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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Hypnotized Never Lie

One of my favorite websites has recently changed its appearance. I missed the chatter running up to the overhaul on why it was happening and what was supposed to be in it for me, so all I have is the site, itself, and the necessity to relearn where the buttons are and what the new and improved features are all about. We ALWAYS say "new and improved" together. Whether it's a laundry powder, dentifrice, deodorant or automobile, despite the lack of logic in that assertion. A thing that is new, cannot, (yet) be improved. And things that are improved are, of necessity, old upon which improvement has now been inflicted. It's not oxymoronic (jumbo shrimp) so much as mutually exclusive (a hip-hop country singer; a born-again atheist) and it's all a part of this 'bright and shiny is always better' mindset that causes me to grind my teeth (thank goodness this blog doesn't have a sound card, I wouldn't be able to hear myself typing).

When I was in (parochial) grammar school, Mrs. Hilge's Third Grade to be exact, back before the last Ice Age when dinosaurs roamed the earth, there were fifty something of us in the classroom and just Mrs. Hilge. I have NO idea how many, aside from me, had some form of hyperactivity or Attention Deficit Disorder, and it didn't matter. There was no such thing as Ritalin and you got a 'timeout' when, during recess, either Juan or Jerome Johnson, the (fraternal) twin brothers, literally and physically knocked you out. When you came to, there was no one asking you or one of those thugs, 'and how did that make you feel?'. You plotted your vengeance for the rest of day, while trying to ace a spelling test or master fractions. Then you went home and came back the next day and did it all over again. Survivors got to graduate. Our parents had their own struggles and left us in splendid isolation when it came to the days of the old schoolyard.

As parents ourselves we, in turn, sent our children to schools with color coordinated classrooms filled with ergonomic furniture and infused with integrated learning objects (to this day, I have NO idea what an integrated learning object is, but I have a suspicion that neither does the oh-so-sincere twenty-something teacher). When they came home at the end of the day and/or the school year, almost none of what they had learned seemed to stick. What we did provide them were counselors to tell them it wasn't their fault (our generation had learned this on our own after having been raised by parents who grew up in the Great Depression and World War II where everything had been their responsibility) and that it would all work out. Now, all of us pretend to be surprised and hurt that it didn't.

Half a lifetime on, and we have aging and aged infrastructure we can neither afford to rebuild nor replace-garages filled with vehicles whose mechanical functions we don't understand in houses and households crammed with technology that talks, but sadly like us, doesn't think (at least not very often or very well). We've reinvented ourselves as a species who devotes more time to studying the take out options when calling the pizza joints than in understanding the positions and the effects those positions have on our lives of those who seek our vote for President.

"Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. There's nothing in the street looks any different to me. And the slogans are replaced, by-the-bye. And the parking on the left is now the parking on the right. And the beards have all grown longer overnight." You need to try my razor, it's new and improved.
-bill kenny

Monday, September 29, 2008

Under the hood but dreaming of the steering wheel

In many small towns and municipalities, not just here in Connecticut, but across the country, we have volunteers, either elected to offices of public responsibility, or helping out in a thousand different ways on a hundred different advisories, boards, commissions and committees. In Norwich CT, though it's not a complete listing, you can get a taste for so many people in the same device by going here on the municipal website.

As of Wednesday, the start of the new Federal fiscal year, and a customary start date on the state calendar for new legislation to go into effect, we, in Norwich and across the Land of Steady Habits, will see major (and not just cosmetic) changes in how our municipal websites share information on how volunteers hold official meetings, what those agendas (I always want to type agendae. You can take the boy out of Latin class but you can't get the Latin out of the boy) are, and the records of their past actions (meeting minutes).

Back in June, during a special session of the CT legislature, Public Act 08-3 added bone and muscle to the state's Freedom of Information Act and will require all meeting minutes and notices of special meetings to be posted on the town's website within the same deadlines reserved for posting in the office of the City Clerk (that means, for meeting minutes, within seven calendar days of the meeting; for notices of special meetings (to include the agenda for the special meeting, two working days) which is also true for notices of regular meetings (though if the chairperson of each citizen panel has submitted a schedule of the entire year's meetings, before 15 December, the City Clerk's office will do the posting).

See? Skip a class in high school civics, and look at what you missed. I mention almost all of the above because tonight in Norwich's City Hall, Room 335 at 6 PM is a workshop offered by the State of Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission (though it doesn't show up on their calender of events. Hmmm....) for aldermen and all members of the advisories, boards, commissions and committees in Norwich as well as those of us in the great unwashed (in my case, more latter than former) who like to know what other people know when they know it.

I never attribute to malice that which can be explained by ignorance, so a year and half ago when the Norwich City Council was struggling with their own political Thomas Becket which prompted a workshop by the FOI Commission, I assumed those engaged in that behavior were ignorant rather than malicious, though I'd watched some of them close up and knew otherwise. They weren't and aren't alone.

A neighboring community not too far from Norwich held an executive session about the behavior of one of its employees some months ago (I'm not naming the town or the person, because I don't live there and fair's fair), that became an executive session about other items and other people as well, without those people being in the room. Someone filed a formal complaint and those folks got a visit from the FOI Commission who do have the authority to levy fines against municipal officials, elected and professional, for continued misbehavior (that happened in Norwich about a decade ago; we've literally 'been there and done that' when it comes to playing fast and loose. We not only wrote the book, some of us stole it as well).

None of this doesn't mean I won't nag you next Monday in the hopes of alerting you to something that might have otherwise gotten lost in the noise, but, in theory, I (and you) should also be able to go to a link and download both the full agenda for a meeting we wish to attend and also access the minutes of the previous meetings (yes, we can go to City Hall and for a nominal fee, get paper copies, but the hard part for me is getting to the City Clerk's office while it's still open as my bosses are sort of sticklers about showing up and staying at the job. Maybe yours too?).

So there's tonight's FOI workshop in Room 335 at 6 P. M..

There's a meeting of the (Kelly Middle) School Building Committee on Wednesday at 5:30 P. M. in the school central office (it used to be called the John Mason School but we've since learned one man's ceiling is another man's floor) across from the Norwichtown Green. I wonder if that agenda and previous meetings' minutes will be posted to the municipal website since Wednesday is the first of October. The membership is listed on the city's website but no other information.

Same is true for the Board of Education which, as I mentioned last week, posts (in theory) its meeting notices and minutes on their own website and will now, I assume, have to do so on the city's site, which is only logical since they are a department of the City of Norwich, no matter how annoying some on the Board may find that concept.

Also Wednesday, at 6:30 P. M. in Room 335 of City Hall will be the Youth and Family Services Commission. I plead guilty to not knowing who is on it or what their function is and how well they are succeeding; I suppose we could find out together this Wednesday night, right?

Finally, on Thursday, at 7 P. M. in room 108 (which is downstairs and is a really goofily-laid out room) in City Hall is a meeting of the Inland Wetlands, Watercourses and Conservation Committee. Another group, I assume, of very hard-working and well-meaning people whose identities and areas of responsibility are completely unknown to me. Their luck will eventually run out and I can only hope they will be good sports when that happens.

Tonight's FOI workshop will have a second installment, as sundown is also the start of Rosh Hashanah which, as a Loyal Son of Holy Mother Church, I've always understood to be the 'Jewish New Year' and is also the first of the Ten Days of Repentance that concludes with Yom Kippur. Considering the state of the world, I imagine, much like Levy's, we could all benefit from some atonement.
-bill kenny

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Supply and Demand Meets Bread and Circuses

The Sunday papers are slowly thickening again--the merchants near and far are starting to position themselves for Christmas or Merry Thanksgivoween as a Mike Thompson cartoon called it a couple of years ago. In addition to real news, not abstractions, that are impacting on our lives, we also have very active, if not slightly theatrical, political machinations at all levels clamoring for our attention.

Did you know, for instance, one of the people seeking the office of the President wants to galvanize babies at birth to minimize the recurrence of indefatigability at zero gravity. Another candidate is a Muslin. Hey, I kid you not. I read that stuff in a newspaper, or maybe it was a magazine or in a blog. Perhaps I saw it on TV, or heard it from a friend. Confused? Yeah, me too.

Samuel Clemens (think Rajah, without the haircut or the Senate sub-committee hearings), better known as Mark Twain once observed "A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes." In this Brave New World of instant messaging and Internet, a lie moves faster than a millipede on crack and a nano-second after double clicking on 'send', you can wound with a word or add an even more sinister meaning to when something this way wicked comes than the three witches could have ever envisioned.

The same Mark Twain noted, "There are lies, damned lies and statistics" and how delicious that the same channels of communication that can deliver imprecation and innuendo at the speed of smell can also help separate the wheat from the chaff in terms of assertions and contentions.

Do this right now, and then bookmark the url that's generated: go to Google and enter "Checking facts for the 2008 Presidential election". Sorry-I did it for you, so just click on it (yes, I know I have patience issues; I'm working on them). Here's the deal, whenever you learn, no matter the source (even your Mom) a new 'fact' with which you are less than familiar (example: 'Candidate A invented gravity' or 'Candidate B wrote all of Shakespeare's plays') go to FactCheck.org or one of the other sites you've bookmarked.

Trust but verify; excellent advice no matter on which side of the aisle you like to sit. Heck, when you were a camp counselor, you used it at bed check, right? Why not now? Don't let half truths get a toehold in anyone's dialogue-two half truths equal one whole lie (that's math, you know, which is a lot like science ). Don't assume because a TV talking head said it, it must be correct. Remember Joe Isuzu and Remember the Maine, but most importantly, don't forget they're two sides of the same coin. And both were media creations.

Because a story shows up on 'news' doesn't mean it is, okay? All ducks are birds but not all birds are ducks. If you cannot prioritize between the importance of a story on grain price supports or coverage of an eating contest-if both a story on Lindsay Lohan's mom and Sarah Palin's daughter seem about the same to you-if trying to determine which one, Obama or McCain, is the better free-throw shooter, is your next critical criterion, do us all a favor and stay home on Election Day.

I know Fox Sports and MLB ran it into the ground for baseball's All-Star balloting, but on November 4th, it matters, and all of us should be counting on each of us to put on our game face, pull our socks up, and make an informed decision. American Gladiators, Knight Rider and Hannity and Colmes will all be there even after the center pole is pulled out from the Big Top. Chris and Keith will be walking behind the parade of elephants while, I can only hope, being very careful for the first time in many years about what they're doing and where they step.
-bill kenny

Saturday, September 27, 2008

My Middle School Honor Roll Student's Lhasa Apso can beat up your Boy Scout

I haven't actually seen this bumper sticker yet, but wouldn't that look cool on the back of your car or mini-van? (I'd never do it, because I'm the quiet crazy who grew his hair long on the inside of my head while all my college chums were auditioning for Harry and The Hirsutes, but you feel free to go ahead and enjoy yourself.)

We are a nation of slogans, bumper snickers, tee-shirt rhetoric and the like. A million years ago, I took a course in persuasion in the media, often confused with 'practiced at the art of deception" and one of the most successful, early radio campaigns was for Lucky Strike cigarettes, and they weren't alone, though the novelty of someone yelling initials at you for fifteen or thirty seconds eventually got old. Who among us doesn't own a tee-shirt emblazoned with an affirmation of loyalty for a beverage, a sporting team, a band or a performer, a pharmaceutical or a clothing outlet (and we pay for these endorsements-sweet gig!)?

With the advent of the computer and the specialized paper for printers, we can now create a slogan a minute until we run out of letters to type or bumper space to stick them on. I knew someone who proudly displayed, 'Nuke a Gay Baby Whale for Jesus' and then spent more time on the side of highways as local policemen conducted "safety checks" on his car than he did driving. Eventually it fell off (after being pulled off) and Dennis was welcomed back into the community of Auto-Americans and lived happily ever after (for the next two hours or so).

Today our vehicles don't seem to have bumpers in the way our folks' cars had them. I have a can of chrome polish in my garage that I don't think I've ever even used. The Dupont Chrome Polish guys are in the HOV lane with the Strive Gum folks cruising my neighborhood, I fear, and factories are handing out lay-off notices with my picture.

Meanwhile, in a presidential election, it's a target rich environment for slogans, stickers, buttons and banners. I was tempted to put a sticker in my window that reads "I agree with your choice" or "My guy says your guy eats bugs", but I'd hate to ruin the finish after the first Tuesday in November has come and gone.

And that's another thing. Even when our middle school honor student in whom we take such pride and delight is, herself, the parent of a middle school honor student, the sticker stays on the vehicle. I like Living in the Past as much as the next guy (more, actually; I'm incredibly competitive) but "Don't Blame Me, I Voted for McGovern"? C'mon, put the torch down-all the blood has drained from your arms.

Let's just promise one another now after all the confetti has been thrown, balloons dropped and the echoes of Happy Days Are Here Again have trailed off down the hollow hallways, much like our child's puppy, we remember how to shake hands (and then hit the hardware stores looking for a pack of single-edged razor blades and a scraper).
-bill kenny

Friday, September 26, 2008

Of Golden Parachutes and Green mail

To start: the only legitimate excuse a registered voter can offer the rest of us tomorrow morning for NOT watching the first Presidential debate between Senators Obama and John McCain tonight might be 'I was kidnapped by aliens.' Be prepared to show all of us the probe if that's what you're gonna try. Stepping off my soapbox.

I'm not allowed to do very much in my household with our checkbook since I have a history of hopefulness that my bank cannot stand (I write checks that I hope there's money to cover). I mention that because there's been a huge amount of churn in the world's financial markets in the last weeks that, fiscal fool that I am, I think of as mostly self-inflicted wounds.

I may be (and probably am) very much over simplifying all of the chaos and confusion but it looks like if we took all the money in the world and tried to pay back all the money everyone owes everyone else, we'd run out of money. Or world. See? I told you I was a simpleton. I keep reading that we're heading towards, are already in and/or narrowly averting the Great Depression that started in the USA on Black Tuesday, 29 October of 1929.

I keep reading this comparison, written by folks like me, who weren't alive for the original reference. My mom was, as a young girl barely of school age. When I was a small child she told stories of Grampy, her father, selling apples to try to keep a roof over his family's head as the vortex of collapse spread from Wall Street to Main Street. The desolation and destitution, as she described it, and as I read about in college, was overwhelmingly absolute. I think of how much I love my family, and imagine how much you love yours and the lengths to which we would each go to keep them safe. I often marvel at the bravery my Grampy and Grandma had in holding on in an era before there were federally insured bank deposits, Social Security and almost any of the safety nets we have in place now and which we take for granted but hold in such little regard.

For a lot of us who slept through American History (what's it called now, civics? Yeah that bells the cat) we have a fuzzy black and white clip of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, leaning into a huge radio microphone, telling our grandparents and many of our parents "the only thing we have to fear, is fear itself." He used that new-fangled technology, radio, to create a community of solidarity through his Fireside Chats and enough of his fellow citizens kept the faith that we look back at that point in our history as a reference and touchstone.

Seventy-years on we still have a lot of fear--and now, we have a system to color code the external threats. Has there ever been a day in the history of this country where the advisory system, as it's called, would have registered "low"? General "Gentleman Johnny" Burgoyne's army heading south from Canada steamrolled Fort Ticonderoga and Fort Edward until meeting his Waterloo, so to speak (sorry, Benny and Bjorn), at Saratoga trying to subdue those uppity Colonials? Red for "Severe" or Mauve? Today, it's "yellow" unless you're on commercial air and then it's "orange" as in "orange you happy to pay five dollars for a bag of peanuts?"

Meanwhile, in Bedford Falls and elsewhere, the 'creative accounting' wizards who'd perfected and elevated commerce to a religion seem to have come a cropper and it now it looks a lot like Closing Time (or as they used to say in Olde Queens Tavern in New Brunswick when the lights came on at 1 AM, 'you don't have to go home, but you do have to go'). What color should Clarence and George use for the peril we find ourselves in now?

And to whom should we turn, if not one another, not to buy apples or pencils but to reassure ourselves that this remarkable proposition of a nation we inadvertently created over two hundred and thirty years ago, and which survived a suicidal Civil War that certainly wasn't very much of the former, countless conflicts large and small and low fidelity assaults that are unceasing and unyielding and which has been the beacon to so many around the world for decades?

There is no color nor room for doubt or for self-doubt, nor should there be. As Abe Lincoln asked a century and a half ago, "Did we brave all ... to falter now?....The result is not doubtful. We shall not fail-if we stand firm, we shall not fail. " See you tonight, in front of the Electric Fire, but fearing all we'll get is smoke when what we need is light.
-bill kenny

Thursday, September 25, 2008

(Do) All Dogs Go to Heaven(?)

I had an errand to run Sunday morning across town in Norwich so I used Asylum Street to take me towards East Great Plains (I don't know if there's a West Great Plains; there's an East Lyme and an Old Lyme and a Lyme (I wonder if Harry's estate sees any money from the invocation of the 'other' citrus fruit?)); suspect North Lyme went the way of New Coke, only faster) and drove past Arf Park at about 7 AM.

I apologize for Arf Bark-not the place itself but calling it that as it has a real name, and not being a dog owner or even frequent petter, I don't know it. In trying to find out what that real name might be, aside from "Mollify Anne" (sort of an inside joke) I came across this, which is kind of neat and something I'll bookmark because I'd like to think I'll come back to it, except I'll forget all about it for the next two or three hundred years. (I somehow doubt the "Official Site of the Norwich Navigators" sees a lot of action anymore since that team name went the way of china cups and virginity some time ago.)

The Norwich Dog Park, sounds better doesn't it?, but it's technically the Estelle Cohn Memorial Dog Park (I love all the information in the world I can think of at my fingertips! Sadly, as I'm easily distracted, I can start out for point A and disappear down a hyperlink rabbit hole faster than you can type html. Look where we are now! See what I mean?). As I drove past it on Sunday morning, it was eerily empty-I'd never seen it without dogs.

The Dog Park gets used an awful lot. I'm not sure if it has lights for night-walkies, but we're at the time of the year where that would be helpful and we have lights on the clay courts hardly anyone uses and at the hoops alongside the entrance to Mohegan Park that doesn't go anywhere anymore. The soccer field near Kelly Middle School has more floodlights than grass or footballers, so I'm not sure why the dog park doesn't have lights.

Dog owners are subsidizing all of this through their license fees (and I think they also collected the money to build the park at no cost to the pet-impaired part of the city's population) so why do so many people feel put upon or that they doing the owners a favor in setting aside an area for dogs. Fish have the whole ocean, and a counter in the supermarket-birds have the sky, so share and alike. Unless you're named either Sonny or Gregg in which case, it's spelled C-h-e-r.

Whenever, until Sunday, I drive past, I'm always impressed by the catholicity of canines who use the dog park and how well they all seem to get along, The canines serve as an example for bipeds with canine teeth with their ability to coexist though I like the idea of shaking hands a bit more than the practice of sniffing butts (Ally and Billie notwithstanding).

But Sunday morning, the park was empty, leading me to wonder if the dogs were at church. Might I be a more regular visitor myself if I had a dog? "Forgive me Father, for I have barked..." and will I now burn in poodle Purgatory for being less than seriously sincere about this? Hard to say-I did wonder about an afterlife in the Great Beyond for pets, but only for a moment, as a visit to Google, generated 22,700,000 references in 0.22 seconds about animals in heaven so I'm not the only wonderer (take that DiMucci). And now I can't help but wonder why not?

If there is, indeed, a heaven, it's filled with people even Mitch Albom might be surprised to encounter. I wonder if the strays, the four-legged and two, look for a handout at the backdoor of the Seahorse Grille. The sea breeze and salt air can be bracing, especially on an early Sunday morning, inland.
-bill kenny

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Mrs Paul's alibi had better be good

It matters not if it were Al or Tipper Gore who invented The Internet. I say 'God bless'em' even if they didn't sneeze. How else could I have found a story from an Australian newspaper, The Daily Telegraph, with a 'Drop Whatever You're Doing and Read This All the Way to the End Right Now!' headline, Fish Found in Boy's Penis. See? You almost forgot to hit the 'back' button and return here. So much for gratitude, eh?

Between you and me, I will not be surprised if this story proves to be bogus-nor will I be amazed if it turns out to be legit. I am enthralled and excited that our world can hold such truly amazing incidents and accidents, though I suspect in this case more of the former and not so much of the latter. Talk about wincing while reading; I closed my legs and fell down (I was walking at the time).

And, in yet another example of why online is so much niftier than plain pulp paper product newspapers, I offer you the on-line comments for a story like this, all of them. I like to believe that, together, we are always smarter than each of us separately, and then along comes a reportorial Rubicon and once across, I have difficulty going back to my positive belief.

I appreciated "Hector Bismarck of Brisbane" and his suggestion about lobster tanks, and the observation by "Farmer Ted of New Zealand" that may be closer to the truth than the consequences. In the 'old days' of a just printed newspaper, each of us was alone with her/his thoughts, but now the global community can offer insight. I sense a kindred spirit in "LT of cleveland america" who wanted to know if the fish lived. That's how we are, mates. Cut to the chase-full speed ahead and damn the tartar sauce.

I love the euphemism of 'cleaning his aquarium'-so that's what the kids call it these days! Stop hanging with the home fries at the mall, and risk missing the whole drama. It's so Seinfeldesque, really, I can almost hear Jason Alexander sitting across from Kramer in the coffee shop explaining it. What's that proverb 'Give a man a fish and feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime." What's in it for the fish? It makes me Wanda what John Prine might think of all of this.
"Father forgive us for what we must do/You forgive us and we'll forgive You.
"We'll forgive each other 'til we both turn blue/And we'll whistle and go fishing in the heavens."
-bill kenny

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Indecent Dissent

Maybe because we're busy, maybe because we just don't pay enough attention, and most likely because we don't care-we've devolved from what my wife's countrymen call the "Land der Unbegrenzten Möglichkeiten" (the Land of Unlimited Opportunities) to No Country for Old Men (or Old Women or Young Men or Women, For That Matter, and Don't Get Me Started on the Kids, Those Brats!)

So much for getting along by going along. Now, everyone gets in line and the line always forms behind me, whoever me is on any given day. We see it in traffic--try yielding at a busy intersection of traffic circle (or "roundabout" as they say in England, or rotary as they say in New England) and you'll need to fill out change of address cards for your mail because you won't be going anywhere. Try getting a moment to yourself at an ATM-you need to be skilled in moulage and make yourself up to look like a leper to keep the guy behind you from standing on your pants cuff (even more awkward if you're wearing shorts) and my list could on and on.

We don't seem to discuss very much very often for very long anymore. It all becomes a race to see who can get in the first punch, verbally or otherwise. We no longer disagree without becoming disagreeable. I'm not especially interested in your opinion and a generation ago I would have been polite, but today, boom! like that we're done and I'm outahere. Not only are we not sticking around for the answers, most of the time we're not even hearing the questions. Gilda Radner's Roseanne Roseannadanna would smile, it's always something.

That so much of our information comes from sources which celebrate the opposite may also contribute to our ongoing shortages of civil courage, concerned compassion and common courtesy. As the former Mayor of New York City, Ed Koch (Edward just reads so alien, even he never uses it), observed recently, "There is no acceptance of dissent anymore." The person I support for an elected office may have only a slightly better grasp of geography than Mike "I'm not a recluse" Tyson, but your guy/gal doesn't have an American flag pin in that lapel! And we can exchange invective about prayer in classrooms, gun control or the current state of our health care system, foreign policy or domestic issues (please ask your waitperson to bring you our full menu of Today's Hot Buttons). We can yell at each other because it's easier than speaking to one another.

And as long as we have pollsters determining positions, sound bytes instead of solutions, we'll continue to substitute diatribe for dialogue. While all of us will be the poorer for it, none of us will be any the wiser. And when the day comes when we awaken, or more likely are awakened, from our own self hypnosis to a world we do not recognize and cannot control, it will be too late to find someone else to blame (which is really America's Great National Pasttime). Sadly, it won't keep us from trying anyway.
-bill kenny

Monday, September 22, 2008

Meetings, Bloody Meetings

I love John Cleese, not as in Eric the Half Bee, but on an alien, distant shore sort of way and I often think about his management video when I sit through meetings at work or, more often, when I attend municipal meetings. (someday, this entire space will be nothing but a hyperlink; thank you, Al Gore, for inventing the Internet and all the interfish caught in it, amen.).

There's a lot of downside to living in a small town, having lived in large cities for much of my life, but one of the things I like where we live now is the opportunity in a city of about 36,000 folks (there's some cool info at that link, like how our houses are over 100K cheaper than the Connecticut average, which is fair since the income levels are lower as well--but heck with the numbers, LOOK AT THE PICTURES) to watch how people, elected and appointed, work the levers of governance on one side of the machine to produce the products, be they public education, trash disposal, police and fire protection, new sidewalks (figure Mr. Ripley will like that reference, believe it or not; Mr. Davis, probably not so much) and the creature comforts we just take for granted.

As I mentioned last week, your town/city probably has a website and depending on how well-developed it is (and I have some experience with this stuff and it's one thing to say 'let's set up the site to do this' and quite another to actually get it done) and the City of Norwich's website is not only an excellent calling card for one and all, but for those of us thorns who actually live here, we can do stuff on line instead of having to troop downtown. Okay, you can't get pony rides for your birthday, no matter how far in advance, or completely, you fill out a Citizen Service Request, but it's quite a handy-dandy Popeil-like item. I aspire to be half as functional and as least as decorative as the website before I expire (not quite an even-money bet, so far).

In Norwich this week, it's not a quiet week in terms of public meetings, but many of them are more of the 'managing the white space' variety as opposed to broad and bold strokes. It doesn't make them less important or vital, but if you don't have a familiarity with the issues that some of these meetings are involved with, it can be like watching a tele-novella with the volume off. (Except for my somewhat acerbic observations, which run as subtitles.....)

Tonight at 5, in Room 206 at City Hall, it's the Redevelopment Agency.

Tuesday

There's a Board of Education monthly meeting at 6 PM in Kelly Middle School (where voters last November approved a referendum initiative to, basically, rebuild the school from the inside out; be advised, this is a link for this very important group (in terms of impact generated and public funding needed to operate) but the site isn't up to date unless you'd like an agenda of the March '08 meeting or the minutes from nine months ago).

Happening at the same time and perhaps as important to your household, because their decisions drive the costs of drinking water, sewer, natural gas and electricity to your home and business, is the Board of Public Utilities Commissioners' meeting on the second floor at 16 Golden Street. Their minutes and agenda are available at 173 North Main Street but that's only okay because they really should be available, imho, through the office of the City Clerk and also posted on line on the city's website. Kids, we're almost nine years into the Next Century, feel free to use the technology we've now had for decades and be here now.

Wednesday

I'd attend just because I like the name, Dangerous Buildings Board of Review, at 5:30 PM in the basement conference room at 23 Union Street. Yes, it's serious business and, no, I'm not goofing on them-I think we could goose attendance and participation in municipal meetings by spicing up the names. Okay, maybe nothing changes by adding Stormy to the Harbor Management Commission-but what if it does? Remember, you read it here first.

You've read in the local papers about applicants for, and discussions about, the Sachem Fund (a cooperative venture between the Mohegan Tribe and the City of Norwich). Here's a chance to watch how decisions are made, there's a Sachem Fund Committee at 6 PM in Room 335 at City Hall.

Thursday

There are SIX different meetings on Thursday and I am dumber than a box of rocks on almost all of them-so if you attend and see what looks like a balding piece of gravel, that's me. Here's something on the two about which I know something.....

You've heard of Breakfast with the Beatles? How about an 8 AM meeting with the (Norwich) Community Development Corporation Board of Directors at 77 Main Street? Over the summer, they hired an Executive Director, Robert Mills, and if you've lived in Norwich for more than an hour, you've heard NCDC used as an explanation, as an expletive, as a promise, as a threat and everything in between. You owe it to yourself (and them) to learn more; but you won't find it here, at least not yet.


The Recreation Advisory Board meets at 6 PM in their building up at Dickeman Field near the tennis courts. I'd suggest wearing sneakers just in case there's a pickup game after the meeting.

Saturday

Saturday, 10 AM unti 2 PM at the Otis Library. Candidates' Forum.
Invitees include: State Senator Edith Prague, D, unopposed; 42nd District Representative, for Ledyard and Preston, Tom Reynolds, D, unopposed;46th District Representative, for Norwich, Melissa Olson, D, unopposed and 47th District Representative, for Canterbury, Norwich, Scotland and Sprague, Jack Malone, D, opposed by Christopher Coutu, R. I don't think when it comes to something as important as how we're governed, you can have too much information though from the looks of the above roster, it seems you also can't have enough candidates in opposition. If you live in this region and are eligible and registered to vote, you owe it to yourself and to me, your neighbor, to learn about the people seeking your support.

And if I can offer you an item a week from today, 29 September at 6:30 PM in Room 335 of City Hall is a Freedom of Information Act, FOIA, workshop, run by the State of CT Freedom of Information Act Commission that's always interesting to those who hate being told 'you cannot have information' by a city or state agency. It's a great refresher on what is considered public information and what can, and must, be protected and monitored (and why).
The previous Norwich City Council had to attend one of these as penance for its casual and cavalier (so said some) regard for both the letter and the spirit of the laws and look at how well all that has turned out (we also replaced five of the seven people on the City Council). It helps when involved in the play to have the playbill and understand each character's lines, to include your own. See you at something in the course of the week, unless your luck is really good.
-bill kenny

Sunday, September 21, 2008

End of the Season

Tomorrow marks the start of Autumn or, since I'm a half-empty glass kind of guy, the end of summer. I don't know when it started, and I don't really remember when I first noticed it, but the seasons don't last as long as they used to, at least not the ones I like. Just call me Melvin Morose (as opposed to Gibson or Laird; we're all starting to share a hairline, guys).

As a kid in New Jersey, I have memories of snow in the backyard in our house in Belford, taller than I was (the part about being shorter than I am now always slips my mind) and shovelling pathways across and throughout it that looked like rabbit runs. We lived near my Mom's older sister, Anne and her husband, Chief (his real name was Donald- something I did not know until after he was dead; he died long after his wife died of cancer) and their children, my cousins, Donna (a year older than I), Diane (two days younger than me!), Daria (not the MTV one) and Chip (whose name was also Donald-I guess Chief, Too, wasn't much of an option even in the days of black and white TV and no Internet (or computers except for those UNIVAC behemoths, bigger than a house)). Even then, no matter how long the visit lasted, it ended too soon.

When we drove home from their house we used to pass what looked like a college, but it was a prep school with very snooty lettering on its white sign that I understood to say "Crayon Hall Academy"-turns out, not quite. Talk about "Every day's the end of days for some." A lifetime later, as a student in what proved to be the last graduating class of Carteret Academy for Boys, a suity and snooty place itself, thank you very much, I got knocked out, cold, in their field house driving for a layup during a varsity basketball game and came to on the bus heading back to our school. Nice people. (I got credit for the bucket; I checked with the scorer.)

We moved to Wanamassa, which is why I smiled reading my brother's notes the other morning while drinking my morning Fanta, which is when I first discovered the Beach Boys' Endless Summer wasn't and where I started grade school. I can still remember trying to make myself understood to my mother about 'but I went yesterday!' when I discovered there was more to this school thing. Turns out, going was one of the few things in fifty-six years I was any good at. I should have majored in "Bus" with a minor in "lunch line".

I was almost going to count the summers, falls, winters and springs since then but that would very much harsh anyone's buzz, so I'll just note it's a lot but also concede no matter how many more are yet to come, they will not be enough. Sometimes it takes a Hurricane Party to really grasp that. It's how we are, I think, as a species--we want what we want while missing what we had and worrying about we've yet to receive. Just in case we finally and truly get what we really deserve.

"Winter will come any day. Back in the scrub on a wet afternoon. Down in the mud, dreaming of flowers in June. End of the Season." Are autumn leaves like winter snowflakes, no two alike? We can compare notes on this real soon.
-bill kenny

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Sitting on a cornflake, Waiting for the van to come

I watched someone the other in a bookstore purchasing a book on Bridge. Sorry, Cornelius Ryan, this is not that but more like this (I love that TV commercial)--involving cards. Go back again and look at the site that has the bridge book recommendations and count the number of books. Amazing.

Just me or does every daily newspaper have a crossword and/or a
Sudoku (puzzle? What are they officially called? All I ever see is the one word, like "Bowie", "Sinatra", "plastics") and a column on Bridge. I get about the same out of all three (my wife does crosswords in ink which I find unnecessarily self-assured and reminds me of a joke involving the Pope, a crossword and needing to borrow an eraser, but space doesn't permit me to continue this humorous intermezzo).

I get as much, if not even less, from trying to read the newspaper features on Bridge than I do from watching
Univision (No hablo español) but I don't get to watch the women wearing smiles and outfits that leave little to the imagination (and I have a vivid imagination) while struggling with the newspaper. It's a good thing Parents Television Council doesn't have a TV with SAP, eh?

I mean, it looks exactly like English, "...for a defender to falsecard his partner" (it doesn't sound especially nice and my need to tell you its meaning probably exceeds your need to care, unless you're a bridge player). Where I grew up, a trick had a very different meaning, though Paul Simon assures me this one is cheaper to board but harder to saddle. And for those who are aching to explain it to me, leave out the part about 'it's borrowed from whist', because I don't speak whist either, you wascally wabbit (not that Mel Blanc saw any money from this; I imagine it's harder to shuffle the cards after use).

I have enough trouble with the World Series of Poker-not just following the action but trying to figure out why ESPN thinks it's a sport (that and the National Spelling Bee--how about this, if you miss a word, you run a lap. Now it's a sport) and then there's the Bridge players who may not be the same thing as contract bridge players (I'm imagining a Tony Soprano character trying a trump trick, whatever that is, to win tickets to a Journey concert, as Al Pacino is fishing a pistol out of a toilet's water tank), who are now upset I've made light of them, when I haven't, because I can't. I don't get any of it.

In a sport with terms including overcalled, a returned spade, and a defeated contract all in the same paragraph, the turn of a card can wipe the grin from a Cat's face, or vice versa. John (and Paul), call on line two for you, coo, coo, kachoo.
-bill kenny

Friday, September 19, 2008

Vanna, If I might purchase a vowel please....

We're smack in the middle of The Big E an event to which that I paid absolutely no attention for over a decade when we first arrived here on the Mayflower (moving van, that is. Sorry DAR). It wasn't a sense of history or mystery, for that matter, that prompted my jaunt to West Springfield.

This time two years ago my wife had flown home to visit her family in Germany. She had departed in early August and was forecast to return in October. Since I was the primary person to whom she was returning, I made it a point to keep our two children, Patrick and Michelle, in close proximity when we were discussing her return timeline. I'm not exactly a prize worthy of a Cracker Jack box and I was counting on the children to be more of the deal clincher than I knew I would be.

Patrick has lived his own life, under his own roof, since he was nineteen. His sister, our daughter, Michelle, was and is a student at Eastern Connecticut State University (Go, Turquoise Wombats! I'm actually making that up. I have no idea what colors or mascot they have) and two years ago was a commuter, meaning I had to worry about dinner for two for sixty plus days. When your culinary repertoire is Lipton's Chicken Noodle Soup and Campbell's Tomato Soup (made with milk, please) and Grilled Cheese Sandwiches, figuring out ways to explain to your now-returned wife, that you inadvertently poisoned and/or starved our only daughter becomes dangerously close to a logical pursuit.

All I knew about The Big E is that it has lots of food and lots of different kinds of food. To someone who had made a salad of three pounds of bow tie noodles, tossed with bacon with cherry tomatoes (lightly fried in bacon fat) only to learn (too late) that three pounds of cooked pasta actually lasts you a decade or more, a chance to offer my daughter something different and something she would actually eat was too good to pass up.

Once we went, I knew we'd go back because The Big E is just plain fun, no matter what your interests are. There's buildings full of farm animals, and gadgets, there's a horse riding track with a show competition of jumping and prancing and whatever it is horses do, and each of the New England States has a permanent exposition hall to showcase the specialities of that state (and now, John Rowland is NOT demonstrating hot tubs in the Connecticut Hall anymore than Buddy Cianci is offering free samples of his tomato sauce in Rhode Island. And the Rhode Island building, btw, doesn't seem to be smaller than the other ones.).

I've seen the world's tallest horse, a HUGE animal that looked a lot like a small building (perhaps the original RI Hall?), and the world's tiniest banjo (through a microscope) and it only cost me a dollar for each of those. Last year, my daughter and I insisted my wife go to The Big E (my son was working) and she had a great time (figure anyone who can stay married to me for almost 31 years has a sense of adventure and humor, if not a large plate of slightly fried cherry tomatoes and bow tie pasta), and I suspect and expect when we return tomorrow, we'll enjoy it all over again. The Big E runs through a week from this Sunday, the 28th, and is large fun. I'll see you there-I'm going to be circulating a petition to get all the other vowels a fair of their own as well, so bring a pen. I'll show you where to sign.
-bill kenny

Thursday, September 18, 2008

I Don't Believe in Peter Pan, Frankenstein or Super Man

I've been to enough circuses, here and in Germany, to appreciate a secret truth within John Irving's novels: the trick really isn't training a bear to ride a bicycle, but, without an opposable thumb, to be able to ring the bell.

Irving's bear was my first thought earlier last week when the news stories broke on Lance Armstrong's 'return to cycling'. I had the yellow wrist band and I admire immensely the courage and strength the man has, and has always displayed. I've never really understood how a grownup makes a living riding a bike, unless it's an itty-bitty one and he's wearing a red nose and has big feet.

I'm being snarky, admittedly, except for the part that I took it to hyperbole. Think about it: someone pays men and women (but almost always it's men) HUGE sums of money to play 'professional sports' (or in Carl Pavano's, case to be physically co located near people who do) and we don't bat an eye. In some sports....we all know about baseball, football and basketball players and to a lesser extent hockey players and race car drivers, but what's the going rate for a professional lacrosse player or how many seats do you think get filled for a professional curling match (or scrum or whatever they call it)?

What happens to them all once our gaze goes elsewhere after their careers end? I grew up rooting for Willie Mays and watched him in center field at Shea Stadium, after the Giants traded him to the Mets in the twilight of his career, almost get brained by fly balls he'd made a career out of catching. When he retired, he took a job as a greeter at an Atlantic City hotel and casino, and the Lords of Baseball, fearful of the return of Shoeless Joe, quietly blackballed him (pun deliberate) from ever being part of Major League Baseball. But still, a man (or a woman) has got to eat, right?

Maybe that's what it is for Lance Armstrong. Man cannot live by headlines and adulation alone and I've yet to figure out what his 'real job' was/is or could be. I never understood what happened to the family he had while he battled cancer, and I do know it's politically incorrect to ask about them now, so I'll pretend I didn't, if you will, too.

He and I move in different circles, so while I've read about Sheryl Crow, Ashley Olsen and Kate Hudson, I don't think I have to worry about him hitting on my wife, no matter how sexy he looks in his speedos. And he'll be too busy chasing his own ghost to have much of a social life, I guess, at least for awhile. I'm more of a brown open-necked shirt guy myself, but if a yellow tricot helps him earn some green, I suspect he'll soon enough remember to look out for those beauties, oh yeah.
-bill kenny

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Bringing It All Back Home....

Never let it be said I never give you advanced warning-put this one in your 'things to do' planner now, even if it's three plus weeks away: Thursday, 9 October in Norwich City Hall, Room 335, starting at 5:30 and slated for two hours, the Mayor's Economic Roundtable Forum (I'm not sure what to put in capital letters and what Not to; like that right there, or This).

The previous two meetings of the forum (community leaders of all stripes and interests) had been devoted heavily, if not exclusively, to the (nearly) seventy acres of the former Norwich Hospital property. I was in the audience for both of these meetings and appreciated the discussions that went on throughout but got a bit lost in the tall grass in terms of what was accomplished. Having been the subject and often the object of local politics for about a decade and half, I hope those who still are will NOT be offended when I characterize a lot of it as akin to the 'rap sessions' we used to have back in the day while twisted on 'weed, whites and wine.' Much of the time, then as well as now, it's not so much will and desire as wallet and a plan--the former we seem to have in abundance and the latter, well, not so much.

Don't get me wrong-discussion is always good and a thorough examination of all aspects and impacts of a project can only improve the final product. But...you can talk things to death or at least into a stupor. And after about three and half hours, total, in connection with the Norwich Hospital property, it looks like come 9 October, and now for Something Completely Different (nudge, nudge).

The topic for the 9 October Economic Roundtable (having thought about it, I'm a caps kinda guy) third installment is the Norwichtown Mall (NT Mall) the proverbial red-headed stepchild of retail activity (or inactivity to be more precise) in the region and a cautionary tale of consequence for any developer or wannabe developer. The panel for the Economic Roundtable, as outlined in one of the local newspapers, is as impressive and well meaning as such assemblies of talent can be, but rarely are.

Maybe just me (I'm practicing self-effacement; in reality, there's no 'maybe' about it) I would have thought a discussion on the NT Mall might better be served and far more useful to everyone if the owners of the property, Edens and Avant, were to offer a status report on where they are, outline about where they hope to go and discuss they plan to get there. Actually all of this is long past due, in my opinion. The NT Mall is, last time I checked, privately owned and NOT public property like the Norwich Hospital.

In an aside before Monday's City Council meeting, one of the alderpersons told me he'd been informed Edens and Avant were invited, but wouldn't be attending. They asked, he said, to be updated on whatever happens at the meeting. When I wondered what possible value could come from an intervention where the 'subject' wouldn't even be in the room or in the state, he insisted it could still be a positive opportunity for the community to tell the developer what those of us who live here think should happen. I'd really love for that to happen, and admire him him for his positivism. But if twice (or twenty times) as many customers of the NT Mall show up on the 9th, it'll still be me and four other folks (feel free to hum a few bars of "Eddie Are You Kidding?" right about here.)

With all due respect to those who offered their time and talents to develop and discuss ideas at the first two roundtables and who continue to attend and participate --what exactly does ANY of this get the city and where is the map of conclusions being drawn from those previous meetings? If we should have a reason for everything we do, what, then, is the reason for the roundtables? And how do we transform discussion into implementation?

Don't get me wrong-I'll be there in Room 335 on Thursday, 9 October (and encourage you to do the same) because while I'm not from here, I just live here with my wife and we raised our two children into adults as residents of the Rose of New England, even if I've been too often a thorn for some who think of this city as their personal leisure time activity. Smart Economic Growth seems to be a lot like the weather--large amounts of talk and little action. I'm bringing a raincoat, a beach blanket as well as snowshoes because you don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.
-bill kenny

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

What do you mean "My Aim is True?"

This is a little awkward. Where I work has separate men's and women's bathrooms (unlike the ones we have at my house and yours, I suspect; I'm not sure why we behave in public differently than we do in private) but that's not the awkward part.

A visit to the men's facilities is always informative if not educational because of the amount of reading material ranging from newspapers and (horse) racing forms (which confuses me since I don't think we have horse racing in Connecticut; I can't imagine Bryce or Prudence bouncing out of their saddles as they race their polo ponies on the Gold Coast) through news weeklies and publications that tend towards many pictures, carefully placed staples and not a lot of words.

For a couple of days, one of the latter has been circulating throughout the, umm, cubicles. Just the name of it causes some to roll their eyes and let out a little sigh, but believe me when I say most of us only glance at it for the articles. Admittedly, it has been known to take hours to find the articles in it, but that's just another sign of the prevalence of Adult Attention Deficit Disorder.

Yesterday, the Synonym for a Proverb (I'm trying to be couth, which is more than can be said for that publication) was replaced by American Rifleman, the self-proclaimed "premier magazine for shooting and firearms enthusiasts." I especially enjoyed the "Dope Bag" whose title caused me to titter like a schoolchild until I remembered where I was and what I was doing. You don't have to call me lieutenant Rosie, and I don't want to be your son.

And almost as importantly, I'd wish for better graffiti so I had something else, anything else, to read. I now better understand how many periodicals are often called magazines, but how magazines are a whole 'nother thing with a completely different purpose.
- bill kenny

Monday, September 15, 2008

Hey Norwicheans, Let's Pop the Hood and Check the Engine

Democracy, like many of those raffles whose tickets we bought to pay for our kids' school field trips, often requires you be present to win. Starting today and hopefully every Monday (but I know me better than you know me, and I suspect this will be more of a hit and miss, with the emphasis on 'miss') I'll offer you a preview of this week's Norwich municipal meetings as I've gathered the information, because so often, we end up with decisions that we don't understand only to learn later there was an opportunity and a forum to know more, or offer comment, but we didn't know about it and we didn't avail ourselves of it.

Here's a really good place to learn about Norwich public meetings. I'll bet your town has a page on its website that does pretty much the same thing, so your choices now become hand-wringing about decisions you don't understand or getting smarter about the mechanics of local government.

Yeah, it takes an investment of time to learn how the various activities, boards, commissions and advisories work to make where we live a place we can either call home or here, but it's better than hoping the folks who donate their time and talents are doing a good job (because they are trying to do a good job but if we don't tell them what we feel about their decisions and ideas, they're bowling without seeing the pins).

Feel free to ignore the snarky remarks and catty observations-I find it therapeutic, but your mileage may vary. Here's how I see the week:

Monday
Senior Affairs Commission, 9 a.m., Rose City Senior Center;

Design Review Board, 4 p.m., 23 Union St.;

Harbor Management Commission, 5 p.m., City Manager's Office;

City Council Informational meeting, Ethics Committee, 6 p.m., Council Chambers;
(The ethics review committee turned in its report in mid-March, six months ago. I was on this committee and will be attending this informational session, sitting in my usual place. Will be curious as to how this conversation goes and what happens next. Maybe you as well?)

Charter Revision Committee, 6:30 p.m., Room 335;
(the resolution that created the volunteer panel of five local lawyers stipulated it was NOT to be called a charter revision commission as the panel looks at language and areas of improvement within the charter and makes recommendations back to the City Council by December. I have some right now: make sure the membership is listed here (under "C") and the minutes of the previous meeting and the agenda for the next, like those of the City Council are also posted.)

City Council, 7 p.m., Council Chambers.
(Tonight's agenda is right here and I'm curious about the unfinished business, in light of a meeting slated for Tuesday (more below, on that), and I hope to hear a cordial discussion on the 'new business' resolution that would have the City Council, as the Zoning Board, meet as that body at a separate time for only that purpose.)

Tuesday

Board of Assessment Appeals, noon, Room 319, City Hall;

Norwich Free Academy Board of Trustees, 5:30 p.m., Sidney Frank Building, NFA;

Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation
and Connecticut Department of Culture and Tourism, 6 p.m., Room 335, City Hall;

Public Parking Commission, 6 p.m., Buckingham Memorial Building;

Commission on the City Plan, 7 p.m., Room 108, City Hall;
(
The public will get a chance to comment on the proposed $22 million regional transportation center. There will be two public hearings on the center, one on flood plain issues and one on the more general question of location. Later in the meeting, the commission also will review the site plan proposal for the center and proposed road improvements. In light of this last point, not sure why the Council on Monday, see their agenda, is doing anything until the CCP has reached a decision. I have my own concerns and if you have any, this is a good night to show up and voice them and stop making this a "Thayer Family vs. NCDC" drama.)

Wednesday
Children First Norwich, 9 a.m., Dime Bank community room, Salem Turnpike;

Housing Authority, 9 a.m., Rosewood Manor;
10 a.m., Schwartz Manor and
11 a.m., Westwood Park;

Board of Assessment Appeals, 3 p.m., Room 319, City Hall;

Integrated Day Charter School board, 5:30 p.m., Media Center, 68 Thermos Ave.;

Youth and Family Services, 6:30 p.m., Room 335, City Hall;

Golf Course Authority, 7 p.m., Golf Course meeting room, New London Turnpike.

Thursday

Chelsea Gardens Foundation, 8 a.m., Room 319, City Hall;

Historic District Commission, 5 p.m., room 210, City Hall;

Ice Rink Authority, 6 p.m., Ice Rink meeting room, New London Turnpike.

Put this on the calendar now-though it's NOT for this Saturday, but the next:

Saturday 27 September- 1000-1400 Otis Library.
Candidates' Forum.
Invitees include: State Senator Edith Prague, D, unopposed;

42nd District Representative, for Ledyard and Preston,
Tom Reynolds, D, unopposed;

46th District Representative, for Norwich, Melissa Olson, D, unopposed and

47th District Representative, for Canterbury, Norwich, Scotland and Sprague, Jack Malone, D, opposed by Christopher Coutu, R.
(I'd make it a point to ask those with a "D" behind their names (stands for Democratic Party but also means the Dominant party in the statehouse as they have absolute majorities in both chambers) why they haven't gotten more done for us since creating majorities that can override the Governor's veto and/or in essence chart their own course. Be proactive instead of reactive unless you are part of the very politics as usual you claim you're not.

You don't need to make it to every meeting--heck, I have NO Life and I won't, but I'd hope to see you at something in the coming week. You can't be too strong or too smart when it comes to life in these (more or less) United States here in the 21st Century. Be an exclamation and not an explanation.
-bill kenny