Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Connecticut's Top Public High Schools

LOTS of reaction to the "Top High Schools" feature in Connecticut Magazine. Anger from inner-city teachers and administrators who feel demographics need to be factored in; dismay from some suburban precincts who feel they didn't finish high enough; joy from those who feel the results perfectly illustrate the disparity between schools in rich and poor areas of the state. Our intention was simply to put the numbers out there to be used however they might. The fact is, these are the "top" schools in terms of the factors we used and they do a great job of preparing the kids they have. Whatever else it says is all in the eyes of the beholder. The results are now available here.

Why Obama Saved Lieberman

It seems to me that if those who voted for Obama were serious about the changes they want to see in Washington, they will just have to suck it up and live with Joe Lieberman's slap on the wrist. I was disgusted with our senator's behavior during the campaign and I'll never forget how low he was willing to go as a supporter of John McCain. But the bigger picture must prevail here. The malignant strain of partisan politics, fathered by Lee Atwater, nurtured by Carl Rove and infecting both sides of the aisle, must be eradicated. My guess is that Obama sees Lieberman as a potentially mollifying figure in that effort--someone unloved by both sides who nonetheless can be useful in bringing them together. The American people really want to see a new mood in Washington, and the energy and excitement associated with an Obama presidency just might be able to move in that direction. Oddly enough, Joe Lieberman might have a role in that effort, either symbolically or in real politics. If we want to see a new Washington, it's time for us to move on and get to the job at hand.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Why the Economic Scare Tactics at the Courant?

The Connecticut Center of Economic Analysis released a report yesterday that could well have been greeted as good news for Connecticut. It said the state had been in a recession for about a year, had seen "only modest job losses" during the period, projected 40,000 more job losses ahead before improvement begins and "anticipates the recession will not be a deep one for the state." The Hartford Courant treated the report with the headline "UConn Economists Latest to Predict Sizable Job Losses" and a lede saying the report was projecting "massive job losses." The 40,000 figure looks very bad, of course, but it represents only 1.8 percent of the state's workforce, so the newspaper's use of "sizable" was probably okay, but "massive" is a real stretch. The news in the report, however, is the prediction that the recession here will not be a deep one. Whether this projection turns out to be wrong or right is unknown at this point, but the reporter missed the story. What is the point of taking a mildly optimistic report and trying to make it as scary as possible for readers?

Monday, September 22, 2008

Survey Time

As you may have noticed, it's time for our annual readers' choice restaurant survey.

We also have a new FIRST survey, the results of which we will publish in an upcoming issue of the magazine (or on this website). This time, we're asking three questions:

1. What's your favorite Connecticut holiday tradition? Is it going to Bethlehem to get your Christmas cards stamped? Visiting the Fantasy of Lights at Lighthouse Park in New Haven? Welcoming Santa as he comes ashore in the Rigging Parade in Essex? As anyone who lives here knows, there's lots of holiday fun to be had all across the state.

2. What is your favorite Connecticut tourist attraction? Do you like to swim with the whales in Mystic? Roll the dice at the Mohegan Sun? Look at the dino skeletons in the Great Hall at the Peabody Museum in New Haven? Connecticut may be small, but there's plenty to do here.

3. Who is your favorite Connecticut author? Stewart O'Nan? Luanne Rice? Amy Bloom? Sandra Boynton? When it comes to literary excellence, this state is an embarrassment of riches.

Anyway, take a few minutes and let us know what you think. As always, we look to our readers to tell us what the best things are about this state.

Monday, September 8, 2008

FIRST Survey: Leaf-Peeping

Is it almost fall already? The calendar has turned to September, the kids are back to school, the NFL has kicked off its season and the nights have gotten chillier. If you look closely, you may have noticed that a few trees have already began their transformation, tinges of yellow visible as they prepare for the spectacular fall foliage that we've all come to enjoy each year here in Connecticut.

Since it is nearly that time, we recently asked visitors to to tell us some of their favorite places to view fall foliage. Here are a few of the top responses:

"Litchfield County" - An all-encompassing destination, including the towns of Litchfield, Washington and Cornwall, as well as "the rolling hills" and "the northwest corner."

Lake Waramaug, New Preston - Nothing like the beauty of changing leaves reflected in a scenic lake -- if you can point a camera and shoot, you're instantly an artist.

The Route 8 corridor - Suggestions here included stretches through The Valley -- Shelton, Seymour, Waterbury, etc. -- as well as past the Naugatuck State Forest and near Torrington and Northfield.

Connecticut State Parks - Sleeping Giant in Hamden, Castle Craig in Meriden's Hubbard Park, Mount Riga in Salisbury, Macedonia Brook in Kent, and Avon's Talcott Mountain were among the numerous state parks suggested for great viewing.

Route 154 - A tour alongside the Connecticut River through such picturesque towns as Essex, Higganum and Old Saybrook is always highly recommended. Lots of great places to stop and shop or eat along here, too!

"My own back yard" - Sometimes the best place to enjoy the fall foliage is from the comfort of your own home . . . of course, until you have to rake.

If you have any other suggestions, please feel free to share!

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Next Generation

This is sort of a follow-up to recent post about the changing Connecticut roadways --

This past Saturday, I was out with my family, driving through Ansonia. After turning onto a side street, we spotted a young man (about 12 years old) on a bicycle on our side of the road, riding toward us, head down and looking at something in his right hand. His friend, who was riding on the other side of the road, saw us and shouted to him, causing him to look up and move out of the way of oncoming traffic.

As we reached the two, we saw that the kid who had been riding on the wrong side of the street had been occupied with a cell phone.

Gee, wonder where he learned that?

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Staycation Nation

Gov. Rell seems very pleased with her "staycation" concept, which encourages Connecticut residents to take their summer vacations in Connecticut this year (although if the concept catches on, wouldn't that mean people in New York and Massachusetts who normally would have visited Connecticut will have to stay home, too?). Whether people are actually doing this remains to be seen (my family snuck over the border to Rhode Island for a few days), but the term "staycation" seems to be catching on. Today, I notice the Courant was talking about "daycations," meaning a brief trip that doesn't include an overnight. Then the Sunday New York Times Connecticut section devoted way to much space to the "staycation" concept. All of which makes me think there is plenty of room to take the "-cation" notion and pound it into the ground. Like this:
Haycation: An overnight for two to the Quiet Corner.
Graycation: A trip in a Buick for two older couples--men in front, women in back--to the Curtis House in Woodbury or any restaurant whose name tries to summon up the Colonial Era.
Praycation: An educational tour of notable church architecture in New Haven.
Gaycation: What'll it be--Northampton, Fire Island or that dorm at Wesleyan?
Neighcation: Off to see the Governor's Horse Guard.
Slaycation: A too-long weekend in Hartford.
Flaycation: A multiday food romp through Fairifield County with the noted celebrity chef.
Playcation: Taking in a show at Goodspeed.
Autodafecation: Going to view a Richard Blumenthal press conference during which he threatens to sue and punish utility-company bigwigs.
Perriercation: Sitting on the back porch with cheese and bottled water.
Oyveycation: Enough with this concept, already!!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Breaking Free of the Asphalt Jungle?

As we all deal with higher gas prices, I was impressed by this story out yesterday about how Americans drove nearly 9.6 billion less miles in May. That's a whole lot less miles -- about equal to driving to the sun and back 50 times.


To save money like everyone else, I have tried to cut my own driving by combining trips, but there's got to be a few people out there making significant cuts to balance that out. Doing some simple math, with around 200 million licensed drivers in the U.S., that means each would have to average driving 48 miles less last month to equal the 9.6 billion.

I guess mass transit and carpooling can work after all.

Aside from less traffic, I've noticed a few subtle changes on Connecticut's roadways.

- Less speeding. Obviously, the faster you go, the more gas you burn, so I notice that I'm getting passed less and less while traveling at 65 mph -- and that's a speed I've forced myself down to from what was more of a normal cruising speed of 70-75 mph. And yes, I've noticed a tank of gas seems to be going a bit further.

- Where have all the Hummers gone? I know of at least two people personally who have traded in their SUVs for smaller, more economic vehicles, and I have to assume that the fact Ford recently reported record losses and a move away from building larger, gas-sucking vehicles, to smaller, more fuel-efficient ones, there must be an actual trend going on here. By my own eye, there seems to be less on the roads. Interesting.

Of course, traveling by car in Connecticut is still less than perfect -- lots of trucks and construction projects out there. And there are still bad stretches of highway -- the I-95 corridor from Milford to New Haven, is still a dangerous drive. And I know there are others -- as a matter of fact, our monthly FIRST survey wants to know what Connecticut residents think are the worst stretches of roadway. If you have a second, click here and tell us what you think.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Dodd in Office Too Long

It is one of the great truths of holding public office that eventually, if you are in long enough, you will develop a sense of entitlement. It happens to the best of them--and the worst of them. It happens in big ways and small ways. It happens sooner to some and later to others, but it always happens. John Rowland decided to run for his third term and was ensnared by his feelings of entitlement. My own father was in Congress for 14 years and found it almost impossible to give up the little license plate that allowed him preferential treatment at National Airport in Washington. And now Chris Dodd has been in the Senate for so long, and is so immersed in its culture, that he doesn't even realize when he's been given a special deal by a lender. Or if he did realize it, he thought he deserved it. All of this points to the need for term limitations. Senators should be limited to three terms (18 years) and U.S. Representatives to 10 terms (20 years). These are generous lengths of time and will not cure the "entitlement" virus entirely. But they would save many good public servants from themselves.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Counting Down to Summer

Although we're enjoying the early vestiges of spring -- like lots of rain, flooded basements and muddy yards -- here at Connecticut Magazine, we're already planning for summer. That includes dusting off a few of our summer classics, including favorite places along the water and great summer places to eat.

But we know our favorites -- we would like to know about yours. To that end, our new online survey (the results of which will appear in the "First" section of the magazine) is an opportunity for you to share. Click here and tell us what's your favorite place along the water (Hammonassett Beach? Candlewood Lake? Waterside in Essex on the Connecticut River?), as well as your favorite warm weather place to eat (Chick's Drive In? The Spot? The deck at The Blue Oar?).

We look forward to reading what you have to say!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

What's Next?

I'll be honest -- even though I know that I'm about halfway to the end of the my working days (ideally), the recent stories about the stresses on the Medicare and Social Security systems have drawn little of my interest. I think -- like I think many think -- that "they" will have it all figured out by the time I get to that point. You know, because "they" have been doing such a bang-up job on the economy, immigration, health care and all . . ..

Completely naive, I know, but that's where my head is at.

Still, although I'm not quite sure how I might pay for it all, I do think about my golden years from time to time. And with 78 million baby boomers on the verge of retirement, I'm not the only one. Traditionally, many people have sought out warmer climates -- Florida, Arizona -- but there seems to be a growing portion of the population who want to stay close to their family. And with everything this state has to offer -- museums and theaters, great restaurants and outdoor activities, the proximity to New York and Boston -- hanging around here is an appealing option.

As such, in the upcoming May issue of Connecticut Magazine, we're taking a look at 20 ideal retirement spots right here in Connecticut. Part of that also is a new online survey where we're asking our readers to tell us, if money was no object, what town in the state would be their ideal retirement destination. If you have a second -- it's only one question -- please feel free to contribute your thoughts.

For the record, I'm partial to the water -- a little house overlooking the Sound in a town like Old Saybrook or Stonington would be acceptable.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Deja vu All Over Again

Watching David Patterson be sworn in as governor of New York earlier today, I'm sure I'm not the only Connecticut resident who had flashbacks to July 2004 when M. Jodi Rell ascended to the top office in the state in somewhat similar circumstances. Yes, John Rowland's crimes were significantly different than Eliot Spitzer's, but the bottom line was the same -- an abuse of power and office, a reprehensible lapse of personal judgment and ethics, and an irreparable violation of the public trust.

Today, Albany is full of optimism that the new leadership will be more ethical and upstanding than the prior administration -- much like the Connecticut legislature was four years ago. They are looking for a fresh start, a clean slate, and are hoping that the new governor can lead them to better days. Honestly, I don't know much about Mr. Patterson -- up until a week ago, who did? -- but from what I've seen of him and read about him, he certainly seems to possess the tools and integrity to succeed. I certainly hope he does.

I guess one of the things sort of nagging in the back of my mind is that as sure as I'm typing these words, I have a feeling that it's only a matter of time before we're being dragged into the next political drama where another elected official has taken advantage of his office for personal gain. Then it'll be another couple of days of denials, a media frenzy, public apologies, a forced resignation and the next new hope stepping up. I don't understand why it keeps happening over and over again, I just know that it does.

Yes, history shows us we never learn from history. But is it being naive to hope that maybe we might?

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Java Support

As the war in Iraq drags into its fifth year and the situation in Afghanistan continues to worsen, there could be no more critical time than now to show support for our troops overseas.

One organization that's brewed up support for the troops is Holy Joe's Cafe, a coffee house ministry run by military chaplains, supported by the United Church of Christ in Connecticut, in particular the Wallingford congregation, where it was created by Tom Jastermsky.

Basically, coffee donations are collected and sent to chaplains stationed in active military zones, who have created coffee houses as a place for soldiers to relax, and if necessary, unburden themselves emotionally and psychologically. The coffee houses also provide an alternative to other forms of relaxation and give one of the things many servicemen miss overseas—a good cup of coffee and a quiet place to talk.

According to a recent article in the Connecticut Post, Holy Joe's Cafe has collected and shipped more than 85 tons of coffee overseas, supplying chaplains at some 57 military bases across the Middle East. The efforts of Jastermsky and the UCC have been well received by the troops, who of course, are always greatly appreciative of support from home.

If you're interested in donating, please visit the Holy Joe's website.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Mastering the Mastery

If you have a child in elementary school, you are undoubtedly well aware that today is the beginning of the Connecticut Mastery Test, the results of which will be used to determine federal funding, per the asinine No Child Left Behind Act.

And I don't use the word "asinine" lightly. As a parent of elementary-school age kids, I've seen how many months have been spent teaching my children to learn to take tests, you know, a practical skill to have as opposed to reading, writing, arithmetic, art, science or any other legitimate school subject. I've also seen how the school administration and teachers have constantly bombarded the students with the "importance" of the test (because their heads are on the line if they lose funding), so much so that my third-grader has told me that he's worried about the test and what's going to happen to him if he doesn't pass it. He was actually very stressed about it until I explained that nothing will happen to him and he's not really the one being tested here.

Look, I understand the law came out of wanting better education for our children, and that testing is needed to measure where their education is at, but if it's gotten to the point that everyone is freaking out about it and not concentrating on actual learning, I have to wonder if maybe the law doesn't need to be tweaked, if not outright scrapped.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Roll Another One

Maybe Gov. Rell, in her budget address, should have proposed splitting the DOT into three parts instead of two, with the third devoted to truck rollovers. The chaotic mess on I-84 just west of Waterbury this morning was a perfect illustration of why our rails should be used to move more freight, most notably hazardous materials that now mix it up with family vans and hot-headed speeders. The rails aren't completely safe, of course, but the roads have become brutal. For things to change in any meaningful way, someone in Hartford has to want it to happen--and I don't see that sense of urgency right now. Certainly, the DOT isn't going to step up on its own, even with a new commissioner. The governor's office doesn't seem very interested in creating a legacy of greatness or change. Their specialty seems to be quietly sidestepping controversy and not slipping in the polls. But this is an issue that effects the economy and public safety, and you can almost see it getting worse and more dangerous every day. Which one of our "leaders" will take the lead on this?

Friday, February 8, 2008

State Salary Charade

If Connecticut were really interested in any sort of fiscal restraint (as all the pols were professing at the Capitol the other day), it might start with the salaries of its appointed commissioners and others at the top of the fiscal food chain. But it's not. I sampled a few commissioner's salaries to see how they've risen over the past ten years in relation to inflation. For example, the commissioner of motor vehicle's salary ten years ago was $83,500. If it rose in line with inflation, it should be $107,400 today, but it's actually $128,000. The commissioner of public safety's salary ten years ago was $95,000 and should be $122,200 to stay even with inflation. But instead it rose to $140,000. I could go on, but take my word for it that in every single case, the commissioner's salary has far outrun inflation. This isn't to say that some, even many, commissioners earn what they get. But can the state really play the salary (and pension, and benefit) game like this and still profess to be on the side of fiscal restraint? Finally, it isn't hard to imagine that the rank-and-file state workers have also made out exceptionally well over the past ten years. If they hadn't, they'd never allow their "bosses" to get away with it.

Is More Access A Good Idea?

So a very quiet news items recently was the Connecticut Judicial Department making its database of criminal records (since 2000) now available online. It includes convictions for crimes -- including motor vehicle infractions -- with the idea of more transparency for the department and better access to the information.

All the information is already public record, so really what has changed is being able to search it from the comfort of your computer rather than having to trek down to state offices. It also has a very convenient-to-search interface.

I just caution you before you click that going to this site is like trying crack -- after I was done typing in my name (I'm clean!) as well as my friends, co-workers and neighbors, I started trolling for old high school friends, college buddies, former acquaintances and even past girlfriends. Very highly addictive. . . .

And I wonder, if not a bit too invasive also. Yes, all the data is already available to all, but are we losing a level of privacy by having it so easily accessible? I know there's also harassment laws and employment considerations -- and even though there are bold disclaimers on how the information is to be used, I'm not naive enough to think someone out there won't use it in less than the spirit in which making it accessible was intended.

Obviously, there's already a state sex offender registry (which I don't think most would argue with), and most local newspapers already have some sort of police blotter roundup -- I guess my question is do we really need to have access to every single traffic ticket conviction? Is all access too much access? Where is the line between needing to know for safety's sake and invading privacy?

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

For Whom the Polls Toll

Super Tuesday is upon Connecticut and voter turnout is expected to heavy today as for the first time in recent memory the state's primaries are positioned in a point on the calendar to matter. Even though there are only 27 Republican delegates and 48 Democratic ones -- not make or break numbers -- the state enjoyed visits from the candidates over the past few days: John McCain stopped in at Sacred Heart University on Sunday, Hillary Clinton returned to her stomping grounds at Yale yesterday afternoon and the XL Center in Hartford warmly welcomed Barack Obama.

After years of seemingly being late to the party, it's nice to feel like an active (and relevant) part of the nomination process. And with the Democratic contest appearing to be neck and neck, there's a great sense of enthusiasm associated with the primaries, a breath of fresh air in regards to the state's role in the national political scene.

Here's hoping the interest and enthusiasm continues right through November.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Clinton Jumps Ugly

"Mayor Michael J. Jarjura was just about to attend an endorsement event with former Rep. James Maloney on the Green at 1:30 p.m. Thursday. But at 1:20 p.m. Director of Operations Joseph Geary received a call canceling Jarjura's invitation."
The event was for Hillary Clinton. It was evidently the Clinton campaign that rescinded Jarjura's invitation because Jarjura had recently hired former Gov. John Rowland to a local economic-development position in Waterbury. Regardless of how you feel about Rowland, the Clinton move strikes me as petty, vindictive and unnecessary, but probably indicative of how a Clinton presidency would operate. It's just the sort of "politics first" way of thinking that Barack Obama seems to have little talent for. It's only a small part of the picture to consider when picking a president, or a nominee, of course, but I think it creates a mood that in a Clinton presidency would extend out into Congress, the bureaucracy and even foreign policy. Haven't we had enough of that with the current administration?

Monday, January 28, 2008

Not-So-Deep Pockets

I saw this story this morning in the Hartford Courant about the middle class feeling the pinch of tougher economic times. Like everyone else, I'm also taking a beating over escalating energy costs -- electricity, heating oil and gasoline -- but I wonder about all the little "necessities" and "conveniences" that we've added to our lives which are subtracting from our wallets. Are they worth it?

I'm not talking about food or clothes, but things like TV -- we pay for basic TV, but then it's a few extra few dollars a month to have HBO, Showtime and Skinemax. Oh, and then we need to have it all on a shiny new 60-inch plasma flatscreen. And don't forget that for just a little more, you might as well get the high def and DVR service . . . .

Or communications equipment -- gotta have a cell phone, right? Plus, for only a few dollars, your own ringtones and themes -- and don't forget the text messaging (the plan is cheap!). And the camera. And web access is only cents per day . .. .

Or computers -- why have a desktop when you can have the convenience of a laptop for a few hundred dollars more? And to be hip, you need every bell and whistle available, all the software from desktop publishing to burning DVDs -- they come with the basic package, only a fraction of the original cost. Plus, a web cam, scannner, and of course, with the fastest internet connection we can find, wireless, obviously. Only a few dollars a month more. ...

Or cars -- can't drive a used stationwagon -- for only a few thousand more, you can get the shiny new SUV! (Gas prices are going to come down, I promise!) Then there's the warranty. And that subscription for satellite radio and the GPS service because, it's only a few more dollars a month. And don't forget, while going through the drive-thru window, it's only 50 cents more to supersize it. . .

Gee, I can't understand where all the money goes.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Rowland Safe at Home

As a citizen of Waterbury, I am delighted to have John Rowland on the case, promoting and pushing for the place he loves most. Waterbury 's downtown has many assets as a place for businesses and offices, but the city has never been willing to pay for a top person to do the schmoozing and selling. Now they are getting a very good schmoozer, who still has good contacts in place, at what will no doubt be a bargain price. Make all the Waterbury jokes you want. I have heard them all and even made up a few. Rowland has paid a fair price for his foolish behavior and now wants to turn the page and prove himself anew. I really do think Waterbury will benefit from this move.

Friday, January 4, 2008

A Silver Lining

Well the best thing to be said about Chris Dodd's ignominious defeat in the Iowa caucus is that the state of Connecticut gets a Senator back. He'll have plenty of time after he's scurried back home with his tail between his legs and when the Senate reconvenes on Jan. 22 to unpack his belongings and move back into the job the people of Connecticut elected him to do.

Of course, you can't blame Dodd for being ambitious and wanting to run for the White House -- I suppose it's the dream of everyone who gets into politics. And I do give him credit for accepting reality and getting out (relatively) early. (Then again, if there's a lot of speculation that you couldn't even win in your home state, then maybe you shouldn't have run at all. . . .)

Over at Connecticut Local Politics, they do a great job of dissecting Dodd's demise, noting that it wasn't just one thing that doomed the campaign, but a confluence of factors, not the least of which was his lack of being able to distinguish himself from the pack.

Well, now that his fantasy has been dismissed and his ego deflated, there's a good chance that Dodd will now rededicate himself to the citizens of Connecticut, some of whom were put off by his relocating to Iowa as well as the entire run itself. Let's hope his loss now makes for our gain.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

The Little Freeze

Before you ask, yes, it's cold enough for me.

Everyone complains about global warming, but I'm all for it! I hate shoveling snow, driving on icy roads and dealing with frozen pipes -- the sooner we can get the Connecticut climate like Florida, the better. As a matter of fact, after I'm done typing this, I'm going to the top of the palatial Connectiut Magazine Tower here in Trumbull, and not only am I making a bonfire out of all the styrofoam I can carry, but I have a case of my sister's AquaNet hairspray from the '80s that I'm going to run around releasing. Then I'm going to all the local farms to see what I can do about getting cows and pigs to produce more methane . . . .

Obviously, I'm kidding -- I'm not going to drive around to any farm on a day this cold!

And the good news is that despite how cold it is today, over the next few days, temperatures are expected to rise up through the 40s and possibly to 50 by Monday. Not exactly shorts and T-shirt weather, but I'll take it.

Still, I guess the winters of my youth may truly be a thing of the past -- instead of a sparkling white wonderland, we'll be looking at a rainy gray mushpile. No more sledding, snowmen and snowball fights, but mud pies, mudslinging and mud wrestling instead.

It's not the same, but you'll probably still have someone come up to you and ask, "Hey, muddy enough for you?"