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Sunday, August 31, 2008

Maryanne with the Shaky Hands meets Pictures of Lily

I cannot make up a story like this one. It's from an authoritative source-after all, the Vice President of these United States is an avid viewer, if not provider.

No one whom any of us know will ever admit to having an idea as to who Jenna Jameson is, or to having any familiarity with, or knowledge of, her body of work (nudge, nudge/wink, wink). In less than 0.06 seconds (the amount of time in which Michael Phelps won an entire gold medal), the mighty search engines at Google produced 15,500,000 results for her name. Ah, to be alive in this technologically advanced time when such data is only a mouse click away.....

I know, you're frowning. And you have reason to frown-with the convergence of technological tools and the bodies of knowledge we have across the globe, you'd assume we'd have eliminated hunger, poverty, oppression, disease, ethnic animosity, marshmallow fluff (sorry-I have always hated that stuff and this is my list, so on it goes) and all other maladies and mischief that plague us.

Instead we have blogs, talk radio, email with eleven kajillion forwards before finally getting to the picture of a cartoon mouse giving a cartoon eagle the rigid middle digit, a never ending stream of jokes flying across the atmosphere and amateur porn, without the raincoats and the sticky cinema floors. It's a hard life when you're the Crown of Creation (et tu, Gracie, Paul and Marty?). When you have opposable thumbs and the intelligence to build weapons of mass destruction that can wipe us off the planet, what do you do for a second act?

That Jenna Jameson shows up on Fox News isn't news in or of itself. Her pregnancy is news because she is a public figure and we love this kind of stuff (the only thing bigger than the marriage of Prince Charles and Lady Diana was the coverage of her death and the years of investigation that followed it. Even here, in the USA, where we fought a war to NOT be under the British crown, we hung breathlessly on every word of every report.).

My favorite line in the news story begins "But the devout Catholic...." adding a whole new dimension to the phrase, 'Blessed is He Who Comes in the Name of the Lord'. I assume there's a generation of all-American young men with hairy palms and poor vision who would be stunned at the diversity of people traveling to Damascus who've had amazing encounters. I strongly encourage the use of one of the mapping engines or on-line travel agencies, just not the one with the gnome, because (and apologies for the awful pun) there's no place like gnome.

As Peter Townsend wrote, and Roger Daltrey sang, 'guys come from every city' and people like Jenna are staples of a thousand fantasies. Speaking of staples, once they're removed, more often than not, she finds herself facing the same fate as Lily; which is only marginally better than being "Das Madchen unter der laterne".
-bill kenny

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Officer, I can explain that Dead Head sticker.....

With Labor Day this Monday, this is very much the last hurrah for summer 2008. I was always amazed as a kid how quickly summer flew by but as an adult I'm gob-smacked. Wasn't it just last week that we had Memorial Day and the promise of this year's summer stretched out before us like a blank canvas?

What happened? I hope you had fun or got something done, because I didn't do either. I figured I had time enough and forget Lennon's observation, "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans." As true for the son as for the father he barely knew.

For me, summer is always baseball even though this year (I think) it's possible the World Series (also known as The October Classic) will, or could, actually conclude in early November. I can remember as a kid, being allowed to bring in my transistor radio with the white cord and the earpiece and listen to the Series at lunch time or outdoors at recess. Our children don't do that, you know, because Major League baseball stopped almost completely playing day games in order to goose TV revenues which is what they used to backstop their bottom lines as player's salaries headed into the ionosphere. Of course the games at night go into the wee small hours and the kids, well, the kids, just drift off into a thousand different directions.

Yeah, the kids don't care because the kids don't watch but it's not just about major league baseball (we in Norwich, CT have a minor league team in Double A who are finishing up their season this weekend in Trenton, NJ ("Trenton Makes-the World Takes") and who didn't quite make it to the Easter League playoffs but by my reckoning sent a decent stream of talent upwards and into "The Show", the major leagues, which is (I think) what the farm teams are supposed to do), but here in the weeds and wilds of Dodd Stadium, it's mostly us Boys of Summer in the stands.

Southeastern CT loves its beaches and its casinos, and sort of, its baseball team. The reports of home attendance this year were upbeat (the team exceeded 200K for the first time in a number of years, and when you look at the population base around here, that's worth something or should be) but the team's owner has concerns about making (enough) money to keep the team here. A baseball team, or any sports franchise, is, of course, a business and needs to turn a profit-it's just weird to remember the Atlanta Braves were once the Milwaukee Braves and before that, the Boston Braves, as they searched for a bottom line they could live on and with.

At the Big League level, it looks like my Yankees (don't tell the Steinbrenners, okay? They're paying all the bills, and God Bless 'em for that, but they have more money than brains and far more than they have passion and heart, so I still like to think of the team as mine) will find out what most of us do on weekdays and weekends during the playoffs when you're not actually in them, for the first time in over a score of years.

And to think, getting Carl Pavano (whom I think of as this millennium's answer to Lou "Iron Horse" Gehrig) back into the rotation wasn't enough to put us over the top? I, for one, should be happy he didn't hurt himself showering off after beating the Orioles last Saturday. Carl, along with Kevin Brown, another Spirit of Yankee Playoff Past, certainly gave a whole new meaning to the 'free' part of free agent.

But that's just the bitterness surfacing and not fair to Carl or Kevin (at least not Carl) and has more to do with the time of year and my state of mind than with the pennant races. "Nobody on the road, nobody on the beach. I feel it in the air, the summer's out of reach." I think you look great in those wayfarers.
-bill kenny

Friday, August 29, 2008

Nun of the Above

I attended Catholic grammar school, back in the day, in New Brunswick, New Jersey. I guess in the interests of accuracy, it would be more correct to say I survived Catholic school. Don't get me wrong, I'm not being unkind or a cur when I use that verb to describe my time from mid-year third grade (I'd been in public school and there wasn't an instance when my classmates ever let me forget this for years) through graduation from the eighth grade.

I had Mrs. Hilge in third grade and Mrs. McGarry in fourth (when I went, Catholic schools had very dedicated, but not unionized, lay teachers, almost without exception, women, and everything was taught in the same classroom). I assume we had a nun for religion, because that makes sense, but I don't recall names. Or have suppressed them ;-)

As a kid, nuns bewildered and frightened me just a little. I'd gotten the explanations about those in the religious orders, men and women, and understood the sacrifice and dedication but there were mechanical questions I had, but I hadn't realized I had them. For instance, the habits with the head dresses that many orders wore, in this case, the Sisters of Charity. Rumor from well-informed sixth graders was that the nuns had no hair; they had cut if off to show their love of Jesus.

I never understood the connection-I mean, c'mon, Jesus wasn't a hairdresser so what was the point (but I'd forgotten I was in a religion that made eating meat on Friday a sin for dozens of hundreds of years, so logic need not be present) and after my next door neighbor Neil, who had also transferred in mid third grade to Catholic school, got caught looking up the back end of the habit's head dress, to prove/disprove that 'no hair' thing, I feared for the Scientific Method (he had to stay after school for an hour every day for a month and inside for recess after lunch. Today, his parents would contact the ACLU and poof! the punishment would vanish.).

I used to try to explain to my non-Catholic wife that, when people speak of the Catholic Church, they need to specify and stipulate as to which one they mean. There's the church the Pope and Cardinals have (lots of ex cathedra pronouncements and worries about world peace); there's the one the local archbishop and the monsignors run (that one seems to worry about building funds an awful lot); there's the church the local priests have (which seems to concentrate on CYO basketball tournaments).

And then there's the church the nuns have-all the children have school uniforms: boys have white shirts and school ties; the girls have white blouses and plaid skirts, always touching at least an inch below the back of the knee when they kneel down. And all schoolchildren were persuaded to love The Lord, with a straightedge ruler across the knuckles of any hand of any child with doubts.

My wife smiles occasionally at my insistent belief that Evil is real and tangible in the world (I always cite North Korea, or Chuck Woolery on Love Connection, and rest my case), but she doesn't smile when I speak of the different variations of the Catholic Church because she, too, believes.

I remembered all of this while reading about a priest and theologian in Rome who was organizing an online beauty pageant for nuns to give them more visibility within the Church and to fight the stereotypes so many of us have about them. About 48 hours after he announced the contest, he then announced there would be no contest (talk about a Higher Power intervening?) The contest was to be called "Miss Sister 2008" and I regret I don't have the good padre's blog site to share so we could have all shared some nominees such as Sophia Loren, Audrey Hepburn and Sally Field. And, of course, who could forget Sister Mary Clarence? Deliver us from evil, amen.
-bill kenny

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Heart like a Wheel, Face like a Fist

I drove past someone today whose expression was one of utter and abject defeat. Not so much that I was compelled to stop and ask her why she looked the way she did, but so much so that had I done all the stopping and asking, she wouldn't have told me.

We see people like this everyday and I'm not sure in the almost seventeen years I've been back in the Land of the Round Doorknobs that I'm not seeing more of them now than I did when the wheels went down at JFK on Columbus Day all those years ago. Now the hardness of this world slowly grinds your dreams away and the day dawns when we realize there are two things we do alone, be born and die.

We are social beings who form acquaintanceships, friendships, alliances with others so our kind sometimes so the days don't seem so long or the nights so lonely. I can still remember the total joy of holding my new-born son practically directly over my head with both hands in the delivery room. He was, moments into his life, my deal with God though my perception and belief in the latter (or should I capitalize Latter?) has shifted in the course of the last twenty-six years. My faith in my son, and later, at her birth, in my daughter, is complete and all-encompassing. As I told them at various (and countless) times as they were growing up, things they do I may (and do) find hateful or hurtful, but that could never change how I feel about them, ever.

The look in this woman's eyes this morning was beyond weariness and wariness. It was cold and abiding hatred-somewhere, somehow the things we could and should do for one another, even casual strangers, did not happen for her. We have been weighed and found wanting and I wondered, for the amount of time it took me to pass her by and watch her eyes take my full measure and then dismiss me, how we two could share the planet, and in our case, the same city of residence.

I had an idle thought on what she must have been thinking while watching the Democratic Party National Convention and then realized she, like so many, in Norwich, in New London County, in Connecticut, on the Eastern Seaboard, in the United States, in North America, in the Western Hemisphere, on Earth (I always loved Eugene O'Neill and that micro to macro recitation. He's basically a home boy from down the road in New London. If you've read any reasonable amount of his work you'd agree that drawing the line between heredity and environment is a dicey proposition.) didn't watch television such as this because so little of it has any relevance or meaning in, or to, her life.

Surviving is triumph enough for those whom we rarely see on a daily basis, but who exist nevertheless, whether we see them or not. Once every four years, we fire all of the guns at once and explode into space, but for more and more of us less and less of our system of government, our social conventions and support systems make any sense. For them, and by extension, us, we've lost our way and no amount of balloons falling to a convention hall floor, no endless playing of Happy Days Are Here again (it got us through The Great Depression, why not another?) is going to right the ship of our lives. Instead we end up with Nilsson's anthem, though never a hit, and we discover it's so easy to sing along even when we don't know the words.
-bill kenny

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

If Self-Pity were an Olympic Event.....

...there'd be a lot of pushing and shoving at the medals podium, or am I wrong? Every day each of us encounter people against whom some egregious wrong has been committed. It's a miracle, to hear them tell it, that the heavens aren't in a state of incessant scream over the outrage(s) they have endured. With nothing more than your eye contact as encouragement, they'll recite their litany of lamentations, not really caring if you're listening or not.

Poor Job-if he were to come back now, would have to endure a near perpetual hold before having the opportunity to speak to a customer service representative, and would endure a practically countless recitation of the mantra, 'Your call is important to us. Please continue to hold for the next available representative.'

I heard of a fellow the other day angry about a used car he bought having to go through the CT Department of Motor Vehicles Emissions Testing, and then learning that because the previous owner had failed to bring the car for testing in 2005, he needed to go again and was angry about how many more times he would have to endure this bureaucratic Hades. Actually, I didn't hear about, I read about it. It was a letter to the editor of one of the local newspapers.

I'm not sure what he hoped to have happen because he wrote to the newspaper. It seemed to me he might have been better advised to write to the CT DMV. Nostalgic sidebar, but with a point: I can recall as a young motorist in New Jersey how the annual mechanical and emissions tests were done at the same time in the inspection stations. Here in the Constitution State (with about 20% of the cars Jersey has), you can tell from the condition of so many of our vehicles, there are no mechanical inspections at all except when a vehicle is bought and sold and if it's older than X number of model years, not even then.

I have never in my life seen as many one headlight or smashed up windshield cars as I've seen here-and I shared highways in Europe with the luckless, lunchless former hostages of the Eastern Bloc, enjoying a day's outing in rolling rust buckets held together literally with Band-Aids but in perfect mechanical order, after the wall fell. Nice work CT DMV, and congrats to my fellow Nutmeggers for building a system with no authority and no power.

I don't know the letter writer, but I wasn't surprised to read he and I share the same zip code-and in all honesty, I'd have been disappointed if he weren't from Norwich, because he just sounded like it. I'm thinking he wrote to the newspaper in the hope that some one such as I, the physical embodiment of the Soul of Helpfulness, might offer him insight. Another wish come true!

Here's the dealio, letter writer: we are the only species who despoil our environment rendering it uninhabitable for ourselves and others. We are nomads by nature and necessity and are nearly viral in our expansion and our need and greed. If we were truly interested in our air quality, we'd build mass transit systems that work, use them and sell our cars. Instead, we buy Birkenstocks and put 'Save the Earth' bumper stickers on the tailgate windows of our Scandinavian built station wagons. Oh yeah, and we write letters to people who are in absolutely no position to effect any form of change or improvement in our situation. We prefer problems that are familiar to solutions that are not.

If we can all agree to just talk and write op-ed pieces and letters to the editor about how awful the situation in Darfur must be, how terrible the housing market is right now, how utterly and absolutely wrong "The War" really is (I love the use of the capital letters and the definite article!) or how extremely tight the home heating oil market will be this winter for so many citizens across the Snow Belt, then we NEVER NEED TO DO ANYTHING about any of it. Mission Accomplished (though there's no aircraft carrier in sight).

We're fans of The Bard and learned the truth behind the lines 'to take up arms against a sea of troubles, and by thus opposing, end them' really means don't rock the boat because that makes waves. We've concluded if we never do anything we can't do anything wrong. And if claiming to be Hostages of Hades helps us to avoid taking any responsibility or consequence for any action, then sign us up. And if we act before midnight, tonight, we can get a free tee-shirt ($4.95 for shipping and handling), "I'M A VICTIM, TOO" (call now for best choice of colors and sizes). Race ya to the phone.
-bill kenny

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Politics as a Specific Economic Stimulus

There was a story as a run up to the conventions this week and next week about the economic impact of national political party meetings. A lot of the usual suspects are included in a list of economic upticks such as hotels, restaurants, cabs and car services, and my favorite and (all in all, least surprising) prostitution.

For cynics, who feel 'professional politicians are out to screw the common folks anyway', I guess this is reassuring, except, at least in theory, our neighbors attend these nominating conventions (okay, not my neighbors, technically. I don't even know most of their names, and even fewer of their last names, but I see them around and they're too busy trying to make ends meet for themselves and their families to head off into the wild blue yonder for a national political convention, regardless of how swell the entertainment may be after the floor fights are over).

There's been a nationwide search, say news stories, for hostesses, and I assume hosts as well, with the mostesset, or close to it. The ABC TV News story quotes advertising with special pricing to conventioneers with proof of party membership. I smile even as I type this because I'm thinking of a two months ago all that viral advertising on line about "I'm voting Democrat" and "I'm voting Republican" and no mention of special pricing for knee pads was mentioned. Cynic that I am, I have to wonder why not?

Americans are funny about this stuff. Maybe it's our Puritan heritage. I never got used to walking through Dr Mueller's or Crazy Sexy in Frankfurt am Main and listening to negotiations on sex acts similar to what you goes on when buying a car, albeit with different outcomes desired for getting the chrome off a trailer hitch. Pick us up and put us in a new environment and we'll do things we'd never do in our little town, no matter how large or small that little town is. Sometimes, when Denver or Minneapolis becomes
Reno we become people we don't even know, or (later, much later) want to know. And we always hope you, whoever you are, don't recognize us, or yourself in us.

And when so often those whom we select to seek public office later are revealed to be flawed and failed in too-human ways, I won't name names because I don't have to, we're always angered and we feel betrayed. We forget they are we and we are whom we have always been and are as capable of surprising as we are of disappointing one another.
-bill kenny

Monday, August 25, 2008

To Trade in these Wings for some Wheels..........

The Democratic Party's national convention begins formally today in Denver, Colorado. I'm not sure how much of it, and the Republicans' convention from Minneapolis (I think) Minnesota, in less than a fortnight, are on television but I'll bet if we could get either Miley Cyrus or a professional football player to address the delegates, we'd be subjected to human waves assaults from credentialed media outlets around the world, gavel to gavel. I have my own cold cuts and figure the bread should be here shortly-I'm still not sure there's more to these circuses than just the clowns.

I continue to hope for the best, but also scan the worldwide web for information on all those seeking the office of the US President, because this menu of two choices has left me at the age of 56 crying for the moon and angry that the real choice seems to be 'take it or leave it.' And too many of us served and sacrificed in the uniform of our armed forces to protect freedom of choice and to expand it to the far corners of the globe to allow the rest of us to become so comfortably numb that it's reduced to freedom from choice.

You don't need to root around looking for websites like Vote Smart, it's right there at the hyperlink (and you're welcome) or if you're my children's ages, perhaps Generation Engage. Admittedly, I'm a bit tepid about USA Voter, in terms of its flavors but it has the draft platforms of the two major parties and I've argued for years with well-meaning people that we should stop making elections about personalities and make them about issues. My trouble is I'm not six feet tall with naturally wavy hair and perfect teeth, so hardly anyone looks at me (without wincing). And proving it takes a lot to laugh, it takes a train to cry, there's Indecision 2008 which is savagely funny until you remember we are the punchline.

Democracy is a contact sport, so wear a cup, grab a program and start taking notes. There's a chance in the coming days we could be riding out tonight to case the Promised Land/If you're ready to take that long walk/From your front porch to my front seat/The door's open but the ride it ain't free." As a matter of fact, we'll need to pay for it everyday, starting today. No EZ Pass, for us, my friend, we're too long in the wasteland-we'll need coin of the realm. Exact change, and lots of it.
-bill kenny

Sunday, August 24, 2008

When you build a better mousetrap, suddenly the price of cheese increases

It wasn't that many years ago when, if they had made telephone solicitation an Olympic event, you'd have found only Americans at the medals podium. Not sure when it happened, Union Sundown and all that, but at some point we stopped making stuff in this country. That didn't mean we stopped trying to sell it to one another, as a matter of fact we had more time to work on the pitching of the product.

Remember how stupid it used to get with your home phone? I'll bet half or more of the calls I took were for sales spiels on switching long distance carriers and for time-shares in places I'd never heard of (thus dimming the luster of a 'golden opportunity' at least to me). Caller ID became the best idea I ever bought and when I saw 'out of area' I didn't pick up. Except, as I discovered, the phone number for my mother-in-law in Germany also showed up like that which meant a moment of indecision before either speaking German or learning about how I could have the joys of Encyclopaedia Brittannica in my own home for just pennies every day (did anyone on earth ever learn the actual TOTAL cost of the set? Not me, that's for sure).

Then came the National Do Not Call Registry, in theory a wonderful and rather effective idea with just enough wiggle room so that anyone who claims to be conducting a survey (to include people who really are conducting a survey) as well as folks who tell you they were hired to raise money for your local Police Benevolence Association (though your PD has no idea these folks are out there and, by the way, they keep upwards of 90% of what they collect) can still ring you because they aren't, technically, 'for profit' operations.

Not only can they call you but anyone running for office can, and will, call usually to play one of those pre-recorded messages from either another politician or a celebrity on why, if I'm out tonight and I'm on my bike, I should wear white and vote as they do. More or less. But for the most part, the call volume has dropped except....

In recent weeks, and if you have an answering machine it shows up on there and makes for a weird message, the phone rings and you answer and a pre-recorded voice tells you 'today is the last day to lock in a low rate' on something or other and to press one for more details (there's NEVER a number to press for less details). I was so angry at what was, to me, clearly a breach of the Do Not Call registry that I couldn't wait to get a rep on the line after depressing 'one' to find out what was going on.

And here's where I could never be enough of an attorney to help review a city charter (and not be a part of a charter review committee, a semantic sleight of hand we engaged in just last week here in the Rose City). When I got the rep on the phone who wanted my phone number, I demanded to know the name of the company involved as my next call would be to the Federal Trade Commission to report them for a violation of the Do Not Call Registry. Bold as brass, smooth as silk and smiley as all get out, the voice on the line would explain that technically, they hadn't called me....after all, I had depressed 'one' on the touch pad to reach them. Hoist by my own petard.

My choices are to revert to staring at the caller ID box and when 'out of area' is in the window, going about my business elsewhere in the house, or reaching for the air horn, "pressing one" and waiting for the scream. Not that I think anyone should choose the low road or opt to be a horn instead of a light. But, sometimes the temptation is great. Perhaps I should blame Alexander Graham Bell. If he'd just stuck to inventing the cracker, all those wild herds of Bakelite would still be roaming the pampas, unfettered and free. Press Zero at anytime to speak to a customer representative. Go ahead, we dare you.
-bill kenny

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Speak Louder, I Can't Understand You

True Story: Captain James Cook, sailing the seven seas for Country and Crown, landed in or near (the legends aren't clear) Australia. In the course of his sojourns he'd encountered locals who could speak some of his language and thus enable him to speak to some of the aboriginal tribes in their languages. One day he saw a large marsupial, hopping on the horizon and asked one of his guides, in English, "what do you call that animal?", to which the man responded, "kangaruh." And that's how the animal got its name--except, as it turns out, the guide didn't comprehend the Good Captain's question and instead of telling him the animal's name, he had said "I don't know" in his native language. Soon, we'll have condominiums built right here, alongside the Tower of Babel.

Years ago, Steve Martin, the original wild and crazy guy (not counting Wendell Wilkie, of course) postulated everyone on Earth actually spoke English, just not in the presence of Americans. I had a similar experience (without fully appreciating it ) several decades ago when I arrived in Frankfurt am Main in what was then called West Germany and gave the taxi driver the address to where I was heading. In English, of course, and with a pocket full of US Dollars and zero Deutschmarks, the currency of the county I was in. Basically, because 'we' had won the war and I was another obliviot who had fallen out of the self-absorbed tree and hit every single branch on my way to the ground.

At some point, the driver said something--I have no idea what and the guy didn't speak English. The nerve of him! We both did the pointy-talky thing for a moment (growing louder by the syllable because we both seemed to think the problem had a lot to do with volume and nothing to do with comprehension) and I ended up where I needed to be (which wasn't necessarily where so many had wished me, but you can't have everything) and it was days later before I learned the hidden tuition for an attitude of 'the world is my ashtray' was that I had paid about four times more for the cab ride than I should have. Three plus decades on, I still blame that cabbie.

It was not that long after that I met the woman I was to marry, and because I was on active duty in the US Military stationed overseas, I had to request permission of my unit commander to get married (I wrote my parents to tell them I was getting married; an Air Force Captain from Texas had to be asked, and to grant, permission before I could do so. Go figure). This process required some five months of investigative paperwork (the German government also required background checks (or should I say Czechs? Can you spell S-U-D-E-T-A-N, I knew you could.) and all the AF Captain was left to ask me was 'so you're marrying a foreigner?' to which I replied, 'no, Sir. She is. This is her country and I'm the guest.' I discovered possession of a sense of humor, while truly a gift, is not a prerequisite in order to receive a commission into the officer ranks of the US Armed Forces, but I got my permission and that's all that counted.

Well, not quite all. We were married in the rathaus, or city hall, and, since I spoke close to no German, I was required to hire a translator. The city official would read a paragraph auf Deutsch, the translator would render it into English and so it went. After all the words had been spoken, my best man, Chris Hall, as my witness, was required to sign the marriage document. He asked the translator where on the form he should be signing. She stared back at him with a blank look that told me instantly I had just spent 200 DM on someone whose command of English was limited to memorizing the English translation of the marriage contract. Ka-ching! To this day, while I've been curious, I'm too afraid to find out what koala bear really means.
-bill kenny

Friday, August 22, 2008

Shelley and Keats were Out in the Street

I shared a note electronically the other day with some acquaintances and one of them, whom I always call Teacher, was on vacation (welcome back, by the way) and had an out of office note that made me smile, and then made me think (in that order, in case you were wondering): "No more prizes for predicting rain. Prizes only for building arks."-- Dr. Shulamith Elster.

The pocket bio, which you can read by clicking on the link, doesn't really tell me what the quote suggests, Dr. Elster is a keen student of the human condition and I appreciated as I so often do, how even absent in the ether, but present in the spirit, Teacher could make me smile and think at the same time (and there are those who doubt I've ever done the latter in this lifetime).

We all know someone if they make hand-wringing or dire threat predicting an Olympic event, we'd see them at the medals podium. And we've all heard the phrase, '20/20 hindsight' but I, for one, can't have enough reminders that, at some point, the worrying about a problem has to end and the developing a solution for the problem needs to begin and the sooner the better.

I think we humans find our comfort zone and stay there, no matter what. That island to which we swam when the Good Ship Lollipop sank went from being our rescue to being our prison once we realized no other ships passed this way and that we were marooned as well as saved.

Being able to predict trouble is a gift. Developing strategies that get us out of trouble might be regarded as a skill and perhaps as more valuable than the prediction ability. A highway sign that says "Look Out" is helpful, though perhaps of less value than if the sign told me what to look out for (potholes, rock slide, snowstorm, boll weevil infestation) .

Of course, as the other half of the away message states, "The world does not need more simplifiers. It needs more complexifiers." -- Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Hey! Don't look now, but my ride's here!
-bill kenny

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Hugs, not Drugs

It's not just me-have you noticed all the ads on television, all kinds of television, for prescription drugs? It's amazing considering how most of us don't have Print Shop 6 or any other means of manufacturing our own prescription pads, with DEA numbers, to write ourselves an order for some Detrol LA with a side car of (I don't know) Yaz, let's say. (I've always wondered how Red Sox fans felt about that drug's name.)

As a kid,
Dr. Alice Tyndall in Red Bank, New Jersey, who made housecalls (I'll pause while some of the older of you explain to the youngsters that a housecall was when the doctor came to you, at a particular and scheduled time, because you were too sick to go to the office. Kind of like Domino's Thirty Minutes or Less promise, but hold the pepperoni) would thump me on my back with the pointer and middle fingers of one hand while listening to my lungs with her stethoscope, jot down some notes, huddle with my mom and if she didn't have the medicine in her bag (a bag that looked like one of those Felix the Cat Bag 'o' Tricks bags, to be honest), she'd write out a prescription and all I ever knew (and I think, all my parents did, too) was that this was the medicine Dr Tyndall wanted me to take. And that was that.

Now in the length of one of the TV reality shows, like Surviving Run's Cribs, or Pimp My Big Brother or
Life with Anna Nicole (cancelled?!? What do you mean cancelled? There's no cancelled in reality TV), I've watched advertising that only obliquely suggests what some of this stuff might even be for. My favorites always involve a doctor's office where the physician is recapping in a conversational tone (as if speaking to the 'patient' on the other side of the desk) the warnings and cautions that the drug manufacturers are required to tell you about.

I crack up with that scene...I go to six different physicians in six different practices at the moment for a variety of maladies (I get frequent flier miles on Jet Blue (Cross/Blue Shield) Airlines) and none of them, absolutely none of them have ever looked at me for one tenth the amount of time the TV doctors make eye contact in the commercials much less taken me into their 'office'. And that's true for you as well.

Here's the real TV commercial....Me: 'I think you should prescribe holymoly decongestant tablets for me. Their TV spot is super.' My Doctor: 'Oh, stayed at a Holiday Inn Express last night did we? Here, let me put this thermometer under your tongue.' Me: 'But that's not where you had the previous patient put it!.' And let's not forgot about the guy with the infomercials hawking a book for $29.99 of Natural Cures "They" Don't Want You to Know About (now it's half-off! What does that mean? Perhaps
this is what it really means). And he's not alone--there's the Colon Cleanse guy (there's a great idea for next weekend, doncha think? You'll be so clean, you'll squeak when you walk) and all the rest of the Medicine Show(men and women).

The patent medicines are too numerous to name or even worry about and their commericals just wash over me. It's the direct-to-me at home ads for prescription drugs that numb me. I have trouble with how many ibuprofen to take in a day--now I'm gonna engage in counterpoint with a health care professional on actual drugs? Unless I'm on actual drugs, how can I know enough to realize I don't know what I don't know. In a country where we do instant polling to tell our leaders how to make decisions whose impacts and implications will reverberate for decades, perhaps drive-by prescribing is the most logical next step. Especially if we're closer to being lemmings than previously believed.

-bill kenny

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Fragrance of Memory

I took myself by surprise this morning, and not an especially pleasant one, all things considered. I accomplish almost my entire 'going to work' routine (sometimes to and through the 'driving there and starting into the job' part) practically in a somnambulist state. Don't get me wrong, I'm awake and can't go back to sleep even if I wanted to after my feet touch the floor (I'm up for the duration at that point) but most of it is auto-pilot. Maybe you have a portion of your day where Rote Rules and when you get to the end and try to reconstruct what's gone on, you have blank spots where, basically, we fell asleep with our eyes open.

I've discovered I can trip myself up if I don't leave notes for me as part of my routine. For instance, Monday evening, because I knew I needed (=wanted more) it, I bought a flavored liquid coffee creamer. However, because I didn't leave myself a note on the pin board on the refrigerator that's specifically for notes, I failed to take it out of the refrigerator Tuesday morning when, as I do every morning, I took out the Byetta that I put in my work bag to control my Type II diabetes.

I could shoot myself up in my house before I go to work and leave the medication at home instead of taking it to work, making sure I have an injector for it, shooting myself up, having breakfast at work and then remembering to take the Byetta home at the end of the day so I can use it before dinner. But because I get so easily distracted when I come to work-along the lines of 'oooh, I haven't been here in about six hours, what's new and exciting?' (Adam has the same life, I suspect; weird how ours have paralleled one another despite the difference and the years), I sometimes forget to have breakfast right away. If I haven't eaten within an hour of injecting myself, I've wasted the dose and then will usually choose to skip breakfast which aggravates the very condition I'm trying to keep under control. Stupid pancreas.

The not leaving a note caught up with me this morning on, of all things, deodorant. I used the last of the gel that I had in the bathroom on my shelf (I can be incredibly territorial and, during the summer, when I share the house with two adult women, I have to be, out of self-defense) and didn't need to buy more, just get it out of the little room, under the stairs where we stow some, but not all or even much, of the bargains we get at the wholesale club.

I love those places, in the abstract more than in the real, but still....Where else can you buy fifty-five gallon drums of Head and Shoulders Shampoo (they sure look about that size, don't they?) or blades for the Gillette Fusion razor (have you priced those in a regular store, even a Wal-Mart? Obscene! And the Gillette guys always have Sunday newspaper coupons for the shaving cream or the razor, but NEVER on the blades.) which are cheaper when you buy them in the wholesale place by the pallet, but they're still a large chunk of change (and the solace is you don't need to buy them for a year, except if you're like me, at some point you didn't put the box 'o' blades back where you last had them and now you've misplaced them and have to go out and buy more anyway.)

So when you buy deodorant (I always think of "Odorono" deodorant used by Peter Townsend on the cover of The Who Sell Out) in these places, you get a lot of deodorant thingies (what do you call the bottles, containers? I have no idea). All I needed to do was to remember to take a new one out of the little room and put it on my shelf in the bathroom, ready for this morning--nope, not me.

Here I am, out of the shower, toweling off and reaching for the--DAMN! It's not here because I never went down the hall to get some more and I am just not up for this at this hour. What's on the shelf? Oh, cool, a travel size of Mennen Speed Stick. I have no memory of buying it, but my memory is not what it used to be, until I apply it. And then, I catch myself catching my breath because I remember the smell and how it lingered in the big bathroom of the house at 33 Bloomfield Avenue.

It's funny how you forget and then how you suddenly remember. My father used this same deodorant for decades. And I dared not meet my own gaze in the mirror at the moment I realized this because I know the look I have when I remember him and I'd rather not go there this morning. I've worked hard to not dwell on memories of how we were, when we were anything at all to one another. I've even gone so far as to search out a helping hand to assist me in sorting through that McGee's closet of emotions and feelings that I have when I do think of him.

And I've been doing really well with all of that, and this morning and so far, today, it's one of those one step up and two steps back situations that I sort of brought on myself and that I hope, with every bit of strength I have, that neither of my children ever have to experience. I've spent a lifetime accepting I am my father's son, but refusing to become him. I'm hoping later today to figure out if I'm still on the beam and still balanced.
-bill kenny

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

A candidate is someone who gets money from the rich and votes from the poor to protect them from each other.

Seventy-nine nights from now we'll be sitting in front of TV screens as the results of our national election are reported. We can watch history or we can help make it. It really comes down to just how much more of a victim do you want to be?

I would never suggest to anyone how he/she should vote when it comes to The Most Powerful Person on the Planet, which is really what the President of the United States is (when you look at the founding of our country, it's a far cry from where we were to where we are). However, if you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice and if you devote the same amount of time to making up your mind for whom you cast a ballot as you did for what you chose for dinner last night, we may need to have a serious word about shared responsibilities in our democracy.

We should realize that we are all we have, which is perfect because, in truth, we are also all we'll ever need. There's no magic number for voter turnout or registration, but the bigger the better (turns out sometimes size does matter, who knew?) and it's a question of dynamics--if one of us isn't engaged, then all of us suffer. From each according to his ability, to each according to his need. Groucho's kid brother nailed a truth and a truism when he came up with that. It means the bar is pretty high and we all have work to do to clear it.

Look at American History and the Founding of the Republic....all the signaturories of the Declaration of Independence. How many of those (white) men were more than capable enough of being Chief Executive of this fledgling operation? And in comparison, how many were? Firesign Theatre had a wonderful routine about "Benjamin Franklin....the only President of the United States who was never President of the United States."

Despite what we may have read and heard about these being times to try a man's soul, I can also (aging disk jockey that I am) remember a warning to us all, born and unborn at the time, from Edward R. Murrow, "(A) nation of sheep will beget a government of wolves." Am I opening a can of worms on the order of 'do events create great leaders or do great leaders create events?' I hope not because I don't have a fishing license, but I keep coming back to the importance of making an informed choice. We say 'now more than ever' so often it loses its urgency and that's too bad because it's not less true just because it becomes hackneyed.

Depending on where you live, you will have choices to make on a range of people for offices and propositions and referendum items that will demand you choose both wisely and well. You're not in the voting booth by yourself--no pressure-but with all of us, and for all of us. We need to stand for something or we risk having lived for nothing. As John Adams (half of the only other father-son team elected President) said, "Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide." It's more than okay to continue to prove him wrong.
-bill kenny

Monday, August 18, 2008

When the evening light fades

We always speak of our five senses, our opposable thumbs and our large brains when we do an inventory of who we are and how we came to be. As a kid I was accused of selective hearing, so I don't know how keen that sense of mine is, and I've read enough about other species' auditory abilities to suspect I'm pretty much a poser when it comes to sailing along on the ear canals.

When I watch movies where they give 'bloodhounds' a child's shirt and the dog tracks the missing tyke through two and half reels, across streams and brooks, through the malls and back alleys and finds the little one, unhurt, in the bad guy's house (you know it's the bad guy because the music they play in the movie is a giveaway), I compare that dog's abilities with my olfactory prowess and realize truffle sniffling is not ever going to be on my short list of jobs I can handle (or want, come to think of it).

And those of us born with all of our senses take them for granted, because for us, they are nothing special, they came as standard equipment. When my two children were born, as a layman who barely understood the process (more or less), I stood in the delivery room and watched my children like a bird on a wire. I was counting, even as the mid-wife was working on my newborn. I didn't have a Plan B--but Plan A was to make sure all the parts were there, at least the ones I could see. The requisite number of toes and fingers and eyes and ears (and how did that happen, do you wonder? Why ten fingers and toes and two ears and eyes and NOT the other way around? How much is selective breeding, evolution and how much is the work of a Great Clockmaker? I don't know the answers to any of those questions, but am always open for ideas), one nose (with two nostrils) and one mouth--making sure all the externals were there in the proper number.

I've been told there are species with larger brains than ours-not in my neighborhood, from what I can see, but you never know. And that information causes me to wonder if it's what you have or what you use that makes the difference. Is it the singer or the song? I wear glasses (I used to say 'to help me see other people's points of view' but that's a lie-I've never really been able to grasp someone else's point of view, much less 'see' it. In my movie, I'm the one with the speaking part--dolly in for the close-up, now) but for many years I had excellent eyesight. I'm not sure how I could have better used that gift at the time, especially now, as the days start to get shorter and the rods and cones, as my optometrist has explained, have to struggle to adjust more and faster to the light levels, oftentimes without the success for which I'd have hoped.

I watched a movie, "Evening" the other afternoon on HBO-with Claire Danes (I remember her from "My So-Called Life" and I think she's very famous, especially if I still know her name) and a cast full of people whose faces looked very familiar (Vanessa Redgrave was in it, not that I knew her to look at until after the credits rolled. And Meryl Streep was in it, too, and her I recognized not from Mamma Mia but from Angels in America where she was Ethel Rosenberg among other characters). had never heard of the movie, though it was a release from last year and I don't do a lot of movies (my wife and daughter visit the multi-plexes and enjoy the movie house experience. When I come home at night, I usually stay home) and the story line flashed back and forth (past to the present) as the protagonist struggled with what she saw and what she thought she sww and what it meant.

I was reduced to tears watching it, though it wasn't an especially sad movie. I was very happy I was home by myself as I get embarrassed when Sigrid walks through the living room and sees me blubbering on the couch and I can't even explain why. The most striking part of the movie is the last fifteen seconds as the evening sky beyond the cliffs and the sea turns darker and you realize the end of the movie, and the protagonist's life has arrived, except for the faint glimmer at the horizon which is tomorrow, and that becomes today before we know it.
-bill kenny

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Making the Rose Blush

Big Doings tomorrow night in Norwich (it's almost all repeats on TV anyway, except for the Home Surgery Channel where there's a tonsillectomy airing live at nine PM from a Hooters, I think, in Paducah, Kentucky). Might want to leave the Norwich City Council meeting and hurry home early, hurry on home, to catch that unless you have a DVR, in which case, stick around as the agenda for the meeting promises a lot of long delayed action.

Remember the Peachtree Fire from early in the Spring? Money needs to be shifted to different accounts to make sure those whose operating budgets at the time took a hit are made whole in this new fiscal year. It's necessary and important work even if it's not as sexy as approving more sewers or designating the last week of August as 'Let's All Go Back to School Safely or Else Week' which isn't on the agenda but with a suspension of the rules always possible, a boy can dream. There's also some real estate work in preparation for the Regional Inter-Modal Transportation Center that needs to be accomplished. We both know know how I feel about that, so let's move on.

This time last year, you couldn't swing a cat and not hit a candidate for City Council talking earnestly about the importance of examination and possible revision to the City Charter. As the recording secretary for the previous Charter Review Commission in 1999-2000, I can tell you it's a complex and complicated document, as well it should be, it's the owner's and operator's manual for how we do things in Norwich. I was very proud of us back then and still am, but we didn't fix everything and the law of unintended consequences caught up and kicked in and fresh eyes may need to take another look.

There are two different resolutions on the agenda that I hope can be turned into one and combine the strengths of each into one extremely successful plan of action. One resolution has five volunteer lawyers, at no charge (very important in these parts-we sometimes squeak when we walk) from Norwich looking at the Charter for possible revisions. One of the attorneys is a state representative, one is a former member of City Council (who was campaign manager of one of the alderpersons sponsoring the resolution) and a third attorney is the former Mayor of Norwich who was on the previous Charter Revision Commission. The other resolution proposes that each of the seven members of the City Council nominate one citizen to be on the next Charter Revision Commission and review and examine the document with an eye for improved clarity and definition, etc. I'm not a lawyer and I didn't stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night, so you can probably guess which of the two, if I had to choose between them, I'd go for.

So how about combining the ideas embodied in each of the resolutions to enhance and increase the possibilities of a more effective attempt at review and revision? What happens if we choose to appoint citizen volunteers to a commission or a committee or whatever it's to be called (and titles around here are as nearly as important as money, so choose wisely and well), working hand in glove with an advisory panel of attorneys (and make sure the City's Lawyer, our Corporation Counsel is on hand) who'll conduct public hearings, collect resident testimony and collate ideas and then review all the submissions and proposals in connection with the charter to identify areas in need of improvement, redefinition and specificity? It just seems to me that together, we are far smarter and more resourceful than we are separately. Why not exploit that strength in numbers?
Should the decision be made to solicit citizens, this is the form you'll need to accomplish and mail to the Mayor. I'd suggest sending a copy as well to the President Pro Tem of the City Council and to whomever else on the Council with whom you feel comfortable.

The meeting starts tomorrow at 7 PM in City Council Chambers on the 3rd floor of City Hall and, like all the really great raffles and drawings, you must be present to win, so why not plan on being there and bring a neighbor. And make sure your neighbor brings a neighbor as well.
It's how we can rebuild our city, one block and one brick at a time.
-bill kenny

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Getting loster, faster

Scrolling around the Web the other day, I came across an Information Week story on a glitch within Google's Gmail program that had resulted in no service for those of us who use Gmail for a couple of hours during the workday on Monday.

I lead such an air age life and am so a chip-carrying member of the digerati, I had noticed this immediately on my cellphone-blackberry-bass fishing pole (and microwave, at least that's what I think the silver button on the corner below the blue tooth adapter is for)-if by immediately we can agree that I mean not at all. (I didn't know until late Tuesday that any of this had happenedl-if only someone had sent me an email! Oh waitaminit, upon further review....)

The last time I checked there are three other people on the planet with my cell phone number, and most of the time, I'm the odd guy out when it comes to remembering it. It's not unusual for me to have two of the other three in the car with me and we're going to visit the third one. On these occasions, I have been known to have both the cell phone with me and to have it on. Inexplicable when you think about, so I don't.

Here's my favorite part of the online Gmail story--you can click for a 'printable view' so you can have a paper copy. The irony of that is so deliciously thick I could cut it with my iPhone (if I had one, and knew how it worked). It's a bit like taking Edison's development of the incandescent bulb and using it to illuminate your candle factory so the night shift can see what they're making.

I've worked with people who've used their computers as word processors and as nothing else, because it never occurred to them there were even other applications. Talk about the down side of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'. It just underscores how very often the difference between a rut and a grave is the depth of the habit. We have new tools and new technologies but the expansion of thinking to challenge the tools to keep up with our thinking is lacking because we, as a species, get to a certain dimension where sooner or later everything winds up on the customer's plate and then gone.
Not that I'm advancing anything anywhere-I'm engaging in a very enjoyable (for me; for you, not so much) exercise in self-aggrandizement with this blog, when I'm not sending knock-knock jokes to half of my address book. In my defense, I'd note that I'm not one of the Scammers and Spammers of Nigeria, but that is at least a more innovative application for all that we have developed (okay, that you developed; I have a doctor's note, so cut me some slack) or it was until we all got 83 kajillion emails with a variation on the same make-a-buck hustle.

Cassius and Brutus struggled with all of this when The Bard was playwrighting (perhaps the first use of this as a gerund?) for Julius Caesar, "the fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves..." I think I have a copy of that play someplace.....
-bill kenny

Friday, August 15, 2008

Transverse City: The 51st State?

(I'm not sure what happened last week but this entry was eaten by the Gawds of Google, which angered me immensely and then humbled me as I realized there was bugger all I could do about it. I'm very happy that all the glitches have been fixed; please let my family go.)

Since this is at the top it can't be a footnote: I hadn't really grasped it until Tuesday, but Mike Peters, who draws Mother Goose and Grimm, has been underscoring his unhappiness at how the Chinese government regards human rights with incredible, and funny, comics every day of the Olympics. Go look at 'em, they're super! Not a footnote over.

Here in Southeastern Connecticut we are rapidly becoming a state of mind unlike that of the rest of the Land of Steady Habits (perhaps we could secede from Hartford, and become our own state, from the Connecticut River to the border with Rhode Island? Windham, Tolland and New London Counties-we could call ourselves Slotsylvania (a combination of gambling and rural, clever, eh?) and on our license plates we could put 'The Winning is Only Beginning'), life just gets faster and more furious, even when we don't all have those tricked out little cars or Vin Diesel.

I wonder about Vin and the kit car drivers most especially early in the morning on my way to work while waiting at the intersection of the Mohegan-Pequot Bridge and Route 12 in Preston, CT, when the White Rabbits come barreling over the bridge and through red lights that have been red for at least six Mississippi's, hang the left turn and then hang the next right as they retreat, pell-mell, from the Mohegan Sun Casino and head towards what they hope is the luck changing Foxwoods Casino.

Ladies and Gentlemen: they never close--you need not fear. For every aspect of your addiction, there's a device designed to draw maximum profit from it, and good news!, a fresh shipment has just arrived so keep your eyes on the road and both hands on the wheel and feel free to let up on the gas pedal. Yes, at the moment, the price has 'dropped' below four dollars a gallon for regular (I filled up yesterday at 3.97 (and nine/tenths) and I felt almost giddy--like I was stealing the gasoline. Such is the level of our addiction. 'I love you baby, can I have some more?'), but that's just a temporary and probably cosmetic change because unless we redesign our lifestyles, individually and as a nation, we're just rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic.

From overhead, in the dark, the effect is stunning--two large gleaming, illuminated hearts you can practically feel the pulsations with veins and arteries marked by headlights of all sizes and shapes, threading to and through the pleasure domes. Beyond them, in any direction as far as you can see, varying degrees of dark, of luckless, lunchless, loveless, little lives lived beyond the glow of the electric fire, households where those happy sounds the slots make when someone wins, like the Super Mario music on the handheld game, never echo. The sound is so obsequious you go from being overwhelmed by its volume when you first step on the gambling floor until not even realizing it's there, and everywhere, until an hour after you've left and are in the car on your way home when it suddenly stops.

And in the Gilded Palaces, all an auslander can do is gawk at what man hath wrought. We don't need the light of day--the casinos have no windows. Time has no meaning--their walls, no clocks. We are all exchangeable and interchangeable on either side of the equation. And despite the political correctness of 'smoke free' areas (like on long distance air flights, back in the day; remember that?) the air is stale while the atmosphere is electric with excitement. We breathe in what we exhale and I'm not sure where exactly what we eat comes from, but I am afraid to guess aloud.

"Pollyanna take my hand. Show us endless neon vistas. Castles made of laser lights. Take us to the shopping sector, In the vortex of the night. Past the shiny Mylar towers. Past the ravaged tenements. To a place we can't remember, For a time we won't forget."
-bill kenny

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Me and Ray Charles have been thinking about ....

The wire services report Russia has finally stopped trying to make Georgia its bitch. Again. When you're the birthplace of Josef Stalin, it's hard to separate yourself from the life and times of the former Soviet Union and as Georgia found out out, there's only so far having friends in the West will take you. Moral indignation is certainly no match for a T-72 tank of which the Russians had many and the Georgians not so much.

The good news, I think, should be that most of us here in the Land of the Round Doorknobs didn't expect to see live video from Atlanta, which is what I had feared would happen. We have had so little appreciation for geography in recent years from the White House on down, so I think things are looking up.

One of the more discomfiting things for me, a fifty-six year old man, has been how the events unfolding 'over there' reinforced my never-put-to-rest suspicions about bringing the Russian Bear to its knees (sorry, Roger). As a retired and very tired Cold Warrior, I and the generations who grew up in the Shadow of the Bomb, always expected to hear the footfall in the night or feel the knee to the groin that we knew the Evil Empire was more than capable of delivering.

Looking back, Mutually Assured Destruction, MAD, was absolutely crazy as a strategy and I'm grateful that I've never had to explain it (yet) to my two twenty-something year old children, but take my word for it, it made sense in its time. You had to be there. That it's now an online game is yet more New Mother Nature taking over.

There's a lot to be said for Pax America, especially if you're an American (okay, perhaps only if you're an American). By way of comparisons: Pax Romana lasted about two hundred years and encompassed the Birth of Christ, which proved to be an epoch, not to mention empire, changing event--not that I'm comparing it to the Fall of the Wall or the Elevation of Terrorism as an Art form, but the stresses and strains were similar, I suspect. And while the sun never set on the British Empire for an extended period of time, there was more than a fair amount of turbulence.

And here we are, still more butter than guns as the 21st Century rolls through its first decade, and five years into conflicts half way across the Earth with those who will be satisfied only when we are dead, or when they, themselves, are. But we shouldn't feel sorry for ourselves or daunted by the world we've created.

It's been a tough couple of decades for Russia, all things considered. I think it was in Hedrick Smith's "The Russians" where someone explained 'the Communists pretend to pay us and we pretend to work.' Such was the challenge that faced Russia after the Soviet Union imploded. Perhaps it was only a matter of time before whatever we call teasing and disparagement at the international relations level proved to be too much to bear in Moscow. Maybe all of that, and the funeral ten days ago of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, was a perfect storm fated to happen with Georgia the designated victim.

If nothing else, it teaches me the value of not dragging a stick across the bars, no matter how firmly fastened the locks on the cage may appear. And for the rest of us, almost totally (if not criminally) self-absorbed, we can continue to contemplate (and complain about) the price of gas, the baseball pennant races and when starters are gonna start playing in NFL pre-season games. Y'know, the important stuff. Meanwhile, let's listen to Brother Ray...
-bill kenny

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

JD Salinger Called Shotgun

I was driving over the Canada Bridge in Norwich the other day (tangent alert! Neither side of the bridge, which is actually on Sherman Street as it intersects with Asylum Street, is connected in any way to our Neighbor to the North. When I and my family arrived here in the Fall of 1991, people whom we met called it the 'Canada Bridge' and everyone I've ever met who has been in Norwich at least as long as I have, also calls it the Canada Bridge. I was raised a Catholic and am used to believing in things that have no proof, so I call, too, it the Canada Bridge) and as you head towards Asylum Street, down Sherman and over the bridge, you can see the times have not been kind to the sidewalk, especially on the bridge.

The Canada Bridge is very cool, in my opinion though it's not an especially pretty bridge-it's all concrete and asphalt and it's very utilitarian--neither Clint Eastwood nor Meryl Streep would roll up sleeve or undo a shirt button in its vicinity--but when we've had a lot of rain (as we've had recently) you can look at the old stick with the depth markings that's been there since I don't know when (before Canada was Canada, perhaps?) as the water rushes and swirls beneath the bridge and be amazed and impressed.

Anyway, the other day in addition to the turning-into-pulverized-powder concrete of what's left of the sidewalk over the bridge and the smashed pieces of curb that dot that side of the bridge (how do you do that? Come out at night with a sledge hammer?), someone, or more than one someone, had tagged the face of the bridge. When we were kids it would be called 'defaced' the bridge but now the little darlings we've bred are only expressing themselves and we wouldn't want to stunt their emotional growth, right? Real Life as the Jerry Springer Show, gotta love it.

Whoever the artist was, he/she chose white paint, which may well be a cry for help all by itself and aside from a couple of numerals also spelled out the word F*CK and with the asterisk much too hard to paint, used the letter U instead. It's sort of a half-empty, half-full glass kind of thing, I suppose. Norwich schools have not fared well in Connecticut Mastery Tests, CMT, for most of the last decade, particularly in the graded writing portion, so I guess I could be happy that, while a small step (a very small step) was taken for writers everywhere, with both my wife and my daughter in the car as I crossed the bridge, I wasn't really ready to cheer.

I have no neanderthal attitude about the role or place of women in our culture. My daughter is 21 and my son is 26 and they are more wise to the ways of the world at their ages than I am at mine and my wife has been around the block more than once, so I'm not sure why the James Joyce impersonator so angered and embarrassed me with the display of literacy skills, but I was both. I've raised my children to understand that there's trash in the world but have never seen the need to have a garbage truck drop its load in my front yard, so I didn't really appreciate the spirit of outreach the bridge scribbler demonstrated.

As it happens, on the City of Norwich website, which gets better and more user friendly every time I visit it, and I visit it a lot, you can accomplish a Citizen Service Request (you don't have to be from Norwich to fill one out, but I think it helps, at least a little) to do everything from reporting a pothole to asking about bulk waste pickup. You cannot use it, successfully, to request pony rides for your birthday (not that I have any first hand experience with this rejection) but considering twice a month in Council chambers there seems to be what smells like what comes out of the back end of the pony sometimes masquerading as discussion, I'm surprised you can't.

I used the website request the other day to suggest the Norwich Public Works Department dispatch someone with paint (I have no idea as to color) to cover up all four letters or, if paint is at a premium, any two of the worker's choice. I've done about six or eight of these requests in the last year and am always impressed that someone reads them (I have self-esteem issues) and reacts to the requests. Maybe the elected officials don't get done everything we want when we want it (as if that were even possible) but the daily municipal operations are more than responsive and responsible. I have every confidence that mine wasn't the first note about the Canada Bridge and wasn't surprised that the repainting happened faster than you can say 'drop cloth'.
It wasn't a perfect day for bananafish by any means, but Holden thinks it'll work out fine.
-bill kenny

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Hedgehoppers Anonymous

Did you watch the Opening Ceremonies of Whatever Olympiad with Lots of Roman Numerals It Is this Summer the other night? I don't mean to disparage the use of Roman numerals but as a preppie who had to slog through Caesar and Cicero and Ovid, come to think of it (and why do all three sound like cat names? What the heck is going on here?) I always appreciated what Latin did for my college vocab scores on the SATs, but unlike driver's ed that, had I taken it and done well, might have gotten me laid, no such turn of events resulted from success in the Romance languages department (like Latin lovers on the shore; chasing all those silly NY virgins by the score).

I have no idea, in light of the viaducts and the Colosseum and Hadrian's Wall, and all the calculations and science their construction entailed, how the Romans did any math with their system. "Add the M to the C and carry the V-decimal to the I and to the right of the X.' What? Their slide rules must have looked like dictionaries.

Anyway, since the Visigoths, not my problem, I guess. But here we are with technology that brings us events from around the world, live, and hardly filtered at all (the People's Republic of China has elevated abrogation of human rights to an art form-if it were an event at this summer's Olympiad, all the medals would be given to the government in Beijing who, being consistent, would then take the recipients out back and (if they were lucky) only re-educate them) but we'll hear nary a whisper about any of this until the Coca-Cola logo rolls after the last credit in about two weeks' time. We've long since learned to manage the duality of hypocrisy here in the Western World. Just guess where my shoes, and tie and shirt and trousers are made? See, that didn't hurt a bit, did it?

In 1936 the world competed in Berlin (Leni Riefenstahl lasst grussen) and closed our eyes to the Nazis and what they were doing to their own citizens of the Jewish faith. In 1980, to protest the murderous staff-assistance visit the Red Army had made into Afghanistan, the US and sixty-four other countries boycotted the Games in Moscow and the Soviet Union and fourteen of its client-allies returned the favor when the Games came to Los Angeles in 1984 (of course, they may have seen the traffic on Santa Monica Boulevard and decided the old Lada and Ziv weren't going to be any match). In between all of that, we had the murder at the Munich, (West) Germany Summer Games in 1972 of Israeli athletes by thugs. But the Olympics are a time to celebrate athletic endeavor, achievement and accomplishment.

I'm not sure two person beach volleyball was one of the original events the Greeks came up with, but it gives me a chance to watch glistening women sprawl out on the sand and not have to be on one of the dot porn websites, so I guess it's as valid in its way as curling is during the winter games. Baseball, I'm told, is out, again and I'm not sure horseshoes was in, is back in or was ever seriously considered but if badminton is a go, I say why not sack races? How about one each of those sweaty beach guys and gals hopping along the Great Wall? Winner gets a trip to Tiananmen Square. No worries, a few more years, we'll make it a brand name, like "Banana Republic" or the "United Colors of Benetton".

Kidding aside (you: 'oh, that's what that was?' Very cold), I enjoy the effort even when I've never heard of or understand the sport. I think it's marvelous that people can train in pursuit of so many endeavors that 'commercial' sports combines cannot market for profit. That so many people perfect art forms that have zero financial return is heartening to me as an armchair athlete who yearns for the big self-sacrificing gesture as long as I don't have to make it and none of it gets on me (why do you think I wanted you to guess where this tie came from? We already know who each of us are, we're just trying to figure out the going rate). If you can't enjoy the sports or the sacrifice of those competing in them, admire the technology and delivery systems that bring it all to us like potable tap water, all day every day. Wade in the water, take me to the river.

Streets full of people, all alone. Roads full of houses, never home. Church full of singing, out of tune. Everyone's gone to the moon.
-bill kenny