Friday, April 30, 2010

The Moon's a Harsh Mistress

Driving into work yesterday morning, as the mercury hovered not all that much above the freezing point making it dicey for Southern New England farmers to keep their crops growing, I had a long, hard look at what seemed to be just about a full moon.

I have no life, and spend a large part of it at work, driving to or from work or worrying about something connected to work. I don't get up in the middle of the night like my brother Adam because I have a few more miles on the odometer and neither the spirit nor the flesh are willing any longer, but it's still pretty early. In the spring and summer months, as the days lengthen, there's a lighter tint to the darkness rolling along Route 12 through Ledyard at a little after five, and yesterday the moon was sitting practically on the roadway on the horizon.

I remember as a kid, in Mrs. Hilge's classroom, 3-B, in St Peter's (sic) School in New Brunswick, NJ, as Sister Mary Immaculata put a radio speaker near the microphone in her office connected to the PA system so we could hear the launch of Alan Shepard. We were on our way to the moon and we would beat those Ruskie bastards (I should admit I don't think I knew the word bastard then; I caught up pretty fast) and plant our flag up there.

I heard years later, in one of those stories moms tell to other adults about their now-grown children which shock the child because they never knew, one of the nuns (would have been Sister Stephen who never liked me anyway) asked me what I was most concerned about for the astronaut and I replied, 'how Mission Control will monitor his heartbeat during lift-off' when, seemingly, the correct answer was 'his immortal soul.' Even then....

Looking at the US effort to put a man on the moon, it's hard to not think, if for just a moment, we had replaced God with Science (caps are deliberate in case there is a God or Science has truly replaced Him. I'm going to need brownie points from someplace). Who among us didn't want to grow up to be an astronaut? I hated Tang, and I still wanted to be one. Irony of ironies, I HATE flying in all forms. Take-offs and landings terrify me and once we're airborne it's a really boring bus ride at thirty thousand feet.

But dawn patrolling yesterday morning, I was thinking about November when the days are growing darker earlier and staying dark longer, when the last of the shuttle flights is slated to liftoff as the age of private space flight begins. I'm very sure I'm VERY angry this is happening and am wondering if perhaps it's part of the reason I'm in a dark place spinning my wheels without gaining traction at the moment.

Rome, a small city in the middle of Italy grew into the Roman Republic and then devolved into the Roman Empire before disappearing beneath the bread and circuses and onslaught of the Vandals and Visigoths. Somewhere at some point in time, we've stopped being the greatest notion to ever become a nation and are now on our way to being another Carjackistan (sorry, Tank McNamara).

My point is Great Nations Do Great Deeds. We, okay not me personally, but my parents and their parents (and ALL of our parents and grandparents before them), fought two world wars, endured a decade of deprivation we now call The Great Depression, retooled and rebuilt not only our own country but our defeated foes across the globe. We/they stared into the maw of mutually assured destruction and the gaping jaws of the Russian bear and he blinked and fell. A lesser nation would have stepped on its enemy's throat while it was down.

A great nation would, and did, help the bear up and help it find its way even while, at times, losing our own and now our children's children will never be able to fully appreciate, much less share, their grandparent's dreams of space flight? How did it happen that we cannot afford to live out loud? I wasn't the only kid, or boy, come to think of it, in my class with 'the' plan: I'd grow up to be a baseball player and the President (baseball was only a summer job) and an astronaut. Seemed like a pretty full day in the third grade. All these years on, all that remains is my dislike of Tang.

"I fell out of her eyes.
I fell out of her heart.
I fell down on my face.
Yes, I did, and I -- I tripped and I missed my star.
God, I fell and I fell alone, I fell alone.
And the moon's a harsh mistress,
And the sky is made of stone."
-bill kenny

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Wordless Screaming

There was an article in the New York Times, the other morning that caused me to smile and grimace simultaneously. I didn't really need to read it (though I did) because I agreed with the headline, had seen the nearly-legendary visual that went with the story, and lived through countless, some might suggest innumerable, close, personal encounters of the worst kind.

The article was, when I was in the Air Force, what we called a BGO, blinding glimpse of the obvious. And its premise was/is that PowerPoint has lots of the former and none of the latter. I've endured my share of meetings where multi-colored pie charts demonstrate conclusively (and irrefutably) "11" is larger than "5". I've always loved the animations some folks use to make these very points--though it's hard to not adore the old stand-by, stacks of various heights so even a cretin can grasp three dollars is much many more than two. There's nothing like the classics.

Not so amusing has been the amount of my life that's been invested in supporting this kind of puppet show mummery-but since misery loves company I point out that few, if any, of the folks who requisition my help are ever very happy that I show up with a shoe box full of hand puppets while wearing finger puppets (it's hard to get those suckers on, too, after you've got a couple on already on one hand; and I don't have a lot of friends to help). I get invited to less and fewer of these soirees as time passes. Hey, I'm a traditionalist-what can I say?

And it's not fair, in a way to blame the device-when it's we who made it, used it and now over use it, just like everything else we put our hands to. We will have access to more information, vastly more than we can process or retain, by the end of today than has existed throughout all of civilization. Actually, that's crap-I suspect something like that statement is probably true, but like the talking heads on TV, I don't have the time to research or confirm it as a truth, so I'll just proclaim it my truth and because you have no way to compare, measure or analyze, you'll buy in on it.

Then tomorrow, we can make it into a bullet on a slide and then turn that into a bumper sticker. Soon, we'll have a movement, with a website and maybe some endorsement deals. Between you and me, considering how full of it as a species we already are, it's amazing we don't have non-stop movements, but that's a discussion for another time. Next slide please, "Confusion through Consensus." Yes, it's just a random collection of various parts of speech-what you read it to mean is what your reality and welcome to it. Subject to your briefing, that concludes my questions.
-bill kenny

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Roadmap or Scrapbook?

The other day I encountered a friend on the landing between two floors in our office building, struggling with a fifty-five gallon drum on a hand truck. It was obvious he needed help, and I was certainly able to lend some. Together we spent what seemed like twenty minutes or more wrangling with the drum and the hand truck right there on the stairwell. It never budged.

I thought about asking him why he hadn't used the elevator, or why he didn't have a bigger hand truck or even a smaller drum, but wanting to help, I decided it wasn't my place to ask questions or to offer suggestions. After getting absolutely nowhere for all this time, my friend finally signalled we should stop and was mopping his brow when I offered, "I don't think we'll ever get this thing up to the second floor." He stared at me in disbelief--"I was trying to get it down to the first floor," he said.

Yeah. Sound like anyplace you know? If, as The Beatles offered, We All Live in a Yellow Submarine, might I suggest more than a few of us dock it in Norwich Harbor. We've had as many ideas for 'bringing Norwich back' as we have people in the city. If wanting to revitalize The Rose of New England were all it took, we'd be home and dry by now. A cynic might suggest if all it could take was a guy offering commentary on-line or in a newspaper, we could sell our clothes because we'd already be in heaven. Point taken, but not personally.

Desire, eagerness, willingness to help, relentless optimism and boundless enthusiasm are all important qualities we'll continue to need in abundance if we, and this is true across the country, are going to again make where we live a great place to come home to. But instead of hoping things will work out for us, we need a plan, and a week ago last Monday, the Norwich Community Development Corporation, NCDC offered a, not the, way ahead.

The use of the indefinite article is/was deliberate and consistent at all the mid-week and Saturday sessions that involved a variety of different people working together, because they had to, in order to produce a plan of both economic and community development with defined objectives, refined milestones and means to measure and correct both the process and the progress as merrily we roll along.

In the years I've lived here, NCDC has been blamed for all manner of ills, real and imagined. If we had a rain of frogs, we'd have marched on their offices to complain the legs didn't taste like chicken. Well, those of us without barbecue sauce would have marched. It's always been hard for those who live here to agree on a definition of what NCDC is/was and what they are/were chartered to do (and they weren't especially good at explaining it).

Of course, we could have just asked, but we don't do a lot of that around here. Instead, we talked among ourselves at public meetings, and in letters to the newspaper editor and phoned in during the radio call-in shows, but it really wasn't until this City Council, this Mayor, this City Manager and the agencies tasked with downtown revitalization all sat together, that the BGO, Blinding Glimpse of the Obvious, we are all in this together, revealed itself.

The proposal is not perfect-not my words-the opinion of the Executive Director of NCDC himself. So if all you've done so far is read the newspaper stories about the presentation, get thee to the Otis Library, which has copies you can review, stop by the NCDC offices and borrow one, or go on line and read it for yourself. And then share your reactions and ideas. A plan isn't worth the PowerPoint trees used to make it, if it's not implemented-and it won't be implemented if each of us, and all of us, don't feel a sense of ownership and take responsibility for making it work.

We can struggle on the landing for the next twenty years trying to move that drum and hand truck or we can plan our work and then work our plan. It's always been our choice. We're running out of reasons for not choosing.
-bill kenny

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

More than Sixteen Candles

I got congratulated a lot yesterday on my birthday-when it's really my mom who deserves all the credit. I was, literally, along for the ride. I spent part of the day, as a man who pretends the best is yet to come, in an office of one of the half dozen physicians I see on a regular basis. I like to think of them as "Team Bill". They, on the other hand, are not too crazy at that moniker. I think the tee-shirts were a touch too much.

I know I've stayed too long at the fair when I am happy that my A1C is 5.5--I feel like I did when I scored 3rd row tickets for Springsteen on his first German tour. We're talking grin across my entire face. How pathetic is that? It's right up there with taking a nap on the couch in the afternoon/early evening if I want to stay up past ten o'clock (on a school night), because that's my bedtime. All that's missing are the PJ's with the feet.

Yesterday was a bit tense for a moment as my primary care doctor harshed my buzz by talking about scheduling a prostate exam (people often say prostrate exam-I love that) and I wasn't exactly wearing my happy hat, but when he rechecked his computer records, he confirmed what I'd been telling him-I'd had one a year ago. Trust me, I said, that's an item you remember.

How ironic as an aging FARC, I'd feel such kinship with a dreidel. I haven't stopped, but I have slowed down and more and more I've become the old guy I spent a large part of my life avoiding. Who says God has no sense of humor? As much as my heart will always beat a little faster for My Generation, until it stops beating entirely, I share another Bill's belief. I too, have passed the age of consciousness and righteous rage, I've found that just surviving is a noble fight. I once believed in causes, too, I had my pointless point of view, but life goes on no matter who was wrong or right.

After close to six decades trying to outrun the sound of my own steps in fright, I've learned to appreciate the irony of not having to worry about a legacy when so little was accomplished.
-bill kenny

Monday, April 26, 2010

There's Action in the Street All Night

Or in the case of Norwich, Connecticut, there are meetings of volunteers going on almost every night this week (just doesn't scan as well, I guess). It's really hard to pick an afternoon or evening that's more (or less) quiet than any other-as they're all chock full of interesting and engaging activities, very possibly one or more of them being of interest to you.

This afternoon at three in Room 335 of City Hall, there's another public hearing on applications for Community Development Block Grants, CDBG, by the Norwich Community Development Advisory Committee whose engagement, especially in light of very tight to non-existent budget allocations by the City Council, will be crucial to the survival of many activities and agencies.

The Redevelopment Agency, a player in the Economic/Community Development Plan being pulled together across the city, meet at five in Room 206 of City Hall. I'm not sure they met in March as I couldn't find those minutes posted on the municipal website, but here's February's and there are issues, I assume, still open (Reid & Hughes comes to mind-not as famous as Tinker and Evers (to Chance), perhaps, but a lot closer to home).

And at seven, in the training room of the Central Fire Station is the (very probably) final meeting of the City Council's Charter Review Sub-Committee that has been listening to citizen suggestions on possible changes to the City's Charter. Tonight the members, Alderpersons Caron, DeSaulniers and Nash will discuss and formulate their list of recommendations they wish to forward to their colleagues on the City Council.

Tuesday afternoon at 3:30 in the Central Office, across from the Norwichtown Green, is a regular meeting of the Norwich Board of Education Policy Committee, whom, I hope, will decide real soon to make it policy to comply with public law and post their meeting minutes on the Norwich Public School's website. Right now, all that's there is the schedule of LAST year's meetings. Perhaps another victim of budget shortfalls? You can use your website to inform and explain your role and its importance to the rest of us across the community or you cannot be bothered to meet even the minimum requirements of the State's Freedom of Information Act and then be surprised taxpayers have so little appreciation for what you do.

The Harbor Management Commission meets at five in Room 219 of City Hall. They had no meeting in March, but here are the minutes of their February special meeting though I'm not clear as to why the February meeting was 'special' unless it was because it was held in the City Manager's office. As someone who enjoyed walking the Heritage Trail from Yantic Falls to Brown Park, I'd hope the sidewalks that were to be rebuilt after the seawall rehab was accomplished (and it is) are close to completion. With the weather getting nice, that's a lovely hike and it's been a long time since I, and others, could accomplish it.

At six, in their offices at 16 Golden Street, will be twin meetings (I always assume one after the other, though simultaneously might be more visually stimulating) of Norwich Board of Public Utilities Commissioners/Sewer Authority. Here am (are) the agenda (agendae? agendas?). And at seven, in Room 319 of City Hall, it's the investment meeting of the Personnel and Pension Board.

Wednesday afternoon at 5:30 there's a (regular? special?) meeting of the Board of Review of Dangerous Buildings in the Planning Department's conference room at 23 Union Street. I'd like to compliment the Board on their compliance with Public Act 08-3, but they're not within a mile of it. Public be damned-well played, gentlemen!

The Golf Course Authority meets at seven in their facility on the New London Turnpike and reading their March minutes, it looks like their season has gotten off to a good start. I've since withdrawn my membership drive idea, "Win a Date with Tiger" contest where first prize was self-evident and second prize was a Buick Rainier with a seven iron through the back window.

And at seven thirty in Room 335 of City Hall, there will be a City Council department review with the Board of Education on the City Manager's proposed budget for the fiscal year beginning 1 July. There's been a lot written and (too) much (more) said, in varying emotional states, and we're running out of time to waste any more on pouting, posturing and finger pointing so, while I hope for the best because reasonable people should be able to agree to disagree, I fear an outcome far from that when this meeting ends.

Thursday afternoon at 5:30 in the gazebo at Howard Brown Park, it's a meeting of the Downtown Neighborhood Revitalization Zone, NRZ (perhaps special, perhaps regular. Look at their page on the city's website and tell me it doesn't look like the dog's breakfast. Go ahead, I'll wait right here) followed at seven by a regular meeting of the Democratic Town Committee, I suspect in Room 335.

As I said, many different activities fueled by the engagement and interest of hard-working volunteers who both make a difference and are the difference here in The Rose of New England. There's bound to be something going on of interest and importance to you, and those serving would certainly appreciate a helping hand, and yours is a good start. If where ever you live, you don't have this kind of involvement, maybe you should think about relocating to Norwich (but wear pants with pockets as you'll want to have someplace to put all the fun, and the other stuff, too).

"There's action in the street all night. We're bopping to the big beat, go! Get up off your seat and roll."
-bill kenny

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Requiem Aeternam

We started having an annual Vietnam Veterans Day here in Norwich, Connecticut, a decade ago. I've often wondered if the day is somehow linked to the Fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975. I don't think thirty-five years down that road, we, as a country, have ever really made our peace with that war, the way we fought it and the way it ended and most especially with how we treated those lucky enough to come home from it. And again this year we have over a hundred thousand young, and old, men and also women, in southwest Asia, fighting and dying while I sit in front of my big screen and bitch about the two hundred channels of cable I get.

Some have suggested Vietnam demonstrated the danger of trying to conduct a guns AND butter war, that is, we send people off to fight while back on the home front, very little changes. If that's the theory, then I guess it's true, since while we had sappers trying to clear mines from rice paddies in monsoons we also had half a million gather in the mud of Yasgur's Farm. And when all the toking and joking was over, the ages of everybody were practically identical, though I think the guys humping it through weeds were younger, but also older.

I lost a Manhattan prep school classmate in the meat grinder that was Vietnam-and, coincidentally, heard from another classmate yesterday morning to ask if I would be attending the anniversary of our class' 40th graduation in three weeks on a Thursday night. Only in a prep school universe could you hold a reunion on a work night and not realize it. Pass the butter.

From what I've been told by long-time residents of Norwich, the city 'lost' twelve young men in the Vietnamese War. When I'm feeling angry and bitter at how the survivors were treated, I'm tempted to offer that they weren't lost at all, but that's disrespectful to both their memories and to those who came home wounded in places that will never never heal and were left to their own devices as the rest of us raced to forget what we never knew enough about in the first place.

We had a beautiful day yesterday--a sky so deep and blue you got lost looking into it, with enough of a breeze that the large flag at the war memorial on the one side of Chelsea Parade was fully unfurled. I don't remember reading about the service in either of the local papers and didn't really know what to make of the turnout which, I always think should be greater than it is, though, on behalf of Roy O and the other fifty-eight thousand, I always appreciate.

A sunny day provides me the perfect reason to wear my big mirror shades since, by the time the ceremonies conclude, I'm crying. I have spent too much of my life being too cool to cry and fear if I do, I may never stop. I mourned someone I never met, Command Sgt. Maj. John K. Laborde. He will be forever 53 and was from a Norwich of his own, Waterloo, Iowa. He died this past Thursday, April 22, at Kandahar Air Field, Afghanistan, of "injuries sustained from a non-combat related incident" as it states in the casualty notification.

Another casualty of another war, and I wonder what we will have learned when we hold the memorial to mark its end and hope, it's more than we know now. "Black and white were the figures that recorded him. Black and white was the newsprint he was mentioned in. Black and white was the question that so bothered him. He never asked-he was taught not to ask, but it was on his lips as they buried him. Rex tremendae majestatis." Welcome home
-bill kenny

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Is that a Debenture in Your Pocket or Are You Just Really Happy to See Me?

All this time, based on my own reptilian brain animal instincts and a reasonable amount of reports from credible sources that I'd read, I just presumed the 'meltdown' on the Stock Market was a long time in coming and was a tragic coalescence of a variety of forces to include ignorance, cupidity, deregulation, a diminished sense of personal responsibility, absence of a social conscience and abrogation of the social contract. But, as a guy hissed at me a couple of weeks at a civil gathering where the civility proved to be in short supply, I am pretty much a liberal pragmatist when I'm not being a terminal, anarchistic cynic.

Imagine my surprise to read yesterday in The Atlantic, a journal of the true Fellow-Traveler if ever there were one, quoting the Associated Press, that Senator Chuck Grassley has a memo suggesting employees of the Securities and Exchange Commission were (wait for it) watching pornography on their computers instead of monitoring miscreants in the marketplace (GASP!). Those Ba$tards! And what, do you suppose, were the bankers watching who gave those 300 and 400K mortgages to folks earning McWages to buy houses they lost in six months?

How'd you like to be leading the defense team for Goldman Sachs as jury selection begins? Sort of changes up the voir dire questions, just a skosh, doncha think? Try being a jury consultant who suggests asking things like "Do you own a full-length raincoat?" "How sticky are the floors at your favorite movie theater?" What you're really trying to do is make sure your clients truly wind up with a jury of their peers. Talk about a brave new world, pilgrim! You may as well go ahead and fill out those change of address forms now, because we are here and we are staying here.

It's a fine line between a laptop and a lap dance and we've got the 1009-R's to prove it. "Let your money hustle Bet you’d sell your mother You can buy another."
-bill kenny

Friday, April 23, 2010

Crimestoppers Textbook

We had a "Pictures at Eleven" moment in an on line update of one of our local newspapers yesterday, Man charged with killing cat that ate his bird which, for reasons that say a lot more about me than I should ever be comfortable admitting, tickled me in a Tweety vs. Sylvester sort of way.

My favorite part in what is a very short article, O. Henry would have been proud, may well be the reference to "Police say they were at L*sco's home on an unrelated matter when they learned of the cat killing." The moving finger, having writ, or in this case, keyboarded, moves on. We never learn what the original, though unrelated, matter that brought law enforcement to the house was, and I suspect we never shall.

And for those who despair about the disappearance of majesty in the English language, and I'm thinking of you Sara J., there in the front lines teaching on The Other Coast, how can you not love a fragment such as "... and the cat, named Pepper, jumped..." It makes the heart leap!

Please, don't send me any 'animals are people, too' notes or upbraid me for trivializing the demise of Pepper at the hands of Greg. In the abstract, I find the story, as do you, a sad commentary on who we are and who we got here (supposedly we love our pets, so what's all this then?) in the early part of the 21st Century--but hand on my heart, I can be neither surprised nor disappointed.

Look at how we treat one another and then tell me the part again about why animal cruelty shocks you. If I'm shocked, it's only because there's not more of this stuff in the newspapers on a daily basis. It certainly isn't because it's not happening. And read the on-line comments--they are, in many ways, more amazing than the article itself. And prove my earlier point about how we treat one another.

And speaking of unrelated matters (I couldn't resist; and every time I typed it, it came out as unrealted mutters-huh?) from our "Video Killed the Radio Star" file, submitted for your inspection, this gem, Craigslist Bogus Ad Case Continued. Admittedly the Ewwwwww! factor on the original story, guy sets up a group sex situation with his unwitting neighbor, already pegs the gross meter, but then, with one of those 'didn't see that coming' is this, "Police said the ad led to a sexual assault at another West Hartford home. Police said Richard Z*h, 29, of Newington read the ad and showed up at the wrong home looking to have sex. Police said Z*h sexually assaulted an 18-year-old woman at that address. Z*h is claiming his dyslexia is to blame." Could this be a successful defense? Check for yourself.
-bill kenny

Thursday, April 22, 2010

I Hear the Music of a Heartbeat

Yesterday afternoon I went for my semi-annual carotid stenosis. It's another reminder that there are just so many sunrises and so many Springs. At some point next week, though for his last time it turns out, I'll sit with my vascular surgeon, as he explains the next step in continuing to battle my heredity and lifestyle to just about a draw in making sure the arteries in my neck, when I'm tired I call them veins and he frowns at me and glares a little, don't get any more gunked up than they are (I don't imagine he'd appreciate my use of gunked up, but he's retiring in a couple of weeks, so now it's my turn to talk).

We, meaning me and some very clever person with a wonderfully complex machine from Siemens and warm gel to smear on my neck, measure I have no idea what. I listen to the sounds of my own blood rushing through my arteries (I do know the difference, you know) and hope it continues to sound like the ocean crashing onto the shore and watch the monitor for waveforms and splotches of color, sometimes dark blue and other times bright yellow and vivid red, knowing no matter how keen I am to know what the colors mean, I'm too afraid to ever ask.

In all these sessions with all the watching, waiting and conferring is the awareness that there's no medication I can take to reverse the process. (That's a joke, actually. After I had had four Transient Ischemic Attacks, I was so terrified the surgeon could have told me to drink my own bathwater and I'd have asked if I could use a straw. Fear of death is probably the most powerful reason to live there can ever be). I remember him carefully explaining that to me at our very first session back in, wow-seems like in another life-but there's always the "hope" of surgery, he said. I've seen enough surgery in the last four years to last me a lifetime (it has, so far), so hope is a word I use guardedly.

My surgeon doesn't know I know he's retiring. I only see him every six months which, in his line of work and with my health concerns, is okay with both of us. I looked forward to meeting him the first time, based on his name, as I secretly hoped he was the architect of TSOP, The Sound of Philadelphia and could give me the inside story on Gamble and Huff. Nope, a little closer to Stiller and Meara truth be told, but he does always have the pop music radio station on in his office. I'd hoped we'd collaborate a while longer, but you can't be twenty on Sugar Mountain forever.

Our local hospital has Diagnostic Medicine, and other out-patient services, tucked away across town in a renovated failed Ames Department Store near the interstate. Seated across from me was a young woman in what looked like hospital scrubs, holding a small child, a baby actually, of perhaps six months or so on her lap. He, not she, was the customer for whatever other imaging equipment now is sprawled across what once was the hardware and ready-to-wear departments. Adds new meaning to clean-up in aisle seven.

He was extremely well-behaved, as if I am an expert with my babies getting ready to celebrate a 28th as well as a 23rd birthday in the coming days, for one, and weeks, for the other. He stared at the world, bounded by the waiting room walls and ceiling with an eagerness and intensity I no longer remember but truly admire. It was a moment for rubber-necking, his, and reflection, mine. He, even if he lives to be one hundred, will never remember me, and I, should the same await me, shall never forget him. I see a man without a problem.
-bill kenny

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

As Nilsson noted, Everything's Got 'Em

"This is the town and these are The People. That's the way they wanted it; that's the way it's going to stay." With a little more than seven weeks until a scheduled tentative budget adoption by the Norwich City Council, what do we know about the City Manager's proposed budget? It seems in times of economic hardship, and this qualifies as one of those times, a lot more of us pay attention to what happens in the council chambers and department offices of City Hall than has been the case in some previous years.

Last week's meetings of the Board of Education's Budget Expenditure Committee, a meeting of the entire Board itself and a
community meeting in the Greeneville School on its proposed closure all are a part, and consequence, of the budget formulation process. Where you stand on proposed reductions in the Human Services and the Recreation Department budgets, coupled with the announced intention of a zero increase in the Education budget, and an overall redoubling of the 'measure twice, cut once' approach to municipal financial management has a great deal to do with how you see the role of government, any kind of government, in providing goods and services and how you define what those should be.

When times were good, a relative term that glows more golden in memory than it does in real life and real time, we added responsibilities and services to many of our city agencies and provided some, if not all, the resources necessary to accomplish those added tasks. Now, in financial extremis, until the next budget cycle when this year could end up as the "good old days", we want to go cold turkey and set the dial on the
WABAC machine to a decade or more ago and leave many to fend for themselves.

Attendance at the first sets of department hearings was, I thought, quite good, and the participation across the city at the first public hearing before our Council was excellent. Thanks to all those who spoke, and those who listened, both in the audience and on the City Council. As happy as many of those in the front of the room were last November as Election Night concluded, I suspect some of the recent days and nights since then have been a lot less pleasant.

Comments on the budget formulation process in our local newspapers have been, for the most part, encouraging, not counting those who choose to argue with less than accurate facts, who substitute emotion for facts (passion is no ordinary word) or who are interested in scapegoating an agency or city employees or, worse, still, a single individual. The danger of finger pointing is three of the fingers point back at yourself, which, in this case may be accurate but is not helpful.

There are public safety provider hearings this Saturday morning starting at eight in the Central Fire House, which affords us a chance to get the detail behind the numbers, and then a week from tonight, in Room 335 at City Hall, the Board of Education updates the City Council on what its economizing efforts have so far achieved. After that we should have a better sense of what we can afford and how we will pay for it and face up to how much continuing to do nothing will cost us, starting now and continuing until we either learn to live within our means or the last resident pulls up stakes and moves on.
-bill kenny

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Paging Carole King

I don't see myself as a man of science or religion--and more than a few people I know are less than enthused at seeing me as a man at all, so I tread lightly when worlds collide and try to roll with the changes. You've read about the disruption of air travel as a result of the volcanic eruption in Iceland (at first I was afraid it had been triggered by the possible tipping over of Guam, but we're home and dry on that one), which is becoming more of a problem for those NOT in Iceland than anyone in the Keflavik area code.

I grew up with Mr. Wizard and hold Bill Nye the Science Guy in high regard (I'd put him in charge of NASA if I were the President. I'd pause so you could imagine the sequence of events necessary for that to happen, but we don't have that kind of time in this continuum), so I'm open to unending possibilities even if they seem to be implausible to others. An eye blink ago, we thought the world was flat, tomatoes were poisonous, potato had an 'e' in it, and the
NY Knicks would sign Lebron James.

We've spent a lot of time in parts of this country for the past decade on evolution versus intelligent design and while I won't tell you my feelings on the issue, I do get more than a little sick of people who insist on telling me theirs, especially when they use a dogmatic tone of voice they think automatically turns opinions into facts. Good luck with that, NOT.

The latest news item that causes my brain to make my eyes go back and read the story again came to me from Bob who reads everything more carefully than I do (because he can) and in this case, it's good that he did because I'd have missed this otherwise and could have been too close to a Victoria's Secret when two tectonic plates shifted. I am assuming this is a real story and not a spoof or a badly timed April Fool's joke,
Women who wear revealing clothing cause earthquakes.

"The West Coast has the sunshine, and the girls all get so tanned. I dig a french bikini on Hawaii island, dolls
by a palm tree in the sand." Take a look at what's gone on out there since 1965 when California Girls topped the charts. Go ahead! Will someone please get Homeland Security on the horn and tell them to pick up one Mr. Brian Wilson. We have enough trouble right now, we don't need his help.
-bill kenny

Monday, April 19, 2010

Bright Lights, not so Big City

I grew up in what we would call the sticks-we didn't at the time, because we didn't know-but it was, sort of. It was housing developments, hundreds of houses into the thousands, built, in this case in Central New Jersey, in the decade after the end of World War II when the tri-state area (CT, NY & NJ) looked to "The City" the way the fingers on the hand look to the thumb. As more houses brought more people, more amenities and services were added, soon overburdening the original governing infrastructure that had hosted the initial growth. Eventually, the new settlements became their own autonomous government entities. I went from growing up in New Brunswick, New Jersey, to growing up in Franklin Township and now I think it's Somerset, as opposed to Somerset County, without ever moving.

I now live in New England where everything is a LOT older, and pride in the past can be a contributing factor to less agility in coping with the present, never mind the future. Norwich, my hometown for the last eighteen plus years (I've lived here longer than anywhere else in my life and feel less at ease today than I did when I arrived), celebrated its 350th anniversary last year and as a NFH (not from here) I sometimes get the impression some of us still have fond memories of bygone days which is where we'd like to stay, even though that's not possible (nor should it be).

New England gave the United States of America the Minutemen. The anniversary of Paul Revere's Midnight Ride was yesterday. In social studies, because we don't call it history anymore, it's probably NOT even mentioned so the notion that the name of the other rider, William Dawes, would come up is is laughable. These days, they'd use twitter and IM, dude. We still have Minutemen and women, in that same tradition, pitching in across the country to lend a hand on the Parks and Rec Committee, the Getting Bill a Pony Ride for his Birthday Commission, the Zoning Board and a hundred other small steps that comprise the journey from where we are to where we want to go.

So on Mondays, I rant (and brag and sometimes scold) a bit on what we have in store this week in The Rose City as neighbors step up and help out-and if you don't live here (and don't want to move) that's fine, but you should look around where you live and at all 'that stuff' that's not quite right and that could be done better, because maybe it just needs you offering to help out. We are so much better together than we are each alone, it shouldn't need to be stated, but sometimes we get too busy to remember. So that's your reminder.
Little Queenie, I was thinking......

Tonight at 7:30 in Council Chambers, it's the second City Council meeting of the month-last Monday was a public hearing on the proposed budget,
remember? The meeting agenda is here and I'm trying to understand what is, or is not, happening with economic development across the city and capital improvements of rec facilities in Mohegan Park. Maybe after the public hearing date is set and that discussion is had, I'll have a better grasp of the intent.

And in terms of Economic Development (capital letters? Sure, why not?) there's a
news item on the website of the Norwich Community Development Corporation, about 'a beginning set of economic development strategies to the Norwich City Council (being presented) on Monday, April 19th at 7:30.' That's tonight and it's item #3 on the agenda. You can find a draft of the plan itself, here.

Thanks to Bob M for shepherding as well as to the dozens of folks who pitched in and gave up hundreds of hours on weekends to mull and discuss and then went back to work during the week and tweaked and outlined some of what will be presented tonight. It's not perfect (they'll tell you that, themselves) and they're not done-but a plan is only a plan until it's implemented so it's up to all of us to get smart and then get on board.

Tomorrow night at seven in the basement conference room of the Planning Department at 23 Union Street, it's a regular meeting of the
Commission on the City Plan and their agenda is filled with the fine tuning of 'big picture' items where attention to detail, or sometimes lack of same, can spell the difference between progress and stagnation.

On Wednesday morning at nine in the Dime Bank Community Room (the bank over on Route 82), it's a regular meeting of the Norwich
Children's First Initiative/School Readiness Council, folks, as the budget strings tighten, I would assume who could use all the help they can get in helping our children learn and retain the skills, education and training needed for the 21st Century. Good luck with that. Their website is an unshirted disaster--looking for meeting minutes? They're all on line-as long as by 'all' you mean anything from December 2004 through February 2007. Lacking any semblance of currency, they are, for me, another well-meaning but not well-doing agency who is always surprised when so few of the rest of us understand what they do and how we can help.

Thursday morning at 7:3o in their offices at 77 Main Street, it's a regular meeting of the Norwich Community Development Corporation, NCDC, and though I don't have the agenda, suspect it will have at least something to do with what happens next to the strategic plan after its presentation to the City Council Monday night. I don't think there's anyone talked about more and more often, with less actual knowledge and understanding, in all of Norwich, than NCDC. Sort of the Illuminati meets the Jedi Knights with some elements of
The Teletubbies, okay, maybe NOT those teletubbies, thrown in...Proving yet again we don't know what we don't know.

And that's as good a reason to lead lives of engagement as I can imagine, so that together we continue on our way to where we're going. See you at something?
-bill kenny

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Carl Schurz Meets Randy Newman

It's been a rainy April weekend here in New England, the Yankees and Red Sox are both home and trying to squeeze their games in between the raindrops has proven to be as much of a challenge as Javier Vasquez having an uneventful start, maybe even a little easier than that. We all feel we had a rough winter (not sure why, but the majority rules, so, me, too) and are looking forward to "Spring" practically willing the clouds to dissipate and the skies to turn blue. And when that doesn't happen, we are unhappy. That's human nature, I guess.

Eventually we forget both the cause of the unhappiness and then, hopefully, the unhappiness itself, and return to our lives already in progress. Memory is funny that way. I can recall all the words to the jingle in the Winston cigarette TV commercial (all brands used to advertise on TV and the theory was when that was halted, smoking would decrease. Yeah, addiction is a funny thing) but tend to lose my place when remembering the birth dates of my brothers and sisters (I got Adam's; everyone else's is sort of fuzzy).

But some dates, history, though not personal history, do stick. Today, in 1983 being one of them. Some scholars and terrorism experts (I know, what the phuck is a terrorism expert and how do you become one?) have suggested the attack on the Marine barracks at the US Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon on April 18, 1983, was an early engagement in what is proving to be a Hundred Years' War (or more) against terrorism.

Many in the Marine Amphibious Units who were part of a multi-national force that included Italian and French troops probably didn't know exactly where Beirut or Lebanon was-I have friends who have children who are/were in the Corps (not sure about the past tense, once a Marine always a Marine) and from the Marine Corps' beginnings, they have always been at the point on the horizon where the road and the sky collide. The President sends them and that's all they need.

April 18, 1983 changed all of that, at least outside the US military. For the Marines, it was, to that point in time, the largest single day loss of life since Vietnam. In a little more than six months and a week, it was to be overshadowed nearly four-fold by an act of heinous desperation that many forget the seeds of that deed were sown on this day. For those in uniform at the time around the world, it meant you eyed the guy idling at the corner light in the next car, the woman with the baby carriage, the boisterous soccer loonies getting on the streetcar, just a little longer and a little harder. As a nation, we continued the fitful and sometimes tortured debate on the role of history's most powerful democracy in shaping the world in which so many others lived. And while politicians and pundits pontificated, young men and women in their armed forces served, and died, without question and, sadly, often without answers.

Assigned to a unit in (West) Germany, I got used to German acquaintances explaining, or trying to, that the German Dream wasn't the same as the American Dream or the Russian Dream. I admit I found it hard to appreciate that not everyone wouldn't want twenty-four shopping malls and 7-11's on every corner selling Big Gulps. I never saw myself as a cop on a beat, policing the world and though not from the Show Me State, I subscribed to one of her most famous son's famous quotes, "My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right, if wrong, to be set right."

As I see the 'old age' sign approach ever closer on the human highway, I spend more than a little thought on those of my children's generation who choose lives of service to others, be it as teachers, EMTs, soldiers/sailors/airmen/marines, who each has her/his own American Dream that they add, almost as a small square on a large quilt, to build a vast tapestry whose majesty and beauty adds so much to the entire world. And around them, even as they work and weave, nattering know-nothings try to tell all of us, and all of them, what their lives and sacrifices mean for a 'greater good' they can neither appreciate nor define.

A rain-soaked weekend in New England is a good thing with opportunity for thought and even attempted thoughtfulness. A town not from far from I live buried a young marine earlier this week, another casualty in a war that had its start before he was born and whose end cannot yet be seen. "Into every life, a little rain must fall; but it's not gonna rain forever. You can rise above--you can rise above it all. We will follow the flag forever."
-bill kenny

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Like a seed .....

Maybe I've finally found a use for all the connectivity in my life. I'm not really sure how much God hath wrought, but Gates, and Dell and RIM and the guys in the garages who came up with twitter and its ilk have been working overtime to help me stay plugged in and it's about time I started to take advantage of it, even if I have no idea what an advantage might look like much less a benefit.

Perhaps like you, I have a phone that talks to all my email accounts, except my work account (which is okay by me), and also allows me to social network (never thought I'd learn to use that as a verb without stuttering or blushing) and I can take pictures (I'm not good at it, so that kind of puts paid to the adage 'practice makes perfect') and write notes inside the social networks to people I've known for a hundred millions years, like Rik in Berlin, and others not quite that long, Dave in Texas and Patrick in DC, and chat away as if it were only yesterday when we last saw one another.

Rik, who earlier in the week was taking some teasing on line about his bicycle, which did look a little girly but if it gets him to where he wants to go, who cares--we last saw one another in his house not too far from AFN Berlin about two weeks before my wife and I learned she was pregnant with our son, Patrick Michael who turns 28 in July. I even corresponded with his daughter, Heather, who may well have been about the right age for Rik's current bike when I met her damals.

Just a few days ago I rediscovered a friend I had lost out of my eye after close to two and a half decades--typed in his name and dozens if not hundreds came back and halfway down the first page was a photo of a fellow with his eye in a video camera viewfinder whose profile talked out of hiking the Alps. Sure enough, it was he. He has children of his own and a life quite different from what any of us in the little production studio under the rafters, a floor above the Paternosters at the Abrams Building, the I. G. Farben Hochhaus, on Gruneberg Platz in Frankfurt could have ever imagined.

"I wish I knew; wish I could prove the reason why this life on earth Is scattered like the universe. I'm scattered here and scattered there, bits of me scattered everywhere." Could it be technology is a tool that not only helps you track what you've lost, but also what you've found?
-bill kenny

Friday, April 16, 2010

Last Call before Closing Time?

There was a bar, Olde Queens Tavern, steps from the Rutgers College campus in New Brunswick, New Jersey, that had been a hangout for decades when we wide-eyed wonders arrived in the fall of 1970 (when the drinking age in NJ was 21 and we were not) and we adopted it as our own. Maybe it's the fog of war or the haze of alcohol but I don't remember ever seeing people in there who didn't look like me when I went in there.

I think we drove the previous crowd out and, in turn, were succeeded by I don't know how many succeeding student-scholars (if wet tee-shirt contests and dropping shots of whiskey into beer glasses is on the syllabus). The folks who ran Olde Queens, and probably still do, were always very patient with us, and much more kind than they needed to be (in light of our age and the terrible fake IDs we all had) in moving us out when it was to close up. Some of us, I think, probably didn't go home, or have homes to go to, but leave we did.

Long before Joseph Heller, Closing Time was a state of mind and an attitude check. I'm grateful I don't remember more of some of those nights and the state I was in and I am grateful beyond words for somehow not succumbing as a result of behavior that went well beyond 'youthful indiscretion' without harming myself or anyone else. The old man I've been sentenced to become never existed in the fevered fantasies of the young me and I am still amazed how I well I survived that person's excess as if that were, itself, a success. What I do recall makes me shudder and I strive to recall as little as possible for as long as possible.

I was thinking about that yesterday afternoon coming home from work driving through what passes for downtown Norwich as what was left of one of the four rallies the TEA (taxed enough already) parties staged in all of Connecticut was starting to wind down. There were still a fairly large number of people in the area where it had been held and a lot of them looked like one another and looked like me at the same time. I suspect we have more in common than what separates us, but judging by the signs and the horn honking and exchange of looks with people who also looked like me and the TEA party people but who most certainly aren't, we're not going to make any serious effort to bridge whatever the gap may be anytime soon.

We used to joke as little kids that 'sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me' but that is, as we all know, an absurdity and a lie. Words can and do hurt, wounding in a way unlike any other weapon ever can, without leaving a visible scar. And after the echo of the last of the words has died, all we have to do is go on living with ourselves and the consequences of what we have done to one another. "When the old men do the fighting and the young men all look on. And the young girls eat their mothers meat from tubes of plasticon. Beware of these, my gentle friends, and all the skins you breed. They have a tasty habit - they eat the hands that bleed."
-bill kenny

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Sayonara kid, have a nice day

I cleaned out my work desk yesterday for the delivery of a new one. I know what you’re thinking, ‘how empty is this guy’s life that he’s writing about getting a new desk?’ You’re the one reading about it, so I suppose you could tell me. Et tu Brute.

The desk was in the office I first worked in when I arrived from Germany in the fall of 1991 when I wasn’t sure of where I lived (let me clarify: I knew it was
Norwich; I just didn’t know the name for the city). I told people I lived in Norwalk because I'd heard of that place, an answer that got some stares and glares when, in response to ‘how long does it take you to get here?’ I’d answer ‘about twenty minutes.’ That answer always got me the rejoinder, that 'well, take it easy-w don't have the autobahn around here.' (like anyone could mistake two lanes of I-95 North and South for the A3 nach Koln.)

At the time, I couldn’t understand the looks of incredulity as people offered me that advice. I’ve since become inured to them. Point in fact for about two weeks, I couldn’t find the house I lived in at night, because I got lost. I kept that to myself since I didn't think that had anything to do with how fast I was going.

The desk was, aside from me, the oldest thing in the office and as the years went by, it filled with the detritus of the decade-long daily grind. Actually, I just remembered that wasn't true-the computer on the desk was the oldest thing (third oldest to be honest) and was a 286 something or other with,
wait for it, Windows 1.0. No lie.

In the various drawers, I found foolscap with notes and names of people from a decade and a half ago with cryptic additional information that may have once had value but is now long lost and gone. Clearing out a bottom drawer I surprised myself with two framed photos of my children from ‘back in the day’ when they were very much children in primary grades at school and these were the portraits that were done on Picture Day. I hadn’t realized how much I missed those kids until I saw them again and smiled because I’d put the portraits away for safe-keeping, so safe I’d lost sight of them. I took them home so my wife could preserve them as I can't even do that right.

Digging through another drawer, in theory to clear it out, but actually to dump its contents into a container while the old desk goes away and the new desk is moved in. Then the contents of the container will be emptied into the new desk drawer for the remainder of this century or longer and we go round and round and round in the circle game. On a small piece of paper, neatly cut out from the return corner of an envelope, I found the address of my Mom’s brother, Uncle Jim, whom we buried two years ago. It stung to realize I’ve been so self-absorbed that staring at it might have been my first time thinking about him since his passing.

New things are nice-in moderation. I have a new office and with it came some new responsibilities and I appreciate greatly the concern the people I work for have for me in going out and getting ergonomically spiffy (I don't think that's the actual term,but could be) furnishings to perhaps encourage me to continue to work for them. Like so many across this country, in light of crash and burns in a number of retirement plan investments, I'm now signed up for WUD, so no worries. And I have no life (free will decision, mine) so having a new and empty desk drawer to put the memories in is only necessary if you make some. Otherwise, I'll be keeping my pencil case there.
-bill kenny

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Luck is All You Make It

I ran into someone I've known for many years, practically since my family and I arrived in Norwich a couple of weeks ago who told me, bluntly, he was still waiting for me to write what I think, with the bark off. I've spent some time thinking about that and am tempted to offer the 'no man steps into the same river twice' argument, but in light of all the recent flooding we've endured I think I'll save that for another time. I do consider myself chastised, Henry, and I hope to do better but realize I may no longer be able to. Thanks for your friendship and the candor with which you spoke to me.

It's always intriguing how much easier a task, any task, appears from the bleachers. Theodore Roosevelt had some thoughts about the difference between doing and watching that I think about as I download a copy of the Norwich City Manager's proposed budget as it moves from presentation through public hearings to formal adoption. I spend a lot of my life on the sidelines admiring Waterloo Sunset but no longer inspired or courageous enough to cross over the river and join a safe and sound Terry and Julie who are doing quite well without me.

Across Connecticut as our state legislators and Governor continue to waltz around imponderables to include what services are needed by the citizens of our state and which ones we can continue to afford, the people we've elected to lead in our cities and towns struggle to make stone soup with what's left of the state's largess for our municipal budgets. There are no longer any easy decisions, and the price of stones is going up.

Everything we buy for our families has increased in price and that's as true as well for those goods and services our city, state and federal government purchases. Here in The Rose of New England, the City Manager offered his vision of a budget ten days ago predicated upon protecting 'the lives and property of residents and businesses' while also developing 'a plan for long-term economic sustainability.'

The latter is a shared responsibility with the City Council and the Mayor while the former rests squarely on the City Manager's shoulders. The first of the department hearings last week, and the initial round Monday night of the public hearings suggest many of us either haven't read April 5th's budget message or choose to believe otherwise. Actually the Department hearing demonstrated we have a lot of people who cannot tell time as presentations went long and the answering of questions from the Council became very selective. If nothing else, I've learned many of us have different visions of what the city should invest in, as opposed to how it spends our money.

Talking about how each of us sees where we live, and how we propose for all of us to get to that place, is an important conversation that for too many years too few of us were involved in around here. In the past, the public hearings were scheduled in large rooms with such a poor turnout that those of us who went made a noise like a BB rolling around in a boxcar. And the worst of it was we showed up but really said nothing more than 'no' to whatever was being proposed.

This time around, we're getting better at suggesting our own priorities. I'm hesitant to share mine, because I don't want to poison your well, but having said that, here I go anyway. I get tired of people when arguing about the school budget using 'the children' as human shields. My wife and I had two children in the Norwich Public School system, and you will not find more vocal supporters of its teachers. That said, I want us to do a better job of identifying and funding expenses directly supporting classrooms and to take those tasks and non-core competencies, where centralization, regionalization or privatization would create lowered costs for taxpayers and do just that.

I'm having nightmares about the Kelly Middle School renovation and expansion project and what will go into that facility if we continue to throw teachers, programs (from after-school athletics through music and art to foreign languages) and entire schools under the bus wheels as budget numbers drive the discussion. What will our sixth through eighth graders learn, and from whom? Perhaps we'll hold classes in foraging, taught by those who once frequented the Rose City Senior Center across the street but whose lifetimes of contributions to every neighborhood in our city were weighed and found wanting as we frantically redrew the bottom line. If the actual impact of the proposed budget is half of what the dire warnings have suggested, there will be lots of darkened rooms and locked doors, and not just at the Senior Center.

Everything has a price and everything has a cost--those things we do, and perhaps, more importantly, those that we choose to NOT do. A short time ago, with (to me) surprisingly little public discussion, the Council voted to approve salary increases for municipal department directors. I am in no way suggesting these raises are/were not deserved-my point is could we, as a city, afford to grant them at this time? And in so doing what was the message we were sending everyone else throughout Norwich? I watched at last Monday's City Council meeting as a decade long property tax exemption for the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Government, SCCOG, evaporated, despite what may have been assurances given to them at the time they settled on a new home in the Norwich Business Park. Norwich has had a somewhat adventurous relationship with SCCOG-but I'm not sure you can or should buy regional advocacy the way you shop for ground chuck, but that's what we may be doing.

If you haven't had a look at the proposed budget-stop reading this and go find a copy. There were more Department Budget Hearings last night-if you hadn't at least skimmed the budget, what did you get out of attending and don't tell me you didn't go because 'nothing happens when I talk'. Nothing ever happens, if you don't make it happen. No one can make you a victim without your consent. Get off the bench-get in the ring. In case you haven't figured it out, you've got skin in this game.
-bill kenny