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Thursday, January 31, 2008

Oklahoma, USA

"All life we work, but work is bore. If life's for living, what's living for?"
Are you tired, too? Probably true at your house as well-we got through the holidays (and don't you hate that phrase, 'got through'? Diptheria is something to get through. A visit from your second cousin, Morty (the klepto), from Des Moines, is something you get through. NOT the holidays) pretty much on adrenaline and the vaguely articulated idea that 'later on, we'll take a break.' Welcome to later on, right?
Must've got lost. ......'Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow creeps in this petty pace from day to day.' (Courtesy of Cliff's evil twin, spark. Who knew?) And yet here we are. We may no longer be 'all that', but we're certainly all that there is. Woody's right, teacher, showing up is the biggest part of life-and 'you must be present to win'.

Today is the last day of the first month of the new year. What? Where did January go? Check the rear-view mirror, pilgrim, that's where it's gone. Who's driving--and who's steering? Are we at grandma's house yet? Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans. I still remember singing that as I watched my infant son asleep in his crib after we brought him home. (Hey, for the first two hours after he was born, for reasons I cannot explain, I held him as I walked around the geburtssaal in the Offenbach Stadtkrankenhaus singing (in English, loudly) "I've Been Working on the Railroad" in spite of my exhausted wife's pleas to cease. Now, at 25, no wonder he stays at his house and we never travel by Amtrak.)

But, let's face it, no amount of fretting will rescue yesterday or return us to last Tuesday (come to think of it, thank goodness!) leaving us with this moment, and maybe the next, and hopefully strengthening our resolve and desire to make the most of each.
Babatunde Olatunji supposedly said, "Yesterday is history.
Tomorrow is a mystery.
Today is a gift.
That's why it's called The Present."

Unwrap, serve at room temperature, season to taste. Unlimited servings.
-bill kenny
PS: Eddie R of Norwich, you missed a great Ethics Review Committee meeting. Again.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Warmth of the Electric Fire

As hard as it has always been for my children to grasp (Patrick is 25 and Michelle is 20), there was a time in the world when television was not in color. I explained this to my son (too) many years ago when we were negotiating (I caught on to this a little too late) to get him a bigger TV than the one that sat on the shelf in his bedroom (his sister hadn't yet arrived-the FedEx driver got lost).
He had inherited our 'extra' TV, the one we had started our married lives with but didn't use anymore (the next one was, unsurprisingly, bigger, shinier, snazzier with more buttons and dials-and ultimately the same contents) and he was having difficulty grasping why he couldn't have a set as large as the one in the living room.
In the course of the conversation, my variation of 'trudging through six miles of snow, uphill, both ways' bubbled up as I noted when I was his age, I didn't have my own TV and the only one we had in "my house" (in New Jersey) was black and white. For a four-year old in Offenbach am Main, Germany, geographic details that Carmen San Diego might love (where is she, come to think about it) such as 'in New Jersey' are beyond difference without distinction. Patrick cut to the chase with a single-mindedness of purpose I can only assume he inherited from his mother. Seizing on my words, he sat up in bed and demanded to know, 'all you had was black and white?' I assured him this was, indeed, the case--and mulling that over for a moment he offered quietly, 'you must have been very bad if you had no color.' Despite repeated explanations he refused to believe, I wasn't bad (well, hardly) and NOBODY had a color television.

What were once vices are now habits, of course, which is how both crack cocaine and High Definition TV have spread across the universe (do NOT tell Yoko Ono I just typed that phrase, okay? She'll have Elliot Mintz on me in null comma nichts seconds and I just don't need that today). Instead of being a diversion or addition or an enhancement to our lives, we have, in the course of half a century, made the television the centerpiece of our living arrangements. No? Look at where you live, and more directly, how you live. That cabinet your mother gave you from the 'old house' where you grew up (before she sold it because it was too big to manage, especially after Dad died and she moved to Florida), a quasi-family relic, is randomly placed in a corner, maybe in front of a radiator or partially blocking a window. The television, on the other hand, in the living room, my brother (and/or sister) is the center of focus for the room. The couches and other chairs are placed X and Y steps from it, with the lamps and coffee tables just so and DON'T touch any of the furniture (and keep your shoes off the couch). If it makes you feel better, and it may not, based on first-hand experiences from across half the globe, we all make the television our window to the world, the electric fire in the hearth of our homes.

We don't worry nearly enough about what's actually on the television as we do about where it is in the room. Springsteen once lamented he had 57 Channels (and Nothin' On) which means, I assume, he bought a basic cable package probably without HBO and Starz. Gotta admit I'm a bit disappointed-if anybody could've afforded the premium package, maybe to include Internet and phone, it'd been Bruce.
Our parents used to watch TV, those 'entertainment centers' with the tiny picture screens and the cloth-covered single speaker (about 3 inches in diameter under the picture tube) encased in humongous pieces of wood furniture, after a day in the real world for amusement and diversion. Now, we watch programs called the "Real World" on TV and there's nothing very amusing about them at all.
Maybe the biggest shift from our folks to us to and through our children is how we get our information of the world beyond our door. Our parents read newspapers (their parents had watched newsreels in movie theaters as part of their Saturday Night Out ritual) and listened to the broadcast generation who'd followed Edward R. Murrow ("...This is London calling", sorry Joe, he got there first) for radio news.

For us, television supplanted radio as the medium of first choice for news (I was in fifth grade when JFK was murdered and I can still see that grainy footage on the mental projector. Later, that clip was joined by the shooting of a 'Viet Cong' soldier during the Tet Offensive when one Vietnamese shot another in the head, while he stood there, impassively, as television cameras rolled and both of those clips are on the same reel with that September morning in 2001 that has the large passenger jet disappearing into the World Trade Tower and never coming out. And there's an excellent probability that two of three clips I just listed happened BEFORE you were born which shows you how well old people grasp the time-space continuum).
As we've aged (or matured, though not in my case) and our culture has changed, more and more of us turn to 'the web' (I just saw the other day, where else, but on the web, the next generation of Internet will be arriving shortly and will, depending on whom you're reading, be either the Approaching Apocalypse or make what we have now as quaint as high-button shoes (not to be confused with high top sneakers, at upwards of a hundred bucks a pair, doncha know?)).

All of these messages, media and methods of delivery, to varying degrees, just wash over us and our children who have less familiarity with the 'old' media, especially radio (which is now either all-talk, on AM, because talk is a very cheap format to operate with little overhead in terms of other-than-salary expenses or all music, on FM and now satellite) and who've come of age with so many technological innovations they don't have any real means of distinguishing real from surreal or staged. And as we continue to age, our ability to pick up on this starts to get worn down as well until the lines blur and it becomes harder and harder to figure out what is news, what is a news release (propaganda to be harsh), and/or what's just buzz. Instead of relying on the well-dressed people behind the TV news desks to be gatekeepers for what's important in our world, we've allowed them to just back the news van up to the house and dump all kinds of junk into the living room. On an average day, we can sample stories about Britney Spears, the President's State of the Union address, a murder-suicide bombing attack in Afghanistan, a civil war in Kenya, the Writers' Guild Strike, genocide in Dafur and Lindsay Lohan out on bail.
You be the judge. It must all be important, right? It's on TV and on the web and now we've got the ability to tell each other about this 'stuff' and send 'clips' to each other's phones.

With more means to access information than at any time in the history of our species, since we've had a history of our species, how is it that we know so little so often and so much of the time? Gather around the electric fire tonight and bask in the cold glow of its illumination. A lot of light-but no heat. If guns don't kill people, do TV remotes? Are we adding a new and sinister meaning to 'batteries not included'?
-bill kenny

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Bonfire of the Vanities meets The Rock and the Web

I thought it was a joke, and it is-but at our expense without the laugh. My wife shared with me last night a webvert by a sporting shoe company, in a partnership to market Reebok sneakers which smell like flavors of Kool-Aid, cherry, grape and whatever. I suspect grape will NOT be available in Guyana, but don't quote me on that. All of this causes me to remember that old joke about a dog, and something he can do, that, if we could, we'd do nothing else but that all day. It sidesteps the bigger question: Because we can do something, should we?

Today, in Germany, is the 75th anniversary of the Nazi Party's assumption of power and the beginning of the end for tens of millions of human beings who became that point where the road and the sky collide. By the time the Nazis were beaten, not merely defeated (Kaiser Wilhelm and his spike-heads were defeated during the first world war, but the Nazis were crushed into the fragments their cities were pulverized into by aerial bombardment), the centuries-old practice of pogroms, be it superstitious hatred of Jews or gypsies or the politics of persecution of all 'left-leaners' (and don't forget those whose sexuality was suspect or those born with physical or mental defects) had been married to the conveyor belt of mass assembly, a gift of the Industrial Age, so that murder took place on a scale unimaginable in the history of humankind. As all of us discovered in the decades, and lifetimes, since the Thousand Year Reich was forced into bankruptcy a skosh more than a dozen years after its start, it takes a lot to laugh and it takes a train to cry. Complicity through silence of other nations around the world who knew of the barbarism but who said nothing and who did even less, served as the tracks for that train.

And now, just in the USA, where are we? Quick review: we have borrowed so much money from so many other nations, and from ourselves, it's possible we actually own nothing, except more debt than has existed since the beginning of time. We have an over-priced, over-burdened health care system that few can afford and fewer still are willing to try to repair on behalf of the nearly fifty million who have no health insurance at all, meaning they flood emergency rooms that can least afford to see them, if they can go anywhere for health care at all.

Ethically, economically, morally, spiritually, we have lived hand to mouth for so long, we may end up eating our own arm just to survive. American manufacturers are an endangered species deserving of a place in a museum, but, not to worry, Congress is holding hearings. Of course, the hearings are about major-league baseball players and their use of performance enhancing drugs (what an interesting twist on that health care crisis I alluded to a moment ago, eh?) but we're doing the best we can. Besides, the Super Bowl is Sunday and buying a thirty-second commercial costs in excess of two and half million dollars (not to MAKE the commercial, mind you-to load it into a player and insert it into the broadcast of the football game. Nice work if you can get it.) so leave your name and number after the tone and maybe we'll get back to you.
Hey! Nice sneakers--you don't have edible underwear, too, do you?
Every fight is a food fight-if you're a cannibal.
-bill kenny

Monday, January 28, 2008

Beneath the Vast Indifference of Heaven

I am, in the event you had not yet noticed, a HUGE fan of the late Warren Zevon. Today's title has a lot more to do with my fondness for that turn of phrase, as reflected as one of his song titles, than in any particular reference to a topic I was pretending to think about. It's a peg upon which nothing hangs, which I'd like to think, from what I remember of conversing with Zevon (when he toured in support of Excitable Boy) he would have appreciated.

Mondays are hard for me to get any traction--it turns out there's 'stuff' from most previous Fridays that I, apparently, thought would accomplish itself over the weekend. When I get to Monday and still have loose ends from the previous week, I'm always surprised (and, because I have to devote some time on Monday to catching up, I then fall behind on the current week even as it's just getting started). Sort of like Wimpy through the Looking Glass: I will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today (which actually sounds a lot like our current national fiscal concerns or, on a more local level, how we buy/pay for fire fighting equipment).

Maybe you, too-I get so caught up in the process of 'getting through each day', I lose sight of their purpose, their point or the opportunities that each one brings. There are days I regard every ringing of the phone with dread--'what fresh new Hell? (killer illustration btw)' which I think we'd agree is stupid. Neither of us will ever again have Monday, 28 January, 2008 (unless we travel at supersonic speed from West to East around the world and cross the international dateline in reverse, and even then I'm not sure if you get your money back or if there's just one ride and the direction is of no consequence).

I worry (more than) a little about this stuff because, at closer to 56 years old than away from it, I'm starting to spend more time worrying about aging (the good news, as my evil twin, skippy, might point out, is I will continue to age whether I worry about it or not) and when the day draws to a close, I experience more often than not a greater pang of regret for what I failed to do than of relief for having successfully navigated the minefield of the day itself. I sometimes forget, but hope you don't, that it isn't the number of days that make up a life, but the amount of life in the number of days. With all of our science and technological innovations, we've yet to devise a means of recapturing the space between the time gone by. We worry far too much about how our passing may affect those whom we know and love, when what we should be concerned about is the impact our living has. And life goes on within you and without you, beneath the vast indifference of heaven.
-bill kenny


Sunday, January 27, 2008

Born Again Hooligans

I'm not even sure what the title means-it just popped into my head. And if you're wondering where this is heading today, join the club. I'm not sure I'll know when I've reached the end.

Was intrigued in one local newspaper by a report on who is held responsible for underage drinking in CT and how much (or little) pain is inflicted on those charged. I've never seen this as a 'grey area'-to me, it's very binary. You are over 21 (1) or you're not (0). Don't really understand the niceties of arguments like 'he/she was serving alcohol at a private party on private property'. Okay-if I kill someone in the privacy of my basement can I tell law enforcement folks to bugger off because it's my house? I know-oversimplification, but not by much and not for a real reason. More distinction without difference which is something we love in this culture. When we remember to think about differences and distinctions at all. Speaking of remembering....

Earlier in the week, in another newspaper, was a report (actually it was history as it had happened weeks earlier) of yet another store closing and leaving the Norwichtown Mall. Interestingly, the mall's website, perhaps presciently, lists another business as no longer being in the Norwichtown Mall (actually a Chinese restaurant). It has to be truly AWFUL economically for a Chinese restaurant to shutter its doors. Admittedly, the walk-in traffic by Werewolves of London is down, extremely, in a sad, old-fashioned place like the Norwichtown Mall, but such restaurants always seem to make it. Like those trees you see growing in the tiniest plot of dirt on the side of sheer rock cliff--I admire that tenacity. So, despite the fact they no longer show up on the map of the mall, I hope they will continue to survive (and prosper).

The usual suspects were quoted from across Norwich on the hard times that have beset the Norwichtown Mall. We had the usual quota of 'back in the day' stories that causes me to hear Springsteen's "Glory Days" playing in the jukebox of my memory. Significantly, the folks in Boston who own the mall, Edens & Avant, had no comment ('sometimes the things you do speak so loudly I cannot hear what you're saying'). It is, after all, a business and private enterprise, so who can say what and to whom? Norwich's Mayor Lathrop, responding to a reporter, offered that he'd be calling the developer next week to talk about the mall. I would, and should, be reassured except back in November, the Mayor and the Planning Department Director (after attending a NYC one-day development showcase, as guests of the folks from Boston), intended to speak with the same developer about their plans for the same Norwichtown Mall. And no one, it seems, except me, remembers any of that. That's the problem with being an eidetic, aside from rhymes with pathetic. Whereas born-again hooligan is an off-rhyme. Hey! I think I've reached the end.
-bill kenny

Saturday, January 26, 2008

"Americans don't dislike wealthy people; they want to be wealthy people."

Great line from Senator John McCain who is one of my heroes though I'm not sure I could bring myself to vote for him for President. Reminds me of rock and roll variants on the same topic, some by Randy Newman ('It's Money that I Love' and 'Land of Dreams'), Barrett Strong's 'Money (That's What I Want)' (penned by Berry Gordy, founder of Motown) and countless others but to me, the larger point the Senator is making is we want to emulate those whom we perceive as more successful than ourselves and become, in turn, examples for others (and so turns the great wheel).

I'm slowing going bald (with apologies to Canada's Rush). I'm working on developing a comb over the likes of which will make Trump jealous. Why? Because he has a killer 'do and zero other desirable attributes. Who among us wouldn't want to be one Zevon's Werewolves of London, drinking a pina colada at Trader Vic's with perfect hair?

We counsel our children to not be jealous of the child next door and her new bedroom set or his new bicycle but we watch the child's parent drive up in a new car/van/truck/crossover (what the heck is a 'crossover'? From what to what? Is it a vehicular transvestite?) and our jaws drop and our eyes water. Ich auch, me too-I want one of those.

It's part of what makes us human, envy. And, anecdote time, it may not just be us. I feed squirrels at my house and from the window of where I work. It's my chance to be an imitation of God.....just arbitrarily intervening in these little creatures' lives on random occasions for my own reasons and then withdrawing as quickly as I came. At times, at the house, I've actually gotten the squirrels to overcome their natural fear and caution and take a peanut from my hand (at those moments, as they waver and hesitate but move forward, always forward, towards the peanut, I flash on the realization that squirrels are, basically, rats with longer, bushier tales and better press clippings).
Some years ago, when I'd keep the peanuts in the right front pocket of my dungarees, we had one squirrel who'd climb up the trouser leg, like I was some form of skin-covered dispenser, to try to get at them.

My point is when I throw peanuts out for squirrels, one will attempt to bully all the others, as if to say 'these are mine, go get your own.' These are creatures who lack pockets and who have a tough time taking more than one peanut at a time. I mention that because it seems to me once a squirrel has a peanut in his/her mouth, the physical danger he/she then presents to another squirrel as he/she runs at them is minimal. He/she cannot bite them, right? On my street that's called 'lack of a credible threat'.

And conversely, no matter how many peanuts are on the ground and regardless of how many squirrels are present, one squirrel takes a nut and scampers off to do whatever squirrels do with their food, and sure enough another squirrel chases the first one. What is that all about? There's plenty of peanuts for all. 'No,' says the second squirrel, 'I want THAT peanut and no other. I didn't travel all the way from Arizona with my friend, Bullwinkle, to get pipped at the post, you bumbling, balding bi-ped. And what have you done with Boris and Natasha?
-bill kenny

Friday, January 25, 2008

The Infernal Dialogue at the Divine Comedy

Edgar Allen Poe termed it The Imp of the Perverse. Billy Joel sang about the Faces of the Stranger. Some call it conscience. Others say it's listening to your better angels. To me, the eternal internal dialogue I have is with my evil twin, skippy.

Make no mistake: We all have an evil twin--a creature who appears when the paper thin veneer of civility and courtesy is removed (for whatever reason) and who, with a genius for self-destruction that can be breath-taking, attempts single handedly to 'square away' everyone and everything on this planet that is confused or abused. At times, I have watched myself go off, as skippy, on some hapless fellow traveler on Spaceship Earth for all manner of sins, real and imagined, as if I were watching someone else on another planet. Because in a sense I am. Perhaps true for you too, skippy is a creation I cannot help but admire but also fear. I am he, as you are he; as you are me and we are all together.
Koo-koo kachoo

Sometimes, skippy brings up good points-but not often enough to ever let me get comfortable with him. This morning skippy gave me a rough time for keeping the change on a drive thru breakfast run on the way to work-like it would've killed me to let the window person have the coins. Well, I countered, I didn't ask or make them take a job there and what they earn is between them and their boss. I'm not sure skippy accepted that argument but I silenced him for at least as long as it took to eat the sandwich and drink the coffee.

The older I've gotten (and sometimes I feel I've aged three times for every year) the harder keeping a handle on him has become. Last spring, as the dynamics in Norwich changed so much that the City Council and the Mayor jettisoned the City Manager, it was skippy (I was along for the ride and that was all) who created the screen personae of two of my childhood cartoon favorites, crusader rabbit and rags, on a readers' forum of a local newspaper and, in a moment of manic malevolence, chose as his avatar a character from South Park, the little guy whose demise always sparks a cry of 'Oh my god, they killed Kenny!'

Actually they didn't and from all of that, all of this has evolved. Not sure if it's what might be called a Pilgrim's Progress, though I'm as fond of John Wayne as the next person (maybe fonder, or is that Fonda? And Peter or Henry, or for that matter, Jane?) And speaking of Jane, would that be Tarzan's? Or Austen? Or the Velvets' Sweet? And in light of my earlier contention that each of us has an evil twin skippy, just how many of them can dance on the head of a pin and/or be considered a pinhead unto themselves. It can be a challenge being a walking punchline. Don't even ask about chewing gum.
-bill kenny

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Same Ship, Different Day

Have always enjoyed The Who. They were actually the LAST live rock show I saw (a very long time ago), after Keith Moon had killed himself (wow. talk about an awkward sentence, eh?). I was standing in the Festhalle in Frankfurt am Main, Germany (actually back when there was a West Germany and an East Germany) along with 11,000 close, personal friends (okay, maybe just close physically) as they went into "My Generation" during the encore. I realized the foot soldier in the Blue Jean Army in front of me, singing along (at the top of his lungs) with every word, wasn't even alive when they released what I have always regarded as an anthem for my generation. Yeah, thanks for that.

That, possibly more than anything else, was the start of my 'what's the point of all this history?' position that has stood me in such good stead for all these decades since. Thus it was interesting to attend the informational session on the Norwich Semiseptcentennial (350th anniversary) slated for 26 June through 5 July 2009. The presentation was informative for both what was shared and what was not shared.

Civic pride and enthusiasm are wonderful and contagious. I wish everyone involved much success, but I'm confused as to where the estimated (at least) Seven Hundred and Fifty Thousand Dollars to support these ten days will be coming from. That's a lot of commemorative label wine sales at ten dollars a bottle, or community car washes, or glass bottle and soda can collection drives. It's a lot of everything to raise that kind of money. As the co-chairwoman outlined, there's a plan to host ten 'tall ships' in Norwich Harbor, at about $25,000 a ship (I tried numbers instead of words this time to see if it looks like less money; it doesn't, at least to me). Imagine collecting half a million soda cans and redeeming the deposit-that pays for one of the ten tall ships (sort of). And, FWIW, the co-chairwoman did NOT mention car washes or bottle and can collection drives; I'm making that up which is why my friends, if I had any, would call me Pinocchio.

The presentation spoke of New London's 1997 350th anniversary (New London is at the mouth of the Thames River along the Long Island Sound whereas Norwich is a bit nearer the alimentary canal, so to speak.) with a cost of 250K (keep reducing the format and it does start to look like less money, y'know?) and I honestly have no recollection of that event at all. Just proves a quarter of a million doesn't go as far as it used to, and in light of the absence of any information on how much money has been raised already causes me to return to fretting about default sources.

Considering how concerned so many were, with reason, about Monday's council deliberations on bonding almost eight hundred thousand dollars for fire fighting equipment, I'm wondering if there's any truth to the rumor about a money tree in the Botanical Garden at Mohegan Park. I was hoping to get a new car this Spring, so I'll have to stop and see if the winter winds knocked any of the branches to the ground so I can cash them in (does anyone have change for two twigs?). I used to smile when I'd outline to people the six phases of any project (large of small)-it's more of a grimace this morning and suspect it'll be around for some time to come.
-bill kenny

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Strafing the Cool Kids' Lunch Table

People prefer problems that are familiar to solutions that are not.
I attended a Norwich City Council meeting last night that was, despite some comments of neighbors who feel otherwise, heartening for showing how far we are willing to go (I think) in rethinking how we do business as a city.

This Council chose to bond slightly less than 800K (that's a magic number in Norwich-a penny over 800K and the bond proposal must go to referendum where 'we' fear voters will shoot it down. Except my memory is this past November, those who live here bonded a major rehabilitation of one of our middle schools (major=about 40 Million dollars). And the previous November saw us approve millions in bonding to repave streets. So much for 'the voters reject bonding requests' when, perhaps, what we mean is voters reject poorly-thought out and presented requests. Semantics, it's a wonderful thing!).

Last night's bond money is to support a variety of programs associated with volunteer fire fighting and our aldermen were effusive in their praise of the fire fighters, as well they should be. While you or I might run from a burning building, volunteer fire fighters run towards it and into it. What disquieted more than one alderman wasn't the 'why' so much as the 'how'. We are buying some items, like a nearly half-a million dollar heavy rescue vehicle to replace one 22 years old and well-past its useful life. And that's where this gets a little sticky. There is a plan of replacement for maintaining equipment among the volunteer units and the paid fire department, in light of shifting workloads (ever escalating, too) and mutual aid agreements, but one alderman last night fretted it may possibly NOT be a strategic plan so much as a schedule of 'who gets the next truck?'

And because of the immense cost of fire fighting equipment, and the desires we have as residents to NOT pay more in taxes, regardless of how much more the City must pay for goods and services, we all countenance a sleight of hand where we don't put big ticket items in the budget for anyone, well, almost anyone, but, instead, use bonding throughout the year to buy these items.
In the course of the discussion last night an alderman asked an almost excellent question of the City's Comptroller, which was 'how many fire trucks are we paying for with bonding?' The answer, three, is deceptively reassuring. The real question should have been....how many pieces of fire equipment do we have above a particular dollar value.....how many did did we purchase through budget appropriation and how many did we buy through bonding. As one citizen pointed out last night, we tend to use a special means of purchase, bonding, to finance a recurring requirement, capital equipment.

More than one aldermen last night opined that he 'hopes things will change' which is encouraging, except hope is not a plan. If we always do what we've always done, we'll always get what we've always gotten. As the City Manager and Department Heads working with the Mayor and the City Council begin the process of formulating our next budget, this is the year and the time to mean what you say and say what you mean. The City Council, Mayor and Manager should promise one another, and all of us who live in Norwich and fund our city, to develop an honest budget, no blue smoke and no mirrors. Eyes wide open, tell us what it will cost us in taxes to do those things we tell you we want you to do. When I elected a new City Council in November it wasn't because I was tired of looking at the faces in the front of the room-I (and I wasn't alone) felt we needed to go in another direction and we needed new people with new ideas to get us there.

I did NOT choose new brooms to sweep old dust. Aldermen of the City Council: you're still learning your way and walking the path. You know more now than you did the night you were elected and will know still more tomorrow and the day after that. You're starting to get a feel for where we tend to drop our voices when speaking about our challenges, where we prefer talking around a 'situation' rather than facing it head on. You are the change I wanted to see in how my city is governed. I elected you to make the hard choices, even when I disagree with you. As you gain greater insight into where our problems are, it'll become more apparent where solutions are needed. Don't worry about credit or blame, those tend to be parcelled out in a mostly capricious, callous and unfair manner. Fix the problem.
Be the change you want to be in our city.
-bill kenny

PS: Proving the Lord has an exquisite sense of humor, there's a WFSB report this morning on CT's favorite Hot Tub King, the former Governor and Federal Prison inmate, John Rowland, becoming Waterbury's economic development director thanks to an offer by the Mayor, Michael Jajura, whose idea of a drug plan differs significantly from what my medical insurance covers. With homies like these two and Philip Giordano it's a testimonial to the patience of the residents of Waterbury.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Asking the question is part of the answer

There was a good turnout and a decent discussion between and among the public and the Norwich City Council at the 7 January City Council meeting on the possibility/feasibility/advisability of hiring a lobbyist advocate for the city during the upcoming legislative session in Hartford (in conjunction with, in addition to, or in a parallel universe from, our elected officials, depending on whom is telling the story and to whom they are speaking).

It's not on the agenda for tonight's City Council meeting and in light of the story in only one of the local newspapers Friday, I'm not sure what, if anything, we as a city are doing with this topic. It appears we received four bids from lobbyists with prices to accomplish, well, that's my concern...

One of those who submitted a bid, according to the story, will work with the city to figure out what they should be lobbying for. Not sure we have that in the proper order and sequence. I'm not a big home improvement guy (I'm not even a little home improvement guy) but I don't think you go to the hardware store and buy lumber, shingles, nails and a hammer and then come home and decide what you're going to make. Something about 'plan your work and work your plan' comes to mind. Another of the lobbyists, whom the city has used in the past, has offered to assist (here's a surprise!) in getting funding for projects they have helped get funding for in previous sessions. Sounds a little bit like 'if you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always gotten.'

With a full-time governor and state bureaucracy, but only a part-time legislative branch, I've developed a greater appreciation for how legislation gets written, introduced and passed even though it doesn't have much to do with those whom we elect to accomplish it. And, in fairness to our part-time legislators, when would they have the time to research the various issues we would like them to examine, much less draft the language of a bill that could then be passed by both state houses and signed by the governor?

As electorates go, we're pretty fickle, after all. Two years ago to shut us up, the state legislature passed 'hands free only cell phone' laws (because reading newspapers, drinking coffee, applying makeup, and shaving while driving aren't distractions) which don't seem to be enforced by anyone at anytime. And, hand on your heart, if you were to get pulled over by a police officer for talking on a cellphone in violation of state statutes, would you thank the officer for enforcing the law or curse your luck at being the one who was caught? I know, 'don't ask the question if you can't stand the answer.'

Which, in a way, brings me back to my question about a lobbyist for Norwich.
Cold-hearted ba$tard that I am, it's a matter of return on investment. If we, as a city, will get more 'back' from Hartford than it costs us to hire an (additional) advocate, I'm not unhappy about hiring somebody. I just don't know what the answer is supposed to look like, which is why I hope the City Manager, the Mayor and the members of the City Council will make, or find, the time to explain what they want to do, and why, before undertaking anything. And if our local elected representatives have anything they'd like to say, there are two public comment sessions at tonight's Council meeting (and at every Council meeting) and they should avail themselves of the opportunity to make their voices heard, too.
It's hard to have a conversation when only one of us is speaking, especially when sometimes the things we do speak so loudly I can't hear what you say.
-bill kenny

Monday, January 21, 2008

What I say vs. What I mean

Ran into a colleague yesterday who was very tired from a long day Friday that stretched into Saturday. He works extensively in counseling and has a standing offer with those with whom he works that if they ever need him, for whatever reason at whatever time, to call him.

Someone actually took him up on this late Friday night/early Saturday morning and he was up all night talking this person down from whatever ledge he had climbed out on. He was very frazzled that the young man called him-even though he admitted that he'd told the kid to call him if he needed him.

Instead of being flattered he was needed by another traveler on Spaceship Earth he was cranky his weekend had been shortened and disrupted. But he had told this young person to call him. This is a like going to the seashore and getting pulled away from the beach by the current and NOT wanting to yell for help because the lifeguard looks like he's working on his tan. Or going to see a doctor when you're sick and apologizing for coming.

I saw a sign on a sales manager desk once that said 'customers are not an interruption of our work--they are the purpose for it.' I spend my time with perfect strangers (and with many flawed ones, as well) so I have to make sure the time I spend with my family is of the quantity and quality that they, and I, realize they are a part of my life and I of theirs. So often we get detoured by another roadside attraction that proves to be a distraction that we say things we never intended to mean, instead of meaning everything that we say.
-bill kenny

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Sometimes a map, sometimes a souvenir book

Tuesday's Norwich City Council meeting may actually be more informative for what happens BEFORE the meeting itself at 7 PM than for anything on the agenda.

There will be an informational session with the City Council offered by the Norwich Semiseptcentennial Committee on their plans (so far) for the 350th anniversary in 2009 of the settling of the city of Norwich. I enjoy the idea of patting myself on the back as much as the next guy, perhaps even more so (which explains the frequency of my shoulder dislocations) so I'm more than a bit interested in how some of us think we should celebrate all of us. But what I'm really interested in learning is how all of this gets paid for.
Last week, the first installment of 200K from the Mohegans for the Sachem Fund (a five year development fund, funded equally by the City of Norwich and the Mohegan tribe at 200K a year) was delivered via press conference in City Hall. Prior to that event, the Mayor had already nominated residents to sit on the Sachem Fund Advisory Board.
I wonder how many tall ships in the harbor shouting "Happy Semiseptcentennial!" you can rent for some portion of 400 thousand dollars (the hours of rehearsal needed to say semiseptcentennial in unison could prove to be quite costly). So, all in all, Tuesday's informational meeting should be, well, informational.

At the previous City Council meeting was a resolution proposed by the city manager to hire a lobbyist that sparked a fair amount of comment, within Council chambers and without. I find it interesting that with the legislative session slated to begin in (now) less than three weeks, there's nothing on Tuesday's agenda to follow up on the request for proposal the Council approved the night of the 7th. Perhaps my sense of irony has overwhelmed my sense of urgency, or perhaps the urgency was synthetic to begin with.

Tomorrow is the legal observance of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday. We have come a long way in our lifetimes, and his, in how we live with one another, but we have a long way to go. As it turned out, he wasn't able to be with us at the mountain, as he had feared for very probably the reasons he knew, but he helps underscore how important each of our lives is to all of us and one another so don't ever say you can't do something, because you're only one person. Because, you see, you are one person--and while you may feel you can't do everything, you can do something. Be the change you want to see in the world.
-bill kenny

Saturday, January 19, 2008

People Staying Where We Put Them

I have a tendency to freeze dry memories of people. No matter if I last saw someone ten minutes ago or ten years ago, I remember them in a particular way and if it turns out that ten minutes does become ten years before seeing them again, I'm always surprised at the changes they've undergone.

Perhaps because I see me everyday in the mirror (though by the cuts from shaving you could be forgiven for thinking I close my eyes some mornings) and my own changes are more gradual and subtle, when confronted by a real-life 'then and now' side by side comparison, I often lack the verbal agility and grace and, instead, say something cutting and caustic (and totally in character) like 'what happened to you?' We've all wondered 'if a tree falls in the forest and there's no one to hear, does it make a sound?' If your solitary life changes as you mature and no one notices, did you ever live at all?

We devote so much time and talent to accumulating things: a house, a car, a big screen television, a nicer house, a bigger car, a heated swimming pool, season tickets for our favorite sports team (Don't get your hopes up, Lou, it ain't your guys), a Winnebago-hell, a herd of Winnebagos (The Tubes' What Do You Want from Life?', 1975) that in the end we risk becoming possessed by our own possessions. There's an expression that says, 'you can't take it with you when you go.' Though I suppose you can die trying, or just die.

"You are just an echo of a world I knew so long ago.
If you saw me now, you wouldn't even know my name.
I bet you're fat and married and you're always home in bed by half-past eight.
And if we talked about the old times, you'd get bored and you'd have nothing more to say.
"Yes, people often change, but memories of people stay the same."
-bill kenny

Friday, January 18, 2008

I'm a Victim, too. And so are you

Item in the Los Angeles Times (sadly NOT on the front page), datelined Pueblo County, Colorado, where an inmate, Scott Anthony Gomez, Jr., of the county jail injured himself attempting an escape when he fell while trying to rappel on bedsheets (he'd tied together) down the side of the 85 foot tall building. He has filed a lawsuit claiming prison and county authorities caused his injuries by making it too easy to escape from prison. Oh yeah, he had escaped previously and had been recaptured. As you might imagine, falling about forty feet can cause injuries and the county was attempting to collect about $64,000 for medical costs from Scott when he sued.

My eyes water at the possible prospects this type of lawsuit suggests. With a good lawyer, hell-with only a fairly good lawyer-and some luck in the jury selection process, Scott could hear the ka-ching of a judgement, unless the county, fearing just that, offers a settlement. And that, my friend, would open the door to the rest of us.

For instance, I always dreamed of being a professional baseball player. I'm built all wrong to ever have that happen, herculean efforts to the contrary notwithstanding. It's not my fault I can't pitch for the Yankees-but it sure is somebody's fault, right? There has to be someone I can sue. When all else fails, there's Mom and Dad (unless they've made you sign a 'hold harmless' agreement).
How about that high school prom date where everything went wrong?
You don't think you're entitled to something for all that? The school system has deep pockets-so does the tux rental company, and maybe the florist for the corsage, and the list goes on and on.
This is America, Pilgrim! Money fixes everything.
We should give Scott a call, get together and review our options.

Percale or muslin? And how important is thread count, really?
-bill kenny

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Got Milk?

There's a story this morning about a Girl Scout, selling cookies, who was robbed of twenty-eight dollars yesterday in Savannah, Georgia. She was ten years old and the thief was twelve. Cannot make this stuff up.

When you live in a culture where sneakers (I don't care what you call them in your house, in my house Mom made us put them on when we came home from school and changed clothes to go outside and play) can cost over two hundred dollars a pair and are so heavily advertised as the item to own that young people kill one another and steal the sneakers from the body, robbing a Girl Scout no longer raises an eyebrow of incredulity.

How did this happen? And don't blame television-okay let me rephrase that: don't blame television entirely. Same for the school system, the neighborhood, the politicians--there's plenty of blame to go around. What was it Roxy Music sang, "In Every Dream Home a Heartache"? Sounds more right now than it did then.

Don't know about you but some mornings I have trouble meeting the gaze of the codger staring back at me in the mirror as I ready myself for another day as a Grown-up in the Real World. I was raised to believe there are sins of omission and commission and I fear the road to a very warm place is paved with almost equal amounts of those sins and the best of intentions (and, no, by warm place I do not mean Miami, or Savannah, Georgia, for that matter).

After I shake my head in dismay and disbelief reading a story like Grand Larceny Girl Scout, what should I do-what will you do and what can we do? And my President tells me I need to be on my guard against terrorists. I guess for some folks, everything else is just buttermilk.
-bill kenny

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

"If you don't buy this magazine, we'll shoot this dog"

When you buy a soda are you 'supporting' the bottler? When you visit a drive-through, are you embracing, albeit fleetingly, the franchise holder as part of your community? Do you tend to refer to the gas station on the corner as 'my' station? Do you regard where you grocery shop as a community litmus test?

I'm asking because our (a possessive plural pronoun) local professional baseball team is weighing, via the pages of one of the newspapers, instituting a parking fee, in addition to the price of a ticket for the game. As I read the reports, they'll reach some kind of a decision by the middle of February. I have to imagine the Harbor Management Commission must be thrilled at the idea of their Thames becoming a Rubicon of sorts, but only if Romulus and Remus both qualify for facade grants for that coffee shop they hope to build.

Sports at any and all levels is a business and as such, to survive, it must turn a profit. It has an obligation to its shareholders, owners and employees to make every effort to do that and sometimes that means relocating, as was the case when the Albany (NY) Colonie-Yankees arrived in SE Connecticut nearly a decade and a half ago and set up shop in the constructed-for-them Senator Thomas Dodd Stadium, up in Misnomer Park. I say misnomer, because it was called 'Industrial' except there really wasn't any industry and that was changed to 'business' but that's only a little closer to the truth. The area is filled with condominiums, apartments, assisted living, large and mostly empty buildings that serve as headstones for deceased business plans, a work out center, a legal support center and a beer distributor.

Despite all of that, is there a better place to be on a sunny Saturday in June than Dodd Stadium? I doubt it, and if you agree, then get up there this season, on more than an occasional basis, and root, root, root for the home team. Who cares what affiliate of whoever's major league franchise they are? The kids out on the field in a perfect world, are passing through on their way to 'The Show'; for far too many, perhaps only a cup of coffee and for too few, a career that many of us, adults all, make us wish we, too, could be kids again.

Come to Dodd with romance in your soul, but understand receipts are what counts at the box office. If the baseball team doesn't make the money it needs to make, it'll move. And we won't have the quiet joy (though there are some neighbors on Plain Hill who might question the use of 'quiet') of watching a child's game played out on our Field of Dreams. A couple of years ago, I was unable to be at the stadium the night my childhood idol, Willie Mays, came to visit. As disappointed as I was to have missed him, I was pissed off, to find out there were hundreds, if not thousands, of empty seats. The yawn of indifference being what it is,once if gets started it can be impossible to stop.
We built Dodd Stadium, and for awhile, they came. If they'll keep coming is another matter entirely. I'll be out front, Clueless Bill, waiting on Shoeless Joe.
-bill kenny

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Politics of Expedience

How would you choose: do something right or do something right now?
This isn't a philosophy class or a variation of Buddhism's School of the Burning House-this is how we live in the here and now. I know someone who counsels 'perfection is the enemy of good enough' and that, in and of itself, may also be a (separate) challenge.

I've heard politics called 'the art of the possible', but we, the people (at all levels of government) can make it impossible by elevating our expectations and the volume of our voices when speaking of our expectations. Not helping is a representational form of government where, from the speaker's podium at a city council meeting to and through the closed curtain of the voting booth, we can drown out one another if we work at it.

Voter turnout in Norwich in November was about what it usually is for off-year elections, so in a sense, we failed to expand the size of the discussion on how to 'move forward', but I think we're compensating for that by expanding the discussion by those in the room, so to speak, on mapping the path and laying out the framework. When you don't know where you're going, any road will get you there. For those of us who voted for 'change' in the Council, I suspect there are as many different definitions of change as there those of us doing the defining. The trick may be to celebrate the commonality of a shared vision and decide how important our differences are in pursuit of a common goal. First, of course, we might want to start with a common goal and then define a path to achieving it.

So, I'm back to my original question:
do you choose doing something right or something right now?
Open your test booklets, pick up your pencils and begin.
-bill kenny

Monday, January 14, 2008

Snow Angels

It was almost fifty degrees Fahrenheit on Saturday and this morning, snow is steadily falling and the temperatures continue to drop. Thought for a minute when I saw the snow I was in Baghdad, which received its first snowfall in close to a century earlier in the week (suspect some politicians around the globe were a little nervous about that being a harbinger for the end of the Global War on Terror, GWOT, long-rumoured to happen only 'when hell freezes over', suddenly concerned they need to buy skates and head out on the ice.)

I like living where we have all four seasons, except when we sometimes have them all on the same day. And I'm such a horrible person that despite this being New England in January and despite the lovely weather we had so undeservedly (at least I didn't deserve it. Did you?), I'm still whining about the snow, slush and sleet we are having today. And I hate trying to build a slushman (the hat keeps falling off) and sleet angels are no good, either.

I like the way the snow, eventually, covers everything, transforming the landscape into something previously glimpsed though not always seen. There's an expression, 'It rains on the just and the unjust alike ' so I suppose, meterorologically, that's true for snow as well but I think snow adds an element of optimism and mystery to what it covers without concealing what it is.
We still know, under that snowdrift, is a car, but for just a moment we can pretend it's a Maybach and not a Mitsubishi.
-bill kenny

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Dogs Bark, but the caravan moves on

I spent a lot of electrons this time a week ago fretting about last Monday's Norwich City Council deliberations on hiring a lobbyist (in addition to the TWO State representatives and ONE State senator we currently have elected/hired plus others charged with advocating for us in Hartford).

I appreciated the members of the City Council listening as a number of us voiced our concerns at the meeting, before explaining the first step was a 'request for proposal' (their action last week) and they, in concert with the Mayor and the City Manager, would next map a plan of priority projects for this coming legislative session and evaluate potential lobbyists' abilities to assist our elected representatives as part of the selection process. I'm assuming (=hoping) that may be what they do this coming Monday (tomorrow) at 5 P.M. in Room 335 of City Hall as part of the APED (Administrative, Planning and Economic Development) Sub-Committee, of which three of the City Council are members.

Reading one of the daily newspapers this morning that covers Norwich (and usually better than the one that has "Norwich' as part of its name) I came across a column by Paul Choiniere, in Section E ("Perspective") for print fans, and on line for the rest of us, "Insult a Rep, Hire a Paid Lobbyist" which makes many of the points offered at the Council meeting (admittedly more eloquently than most of us last Monday night).

But here's what cranks me--he quotes both Representative Melissa Olsen, who has run unopposed for the 46th district since Peter Nystrom tried (and failed) to unseat Edith Prague for her State Senate seat four years ago (actually, Olsen had a four way Democratic Party primary to get the nomination to start with) as well as the State Senator, herself, as being underwhelmed at the idea of the Norwich City Council hiring a lobbyist to do, in essence, what they should and could be doing. Both of them are quoted in Mr. Choiniere's piece this morning with Senator Prague describing the hiring as "a big waste of money" while Representative Olsen offered "If there is an issue of particular importance to them (Norwich City officials), all they have to do is call me. My only constituency is the city of Norwich."

Considering Representative Olsen was in Council chambers last Monday night, with a copy of the meeting's agenda posted on the wall behind her in the hallway, and that she stayed long enough to hear ALL of Mayor Lathrop's State of the City speech (I believe she actually received a copy of the speech from the Mayor prior to his oration to the rest of the us), I wonder why she didn't choose to remain and offer her opinion of the council's desire to hire a lobbyist during the public comment period that followed the Mayor's reading of the Council's business rules (in their entirety, I might add).
She couldn't have had anything better to do. After all, she's quoted by Choiniere as saying her only constituency is Norwich. Why would you bug out, Ms. Olsen and duck the discussion?
And what, pardon the impertinence Senator Prague, were you doing Monday night that precluded you from attendance at the City Council meeting but being available later to offer your always pithy observations and insights? I've been troubled for years, Senator Prague, by many of your positions and priorities (and much of your politics) and I've NEVER felt you were representing a single one of my concerns in Hartford. It's dismaying to realize I was probably right.

Both Senator Prague and Representative Olsen had an opportunity to ask, as some of us did last Monday evening, for a better and more thoughtful examination of a primary concern for this city. You could have helped shape the discussion by raising your voices but you remained silent. Instead, you both chose sound bytes in a newspaper over a public forum intended to allow and further discussion. For you to look good, somebody else needed to look bad.
Shame on you, on both of you.
Die Hunde bellen, aber die caravan zieht weiter.
-bill kenny

Saturday, January 12, 2008

A Glottal Warning about Global Warming

A polar bear walks into a neighborhood tavern, sits down at the bar and orders a whiskey, neat. The bartender, unsure about having a polar bear in his establishment in the first place, is somewhat hesitant to bring the animal a drink, but does so, placing the glass very carefully near the polar bear, goes back to the far end of the bar and resumes polishing glasses. The polar bear quietly sips his whiskey and watches the news on the TV suspended over and behind the bar. About ten minutes go by, and the polar bear signals he'd like another one.

The bartender, more comfortable now with the idea of a polar bear on a bar stool sipping whiskey, brings him his refill, noting, as he sets the glass down, "we don't get too many polar bears in here." "Yeah," says the polar bear, knocking back his drink in one swallow, "at these frickin' prices, no wonder."

If you believe, as I do, that life is a series of systems, and life here on Earth is a reflection of that, then, perhaps, you'll agree we, as a species, have as much impact on the development of our environment as it has on us. I don't pretend to be as knowledgeable as those who drew up the Kyoto Accords on global warming and I've watched Al Gore's movie (I still think the Nobel committee should give Walt Disney a posthumous prize for "Steamboat Willie" if they're handing out alternate Oscars, but that's just me) and was as concerned with our place, and conduct, on this planet before watching it as I was afterwards.

I'm not sure we bi-peds have been the best stewards we can be for a planet that is home to so many amazing and unique-to-the-universe creations such as Keira Knightley, Wii (NASA suggests other solar systems, and other planets in our own, have mountains, atmospheres et al, but I'll bet neither Saturn nor Alpha Centuari has anything like Keira playing Wii, or anything even close) and Taco Bell drive-thrus. Not to mention the six and half billion of us running around all over globe, and all the other species who don't have Internet access so we cannot yet read a blog from an Indian Ocean mollusk.

What I get uneasy about in listening to the discussion on Global Warming is how, because it is a complex subject with NO easy answers, we've switched to a facet of it that is a much simpler for us to handle, and that requires little to no research or even facts: questioning the political motivations and ideology of everyone on 'either side of the issue'. Instead of sober analysis of behaviors (personal, regional, national) and a discussion on modifications and changes, we've defaulted to 'oh yeah? I know you are, but what am I?' Sort of like Monty Python's The Argument Clinic instead of the University of Northern Colorado's version (the former is a classic and brilliantly funny and the latter is neither but may be a bit more useful ultimately).

I'm afraid, because we have decided at some level 'thinking' is too hard, to volley slogans, or offer innuendo as substantive fact (and not just about global warming, either. Pick an issue and you'll find fervent and fevered shouting matches on all sides of any question). Repartee and counterpoint have become the weapons of choice in the intellectual game of chicken we play with one another.

I don't know much about 'the truth' of Global Warming or the science that proves or disproves it, but I do know this: today is the 12th of January 2008, and in Norwich, Connecticut (the "Rose of New England" (we can buy real license plates that say that right on the plate, can you?)) it is 46 degrees Fahrenheit at 1040 in the morning.
The only way that polar bear is ever going to see ice again is if he orders that next Seven Crown on the rocks.
-bill kenny

Friday, January 11, 2008

Don't interrupt the Sorrow

Have you followed any of the primary campaigns seeking the major party Presidential nominations? How have you been gotten your information? Mostly print, perhaps online, or via commercial over-the-air news broadcasters or one of those 24/7 cable news mills?

I have a confession-not good for the soul, perhaps but for my sanity. I catch up at night and on weekends with C-SPAN; where I live both 1 and 2 (ooh....living the dream, I know). Admittedly, there's a high school a-v club quality about the sound and picture I'm getting but I can hear and see the people seeking the highest office in the land, interviewing for the job that, in essence, is President of the World. I don't have to listen to someone else set the scene for me, or describe the room and the presence or absence of 'electricity' when the candidate enters it, or even (my favorite part) at the conclusion of the speech/press conference/media opportunity, come back on to tell me what the candidate just said.

I am stupid-but I'm not that stupid. If you have something new to add, TV Person (new being the root word of 'news', which purports to be your profession), then, by all means tell me. If not, shut up. When The Candidate states he/she drinks his/her bath water or believes all babies should be galvanized at birth, I don't need someone to tell me what the The Candidate meant. I was listening and watching.
Am I often vexed, discomfited, confused, frightened, bemused and/or angered by some of the things that get said? Yeah, and I think that's what's supposed to happen instead of just sitting there like roadkill with hair on the Human Highway, as the lights from the Electric Fire in the corner of the living room cast crazy shadows on the wall.

C-SPAN delivers undiluted, and often stultifyingly boring, communication directly from the source. So much for 'and the truth shall set you free', eh? Minute for minute, is there anything less interesting than watching Congressional representatives speak on a point of order concerning an amendment to a farm price supports bill, at ten minutes before midnight on a Tuesday (and probably to an empty chamber but the camera is never allowed to show that, anymore)? I doubt it. But when you buy a ticket, you get the whole ride.
Governance is just as much a process as a product. Appropriations legislation, when accomplished, runs into the thousands of printed pages--and that's not an accident. Everything in there was placed there by one of the folks I'm watching on C-SPAN.

CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, MSNBC, FOX, HBO and CineMax--any of them may have all the sizzle, but C-SPAN is the meat and potatoes. So cut the cake and grab a plate and hope it goes around.
-bill kenny

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Infinity of Barbershop Mirrors Trick

Sorry, again, for barking at the moon yesterday. Was angry at a lot of things and it seemed to crystallize around a newspaper article. Jefferson Airplane once sang, "You're Only Pretty as You Feel." I'm not especially attractive most of the time and yesterday was one of my more 'I don't feel pretty at all' days. Sorry you bore the brunt of that.

Trying to move beyond that gets harder when there are echoes from that newspaper story, like the rings in a pond from a pebble too casually tossed. Spoke to some Norwich Neighbors in the course of yesterday and visited the website of one of our Alderpersons (remember, I told you about these?) and was a bit discomfited. With apologies to Roger McGuinn, "Lost My Driving Wheel" is a great tune but shouldn't be an option or an outcome (at least not yet).

I hate when life imitates art (either Carney or Linkletter). I am troubled how we seem to gravitate to pessimism because that way we can only be surprised and never disappointed.

I would wish anyone and everyone who has an issue with the manner in which the City Council does its business would voice that concern out loud (and not simply sidelip it on your way out of Council Chambers to the person who sat in front of me Monday night. Yeah, I heard you, ma'am; how could I NOT have heard you. BTW, how would you feel if we walked out while you spoke?) at the next opportunity, which just happens to be this Monday evening at Greeneville School (the first in what the City Council hopes/promises to be an ongoing community outreach).

As I understand it, there's the possibility of pizza (yeah, I was lobbying for pony rides, but what can a poor boy do?). So even if you don't have an issue, come and have a slice. And, with what will sound like it should have a disclaimer, "funded by a grant from Domino's or Papa Gino's", consider the pizza a metaphor for who we are (not so much 'peppy' like pepperoni-don't be so darn literal). There are individual slices, or villages (like Thamesville, Greeneville, Taftville, Laurel Hill) but together there is but one pie. Is that for here, or to go?
All I am saying is give pizza a chance.
(Wow. That's not how I thought this would end when I started.)
-bill kenny

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Reality is for people who cannot cope with drugs

Got your attention, right? Snappy title, dripping with irony and innuendo, eh? Will you feel silly when you realize it has NOTHING to do with what follows? Bait and switch is alive and well on the World Wide Web. I apologize.This is a feeble attempt to have the last word and/or feel better (the latter is more likely).

Had a note from a reporter from a local newspaper and the story appeared in this morning's edition, in the local section (have to talk to my agent about that-at least it was above the fold) as "Zarnetske proposals chafe city council".

When you read the story, you'll discover as is so often the case in this newspaper, the person writing the headlines didn't read the article. But that's not what chaps my butt (I'm sorry, 'chafes my hindquarters'). Go ahead and read the story, I'll wait right here while you do that. Take your time, I brought a book (a book is like a Blackberry but it doesn't have a scroll key. Us old folks used to read them all the time back when dinosaurs and dial-up ruled the earth).

Now, as VH1 might say in 'Behind the Music':

-----Original Message-----
From: M......., L..
Sent: Tuesday, January 08, 2008 1:02 PM
To: Kenny, William P.
Subject: In need of your services
What did you think of the introduction of an ordinance on the floor last night? Do you think bringing something to agenda setting is backdoor politics? Do you think it defeats the purpose to bring something in cold turkey like that?
As always, thanks!

On 1/8/08 1:08 PM, "Kenny, William P. " wrote:
My understanding is the City Council has always been able to introduce a proposal for a resolution to be considered at a future meeting so I don't have as much difficulty with that as I do with the introduction, last night, of an eleventh resolution under 'new business' after the agenda has been posted.


How can I, as a resident, comment (before Council deliberations) or as an alderman (examine the background behind the resolution) on an item that I don't even know about until someone requests a suspension of the rules to place it on the evening's program?

To me, agenda setting is what happens PRIOR to the Council meetings where City Manager, the aldermen and the Mayor (and in theory, interested residents who have a patron) develop the roadmap for the next council meeting.
Bill Kenny
From: M......., L..
Sent: Tue 1/8/2008 4:11 PM
To: Kenny, William P.
Subject: Re: In need of your services

Thank you....once again!

-----Original Message-----
From: Kenny, William P.
Sent: Tuesday, January 08, 2008 5:04 PM
To: M......., L..
Subject: RE: In need of your services
I'm not sure how I helped, but you are welcome.
bill kenny


If you've noticed the significant edit in the story of what I said (okay, typed), and how it changed the meaning of my words, congratulations, Scoop, you're on your way to J-School. And after graduation, I know where you can work.
-bill kenny

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Horton Hears a Who...

...in this version, the part of "Horton" is played by the Norwich City Council and the part of the "who" is played by the residents of Norwich (and as a rock and roll kid, I'd like to say it's a thrill to share the stage with Pete Townsend! What? Oh, not that Who....nevermind.)

The Norwich City Council had its first regular meeting under its new rules last night, approved at its last meeting, and I think once we get used to the differences in rhythm and cadence, we'll all be fine. Traditionally, citizens have had two opportunities to speak to, though not ask questions and gain information from, the members of the Mayor, City Council, the city manager and/or corporation counsel. The first opportunity, early in the meeting was always confined to comments on unfinished or new business on the agenda.
Under the improved rules, as happened last night, citizens can speak about, and to, whatever issues are of concern to them and not have to wait, as was formerly the case, for nearly the end of the meeting, when the hour is late and attention is flagging, to talk to broader issues and topics. Nine people spoke during the first comment period, which, to my memory, is about the same number we had, total, for the last three or four months under the previous business rules.

Thus for the first time in a long time, we had a forum for a neighbor to tell his City Council he is concerned about public safety on Route 2 as it wends its way through Norwich neighborhoods. And the citizen insisted, very politely but forcibly (I thought), his elected officials and others, to include the fire and the police chief, work to develop a plan to enforce the existing speed limits and enhance safety. He was a little nervous, confessing as he started that he'd never spoken to the City Council before, but he did a fine job and seemed so encouraged at the ease of the process that he said he'd return again, and often, to talk to the Council (which I think was part of the impetus behind modifying the business rules). I'm looking for an ally to get pony rides for my birthday, and I think I may have found my guy. Stay tuned.

The difference between a rut and a grave is the depth of the habit, and sometimes habits are harder to break than first thought as another resident, who speaks to the Council on a variety of subjects on a regular basis seemed momentarily confused if this were, indeed, a comment period to address concerns about resolutions on the council's agenda. Assured this was the time and space to do that, he did so with his usual sincerity and directness.

Another citizen shared with the Council he had watched the previous meeting on cable in his living room (what I like to call public excess TV) and advised them frequently the comment podium's microphone malfunctioned and, additionally, one of the alderman's microphones didn't seem to be on at all, so he couldn't be clearly heard. He encouraged the council to remedy the audio situation. It can be hard to consider someone else's point of view when you can't hear him.

Another speaker thanked the council for an action it was to take later in the evening (how did he know they would do that, I wondered. Perhaps, in addition to ESPN and ESPN2, his cable system also has ESP?) supporting a variance request of a client, adding the client is a small business. He reminded the council continued support of small business in Norwich was key to economic growth.
From where I sat, the speaker bore a resemblance to someone in June who'd advocated to create a retail space for two national chain stores and a regional bank in the middle of a traditional neighborhood. I suspect the lighting in council chambers was responsible for this doppelganger effect, but, speaking of lighting, in response to another citizen's remarks, I learned that 44 of the 48 light bulbs in the fixtures in council chambers are CFL (not, as I first thought, Canadian Football League, but Compact Fluorescent Lamps). Go Hamilton Tiger Cats! (What? Again?)

Another speaker encouraged the City Council to request increase funding from the state legislature for various arts programs and operations in the city while yet another citizen shared with the council his plans to have a one-man No Child Left Indoors initiative. He's working with mentoring groups in the city to take four young people and hopefully share his hobby, fishing, and make it their hobby as well. He didn't really need anything from the Council last night except, he suggested, perhaps their help at a later date, in assuring that whatever bureaucracies need to be plugged into such a project are a help and not an obstacle.

What went on wasn't West Wing, or even C-Span. It was a process that's still evolving and will get better and smoother as we go along-though smoothness isn't necessarily something we need to strive for (too much). Bit by bit, we need to reassure ourselves that 'we the people' are indeed the folks for whom this city government is working (and remember we hired these people and they want to do their best for us). Actions speak louder than words. And sometimes the things we do speak so loudly I can't hear what we're saying.
-bill kenny

Monday, January 7, 2008

Zevon meets Donne

An amazing aspect about technological applications and evolutions is the development and dissemination of information that can be shared by an infinite number, but which is, simultaneously, beyond formal communication channel constraints and constructs. That's not always a good thing, and in wandering the Net, you either learn to read some folks and NOT read seriously others, or you are trapped on line all day in an unending 'do loop.'

Sitting in Norwich, CT, my view of the world (which actually becomes my world), is very different from yours-not superior or inferior, just different. An ongoing challenge is to take a micro-topic, something I think is worth writing about, and offering it within a macro-context (it ain't called the World Wide Web for nothing, Starbuck). So while I had thought I'd offer a modified rant on an issue of some import here in The Rose of New England, some days you eat the bear, and some days the bear eats you.

I never had an opportunity to meet Major Andrew Olmsted, US Army, though I read and enjoyed his blog on a regular basis until this morning.
His final entry is literally that. If you can read it and keep from crying for him (and for all of us), tell me how, as I cannot stop.
"If I leave you, it doesn't mean I love you any less.
Keep me in your heart for awhile."
-bill kenny

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Deja Vu as Precis Vu

Nice story in the Norwich Bulletin this morning on Mayor Benjamin Lathrop's "State of the City" address which will start tomorrow night's city Council meeting. The Mayor is quoted as saying '(I)t's a compilation. It works off last year's address. I'm proud of it."

I enjoyed the tone of last year's speech very much-as I have for all the previous years there has been one, originally by a City Council President and then, after charter revision in March 2001, by the Mayor of Norwich. As the new year begins, despite the sometimes dismal winter weather and (growing) economic uncertainty, optimism is in short supply and always welcome. Besides, sentiments like a 'desire to continue to reinvent', or posess a 'new vision' and 'further the Renaissance' can't be spoken often enough, judging from the number of times they've already been spoken.

My disquiet with "state of" anything speeches is they are long on vision and short on measureable, definable goals. I'd like to know more, specifically, about projects like Cadle Mill and Byron Brook, both mentioned at length in the 2007 speech. Perhaps that's what the Mayor means when he says this year's speech works off last year's, and he'll offer us a progress report. I'm heartened to read the Mayor will outline ideas for the semiseptcentennial celebration (in 2009) Perhaps Prince, in all his purple majesty, can rewrite one of his classics, updating it, of course: "Two thousand, double zero, then just go ahead and add a nine.....Tonight we're gonna party like it's 1659!"

I'm looking forward, truth be told, a little more, to the first installment, as a new addition to the City Council agenda, of the City Manager's report. The City Manager is, by charter, the Chief Executive Officer, and if the Mayor possesses the 'bully pulpit' than the City Manager could be considered the bully (though our new one seems likable enough and much more like the consensus building type, rather than a bully).

I'm hoping the City Manager will, in light of the meeting's agenda, outline his thoughts on specific reasons for requesting the hiring of lobbyists on behalf of the City to include what Norwich received for its investment last session and how, combined with the advocacy of our three state representatives (Olsen, Malone and Prague. Sounds a little bit like a Seattle grunge band, doesn't it?) will accelerate and enhance the city's economic position and create a greater resource base to assist more citizens in being successful.

As I mentioned the other day, lobbying is a BIG business here in The Constitution State and I'm not sure how happy or unhappy I am about that, no matter how many other towns across the state are hiring lobbyists. Voltaire once suggested if 20 million people believe in a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing. He is not in the 736 page listing of lobbyists the CT Office of State Ethics has compiled.
I already looked.
-bill kenny