolve in that direction, in the future Northampton should make a special effort to insure that partisan politics stays out of public buildings. In the meantime it seems Springfield is now backsliding, as I notice that an Obama celebration was also held in Springfield at its publicly owned Civic Center. Hey Brenda, it may be time for another parade!

Ruined Restaurant Icon

Photographer Karen Leaf found this age-worn Abdow's Big Boy statue for sale at an antique store. Is it from the Big Boy that was located in Chicopee, or on Riverdale Road in West Springfield or the one on Boston Road in Springfield's 16 Acres?

Found Gems

On a public computer at UMass I found these great pictures someone left behind. They are photographs taken on the UMass campus today showing the aftermath of the latest storm. They were probably originally intended to be put on Facebook or sent to a friend.

The UMass library across a sea of white.

Looking towards the science buildings.

Most of the ducks on the campus pond go south for the winter, but there are always a bunch that for some reason stay behind. With the campus pond nearly completely frozen, these hardy year-rounders are now confined to this small unfrozen section.

The delicate sparkling of the ice in the trees.

The moral - Don't leave photos in public computers or they may end up being seen by thousands.

Today's Video

People have been asking me whether I've started experimenting - as I said I might -with the sleep regimen suggested by Buckiminster Fuller that is supposed to give you thirty hours or more extra awake time. It works by sleeping only every six hours and then for only about a half hour per time. I haven't tried it yet and I don't think I'm going to. People have warned me that it could be bad for my health. It would also be really inconvenient to try to sleep wherever you happened to be every six hours. And how would I wake myself up after a half hour? Would I have to carry around a wind-up alarm clock? Chalk it up to one of those ideas that sound good in theory but are impractical in practice.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Literary Roundup

Stuff to Read

News from the world of literature is always interesting to me, perhaps because I'm a state of Massachusetts certified English teacher, or was until I let my license lapse. All I would have to do is take the test to get it back, but I'm not interested.

Ken Kesey once said that America co-opts its revolutionaries by showering them with money and honors. I doubt at the time he was thinking of his own co-Non-Navigator of the Merry Pranksters, Captain Skypilot Ken Babbs the Intrepid Traveler. I don't know about money, but lately Babbs has been collecting the honors. First he was invited to address the English Department at the Air Force Academy. Babbs is a decorated U.S. Marine pilot, but crossed military lines to speak to the Air Force instructors on how to teach the novels of Ken Kesey. He did arrive decked out in Marine regalia.

It was a challenging audience for the Captain, not exactly beatniks and Deadheads.

However, he said his talk went over well with the military types:

When I got up to speak I shed the blazer to reveal my flourescent orange loggers suspenders to great laughs and cheers. I started the talk with the question, "Is anybody here ready to have a psychedelic experience?" whereupon two cadets raised their hands and cried, "We are."

They were promptly expelled, just kidding, everybody got a good laugh....

Babbs was also honored recently by the Beat Museum. Here he is posing by the official Merry Prankster shirt worn by Neal Cassady.

This is a picture of Neal Cassady when he was a baby.

Just kidding. Here's the real Neal with Allen Ginsberg, no doubt at the time never suspecting that his clothing would be displayed in museums.

The Captain also attended a Dead reunion show (what he calls the "Leftover Dead") and took this picture of a giant turtle appearing on stage.

I'm surprised by how commercialized and mainstream the legacy of the Grateful Dead has become. I can't help but wonder, what would Jerry Garcia have thought of it all?

Style Over Substance

I am saddened to hear of the death of Massachusetts writer John Updike. Despite living in Massachusetts since 1959, Updike was considered the best example of a certain kind of urbane New Yorker style writer. He was indeed a brilliant stylist, although in my opinion Updike's writing often had more style than substance. The subjects of his books always seemed too small for the size of his talent. The Rabbit Runs series for which he was best known was a mean spirited trivialization of the American middle-class male, which made him well loved by leftist literary critics. But for all the praise he received, most of his books were more praised than read. His death was treated as the passage of a literary giant, but I predict Updike's reputation will fade with the passage of time.

Bad Call

Stephen King is not half the stylist Updike was, but I predict that King's books will still be read for generations to come. This 2006 novel was recommended to me because it is the first King book to have a homosexual as a lead character. Frankly I had stopped reading King. Ever since his near fatal accident King's books had become too dark to be fun.

The queer angle is minor in this book that has nothing to do with sex and everything to do with technology. Cell shows King returning to form with a story that is a good mix of funny and scary. Something awful starts happening to people who use their cell phones, which King himself makes known he has never owned. If you're sick of seeing everyone walking around talking on cell phones, then this book is your vengence.

Great God Google

Before he was an internationally known cyber-revolutionary Jeff Jarvis used to advise the company that does Masslive with the Springfield Newspapers. I'll bet today they wish they had offered a big sum of money to keep him. Now he has a book out about the wisdom of Google and its ethos of honesty and transparency. I haven't read it but I'll bet it's good. If you can't afford the book, Google itself gives away for free what it says are its ten most important principles for success online.

1. Focus on the user and all else will follow.
2. It's best to do one thing really, really well.
3. Fast is better than slow.
4. Democracy on the web works.
5. You don't need to be at your desk to need an answer.
6. You can make money without doing evil.
7. There's always more information out there.
8. The need for information crosses all borders.
9. You can be serious without a suit.
10. Great just isn't good enough.

For the background info behind each principle click here.

Endless Winter

More snow last night, so walking downtown at dawn today my woodland way was turned into a snow lined corridor.

Some canines conspired to trick their humans into taking them out so that they could meet and tell dog secrets.

Once downtown Northampton was clogged with snow.

Oh my, not a day for bike riding!

Hey Spring, we're getting more than a little impatient.

Today's Video

This terrible weather reminds me of an old video by Dinosaur Jr. the most successful band ever to rise out of Amherst. I saw their lead guitarist, J. Mascis, wandering around downtown last summer and asked him if I could take his picture. He responded with sign language, putting a finger to his lips and nodding yes. I quickly took the following photo without alerting anyone around us to the world famous rock star in their midst.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Montague Bookmill

The Obligatory Post.

Not much time to blog today, so we'll skip the politics. I can use a break anyway, even I got tired sometimes of my own cynicism.

This afternoon I paid a visit to the Montague Mill. I think every blogger in the Valley except me has posted about it at one time or another, so I'll spare you a rerun of the obvious.

To get there you have to go past the ancient Montague Town Hall. Majestic in its simplicity, the structure was erected way back in 1858. Can't you just picture crowds cheering the end of the Civil War outside that building?

At the time of day I arrived at the Montague Mill the sun was directly behind it, making taking a picture of it impossible. However here's the photo from their promotional brochure: (click to enlarge)

The place is a masterpiece of funky charm, and I spent some time sitting in the sun by a window looking at a picture of paintings by Beatle Paul McCartney.

The paintings sucked, but the peaceful setting was renewing.

Upon leaving I wanted to get a picture of the Sawmill River itself, but found the access to the observation deck blocked by high snow.

Of course we citizen journalists are undeterred by the forces of nature, and so I trudged through the snow pile to reach the fence and capture this postcard image.

Earlier this year historian Robert Young visited the bookmill, and took similar photos under better conditions.

Closer to Home

Speaking of snow piles, the students are arriving back in town this weekend and celebrating the arrival of another semester. The bar business will boom in downtown Amherst tonight, but in the meantime these students piled a wall of snow up to their porch in order to create a snowboarding ramp.

Capitalism in Action

A combination Kentucky Fried Chicken - Taco Bell has opened in the spot of the old Wendy's on King Street in Northampton. I like them both, but I'm not sure how happy the McDonald's is next door, which has been competition free for over a year.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Amazing Shrinking Inaugural

Where Was Everybody?

I know I said I'd drop the inauguration as a topic, but I can't resist a few more tidbits - such as the incredibly shrinking crowd estimates regarding who would and did attend. Originally the Mayor of Washington D.C. Adrian M. Fenty predicted four to five million would attend, a figure widely reported in the media. However, by late December the Washington Post had reduced the estimates to about two million. On the actual day, however, some sources are wondering whether it even set a new record, the old one being held by Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965. Amazingly, the source most qualified to make an estimate, the U.S. Park Service, is forbidden by Congress from making estimates because of political pressure after many sources said the so-called Million Man March in 1995 didn't draw anywhere near a million people, perhaps as few as 400,000. Still the Park Service said it may release an estimate this year anyway, according to the L.A. Times:

Though early estimates ranged as high as 2 million people, satellite images of Obama's swearing-in suggested the crowd was probably about half that, said Clark McPhail, who has been analyzing crowds on the National Mall since the 1960s.

"It was sparser than I thought," said McPhail, a professor emeritus of sociology at the University of Illinois. "There were lots of open spaces...."

Park service spokesman David Barna said the agency probably would produce a number this year because of the historic nature of the event and public demand for an estimate.

"We don't think anyone in Congress will be really upset," he said.

However given the political pressure they've been under in the past which caused them to quit giving estimates, one wonders whether their final figure can be trusted. The L.A. Times also released these discouraging statistics - there were over 900 empty hotel rooms available in D.C. the day of the Inauguration and only 240,000 tickets had been distributed despite the fact that they were free. In any case, as for the original estimates of the Obama inaugural resulting in millions and millions of people flocking to the event - well, nevermind.

Pop-Art Teddy

Among the Valley folk attending the inauguration was Amherst's Mary Carey. Here she is in the office of Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy.

I'm surprised to see how prominently Kennedy displays his portrait by Andy Warhol.

Boxes: Leave Me Out of Them

People ask me sometimes whether I am a liberal or a conservative. They ask this because they think they see elements of both in my political writing in ways they find contradictory and confusing.

My answer is this: neither and both.

The closest I can come to summarizing my ideology is that I'm anti-government, and that applies pretty much to whomever is in power. I don't think either side has a monopoly on the truth, and the smartest thing to do is to pick and choose among the warring factions from whatever side seems most in tune with reality. That will seldom bring you into consistent harmony with the Left or Right. As I wrote a few years ago:

Why are we so obsessed with putting labels on people and putting them into categories? I think it's because we're intellectually lazy, and we believe that if we have little boxes to put people in, with a set of characteristics for each box, then we don't have to go through the difficult, and sometimes scary process of actually getting to know people as individuals. If we think we know the characteristics of those we put in the Jew Box, or the Gay Box, or the Black Box, or the Conservative or Liberal Box, then all we have to know about anyone is what box they belong in and we think we know their major characteristics.

Except when we don't. For example it annoys me when people think, just because I'm queer, that I'm good at interior decorating or fashion. You want me to give you a makeover? Okay, just let me go get my fucking sledgehammer! Because I'm not swishy or feminine I don't fit comfortably into most people's Gay Box. In fact, I'm a mess of contradictions. I live in the richest community in the Valley (Amherst officially surpassed Longmeadow last year) but if someone thinks I'm rich the fact is I'm always on the verge of going broke. I'm constantly bickering with my partner, yet instead of splitting up we have red-hot sex. I'm a classic Valley slacker, but my ambition is to save the world.

Let's do away with these boxes and labels that confound and confuse us more than simplify or explain. Open your mind and your heart and expand your realm of possibilities. It's not that hard, just remember the following the next time you're tempted to slip into your categorizing ways:

Labels are for cans, not people.

Today's Video

This is too beautiful.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


Enough already.

Well the most hyped and expensive presidential inauguration of my lifetime is finally over. The Obama bash cost three times what the Bush inaugural cost in 2004, which is okay I guess but where were the voices this year that we heard so loudly from four years ago who were complaining that the money for the inauguration would be better spent on the poor and suffering?

Oh nevermind, the American inauguration is a sacred ritual to be honored by all. This morning there was a line of people outside Northampton's Academy of Music to watch the ceremony on their big screen. Hmmm, would such an event have been held if John McCain had won the election?

Meanwhile hunger takes no pause for politics, so at noon while our new President was being sworn in we at the Amherst Survival Center were serving lunch to the hungry as usual. Here's me today with Tawanda (left) a student at Amherst College and Dell, a local farmer.

I didn't mind missing the historic moment. I'm sure I'll see it replayed again and again and again and again and again and again.....

I do have one remote connection to the inaugural activities in the performance by someone I've met in person - Pete Seeger! In the early 90's Seeger gave a concert for school kids at the Paramount in downtown Springfield, and to promote it he unexpectedly came over to the studios at WHYN radio to be interviewed by Dan Yorke. Dan asked me to quick tell him something about him, as he had never heard of Pete Seeger! In person Seeger seemed like a real gentle soul. His political opinions are almost childlike in their lack of sophistication, but he always puts out positive energy. Here's a video of Seeger's inaugural performance.

Remember this iconic poster from the Obama campaign?

Well this cool website called let's you create similar posters about yourself. Of course only one word comes to mind when posterizing me:

I recently stumbled upon this old Associated Press article from the Portmouth Herald that has details on the case against former Springfield mayoral Chief of Staff Anthony Ardolino and his bar business that I don't recall hearing before, including testimony from a secret witness:

The government witness, code-named CW-1 in the 2003 affidavit authored by an IRS agent to obtain search warrants, said Campagnari received city-issued licenses to sell beer outside during a summer concert series.

The witness, a former employee of Campagnari, said he was dispatched with envelopes of cash for Ardolino.

"CW-1 stated that he walked over to City Hall and knocked on Anthony Ardolino's side door, which is accessible from the hallway and out of sight from his secretary ... CW-1 stated that he did this for several summers, and that Anthony Ardolino always appeared to be expecting him," according to the document.

Assistant U.S. Attorney William M. Welch II refused to say why charges were not brought against Ardolino in connection with the cash exchanges.

The affidavit also highlights an excerpt from a 1999 telephone conversation in which Chester Ardolino was trying to sell the Civic Pub to convicted loan shark Giuseppe Manzi.

The conversation between Ardolino and Manzi, now serving a federal prison sentence for racketeering, led to the probe of city government....

CW-1 told investigators Campagnari poured cheap liquor into top-shelf liquor bottles and sold drinks at high-end prices. The witness also told investigators that under orders from Campagnari and with the cooperation of an employee of an equipment company, he stole 20 cases of bar glassware.

Sheesh, even the glasses they served the watered-down booze in was ripped off.

Last week there was a concert at the Iron Horse in Northampton featuring local acts doing Rolling Stones songs. Here's a sample.