Thursday, April 28, 2011

Ben Stein at UMass

When promoting your event at UMass, it pays to do so with a smile.

However, the UMass Republican Club preferred to promote their guest speaker event with a rather serious looking display at the Campus Center.

However it seemed to work, as last night they got the largest turnout I've ever seen at a UMass GOP sponsored event.

Maybe the reason for the full house was that the speaker wasn't some dreary conservative politician but the TV and movie celebrity Ben Stein, probably best known for his role in the movie Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Recently his performance in that film was voted by some magazine as one of the 50 funniest scenes in the history of American Cinema.

But Stein is much more than just an actor and comedian. He is a passionate, if somewhat eccentric right-wing activist and a financial expert whose prognostications on economics are respected on Wall Street. He is also a prominent critic of the United States educational system. For reasons that were not explained, Stein demanded that his talk last night not be recorded, but here's his opening remarks which I captured before all cameras were ordered turned off. Normally I would have considered such a command a mere dare, but I wasn't in my kamikaze free speech mode last night and besides I wanted to hear the speech and so I didn't want to get thrown out. In any case, note Stein's praise of the UMass dining services food, a real compliment when you consider how Stein has appeared (and been treated to free dinners) at every major college in the country.

Conspicuous in their absence last night was the presence of rabble-rousing leftists, who in past years have actually driven conservative speakers right off the stage with their antics, sometimes resulting in national negative publicity for UMass. This incident I filmed at a talk by anti-feminist professor Mike Adams in 2006 has become a YouTube classic of campus intolerance.

Despite the Republican sponsorship of the talk, not everything Stein said would please most conservatives. Although he complained that the spending curve has "gone vertical" under Obama, he was critical of the free-spending Bush Administration as well. Stein insisted that tax increases, preferably on the rich, "are inevitable" if the national debt is to be brought under control. He described his next door neighbors Nick Nolte and Barbara Streisand as having three Bentleys in their garage, and said he favored tax increases that would make them downscale to Cadillacs. However he also said that liberals would have to face the reality that "Social Security and Medicare as we have traditionally known them are absolutely dead."

He also launched into a scathing condemnation of American education, although he impishly assured the audience that he wasn't referring to "any schools anywhere around here." His examples of modern educational stupidity were often very funny, but he was dead serious when he declared that America "cannot be a first rate nation with an uneducated, unskilled, third rate work force."

While angry leftists were nowhere to be heard, in the question and answer portion of his talk he faced harsh criticism from an unlikely source - angry biology majors! Stein gained some notoriety a few years ago by stating that he thought the evidence in favor of evolution was more inconclusive than most scientists will admit. That resulted in some hostile questions last night from students in the biological sciences. He was surprisingly thin-skinned about this criticism, with the Jewish Stein at one point declaring "The last time scientists confronted my people they were directing them to a gas chamber." This comparison of scientists to Nazis resulted in the only smattering of booing all evening.

Yet Stein's appearance overall was a big success, avoiding any of the ugly incidents that have marred UMass Republican events in the past, and in all Stein came across as a brilliant, good humored man with provocative views who provided worthwhile food for thought whatever your ideology.

Elsewhere on campus, you can tell that Spring has truly arrived when you see poetry classes being conducted on the lawn outside Bartlett Hall.

Parents visiting the campus recently were invited to take rides on a horse and buggy. For what they pay to send their kids to UMass, they should have been given rides in a golden chariot!

Lycanthropy at the bus stop.

I'm sorry to see these ancient trees being cut down. These are the trees that remember the farm people who once dominated Amherst but who have long vanished.

The Mullens Center from the 24th floor of the UMass library.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

April Showers

Wow, it was raining so hard today that the Northampton Earth Day celebration at Pulaski Park was pretty much a wash-out, despite the stubborn loyalty of stalwarts like WGBY-57 and The River.

Fortunately the downpour seemed to do no damage to the school children's drawings.

Actually it's easier to put up with the rain than the weather we had back in February, as shown by this sample which I captured on King Street.

Now why do I suspect that this statement on the wall of Herter Hall at UMass was written by the cleaning lady?

A cute robot on the UMass Fine Arts Center.

A threatening robot on the Fine Arts Center and his blue meanie friend.

A glowing green meanie terrorizing a mouse.

Jack Kerouac was here.

The recent big musical event in our Valley was last weekend's Extravaganja festival in Amherst. Here's headliner Stephen Fowler and Echo Movement doing their stoner hit I Think God Smokes Weed.

Stephen Fowler by Michael Beswick

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Extravaganja 2011

They were promoting it all week in the UMass Campus Center.

Friday afternoon when I passed by they were setting up the stage.

Here's what it looked like when the crowd showed up on Saturday, as captured by Larry Kelley.

The occasion was the annual Extravaganja Marijuana Legalization rally, which this year was expanded into a two-day affair. Here's a picture of local libertarian leader Terry Franklin (center) with two of the organizers of the event.

The event attracts a lot of vendors, such as this mobile Jamaican restaurant.

The Extravaganja always brings out the seldom seen freaks from the hilltowns, who leave their woodland hideaways to come into town for a day of revelry and then return to the forest to resume their mushroom meditations.

Unfortunately my camera memory was almost full, so I only got 23 seconds worth of video:

A flower power bumpersticker in a Northampton parking lot.

A Tea Party bumpersticker at a Northampton conveniece store.

An unanswerable question on an Amherst College A.C. unit.

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Beautiful Boy

Valley Historian Ralph Slate has alerted me to the Massachusetts Cultural Resource Information System, a part of the Massachusetts historic archives collection, which is putting a lot of photographs online from their files of some of the older buildings in Springfield. For example here is the Magidson, Saul Commercial Block in the Pine Point section of Boston Road as it appeared circa 1985:

Here is a picture of the same block taken just a few days ago.

I not only saw my first robin of Spring the other day, but I managed to get its picture.

UMass students with tax policy suggestions.

UMass has always been a place with a lot of graffiti, probably dating back to the school's origins in the 1860's, when no doubt you could find in the campus restrooms scrawlings such as "Go Ulysses S. Grant!" or "Eudora lifts her petticoats!" Perhaps in an attempt to cut back on the writing on buildings, this bird sign was put up recently for folks to write their thoughts on.

Here's a thought I like.

The annual UMass record convention attracted sellers from all over, including Nick Williams of Feeding Tube Records in downtown Hamp.

Speaking of Northampton, the Forbes Library has a new sign in front featuring a picture of Mr. and Mrs. Calvin Coolidge.

The view out the back window of the Starbucks in Northampton.

The entrance to the mall out the bus window.

Finally, a video of Springfield's North End filmed through the bus window.