The Baystate Objectivist

The Baystate Objectivist

Saturday, October 14, 2017


Hey, have you checked out the latest downtown Hamp coffee shop? It's so new, they haven't even put up their sign yet, which presently rests on a chair.

Of course Shelbourne Falls Coffee Roasters is not new to the Valley, there are others such as this one on Rt. 9 where I once attended a meeting of The Freethinkers.

Prior to it's current occupants, the space was a Dunkin Donuts.

Prior to that it was a legendary music store called B-side Records. In the 1990's it was a prime destination for music lovers throughout the Valley.

As a Dunkin Donuts, it was always busy but with a slightly sketchy clientele. Word on the street was that narcs sometimes sat in there dressed as homeless guys, when they were actually there to try and monitor drug activity. Hey, our Valley is truly "The Crossroads of New England" at least as far as the drug trade is concerned.

Whatever was going on, the kids who worked there often appeared to be having fun.

People were surprised when the Dunkin Donuts suddenly went out of business without warning or explanation. Rumors of all sorts circulated, but one person who used to work there told me they got driven out by high rents. According to this person's unverified account, when the Dunkin's opened a dozen or so years ago after the record store died, the rent was around $2,800 per month. By the time they closed, the rent had crept up to $8,000 per month! That's an awful lot of coffee and donuts to sell each month just to make the rent, let alone labor and overhead costs. If that was the case, I can't blame them for giving their landlord the finger and moving out.

The Dunkin's had a garishly bright decor, but Shelburne Roasters has completely remodeled the site to create a nice, cozy atmosphere.

The coffee is pretty good too, with lots of varieties to choose from.

You should stop by when you get a chance and check out this latest contender in the highly competitive Northampton coffeehouse scene.

Dave Ratner (above in downtown Springfield's Theodore's) is the owner of Dave's Soda and Pet City. He was invited to the White House this week to attend the signing ceremony for an executive order by President Trump that will expand the range of health insurance options available to the employees of small businesses. Here is Ratner, second from left, as he appeared in the Boston Globe:

Unfortunately, Ratner got blocked out of appearing in the New York Times by somebody's big head.

When he got back to Western Mass, Ratner was shocked and dismayed by the firestorm of angry phone calls, mean tweets and insulting Facebook posts he received, many of them calling for a boycott of his business just because he dared to appear with President Trump without spitting or snarling with hatred. It would have been a plus for Ratner in the long run had he defended his White House visit, but instead he caved and released a statement appearing to apologize for simply being in the presence of a President our local Democrats disapprove of.

Dumb move Dave. The leftists will never forgive you no matter what you say, while the goodwill earned with average Americans through the visit was subsequently squandered by the apology. With his hesitancy to tell the hate-filled lefties to go to hell and instead trying to please everyone, Ratner ended up pleasing no one, managing to turn what should have been a wonderful, once in a lifetime experience into a big loser.

Someone we hope won't be a big loser in next month's elections is Springfield's Tim Ryan, son of Charlie, who is running for City Council.

Finally here's a lesson in downtown Hamp about a fool and his money above a falcon's eye-view of Springfield's Hungry Hill.

Sunday, October 8, 2017


Broadside Books in Northampton is promoting Hillary Clinton's new 2016 campaign memoir.

I haven't read the book, but most critics have panned it as an exercise in finger pointing. Hillary apparently accuses numerous people of letting her down in ways that helped to cause her defeat. Personally, I think Hillary blew the election when she made her infamous "deplorables" comment about Trump supporters. The goal of a political campaign is to attract voters, and the first rule is to do nothing to drive them away. While it is fine to attack your opponent, never say anything to insult the electorate itself. Hillary's deplorable comment made any Trump voter who might have been thinking of switching to Hillary instantly decide they would never vote for someone who publicly insulted them. That's Politics 101, and a seasoned pro like Hillary definitely should have known better.

Last week marked the one year anniversary of the death of Northampton artist Greg Stone. Stone was primarily known as a painter, but he also dabbled in sculpture, especially in his later years. This one was put up on the courthouse lawn posthumously.

Technically it is is well done, but I don't like the subject matter, which implies that hope is a fragile thing you can barely protect or preserve, like a cowering little bird in need of a shielding hand.

I think a sculpture symbolizing hope should be of a more heroic nature, after all, it often takes great courage to remain hopeful. I consider this sculpture, The Stone of Hope featuring Martin Luther King by Lei Yixin better captures the sense of steely determination that is a partner to real hope. Hope without determination doesn't usually get very far.

This is my favorite Greg Stone sculpture, captured here as the first rays of the rising sun strike it on Main Street.

Looking down I saw that someone had placed a flower in front of the stand of the sculpture, which features the names of allegedly prominent Northamptonites.

There was also a note with Stony's name on it.

Did I open the note to see what it said? I was tempted, but I let it be.

Liberty School on Carew Street in Springfield in 1939.

I took this on King Street in Hamp.

The moon over Springfield at 6:30 a.m. by Paul Sears.

Here's another Paul Sears photo, this one of the Christopher Columbus statue in Springfield.

Poor Mike Baxendale of the Bax and O'Brien Show can't get no respect.

His sidekick John O'Brien was also around, as evidenced by this Keith Sikes photo.

Finally, some people need to be fired in Holyoke.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Freidman Hacks Out

What on Earth has happened to New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman? Once upon a time I used to think he had something on the ball. I read The World is Flat and liked it for the same reasons I used to also enjoy Friedman's newspaper column. Friedman is practically the only major pundit to consistently discuss the broad, long range technological trends and major societal transformations that are occurring today. Not that I always agreed with Friedman's take on those changes, but at least he talked about them in a way that showed he understood that the future will not be like the present, and that the best way to deal with those changes is first of all to acknowledge them.

However, it is becoming increasingly clear that Friedman is one of those commentators who has become completely unhinged in the wake of the rise of Donald Trump. In fact, he has become outright dishonest and deceptive at times in his fervor to attack the president. I first noticed this in June, when Friedman wrote a column, dripping with his personal contempt, denouncing President Trump for withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade deal.

I agree with Friedman that it was a mistake to scuttle the treaty, but I was amazed to see that Friedman neglected to mention that Hillary Clinton was just as determined to withdraw from the agreement as Trump was and repeatedly stressed her determination to do so during her presidential campaign. It is outrageous for Friedman to have left that fact our of his column, and to have completely spared Clinton any of the contempt he showed for Trump for doing precisely what Hillary had also sworn to do. It is an omission that undermines the credibility of his entire piece.

Another outrageous display of selective memory appeared in a more recent column in which Friedman took Trump to task for leaving the Paris Climate Accord. At one point Friedman exclaims, "He scrapped the Paris climate treaty without consulting one climate scientist — and no G.O.P. leader protested. Think about that." What is he talking about? No less a climate guru than Al Gore himself was called in to meet personally with the president and permitted to give Trump, face to face, the best case he could make in favor of staying in the climate deal, once during the presidential transition, and then in other conversations before Trump made his final decision. Like millions of other Americans, the President found Gore's arguments unpersuasive, but what more could Trump have done to give the other side a fair hearing?

Omissions of this magnitude could not have been made innocently. Either Friedman thinks his audience is too ignorant to know these details, or feels that, like many other Trump haters, he simply does not care about facts if they get in the way of attacking Trump. It's a shame that Friedman appears to be devolving into a partisan hack, because he used to have interesting and sometimes even important things to say. Sadly, in his current state of anti-Trump derangement, Friedman's columns have become dishonest to the point of deception.

Over the weekend, this full page ad in the Springfield Republican announced the granting of The Massachusetts Governor's Award for the Humanities to the newspaper's head honcho David Starr.

Starr has done good work for a variety of local charitable endeavors over the years, but in my mind those good works are largely cancelled by Starr's very negative role meddling in local politics. Also, if this is supposedly the Governor's humanitarian award, does Republican Charlie Baker know that David Starr has always done everything he could to protect and preserve the dominant, often corrupt Democratic Party political machines both in Springfield and throughout the Valley? I mean really, was it impossible for the Governor to find a deserving Republican for the award?

Finally, like virtually every music lover, I am dismayed by the untimely death of singer/songwriter Tom Petty. I saw Petty in concert once with Bob Dylan at the Hartford Civic Center in the mid-80's. I recall that at one point in the show Petty opened his trademark long coat to reveal that on the inside lining there was sewn a Confederate flag. Believe it or not, no one shrieked in outrage, fainted in shock or ran off in search of a safe space.

The audience that night probably consisted overwhelmingly of New England Yankees, but we responded with applause, merely as a polite gesture towards a visiting musician from the South. The same courtesy was similarly shown to Dixie rockers who passed through the Pioneer Valley like the Allman Brothers, Lynard Skynard, Molly Hatchet and other good ol' boy bands who often performed on stages festooned with the Stars and Bars. Those were simpler times, before everybody decided to work so hard at finding something to be offended by.

One of Petty's best known hits I Won't Back Down was the theme song for Dan Yorke's radio shows when he was working in the Pioneer Valley on WHYN and WNNZ back in the 80's and 90's. To this day, whenever I hear that song I think of the Yorke Show.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Casino Stroll

Here's a look down Main Street in Springfield from the top of the new parking garage next to Union Station. This is a view no one has been able to see since the Hotel Charles was torn down as the consequence of a mysterious 1988 fire.

The old bus station across the street now serves only as the corporate offices of the Peter Pan Bus Lines.

Here's a nostalgic tour of the charming old bus station.

Just the other side of the arch, this sign still remains from the long gone and lamented Playtown, beloved of school skippers from several generations. For some reason someone nailed a board through it, perhaps to prevent it from falling down.

Jake's diner is still around, having survived many phases of downtown's decline.

This new place appears to be an attempt to establish the kind of hipster coffee shop culture one expects of a cosmopolitan downtown, perhaps in anticipation of the future crowds of people they hope will be wandering around when the MGM casino opens in less than a year.

The Mocha Emporium is practically the only sign there is of anticipatory economic activity related to the casino. Instead, nearly all the major downtown structures have vacancy and for lease signs on them. Wouldn't you think, if there is faith among the local business community in the casino's success, that investors would be snapping up these rental properties for future projects designed to cash in on the casino?

At the corner of State and Main, the casino itself is rising behind black screening.

Everywhere is the contrast between the old run-down South End and the promise of future glamour.

Develop Springfield doesn't look like it's doing much developing.

The building across the street from the casino itself is a boarded up ruin. If any property would be expected to attract business investors, wouldn't it be the structure exactly across the street from the casino entrance?

As the casino rises, the old Red Rose Pizza is starting to look a little lonely as one of the few businesses still surviving in the neighborhood. A person known to know such things told me that MGM offered the owners of Red Rose $13 million dollars to go out of business, but they turned them down.

I hope they know what they're doing. Casinos have a reputation for going to extraordinary lengths to prevent people from leaving the casino complex once they get them inside. They hire experts to examine with scientific precision exactly why people depart the casino, and then they go to great lengths to eliminate whatever the reason is their customers are leaving by providing that service themselves in a superior way.

If their scientific studies reveal that people are leaving the casino in order to get some exceptionally good pizza available elsewhere, they will probably do something like import a master pizza chef directly from Italy and put him to work in a space designed to make you feel that you are dining in an authentic Italian pizza parlor in Rome. Typically, the casino will then devote some of their big gambling profits to subsidize the cost of the pizza (just as they often do with drinks and other entertainment in order to keep you from leaving to go to outside bars, restaurants or other attractions) so that their gourmet pizza offered in a stylized Roman setting will cost less than half the price of anywhere else downtown.

It will be interesting to see how our friends at the Red Rose deal with that kind of competition.

Around the corner from the casino site is Court Square, which is also devoid of any businesses. Not even the old barber shop that had been there since 1892 remains, although their sign does, right beside a painting of Springfield Mayor Dominic Sarno.

There is also a painting of the late Tony Ravosa, who in his day was sometimes called "The King of Court Square."

This September 2003 entry from The Diary of J. Wesley Miller offers a poignant description of the Ravosa family's Court Square estate:

After voting I headed downtown to tour Ravosa's place on Court Square, officially known as the Chicopee National Bank Building, which is up for auction at the end of the month. Of course I have no plans to bid, but they don't know that....

I headed over to the Civic Pub where I met as planned with John S. Williamson, Vice President of CB Richard Ellis of Hartford. He is a short, very friendly and accommodating man who said he would give me a tour of the property. He said the building is steam heated but we couldn't go down in the basement. We took the elevator to the second floor where Ravosa's law office is with diplomas and certificates on the wall. On the third floor was another modern but unused law office. It had brass chandeliers which I recognized as being from Ravosa's old club The Bar Association.

I told Williamson that I'm no fan of Peter Picknelly, but I think Picknelly would be the perfect owner for this building and he agreed. Then we took the elevator up to the top floor and into Anthony Ravosa's apartment. I've never seen a private residence downtown as wonderful as Ravosa's place. You walk out of the elevator and you are in a two-story cathedral like space that is very ornately decorated. To the left is a spiral staircase leading to a loft and a stained glass window with a sunset motif. It was too superb for words.

The living room has a huge television built into the wall and there is an ultra-modern gourmet kitchen with marble counters. We did not go into the bedrooms in back nor did we go up on the rooftop to see Mrs. Ravosa's famous garden. Yet there is no question that of downtown homes Ravosa's is the star attraction.

The whole apartment is a celebration of urban life, and what a complement it would have been to the vibrant city Springfield once was. Tony Ravosa has many flaws, but he loves life and he loves Springfield, and yet he was shunned by the dull, dim-witted mediocrities who run this city and who could never even pretend to match his vision. I walked over to the window with the sunset motif and pointed out to Williamson how through that majestic window you could see all of Springfield's major towers, including the courthouse, Court Square, First Church and even the Springfield Armory off in the distance.

I heard Williamson asking me, "Attorney Miller, are you alright?" Suddenly I realized that there were tears running down my face, so I took out my black handkerchief and wiped them away. Then we took the elevator back down to Main Street where I thanked Williamson for the tour and promised to send him some postcards. After we parted I started walking up State Street towards my car. Russ Denver was walking past the Civic Center and waved cheerfully but I was in no mood to stop and just kept walking.

Among the celebrity paintings designed to conceal the empty storefronts is this one based on the Grateful Dead. Who says this town ain't got no heart? Ya just gotta poke around!

I was among those who did not want the casino to come to Springfield, in part because with its long history of public corruption, Springfield is uniquely unsuited to host a casino. However, now that it's almost here, I want the casino to be a success. However, my Main Street stroll showed me little evidence that investors and business entrepreneurs are coming to the table as yet in anticipation of sharing in the casino's presumed success. What I see instead is our Valley holding its breath, watching the casino go up, but hesitating to make any investments. Maybe that will change as the Grand Opening approaches, but we are less than a year out, and if the casino is going to bring the downtown as a whole back to life, so far there is little evidence of it. Right now, the only game in town appears to be "wait and see."

Meanwhile, in Washington Congressman Richard Neal, whose committee will be crucial to writing tax reform laws, has been meeting with President Trump to discuss the details. Neal doesn't look too happy in this photo from Politico.

Finally, did you know that Amherst has a new rotary? It works, you can indeed drive round and round in your car, although reviews from pedestrians are mixed.

(photo by Jerry Fischer)