Saturday, December 31, 2016

The New

Good grief, 2016 is finally coming to an end. It was actually a good year for me personally, but a little weird too. Next week, I'll do a review of the year as it went down according to my take on things. In the meantime, have a safe and fun filled start to the new year!


Friday, December 23, 2016


In 1987 the Grateful Dead mailing list sent me this postcard at Christmas time.

The band is shown as Renaissance era skeletons. Which skeleton corresponds to each member? My guess is from the left: Bill Kreutzmann carrying a drum, Phil Lesh with a bass, Bob Weir with a rhythm guitar, Brett Mydland shown behind the Dead flag draped piano, Jerry Garcia with lead guitar and Micky Hart distinguished from co-drummer Kreutzmann by the type of drumstick he's holding, used to hit the big gongs and drums that made up his customized, multi-drum kit. Then again, the skeleton is shown as smoking a cigarette, which I'm pretty sure Hart did not do, but which Kreutzmann did, so I'm not 100% sure I've got the drummers right. Here's what Wikipedia has to say about the Deadheads:

The term "Deadhead" first appeared in print at the suggestion of Hank Harrison, author of The Dead Trilogy, on the sleeve of Grateful Dead (also known as Skull & Roses), the band's second live album, released in 1971. It read:

DEAD FREAKS UNITE: Who are you? Where are you? How are you?
Send us your name and address and we'll keep you informed.
Dead Heads, P.O. Box 1065, San Rafael, California 94901.

This phenomenon was first touched on in print by Village Voice music critic Robert Christgau at a Felt Forum show in 1971, noting "how many 'regulars' seemed to be in attendance, and how, from the way they compared notes, they'd obviously made a determined effort to see as many shows as possible."

Eileen Law, a long time friend of the band, was put in charge of the mailing list and maintained the Dead Heads newsletter. It is estimated that by the end of 1971, the band had received about 350 letters, but this number swelled greatly over the next few years to as many as 40,000. In total, 25 mailings/newsletters reached Dead Heads between October 1971 and February 1980. After this time, the Grateful Dead Almanac would succeed it, with this eventually being abandoned for Those who did receive the newsletter in the 1970s often found pleasant surprises sent along. One example is from May 1974 when Heads received a sample EP of Robert Hunter's upcoming album Tales of the Great Rum Runners as well as selections from Jerry Garcia's second album, Compliments of Garcia, and some cuts that were from bandmembers Keith and Donna Godchaux's eponymous solo album, Keith & Donna, both on Round Records.

I received all those mailings as well as the records. I still have a few of the mailings but none of the records, which is a shame because they're valuable collector pieces now. Oh well, nothing lasts.


Saturday, December 17, 2016

Baker's Folly

Massachusetts was once one of the most influential political states. In fact, it still is if you count the fact that Massachusetts has consistantly offered presidential contenders to the nation. There were two Massachusetts residents running in 2016 - Bill Weld and Jill Stein. Weld and Stein were minor party candidates, Libertarian and Green respectfully, but the 2012 Republican nominee was former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. And of course there are the Mass contenders from yesteryear, like John Kerry and Mike Dukakis. However, it now appears that on the presidential level at least, Massachusetts will have very little pull.

President-elect Trump can't stand our senior U.S. Senator Liz Warren, so he is likely to reject anything Warren wants just because she's the one who wants it. Although not as disliked by Trump, junior Senator Ed Markey has no political pull with Trump either. Other high ranking Massachusetts figures like state Attorney General Maura Healey are also Trump critics who are highly unlikely to have Trump's ear. The very top office, the governorship, is held by someone of the same party as Trump, Charlie Baker, but Trump has little reason to feel helpful toward Baker either.

That's because Baker foolishly spent most of Campaign 2016 bashing Trump, saying he lacked the experience and temperament to be Chief Executive. In fact, Baker refused to support anyone for president, including Bill Weld, someone he once claimed was his political mentor. Couldn't he have given his old friend the gesture of a protest vote? The whole dance around who deserved his support was all so unnecessary, creating hard feelings where none need be, and now there's a price to pay. If Baker had just sat on the sidelines with his mouth shut, he would be in a fine position now to become Trump's point man on all things regarding Massachusetts, perhaps able to get money, favors and policy waivers that would not be seriously considered if coming from one of the state's leading Dems.

Instead, Baker has thrown it all away, and done so simply to score some cheap points with Massachusetts Democratic voters who might not like him if he associated himself positively with Trump. Now the man he refused to support is headed to the White House, with no reason for Trump to take a phone call from anyone in Massachusetts government. The Trump presidency could have been a great political boon to Baker, but he threw it all away with his poor judgement and big mouth.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Trump's Tea Party Presidency

More than a month after the election, it still isn't clear what the Trump Administration will really be like. However, his cabinet picks suggest that the political weather may soon be getting a bit chilly if you are Islamic, an immigrant, a climate change alarmist or someone with an Obamacare insurance policy.

While we wait for the president-elect to further flesh out his goals, I'm reminded of something I saw on TV during the campaign. The host was interviewing guests who claimed to be experts on the career of Donald Trump, and at one point they were asked what kind of president Trump would be. They described him as a person who is totally fixated on whatever goal he has chosen until he achieves it. Shortly afterward, he usually begins to lose interest in his achievement until some new challenge comes along, at which point he moves on without looking back.

According to these talking heads, whose names I don't recall because the interview seemed unimportant at the time, for all the concern about what Trump will do in office, Trump is likely to become known as the golfing president. Oh sure, there will be a flurry of activity in the first three or four months, where money is appropriated to beef up the wall at the Mexican border, Obamacare is repealed and lot of President Obama's executive orders are rescinded. But then may come the time when Trump's direct engagement begins to fade. If so, expect an increase in his golfing schedule.

There will be others waiting to fill the resulting vacuum. Chief among them will be Paul Ryan in the House and Mitch McConnell in the Senate, both of whom will crank up the legislative law making machinery to high gear. Imagine a conveyor belt between the congress and the White House, with Ryan, McConnell and the Tea Partiers in congress passing one piece of legislation after another, each one serving in some degree to either block, repeal or defund the political legacy of the Left. Then Donald Trump, stopping by the White House in between celebrity golf tournaments, will simply sign whatever is put in front of him.

In that sense, Trump's presidency may well be remembered as The Tea Party Presidency, after the political faction whose ideology will dominate his term, mostly by default.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Legal Marijuana and Generational Redemption

There were four referendum questions on the Massachusetts ballot last month. Question 1 tried to expand the government's gambling monopoly, which voters wisely declined to permit. It isn't gambling that's bad, its the government monopoly. Question 2 attempted to make it easier to create more charter schools, but was soundly defeated by a disinformation campaign run by teacher's unions who felt their education monopoly threatened by the proposal. Their victory will probably be a short-lived one, however, as President-elect Trump has nominated a passionate pro-charter advocate as Secretary of Education, which means directives favorable to charter schools will be flowing down from Washington to Massachusetts for the next four years regardless. On Question 3, voters put their hearts ahead of their wallets by voting for an increase in food prices in order to give farm animals the right to bigger cages. But the really significant ballot referendum was Question 4, which legalized marijuana for recreational use. The vote was closer than expected, but in a democracy it's winner take all, and a one vote win has the same effect as a landslide. Let's examine who gains and who loses from legalization beginning with....


Crony Capitalists - The law could have been written so that on a certain date anyone with a liquor license could automatically begin selling marijuana products, thereby allowing consumers the convenience of getting their buds with their Budweiser. Alas, such a quick, simple, effective and commonsense solution was never an option and we have instead ended up with a lengthy, complex, bureaucratic and corruption prone process that will probably mirror the slow motion procedure which failed to get a single outlet open until nearly three years after the referendum legalizing medical pot passed. Predictably, the whole medical marijuana process was tilted heavily in favor of political insiders, such as the dispensary planned for Springfield that actually awarded one company a ten year monopoly on medical marijuana sales (I would have loved to have seen the names of the silent partners behind that boondoggle). Fortunately, the Springfield City Council stepped in before the deal was finalized, but expect more of the same kind of corrupt shenanigans to litter the path to full legalization.

The Kids - It's an outrage that our culture currently steers young people towards alcohol consumption. While marijuana isn't harmless, it is dramatically less dangerous than booze and it is wonderful that today's young people will finally have a safer alternative to consider.

The Activists - When I was a kid smoking pot with my friends in Pine Point's Snake Woods, hiding from the police, I distinctly remember many of us saying, in full sincerity, that when we became adults and our generation was running things, we would definitely legalize pot. I'm embarrassed that it actually took us so long to finally do it, but our failure wasn't for a lack of effort by some never say die activists. Today, when pot is so trendy, it is too easy to forget that local legends such as Aaron Wilson, Terry Franklin, Rachel Neulander, Dick Evans and the UMass Cannabis Reform Coalition were fighting the good fight back when it was difficult and even dangerous to do so. Thanks to heroes such as them, our youthful promise has been kept and my generation redeemed.


The Mob - People who buy their weed from Harry the Happy Hippie are too often unaware that behind their friendly local dealer is a terrible web of drug trade mobsters who are usually totally corrupt and prone to violence. Putting these bad actors out of business alone would fully justify legalization even if there were no other virtues.

The Taxpayers - If it makes money, tax it! That's been the motto of the Massachusetts legislature for several decades now, and marijuana will be no exception. The danger is that high taxes will push the cost of pot too high, so that the mob controlled cartels will remain in business. For example, medical marijuana sells for about $350 per ounce legally, but in Western Mass you can get an ounce on the black market for around $200. Ironically, a lot of black market weed appears to be medical marijuana that has leaked into the black market. It will be self defeating if you can get a big bargain by shunning the legal stuff and patronizing the mob instead, but who knows what the clueless politicians will end up doing.

Referendum Questions - The needless complexity and bad policies baked into the pot referendum bill is a classic example of a weakness of the referendum process, which is that they are often badly written. While you might expect that when you have hippies writing legislation, the upcoming legislative fracas over revising the law will only serve to undermine faith in the referendum as a policy making tool. Of course, we should not lose sight of the fact that the only reason we didn't get a professionally written bill is that the legislators themselves were too cowardly to touch the issue on their own, hence the need for the referendum in the first place.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Flag Flap Winners and Losers

Now that the whole flag controversy at Hampshire College is finally over, it is time to access the fallout, both positive and negative. Let's start with the....


The Flag - Old Glory hasn't gotten this much attention in these parts since the town of Amherst refused to fly the flags downtown on the anniversary of 9/11. (Amherst also ultimately surrendered and allowed the flags to fly).

Hampshire Student Recruitment Efforts - Barnum was right, there is no such thing as bad publicity. Hampshire's refusal to fly the flag turned the school, a small, relatively obscure private college, into a household name. In households with teenage Social Justice Warriors in them, Hampshire can now expect to receive a flood of applicants impressed by their flag rebellion. But beware SJWs, most Hampshire kids are actually more hipster than politically oriented and the flag haters are definitely in the minority.

Local Pols - What politician can resist a chance to defend the flag? It is the safest possible way to express outrage, and can be done in full knowledge that over 90% of the public agrees with them, thereby allowing them to stand on principle with almost no risk of politically alienating any voters that matter. Among the dignitaries in attendance, District Attorney David Sullivan was no surprise, he's been drifting rightward for some times now. His appearance at the flag rally comes right after extensively hitting the lecture circuit in a failed attempt to prevent the legalization of marijuana. One speaker who did raise eyebrows was Springfield Mayor Dom Sarno, who is otherwise rarely seen this side of the tofu curtain. Is this the start of an attempt to broaden his political base for a future run for a higher office? Richie Neal can't hold that seat forever!

Larry Kelley - His blog is a model of hyper-local citizen journalism at its best, and over the years Kelley has led numerous crusades on behalf of more flag waving. Last week's rally must have felt like Woodstock to him.


Hampshire President Johnathan Lash - There has been no up side to this for the embattled college president, whose poor judgement in removing the flag in the first place plunged his school into a nationwide firestorm of negative publicity. Despite improved recruitment of social justice types (see above) the school has also made a lot of enemies it never had before, enemies who probably can't be appeased until Lash is shown the door.

The First Amendment - Um, amidst all the shouting, let's not forget that both the praising and burning of flags are equally protected free speech under the First Amendment, okay?

Higher Education - This incident plays right into the narrative that our colleges and universities have degenerated into absurdly expensive political correctness indoctrination camps that leave their graduates woefully unprepared for real life.

Real Problems - While this brouhaha hogged all the headlines, much more serious concerns were being ignored. Let's salute the flag and get back to work!

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Some Changes Coming

Hey everybody,

Guess what? I'm reviving this blog as a place for new stuff to appear, primarily writing. The Tumblr will continue, but will consist mostly of select political memes and photography by myself and others. This will be my blog for my written political, social and cultural commentary, with no limitations on what the topics might be. Can't guarantee that there will be something every day, but three or four times a week is the probable frequency rate. The first essay will appear sometime this weekend, so I hope you'll check it out.