Wednesday, June 11, 2008

If we ever have a plan, we're screwed....

He was born in Shaker Heights OH in 1925, an Aquarius and instead of staying there to run his family's sporting goods store in Cleveland OH, he headed for the Yale School of Drama. He gained critical acclaim for his 1953 Broadway debut as Alan Seymour in William Inge's "Picnic" and Warner Bros hired him. Paul Newman, with his devestatingly blue eyes and good looks has been on his own path through life since those days.

He and his wife Joanne Woodward, who he married in January of 1958, have quietly lived their lives together in Westport CT, for the past 50 years. Today comes word that Newman has also, quietly, turned over the entire value of his ownership in Newman's Own, to charity. The transfer was completed over a two year period in 2005 and 2006 and the entire amount of his donations to Newman's Own Foundation Inc comes to approximately $120 million dollars.

"He's a fighter. He's going to keep on fighting," stated one of his close friends on Tuesday.

The tip off about Newman, 83, came with reports that had been leaked that he had been seeing an oncologist and in late May, he announced that he wouldn't direct a production of "Our Town" later this summer at the Westport Country Playhouse. His neighbor, Martha Stewart posted pictures of Newman on her Website from a recent party she hosted and they showed Newman gaunt but smiling that devilish grin of his. His friends state that Paul shouldn't be written off as dying and it may be that Newman is just making time for his own life after all these years of living publically. He had announced last year that he was retiring from acting at age 82.

Most know Paul Newman from his long history in film beginning in 1954 with the film "The Silver Chalice" and the great films, "The Hustler", "Hud", "Cool Hand Luke". "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" and "The Color of Money." His interest in auto racing began after he played an Indy-car driver in the 1969 film "Winning" and it continued throughout his life. His first victory on the track came at Thompson Motor Speedway in Thompson CT, when he drove a Lotus Elan to victory in 1972. He won SCCA's national title and top amateur honor, the President's Cup in 1976 and turned pro in 1977.

He has continued to race and became the oldest driver to win the 24 Hours of Daytona when he co-drove a Ford Mustang GTS-class to victory in 1995. In 1983, Newman and his patner, Chicago based businessman Carl Haas, bought into the open-wheel CART class cars and have sucessfully raced their Newman-Haas team there for years. Newman has slowed his racing as well as his acting career but he is still a very staunch supporter of the Champ cars style of racing over the Indy cars that split off from them in the 1990's. Their team has won six titles including two season titles in a row.

The 1980's also saw Newman founding Newman's Own Inc along with his friend, writer A E Hotchner. For several years, Hotchner and Newman had been cooking up batches of homemade salad dressing in Newman's basement and giving them out to friends when they went Christmas caroling in their Westport CT neighborhood. Their dressing was a hit with friends and became a very sought after item in the neighborhood gourmet shops.

The two of them decided to give marketing their dressings a go and invited friends over to sample the recipes and choose their favorite. They saved themselves the projected $400,000 they could have spent on test marketing and in 1982, Newman's Own put out their first product, Olive Oil & Vinegar Salad Dressing. They put Newman's picture on it as a joke and Newman decided then to give all after-tax profits away to charity, since he didn't need the money from the business.

They continued to grow and add dressings and then expanded to other products. Each year the company showed increased earnings and grossed $36 million by 1988. The next year, the company the company realized a pre-tax profit of 16 percent, about five times the 3.4 food industry average. Even with their steady groth and increasing success, they remained fully committed to charity. Newman and Hotchner would sit down each year and review the applications and split the profits between educational and charitable organizations they felt most needed assistance.

In 1988, Newman's Own founded The Hole in the Wall Gang camp in Ashford CT, which is now part of a charitable organization that operates six camps for gravely ill children. Named after the outlaw characters in "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid", they are a nonprofit residential camp for children with cancer and other serious diseases. The original camp is tucked away in the acres of woods and is much like the movie sets Newman worked on for years, from the fron it looks like a western style town with shops but behind, there are state of the art facilities that can accomodate almost any illness a child may suffer from.

In 1990, Newman's Own sponsered it's first recipe contest which required that each entry use a Newman's Own product. The top prize of $50,000 was given to the charity of the winner's choice and it was entertaining to watch Newman, Hotchner and sometimes Woodward, personally tasting all the finalist entries. As early as 1993, Newman's Own had given aid to 460 applicants, the highest number in a single year for the company.

Newman's third daughter, Nell brainstormed the idea and sold it to her father for Newman's Own Organics: The Second Generation, a divsion that would develope products that used certified organic ingredients. They have also become the focus of a course at Fairfield University School of Business in Fairfield CT and particpate with them hands-on. Teams of students are invited to brainstorm new products and plan marketing strategies for the Westport company along with the help of management, finance and marketing professors. At the end of the term, they have to report their findings and the top two teams have $2,500 to their favorite charities.

In November 1999, the announcement was made that Paul Newman had passed the $100 million dollar mark in charitable giving since his company had begun. Over 2,000 charitable and educational organizations have benefitted from his donations. Oprah Winfrey made notice of Newman's donations as well in an April 2000 show of her "Angel Network." She announced the establishment of a weekly "Use Your Life " award of $50.000, funded in part by Paul Newman.

"If we stop having fun, we're closing up shop," stated Paul Newman.

While Newman may now be facing health issues as well as choosing to slow down in life, he is still very involved in the company. His daughter's division, run with her business partner, Peter Meehan contiues to grow and expand, adding new products to their line as well. Paul Newman has proven that Hollywood doesn't create monsters of all it's stars and those in his hometown and those touched by his advocacy and charity, will remember him as much more than a good looking, wisecracking actor with devastating blue eyes.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Chicken nuggets?

Monday, in Simsbury CT, there was the beginnngs of an odd event. A motorist on Powder Forest Dr there, noticed a whole raw chicken lying on the side of the road at about 9 am. I know, it sounds a bit odd but it evidently gets even more odd. While it isn't exactly common to find a whole chicken lying on the roadside, it is very uncommon to find it stuffed with a pipe bomb.

The road was closed off while the Hartford Police Department's bomb squad came and did what any bomb squad does..... they blew up the bomb and the chicken hiding it. According to Police Capt Matthew Catania, it was large enough to cause harm to a person if it went off.

I do wonder though, was the chicken large enough to cause harm if it had "gone off" to roost on another street, did he mean that the bomb was large enough, was it simply a case of attempted suicide by a now embaressed and naked chicken and lastly... how does one actually notice a chicken lying on the side of the road at 9 am?

According to police, no one was injured and no arrests had been made by Monday night and there was no word on what became of the exploding chicken.

Monday, June 9, 2008

All monsters, no dwarfs.........

The setting is a suburban primary school, the stage has been set and the lights are lowered. The audience of parents are much like those in many other school districts, patiently awaiting their chance to see their child perform in the school play. This year, they are waiting to see Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs but they probably should have just ordered a Woody Allen film from Blockbuster. This particular presentation has been altered ever so slightly.... okay, it's been changed in a major way. There are no dwarfs, no wicked witch, no chorus of "Hi Ho, Hi Ho, It's off to work we go." The entire cast is composed of 25 Snow Whites.

The children at this primary school in Japan are the offspring of a new generation there aptly dubbed "Monster Parents." They had bullied, heckeled, nuisance phone called the school until the teachers gave in and admitted to the "injustice" of selecting just one girl to play Snow White. Teachers across Japan have been reporting similar changes in the character of parents, after years and decades of respectful silence, they have become what is described as an army of super-aggressive complainers.

Japan's media has chosen to demonise them and shows the monster parents as a symptom of a society that has lost all respect for it's decorum and traditions. The parents believe they are champions of basic consumer rights but either way, few deny that parents there have switched from supporting the rigid education system to attacking it. Previously, parents apologised to a teacher when their child was in trouble, today they try to get them fired for anything that may be seen as a disadvantage to their child.

Dozens of educators have been forced to resign when faced with the fury of parents there now. Yoshih Morotomi, of Meiji University, has written a new book that lists hundreds of incidents from parents secretly placing cameras in their child's classroom to them demanding that sports results be changed to reflect their wishes, not the actual results.

"The monsters are created in family restaurants and coffee shops - places where the mothers meet each other to talk and relax. Simple chats spiral into emergency meetings." stated Morotomi.

Professor Morotomi goes on to describe what he feels is the worst category of monster parent currently in Japan, a group he calls the "teacher hunters." Those are parents who conspire in small groups and may even use the tactics of physically mobbing their victim near the school grounds and screaming abuse until a letter of resignation is signed on the spot. He believes that what were once small complaints by parents have now spiraled into more emotional and radical methods by the parents to get what they feel is best for their children.

This sudden switch many believe, is a symptom of deeper social troubles at the heart of Japan, troubles that began during Japan's long ecomomic downturn in the 1990's and are only now begining to surface. Unfortunately, this isn't a new behavior for parents in the United States it seems as more incidents of parents bullying teachers and school systems are reported.

In 2001, Christine Pelton, a Piper High School teacher in Kansas, decided to flunk 28 of her students for plagiarizing their biology project. She had noticed almost identical material in their papers. At least three patents then complained to the school board and demanded that the grades be changed but few felt that the fact that their child had been caught cheating was a large issue. The school board gave into pressure and changed the failing grades to give them partial credit for the project.

"It's not going to benefit the kids to go back and change their grades," stated Pelton.

After the school board meeting that reversed the grades and then upheld the decision, Pelton stated that she felt that they had undermined her as a teacher. She added that it was too late to restore the grades that had been left as failed until a final decision was made. Pelton had resigned from her teaching position there, rather than change the students grades to suit the board and the parents. Principal Mike Adams, who supported Pelton in her decision to fail the students, planned to leave the school after the academic year as well.

At Bardswell High School in Kentucky in 2001, 118 seniors were caught copying and pasting copying and pasting from the internet, sometimes including entire stories. The punishment was to write one essay on the evils of plagiarism. No members of the National Honors Society had their memberships pulled and one of those caught cheating remained the class valedictorian. Teachers throughout the United States report that even when they catch students cheating, they and their parents don't think it is a big deal.

"It's naive to think that once a student has a high school diploma or a Harvard diploma that all of a sudden they become an ethical person. Where that leads you to is a very ugly society in the future," stated John Barrie, a Berkeley biophysic's graduate.

It would almost seem that the United States has managed to export the idea that we are a very privilaged society and that no child should have to face "damage" of failure or being left out. What they do face though, is the loss of the opportunity of actual achievement it would seem, of succeeding on their own two feet.

Photo is of Christine Pelton

Saturday, June 7, 2008

A tipping point?

"Tell the truth and then they have an easier time adjusting to it. The city is out of control. There is no law. There is no consequence for people's actions. The whole attitude of ' Me first and to heck with my neighbor' has become the status quo here, and it is a serious problem," stated J Stan McCauley.

McCauley, a former mayoral candidate and cable access television personality, compared Hartford CT to an alcoholic, whose first step toward recovery should be to acknowledge a problem. That acknowledgement by Hartford Police Chief Daryl Robert's and his public declaration that Hartford has become toxic in it's level of incivility has sparked anger, questions and introspection among many in the state. Both leaders and resident now wonder if the capital city has reached a tipping point with the events of the past week.

On Friday afternoon, May 30 2008, the hit-and-run accident that left Angel Arce Torres, 78 paralized and lying in the middle of Park St, was caught on tape and was in full view of both passing motorists and onlookers. On Monday, a savage beating and robbery left the former Deputy Mayor Nicholas Carbone in the hospital with severe head injuries and facing the possibility of surgery. Two days later, on Wednesday, police discovered the badly decomposed body of a man in the basement of a recently foreclosed home.

Roberts reacted to those recent incidents with anger on Wednesday, saying the acts were inhumane, that the city had lost it's moral compass and had a toxic relationship with ourselves. Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez held a press conference on Thursday, in what he called a show of solidarity and called on the help of citizens to help solve the crimes in the past week. The critics of Perez have accused him of concentrating on selling the city and it's dropping crime rate and not focusing on owning up to it's real problems.

Angel Arce, Torres' son attended that conference and stated that he has refused to watch the video of his father being hit. He did ask for justice for his father though. Roberts has stated that he doesn't believe that anyone called 911 after the accident but Perez countered with a statement that said that he believed that within a minute of the accident, there were four calls to 911. Those calls according to him were for an ambulences, described the cars involved and where they were heading.

Perez went on to say that he felt Robert's had reacted to the graphic images of the video and he felt that the resident's of the city have morals and a resevoir of goodwill. Robert's didn't speak at that conference but did answer a reporters question about his earlier statements by backing off of them. stating that he had been very angry the day before.

Many however feel that Robert's comment on Wednesday were the first candid ones about the situation in Hartford in camparison to what they feel was Perez's sugar coating initial response. Steve Harris, a neighborhood leader in the North End and a former councilman stated that he first felt angry that "we have become so uncaring and desenitized that we allow this stuff to go on." Harris goes on to state that he has confidence in Robert's who grew up in the city but he added that Hartford has many quality of life issues that need to be dealt with. He felt that Perez spends too much time trying to convince people that it is safe to eat and play in the downtown area and little time listening to the average citizen in Hartford.

"I think government provides infrastructure for maintaining law and order but government doesn't make people behave properly. The only way we can make that happen is if people make that their standard," stated Robert Painter.

Painter, a former Republican city councilman, stated that he felt Robert's had hit the issue right on the head. He did agree that no one wants to hear "spin" from city hall that crime is down, rather they want their politicians to respond in a way that is realistic. Painter went on to state that he felt that the problem wasn't in a breakdown of goverment but in a breakdown of family and community.

For those who commute into the city of Hartford to work, there seems to be a wall around the downtown area that isolates them from the rest of the city and it's problems. Most who had been interviewed there on Thursday stated that they rarely linger there after work is out. Some felt that maybe the youth today were becoming desensitized to the "gore factor" and as a result, aren't sensitive when it happens to real people. Many of those interviewed did add that they only become concerned about the level of violence in the city when it comes into the downtown area where they work.

The city of Hartford hadn't even recovered from the shock of watching the video of Torres being run down on Park St when news came that former Deputy Mayor Nick Carbone had been brutally attacked while on his routine walk to breakfast in the city's Frog Hollow. Carbone, 71, of Park Place in Hartford apparently struck right between the eyes by his attackers on Monday while walking in the section of the city he had helped to revitalize in the 1980's and which has long been his home.

Carbone was found bloody and bruised at about 9:15 am Monday on a stone path that is used as a short cut from Laural St to Capital Ave and his wallet had been stolen. Because of the injuries to his face, doctors suspect that his attacker or attackers may have kicked him in the forehead. He is in stable condition and they are waiting on the report from the neurosurgeon as to whether he will need brain surgery but they do expect that he will have reconstructive facial surgery.

Carbone's son Michael described his father, a cancer survivor, as a man who refused to move from the city he loved. Carbone grew up in the South End and joined the city council in 1969 and was elected majority leader in 1971. While in city hall serving a decade as the deputy mayor, he spearheaded construction of roads, schools, garages and a police station. Under his leadership, the city filed lawsuits and administration challenges to utility increases, discriminatory sububan housing practices and the state property tax system.

Carbone has never left politics in the city, still serving on the city's Democratic town committee and he has long been involved in a federal court dispute between city officials and citizens who have complained about police brutality.

"He was proud of his city. He was never scared. It was 9:15 am, not three o'clock in the morning. We've passed the threshold. It has reached a level of lawlessness. We need to do something. I don't think city hall or the police department understands the nature of violence in this city. We're in bad shape," stated community activist Carmen Rodriguez.

Marilyn Rossetti, who served on the city council and now runs Hartford Areas Rally Together stated that she takes two messages from Carbone's assault: First, violent crime doesn't only happen at night and second, no one is immune from random acts of violence. The police are still searching for the two vehicles involved in Torres' hit-and-run and and an unknown number of suspects in the beating of Carbone. They have asked for the help of the community in solving these cases, the same public who seemed to not care when they happened.

Sadly, it seems to be true of both incidents in Hartford................... no one is immune from random acts of violence, though one can work to make sure that a victim isn't left to lie in the road like a piece of garbage anymore. Hartford CT is no different than many cities across the United States, we may well have become a society of "me first and to hell with helping my neighbor in trouble."

For the video, go here.

Photos include, map of the accident scene, stills from the video and photo of Nick Carbone.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

pieces uncovered, pieces in place..........

The investigation into the Greystone crash that claimed 5 young men's lives is still continuing and more has been revealed. On Wednesday, June 4 2008, the FHP released an 88 page report in relation to the accident.

They noted that the BMW was traveling at 120 mph when it hit the trees at the end of the 7,550 foot runway. Their conclusion was that Ammirato was traveling well in excess of that speed before he hit the brakes and left 219 feet of skid marks on the runway and grass before going airborne 166 feet to impact with the stand of trees. A car traveling 155 mph will travel the length of football field in almost the blink of an eye and even at 120 mph, it took less that two seconds from the time Ammirato hit the brakes until the car hit the tree.

The report goes on to state that they believe that Ammirato, unfamiliar with the runway, basically overdrove his headlights at that speed. They also state that tests showed that only one passenger, Natalie Thayer's boyfriend, Isaac Rubin, 20, had alcohol in their system. He had a blood alcohol content of 0.103 and the legal limit is 0.08. The FHP is confident that Ammirato had not drank that night but they did add that the other young men could have drank earlier in the evening.

Other points that are noted in their report is their confidence that there was no second car at the runway that night, even though there had been reports that there was. They stated that they based that on a lack of any evidence found proving there was a second vehicle. Their investigation also found that some of the young adults at an earlier party had decided to move their group to the party to Jumbolair. About 15 people gathered at the pool house there to drink and play cards and the FHP found that they had all been given the gate code to get to the pool house. The investigation found though, that all but the five young men left around 3 am and they also noted that they have a video shot by a surveillance camera of the BMW racing down the runway. That video shows only headlights racing by and ends before the car began braking and crashed.

Two arrests have also been made in connection with the crash that night. On Tuesday, Jolane McAlister, 43, was charged with six misdemeanors in connection with providing alcohol to underage drinkers, most between the ages of 16 and 20, at two January keg parties. One of those parties was held hours before the crash and when that party wound down, the 15 moved to the pool house to continue.

The report details the alleged keg party which was held at her Tara Stables farm in the Cherokee River subdivision. Numerous witness reports state that McAlister was seen several times at the party before at least three kegs ran dry by 12:30 am, approximately three hours before the crash. One witness, Christopher C Whitehurst stated that he arrived at the keg party to find about 300 kids and 4-5 kegs of beer there and Colin Brennan's mom ( McAlister), handing out plastic cups.

The second arrest came late day on Wednesday, when Natalie Thayer, 20, was arrested and charged with providing false statements to law enforcement. Natalie had told the FHP that she was asleep in the hours leading up to the January crash but the investigators had found out differently. Natalie had held the after keg party gathering at her family's Jumbolair Aviation Estates pool house and then lied about her whereabouts.

Several witnesses reported that Thayer was at the pool house, which is near her apartment at Jumbolair, which her parents, Jeremy and Terri Thayer own, in the hours before the crash. It is believed that Thayer was the one who gave the access code to the gate to the pool house partiers. Thayer had told authorities through her lawyer, that she would turn herself in on Tuesday but she didn't and by Wednesday morning, she was considered a fugitive. She did finally show up by noon on Wednesday and was booked on the misdemeanor charge that is punishable by up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine. She left jail about two hours later, escorted by her lawyer, Bill Ramputi and a private investigator, Jamie Sheppard. She covered her face when she left and stated, finally, that she had no comment.

Assistant State Attorney Rick Ridgway stated that it is possible that there will be more arrests, but he wouldn't say whether they are definate. He did add that the mostly likely person, if anyone, to have been charged with direct criminal responsibility for it, would be the driver who died along with his four friends.

While both of the women charged may not have directly involved with the crash, what they did shouldn't be viewed as "nothing" either. McAlister is alleged to have allowed more than a few teens to share a couple six-packs at her house, the witness reports state that there were kegs of beer and several hundred underage drinkers on her property

Thayer did more than lie to the police about being asleep during those hours, she allegedly gave out the code so that the young people, including the five who died later, could enter the gated community. To add to her record of telling the truth, it seems that she still has difficulty with it........ first telling the police when she would turn herself in on Tuesday and then, not sticking to that truth. I do believe that there will be more pieces of the crash puzzle to be revealed in the future, but we may never know why Ammirato chose to race down that runway with four of his friends in the car.

For earlier posts, go here and here.

photos are of Thayer leaving jail and McAlister's booking photo.
What I thought would be a brief break from writing, evidently became much more than brief as life and the weeks rolled by. I have returned to see what havoc is left to create........