Author Archives: Colin McEnroe

What Rough Beast?

by Categorized: Uncategorized Date:

From grades 7 through 12, I attended a boys’ school called Kingswood. It was in the process, as I graduated, of merging with Oxford, a girls’ school.

Alumni of the school this week received an email inviting comment on a proposed “a new graphic identity for KO — a key part of a wayfinding signage system.” Let us set aside for a moment the question of whether “wayfinding” is a legitimate word in any language other than the Ideo-speak of corporate consultants, as a well as the question of whether a signage system could ever be other than “wayfinding.”

I want to talk about what’s happening to mascots. The mascot of Kingswood-Oxford is a Wyvern, which is a kind of dragon. The look of the Wyvern has always been pretty nonspecific. It doesn’t even always face the same way. But I would say it leans more Puff than Smaug. That’s what it looks like on a kid’s lacrosse jersey. And here it is on a moisture-wicking t-shirt.
Now, get ready for the proposed rebranded Wyvern.


newwyv I know! What could be more welcoming, more suggestive of fun and sportsmanship? Bear in mind that KO now accepts even 6th graders,so this would be their symbol, this murderous spawn of hell.

This, alas, is a trend.

The notion that a mascot ought to be fun and friendly is every bit as jeopardized as the subtext: that sports are about play and camaraderie, as opposed to domination and aggression.

Some of KO’s rivals do have more playful mascots. Westminster has a bird with no feet — weird, I know — called a martlet. They make funny videos about Marty the Martlet.  Loomis-Chaffee has a pelican partly because a pelican is a long-standing symbol of going-the-extra-mile to nurture. Loomis-Chaffee, like others before them, incorrectly believes that pelicans will feed their own blood to their young. Anyway, more funny videos. I would say that, in terms of its obvious lust to roast your visiting middle school soccer player with flames and then feed on her entrails, the Wyvern is in a class by itself.

But it is, as I said,  also a trend. UCONN recently took its friendly, happy husky logo and turned into something that wants to kill Liam Neeson. Maybe college is a little different (although the UCONN switch was not uncontroversial.) Could I suggest that, not merely in the case of KO but in other places where kids play games, there’s really no need to become more menacing?


This Is What It Sounds Like When The Finches Cry

by Categorized: Uncategorized Date:

You tell’em, Cersei.

Ain’t it the truth?

On Monday night, the phones of Connecticut political junkies started buzzing. The impossible had happened in Bridgeport, unless you believe — as we all apparently should — that nothing is impossible in Bridgeport.

As of this afternoon, I would have bet on Bill Finch to hold on to his mayoralty despite losing last week’s primary. I could offer up a big explanation for this, but why bother? It turns out that Finch’s plan — to have a stooge secure a place on the ballot for him — has crumbled into dust. The plan was always a little risible. The imaginary party was called the Job Creation Party, which was uncomfortably close to the truth. The candidate, who stepped aside after two days, is a used car salesman. You know you’re pushing the envelope when Joe Ganim accuses you of “making a mockery of the election process.” 

That was the Ganim who, in 2003, was convicted on 16 out of 22 counts of corruption and ended up serving seven years of his federal prison sentence. Ganim, in one of history’s less probable comebacks, beat Finch and Mary Jane Foster last week in a primary. Foster dropped out of the race earlier Monday. And then…well, presumably you’ve clicked on the links. The party missed the deadline for putting Finch on its line.

Finch has just a few options. Foster will probably get back in. He’s not getting her ballot line because she hates him. One thing about Bridgeport: nobody is in the process of sorting out his or her feelings toward anybody else. People are allies or enemies already. It would seem unlikely that either of the other holders of ballot lines — Republican Enrique Torres and Charles Coviello of the New Movement Party — would relinquish their spots to Finch, but I think we’ve learned in recent months never to say never in Bridgeport. A sitting mayor has a lot of capital to trade with — and maybe Finch especially. One of the knocks against him has been the existence of “ghost positions,” funded but not filled, in his city budgets. People have in-laws, girlfriends, cousins, high school buddies, you know?

His other option is a write-in campaign. Let us not forget the mighty Jarjura, who racked up about 8,000 write-in votes on his way to winning in 2005. However, Jar-Jar faced no adversary as formidable at Ganim, and he was able to make his campaign essentially about one thing only: how to do a write-in vote.

This, from AP:

A cable television commercial that ran 109 times a day for two weeks showed Jarjura going into the voting booth and demonstrating how to cast a write-in vote. The campaign also rented three voting machines, set them up in headquarters and bused in elderly residents for coffee and voting demonstrations.

Jar-Jar also ran in a slightly busier field. He won the general election with only 38 percent of the vote. Even with five candidates running in Bridgeport, I think the winner will need a few more points. Still, never say never.

So we have one very pissed-off finch. Scrub wren female Vocalising444

This is also a major black mark for Finch’s longtime Richelieu, Adam Wood.

There are chiefs of staff, and then there are the chiefs of staff who are disliked and feared and who are suspected of being the true intelligence behind the throne and the author of many of the throne’s most brutal power plays. Matt Hennessy was that kind of COS for Eddie Perez and, in a different way, so was Lisa Moody for Jodi Rell. I don’t know Wood, but that’s his reputation, which includes being a know-it-all. And make no mistake, this is on him. Maintenance of the Stooge Candidacy is not a job you delegate. You know there will be challenges and invocations of technicalities when the day comes for you to make your play, so you memorize all the rules and you know all the details.

Except he didn’t. The likelihood that these two men will open a bed and breakfast — The Wood and Finch? — after this debacle has to be rated very low.




Dearest Frenemy

by Categorized: Uncategorized Date:
Christopher Shinn, second from right

Christopher Shinn, second from left

In 1999, I received what was probably the most devastating email or letter of my life. It came from a stranger.

I’m interviewing that person, live, for an hour, today.

The writer of the email was enraged by something I’d written. Ironically, the thing that made him really mad had been edited into the piece by David Eggers without my foreknowledge. Beyond that, however, lay a craggy jigsawed coastline of longstanding contempt. Nothing new there. Animadversion is written into my life contract. But this writer was a playwright with a special gift for seeing into people. In his denunciation of me, he scraped at the rawest nerves of my soul, the infected splinters of self-doubt and self-loathing that I normally reserved for 3 a.m. sessions of miserable introspection.

In the worst possible way, I felt understood.

Getting angry was’t even an option. He was, from my jaundiced perspective, too right about me. And it was clear that he had grown up in the Hartford area, smart, sensitive, aspiring. I stood in his mind for all the stifling complacency and mediocrity he had rejected. It was an odd sensation, to feel so deeply wounded and so admiring in the same moment.

I looked up his New York City number and called it. I got a machine

“Hi. This is Colin McEnroe. I got your email. What did I ever do to you?”

Within 24 hours, I got a second email. “Imagine my loathing when I heard your voice …” it began.

I think I giggled then. I giggle now. I have been deeply hated by simpletons, but this was my first experience of being despised by somebody estimable. It was kind of thrilling. By then I had looked him up. He truly was an emerging, significant young playwright. He was, as he pointed out to me, welcome in the kinds of New York literary salons I probably dreamed of visiting. I was, he implied, the sarcastic nobody leaning against the gymnasium wall, making fun of the classmates dancing. He and Dale Peck, by contrast, were tripping the light fantastic on the sidewalks of New York.

What really bugged him was a joke about Dale Peck in my piece. The original joke had been about David Foster Wallace. (But it wasn’t really a joke about Wallace. It was a joke about how Michiko Kakutani might feel about Wallace.) I assumed Eggers changed the joke out of friendship with Wallace, although in retrospect he may also have been feeling protective. Wallace allegedly wept for a whole day over one paragraph in a not-all-that-negative Kakutani review of his first book. I didn’t like the choice of Peck who was a little too obscure and way too easy a target. (Hating on Peck had become an industry among certain New York cognoscenti.) As the kid leaning against the gym wall, the only shred of honor I could cling to involved making jokes about the school’s star quarterback (Wallace), not some lesser divinity. Anyway, there was no point in complaining because by that time the piece really had become a cult phenomenon. I read in one magazine that “Colin McEnroe” might be an Eggers nom de plume, because really, how plausible was it that some nobody had written this? (Which kind of drives home one of the points of my emailer.)

I get why that joke, specifically, bothered Christopher Shinn so much. He felt privileged to know and befriend Dale Peck. And now this vacuous and forgettable annoyance from his hometown, a Ron Burgundy with Ivy League pretensions, had rabbit-punched him. I would point out, in a puny caviling way, that one of the virtues of being a small town nobody is that you CAN make jokes about giants like Wallace without worrying that you’ll run into them somewhere. Terry Gross recently asked John Oliver if it would be awkward to be at a party with Sting, whom Oliver had casually and hilariously stung. Oliver said the whole point, in his profession, was never to be at a party with Sting.

I wish I had the emails. I saved them for a long time. They were really great, and I have watched Shinn’s rise with an enjoyment fueled by being a very minor Aguecheekian character in his Dramatis Personae. Once, when I was still on WTIC, where takedowns of me were a huge hit with the audience, I tried through an intermediary to get him to be on the show and speak to me as he had in the emails. It didn’t happen. One day he friended me on Facebook. “I thought you hated my guts,” I wrote back. That was ages ago, he replied.

And it was. Especially for him. He almost died in the intervening years. And he solidified his position as playwright to be reckoned with. He’s back in Hartford, rocking Yard Goats regalia and pretty clearly enjoying his visits to old haunts. I am one of those haunts, and today, he will visit me.

The Good Cop

by Categorized: Deep thoughts, etc., Politix, Uncategorized Date:

Pope Francis Photo 2
It’s kind of hilarious watching people, including Connecticut’s pols, gear up for the U.S. visit of Pope Francis, the greatest pope of my lifetime, maybe the greatest pope ever.

Note to Eizabeth Esty. It is a double mistake to say: “I am a deep person of faith.” First of all, I think you mean, “I am a person of deep faith.” Second of all, that is the kind of thing persons of genuine deep faith do not compelled to announce about themselves. Consider the exhortation of Jesus in Matthew 6:5.  When politicians start trotting their faith around like a show horse, asking them to explain what they mean in detail is not a gotcha question.

What’s more interesting is the way in which Pope Francis stands in explicit and implicit moral opposition to so many things that are wrong in the U.S. and with the U.S.  I am reminded of Lenny Bruce’s famous routine in which Jesus and Moses show up at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York.

Christ says to Moses, “My visit took me to Spanish Harlem where there were forty Puerto Ricans living in one room. What were they doing there when this man”—Lenny pointed to the Cardinal—”has a ring on worth $10,000?”

American bishops, get ready for some questions about how you live — and not just in terms of opulence. Do you live as though you took climate change seriously? Because Francis does.

All Americans should get ready. Francis is — in the best possible way — a Marxist. From the Times:

“I think what he criticizes in the U.S. is the absolute freedom and autonomy of the market,” said the Rev. Juan Carlos Scannone, a professor emeritus of philosophy at Colegio Máximo, a prominent Jesuit college near Buenos Aires. He taught the young Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who would become Francis, as a seminarian and became a friend. “We should admire the U.S.’s democracy and the well-being of its people, but what Bergoglio would criticize is the consumerism: that everything is geared toward consumerism.”

Francis has long been troubled by what some Argentines of his generation call “savage capitalism.” They see the United States as the home of mining companies and agribusinesses that chew up natural resources, as the military power that propped up dictators during the Cold War and as the neighbor that tries to close its border to migrants fleeing hunger and violence.

He has every right to ask us why we’re doing so little about climate change, why our ungenerous refugee policies are so clouded by xenophobia, why we tolerate a system in which our children are 11 times more like to die by guns than their counterparts in developed economies, why we have 5 percent of the world’s population and 25 percent of its prisoners, why we use our bail system to hold poor people in jail without trial, sometimes for years…well, let’s just say he may have a whole lot of righteous and rightful questions.

So all you A-Listers lining up your tickets, try to have a few answers.



Smart Ones

by Categorized: Cap City Blues, Crime, sports, Year in Review Date:

The indispensable Kevin Brookman has secured this memo suggesting that the Yard Goats stadium building site has become a “feeding ground for burglars.” It turns out this is a literal statement.

These burglars are cheeky monkeys! They broke into the trailers and used a microwave there to heat up frozen dinners!smartones

The site had no alarms or motion lights.  How clueless would everyone have to be not to think that this particular site would face massive security challenges?

Say It’s So, Joe

by Categorized: Politix Date:

I’m not going into a lot of detail here, because it might be my column this week, but why is it so hard for truant politicians to say anything truly redemptive?

Last week, I interviewed Joe Ganim, who is running once again for mayor of Bridgeport, an office he lost in 2003 when a massive corruption scandal took him down and sent him to prison.

Producer Betsy Kaplan had told the Ganim campaign that nothing would be off limits if we did this interview, and they agreed. Ganim waited a long time to apologize for his crimes, but he did it this year on New Year’s Day.  Still, it’s one thing to apologize and another to really own what you did.  That’s what I’m always waiting for, from these guys who get caught: a moment where they really explain what they did and why.

So I pressed Ganim a number of times and in a number of ways. He began very unpromisingly with the  classic “mistakes were made” formulation. Who even tries that in 2015? After a few other feints that failed to advance the topic very much, I asked him what he tells his son about what he did. His son was traveling with him that day and seemed like a nice kid. I asked Ganim in particular how he prepares his son for avoiding the kind of mistakes he, the father, made. I got nothing.

I know that he held back partly because he worries about his opponent, incumbent mayor Bill Finch, taking the audio and editing it to make him look as bad as possible. But it felt like more than that. I didn’t get the sense that Ganim has a version of the narrative that goes: “I look back at that guy and barely recognize him as me. He’s greedy and entitled. I went to prison for seven years, and I lost everything in the process. But I deserved it for what I did. Here’s how I see things now …”

He can’t do that. Neither could John Rowland. (I always thought Rowland’s radio show would have been great if his past as a rogue and a rascal was part of the regular chatter, the way Don Imus has been taunted by his on-air confederates for years about his days and nights as an addict. Instead, Rowland insisted on being treated reverentially and addressed as “Guv,” with no mention ever of his criminal past.)

They can’t tell a story they don’t know. I’m sure Ganim thought I was hounding him. That wasn’t my intention. I was opening a door I think he needs to walk through, both as a human being and a politician trying to reacquire the trust of the voters. But I don’t think he knows the story about how he turned into a bad guy and betrayed his city. So he can’t ever really apologize for it and mean it. 






The Trump Straw Man

by Categorized: Politix, Uncategorized, Year in Review Date:

Donald Trump hair from above and behindSupporters of the Democratic Party in Connecticut received an email this week, ostensibly from new party chairman Nick Balletto. Balletto has been a pleasant surprise so far, offering up gentlemanly words upon the resignation of his opposite number Jerry Labriola and moving swiftly and sensibly to change the name of the party’s annual dinner. That makes me doubt that he had much to do with this very stupid email

Donald Trump is the classiest, most luxurious Presidential candidate of all time (just ask him).

His brand has risen him to the top of the polls, and now Trump-brand Republican candidates are running for office across Connecticut to control our towns, cities, and communities.

Add your name to help us defeat Trump-brand Republican candidates in Connecticut — we need to mount an effort starting TODAY to elect Democrats across the state >>

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want guys like Donald Trump running my city.

Sign up before midnight TONIGHT to kick these ReTRUMPlicans to the curb in November.


Nick Balletto

Setting aside its garbled English, this communication makes no sense at all. Here is a list of contestable mayor’s races. Can you spot one where a Republican candidate who resembles Trump is running? Even though I can’t claim much knowledge of many of these towns, I doubt there are any “guys like Donald Trump” in play, and if there are, the Democrats should name them instead of misting everybody with their spray bottle of bogeymen.

I’m sure there was a national memo sent out: for the immediate future, tar your Republican rivals with the stickiness of Trump, whether it makes the slightest bit of sense or not. I do understand this is politics. I do understand that the Republicans, for their part, have spent seven years slinging around the notion that Barack Obama — a Democrat who has mostly been egregiously pro-business and heart-sinkingly in the thrall of Wall Street, capitalism and big banks — is a socialist.

So nobody ought to expect fair play from either side. How about plausibility? Obama is no socialist, and Roy Zartarian, the Republican candidate for mayor of Newington, is nothing like Donald Trump. Probably. I don’t really know, but I promise to watch him carefully for signs.

Mr. Balletto, you have an office full of bros and frat boys. If you do not keep a close watch on them, they will make you look like an idiot. Maybe even a “Trump-brand” idiot. Whatever that is.


Two Stories of Linguistic Foolery

by Categorized: Politix, Words and phrases Date:

McCarthy Cohn
My day began with an annoying email, and I was not yet fully caffeinated.

Someone named Jim Macdonald wrote to “correct” the headline and perhaps other usages in today’s column.  He wrote

It’s the “Democrat” machine, not Democratic.

I am familiar with this particular form of silliness. Limbaugh does it a lot. I was not familiar with the allegation that Tailgunner Joe McCarthy invented it. The whole idea is not to let Democrats use the word “Democratic” about themselves. I tried to explain to Mr. Macdonald why this was a time-wasting argument, and he wrote back.

Since this is a republic, not a democracy, why do you want to call Democrats, democratic?    Democrat is a party, democratic is a word.
They want us to believe that they are more governmental and generic.

Sigh. Let me try again. Mr. Macdonald does not know what proper nouns and adjectives are. I considered illustrating this with his own name. Let us imagine that I believed the only proper rendering of his name was MacDonald. I would still have no right to render his name as I saw fit. His name is a proper name. It can’t be tampered with. Similarly, Democratic National Convention, Democratic Party, Democratic Town Committee are all proper names. One cannot (reasonably) change them to suit one’s purposes. The distinction, Mr. Macdonald, is not between “Democratic” and “Democrat” but between “Democratic” and “democratic.”

Also, “Democrat” is not really a viable adjective. The only reason to use it that way is to score points. Which is fine. But then don’t tell me I’ve erred by not adopting your practice.

A useful parallel might be “catholic” and “Catholic.” The first is a word with a meaning. The second is a proper noun and/or adjective. Even if I think the Roman Catholic church is not catholic, I am not not allowed to start calling it something else or twisting its form around to better suit my truth.


To prove I am nonpartisan about these matters, let me point out a faulty usage from a Democrat. The state Democratic Central Committee sent out a stupid email to rally the troops. It’s so bad that I’m going to need a separate post  to try and convict it, but one infelicitous line clanked against the (symbolic and cymbalic) eardrums. “[Trump’s] brand has risen him to the top of the polls …”

The writer — allegedly state chairman Nick Balletto but actually some tin-eared minion — has missed the rise/raise distinction. Or does not know how to conjugate “raise.” The zombies have risen from the dead, but Trump’s brand has raised him to the top of the polls, not that I would willingly write that particular sentence. Perhaps: “Trump’s steady expulsion of hot air has had the peculiar effect of making him rise in the polls.”

I hope this helps.


City of Hartford: Jedi Masters Need Not Apply

by Categorized: Politix, Uncategorized Date:

lukeIt seems likely — maybe even inevitable — that the Democratic Town Committee will endorse Luke Bronin for Mayor of Hartford tonight, and, with each new development in the story of the 2015 campaign, it becomes more and more difficult to see how the incumbent mayor Pedro Segarra can win his primary.

Even so, that has not stopped Jonathan Pelto, a blogger in eastern Connecticut, from launching an overheated attack on Bronin. You can read it here.  Some of it’s unfair. Some of it’s silly. Some of it might make a little sense under different circumstances.

The unfair part is the suggestion that Bronin has been in Hartford for only two years. By the time you click on the link that may have changed. I suggested to Pelto that he correct it. Pelto has been flyspecking Bronin’s LinkedIn listing. Bronin’s residency in Hartford has been off and on, starting with his arrival in 2005 to work on the first (and unsuccessful) Malloy gubernatorial campaign. Luke  lived in Hartford from 2006 to 2008, and then started zooming off to India, Afghanistan and D.C., doing impressive things, while his wife Sara held down the fort back here. (She has been a professor at the UConn law school since 2006 and has served on and/or chaired a whole bunch of Hartford commissions and panels during that time. She’d be a great mayor, but apparently that’s not an option.) While he worked in D.C., they were renovating their brownstone on Elm Street — a renovation for which they (well, Sara, really) won an award.  By 2012, Luke seems to have been back in town. So he’s been on site for five or so of the last ten or so years. The Bronins are a little different from you and me. They are almost dauntingly high-achievement-focused, and if some of their goals involve  commuter marriage periods, that’s OK with them.

It’s not an ideal timeline, if you believe your mayor should be a fully committed homeboy, but maybe we have to acknowledge that it’s 2015 and that some of America’s more dynamic people are a tad less sedentary.

It’s notable that the type of critique Pelto is making — that Bronin is a rich, over-qualified carpetbagger who hasn’t paid his dues and is using this office as a stepping stone — was made implicitly and explicitly by the campaigns of two of his former rivals, John Gale and Bob Killian Jr., both of whom eventually dropped out and endorsed Bronin.

UPDATE/CORRECTION: I overreached in the wording of the previous paragraph.  Neither Gale nor Killian was explicit about that. What I should have said was that supporters of both candidates tended to go after Bronin’s dilettante status, in pretty much the same language that Segarra and Cruz supporters now use. 

The fairest criticism — and it does worry me a little — is that “stepping stone” thing. You can see now New Haven really benefited from the 132-year reign of John Destefano. A forceful leader with real visions can get a lot done …if he has the time. (I realize there are downsides. Pace, Mr. Bass.) If Luke is a one-and-done mayor, Hartford’s progress will be limited. And yes, Mr. Pelto, Bronin is ambitious. They all are. They all think they’re going to be president. If you imagine that Chris Murphy has not thought carefully and on many occasions about what he will say in his First Inaugural Address, you’re kidding yourself.

What renders the whole conversation moot is that Hartford has almost no choice at all except for Bronin. Pedro Segarra has been the city’s mayor since June of 2010. He’s a nice man, but he’s a terrible manager. Managing usually boils down to two things. You have to pick the right people, and then you have to hold them to your standards. Segarra can’t do either.  The rhythm track of his five years has been dysfunction, dysfunction, dysfunction. Some problems lie with the city itself, and some lie with its government. Segarra’s time in office has seen too much of the latter. The government is, quite apart from all the ills that plague Hartford, a problem.

So, when Bronin “should” have been living in Hartford, he was working for the Treasury Department addressing the financing of terrorism or in Kabul addressing corruption?  And he’s actually downplayed some of his sterling academic credentials?

I think we can live with that.



CT’s Dumbest Secret Society: The Hartford Democrats

by Categorized: Uncategorized Date:

Tomorrow night, the Democrats of Hartford will meet to endorse a candidate for mayor. Perhaps you’d like to learn more about it from their website.

What’s that? You don’t see anything? Maybe you should click on “upcoming events.” Total blankness, you say? How about news? Isn’t there a link to news? Uh-oh.  It looks like they only ever posted one item. Five years ago!  And do make sure you click that Elected Officials link, which includes Kelvin Roldan, Marie Kirkley-Bey and Hector Robles, people who have not been in office since 2012.

That doesn’t prove they suck.  Websites are kind of old school. Maybe they use social media, like Facebook!  Say what? Nobody has posted anything there since 2013?  What a shame.

Maybe they’re on Twitter.  Could they be on Twitter?

No? I guess they’re not interested in communicating with you or suggesting that Hartford is anything other than the lazy, second-rate, incompetent, leave-it-to-somebody-else city that it needs so badly not to be.