I received some mail about my column containing a lot of questions in search of answers and Leo Leary of Springfield sent me the following: "Your first question in your article delves into an area I thought you would never get into. Most liberals will never discuss it. It is a subject that is never allowed the light of day by the ultra left.
"SOCIAL ENGINEERING! The ability to take a right away from someone, just because you don't like what another person does. The ability to tax someone because you don't like what that person does.
"This is communism revisited. Let me give you some examples.
"An addicted person cannot stop smoking even after years of trying to quit. So you tax them 900 percent of the legal cost of the product. Now even when our states get millions and millions for smoking cessation and smoking cost coverage of ill smokers, the state does not give it to sick smokers but puts the money in the general fund. This is true and a sick state of affairs in Massachusetts. Insurance cost are going up, tax smokers. sChip cost all paid by smokers. Why?
"Coca-Cola has been sold in our country for over 100 years. Someone wants to stop you from drinking it! New York wants to add 15 percent to the cost of sweetened drinks. Incredible. SOCIAL ENGINEERING. This may be a Massachusetts proposal also.
"The gas guzzler tax: what business is it of anyone if I want to have a souped up car that gets nine miles per gallon if I can afford it? No, tax it make that person pay. Al Gore flies all over the country in private jets and no one says boo that if he took a commercial flight he would save hundreds of gallons of jet fuel.
"We need you to be the champion of NO SOCIAL ENGINEERING! What do you say?"
Well, I'm surprised that I'm being classified as a member of the "ultra left," but other than that I think a fundamental and completely unresolved issue in this country is how far the government allows behaviors that ultimately damage society and the environment. If someone showed that drive-throughs cost consumers more money through fuel consumption and increase air pollution I'd be in favor of a ban of at least any new drive-throughs.
If that's social engineering, then so be it. I think it's identifying measures to take for the common good of our community and country.
Another reader wrote that I write too much about Springfield in this column and not enough about his own community of Hampden. Since he didn't reply to my request to print his letter, I'll just leave it at that paraphrasing.
I am guilty as charged. I haven't written about any Hampden controversies because my own top of mind awareness is indeed dominated by some of the larger communities in our circulation area. I would like to hear from Hampden readers about important issues in their town that are not receiving the ink they deserve.
So allow me to try to rectify matters a bit by presenting a lightening round of editorial opinion touching on "under-commented" communities.
South Hadley: Voters in that town are faced with a very big issue in just a few weeks on whether or not to change their form of government from a town meeting and Select Board format to one with a mayor and a town council.
Many New England communities still have a town meeting form, which people frequently cite as a true democratic institution. The question is whether in this day and age communities with a population of nearly 17,000 people are truly well served by an institution devised when all of the town members could gather in one place to discuss issues.
I look forward to hearing the arguments on both sides.
Longmeadow: School officials are grappling with the issue of eliminating music programs in the lower grades and instituting a health program. Some parents approve, while others are concerned.
It's a shame this is an either/or situation and points out that even a community with a reputation for affluence such as Longmeadow has money concerns with their school budgets.
Westfield: Towns with colleges frequently have a love-hate relationship with the schools and Westfield is no exception. The difference is Westfield State College has been active in repairing some of those fences with a real initiative to help revive the flagging downtown of the Whip City. It's too bad that some of that good will is being used up with the veritable eviction of a city school from college property. It would be appropriate, considering all of the good the college is doing, if a settlement could be reached.
And I have to congratulate Chicopee Mayor Michael Bissonnette who was recently featured in a front page New York Times story on the upcoming federal stimulus money. That was impressive national press for the city.
This column represents the opinions of its author. Send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or to 280 N. Main St., E. Longmeadow, Mass. 01028.