Thursday, April 30, 2009

Greenway Meeting

There was a great meeting about the planned Naugatuck River Greenway at Kennedy HS tonight. A huge crowd turned out, and everyone seemed very enthusiastic. We broke into different groups and brainstormed ideas about what we'd like to see happen with the Greenway. There were a lot of good ideas, and we were encouraged to think as broadly as possible. As much as I like the Cheshire linear park, the possibilities for the Waterbury greenway are a million times better.

I think what I liked best was seeing so many Waterbury people come together and work together to achieve a common goal.

If you weren't at the meeting but would like to provide your input (or if you were at the meeting and have some more ideas), there is a survey to fill out on the new official website of the Waterbury Naugatuck River Greenway:

Also be sure to check out the next issue of The Observer--John Murray will be publishing a full write-up about tonight's meeting.

Saturday, April 25, 2009


On the train ride home tonight, I was chatting with a Dominican guy coming up from Long Island to visit friends in the Waterbury area. He asked me what there is to do during the day.

First question: any historic sites? No problem there, I told him to start at the Mattatuck Museum, knowing they can direct him to all the best old history stuff, and then told him to swing by the Timex Museum as well.

Second question: are there any zoos or aquariums or biking or anything like that? Ummm..... well, there's a river, and it's got a few birds and maybe some fish.... and there's some nice parks, but they're small and you kind of have to make your own fun....

Monday, April 20, 2009

Bill No. 899

Preface: I hate lies. I don't think anything makes me angrier than someone deliberately being deceitful in order to get what they want.

Over the course of the past week or so, I've been feeling that I'm oblivious to SOMETHING BIG & BAD about to happen. It started with a phone call from "FRNKCMPN" on April 15. FRNKCMPN turned out to be a robot working for the National Organization for Marriage (well, not really; Googling suggests that FRNKCMPN is a telemarketing company located in Washington, D.C. which contracts out to organizations wanting to skirt around the Do Not Call lists by masking their agendas as "surveys").

The FRNKCMPN robot, on behalf of NOM, asked me a somewhat convoluted question about marriage between one man and one woman, and spoke the question so quickly that I barely had time to understand it. The question was phrased in such a way that I instinctively knew the correct answer was "yes" and instinctively felt inclined to give the "correct" answer. [I've spent 10 years writing test questions--I know very well that questions can be phrased in such a way.] I answered "no" even though I wasn't 100% sure that's what I meant. Anyone who is conducting a survey with questions designed to elicit only one response will never gain my support. Their dishonesty and deviousness instantly discredits them.

The phone call from FRNKCMPN left me feeling slightly unsettled. Why was someone conducting a survey with a political agenda that seemed almost guaranteed to get their desired results? I dismissed it, but the unsettled feeling re-emerged days later when I spotted this full-page advertisement in the Republican-American:

It's a very clever ad. My first response was to think it was for something pleasant. Then I read the second line and became instantly concerned that there was indeed something very bad about to happen. Which of my rights was about to be taken away and how?? According to the ad's text, a bill I've never heard of before will deny my religious rights, force the schools to teach gay marriage, force parents to teach gay marriage, punish church groups and shut down businesses. Boy is that scary! SOMETHING BIG & BAD is about to happen!

Fortunately, I've spent most of my life developing and exercising critical-thinking skills (something they don't seem to teach in the schools anymore). The lavish advertisement is clearly a fear-mongering variety, providing very few facts while preying on emotions. So I dismissed it. When it appeared again the next day, I dismissed it again, although briefly wondered if I should write something in opposition to it. On Monday, a new full-page ad started. I stopped to read it, because it looked like it might be challenging the "truthiness" of the previous ad:

This ad has the same agenda as the first, but appears to be present a sound argument: "Bill 899 provides no significant protection for First Amendment religious freedoms. It does not recognize the fundamental right--found in both the U.S. and Connecticut Constitutions--of churches, religious groups, and individuals to act in accordance with their sincerely held religious beliefs." Like the first ad, this one urges the reader to tell state senators and representatives to vote NO on Bill 899. Both ads offer the general 800 numbers for state senators and representatives and also direct the reader to a "convenient" form to fill out at

This is when I decided to do research. My primary questions: is Bill 899 really unConstitutional? what exactly does Bill 899 say?

I had a few other questions as well: if they're worried about gay marriage being taught in the schools, does that mean straight marriage is currently being taught and, if so, what course is it taught in? Home Ec? Legal stuff everyone should know about before they are legally an adult? Is there even a course for Legal Stuff?

I don't like the idea of any type of marriage being "taught" in the schools. I can just imagine some chauvinist instructor telling all the little girls that they should focus on developing the right skills to be good wives, barefoot & pregnant in the kitchen, while telling the little boys that they have a duty and an obligation to work high-paying jobs no matter how unhappy they are, and that they should expect women to serve them in all things. I know I'm being overly dramatic and extreme, but there really are people who would teach this version of marriage. Come to think of it, how would a school decide on a curriculum for a course on marriage? No two marriages are the same, and it's up to the married couple to sort out how their marriage works.

I visited to see what they had to say. Mostly they seem to think that Bill 899 is going to force everyone in Connecticut to be gay, or that gays will become more powerful than straights. They provide easy access to a page that very easily lets you protest the bill via a pre-written message. You can "customize" the message by adding four optional reasons to be against the bill. You are not allowed to make any changes to the pre-written text (darn!).

While presents you with many reasons to be afraid of Bill 899, nowhere does it include any portion of the actual bill [CORRECTION (4/22): There is a link to the bill, in small print. Was it there before and I just didn't see it?]. They do provide a link to the Connecticut General Assembly website, but they do not provide a link to the bill itself, which is available online. As far as I'm concerned, the fact that ActNowCT is campaigning against the bill without quoting or referencing any actual text from the bill destroys any credibility they might have had. How can anyone be opposed to something when they don't know what it is? I hope that any state senator or representative receiving an email through the ActNowCT website will immediately dismiss it, since the odds are good that the sender has no idea what is actually in Bill 899.

Thanks to Google, I was able to find a copy of Bill 899 in less than 20 seconds. It is available online for anyone to review at

My reading of the bill shows nothing that I would consider unConstitutional. I also see nothing about forcing schools or parents to teach gay marriage. It looks like they're just changing the language of existing marriage legislation so as to no longer exclude same-sex couples. Despite ActNowCT's claims, this does not make gays a privileged class. It extends to them a legal right that they have been excluded from. That's a far cry from taking away religious rights. This is a legal right, not a religious right. There's a huge difference.

As far as religious rights are concerned, they look pretty well-protected to me:

Sec. 7. (NEW) (Effective from passage) No member of the clergy authorized to join persons in marriage pursuant to section 46b-22 of the general statutes shall be required to solemnize any marriage in violation of his or her right to the free exercise of religion guaranteed by the first amendment to the United States Constitution or section 3 of article first of the Constitution of the state.

I guess that SOMETHING BIG & BAD really does exist, but it's not Bill 899. It's the fear-mongering propagandists who use devious, underhanded tricks to get what they want. I wish I could tell you who those propagandists are, but on the ActNowCT website, they simply call themselves "concerned Connecticut citizens", with no way to figure out who exactly they are, which makes them seem even less credible. (Yes, I know I write under a pseudonym, but follow the links and you can figure out who I am in two clicks or less.)

Thanks to the magic of the internet, we all have access to factual information. Unfortunately, many of us never think to look for the facts. Think of all the emails floating around that have been discredited by Snopes, but still get forwarded and are trusted by their recipients. As Barnum's competitor David Hannum said "there's a sucker born every minute" (unless, of course, the internet is lying and Barnum really was the one who said it... in which case I just got suckered again.)

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Naugatuck River Greenway Kick-Off

Waterbury Naugatuck River Greenway Public Kick-Off and Visioning Meeting
Thursday, April 30, 6-8 p.m. at Kennedy High School

This is something I am very excited about. For years I've been driving all the way over to Cheshire in order to go for a good, safe-from-cars, bicycle ride or to attempt to use my rollerblades. It would be fantastic if we could build a greenway here in Waterbury. Potentially, it could eventually run from Torrington to Derby.

The Farmington Canal Linear Park in Cheshire has been open for several years and keeps getting longer. It's currently a little over 10 miles in length, most of which is flat, and has mile markers set up at regular intervals, making it perfect for cyclists, bladers and joggers. It's also good for families, the elderly, and dog walkers--anyone who wants to get outside and enjoy nature.

The greenway in Cheshire--the proposed Waterbury greenway would have the advantage of the Naugatuck River for kayakers and canoers.

Here in Waterbury, a study is underway to determine a feasible route for the greenway and receive public input on the route and the vision of the public for the greenway. The citizen-based Greenway Advisory Committee has been working on the plans, and there is funding to perform a study that will evaluate the riverfront and choose a route for the greenway. There is also a $4 million federal grant to be used for greenway design and construction (so it's not a pipe dream, this will happen!).

The meeting on April 30 is an opportunity for all of us to provide our input and ideas about the greenway, as well as to learn more about the project.

From the promotional flyer:
What is a Greenway?
Greenways are designed to create connected networks of open space that also include more traditional parks and natural areas. This combination of greenways, parks and open spaces offer a powerful strategy for a majestic, scenic route along the river. In addition, greenways fulfill a vital need as links to places where there are no sidewalks for pedestrians or streets safe for cycling. Greenways add to our transportation choices, create places for pedestrians, cyclists, bladers, etc., provide recreation opportunities, link neighborhoods, and open up access to the river for sporting and enjoyment.

Why should we have a greenway along the Naugatuck River?
The Naugatuck River is Waterbury's primary natural resource. The Naugatuck River has been overlooked - especially when one considers the uniqueness and value of this resource in the heart of our city. Waterbury's Plan of Conservation and Development recognizes the Greenway as the principal component of an inter-connected open space plan with a multi-use recreational path that will run through Waterbury and connect to the greenways of other Valley cities and towns. The Greenway will serve as alternative "green" transportation, provide recreation opportunities for residents and visitors, improve the quality of life, increase property values adjoining the river, and retain and attract new businesses and residents.

Some related links:
Alta Planning & Design -- the company that has been chosen to assist with the project

Cheshire Greenway -- where I currently go when I want a good bicycle ride

Derby Greenway -- what the Waterbury greenway could eventually connect to

Officially Designated Connecticut Greenways

Waterbury Development Corporation

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Sounds of the Season

It's an incredibly warm day today, somewhere around 73 degrees. Yesterday was almost as warm (but much dryer, it's a little muggy today), and last night I slept with the windows open for the first time this year. During the winter and during A/C season, I rarely hear any sounds outside my house, so I find them somewhat fascinating when I do hear them.

Late at night, the dull roar of the highway is very audible--depending on atmospheric conditions, it can be extremely loud. The train whistle is also fairly loud; on a quiet night, I can hear it even with the storm windows in place.

The first thing I heard this morning, around 5am, was the cat. He had been out partying all night and was ready for breakfast and a long day's sleep in his favorite chair, so he had climbed up to the second-floor bedroom window and was talking to me through the screen.

Soon after the cat came inside, the birds all launched into their morning chorus. This is one of the first things I discovered after moving into my house almost two years ago: during the early morning hours, there is no sound except the bird song.

Once the sun is fully up, the birds quiet down. On a typical warm Saturday like today, the neighborhood is almost silent for several hours in the morning. Around 10:30 am, people start venturing out onto their porches to enjoy the warm weather and chat with friends and family (and to keep an eye on the kids at play). The street traffic starts to increase at about this same time, with the occasional stereo blasting music through open car windows mixing with the roar of motor bikes.

A little after 1pm today, the neighborhood kids who had been fishing in Fulton Park with PAL came back, sharing their excitement and enthusiasm for their morning adventure.

Later in the afternoon, someone with a great love for Slim Shady shared the album with the neighborhood, but around 3pm was drowned out by the music from the ice cream truck, which set up shop for about half an hour.

Now there's the distant buzzing of a power tool (such a summer sound!) and church bells mixing in with the sounds of cars and the buzzing of a bee outside my window.

There's always a little bit of mystery with warm weather sounds. The bells are still ringing, louder now, playing a tune I don't recognize. I have no idea which church it is. Oh well.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Transportation Center Public Hearing

The Connecticut Department of Transportation is in the process of making some important and very consequential decisions about public transportation in Waterbury. On Tuesday, April 21 there will be a public hearing regarding a proposed Transportation Center on Meadow Street. The hearing will be held at WDC, 2nd floor, Leavenworth Street, beginning at 6:30.

The state is also considering upgrades to the Waterbury train line. Judging by the primitive features of the line, I wonder if any changes have been made since the repairs following the 1955 flood. It's still a diesel engine, with only one train able to run at a time.

I now make frequent trips to NYC and have thus become very dependent upon the MetroNorth trains. There's no way I could survive driving there and back so frequently. Every so often, because there are so few trains to and from Waterbury, I drive down to Bridgeport to get on the train there. The morning drive is fine, but the return drive at night is rough, because I am so very tired. (Taking the bus is not an option for me--I get motion sickness and, besides which, they just aren't as nice as the train.)

This morning, I was very pleased to read a short news article about Obama calling for a massive upgrade of our passenger rail network. While our President is urging high-speed rail lines, the Waterbury line is still diesel. Boy are we behind the times!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Biofuel Debate

The Republican-American and The Observer have been covering a proposal for a biofuel company (Chestnut Hill BioEnergy) to open in the former Anamet factory building in the South End. The Independents, led by Larry DePillo, have been loudly protesting the plan. My initial, uneducated, response was "biofuel is bad." Over the past several years, I have read news articles insisting that biofuel is full of hidden hazards, that it ultimately costs more than it saves, that it is bad, bad, bad. I have driven through small towns plastered with signs protesting proposed biofuel factories. But before writing this blog post, I decided I had better do some research first. Here's what I learned:

First, there is more than just one type of biofuel. The really bad kind wastes land and crops to grow corn which is converted to fuel. This is a very dangerous form of biofuel which has the potential to destroy world economies and increase the rate of destruction of vital forests. The biofuel company planning to move to Waterbury is not this type of factory. They will use food garbage from grocery stores and other large-scale producers of formerly-edible waste. This is good. This is fantastic. Instead of piling up garbage in a landfill where it does nothing but stink, we convert it into energy and thereby reduce our dependency on the non-renewable energy sources. This is the future of energy, and we have the opportunity to participate in it. There might still be some issues relating to the energy needed to power the biofuel plant, but I think that is a larger issue that doesn't really impact Waterbury.

Second, while Chestnut Hill Biofuel has a past record of operating a stinky factory (in New Jersey, if I'm remembering correctly), a biofuel factory does not need to produce any odors whatsoever. In fact, I found a website ( that gives advice on how to build your own biodiesel processor, odor/fume free, in your own garage. This is an amazing concept: take your food scraps and whatever dies in the fridge, and make your own fuel. It also speaks to the potential for a biofuel factory to be a very good neighbor. If it is operating correctly, there should be no smells and no more hazard than a gas station.

Now, granted, I am not a biofuel industry expert, but I think Chestnut Hill BioEnergy is potentially a very good addition to Waterbury. They have received a $500,000 grant from the Connecticut Clean Energy Fund, which suggests that they have been carefully examined and will be inspected throughout their installation/set-up process. Careful oversight should ensure that the facility will be safe and odor-free.

There are still a few other issues that have been raised. One is the selected site within Waterbury. The former Anamet factory is on South Main Street, with access from Route 8 via Washington Avenue and from I-84 going down South Main Street. These are both fairly narrow, crowded streets, not really ideal for large trucks going to and from the factory (back in the old days, the factories all had their own railroad spurs for this purpose). The future of this area of the South End is currently in limbo: it is in desperate need of revitalization. The Loyola group has a plan to dramatically improve the quality of life for this neighborhood, but the Board of Aldermen are inexplicably reluctant to help move that plan forward, despite having already funded the earliest phase of the project. I don't know if a biofuel plant is beneficial to this neighborhood. I would like to know why this specific site within Waterbury was chosen--it is in a location that has become primarily residential, while there are other areas of the city, close by, that are primarily industrial. It would be a tremendously good thing if the city had a clear plan of improvement in place for this neighborhood, but it seems like the majority of the city leaders don't care about this neighborhood (okay, now I'm wandering off on a less-informed rant).

Another issue is "why Waterbury?" Waterbury suffers from severely low self-esteem. We're like an insecure teenager who gets invited to a party by the cool kids, but assumes that it's going to end in disaster and doesn't go (or leaves early under the mistaken belief that he/she has done something embarrassing). The state is supporting the establishment of a biofuel plant in Waterbury, and many of us automatically assume that this must be a bad thing, that the state is picking on us because they don't like us. We view our industrial facilities as liabilities, not as assets. This is a mistake. The toxic pollutants left by the past manufacturers are definite liabilities, but the facilities themselves are assets. A properly operated biofuel plant could very well prove to be a tremendous asset for Waterbury.

I think the only real questions are whether or not the former Anamet factory is the best location within Waterbury for Chestnut Hill BioEnergy, and what supervision and safeguards will be in place to ensure that the facility operates properly.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Waterbury Sportsmen's Club

Honoring Jimmy Arline, Carmen Cocchiola, Robert Dorr, Mary Mascolo

Paul Gugliotti, Humanitarian of The Year
Joseph McGrath & Paul Vance Sr, Special Recognition
Nick Coscia, Community Service
Lady Of Lourdes / Father Ferraro, Organization of The Year

Monday Evening, April 13th, 2009
6:00 P.M.
At the Aqua Turf
Donation $40:00
For tickets call E.J.Fenwick


There was a great column by Howard Fielding in yesterday's paper, addressing Sports as a second language for most Americans. Like Mr. Fielding, I am not at all fluent in Sports and am relieved that March Madness is finally over, so that my ability to understand what everyone is saying returns.

The most useful part of the column was "I had no idea who he was talking about, so I could answer only in monosyllabic grunts and mumbles. (Fortunately, we're both guys and he took that as real communication.)" Despite being a girl, I put this to use later in the day, when my neighbor (a guy) once again engaged me in a Basketball conversation. Granted, I've never been able to do much more than grunt, nod and mumble during these conversations, but this time I felt confident that these were acceptable responses. I even managed to toss in a "you can't win them all" -- an entire five-word phrase that was appropriate to the conversation!

It reminded me of a momentous occasion when I was in kindergarten and was told to sit with the first graders. They were all talking about a movie they had watched on television the night before (I believe it was King Kong). Since I wasn't allowed to watch television, I had no idea what they were talking about. Since I wanted to impress the oh-so-cool first graders, I pretended that I had watched the movie. This almost backfired when one of them asked me which part I liked best, but I repeated a description that one of them had already shared, and they were all pleased with my response.

This is essentially how I survive March Madness. I have to give a lot of credit to Facebook updates--if I read those before I leave the house, I can do a much better job of pretending to understand my neighbor's Sportstalk. All I have to do is add key words and phrases to my grunting, nodding and mumbling, and everyone is pleased with my response!

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Signs of the Season

Just as Easter is heralded by the appearance of cream eggs, the change of the seasons has its own herald. Winter is officially over and it's nearly summer. How do I know? The ice cream truck is making the rounds of the neighborhood, filling the air with its melodious music!