My Word

October 23, 2005

I Vote For a School Mayor
Do I hear a second?

By Sharon Bass

Let's elect the school superintendent. Waddya think?

I don't think it's done anywhere, so why don't we be the pioneering community to make a charter change saying the superintendent is a popularly elected position? The term would be four years. And since he or she has to get elected, this super candidate would have to campaign and appeal to the people.

Since we are generally concerned with how our local tax dollars are spent, we should want to decide who's going to be the keeper of the school -- just as we decide who is going to be the keeper of Town Hall.

The super is usually the highest-paid public servant in town. Observe: In Hamden, Superintendent Alida Begina is paid nearly twice that of Mayor Carl Amento -- $152,559 to $86,634. (Elected officials are typically paid less than those appointed. For example, Police Chief Bob Nolan makes about double of publicly elected Town Clerk Vera Morrison -- $102,033 to $56,057.)

In every community I've lived and worked in, too many parents, residents and teachers have told me they don't like or trust their school superintendent. They don't understand why that person gets paid so much. They feel they are getting ripped off. Many think the administration is top-heavy; the super has too many assistants. They complain these assistants are rude, apathetic, dumb and overpaid.

To make matters worse, boards of education typically operate more clandestinely than town or city councils. That naturally makes people suspicious. Compare Hamden's BOE meeting agendas with the Legislative Council's. Note how many more more executive sessions (conversations the public is not privy to) the BOE has than the Council has. Compare the two bodies' meeting minutes. You'll find the Council's minutes are far more elaborate; the BOE's reads more like an agenda.

I see the same dynamics in every community. To get more accountability we need to elect the super -- we, the people. S/he would be the school mayor. Opponents to this idea point to the shortage of school supers and how it would worsen if they had to campaign for the job. It would also become a more politicized seat, because in many towns like this one, nearly every elected position is partisan.

But I think the need to be directly involved in choosing the super outweighs the drawbacks. And giving the super a term limit. If we don't like him, we throw him out next election. No having to rely on a BOE, which in many cases is in the shape of a rubber stamp.

Something happens on the trip up the educational ladder from teacher to administrator. The reason people go into teaching is because they (hopefully) care about kids and want to educate them.

When an educator leaves the frontline and gets further and further away from the children (the raison d'être), something else has to take its place to make the transition attractive. Money is one thing. And the other is power.

That's not really a criticism, but an oft-repeated personal observation. You can't change people's motives but you can change how much decision-making you have in choosing who that person is.

Having an elected mayor of schools is something worth talking about. Change begins with conversation. I'll start.

Let's elect the school superintendent. Waddya think?

October 9, 2005

Them DMV Blues

By Sharon Bass

I just got my Connecticut driver's license. Big deal, you say? You bet.

If you've ever had to fight your way through the all-tangled-up-in-blue Department of Motor Vehicle bureaucratic insanity, you will relate to my story. (Talk about rhetorical statements!)

I moved back to these here parts from Maine at the end of May. Being close to penniless, I couldn't afford the $6 million fee for a new driver's license and plates, so I had to wait.

Then a couple of months later, my wallet was stolen (the thief went on a $656 shopping spree with my debit card), and there went all my ID including my valid Maine driver's license.

And so my DMV ordeal from hell begins. And it ain't over.

It starts on the phone. I call repeatedly for days (trying to avoid waiting on one of those notoriously long lines at the DMV) to find out what I documents I need to get a CT license and to register my car. Each time I call, I am promised by an automated voice that a live human will assist me momentarily or something like that. But, alas, I am lied to.

So I go down to the department and wait on line to speak to an information "examiner." I get the guy on the left (there are two). I tell him I have an out-of-state license that was stolen and I need …

He points to a room at the opposite side of the building and says, "NEXT," looking at the next person in line.

"Excuse me. Where do I go? First time here."

Again he points and says, "NEXT." (I capitalize "next" because he says it really loudly.)

I wait on another line. And I wait. And wait. I brought with me my birth certificate, insurance card, car registration and an official, embossed letter from Maine saying I have an active license and I'm not a traffic scofflaw or anything.

"We close in 30 minutes," a man says to me rather brusquely, when I finally reach the counter.

"Yeah? So what does that mean?"

"You need to be here an hour before closing time to get a license," he says.

"Can I just show you the stuff I brought to make sure I have everything I need?"

He tells me no. But then a nice lady examiner steps in. Turns out I also need a picture of myself. I tell her I don't have one. She says I can take my own pic and bring it in.

I go back to the DMV the next day to register my car. I wait on the same line and talk to the same information dude, the one on the left.

"I'd like to register my car. What do I need?"

"A valid Connecticut driver's license."

"I'm in the midst of getting that. What else do I need?"

"Just bring in your license."

"That's it?"


"Excuse me, I just want to make sure I don't make another trip down here for nothing."


I return a few days later to get my driver's license. I've got my photo. I wait for what seems like a week and when it's my turn, I fail the eye test. This cop-looking guy who gave me the test hands me a form and tells me to go to an eye doctor. I tell him I can't afford to and have no health insurance. He says, "That's the law."

"You mean to say that I can't come back with glasses and retake the test? I have to go to a doctor?"


Knowing this has to be pure rubbish, I decide to take the test again with glasses. I can't be forced to go to a doctor. All I have to do is pass the vision test.

I'm right. I go back a few days later and ace the test avec glasses. No one even mentions the doctor's form. It really is good to question authority, especially when the authority is a grouch.

While I'm waiting for my license to be processed, the nice lady examiner tells me I can hop on down to the information desk to register my car. Wow, I thought, I'm going to get it all done today. What a relief. And what an optimistic fool I am.

So I'm back on the information line and get the same examiner, the one on the left.

"My license is being processed as we speak. I was told to start the paperwork for my plates."

"Did you have your emissions tested?"

"No, I didn't know I needed to in order to register my car. I have a current Maine inspection sticker."

"You need to have your emissions tested."

"Let me ask you something. Why didn't you tell me that the last time I was here? You only said I needed my driver's license."

"NEXT." (I kid you not.)

"What a second. What else do I need? Please give me the total list."

"Get your emissions tested. NEXT."

I go back to the nice lady, get my license (I actually like the way my pic comes out, for the first time in my driving career) and tell her about the SOB at the information desk. She shakes her head knowingly and writes down everything I need to register my car. Her list includes the car title. That is news to me.

So I venture back to information territory and wait on line again.

"NEXT." That'd be me.

"Why didn't you tell me I needed to bring in my title, too? I've been here three times and each time you fail to give me the whole story."

He looks through me.

"OK, I'd like to talk to your supervisor."

A woman walks over, says she's the examiner's assistant manager, and in front of him I tell her what happened. I'm nearly laughing at this point, because this guy really doesn't give a damn and it's kind of sit-com funny. I could have told her that he threatened me with an ax, and he'd still be looking through me saying, "NEXT." I'm also thrilled that I actually got my license after three trips to the DMV and being ID-less for weeks, since my wallet was stolen. So I'm in a good mood.

The assistant manager straddles the fence. She's careful not to side with him or me. I thank her.

Before I leave, I tell the examiner from hell that I will be back.

Honest to God, he says, "NEXT."

September 25, 2005

Advertise This

By Sharon Bass

Last year, the federal government gave Madison Avenue about $1.2 billion. For advertising. The largest-by-far chunk went to trying to convince people -- kids and their parents -- that enlisting in the military to bomb Iraq and other countries is a good career choice.

Seems that cool billion or so didn't quite do the trick. Enlistment is way down. And if the fed's latest ad pitch slated to kick off Oct. 17 doesn't work, looks like there could be another draft.

Hello, Vietnam!

Whether you believe the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are just, or just a criminally barbaric way for the wealthiest country on Earth to get what it wants, everyone should be outraged that a billion bucks is being spent on advertising. And most of that ad-recruiting is geared toward poor minorities. Imagine what a billion dollars would buy in the way of job training and other life-affirming assistance to help people become independent?

You know that the billion-plus comes from you, the taxpayer. Are you OK with that? It's a lot of dough for a steady stream of one-sided TV and print ads intended to brainwash America, the land of the free.

More and more people are understanding that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. No WMD have been found. Bush and his dad didn't like Sadaam. So we invaded his country, killing his people at a greater rate than the former dictator ever did. At the same time, most know that bin Laden was responsible for the 2001 attack here, yet he and his family were given a Get Out of America Free Card to fly to safety. Remember, bin Laden and the Bushes go way back. Loyalty to your (oil) business buddies must come before doing what's right by your nation.

Even Republicans are jumping the Bush ship these days; it's not just Dems and liberals. Nationally, the GOP is looking a lot like the divided Democratic Party in Hamden. Many who voted for Bush are saying enough already. His approval rating has plummeted to an unprecedented low of 30-something percent. I predict it will drop even more.

War profiteering is at an all-time high, while the country has gone nuts raising money for hurricane victims. We're always holding fund-raisers to help an ill child get life-or-death medical treatment.

Maybe the federal government should instead be forced to organize fund-raisers to pay for its advertising and mass murdering, and spend our tax dollars on stuff that enriches society. It's just not OK what's being done. The lies we're being fed. The utter arrogance of Bush and friends as they gloat and go about their fantasy-land lifestyles.

Know what you're paying for and give a damn.

September 18, 2005


By Sharon Bass

I needed a laugh. A big one. So on the advice of my film critic, Shawn French, I went to see "The Aristocrats" the other day. The movie that's being hailed as the funniest ever.

Before I get into why I didn't laugh. Why I was deeply disturbed by the movie. How baffled I am that there has been no public outrage over it, I'd like to introduce Shawn.

He was my movie reviewer and sports editor for the weekly newspaper I started in Maine. He had no journalism experience, but wowed me with a movie review he wrote for me on spec. He is one of the most talented and intelligent people I've ever met. He made magic out of our sports section with his energetic, passionate, riveting coverage of games. I find his movie reviews just as wonderful. And I nearly always agree with him (not that I have to in order to deem his work remarkable and insightful).

I didn't agree with his review of "The Aristocrats" (ReelReviewer, Sept. 10, 2005).

I understand the premise of the movie. Comedians make up the most outrageous, disgusting, perverted scenarios in an attempt to sell their act to a talent agent, with the punch line being: "So what do you call your act?" the agent asks. "The Aristocrats," the comedian replies. The supposedly hilarious part is that these well-known comedians (George Carlin, Gilbert Gottfried, et al) muster up the chutzpah to say such awful things in public. How brave!

Now, I'm certainly no prude. I've been known to be pretty damn outrageous. But I just don't find making joke after joke after joke about incest and bestiality with kids and swimming in all kinds of human and canine excrement funny, regardless of the context.

Every single rendition of the joke went basically the same way. So much for the much-hyped-about originality of the 100 versions. If I wasn't so horribly offended, I would just call the movie tedious.

But I seem to be in the minority here. The flick has gotten great reviews. There were just two women in the audience with me at Cine 1-2-3-4 on Middletown Avenue. They laughed their heads off. They seemed to really dig the jokes about families having sex with each other on stage -- father does it to his daughter; mother does it to her son; brother does it to his sister; sister does it to her brother; grandfather does it to his daughter and then grandchildren; son does it to the family dog; family dog does it to the daughter; father deposits fecal matter into his wife's and daughter's mouths and genitalia; the dog defecates and urinates all over the stage and the children and parents swim in it.

If incest wasn't the central theme of every joke, it wouldn't have been so appalling to me. What appalls me even more, though, is that I haven't heard a peep out of child-abuse or family-violence activists.

What if the butt of the joke was instead about black slavery? Or the ovens and lampshades of Auschwitz? Would that also be hysterical under the premise of "The Aristocrats?" Would black activists and the Anti-Defamation League stay silent?

Am I making too much of this? Am I not "getting it?" Or has this country spiraled out of control reaching a new level of hypocrisy, where the right-wing Christian faction condemns a PBS cartoon because it included a lesbian couple in Vermont demonstrating maple-sugar production to children, but doesn't utter a word about the most offensive and anti-family movie I've ever seen. Lesbians living harmoniously and making maple syrup -- bad, immoral. Heterosexual families engaging in incest and bestiality -- good, funny.


August 21, 2005

The Importance of Being Passionate

By Sharon Bass

Of all things human in this world, passion means the most to me. It makes the difference in everything we do. The absence of passion is like a slice of stale white bread. Conjure up some heat within yourself, and you've got homemade chocolate cake with rich, delectable icing.

I'm lucky. I am able to feel passionately about lots of stuff: the current, sketchy state of this country; the war in Iraq; racial and other discrimination; the tobacco industry. I want to help change these things, and am frustrated that I can't. But that fact doesn't stop me from feeling so strongly.

I am also very passionate about what's good in my life. Like my two children. They gave me the enormous gift of being able to love unconditionally. My work as a journalist brings me intense satisfaction. I dig being creative. I dig interviewing people. I dig writing stories. I really dig getting scoops. It all throws me out of bed every morning.

Which brings me to my point. (Yes I do have one.)

Politics and passion.

When I talk to a political candidate I listen more for the passion than the message. (The message is often canned anyway.) I want my representatives to feel strongly and protectively about the country, the state, the town, the neighborhood they are elected to look after. Mantras and promises don't do it for me. I need to feel they care. That they are passionate about their desire to serve society. Otherwise, it's just an ego trip to Washington, Hartford, Hamden or Spring Glen, and handing out favors to friends.

Of course, I don't base my voting decisions strictly on how much passion a candidate can muster up. Integrity is a biggie. So are humility, fair-mindedness and political and social views. Take Hitler. He was undeniably a hugely passionate man. If he hadn't lived and breathed for what he desperately desired, he may not have so easily lured the masses to follow him along his Jew-hating, self-hating path.

While I obviously wouldn't vote for a Hitler, I wouldn't vote for a Gore either (and I didn't). Gore seemed to just walk the walk, talk the talk. If he'd had Hitler's drive and fire, he might have made it to the White House in 2000. Well, actually he did win that election. But that's another story.

August 16, 2005

Wal-Mart like$ it$ employee$ -- dead

By Sharon Bass

WARNING AND A FAVOR: Please do not set foot into another Wal-Mart store before reading this.


It's been all over the news. In hard copy, over the airwaves, on blogs throughout cyberspace: Wal-Mart sucks as an employer. The country's largest retailer, the master of price rollbacks, is not just a cheap SOB, it's an immoral SOB. We're finally learning that our tax dollars subsidize the multi-billion-dollar sleaze-machine, because it's too cheap to give its employees health care and a livable wage. So they qualify for Medicaid and sometimes even food stamps, funded by tax dollars. And in this corporate-loving Bush era, this is A-OK.

But there's something even more egregious about Wal-Mart. It engages in a very hush-hush practice called dead peasants insurance. In all states but Texas, this is legal. (However, that hasn't stopped the King of Crappola from breaking that state's law.) Here's how it works.

A corporation takes out dead peasants policies on its employees. When they croak, the company reaps the financial benefit -- tax free. The employees never knew the insurance was taken out on them. No one knows but the corporate schmuckety-schmucks.

You know those elderly greeters who are posted at the entrances of the palaces of smiley faces? They're not only old, they're often sick as well. For Wal-Mart, the sicker the better; the sooner they'll keel over. It also dead peasants younger employees.

Family members of deceased employees have sued Wal-Mart over this barbaric practice. But you won't read or hear about it through the country's mainstream media. Nope. The larger-than-life retailer gets one sweet deal from Bush and friends.

Here's an example I gleaned from the Internet. Google "dead peasants insurance Wal-Mart." You'll come up with hits galore.

"Mike Rice was a 48-year-old assistant manager when he died of a massive heart attack at the Wal-Mart store in Tilton, N.H. His widow, Vicki, became the lead plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit against the company after she discovered Wal-Mart collected $300,000 from a life insurance policy it owned on him. Vicki Rice believes job-related stress contributed to the heart attack and says it is 'totally immoral' for Wal-Mart to profit from his death."

The Web site ( explains dead peasants (aka janitor) insurance like this: "The purpose is basically profit … The policies have an investment component that allows companies to earn tax-deferred returns while the employee is still alive. And, of course, companies can take out tax-free loans on the policies. All these gains and income are used to fund operations, pay for executive compensation or boost other benefits … Wal-Mart alone had taken out about 350,000 such policies between 1993 and 1996. Nestle USA had policies on 18,000 workers in 2002, The Wall Street Journal reported. Enron had $500 million in policies on workers."

I boycotted Wal-Mart several years ago. I was living in a small town in Maine where there were few other choices for household goods, clothing, baby stuff, etc. So I went out of town, shopped on the 'net, or just did without (you'd be surprised on how many needs are really wants). In that small town, like in many, many others, Wal-Mart bullied its way in despite strong community opposition, and then slaughtered many of the mom and pops. You know, those familiar faces who worked their butts off to make a living and add a homey element to a community, only to see the fruits of their labor be knocked down in one swift swoop by the corporate fist.

Do we really want to patronize such a despicable business? Do we? Do we?

Don't step inside a Wal-Mart. And tell your friends not to. As a small business owner in Maine once said to me, it's not the Wal-Marts that drive the little guys out of business. It's you, the shopper.

(Here's a link to a powerful editorial on Wal-Mart and its dead peasants: And don't miss the New Haven screening of Robert Greenwald's new documentary, "Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price," on Nov. 18. Time and location TBA. I'll keep you posted.)

August 11, 2005

Hello, Hamden

By Sharon Bass

Welcome to the first hours of the Hamden Daily News -- Hamden, Conn.'s, hometown cyberpaper. Our intent is to cover the town like a blanket, and get inside the fibers. We'll feed you the news as it happens. We'll let you know if someone is playing dirty in Town Hall or in the school administration. We'll show you who's doing good around town. We'll introduce you to the cool stuff the kids are up to. We'll cover arts events and a lot more.

And we need you. This is your paper. Please send us your news tips and other story ideas.

The Hamden Daily News is written by Hamdenites, for Hamdenites. It's a real newspaper produced by a pro. Me. I have been a journalist for over 20 years. I got my start in New Haven.

My credits include writing for the Sunday section of The New York Times in the 1980s and writing for a ton of regional publications, like Connecticut and Northeast magazines. I then moved to Northampton, Mass., where I was the editor of an arts and news weekly. A few years later I landed in Maine to be the deputy editor of Maine Times, one of the first groundbreaking alternative papers, which began in the late '60s. When that paper folded, I became editor of another alternative weekly in Portland, Maine, and then created and edited my own community paper in a nearby town, which I adored doing. That last stint made me realize how much I love community journalism, and, sadly, what a growing dearth of real, hometown reporting there is.

The Hamden Daily News is an online-only publication because gone are the days when independent, hard-copy newspapers can survive. They can't compete with the behemoths -- your friendly corporations. Big Media has sucked up (picture Jaba the Hud) most of this country's newspapers and TV and radio stations. And they're spitting out cookie-cutter, impersonal news coverage, often not bothering to investigate, instead being reactive to news. Making big, fat profits is all the corporates care about.

Well, some of us diehards refuse to give up and so we're taking it to the Web. We're bringing back good, old-fashioned independent reporting through the latest technology. If you have ideas for this cyberpaper - your hometown paper - please let me know (click on know to get my e-mail.).

In addition to my voice and reports on town news, events and other stuff, some townsfolk have already signed up. Former Mayor John Carusone debuts today with an ongoing column called "Carusone At Bat." He'll write about Hamden politics and history. He has lived here all his life and so did his father. It's Johnny's column, his opinions. His floodgates are wide open.

Hamden High senior Chris Clark is going to draw us into his life at school and sometimes beyond, via his blog, "Guts of Hamden High," penned just for the Daily News. He's gonna let us know what creeps behind the inner walls at the high school; stuff you typically don't hear about.

And other writers and interns will be coming onboard to give the Hamden Daily News breadth and diversity.
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