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Sunday, February 28, 2010

From Tsunami to Tillman

Here I am earlier this week whining about the weather and then yesterday comes along and there are hundreds of thousands of Chileans who might well ask me, '¿Usted es infeliz sobre una polvoreda de la nieve? ¿Una polvoreda de la nieve? ¡Debemos tener sus apuros!' And if I understood Spanish, I'd have to agree they're absolutely right (though I wish they'd do something about those upside question marks).

Nothing puts your life into more immediate perspective than the misfortunes of others. And with Haiti and its troubles earlier this month, the massive earthquake in Chile and the threat of tsunami in a half dozen Pacific nations thousands of miles away in the aftermath, you do get quiet when you realize you awakened to a cosmetic coating of snow, more like confectioner's sugar, on Saturday morning and were very unhappy about it. At least until I signed on to see world headlines.

The television news does a great job of telling me the what but cannot offer me a coherent why.Why them, and not us? Why such massive carnage and so much heartbreak? Meanwhile in Vancouver where their bad weather would be considered good almost everywhere else on earth, the sports folks finally found someone NOT named Sean White getting props for mad skills at rad sports-sadly his conveyance doesn't have windows so he could stick his head out while hanging paw.
-bill kenny

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Bustin' Broncos on the Mac & Cheese Ranch

Brushing my teeth yesterday morning, that turn of phrase popped into my head. I'm not sure where it came from and when these things happen, I get a little nervous. Has anyone ever said to you, 'what were you thinking?' and you struggled to recount the process that had resulted in your suggestion to drill a second hole in the boat in order to let the water out? No one has ever done that with me and I'm finally starting to understand why, and in this case, knowledge is not necessarily power.

I have a brain that's more like Captain Billy's Whizbang, a turn of phrase supposedly from "The Music Man" (I adore every Lullaby on Broadway (but prefer Hackett's Lamb to Charles') as my collection of Iron Maiden attests) with which I have no familiarity and to which I tend to add 'Closet' though I don't know why. The lobes are filled with badly-remembered snatches of melodies from decades of rock and roll songs, some of which went plywood in Indiana while others are anthems (C'mon! Let's all Do the Clam!) none of which are improved when I sing them aloud at the top of my lungs, along with film clips projected on the inside of my skull (I can see them when I close my eyes) in random order and with no reason and less rhyme.

I don't even like Mac and Cheese. Well, hardly. I did watch a recipe on TV the other day that added bacon to it and then it was baked, or maybe boiled (I didn't watch that much of it) and now in my head it runs into a snippet of a TV commercial for a fast food restaurant where somebody demands 'will somebody please make a bacon latte?' though the ad isn't for coffee.

I've been holding out for decades for pony rides for my birthday but I don't think I'd go out to the North Forty in search of a Chestnut Mare. Besides, my sister, Evan, is the equestrian; I'm more of a pedestrian (and the world is better for both of those choices), so there's not much danger I'll be moving to Montana soon(er or later). I think the only way this could turn out well would be if I end up riding Mr. Ed into the sunset-perhaps dueting like Dale and Roy, hopefully without ending up like Trigger.
-bill kenny

Friday, February 26, 2010

Swim Until You Can't See Land

Our parents had a way of putting things into perspective-when something went wrong, from a house fire through a car crash to a loss of a job-they'd sigh and offer to no one in particular but to the world at large, "at least we (or he or she) have our health." And let's face it, when we were young, our interaction with the medical community was pretty much confined to what flavor lollipop the pediatrician would let us choose after the visit.

I'm so old I can remember Dr. Alice Tyndall making house calls. I never spent a nanosecond (not that I knew what one of those was) wondering how my parents paid for any of that. Health care was like dial tone and electricity-it was right there when you needed it. As I've grown older and wider (I meant to type wiser but my fingers think they're so funny) and we've gotten more callous and brusque in our interactions with one another, I've reached the conclusion that health care is like any other rationed commodity and is worth whatever people are willing to pay for it and then some.

I'm grateful I and my family (now just Sigrid and me) have health insurance through my employer who pays the lion's share of the premium while I have deductibles and other expenses maybe like you, though in light of the tens of millions of Americans doing without health insurance, maybe NOT like you. Am I happy when my costs continue to rise every year-of course not, and in my case I can't even fall back on 'at least I have my health' but my situation is still a damn sight better than many others.

The people we elected to represent us at the national level in our nation's Capital have been wrangling for about a year on as close to universal, accessible and affordable health care as we have ever been in our country's history. No matter where your philosophy and ideology has you sitting in terms of the center aisle, let's start together from a point that says 'this is desirable and something we should work together to do without further bankrupting ourselves.'

So now that we've decided we do want to go to Gradma's house, the discussion should turn to the route, and not who's driving, not who called shotgun, not what radio station we should listen to, not 'Mom, tell Bobby/Barbara to stop touching me!' before it all ends with Dad thundering 'don't make me pull over.' (And we're not even in the car.) I'm sure you'd agree the depth of the passions and the ferocity of the debate have been remarkable, and would be even more impressive if all of it had produced anything. We've had a lot of heat but very little light.

I dropped in and out of the online coverage of yesterday's Health Summit and caught a little bit on television during lunch. Did you notice when the TV cameras went to the wide shot in the room that the wall clock always showed 4? Was I the only one who found that less a coincidence and more of an omen? (Upside, of sorts, a stopped clock is right twice a day, which by my count was 100% more than anyone else in the room.)

I don't imagine the gathering that produced the Declaration of Independence or the Constitutional Convention that followed the War of Independence were all about peace and love all the time, but when you look at the results, you have to admire the effort. I didn't really ever feel that way yesterday and was confused a little because I was impressed that folks from different parties had so much in common-(perhaps) more than they had themselves realized, and yet around and around we went...

I don't pretend creating an affordable and equitable health care system is a walk in the park (at least not this time of year around here) but we need to stop the posturing and preening, across the board and get real and serious or vice versa. We selected you as the best of all of us to work on the recovery and rebuilding of a brilliant idea--government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from the earth-and you have trouble agreeingon lunch order. C'mon!

If healthcare issue and the many other issus were easy--ANYONE could resolve them. We chose you because you promised us you'd do your best-when do you suppose that will start? We need to stop arguing over what kind of band-aid to give a patient needing surgery and grow up while we can still grow old. Tell you what, you keep the lollipop this time and call us in the morning.
-bill kenny

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Weather or Not

Despite being in New England in late February, I think we got off lucky yesterday in terms of the weather since we had rain, okay a LOT of rain, as opposed to snow. I'm not a big fan anymore of snow. Ever since I stopped getting sleds for Christmas, the magic is gone.

If we've met you've noticed this and if not, no real loss, my threshold for others' pain and discomfort is extraordinary. I hate to brag, but it is. I can offer those bromides, 'take one for the team', or 'no one likes a whiner' for hours, if not days on end, unless my throat gets sore and then I'll need a lift to the emergency room in case I actually have a tumor or something. Turn on the siren, dammit and make them pull over so we can pass.

Yesterday was a lousy day if you were outdoors, but I wasn't, so the world was okay (my office was a little chilly, even with my sweater on, but somehow my heart will carry on). In the mid afternoon I looked out my office window and made eye contact with TS, The Squirrel.

I've bestowed the definite article on her/him, capitalized the species, and given her/him a nickname because I've gone from a raft of squirrels last summer to exactly ONE, or what I think is one (and what a hoot that would be if it's a franchise operation, like Squirrels R Us, and there's a small horde of lookalikes all across the lawn). I only turned to look out the window because I could feel something, or someone, burning a hole in the back of my neck.

At first I didn't recognize TS. I mean we had a LOT of rain. And, hand on my heart, when that fluffy tail gets soaking wet just like all that fur, the resemblance to a rat is a LOT closer than to Rocket J, if you follow my drift. I threw some peanuts out the window and resisted the temptation to note 'let a smile be your umbrella if you want to gargle snow' but TS didn't budge or even acknowledge the nuts.

I suspect, and I'm not a naturalist or Marlin Perkins, TS was struggling to understand why all the wet was on the non-biped side of the glass. I don't think animals can reason their way into grasping bonded and altered molecules creating buildings, or driveways or window panes, but TS sure looked cranked about something. And I noticed for the first time in my life that squirrels don't seem to have to blink, at least TS didn't, for what felt like thirty minutes.

I refused to get into a staring contest, mainly because I knew I'd lose so I turned back to my desk, sneaking the occasional glance over my shoulder and there was TS, still glaring and staring even as I lowered the blinds and called it a day.

I very nonchalantly sauntered down the sidewalk in front of the building and headed towards my car catching a glimpse of TS still staring as I cranked the engine. It made me hope squirrels have the memory of goldfish and not elephants, especially since today's forecast is for more unshirted awful and I may have trouble handling the guilt.
-bill kenny

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Stuck Between Stations

"There are nights when I think Sal Paradise was right." Saturday’s workshop with members of the Board of Education and the City Council sitting together to understand fiscal realities was an important starting point to face up and address the approaching municipal budget formulation season that promises, this year, to be even more painful for practically everyone across Norwich.

Last year’s budget, described as ‘bare bones’ throughout its development, this year looks to be an unachievable ideal, as all manner of revenues are down and every aspect of municipal costs have risen. For those making due with what we have for our own households and who are trying to hold the line on expenses, take those struggles and place them in a one-hundred million dollar frame of reference to better appreciate what Norwich is working with and against.

"Most nights are crystal clear." There are no good guys and bad guys when the money gets tight. What there needs to be, and Saturday’s meeting showed the way, is a discussion and consensus that defines essential municipal services, details the level those services should be offered and their costs and identifies those means to fund them. We may, as the poets write, cry for the moon—but we have finally acknowledged that we can only have what we can pay for.

For too many years, all of us have been spectators in a process that pitted various agencies of our own city government against each other. Too many didn’t think we could get involved or should get involved until the City Council public hearings on the budget. The trouble with that level of engagement is by the time those hearings are held, most of the budget discussions have been had and the decisions have been made. When we, the residents, don’t show up until the landing, it’s poor form to complain about the plane’s take-off or destination.

That neither members of the Board of Education nor the City Council wasted a moment posturing or hand-wringing or talking AT one another, rather than WITH one another, was more than encouraging, it was essential. It’s NOT just the “schools” who have a budget problem, or “public works” or “public safety.” It’s ALL of us and if it helps, it's not just here.

The Golden Age of Glittering Generalities is a luxury none of us can afford. Specific goals, and means to achieve them, to include paying for those goods and services we want, is the only way to work through the current situation. That means being active now as the discussions begin and offering informed suggestions. We can all agree that we cannot afford everything we want. "Big heads and soft bodies make for lousy lovers." That means we must lower our expectations as well as our voices and work to pay for what we need without bankrupting ourselves today or tomorrow.
-bill kenny

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

(Not) All Dogs Go to Heaven

I only caught it in the newspaper over the weekend, but thanks to the World Wide Weird Web, it's easy to pull the string these days and find the source, "Godless Will Adopt Pets of Blessed After Judgment Day."

For those not familiar with eschatology (the study of Last Days as prophesied in the Bible), we've seen a variant in recent months with the media attention about the End of the World as forecast for 21 December 2012 in the Mayan calendar. I was tempted to stop paying on my credit cards; what's the worst that can happen, but decided against it. And in a sense, the story on pet adoption after The Rapture is fitting to have run in the Bloomberg News Service, because when you read the item you see the triumph of the entrepreneurial spirit.

"The next best thing to pet salvation in a Post Rapture World," says the website created by Bart Centre (a/k/a The Atheist Camel) offering the adoption service (for a fee). With all due respect to Mitch Albom, it looks like none of the five people you meet in heaven will be snagging a frisbee with their mouths. If you liked Air Bud, better grab the DVD when you hear the hosannas, because the star will not have the left the building in a manner of speaking. And if you watched Stuart Little for anyone other than Geena Davis or Hugh Laurie, Snowball, plan on enjoying the large popcorn for all eternity. In the words of the Christian Reformed Church, color all of us surprised.

Only in America, even as we struggle to learn enough Chinese to speak to the nation that just about owns us, could we approach something as final as the end of days and see a silver lining in the darkening cloud. And when I say silver, I really mean platinum, because arranging for your pet to be adopted by a leftover (? What should we call those not involved in the Manufacturer's Recall?) after the Second Coming will cost some coin (all things considered, not a lot, especially if you take the long view) though distrustful and mistrustful soul that I am, I'm trying to figure out how Bart can offer a guarantee on the happy ending aspect. Or does he expect me to take that on faith?

Some of us will hear heavenly hosts while others hear the ka-ching of the cash register. To each his own. After all, doesn't the money say 'In God We Trust'? And it's finger popping, twenty-four hour shopping in Rapture. Amen (and woof!, meow! and chirp! as appropriate).
-bill kenny

Monday, February 22, 2010

Sainthood and Concrete City Streets

The calendar says pitchers and catchers have already reported for Spring training so in my heart I know there's a change in the weather coming, but (some of) my bones are suggesting it can't get here soon enough. It'd be nice if as the days continue to lengthen and the temperatures climb a few more of us could remember we own the city in which we live (I'm not talking only about where I live, but if it helps you sleep better, pretend that I am) and we selected the friends and neighbors voted into leadership positions so let's start to take responsibility for what happens and stop practicing our Fay Wray face.

Speaking of King Kong, especially as the budget season gets serious, this afternoon at three-thirty in the Central Office conference room (Central Office is what was once called the John Mason School across from the Norwichtown Green) is a meeting of the Budget Expenditure Committee. If you go, and based on the turnout last Saturday I think the two of us 'from the public' in the audience were me and Keith R, neither of whom has children in the Norwich Public Schools system, please drop a note to jmbarber@norwichpublicschools.org and ask for "Planning for 2010-2011 and beyond..." (though I didn't see all that much of the planning beyond part; sorry if that sounds harsh) so you have some means of placing into context the stories written about the first City Council and board of Education workshop (I have yet to see a reader's comment from someone I think was in attendance).

As an aside to the Board of Education, if you started to post per public law the schedule of meetings as well as the minutes (right now a bit little of both that adds up to a whole lot of neither) and added your fiscal planning documents to your website, what would that cost and what might it be worth (in terms of a more informed public)? Thanks to those who sent me notes via Facebook as I posted the highlights of Saturday's meeting in real time. I hope we see one another at subsequent joint meetings and remember, it's never eaten as hot as it's served.

Elsewhere in Norwich, at five in Room 210 of City Hall, it's a regular meeting of the Redevelopment Agency. Here's a draft of their November meeting minutes. December's meeting was cancelled and January's meeting lacked a quorum (related note the Agency Chairman, I think, made some very valid points during the City Council's other workshop last Saturday).

And at 5:15 in their offices in Gales Ferry is a regular meeting of the Southeastern Connecticut Water Authority. Unless you're W. C. Fields, you probably think about potable water for less than ten seconds a year, usually prompted by a I-turned-the-tap-and-nothing-came-out moment. I'm glad we have folks doing this for all of us across the region.

Tuesday at 3:30 in the Central Office, it's a meeting of the Norwich Board of Education's Policy Committee-click here to see another example of my earlier point about timely posting of legally required minutes of meetings. I'm sometimes tempted to file this stuff under 'getting real old, real fast.'

The Harbor Management Commission meets at five in Room 219 of City Hall-based on the website, this may be their first meeting of the year. Meeting at six, down the hall in Room 210, it's a combined regular/investment meeting of the Personnel and Pension Board.

Wednesday afternoon, into Wednesday evening (pack a lunch and stay a while) it's a trifecta, of sorts for what I like to think of as 'actions speak louder than words', in this case, our neighbors rolling up their sleeves and getting a little dirty in terms of redevelopment and renewal and not just in downtown. There's a Dangerous Buildings Board of Review (most current item posted, sorry) meeting at 5:30 in the Planning Department (basement) Conference Room at 23 Union Street followed by the 751 North Main Street Committee (don't know if there will be an update on the Request for Proposal the City Council approved last month, but maybe) at 6:15 followed at 6:30 by a meeting of the 21 West Thames Advisory Committee.

At seven, in their conference room at the course on New London Turnpike, it's a regular meeting of the Golf Course Authority. In the spirit of Abbot and Costello, their posted draft minutes of their January meeting are actually the draft minutes of the December 2009 meeting of the Historic District Commission. When you go to the Historic District Commission's page and look at their draft January meeting minutes, you'll discover it's (also) their December 2009 meeting minutes, though it would appear there shouldn't have been ANY December meeting minutes.
Every penny of it.

Thursday morning at 7:30 in their offices at 77 Main Street, it's a meeting of the Board of Director of the Norwich Community Development Corporation whose role and responsibilities has always been the subject of a lot of opinion in this neck of the words often without a lot of actual knowledge and facts to support any of the conclusions people draw. I'd suggest looking here for one way ahead, and looking here to see who works for whom, and should, in The Rose City.

Added bonuses: the former is part of the body of knowledge being developed and staffed at Saturday meetings, like the one coming up THIS Saturday morning at eight in the Central Fire House (my bologna and the Mayor has a second name just not always) working with the City Council while the latter is a state-mandate that needs to be updated by 2012, and whose revisions are in their earliest stages where informed comment and new ideas and impulses will be welcomed. Two birds, one stone, guten appetit!

That's it for this week-and there's a promise of less than almost Spring weather but try to not let that discourage you from kicking the tires and checking under the hood of our city government. It's easy to say 'I'll leave it for somebody else' until you do the math and realize it's how we got to where we are now. By the way, nice hat.
-bill kenny

Sunday, February 21, 2010

A Conference of the Strange

I was born the same year Dwight David Eisenhower was elected President, though I had no knowledge nor any memory of my life with him as the Chief Executive. I remember being in the third grade at Pine Grove Manor School when Nixon and Kennedy ran for the White House. Politically astute even then, I can recall a very wise fourth grader telling me if Nixon was elected, kids would have to go to school on Saturday. That's when I decided to back Jack. There you have it-for all those who've suspected I am a Democratic left-leaning pinko liberal loser, that may have been the moment the road to perdition was paved.

Nearly fifty years later, I'm not sure I understand what has happened to the country I grew up in, returned to, and have grown old in. We had so much go so well for so long we don't seem to have any stomach for hard work or truth anymore. Our institutions which have always buttressed our way of life, from finances through relationships, are pretty much bankrupt and we don't seem to have the will or wallet to repair or replace them.

We've spent most of the last two years in a free-fall-and when I say "we" I mean what was once considered the middle class. For the better part of a decade, we traded blue skies for BMW's, washed our cigar boats with bottled water and elevated day-trading to an Olympic event. Meanwhile, for tens of millions of other Americans the prosperity of the Clinton Years never happened, so while we lament what happened, our neighbors never had that in the first place and now look at us as if we've lost our minds and maybe we have.

I spent about four hours yesterday in two meetings that had more in common than so many of the same participants in both the latter and the former--and though their names wouldn't be familiar to you if you didn't live in Norwich, the roles they played would be as they are found all over the United States. Be it micro or macro, it's almost always the same movie, just with a different cast. We seem to be having trouble, not with leaning forward and looking ahead, with my apologies to Alvin Toffler's Future Shock, but rather with accepting where we are and why we will be here for the rest of our days if we don't change the way we are-what I call Present Shock.

At both the national and local level there are two ways, it seems, to manage Present Shock. One is to do nothing but say no and insist that those in power are to blame for whatever we now see as a failure. The same folks with those 'how's that change thing going?' bumper stickers, two years ago had ones that described the guy in the White House as 'somewhere in Texas a village is missing an idiot.' Very helpful and thanks for elevating the tenor and tone of the debate.

The other response is to just keep pressing the same button even though the pellets stopped dropping a long time ago. I live in a state where we invented, I think, 'securitization'-- don't try to look it up, we've given it a whole different meaning than anyone in finance would recognize. We'll project revenues from the future and list them as receipts NOW as if they were real in order to balance the books. Does this remind anyone else of Wimpy's I Will Gladly Pay You Tuesday for a Hamburger Today? The line between M. Jodi and J. Wellington grows more narrow by the moment.

We're working very hard here to break the cycle and seize the day and the momentum, but there's still a longing for what was. If it could only be yesterday tomorrow, then today would be wonderful. We've failed to realize that (too) often the only difference between a rut and a grave is the depth (of the habit) and that sound of footsteps we hear belongs to ourselves as we calculate the distance we'd need to outrun our own shadow. But after a while you realize time flies. And the best thing that you can do is take whatever comes to you. 'Cuz time flies.
-bill kenny

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Out of the Door and Down on the Street All Alone

Back in the days when I drank (I never swallowed), I'd hang out in a bar in New Brunswick, New Jersey, very close to the campus of Douglass College for Women. I frequented the joint because they rarely checked ID and because of its proximity to Douglass. Of course, I wasn't alone in my choice of establishments or, my reasons why, and many nights I was cheek to jowl with swarms of pimply posers in search of feminine pulchritude that was always in short supply. Talk about your teeming masses. When the place was closing, the bartender would holler 'you don't have to go home, you just have to go.'

I was reminded of that whole 'resign yourself to me' frame of mind by a variety of events, local and national and even Olympic in recent days. We let all of sorts of information wash over us as if it were news, because it's just too hard sometimes to argue otherwise.

In Connecticut, the now lame duck Governor has announced she'll be canceling unspent bond projects (mainly because The Nutmeg State is facing a budget deficit resembling a chasm) explaining that the credit card is maxed out. Her actions will not pay down the balance, mind you, just prolong and delay the inevitable drama, quite possibly until it's someone else's turn to be in charge.

In Washington, our President and The Loyal Opposition (some wonder to whom and when, but never mind) brace for impact on a Health Care Summit that becomes a vehicle for accidental humor, I think, when Fox News interviews Karl Rove and the former pretends to be neutral while the latter pretends to be human. And don't worry, if you visit another or different 24/7 Vidiot News outlet, you can find the same kind of partisan palaver from the other side of the aisle. As always (I hope) the truth is somewhere in between, fearful for its life.

There's a foot or more of snow across parts of the American South but the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada don't seem to have enough. I learned that Bob Weir doesn't have a son competing which might have explained some of the, umm, eccentricities I've read about, but I am impressed at what a long, strange trip it's been, do-dah man notwithstanding. Speaking of long strange trip, what to think of Tiger, Tiger Burning Bright? Golfs all day and rehabs all night (or whatever the kids are calling it now).

And I wonder if all of this is as loopy to someone on the outside looking in on us as it is for those of us who see ourselves as being on the inside watching the wheels. The difference between returning home with your shield, or on it, is subtle, but critical, and around these parts lately there's been a surfeit of the latter to the detriment of the former.
-bill kenny

Friday, February 19, 2010

Eddie and Tommy

I caught a TV spot the other night for a cell phone featuring Eric Clapton (the same day I'd come across a news nugget that said there were 4.6 billion, with a B, cell phones on a planet with almost seven billion people in it). I went for at least the first fifty years of my life without having one, wasted some time getting confused with cordless phones until now I'm the proud owner of a device that is so much smarter than I'll ever be, it's a privilege and an honor to be holster-worthy.

Eric, whom I first heard when he was in John Mayall's Bluesbreakers (he'd left the Yardbirds because they were getting 'too commercial') over four decades ago (yeah, I know, he really is old!), survived Cream ("Clapton is God), heavy duty pharmaceutical abuse, being Derek of Derek and the Dominoes, the guy who broke up Beatle George's marriage (but the two remained best buds, see 'L'Angelo Misterioso' on the Goodbye elpee from Cream) to, these days and, for the last decade or so, a very comfortable pair of shoes, broken in and weather worn with no surprises. Just step into 'em and be comfortable.

The ad uses "Rock and Roll Heart" a really nice song, especially if you forget any of his readings of Robert Johnson's Crossroads and the lyrics 'I get off on a '57 Chevy' caught my ear because back in the day, growing up in Surrey, I imagine the order of the day was more often a Vauxhall or a Cortina.

Thinking about Cortina brought me, with a jolt, to Tommy R, with whom I went to grammar school and then later re-acquainted with (?) at Rutgers. Tommy and his parents and older sister had moved from New Brunswick to even deeper into Franklin Township than where we lived (they bought a house in the Levitt development (I'm surprised it didn't rate a mention in the article, it was a HUGE sprawling mass of houses)).

In the early seventies as our addiction to petroleum made us vulnerable to offshore oil boycott pressure, which we solved (of course) by spending the next thirty plus years growing even more dependent on foreign oil and Detroit took a stab at building 'small' (= flimsy) cars while VW Beetles gave way to Japanese-made cars, there were Vega, Opel, Pinto, Cricket, Simca and Cortina.

Most of those weren't actually American made (though the Vega, which made the Corvair look bullet proof and the Pinto, which most shudder when recalling were home-grown) but were European products of US car companies, reconfigured for us and all of which got twenty miles to the gallon, which made them economy cars, as long as you didn't mind the look of bewilderment when a mechanic opened the hood to try to repair them (and they needed lots of repairs) after they broke down.

Tom had a Cortina, sort of ox-blood red, but with the steering wheel on the left side of the car, rather than like the British on the right. You couldn't slam the door like you did on the family station wagon, or the car might fall over. It had four doors and a backseat and both of those were more for ornamentation than anything else since you couldn't open the rear doors wide enough to get in and there was no leg room to sit back there anyway.

I remember, I think, it had a six volt car battery under the passenger's front seat, which made finding a tape deck/car radio (had to have the eight track player!) quite a challenge otherwise you had to listen to AM radio, which was the soundtrack of our growing up years. And afterwards? Well, Eric, not all of us get to hang with Buddy. A lot of us ended up 'Kickin' asbestos in the factory/Punchin' out Chryslers in the factory/Breathin' that plastic in the factory/Makin' polyvinyl chloride in the factory.'
-bill kenny

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Boundless and Bare

It was a very long time ago when I wanted to grow up to be an astronaut. I wasn't alone-there was a whole generation of us who watched Jules Bergman, 'Science Reporter for ABC', bring us all the rocket launches from Cape Canaveral, later Cape Kennedy, dreaming of being John Glenn.

Our window on the world back then was about fifteen inches diagonal and almost always in black and white. It was our electric fire with a place of honor in the living room. We didn't know any better, or any other, and were happy with what we had. Now we have so much more but there's a hunger and an unease that never leaves us. It was a time when you had a transistor radio with a white six foot earplug and if your mom wrote a note to the teacher, you might be able to take your radio to school and listen in to the launches, but you had to promise to be so much more well-behaved than was humanly possible, it was hardly worth it.

Still, we all sat up, in my case on the upstairs landing of the summer house, catching glimpses of the flickering images in the living room from the TV showing the world as we walked on the moon. I saw a story yesterday that put me back on those stairs, and it was nice to be numbed by the majesty of achievement that we humans are capable of when we try, "Astronauts Unveil Phenomenal New Window on the World."

I guess the AP style guide frowns on headlines that read "Holy $h*t! Are We Not Amazing?" because that's what we're talking about in terms of the newest addition to the International Space Station (I had more of less completely forgotten about it. Some junior astronaut I turned out to be). We've made a mess of so many things as a species. We're the hit and run artists of the cosmos in so many respects but when we do something gobsmacking and over the top, there's a non-chalant arrogance, or perhaps an arrogant nonchalance that makes me grin from ear to ear. How's this for a view of the Sahara to put in your wallet, between the happy snaps of the kids and the spouse. Seriously? Seriously.

"Round the decay/Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away."
-bill kenny

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Every Little Bit Counts

I think it's human nature to love the grand gesture. There's something about the heroic struggle against all odds, the snatching of victory from the jaws of defeat, the wave of the cape, doff of the cap and the roar of the crowd in the thick of the prick of disaster and even if the achievement is temporary or illusory, we fall for the packaging and become enamored of the Edifice Complex (if it looks large, it must be wonderful). It's hard to NOT love a big project, isn't it?

It's hard to get excited about small steps, about one foot in front of the other, about how the steady pace can win the race when we don't really have an end in mind and those working on a solution are doing so with their voices lowered and their heads down.

One of the more destructive aspects to the economic body blows so many endured for the last year or so has been the further deterioration of Norwich neighborhoods as those struggling to hold on to their houses against the rising tide of mortgaged debt were forced to yield to foreclosure. The emotional and economic impact as we bade farewell to neighbors and friends added to the gloom and disquiet many of us were already feeling.

And yet, if not all around us, then close at hand, small beginnings on a road to recovery have been starting. We've spent recent months looking at seven and eight figure projects like the acquisition and remediation of the Norwich Hospital Site property, while already starting to reevaluate priorities for the next budget as prospective revenues continue to decline.

But quietly, in different neighborhoods spread across the city, the Neighborhood Stabilization Program, NSP, has partnered with non-profits to purchase and reopen foreclosed houses and help families put a marker down on their own American dream.

The Norwich Assistant City Manager, whose position almost ended up on the bonfire of budget insanities last year, created the NSP from a shade less than $900,000 of federal stimulus funds, allocating $720,000 to purchase properties and reserving almost $100,000 for down payment and repair assistance to families who buy foreclosures in targeted areas of downtown and Greenville.

Down payment assistance is tied to eligibility, based on income, and a buyer has to obtain a mortgage and actually make the property purchase without the city's help, before applying. But if you qualify, the money starts as a no-interest loan and is forgiven at the rate of twenty percent a year for five years. It's a helping hand not a hand-out and the new homeowner isn't the only one who wins as a dead property is returned to the tax rolls and an empty house becomes a vibrant home and another active community component.

Next Wednesday, the 24th, at six o'clock in the Otis Library, there will be an informational session to explain the down payment and repair assistance programs and to assist those interested in accomplishing the applications. If you don't ask for help, the answer's always no. Why would anyone want to live like that?
-bill kenny

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Distance in Your Eyes

When we were kids, tomorrow was a serious point in the calendar, Ash Wednesday. Today was the last day before we had to give something up, Shrove Tuesday though I'm not sure any of us understood what the word meant or even the origins of the term. As an adult I lived for many years in Germany where Rosen Montag is part of the last gasp of Fasching or (as it's called in New Orleans) Mardi Gras or what our Brazilian friends know as Carneval.

There's an 'eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow it's all over' mentality that I find so funky Western Civilization. "They put Jesus on a cross. They put a hole in J. F. K.. They put Hitler in the driver's seat and looked the other way. Now they've got poison in the water and the whole world in a trance; but just because we're hypnotized, that don't mean we can't dance."

It's been decades since I gave something up for Lent (truth to tell, I failed my faith and gave up Lent but then kept on living) and I've rationalized my failure by pointing out to myself that since I always went back to whatever I gave up (usually something to eat as opposed to a behavior change), I hadn't really changed at all, so surrender cost nothing because it was worth nothing.

And then I look around me, and see where we are and where I am in the midst of all of that and realize I didn't run backwards or stop running at all in order to be here (nor did any of us) but rather, just ran a step slower, a step less resolute, perhaps a shorter footfall until the distance grew inexorably between where we wanted to be (and knew we had to go) and where we were to end up, so far behind we could no longer see those up ahead.

And when the distance between us was too great to ever fill, we stopped and have forgotten how to start again. Which makes tomorrow, Ash Wednesday more important as a beginning than today can ever be as an end because I think I saw you try.
-bill kenny

Monday, February 15, 2010

Alone in the Light (Norwich Meetings 15-20 February)

Week of contradictions in the Rose City--a shortened week because of a Monday holiday but a lot of activities, some catching up for last week's snow, others added because the events of the day just don't all fit otherwise.

Tuesday evening at six in Room 319 of City Hall it's a regular meeting (and investment meeting) of the Personnel and Pension Board. If you've got a retirement plan through your employer, and have watched the nine G turns the world's financial markets have been undergoing for the last eighteen months or so, you have a pretty good appreciation for the diligence and dedication of the volunteers on this board who help safeguard the retirements of municipal employees.

Tuesday night are separate meetings of organizations that I'd hope we'll soon see attempting to meet with one another as the various components and agencies and organizations with different responsibilities for advancing the city start to get a bit more orchestrated and coordinated as they work more closely together. In this case, I'm talking about the Commission on the City Plan, which meets at seven in the basement conference room of the Planning Department building at 23 Union Street.

I'm especially interested in item K on their agenda, which is a request to allow a 'community center at 87-91 Main Street' in the Chelsea (downtown) district. Makes me wonder about the disposition of the other community center at 377 Main Street, and without piling on (too much) perhaps if the City Council meeting earlier this month hadn't gone into Executive Session to talk about that project, we'd now all know more than some of us do.

Speaking of the City Council, there's a regular meeting Tuesday night at 7:30. While I'm thinking about it, thank you to those neighbors who made it to Saturday's session with Mayor Nystrom in the East Great Plains Fire Department. Especially Edward, who's a bigger fan of fire engines than even I am, which because he's nineteen months old, may be less impressive than is the case with me; you decide. I'm encouraged so many of us are getting comfortable asking questions out loud, always respectful but also insistent on getting answers and holding people accountable for the gap between what they say and what they do. Government isn't easy when times are good, and, as is true where you live too, it's hard times in the land of plenty around here right now.

There's some suggestions on line that there are pair of meetings today in the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments building up in the Norwich Business Park, but a check of their website suggests their monthly meeting is Wednesday at 8:30, with a full agenda of activity. We don't have county government here in The Nutmeg State to, at the very least, help counter the consolidation of power that has happened in Hartford, so alliances like SCCOG are often more important for what they are rather than what they do (especially as so many of us remain too suspicious of those we don't know to better work successfully together).

The Norwich School Readiness Council meets at nine o'clock in the community room of The Dime Bank on Route 82. I've more or less given up expecting their website to offer timely information on topics about which many of us have interests, but I don't doubt if you click here and drop a note to one of the two email addresses at the bottom of the page, you can not only learn more about their current initiatives, but possibly stimulate some interest in updating their website.

Thursday afternoon at five, is a regular meeting of the Historic District Commission in Room 210 of City Hall. At one of its earliest Saturday meetings, the City Council listed as a top opportunity, for community and economic development, the promotion of the city for its historic buildings and associations. It's encouraging to read in this organization's minutes about their desire to work more closely with other volunteer agencies and the Mayor and City Council and I'd hope to learn more about the depth and strength of that effort in the coming months.

Also meeting at five is the Ice Arena Authority, in their conference room at The Rink over on the New London Turnpike. The member appointments listed on line expired almost three years ago and if in accordance with Public Act 08-3, your most recent minutes posted are from July of last year, I'm going to question your sincerity (the Dorothy picture on the front page will load a LOT faster if you make it smaller, btw).

And at 7:30 in the Captain's Quarters in the Marina, is a special meeting of the Public Safety Committee (the meeting rescheduled from the snow blowout of last Wednesday). Because it's a special meeting, the agenda is ALL that the meeting can be about.

There's twofer Saturday morning starting at eight in the conference room of the Central Fire House, over on North Thames Street. As I've understood it, though the notice on the muni website isn't two clear about it, there's a workshop with the City Council and the Board of Education as a preliminary to this year's budget formulation. (There's a better explanation here, though not by much.)

To give you an idea of how grim this will be this year, unless someone strikes oil while mining the gold and titanium they've already found at the site of the Kelly Middle School renovations, all aspects of the city's budget, and because of its size, most especially the Board of Education's portion, will be reworked and downsized dramatically and traumatically.

The second of the two meetings, to follow (in theory) at ten, is the City Council reviewing the Plan of Conservation and Development as part of their holistic approach to righting the somewhat drift current ship of the city in some rather rough and deep waters (I have a copy of the most current Plan of Conservation and Development, which is from 2002 and you can have it by going here, and checking it out before Saturday's meeting).

There's a great line in the foreword, we'd all do well to heed, 'Good cities don't just happen, they are made' and a line I hope we don't forget, 'the future of Norwich depends(s)on the ability of City leadership to bring together disparate opinions around a common vision.' We need to do something more and different from (w)e held our hate in our hands because if we don't, we'll have nothing left to hold at all.
-bill kenny

Sunday, February 14, 2010

They Say He Travels Fastest Who Travels Alone

I do often wonder, in light of the journey so far, if he who travels so fast misses the entire point of the sojourn when he has no one with whom to share it. As someone who was very much, and for very long, unlovable, this is a day of major import and minor miracle, all at the same time.

I looked at photos of my wife, Sigrid, and I, back when we were fab and she was, as she still is, absolutely beautiful to me. It took zero intelligence for me to fall in love with her at first sight and something far rarer than intelligence to help us stay in love all those years on. I do find myself looking at her, then and now, and wondering if she still sees me as I was or as I am now and if the latter, why does she stay?

We have, she and I, grown old together which causes me to smile as I had nothing nearly so grand in mind when I first saw her. And there are those who knew me back before the day who would be amazed that she kept me nailed to one place long enough for all those years to have become all these years, and to some degree, I share their amazement.


We share a life that isn't and will never be the one I thought I wanted when I believed things worked out the way we desired (if we only wanted something bad enough), but when I reach the end of every day, to include today, I look at her and at our two adult children, Patrick and Michelle, and know that I love, and am loved by, them and I can't complain about some settling of the contents during shipment. Happy Valentine's Day.
-bill kenny

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Thinkin' 'bout Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln's Birthday is still on my calendar for yesterday, the 12th, printed alongside the date as is "Administrative Professionals Day" on 21 April, but it has had less meaning for decades, since Congress passed the Monday Holidays Act and we rolled it into the birthday celebrating the Father of Our Country, George Washington (normally 22 February). I'm still trying to figure out why this year, it's not observed on the 22nd which happens to be a Monday, but I'm afraid there may be math involved and I haven't had my booster shot.

That George spent more than half of his farewell address warning his countrymen about the dangers of political partisanship, I find, in light of where we are today, astounding. That Honest Abe used his Second Inaugural Address to offer "(w)ith malice toward none, with charity for all..." at a moment in our history where we most fervently hated one another (with a ferocity that would cost him his very life a little more than thirteen months later) causes me to wonder why we, you and me and all the lunatic loudmouths and bombastic blowhards on either side of the political fence, can't pipe down long enough to work together to get this cart we're all in out of the ditch we've maneuvered it into.

To put it into perspective when Washington and Lincoln were president, people disagreed to the point they fired weapons at one another--and you've seen 'em, it took work to shoot at somebody. None of this cap bustin' stuff-serious mayhem was on the agenda. All this pouting and posturing we are up to on Sunday morning talk shows, and in the Halls of Congress makes my brain hurt and when we get all through sorting out who's to blame for all the wrongs and shortcomings, real and/or imagined, maybe we can devote a scintilla of that energy to fixing things. We certainly have a target-rich environment to choose from, don't we?

With DNA testing the way it's working out, don't you suppose the day will come when we could, theoretically, work up political profiles of those enshrined in the Tomb of the Unknowns. And don't think somebody will try to make political hay out of it, because you'll be sadly disappointed. It would make as much sense as turning cap and trade into a litmus test or reinventing accessible, affordable health care as a variant of the Great Loyalty Oath, but no matter. It's a fine line between pathetic and petard. Try drawing it for a while and then get real.

Washington, James Monroe, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, Stephen Douglas, Lincoln and hundreds and thousands of others were so busy building this nation and defending it from attacks from within and without they didn't have the luxury of ideology. This isn't a weekend to shop, advertising to the contrary-it's a moment to look at the lives of the forty-four men who have been President of the United States and whose efforts and sacrifices we honor on Monday.

And even though we don't get a day on the calendar for ourselves, this is when we use their day as a fulcrum to move each of us, and all of us, closer together in order to form a more perfect union. And stop being so cranky with one while we're doing it.
-bill kenny

Friday, February 12, 2010

No Business like Snow Business

In light of all the snow up and down the Eastern Seaboard (and beyond) in the last ten days, I didn't realize I needed to be monitoring anything other than the Weather Channel. I confess to spending about thirty seconds, regardless of the time of year, checking current conditions and forecasts--I guess I'm a fatalist, I mean seriously what can I do about the snow, or the windchill factor aside from dress accordingly?

The Financial Times had a story in Thursday's edition about how the mayoral career of Adrian Fenty may actually disappear faster than the accumulated snowfall that has choked Washington D.C.. When you say our nation's capital, I think cherry blossoms, tidal basin, Marion "The Laws of Gravity are Racist" Barry, rather than snowmobiles and half pipes. But from the footage I watched starting last weekend, that's what they've been dealing with in The District.

I've been a tourist in D.C. many times, though, frankly not in recent years and I'd be the first one to concede that I suspect when many of us think of "Washington", we see the Reflecting Pool which may, or may not, be an accurate reflection on the (about) six hundred thousand people who live in our nation's capital.

Anyway, the white stuff seems for the most part to have pretty much stayed where it laid from the time it dropped from the sky. When you look at the history of snowfall in the region, the argument could be made, the public works department has the right number of trucks and plows and salters, except, of course, this year none of the past is true.

Had someone set out three years ago to purchase gear, claiming some prescient sense of the impending, he'd have been smacked with a hockey stick. So people are angry in D.C. because the Mayor, like themselves, didn't guess that this year would be freakishly different. How dare he?

As if those who live in The District didn't have enough to put up with on a daily basis, the tidal wave of Federal Government employees and members of the legislative branch arriving every morning as relentless as the rain (if only it were!), the ever growing circles of shortened supplies of goods and services, now we've created a Jack London landscape that only White Fang could love.

All under the unblinking eye of 24/7 cable news operations waiting to do a cradle to the grave multi-part series on the next plow-driver who lowers the blade on the truck and kicks up a spark on Pennsylvania Avenue. C'mon Spring!
-bill kenny

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Speed the Plow

Hopefully you've survived the white stuff. I'd think if I can type this, than I did as well and we can proceed from there. If you don't know what I'm talking about, you probably live somewhere other than the East Coast of the United (for the most part) States and have gotten off very lucky this time (and good for you).

A lot of us had a lot of snow yesterday, though here in Southeastern Connecticut, it didn't really start to get serious until the afternoon. And then as the shadows fell, the snow started to pile higher and the wind the Weather Channel had warned us about for hours finally arrived ('hurray!' say the happy faces on the TV, 'we're right!' Well, yeah, even a blind pig finds an acorn) and all that wild guessing sure helped, didn't it.

As the day went along, more and more of us trekked out to the grocery store to get milk and toilet paper. It's what we do here in the Land of Steady of Habits. We may have clogged arteries, but our colons are so clean we can pass a Cadillac. In light of the snow we've had in the years we've lived up here, it's a miracle we have any cows left. And don't get me started on low-Flo toilets. You prepare for Armageddon your way, and we'll do it our way.

Of course, the store is mobbed. This storm could be the one. Just like the last one or the next one. You cannot be too careful. When you live in the oldest part of the country you learn to measure twice before cutting off your nose to spite your face. Tell you what was MOST interesting--the amount of folks going in and out of the liquor store near the mall where the grocery store is located.

At first, driving into the mall, I thought maybe people had gotten confused as to where the gas station was located to get fuel for the snow blowers as that's just a little farther down the street. But as I'm waiting to make my turn against traffic at the light, I'm watching folks in my mirror come out of the spirits shop with every assortment of brown bag imaginable-and in this state, there's not a lot else that comes in brown paper bags except liquor (so much for sweet mystery), leading me to wonder if some of us prepare to get plowed at a more literal level than others. Might also explain some of those crop circles in Gillette Stadium.
-bill kenny

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Empty Words Can Lead to an Empty City

By now, those who follow politics in Norwich, Connecticut, know that last Monday evening's City Council meeting may have involved an interesting sleight of hand in connection with the not-quite-ready-for-Prime Time Community Center in order to save the current Council from a repeat of what happened during the Great Hospital Site Purchase Brouhaha.

That contretemps played itself out in December into January, though admittedly it got started a number of years ago for reasons all who live here are keenly familiar with. The community center is a similar long simmering stew, going back to about this time a year ago when the YMCA in Norwich announced it had crushing accumulated debt and operating cost shortfalls and would close its doors on 31 March. Lots of rallies, lots of Facebook groups, lots of 'we have to do something!' delayed the closing by not one minute and the building has stood empty at 337 Main Street since it closed. There are six phases to any project: Enthusiasm, Disillusionment, Panic, Search for the Guilty, Punishment of the Innocent and Rewards and Honors for the Non-Participants. We seem to spend a lot of time in this neck of the woods vacillating between #1 and #4, which leaves us very little time to actually get anything done.

Norwich's Recreation Director, in response to an oft-articulated desire across the community for 'someplace the kids can go', has been working to repurpose the defunct YMCA as a community center with both reasonable membership fees from the general public and partnerships with public and private agencies to fund a more-focused (leaner, though certainly not meaner) operation that appeals to a broad portion of the various publics across the city without losing money.

There's still work to be done on the concept, which is what I had hoped we might use the City Council meeting to do, but last Monday the alderpersons decided an Executive Session was necessary, for among other stated reasons, a concern that discussions on acquisition might precipitate a higher asking price. My disquiet about this attitude is, if there were someone interested in buying a building that some see as a million dollar facility and others see as a money pit, the property would have been already sold. And yet there it stands, empty and alone.

There are currently four or more fitness centers in Norwich operating as businesses. If someone thought another one would turn a profit, a purchase of the YMCA would have already happened. That it hasn't, and won't, probably means the field is empty of competitors. That makes the decision to go behind closed doors last Monday night more disappointing than anything else.

Any time (and every time) a City Council changes, and last November brought wholesale changes, there's a lot of brave talk about new beginnings, transparency, openness, teamwork and multiple-path communications, all of which usually lasts until just about the final Spring frost, so we have a ways to go yet. Then, whoever is on the City Council starts to slide back into old, comfortable habits and nods and winks replace discussion. Motions for Executive Session become the equivalent of the index finger beside the nose in "The Sting". All of us know, or think we do, how that worked out.

There are still many who lack confidence in the very neighbors they elected to the City Council, who hear hooves and think zebras instead of horses. This just means all of us have to work that much harder to keep the lines of communication open and free of secret agenda and double speak as all work to address the too-long neglected needs of our city. A great opportunity to do that is this coming Saturday starting at nine, upstairs in the East Great Plains Fire House (dalmatians optional) when Peter Nystrom holds his second Public Meeting with the Mayor. He can't hear your concerns if you don't tell him.

Trust can be a rationed resource that can, however, be infinitely expanded when it's extended in all directions. Rust, on the other hand, is a consequence of acting to fail and failing to act. We need to learn to say what we mean and mean what we say, open and out loud.
-bill kenny