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“The Impossible Will Take a Little While”

Posted by whforums on December 17, 2008

That’s what Billie Holiday said, anyway.

Heard on WTIC today about two young students at Sedgwick who had the courage to turn to a school counselor about abuse at home. Get the gist of the story here.

I don’t want to talk about the specifics of the case because I think doing so does a disservice to the children and to the family, who have enough to work out without comment from the blogosphere.

I guess what I do want to do is use this particular instance to discuss the education that happens between people rather than on Scantron sheets. Nadezhda Mandelstam said that out of great hopelessness comes hope, and this case calls to attention not only the complexities of public education, but the necessity of humanizing that education. We’re pushing for achievement, we’re pushing for test scores — and don’t get me wrong — we should. But what happened between Sedgwick’s walls today underscores a less quantifiable– but more necessarily human — education. These students spoke up at least in part because they knew they had someone in their school to whom they could speak. Someone (and likely many someones) approached their classroom and their school not as a set of potential test scores (don’t get me started on “merit based pay”), but as mutual human beings in need — through and in spite of their mutual flaws. Whether we think they should, our schools carry the imperative of both developing and protecting their students, and they do this best by building relationships with those students. In the hopelessness of abuse (which is a day to day reality for many in WHPS, I’m sure), there is the great hope of our schools — not only the equal access to education they provide, but in the very human attention of our teachers, counselors, staff and administrators. It’s those who are working (too often thanklessly or invisibly) for the good of these kids — and for the good of our present West Hartford and the future West Hartford toward which we peer — who allow us to realize that, as our neighbors suffer, there is also a vigilance against that suffering. Too often we want our schools to be fortresses against our social problems — if not ivory towers, at least ivory ground floors — when we should be attentive to a more basic grounding: in spite of our mutual sufferings, in our schools, we’re not cut off from each other.

Oh. And they’re doing a pretty good job with those test scores, too.

Posted in Abstract Babble, Do I Contradict Myself ...?, gratitude, Test Scores, West Hartford, WHPS | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Thursday Morning Linkage and FEAR

Posted by whforums on October 2, 2008

Hits on the blog are through the roof over the past 7 days as the referendum approaches (would still like to hear from more new voices — share with your community!). Since there are so many new uniques floating through, I thought I’d take a minute to link out to a few other sites, share some good news, and scare you to death.

So. You wan the linkage first, or the FEAR?

Linkage

Ben continues his ongoing investigation into West Hartford sidewalks that end in abruptly baffling ways over at Observations of the Trailing Spouse (poke around on his site long enough and you’ll find the feature!). I’d particularly like to point you to his post about West Hartford librarians (this has nothing to do with sidewalks, but is still worth your time!), which delivers the encomium they deserve.

Dead Horses Beaten Daily has a new look and a good post about the Business Week article claiming that West Hartford ranks in the top 20 communities most likely to suffer from the craptasticness of our economy. Reader Newvoice1 linked to Business Week in a previous post on this site, but Greg’s site seems like the ideal place to have an organized conversation about the topic.

Good News!

Despite all the doom and gloom about BBS (I’m so sick of people seeing or “hearing about” a store closing and using that as evidence of BBS’ “certain failure”), The Counter (a burger joint) is now open. Note that I do not extrapolate from the opening of a business the potential success or failure of the entire neighborhood around it.

FEAR

Yes. “Melamine tainted candy” has found its way to West Hartford. I think after 8 years of “mushroom cloud” and “economic” “crises,” my capacity to be scared by industrial chemicals has taken on a White Noise sort of quality in that I expect to be asked by my leaders (and my news anchors) to confront my mortality in an almost daily way. God, I so want to go Prufrock (or Heidegger?) on everyone …

Anyway, The Courant has an article here.

And, While I Have You Here …

… I feel compelled to link back to an (eerily prescient) article from The Onion on W’s inauguration in ’01:

Bush: ‘Our Long National Nightmare Of Peace And Prosperity Is Finally Over’

Right. Back to the referendum, then …

Posted in Abstract Babble, Linkage!, Media, National News, West Hartford, West Hartford Restaurants | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

We Have a Motto? We Have a “Word Cloud”?

Posted by whforums on August 7, 2008

Sometimes it’s the simple things, right?

Two things I learned today:

1. As far as wikipedia is concerned, West Hartford has a motto:

“Where City Style meets Village Charm”

I had no idea we had a motto. And I’m not sure this one … works. Do we have city style? Do we have village charm? I mean, I guess it’s not that we don’t have these things, it’s just that we can be outstyled and outcharmed, though I ‘spose we do blend the two pretty well …

2. I learned today that I can make “Word Clouds” using Wordle. I have wasted an ungodly amount of time today making clouds — the “Word Cloud” for this site after the jump …

Read the rest of this entry »

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5 Things That Make West Hartford Great, July Edition

Posted by whforums on July 23, 2008

So. West Hartford. Maybe it’s the rain and the darkness of the day, but I’m disheartened.

As a community right now, we’re fractured. We’re divided on the budget and we’re divided on test scores. We love Blue Back Square and we think Blue Back Square will be the ultimate undoing of our town. We’re old money who resents new money, new money who’s baffled by old money, we’re paying off the raised ranch and we’re making the rent by a dime (and sometimes we’re not making the rent at all). We could be a symphony of talk if only our ears were attuned.

So, enough with the negativity. Today I “celebrate West Hartford” with a constellation of gratitude — not because I think you care, but because it makes me feel better, and it relieves this blog, at least for a day, from the negativity that threatens to engulf it.

So here, in hope, I say, West Hartford: Whatever divides us is less matter than our fastening gravity.

5 Things to be Grateful For in West Hartford, July Edition

√ I’m grateful that Max’s Oyster Bar (one of my favorite restaurants, alongside a couple in Ithaca, NY — Maxies Supper Club and Just a Taste) serves Unibroe beer. One night I was there with my wife and I even scored some Maudite (one of my favorites, and a hard find around here). Max’s — you rock. And you will continue to rock as long as you keep serving brews from Unibroe.

√ The animals at Westmoor Park. When you pull into Westmoor Park there’s a “No Dog” sign (a circled dog head with a line through it). And usually that would piss me off. But, at the same time, I know that, if I let my dog out of the car, she would eat the chickens. In fact, it’s likely that my dog would try to eat all of the other animals, too (we’re not starving her and she’s a sweet dog — but she’s a dog). That I can look at that sign and not be irritated — knowing that we have a place like Westmoor for our kids (and our adults) — how great is that?

√ We may all be pissed off at each other, but we’re very civic minded about our dogs. When I walk my dog (who is old and no so dog-friendly anymore,) 9 out of 10 people I encounter have their dog leashed. You rock, dog leashing folks of West Hartford.

√ I’m grateful for the house coffee at 59ers in the Center. I could live on this stuff. Dunno what you’re brewing, but you’re brewing the best cup of coffee this side of anywhere. You folks also rock (in a “daily bread” sort of way).

√ We occupy space with the full force of our violence. And yet, presupposing our weight, each of us, in so many moments, gives way, not socially or in material, but of our minds, as though discreetly alerted to a passing occupation. We just won’t admit it.

Such that:

I make way and you fasten yourself to that emptiness.

________

See what I mean? I’m just a bit … dragged out by it all.

So, make the 60,000 of us whole and tell us what you’re grateful for this July, West Hartford.

(And if you mention the budget in this thread, you’re going in the spam filter with the rest of the porn …)

Posted in Abstract Babble, gratitude, West Hartford | Tagged: , , | 7 Comments »

The Taxman Came, And He Billed Me in Ethics

Posted by whforums on July 16, 2008

So, like the rest of you, I got my tax bill this past weekend. 2 cars and one house later, we’re feeling the pinch. We’ve got an ’03 Corrola (which seems to me to be taxed reasonably) and ’07 Prius (which is taxed at an out-of-this-world rate) and an oldish, smallish house (we’re raised ranch people, not McMansion people), which I also think is taxed pretty reasonably. If you’re living in more house than you can afford, or if you’re living in a house you can just barely afford, or if you’ve recently experienced a significant drop in income, I can see how these property taxes could really push you to the brink.

I guess I’m just sort of conflicted about our current situation, West Hartford. When I look at the national sub-prime fiasco – the over-valuation of homes and the predatory lending –there’s an undeniable voice (a cynical, nasty voice I don’t like very much) in the back of my head that says “If you can’t afford the taxes on your house, you shouldn’t have bought the damn house.” But I also recognize that tax rates are literally forcing long-standing residents out of our town, that a house that was once affordable for a family or couple no longer is. And of course by living in a place for a long time – whether it’s a home or a town – you take ownership over that place (it becomes yours, in deed and idea). That taxes (alongside ARMs and crashing portfolios) are forcing some folks out of town is a shame – while my wife and I are living within our means at the moment (as soon as I write that the image of the tax bill for the Prius floats before my eyes), it’s certainly true that, across the crooked, potholed roads of our lives, our means (and our taxes) will always be in flux.

Here’s a confession: I grew up in West Hartford, and when I was 18, I took off and said I “I’m never coming back.” As far as I was concerned West Hartford was snobby and stuck-up – a town where the only thing more difficult than starting a conversation was finding a way not to be judged. I came back to West Hartford 3 years ago (after 10 years away – it’s a long, non-bloggy kind of story) and found a town that, via the services it provides, really does try its best to take care of its residents. And beyond our diversity – which is probably our town’s greatest strength (as much as some love to tout our bond rating) – it’s really our services that make West Hartford a wonderful place to live (and to raise kids). We have 6 wonderful parks (and, incidentally, 6 pools), we have responsible police (and, I might add, a day-to-day safety we take for granted), we have a great fire department, lights-out teachers, three great public libraries (with great librarians) and two senior centers. In other words, we complain a lot, but, most days, I feel like we’re getting our money’s worth.

And I could easily end this post with that optimistic feeling. I mean, it’s genuine. I could write:
“So, like anybody else, while I’m writing checks to the town this month, I’m not going to be very happy (I’m cheap, ok – I’m one of those “add water to the ketchup to get all of it out” people. I use a bar of soap to its molecular level). At the same time, the taxes we pay aren’t just taxes … they’re fees for services rendered. And while we can certainly have an argument about whether the cliché “you get what you pay for” applies to government spending, when I look at my total half-assessment on my property taxes (there’s that Prius bill again, floating behind my eyes), I still feel like, in West Hartford, I’m getting good value for my money.”

And you know what? I really believe that.

But it’s romanticism all the same, and a kind of romanticism I can only allow myself to believe so far. And while I love West Hartford, and while I’m currently able to pay my taxes and take advantage of town services, I can’t ignore the fact that not everyone is so fortunate. And so, looking at my tax bills, I’m left with a simple, but I think difficult, ethical question:

To what degree are you and I responsible to help those who find themselves being priced out of town (whether through their own poor planning or through unpredictable financial circumstances), and, if we are responsible (we are all responsible for our neighbors, yes?), what on earth do we do about it? Where do we draw the line between the services that make our town a wonderful place to live and the ethical compulsion to make sure that those who want to live here can live here?

More simply: My taxes? They’re not too high. They’re fine. But Willy Loman’s long standing point resounds today as much as it did in 1949; “You can’t eat the orange and throw the peel away …”

Posted in Abstract Babble, Ethics, Taxes, West Hartford | Tagged: , , | 3 Comments »

West Hartford’s Emergent Identity

Posted by whforums on July 8, 2008

I think that, if you asked a random sampling of West Hartford residents what other towns West Hartford should compare itself to (in terms of education and other public services), the answer would probably be “Avon (who I think we’re taking to the referenda dance), Farmington (who also had two referenda) and Simsbury.” Our self-conception has been (and I think largely still is) suburban. Yet in the past two days I’ve seen West Hartford compared to very different towns and cities.

In making a brief but suggestive argument for regionalization, Hartford Magazine grouped West Hartford with Hartford, East Hartford, Bloomfield and Wethersfield.

On the Bristol Blog, the town of Bristol says it’s stepping away from its usual band of brothers – Middletown, East Hartford and Norwich, to compare itself to West Hartford (who it compared to Southington). If West Hartford still assumes the prior comparisons for Bristol, we find ourselves in context with Middletown and, once again, East Hartford.

SAT scores from the past 5 years (found on the state’s site) suggest West Hartford’s best “test score comparisons” (I more than willingly grant that test scores are a poor measure of educational quality) are RHAM (Hebron/Andover/Malborough), Canton, and Bolton (with excellent average test scores, but still scores that are well behind those in Avon, Simsbury and Farmington). But these – RHAM, Canton and Bolton — are all more rural areas, with a different set of strengths and a different set of problems than West Hartford.

So, that’s a long way of asking – where are we at, West Hartford? We know who we’ve been, and we know our “reputation,” but who are we today, and who are we becoming? And what other towns, going forward, do we fairly compare ourselves with?

I’d start the conversation this way: West Hartford remains a generally wealthy — but extraordinarily stratified — suburb, situated to maintain if not regain its reputation for education, especially as gas prices rise and people look to move closer Hartford. I’d compare it most closely to Glastonbury (which, incidentally, seems entirely devoid of blogs) — a suburb with a reputation for good schools and good eats that also deals with issues of economic stratification.

Posted in Abstract Babble, Test Scores | Tagged: , , | 4 Comments »

Happy 4th of July, West Hartford

Posted by whforums on July 4, 2008

I was in China earlier this month — a beautiful, smoggy, congested country (incidentally, I’m also congested, but that’s because of the plane, not China) with a strange relationship to its emergent capitalism (or, as they call it, “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics”). The people, especially in the cities, are caught between two worlds — the freedom and independence the marketplace seems to promise and the absolute adherence to policy the government demands. In his book China Road, Rob Gifford sums this up by quoting messages flashing across a jumbotron in Shanghai:

“Sexual equality is a basic policy of our country.
Eat dove chocolate.”

Obviously, not all governmental policies are so fair, but there’s certainly no room for discussion if you think a policy is unfair. Returning to the states, I was left with a certain wonder — not just at our ideals as a nation, but at how often we manage to live up to those ideals. As much as we may despise our nation’s shortcomings — those places and times where/when our actions don’t meet our ideals — the good fortune we find in relatively free, clean and safe West Hartford — the good fortune we find in our discussion and bickering — is nothing short of historically remarkable. We may not agree about the budget, we may not agree about Slifka or Visconti, but the freedom to disagree that’s hard-wired into our government — the freedom to stand up and dissent — what a beautiful common ground on which to plant our mutual flags.

A teacher/mentor once told me: “It’s easy to be cynical. Everybody today is cynical. To be grateful, that takes work.” Through the fog of my own mind, today I’m going to kick back, have a bit of moonshine (despite my congestion, and maybe to thicken the fog) and do something that, for most people in my generation (maybe for everyone) doesn’t come so easy — I’m going to look around, I’m going to try to create some sort of slow-time, and I’m going to be grateful.

Cheers, West Hartford, with a spirit independent.

Posted in Abstract Babble, Local Democracy, Nostlagia, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Same Craptastic Blog, New Craptastic Look

Posted by whforums on July 3, 2008

A few changes here in a vague attempt to reflect hopes for what this place can become as it slowly grows.

As the URL suggests, the hope is that this website becomes more of a forum than a blog (more of a place filled with the voices of many than the voices of a few — a democracy rather than a series of edicts). That said, a blog seems to fly in the face of these hopes — where I’d like to see a town green, right now the site is a (slightly-behind-the-times) town crier. By changing WordPress skins, whforums can now display links along the sides of the site. More importantly, you can now also see all recent comments via a “Recent Comments Widget” installed within the WordPress skin. This should save you from having to open each page to see if anyone has posted anything new. Hopefully, this will also encourage more conversation and interaction — not so much in response to what whforums says, but more in response to what each of you is saying.

More changes are coming this summer, some significant, as this site tries to find its own voice (the acoustics of the green) while giving voice to each member of its community (the chatter of democracy). Until such changes can be made, whforums remains open to blog posts (front page posts) from everyone — email posts or ideas to whforums@gmail.com. For now, we’ll make due with this “rough draft” of whforums — where we can bicker about budgets (bickering about “Greenspace” coming soon!) while still celebrating the place and time we share.


Posted in About, Abstract Babble | Leave a Comment »

I’d Trade Price Rite for The Elm

Posted by whforums on June 26, 2008

There’s been a lot of buzz lately about Elmwood’s “revival” in media large (like the New York Times) and small (like West Hartford Life — I’d link you there, but their website has no … content). I wonder, though, how much Elmwood is actually being “revived” and how much it needed “revival” in the first place (as an area, it hardly needs(ed) an EMT). It’s not that new condos (are condos the same as neighborhoods? Yes but No) and a couple of grocery stores aren’t good things, it’s just that it makes the “revival” seem much more abstractly corporate than deliberately local. Who’s getting the benefit here — Elmwood, or Stop and Shop? I’m not sure it’s as symbiotic as we might like to think.

It may very well be that I just can’t get over the fact that there’s a Walgreens in The Elm. Yet it’s hard to escape the thought that throughout this development and “revival” we see more and more businesses in the community, but not necessarily more and more businesses of the community.

Yeah. It’s probably just that I miss The Elm …

Posted in Abstract Babble, Elmwood, Nostlagia | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

“Celebrate! West Hartford,” Democracy and Budgets

Posted by whforums on June 16, 2008

Checked out “Celebrate” this weekend and I was struck by the non-profit booths — how the “Yes” people were directly beside the “No” people and also directly beside the registrar of voters. It was really a nice metaphor for our democracy — citizens hawking lawn signs and information about their causes — but situated in such a way, beside the registrar, that they were no more important than the idea of democracy itself — the spirit of democracy. My concern, though, is that our local democracy doesn’t expand much beyond that metaphor or spirit — that as citizens (and citizen-councilpeople) we’re fundamentally not talking to one another, listening to one another, or engaging and examining each other’s ideas in any sort of meaningful way (that all is spam and noise, and the other side of the argument inadmissible). I might be describing my own limited experience, but our conversations too often don’t seem to go much beyond our lawns.

But I also was left with a more grounded, lingering question — who on earth pays for “Celebrate! West Hartford”? I assumed it was paid for by sponsors, but to what degree? How much does the town kick in? So I did some poking around and found this report (it’s a PDF — only click if you want to download it!) from Leisure Services in 2006 that says on page 44 (emphasis mine):

“This event has usually generated a profit. This is largely due to the fact that the majority of the revenue is received in advance of the weekend, in the form of sponsorships from local businesses and individuals, and expenses are budgeted according to the available funds. Since it is an outdoor event, there is a relationship between the weather and attendance. As attendance increases, so does the profit …”

Budgeting expenses according to available funds and still having money left over? This seems startlingly reasonable. And while I think it’s difficult — if not impossible — for a local government to do this in an era of widespread inflation, I would also appreciate a more transparent, line-item budget (if there is one, please, someone link me there) that would allow those critical of our current tax situation to argue for real cuts. This type of conversation might even help make more real that visible metaphor from “Celebrate!” — “Yes” and “No” speaking beyond rhetoric and ideology in a critical dialog that reflects the best interests of this place and time we share.

Posted in Abstract Babble, Budget, Local Democracy | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »