Author Archives: Colin McEnroe

I Know What You Did Last November

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Stasi camera via Wikimedia Commons

Stasi camera via Wikimedia Commons

Just when you thought this campaign season couldn’t sink any lower or become any more repulsive, the Connecticut Democrats have found a new crack they can slither down into.

Connecticut voters have been receiving mail pieces — three different ones to this address — in which the addressee’s pattern of showing up to vote is listed, apparently just to prove that the people sending the mail know which elections you voted in.  The most disgusting of the three — sent by the state central committee of the Connecticut Democrats — also lists two other people from your street, with data about whether they voted in the last three elections. Their names and street numbers are redacted. “While we have hidden the name and street number of your neighbors so as not to embarrass them, these are their true voting records,” says the mailing.

The tone of the mailings is chilling, like something you’d get from Stasi in East Berlin in 1967. “Who you vote for is private, but whether or not you vote is public record,” it says.

And then: “We will be reviewing these records after the election to determine whether or not you joined your neighbor in voting.” Oh you will, will you?

Two of these undeniably menacing communications came from Democratic state central. The third came from a national, Democratic-leaning group called America Votes. It’s nearly identical to the others. But here is the darkly hilarious difference: this mailer is addressed to one person but then contains the voting record of a different man, named Irving, who lives several blocks away (I looked him up). So we now know which elections Irving voted in. Someone familiar with direct mail told me this usually means there’s been a widespread address-system problem: that Irving accidentally got Tony Smith’s voting records, and Tony got Nancy Jones’s voting records and so on.

So this tactic — despicable on its face — has been made even worse through incompetence.

Imagine that you were a recently naturalized citizen or an older person who feels a little shaky and vulnerable.  How would this make you feel?

The higher-ups who signed off on this should come forward and resign immediately. It has no place in the politics of Connecticut. It’s intimidation. You know, the kind of thing we think happens somewhere else.

The Democrats may win most of their state elections this time — largely due to inadequate opponents —  but the party needs a housecleaning after this. I got tired of their bullying tactics a long time ago. I wouldn’t support their candidates in future cycles if this is who they really are.

UPDATE: This has popped up in other places.

The Week Ahead on Our Show

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Monday: The Scramble

The John Adams / Alice Goodman opera “The Death of Klinghoffer,” is provoking strong and polarized feelings from impassioned people on both sides of the Arab-Israeli conflict whose feelings differ depending through which lens they view the conflict. Does the opera romanticize terrorism or offer an empathic view of a long-oppressed people? Regardless of your view, don’t calls to shut down the play ironically wreak of the same intolerance displayed by all sides. Before we talk about this weighty subject, we spend a light-hearted half hour with Superguest Anne Helen Petersen about her new book, “Scandals of Classic Hollywood,” her serious Twitter feed and a topic or two from her great long-form articles on BuzzFeed. We’ll decide the rest on the weekend.

Tuesday: Connecticut’s Long Tobacco History

Connecticut has a rich history of cultivating tobacco – not for cigarettes – but to make cigar wrappers with the highest-quality Connecticut-grown broadleaf tobacco. While farmers in the North Central areas of our state still make cigar wrappers, growing tobacco is no longer the economic engine that once required farmers to recruit help from all over the country.  It’s hard to find someone in this part of Connecticut who didn’t work in the fields as a teenager or know someone who did. We talk to a third-generation farmer, a “Pensy-Girl” and others, including the authors of a new book featuring the tobacco barns that once stood at the center of tobacco production but that are quickly going away.

Mark Mirko Courant photo

Mark Mirko Courant photo

Wednesday: The Long Uphill Battle Running for Office As a Fringe Candidate

According to the latest Q-poll, a lot of Connecticut voters don’t like any of the candidates running in the upcoming gubernatorial election. But, they don’t have much choice in that race or any of the other state races that generally have 2 candidates – maybe 3 if we’re lucky – on the menu. People are deeply disengaged from our political process, evident in the low percentage of people who vote or bother to become familiar with the issues that affect their daily lives. To make matters worse, our elected officials and often, the media, cultivate the polarization and bickering that turn off qualified candidates whose measured voices and civil behavior get lost in the clamor. Today, we talk about the difficulties of breaking the barriers of entry into public office with several impassioned candidates who persevere against the odds in their quest for public office.

Thursday: Immortality Is Creeping Up On Us

We’re captivated by the notion of eternal life, possibly the religious sort, but also on this Earth. From Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth to modern-day anti-aging treatments and diets, we want to live longer. Today, technology is bringing us closer than ever toward extending lifespan beyond the wildest dreams of grandparents who weren’t expected to live much beyond 60.  At the turn of the 20th century, it was only 46 years. In addition, healthy living and a little help from modern medical miracles, we feel good until we die. Isn’t more better? Maybe, but amidst the constant race to live longer we don’t often stop to consider whether it will be worth it or if the earth can sustain an immortal population. Plus, you know how you tend to waste something when you have too much of it? We talk to interesting people on both ends of the spectrum.

Friday: The Nose

This week’s Nose panel brings you the latest, and sometimes, lowest news in culture.

Tobacco Story

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On Tuesday, The Colin McEnroe Show will deal with the story of Connecticut tobacco. With that in mind, here from the vaults, is a 20-year-old story by some 40-year-old writer.  All photos are Courant file photos.

All afternoon, the stiff May wind pours across the countryside around Windsorville, fluttering the apple blossoms, making dark lines in the grass, lashing the treetops. Nobody will plant tobacco on this day in mid-May.
In his station wagon, Emil Mulnite crosses the road that splits his office from his farm building. He is 86 and bent like a weed in the wind, his back curved forever into the stoop of the shade-tobacco farmer, the shape of life lived between the cloth and the soil.
That shape was, in some ways, the shape of life for miles up and down the Connecticut River when tobacco was in full flower. In 1950, tobacco was harvested from 19,000 acres in the state. This year, there will be more than 1,000 acres planted, but certainly fewer than 2,000.
With the nation embroiled in a furious, fast-paced debate over the growing and selling of cigarette tobacco, the cigar-supplying world of the Connecticut Valley seems curiously unruffled. Even last Tuesday’s fairly massive fire, which burned the Culbro Tobacco office and warehouse to the ground will not, apparently, affect the harvest by so much as a sprig of shade.
Most of the tobacco grown in the valley is, indeed, shade tobacco, a strange, finicky relative of the rough plant the Indians grew. Shade tobacco is a weed, and it grows like one. But it has to live under covers that trap the moisture it craves. And there are roughly a million things that can go wrong with it, prevent it from realizing its destiny as the unblemished golden-brown wrapper on an upscale cigar.
The cotton-cloth covers, actually, are gone. They yielded a few years back to polypropylene, which the shade farmers like because it won’t catch fire. The Fourth of July was a nervous time back in the days of cotton.TOBACCO NETTING ENT
Mulnite lives and works right where he was born, in Windsorville, a crossroads in East Windsor.
“I must have been born under a tobacco plant, because I never left one of them for very long,” he says.
Mulnite does not smoke. He never has. That is not his connection to the strange life of shade tobacco. It has more to do, he says, with the years his family spent on the land and with the way the sheer obstinacy of the shade plant mirrors his own.
Why grow a plant that requires insane amounts of labor (1,500 person-hours an acre) and equipment for its tending, that must be picked three leaves at a time, sewn together to hang upside down like green bats in a barn, cured by fire, rehumidified, fermented in warehouses and shipped to Santo Domingo for sorting and grading?
“Because you like the . . . stuff,” Mulnite says. “It’s the most challenging crop in the world.”
And not without its rewards. If everything is done right, if the leaf completes the journey from greenhouse to field to shed to warehouse to boat to island with no blemishes, with the right texture, proper veins, good golden color, if, in effect, a miracle happens, the very best of Mulnite’s crop can sell for $30 a pound. Not much else can do that and not attract the interest of the Drug Enforcement Administration.Tobacco, Windsor
Mulnite started helping his parents with the tobacco when he was 4. There is even a family story of little Emil’s being put to bed in his nightgown made from a Gold Seal flour bag, of his family’s thinking he was asleep and going back up to the barn to do more of the grueling harvest work, of little Emil’s sneaking back up to the barn with the dog to watch the work.
Mulnite’s parents, German immigrants, came to East Windsor in 1905, because his father was sick from working in a Torrington brass factory.
“He saw a doctor who told him, `You were born in the bushes; go back to the bushes and buy a farm,’ ” Mulnite says.
They did. The first year, they grew an acre of tobacco.
First was broadleaf
All through the 1800s, Connecticut farmers grew broadleaf tobacco, a less- subtle plant, for wrappers and binders (the less-subtle layer underneath the wrapper).
Shade tobacco came to Connecticut in 1900 from the East Indies island of Sumatra, which was beginning to dominate the world of cigar wrappers. The leaf had a light color, delicate texture and mild flavor that cigar lovers loved, so it seemed like a good idea to try to grow it somewhere besides Sumatra.
The artificial-shade concept had been developed in Florida in the 1890s. One history says that Connecticut experimenters tried it on one-third of an acre in Windsor in 1900, and the result was so good that farmers, in an un-Yankeeish burst of headlong passion, planted 50 acres in 1901.
The industry grew like tobacco — that is, fitfully. And woven into its life were the stories of the latest set of immigrants willing to work cheap in concentrated bursts. In succession, European immigrants, Southern blacks, Jamaicans, Puerto Ricans trooped into the fields. Today, Puerto Rican workers, often living in western Massachusetts cities such as Holyoke and Chicopee, still are the largest part of the work force.
In the 1950s disaster struck in the guise of innovation. Somebody figured out how to make a pretty good cigar wrapper by chopping tobacco scraps and odds and ends to a powder and making a paper out of it.
Homogenization, it was called. It chopped Connecticut tobacco growing, too. As demand fell, farmers found it ever more attractive to plant something else or sell their land for development. Another form of homogenization, the eruption of suburbs in the 1950s, drove that process to manic levels, so that today the valley is sprinkled with subdivisions where the names of streets sometimes call back eerily to the nearly lost past, as in “Harvest” or, more poignantly “Bent” (the area encompassed by one set of poles in a shade field).
What didn’t go to subdivisions went to corporate use. Some of the land in northwest Windsor appears to have been colonized by office buildings from outer space, lowered down on burning rockets so that they sit incongruously in the middle of flat, featureless fields.
Up to Mother Nature
Four days later, and the weather has settled into a dull rhythm of rain in the morning and clouds in the afternoon.
“You can do everything right, and Mother Nature isn’t cooperative,” sighs Kathi Martin as gray clouds roll indecisively around the sky. “We’re wanting to get the plants in the fields. There’s a relatively small window of opportunity.”
Nothing to do but sit there and feel the seedlings growing in the greenhouses, watch the Weather Channel, wait for the sun, hope the plants didn’t get so big that the transplanting hurts them.
“You get storms. It doesn’t take much. It’s very easy to blow over or twist the leaves, break the leaves.” Martin’s voice is dreamy, like a chant, like a litany of the things that can wreck you. She moves on, to hailstorms smacking the covers, to witcheries that can descend upon the leaf, with names like “pole sweat” and “frog eye.”
“It isn’t just a job. It’s your way of life,” she say. “You don’t delineate between work time and playtime.”
Martin represents the sixth generation of her family, the Browns, to grow tobacco in Windsor. She has a baby son, Pierce, who may be the seventh.
“My grandmother’s still involved in the farm. My father supported his family off this land. His brother supported his family too,” she says, fumbling to explain the bond. “I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.”
On the other hand, there are development pressures, the ever-fluctuating status of cigars themselves, the vast challenge of assembling and managing a low- paid labor force to do a job that requires skill and care.
And those clouds just won’t leave.
“We don’t know if we’re going to be doing this next year,” she says.TOBACCO THEN AND NOW
Last of the growers
There’s another reason shade farmers hang on. They’re the last. In Connecticut, there are basically 10 independent shade farmers.
Barring a reawakening of interest in tobacco by casino-rich Indians, nobody will ever go into the shade business again. Just the cost of, say, building a shed at today’s prices staggers the imagination, says Lawrence Palombo, vice president of Culbro Tobacco. Land, equipment . . . if you don’t have this stuff already, there’s no way you’d want to get it now just to coax a Sumatran plant out of the ground, both Palombo and Martin say.
It’s like a poker game in which the pot has grown too big.
“The people who are in it are the people who stayed in,” he says.
Palombo says Culbro, a division of General Cigar, will grow a little more shade tobacco this year than last. The other nine farms, which function together as the Windsor Shade Co., apparently will stand pat. One difference is that Culbro’s tobacco tends to end up on the company’s own American cigars. The Windsor Shade tobacco is more likely to be smoked by someone in England or continental Europe.
The demand for premium cigars seems to be up a little, Palombo says. A new magazine, Cigar Aficionado, has been helping to build a mystique around high- end stogies.
“And it could be that as people are smoking less cigarettes, maybe they’re having the occasional cigar,” Palombo says.
The people who grow shade tobacco know that these are strange times to make a living from such a crop. Martin says parents of Windsor teenagers sometimes seem a little perturbed by the idea of their kids’ working on a crop so demonized.
“I’m proud to grow a crop that’s such a specialty . . . and that ends up in the finest cigars,” she says.
The growers say their plant is a far cry from cigarette tobacco, but you don’t hear them condemn the cigarette industry either.
“I’m not against smoking,” says the smokeless Mulnite. He cackled watching the CEOs of the tobacco giants face Congress at the recent hearings.
“You can’t fight multibillion-dollar corporations. Our senators couldn’t touch them,” he says.
Martin doesn’t smoke cigars. Her grandfather did. He lived to be 92, she says. But that’s not even the point, she says.
“It’s just something that’s in you,” she shrugs.
In trouble now
Mulnite takes his visitor up to the greenhouse. He pulls a seedling from the flats, brings it back down to the office, puts it in a pot, adds some soil.
He goes to a can full of water and begins scooping out handfuls, placing them on the plant in a way that is oddly tender.
He hands the potted seedling to his visitor as they walk out into the strange, twirling wind.
“Now you’ve got a tobacco crop,” he says, laughing. “Now you’re in the same trouble I’m in.”

hc-glastonbury-treasures-broadl-leaf-tobacco-industry-20140815

Renee Z and the Uncanny Valley: Notes for This Week’s Nose

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Frazer Harrison / Getty Images Renee Zellweger as a 27-year-old on the verge of her big break in 1996, left, and at age 45, right.

Frazer Harrison / Getty Images
Renee Zellweger as a 27-year-old on the verge of her big break in 1996, left, and at age 45, right.

From Wikipedia:

The uncanny valley is a hypothesis in the field of human aesthetics which holds that when human features look and move almost, but not exactly, like natural human beings, it causes a response of revulsion among some human observers.

Some version of the uncanny valley phenomenon is tangled up in the national freak-out this week over actress Renee Zellweger’s post-nip&tuck coming out party. Of course, the uncanny valley usually flows in the other direction — from the artificial toward the almost-natural. Cosmetic surgery can work in reverse. We almost recognize Renee. It’s so close — but also indubitably the result of manufacture — that we are unsettled by it. I have a second — otherwise undiscovered — theory about this week’s Zellwegangst. Look at this montage of photos from the Elle event. Am I imagining it or is there, in the words of Jackson Browne, “just a trace of sorrow in her eyes?” Not in every shot, but frequently enough so that we know she knows the way she’s being looked at. And it makes us uncomfortable.

These days, it’s tough to beat Russell Brand at the raw comic commentary game:

That is but one of a series of interlinked topics this week as an all-female panel convenes on the Nose. Featured are dolphin mom Irene Papoulis, Patty Mcqueen and Carolyn Paine.

Men are hard on women. Consider this idiotnik who referred to the Wiliams brothers. Women are sometimes hard on each other. Consider Annie Lennox’s possibly ill-conceived take on Beyonce. Women sometimes exploit little women to trigger an important dialogue. Consider the pink and frilly f-bomb video. (The four of us are split up the middle about it.) And even when you’re 60, 70 or 80 you might still be contemplating the fine line between “getting men off and celebrating women.”  Oh, and does Fox News really have a “leg cam?”   Hot women from outside their ideological framework, however, should not speak up.

Our panelists today. Go ahead. Objectify them. pm ip1 cap1

En Garde!

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The road to the governor’s mansion always leads through the Garde Arts Center in New London.

It’s always the rowdiest debate crowd. It can be exceptional in other ways.

Tonight’s debate was the first to include third party guy Joe Visconti, and he did shake things up a little. I’m not sure how much it matters but Visconti probably outperformed a lot of people’s expectations. It’s a measure of how horrible this campaign has been that the guy who wants to be armed to the teeth, the guy who wants lots of bullets in case he needs to shoot people, came across as far more likable than either of his opponents.

And Visconti had some genuinely good moments, especially when talking about the state budget. He’s not honey-tongued, has a little trouble getting the subject, verb and object lined up, but he makes sense anyway.

The climate change conversation, induced by a question from my colleague Harriet Jones, was probably the headline moment. Visconti was a little hard to follow: there’s a problem, might be a mini Ice Age, human activity is part of the cause but not the human activity you think (then what, twerking?), people should read the book by this guy. Tom Foley just tanked on the question. Part of his pattern is that he often leaves you feeling you don’t know what he would do about a problem and that maybe he doesn’t either. This time he said he wasn’t sure what causes climate change but that it doesn’t matter.  Of course it does. If you don’t know the cause, how can you craft a solution? Malloy just destroyed him on this point, and Foley’s already the Roberto Duran of this debate season.

A good night for Visconti is a bad night for Foley. The numbers just work that way.

Notes for the Nose, Week of of Oct. 17

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Our Friday show, the Nose is coming near. Anti-football fella Steve Almond will join the panel for the first time, along with veterans Tracy Wu Fastenberg and James Hanley. What will we talk about? Steve just came out against high school football. But are a tiny Asian nursing mother and a gay cineaste raised in Britain the right panel for that conversation? (Actually, James has probably seen a lot of football movies. And Wu seems like she’d be pretty nifty at returning punts, if she weren’t lactating.) But maybe Steve has some stories about the current reaction to him as a creampuff enemy of America. Those we could discuss.

Photos by Chion Wolf for WNPR

Photos by Chion Wolf for WNPR

wu

Is this too petty to be on The Nose?  Martha Stewart throwing shade (I just learned that term)  on Gwyneth Paltrow? I can’t decide. It has a lot of things in it, including, yes, the preciousness of people who insist they are “consciously uncoupling” when, in fact, they are just splitting up like everybody else. And why does Martha so dislike Gwyneth? Could it be the universal truth: that we are most bothered by qualities we see in ourselves. Or, more pointedly, are we bothered when we see a younger person indulging certain qualities which, over time, we have striven to rid ourselves of?  But they still get to do it? Asking.

That’s not fair! Charlie got a fan!

Amazon must be stopped. Are you ready to go up into the hills? Wolverines!

Sorry about that. I got a little carried away.

Gamergate burst on the page one of the NYT today. It’s basically ISIS for pasty, pudgy white dudes with no dating history. Deadspin tracks its origins here. 
Oh! Speaking of pasty tech freaks, is the fashionless IT look over?

This is probably not all that talkable but I love this guy’s battle against overweening social media language. 

The Mystery of Giving

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I read this, and I think: $8 milllion for UConn soccer? Really.  Please tell me you’re also giving four million to Doctors Without Borders. Lots of people will actually go on living, instead of dying.

Of course, you can’t say that. Generosity should never be faulted. And I spend a lot of time asking people to give money to public radio, which doesn’t save lives. But you do hope people find a mix. I don’t have a lot of money to give away, but I like the seeing, at tax time, a bunch of contributions that reflect a spread of concerns.

So much major giving seems almost fetishistic. Like, really, dude? It’s great that you left $9.6 million, but did it have to be restricted to art from just one place and time? There’s so much the museum could do, with its hands untied. It could take steps to make some of the art you love a lot more relevant. It could nurture the aesthetic sensibilities of Hartford kids, who would become the kinds of people who love what you love. Dude. Please.