Category Archive 'Newtown (Connecticut)'

14 Jun 2022

A Bit of Americana

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HT: Vanderleun.

When I was a boy, I walked to school every day, and the daily morning walk featured human landmarks.

On the 400 block of West Lloyd Street, a fierce old man with long white hair (at a time when no men wore long hair) and a white beard would be found standing high on a second floor porch. He stood there, as if at attention, and greeted passing schoolchildren with a grave nod and never a smile.

Turning north on Chestnut Street, at the corner house just before the alley, we would find Henry Walukewicz, the undertaker, standing on the sidewalk level porch of his house waiting for us. He subscribed to weekly humor magazines, and thus armed himself with a repertoire of corny riddles, which he would dispense daily to an appreciative audience of schoolkids. After the chilly reception we got from “the wild old man” back on Lloyd Street, Henry the comedian provided a refreshing dose of human warmth.

All this was in the late 1950s.

I lived much of my adult life in Newtown, Connecticut. Our house was built in 1712 and I had a great deal of fun researching our home’s history and the history of the town itself.

At the intersection of Church Hill Road and the Boulevard, there is a stately Victorian house (now law offices, alas!) on one side of the Boulevard and a splendid large barn right across from it. An old, old man who’d grown up in Newtown told me that, long ago, when he was a boy, as the schoolkids passed by that barn, the farmer would stop feeding his cows, come out in front of the barn and do a dance for them. This would have been back in the 1920s.

(I went to Google Earth, thinking that I’d grab an image of that impressive old barn and post it here. It and the Victorian house were both gone! Tempus fugits.)

21 Dec 2012

The New Age of Faith

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Richard Fernandez contends that our liberal friends have not given up religion, they’ve just turned to worshiping different gods.

One conclusion that might be drawn from disparate vignettes is that the fault line running through families and societies in the Western World today consists of those who think the world should save them and those who think everyone should pay their freight. Broadly speaking these two groups of people are fighting over the meaning of words and social relations.

One side sees “rights” as the ability to do anything they want and be free of the consequences. The Universal Right is the right to a free lunch which gives rise to derived rights like the right to wear any kind of pants they like and to stab any parents who may object. And if it actually comes to stabbing it will be the knife’s fault. That it should be a person’s responsibility is unthinkable. The opposite side sees a transactional universe in which everything has a cost and nobody has a reasonable expectation to a free lunch.

They are killjoys. Individual responsibility — as opposed to the duty to the deity — is an old and incredibly secular point of view. We live in a new age of Faith. Only the old gods are dead but religion itself is doing a land office business. The psychological appeal of Barack Obama and Steve Jobs lies precisely in having taken over the places formerly occupied by Jesus, Moses and the Buddha. Some teenagers seriously believe “they have made a paradise on earth right now” so that celestial place bands like Coldplay can blast out their angelic melodies on the Ipad, of course.

Religion hasn’t declined in the modern world as much as changed its business address from the traditional churches to the event stadiums. Christmas — which itself had roots in pre-Christian holidays — first became Xmas or now The Holidays. Perhaps the only reason that Mohammed still holds a place of esteem in heart of multitudes is that the Prophet had the foresight to enjoin his followers to shorten any infidel who suggested toppling him from a place of honor by a whole head. In the Muslim world, unlike the place formerly known as Christendom, knives and firearms are much sought after objects. They too have a thing problem, but in a wholly different way.

In any case the newly religious look to God to fix things whenever something breaks. In the Islamic world they turn to Allah of course and in Blue Christendom to Obama. And so with bated breath the Twitter feeds are speculating on what new gun control measure the President will propose to fix the latest school shooting. He’ll save us from ourselves, that’s for sure. And then there’ll be another button or app in the teenager shrine to Obama and Jobs.

19 Dec 2012

What the Massacre in Sandy Hook Proves, and What Needs to Be Done

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The murder of first graders in Sandy Hook, Connecticut by a disturbed 20-year-old was exactly the kind of dramatic and appalling event that captures the attention of the entire country and which provokes the national commentariat into furious efforts at prescribing actions to be taken to ensure that such a tragedy can never happen again.

All this, of course, is insanity.

The shootings in Sandy Hook, though undoubtedly terrible and tragic, really constituted one of those rare, bizarre, and tremendously unlikely occurrences which can never be anticipated or successfully averted by planning, and which proves nothing beyond our own human vulnerability to irrationality, evil, and mere happenstance, to what the Ancient Greeks knew as moira, “Fate”.

There obviously exists no discernible real constituency of passionate paedophobes singlemindedly committed to the recreational shooting of small children as to represent an existing hazard at all.

The very existence of any person so defective, so angry, and so perverse as to choose herostratic self destruction is enormously unlikely. Someone of this sort comes along only exceedingly rarely, even in a population of 300 million. But the combination of the herostratic suicide (who is invariably male and post-pubescent but not mature) with an active animus against small children is orders of magnitude even more unlikely. With the death of Adam Lanza, chances are pretty good that this particular rare and hyper-exotic population is extinct.

Really, it is as if, unaccountably in a fashion no one could have anticipated or expected, a ravenous Kodiak bear suddenly appeared last Friday morning at the Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dickinson Drive in Sandy Hook, Connecticut where it inflicted numerous fatalities on first graders, teachers, and the school principal. How could anyone have ever been prepared for an emergency so unlikely, so intrinsically incapable of being anticipated, or even of being viewed as within the range of possibility?

Officials, legislators, police, and parents might more rationally decide to erect superstructures above elementary schools intended to intercept meteors rather than waste their time cerebrating over what to do to foil the next Adam Lanza or the next hungry Brown bear. Another century or more may go by before anything quite like this ever happens again.

The real problem we have is a deeply-embedded cultural delusion which proposes that if we simply get together a representative sampling of our best and our brightest, if we put our establishment elite to work, the calculative power of human reason applied by the agency of officialdom and the Leviathan state is omniscient and omnipotent, and planning and regulation can assuredly avert any possibility of the perverse operation of Fate. All undesirable and untoward events can be planned and regulated out of human existence. All we have to do is give our elite class of experts and government more power, and then we will perfectly safe. No more Kodiak bears, no more Adam Lanzas.

18 Dec 2012

Gagging on the Media

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Barack Obama performs masterfully for the purposes of the national media.

The Other McCain speaks for the rest of us in the too-frequently-nauseated portion of the Nation after days of emotionalism, bloviating nonsense, and crass exploitation of the Newtown murders by the lamebrain media.

    Special coverage of Our Nation’s Tragedy will continue, right after these advertisements for laxatives and car insurance.”

Networks pay millions of dollars a year for the services of news anchors who can pretend that what they’re doing is anything other than a carnival sideshow to sell the advertiser’s product. News for People Who Can’t Be Bothered to Read — these lucrative televised spectacles inspire less cynical scoffing than they deserve. Nothing like a national tragedy to boost ratings, after all, and you know full well that the correspondent now peering grimly into the camera will be chuckling merrily with his colleagues as soon as the Breaking News Update is over. And why shouldn’t he chuckle? He’s getting paid handsomely to report this tragedy, and charges his travel expenses on the company AmEx card.

People who say they hate “the media” usually mean they hate TV news, a hatred shared by those of us whose medium is the written word. …

TV sucks, it is by its very nature an anti-intellectual enterprise, anathemic to rational discourse.

My problem is that watching this stuff — or at least having the TV in the room tuned to cable news while I’m typing, so that the chatter goes on, even though I seldom actually watch it — is more or less a professional obligation. Every blogger is a media critic of sorts, although in the hyperpartisanship of the Obama Age, liberal bloggers only criticize Fox News, whereas we conservatives are expected to aim at Liberal Bias.

News flash: Fox News sucks, too.

Even without liberal bias, TV news sucks. For a couple hours today, I suffered through Fox News Channel’s lachrymose coverage of Our Nation’s Tragedy, until the goopy emotionalism became too much and I switched the channel over to MSNBC — I Watch, So You Don’t Have To™ — because I’ve met Bill Hemmer, I like Bill Hemmer, and I didn’t enjoy my embarrassment at Bill Hemmer’s participation in this Plastic Grief Festival.

Change the channel and hate those MSNBC guys. It just feels better to hate them than to wriggle with psychic discomfort watching Fox.

TV is very much about emotion, and the show-biz aspect requires that the performers attempt to exemplify the appropriate mood, conveying by their expressions and posture and tone of voice how we’re supposed to feel about what is being reported. When they’re reporting mass murder, the anchors and correspondents and commentators are required to convey compassion as if they’ve got a monopoly on caring.

This display of empathy is annoying to any reasonably intelligent viewer, who understands that he is watching a performance, and that the people putting on this show are doing so because they are paid for it.

Chuck Todd and Chris Jansing don’t care more about shooting victims than you do. They’re just getting paid to act like they care more than you do. This is show business, after all.

Today is Tuesday, and the great minds that offer several times an hour solutions to all our country’s problems have yet to inform those of us in the viewing audience why Adam Lanza wanted to take out his personal aggressions on first-grade school children.

The media pretends to offer rational commentary, but what it really delivers is uncritical popular culture at the lowest common denominator level. News readers command high salaries, and obviously think that they deservedly occupy prominent positions of grave responsibility, but they get their jobs on the basis of having an agreeable voice, a symmetrical face, or a becoming chin. They are typically embarrassingly ill-informed and their customary perspective on behavior and emotional display is objectionable and vulgar in the extreme.

17 Dec 2012

“An Adorable Little Town”

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My old TVR two-seater sits in front of our Newtown manse one Xmas season back in the 1980s

We commonly look backward in imagination trying to visualize dramatic events that occurred in our home neighborhoods in a distant past, long before our own lifetimes. It rarely occurs to us to imagine bad things happening in future times, after we are gone.

In my case, it seems to be the future that you have to worry about.

In 2008, a Mexican illegal immigrant, Luis Ramirez, died as the result of a beating at the hands of white teenagers. The altercation occurred on the same block where I grew up in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania. I had personally ceased living there decades before, when I went away to college. My father also eventually moved away, to take up residence on a farm I acquired in Central PA, and we sold his house early in the 1990s.

The latest mass shooting occurred on Friday in Newtown, Connecticut. Karen and I moved to San Francisco from Newtown in 2001, but we had lived there for twenty years.

We moved to Newtown in July of 1982, from Redding Ridge, where we had been renting a small house located on a dirt road bordering several miles of uninhabited watershed property. I had a couple of pools of the Aspetuck River to call my own and fly fished for trout nearly every day during the season.

Redding Ridge was a very nice high-end suburb, but it was indubitably a suburb, and back then Newtown still seemed, by comparison, authentically the country. Newtown (the second largest town in land area in Connecticut) had plenty of open land, working farms, and included the headquarters of the local hunt.

Karen and I had been riding weekly at an equestrian center in Southbury, and one day near our home we helped recover a lost horse and made the acquaintance of several people from the Fairfield Hunt. Newtown was where aspiring equestrians wanted to be, we thought, and we concentrated our house searches there.

As soon as we started house shopping in Newtown, we came upon a white elephant property which seemed ideal for us. It was the sort of thing you refer to architecturally as “a remuddle.” The original house dated back to 1712, but had been enlarged in the 1820s, then later Victorianized. We owned a lot of books and needed and desired a lot of room, and this house had over 5000 sq. ft.

Newtown is what was referred to historically as a “hill town.” The original colonial settlers established themselves on hilltops because the local valleys were swampy and malarial. Newtown had been founded in 1710 as the product of what might be referred to as “agricultural sprawl.” The original settlement site in Stratford had been completely divided up, and the grandsons of the original settlers of Stratford Colony (founded 1639) needed more land for new houses and new farms, so new settlements were established in the remoter, inland quarters of the original colony, each built as a parish around a new Congregational meeting house.

Newtown was too far from Manhattan for convenient commuting but, by the early 20th century, the Connecticut hill towns were able to attract summer visitors from the city with cooler temperatures and New England quaintness.

Newtown never became a major historical site. Rochambeau’s French Army marched through town on its way from Rhode Island to Virginia during the Revolution. Charles Goodyear allegedly invented his process of vulcanizing rubber while resident in Newtown, and the game of Scrabble was later invented there.

Mr. & Mrs. Clarence Narramore, the last aboriginal descendants to own our house, added an additional pair of wings to the house in 1929 and (one week after the Crash) opened for business as a tourist hotel and family restaurant, serving chicken and steak dinners for $2. The inn and the original 16-acre home farm survived up into the early 1960s.

The old house had on the order of twenty-odd rooms (depending what you counted as a room) and in some portions definitely reeked of antiquity.

We lived there from 1982 to 2001.

When we took up residence in Newtown, Karen was working for an IT consultancy in Stamford, and I was commuting into the city on Monday and coming home on Friday. In the end, both of our businesses were sold. Lowell Weicker became governor and introduced the income tax, and the economy of Connecticut went to pot. The income tax cost Connecticut its competitive advantage in the Tri-State region, and (at least for a while) people stopped starting service companies in the readily-commutable lower coastal towns. By the late-1990s, both Karen and I were involved in new start-up companies and doing an exhausting hour and 45 minutes each way commute to Manhattan.

The fields and farms which attracted us to Newtown were all subdivided and covered with new subdivisions. The local roads were choked with commuter traffic, and our taxes which had been roughly $2000 a year in 1982, with a new sewer assessment, were now more like $10,000.

The fox hunt and the fields we had once ridden over were long gone.

The quaint colonial town aspect of Newtown had become, in our eyes, an ironic hollow shell.

The truth of the matter was that Newtown was a bedroom community. Its residents were typically an exhausted set of far-commuting executives, pushing the outer envelope of possible commuting distance. They got home at 7:30 or 8:00 (if lucky) on week nights, and staggered off to bed. Life consisted essentially of Saturday and Sunday morning and afternoon. The cynical boosters and looters making up the town’s political leadership set could do anything they pleased. Nobody else had the energy to go out to weekday town meetings. Taxes went up 10-12% per year, good times or bad, and development just kept on rolling. Newtown had no retired old people. The taxes were too high. If you retired, you sold your house to the next commuter and moved to some low tax Sun belt location.

ABC News spun the story depicting Newtown as “an adorable little town,” the sort of place where psychological disorder and violence seem unthinkable. In reality, I expect for many Newtown is the scene of a characteristically desperate American struggle to retain some of the characteristic amenities of rural and small town life while making a decent living.

Places like Newtown are often high-pressure environments in which people live in something somewhat resembling the country, but with all the same anonymity and anomie characteristic of the big city. Residents commonly rapidly come and go. Most of us barely knew our neighbors. And nobody really had the time to develop a community social life.

I expect places like Newtown are even less agreeable for children and teenagers. They can’t go anywhere without a car. There isn’t much of anything for them to do. And, the ethos of upper middle class competitiveness, materialism, and compulsory achievement broods over all. You obviously don’t hear about shooting massacres very often, but the usual vandalism expressing adolescent bitterness and resentment of adult authority can be seen everywhere.

17 Feb 2007

University of Illinois Drops Indian Mascot

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The University of Illinois is declining to fight NCAA sanctions, and is surrendering its 81 year old mascot Chief Illiniwek.

Of course, the poltroons running the University of Illinois are a long way from the first academic administrators to bow to the forces of political correctness. Indian mascots have been dropped by a great many colleges, universities, and high schools all over the United States. The most famous examples are probably those of Dartmouth and Stanford who gave up mascots completely when they dropped their beloved Indians.

Why do the PC busybodies always get to win these things?

There seems to be a basic rule of life that to become a college president or high school principal, you have to be a small-minded conformist, coward, and lickspittle, who can be relied upon to cringe and kowtow in the face of any fashionable cause.

They abolished the Newtown (Fairfield County, Connecticut) Indian back in the 1990s. The Indian mascot had been selected by the Newtown High School’s predecessor, the Newtown Community School, in 1919, as part of a whole body of symbolism adopted in enthusiastic identification with the supposedly virtuous characteristics of pre-18th century Indian residents of Newtown’s immediate Connecticut environs.

The Indian was replaced with a wholly imaginary and entirely bogus mascot called “the Night Hawk,” a choice based obviously entirely upon alliteration. I wrote a letter to the local paper (including illustrations) explaining that no actual nocturnal raptors which were not owls, in fact, existed, and that the nighthawk was, in reality, a name conventionally applied to Chordeiles minor, one of the Caprimulgidae, wide-mouthed, insect-devouring relatives of the whippoorwill, traditionally called “goatsuckers,” on the basis of a folk belief in the purpose of their wide and hairy mouths.

Before long, Newtown students were appearing at games, attired in “Newtown Goatsuckers” t-shirts.

The school administration responded by banning the wearing of Goatsucker, as well as Indian, mascot devices.

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