Thursday, February 4, 2010

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Waterbury A Lifetime Ago

We may get a sense of Waterbury's past by looking at pictures or personal accounts or reading old newspapers but surprisingly enough there is a book on the subject by Jeremy J Joyell (A Lifetime Ago: Before The Death Of Childhood, iUniverse $17.95).

Born in Waterbury in 1942, Joyell recounts his early years living on Wood Street attending Walsh and then Bunker Hill grammar schools. Through Joyell we learn the life of a simple family in the 1950's growing up in a small apartment where the father worked in a brass factory and the mother stayed home. Relatives lived in the same neighborhood in some instances for many years. Eventually his family moved to a more suburban setting on Wayland Street in the Bunker Hill section.

Joyell's first day of school was in 1947 when he was dressed in a sailors suit hand made by a relative "authentic in every detail down to my cheif petty officer's insignia" walking with his mother and brother in a baby carriage down Dikeman Street then to Walsh. Joyell's first experience with moving pictures was watching Pinocchio at the Carroll Theater on North Square. His hair was cut by Pat Travisano on East Farms Street at Pat's Barbershop "a spittoon sat in one corner, presumably for the tough old Italians who smoked Perotti cigars..." on Cherry Street was a twenty foot high milk bottle in front of Warden's Diary. And as Joyell tells it:

On summer days, horses drank deeply from the, Carrie Weltons fountain which was designed specifically for the horse traffic of an earlier day. Handsomely dressed men and women walked quickly from store to store on Bank Street in search of fine clothing and jewelry. Downtown employees grabbed last minute grocery's at Mohegan Market, which opened onto the street much like an open-air bazaar in foreign countries.

One day Joyell and his friends decided to walk downtown to sneak into a theater and watch a movie. As he tells the story there were four theater's to choose from and they picked the Palace.
Distracting the the lady at the ticket counter they were able to sneak in where they watched a movie about Billy The Kid. Joyell managed to get caught by the usher and was thrown out finding himself alone. Walking home through East Main past Crosby High School (now the police station) up Cherry then Camp then Orange, he became lost only to eventually find his bearings and arrive home late. The streets are familiar yet with different people and society. To pull off such a stunt Joyell couldn't have been more then 10 years old. (note: the author of this review had pulled a similar stunt at about the same age only to get really really lost in Time Square).

In Bunker Hill his new street on Wayland Avenue was occupied by doctors and executives and beyond that were mostly untouched woods for miles. This was his new world of Valentine, Woodruff, Circuit and Adalaide. Joyell played Little League at a place called Mert Conner Stadium which had a press box, club house and and outfield fence with local advertisements. Joyell doesn't mention the location of the stadium only that it was lost forever during the flood of 1955 along with his birth certificate located in a file somewhere in the complex. Little League doesn't exist in Waterbury anymore but at that time it shouldn't have either because as Joyell explains for a town of 100,000 plus there were only 8 teams which was a violation of Little League rules. As for the flood he recalls going down Bunker Hill Avenue and right at the bottom is where the Naugatuck river started. If that's the case the river indeed over ran it's banks onto a large area. There isn't much said on matter in Joyell's book but if the river came up to Bunker Hill Avenue then there is no wonder there was such devastation.

To read about the life and times of a place so familiar is a fascinating treat. There's nothing like a book to bring us to a place, in this case Waterbury, to allow us to peak into the past in ways that pictures cannot. What Joyell refers to in the sub-title "Before The Death Of Childhood" are changes in the school ciriculum which are substantial and not for the better (Joyell went on to become a teacher in Bristol) and other familiar differences that aren't news such as video games, obesity, over sexed culture, MTV etc. There isn't too much analysis on this just a juxtaposition from time to time. Just why we are the way we are now comes from something, whatever it was, back then whether it was the expansion of media, affluence, the near isolation of children from society as a whole with homes sprouting up in increasing isolated areas. His life on Wood Street was much different then Wayland Street neither for the worse nor better. If Joyell's intent was a sociological focus on why childhood doesn't past the muster of yesteryear he is quick to explain what is different but hardly why it became that way.

A Lifetime Ago will be enjoyed by many in this area for what it is. A postcard from Waterbury's past with people living in a different way. That it was the intent of the author is of no matter.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Truth And Consequences, Keith Olbermann

Keith Olbermann is a former sports anchorman for ESPN hosting the popular news program Sportscenter with Dan Patrick. Probably the most watched sports news program in all of cable thanks for the most part by these two. Sadly he's moved onto other areas of television journalism hosting a political talk show on MSNBC oddly named Countdown with Keith Olbermann. Why the name is odd is that there really is not count-downing of anything despite the frequent show of numbers blinking on the screen in fast succession between breaks. Sad because the format is a series of news stories with Olbermanns views mixed in which are mostly anti-Bush, anti-war or anything bad Republican. We expect talk shows to be opinionated that's not the problem but Olbermann clearly has an axe to grind with Bush and he won't let go. Another reason the program suffers is there are no interviews with anyone who disagrees with him. Bill O'Reilly who hosts the far more successful program The O'Reilly Factor which airs at the same time, at least has guests of differing viewpoints which makes for lively discussion and thus a far more dynamic show. In a display of cheap sour grapes O"Reilly and the network he works for is a frequent target of much of Olbermanns vitriol.

At times Obermann will end his program with "special comments" which he is very proud of. So much so that he's collected them all and put them in book form (Truth and Consequences: Special Comments On The Bush Administrations War On American Values. Random House $24.95). Now just to dispel the appearance of negative critique simply because the author of this review just doesn't like liberal views, Al Frankin who is a liberal writes books of this type and are far more enjoyable funny with cogent analysis and criticism. Al Frankin pulls it off, Olbermann doesn't. Chris Mattews, another liberal, host a program on MSNBC that is very engaging and thoughtful. Olbermann by contrast is an embarrassment.

The sole focus of the book is the deviant or incompetent nature of president Bush ("Mr. Bush" to Olbermann) and the war on Iraq. Olbermann stance is that the war is fought for no good reason by a president who lied to get us into it and in the meantime is taking away the constitiutional rights of American citizens and if you don't agree with this Bush and his minions think you're a traitor. So a war is fought lives are lost all for no good reason what so ever. What's missing here is what is the reason we are in Iraq. Bush lied, but what is the truth Olbermann thinks Bush is trying to hide? It's not enough to say it's all for nothing because at least he must think that Bush doesn't think its for nothing and that in the president's mind there must be some reason to go to war, or is Bush a war monger? The closest he comes to an explanation is when Olbermann rants on about the evils of Republicans:

The protection of the environment is turned over to those of one political party, who will financially benefit from the rape of the environment. The protections of the constitution are turned over to those of one political party, who believe those protections unnecessary and extravagant and quaint.
The enforcement of the laws is turned over to those of one political party, who will swear beforehand that they will not enforce those laws. The choice between war and peace is turned over to those of one political party , who stand to gain vast wealth by ensuring that there is never peace, but only war

Just how Republicans gain vast wealth from the war is not explained. This is a bit over the top and if he really believes any of it its no wonder he's filled with anger. So why no different viewpoints on his show? If Olbermann thinks this is the mindset of Republicans then let him take them on, bring in the guy who says the hell with the forest lets get some shopping malls up or the guy who trashes the constitution and makes money on the war? It could be because these views don't exist and he resorts to knocking down strawman arguments to enhance the sting of his smug moral indignation. The war is all for money, please,

A case could be made against the war in Iraq, it's execution and it could be made from both parties. That Bush is a war monger who lied, who trashes freedom of speech and everyone who doesn't agree are traitors, oh and top of it all Bush and Cheney are cowards and should be impeached is taking a pathetic low road in the debate.

Olbermann didn't put himself on MSNBC NBC did. He wasn't known for politics and now they put him front and center. He is a good broadcaster and anchorman and in his own element can be humorous. This is not his venue. Just what is going on at NBC?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Ice Man, Confessions Of A Mafia Contract Killer, Philip Carlo

Richard Kulinski was born in April 1935 to Polish parents in Northern New Jersey and it was all downhill from there. Kulinski's father Stanley raised his family, if that's the word, by beating everyone in it including his wife and children. His oldest brother Florianwas beaten to death in front of Richard while his Mother did nothing about it. The beatings didn't stop with just his father, they included his mother, nuns, priest, and bullies. With his father out of the picture Kulinski reached his teenage years and by then resorted to stealing for food and then anything that didn't move. It was also the time that he had had enough of the beatings from local bullies that he decided he wasn't going to take it anymore. One night Kulinski waited for the ring leadero of the group and beat him with a stick inadvertently killing him. Kulinski at the time was reading comic books that dealt with crime and murder and learned to dispose of the body chopping off the finger tips and hammering out the victims teeth so as to hide identification then he dumped the body in a pond miles away in southern New Jersey. A hideous and prolific life of murder was born.

Philip Caro takes us through the life of Kulinski in his book The Ice Man, Confessions Of A Mafia Contract Killer (St Martin's Griffin $14.95) also into the life of Mafia inner workings especially murder. Richard Kulinski eventually became a professional contract killer for the Mafia and since he wasn't a member of just one group he became an independent contractor working for several families in New York and New Jersey. In contract murder there are four major categories one being a standard rub out where the person is shot or stabbed and just left where they died, the other making the "mark" disappear which includes burial in far away places sometimes dismemberment is necessary, the other more atrocious category is making the mark suffer. Kulinski's favorite method for this job is bounding up the victim and feeding him to rats while recording the deed for a happy customer. Another specialty which Kulinski excelled at was murder that looked like death by heart attack, for this he used a clever combination of poisons he learned while incredibly bumbing into another contract killer staking out a mark.

Kulinskis would become a star in his hit man career being tagged for very special rub-outs, the more famous were the killings of two Mafia bosses Carmine Galante and Paul Castellano. Killing a mob boss isn't something that is easy to do. All the bosses would first have to agree to it and then captains and under bosses of the boss would have to know about it. Galante's crime was heading his family full blown into the drug business, too much heat apparently, a big no no for mobdum although each were involved in the drug trade "off the record", Galante wanted the buisness "above ground" and for that he was gunned down. Paul Castellano on the other hand allowed his home in Staten Island be bugged by federal investigators without his knowledge where it was discovered that he was having an affair with the maid for all the public to see. Somehow this was an affront to mob culture, not just the carelessness of allowing listening devises be planted but the affair being conducted under the same roof where his family resided. His other offences were demanding to see each captain of his family once a week at a specific location. A danger and a nuisance because investigators could see all who worked for the organization. The process of taking Castellano out was made, arrangements were put in place and Kulinski along with two others were sprung for the job. Castellano was gunned down in front of Sparks Steak House in Manhattan thereby launching the career of the the mastermind of it all John Gotti.

As hit men go Richard Kulinski was unique. Kulinski was a mass murderer before he turned a profit. At first Kulinski would travel into the west side of Manhattan, a place with a high concentration of vagabonds. Carlo explains this is where he would earn his "doctorate" in murder killing his victims, honing different techniques and getting away with it. If he met trouble in a bar, he would murder. Give him the finger out of road rage, you were done for. After a contract Kulinski was driving home when he cut off a driver who got out of his car to confront Kulinski and his death. The same thing happened when driving through Georgia Kulinski ran across three local red necks through some driving offense, Kulinski drove into a parking lot with the three following. All three came out and approached Kulinski and were all gunned down. In all Kulinski killed over two hundred.

In the backdrop to all this was Kulinski's private life. He met his wife Barbara while working a normal job. After dating her for sometime Barbara wanted to break away. This would end up in their marriage. How so? Kulinski made an offer she couldn't refuse stating if she left him he would kill everyone in her family. Faithfully married from 1961 till his imprisonment in 1987 Kulinski fathered three children and never laid a hand on either. The same could not be said for his wife whom he beat throughout their marriage. His family never knew of his criminal life and described him as a Jekyll and Hyde character being the warmest and caring father and husband and the other of being a sheer terror who would beat his wife and destroy furniture and everything else he could get his hands on.

Although in all the hours Philp Carlo spent time working with Kulinski while in prison making this book, its a little hard to hear him say he found him "warm and considerate and very polite, in a word-a gentleman...truth is, he was a hell of a nice guy..." this was a little much. One particular incident in his career Kulinski had to prove his worth to murderous thugs and walked up to a man at random and shot him. He did the same to a person whom he asked for directions just to try out a hand held crossbow. Carlo's sentiments are not easy to take and could've spared us. He ends the book "Rest in peace Richard Leanard Kulinski". To the families of his victims there would be little agreement.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Robert Caro:Master Of The Senate The Johnson Years

Lyndon Johnson was elected to the Senate in 1949 and served there until he became vice president under John F Kennedy in 1960. His tenure in the Senate was nothing short of political brilliance. In a relatively short time Johnson was able to gain immense power and weld it in a way that changed the political landscape and dynamics of American politics forever. Why African Americans are aligned with Democrats and not with the party of Lincoln mostly stems from Johnson time in the Senate.Johnson was driven by frantic ambition. In his third biographical installment of Lyndon Johnson by Robert Caro "Master of The Senate” the reader is in the position of knowing the outcome from history but as Caro sets the scene, at odds to imagine how it all can possibly be played out.

To demonstrate Johnson’s rise as Senate leader and "Master" Caro points out that there is no one leader of the Senate as such. There are leaders of majority and minority parties and the majority leader can be seen as a de-facto leader of the Senate, but unlike the House, one person does not preside with the kind of power needed to move legislation. Committee chairmen hold that power. Senate rules of seniority prevent new comers from attaining chairman positions or seats on important committees. Johnson’s clever maneuvers enabled him to become minority leader of his party in the senate and once democrats gained seats, become senate majority leader. But senate majority leader could only set the calendar for legislation coming out of committees, Johnson changed certain rules, that to senators seemed small and innocuous but in the end made Johnson in charge of all legislation coming in and out of the chamber as well as filling positions in committee seats and their leaderships regardless of seniority. The responsibilities of the Senate rested with Johnson. Johnson had the power but his ambitions were greater than that, he needed that power to become President and though he overcame great obstacles in first becoming senator by beating a very popular candidate in Texas (actually stole the election, a tale of great drama as told in Caro's second and arguably best installment "Means of Assent") Johnson had to use that power to catapult him to the White House however civil rights stood in his way.

With elections of only a third of the senate up every 6 years the senate had been designed by the nations founders as a check of not only the other branches of government but of democratic revolts that may enact hasty legislation without clear reflection. Most of the senate would not be vulnerable to elections and thus would be impervious to popular uprisings. The Senate could take its time and reflect. But time and reflection in the 1950's was not in the interest of America with incidences of lynching of African Americans in the south, Rosa Parks, the rise of Martin Luther King and the denial of voting rights, civil rights legislation had to be enacted. Johnson’s dilemma was that the south would block all civil rights legislation and if that was thwarted Johnson would lose southern support for President. If civil rights failed then Johnson would lose the rest of the country mainly northern liberals. Since Johnson was responsible for the senate he was accountable to civil rights, America’s social and political upheaval of the century rested on him and if he wanted to fulfill his ambitions he had to reconcile two intractable sides.Johnson was faced with a seemingly insurmountable hurdle. Johnson would meet the challenge and pass the civil rights act of 1957, without it none of the subsequent civil rights bills that were passed in the 60's would ever come to fruition. Johnson was not an ideologue. How he felt about civil rights depended on whom you spoke to. Johnson had blocked civil rights in the past when the time wasn't right. To southerners who wanted one of their own as president Johnson had to convince them to hold off filibuster and to allow a weak bill to pass otherwise a stronger bill may be forced on them, to liberals Johnson was to say that the south would never allow federal control over their states and to allow enforcement in the bill with trial by jury. To each he presented himself as one of them against the other. The Senate had the votes but not enough to end filibuster by the south, there was ample opportunity to change filibuster rules so that civil rights could come to a vote and Johnson had the ability to do it, but that would not suit Johnson because he would lose southern support for president. It is at this junction that we learn of Johnson’s legendary talent. Democrats of various regions of the country had different interests. Northwestern Democrats needed southern votes for Dam projects and Johnson was able to broker their support for a jury trial amendment in the civil rights bill in exchange for support. The civil rights act of 1957 would eventually pass, a bill neither side was particularly happy with, but Johnson averted what more then likely an end of his political ambitions.

Johnson is remembered as a liberal for his actions and he may not have been. Liberalism is what was needed at the time of Johnson and it is what he delivered but only because it got Johnson one step closer in his climb to power. This is not to say that he wasn’t a liberal, as congressmen he was closely associated to New Dealers and Roosevelt, but with such forward thinking he could not be otherwise. Certainly you couldn’t become president or attain popular support as a southern conservative in the 50 or 60’s.Only when we see the intricate details of this thoroughly research book do we understand the difficulties of Johnson’s time and his extraordinary ability as a politician to persevere. Caro's biography of Johnson is filled with high drama. It is necessary to learn not only the rules of the senate but the history of the chamber to understand where it was Johnson was heading when he got there, once there we can’t fathom how Johnson would ever become the power broker we know that he would become in such a short time span but he did and in writing about it Robert Caro shows us just how remarkable a politician Lyndon Johnson was.