Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Birthday Party For A Rotting Corpse

On Monday, February 15, 2016, Southbridge will mark the 200th anniversary of its incorporation. 
For several years now people have been planning a celebration to commemorate the event.

I, for one, cannot join in that celebration.

Yesterday, three weeks before that event, the state decided that it had to take over the Southbridge public school system in order to restore it to a meaningful level of competency. 

But as with Holyoke, as with Lawrence and as with Chelsea, that is merely the tip of the iceberg.

I was here in 1965 when Southbridge celebrated its sesquicentennial.  Then the town had reason to celebrate.

In 1978-79 Southbridge, despite the loss of the American Optical Company’s beneficence, was still fit to be declared an All-American City by the National Civic League.

However, for the last 35 years the community has been in free fall.

Complacency and apathy have given way to blatant exploitation.

And yet, in the last ten or fifteen years there has emerged a militant defense of the community. There is a vigorous effort to point to almost every passing, ephemeral event as evidence of a turnaround in the town’s fortunes.

Anyone who dares to espouse a divergent view is excoriated as spreading negativity. If they don’t lower their profile or, God forbid, if they become louder, they are labelled a hater.

If they gain any support they are asked what they would do differently. When they say what they would do or what they have advocated in the past, however, the choruses simply become silent and the criticisms and options are ignored.

Not that the touters of triumph are without their annual paroxysms of spirit and charity. The high point, of course, is the annual erection of Christmas decorations. Now, there is nothing wrong with that. However, the hoopla that surrounds it would make you think that Santa is real and he’s coming to give everyone their choice of a winning lottery number or a heroin fix.

This exercise is accompanied by the charity programs to provide holiday meals and cold weather clothing to the unfortunate who are blamed for all the town’s problems by the marginally better off in various watering holes the rest of the year.

But none of these exercises match the upcoming orgasm of onanistic delight encompassed by the planned bicentennial.

I have just one question. “What are you celebrating?”

Perhaps you’d be better off to go home and think about what you might do to make things better.

But that isn’t going to happen, is it?

Just like Nero you’ll fiddle while the community burns and while pacifying the masses with bread and circuses.


  1. It sounds like it's time for you to relocate. Southbridge doesn't need people who are cesspools of negativity, living life in some gilded past. We don't need mudrakers taking pot shots at anyone an everyone without advancing meaningful ideas.

    As I've said before your blog could be a good platform to advance ideas. Instead you use it to demean, ridicule, and whine.

    It is a shame.

    1. As I recall, the last time we spoke you were going to submit some ideas of your own. I'm still waiting. I recounted my efforts for you. Now you are just joining in the chorus shouting down my negativity rather than saying or doing anything to instigate change. Thanks for substantiating the case I've made.

    2. Ken, I asked you for an email address and sent you some thoughts. In brief they surround the Darwinian consequences of "progressive" education policies that we have in our state and country.

      (1) Recognize that the problems we have stem from an oversupply of housing. This drives down the price and makes Southbridge the default destination of low income individuals and families. I pointed out that 'officially' we have 11% of our housing designated as "affordable", and the number is growing. However virtually 100% of our rental housing is in line with the Section 8 "fair market rent" guideline, which is supposed to be the 50th percentile. In contrast, Charlton has 1.5% of housing as "affordable" and no change in 3 years.

      (2) Sociology research has shown that there are distinct differences in the educational preparedness between low income families and middle income ones. Children of low income families enter school significantly behind their peers, and never catch up. There has been no research which indicates a way for predominantly low income district to be on par in student test results to middle income or upper income. It just doesn't happen.

      (3) Parents naturally seek schools which have high scores and a reputation as a "good" school district. This inflates property values of those districts and depresses those of poor or average performance. The strong get stronger through better caliber students and increased property taxes, the weak get weaker for the opposite reasons.

      (4) No politician is going to recommend mandatory bussing of middle income and upper income students to low income districts and vice versa.

      (5) Thus we have a choice: Either accept the hand that we have been dealt and make the best of it, or take steps to change the inputs in the education equation and be comfortable with the questionable morality involved.

      (6) One way to change the inputs is to purposefully shrink the supply of affordable housing through eminent domain. This can be done by seeking anti-blight grants, raising property taxes to take properties, and soliciting developers to re-develop large areas a la Kelo v. New London. The net effect of these actions will be to drive up rent, and property values for those houses remaining.

      (6) Absent of this draconian and amoral (at a minimum) approach, the next best thing we can do is change the culture of our town to one which fosters and values education. This can be done through

      (a) Charter schools for the gifted and talented limited to residents of Southbridge. This gives an incentive for families to buy houses in Southbridge

      (b) Seeking foundation grants for individuals and groups to start private schools

      (c) Actively promote reading on a town level. This can be done through simple acts of the Town including a blurb where employees and officials share what they have been reading.

      (d) Encourage leaders of the Spanish community to stress the importance of English immersion. We have no official language in our country. But in schools, students are harmed if they are not fluent in English, including vocabulary and mechanics. Children who are immersed in English 24/7 perform better than those who only speak and use Spanish at school or with children. To this end, we should be seek funding for adult English language learning classes held locally to aid adults in building fluency.

      These are radical ideas, no doubt with problems and weaknesses. But they were designed to start the discussion. You didn't publish it, which is your right as the owner of the blog. But don't say that I didn't practice what I preach.

      What are your solutions and visions other than bitterness?

    3. If you mailed this to me I never got it.
      I welcome your input.
      As regards your closing comment I gave you an extensive list of my prior suggestions and actions previously. If you're going to ignore that for the sake of dramatic effect then you are betraying your own intellectual dishonesty.

    4. I emailed it because it was greater than 4,096 characters. It didn't bounce. Please provide an email that you check and I will re-submit it.

      Yes I remember your list of purported accomplishments and found them to be more of the same. They were what you opposed, not vigorous ideas for the future. Then you hid behind not being an educator and declared that you only know what "doesn't work"

    5. For those who missed it, that list is HERE.

    6. Mr. O'Brien, I have just sent a 2nd copy to the email address you provided, Its probably dated now that the State has made its decision.

      Like you, I am not an educator. But, just like everyone else, I can think about problems and come up with ideas. I would like to see you come up with some thoughts on how to address our education system and any other ideas which feed into it. I'm sure you must have it in you.

    7. " I remember your list of purported accomplishments and found them to be more of the same. They were what you opposed, not vigorous ideas for the future."
      I think that if you look at the list again you will find this to be a grossly inaccurate characterization.

  2. I'm an absolute moronJanuary 28, 2016 at 12:11 AM

    Mr. Chase is right. As I said before in a comment but was never posted, I have never seen you in the high school, at a sporting, theatrical, or chorus/band event. Never. So how can you say what our school needs? How? You don't know first hand what goes on. You are a very negative person Ken and you need to look at the receiver ship as a good thing and not a bad thing for our bicentennial. I'm very pleased the state is taking over as many others are well.

    1. I should first explain to the readers of this blog that this is an actual comment that came in at 9:07 PM. However, it was marked as “Anonymous”. Apparently, however, the author of this comment (and of at least one earlier one, according to their comment) was too stupid to read the note below that says that comments labelled as “Anonymous” would not be published. Therefore I gave it a screen name of an appropriate nature.
      Now, in response to your remarks, so what if you’ve never seen me at sporting or theatrical events? What does that have to do with knowledge of the educational system or how it works? I’ll guess that you’ve never been on the town council or in the state legislature. Does that preclude you from voting? Guess what? I went to school, and I did participate in all those things and more. I don’t think that they have changed much since I did.
      As far as the receivership being a good thing for our bicentennial all I can say is if that is the way that you feel, then it could only be better if the whole town was put in receivership, right? My God, you are a moron.

    2. Mr. O'brien, you are demonstrating the problem you have. You are a Harvard graduate, for crying out loud! Calling someone a "moron" and "too stupid"? Really? There is no effective difference between someone posting as "anonymous" and some made up name.

    3. The difference is that if more than one person responds to a post using the label "Anonymous" then subsequent responses become confusing as to who is being responded to. As you say, it's my blog and I can dictate the rules. Based on prior experiences this one makes sense.

    4. It's your blog, so your rules. But the poster is still anonymous. But more to the point, calling him or her "stupid" and a "moron" is crass and unnecessary.

  3. I should note that I support state receivership for the schools. However, it is in no way anything to be proud of that such an action has become necessary. I reiterate my original question - what are you celebrating?

    1. I don't know if you are asking me or people in general. One way or another, I'll take the bait. Here's what I celebrate about Southbridge.

      1. My family and I came here because we saw a nice town with good, down-to-earth people. We have not been disappointed. I know all the names of my neighbors, and we regularly chat. That is very different from when I lived in Charlton.

      2. We have one of the finest small libraries in the State

      3. Southbridge has a rich legacy of diverse peoples living together - Albanian, Romanian, French, Puerto Rican, and I'm sure many others.

      4. Our town made its mark in optics, and it continues to this day in ways that could never have been foreseen (no pun intended)

    2. One further thought. You followed up your question with the statement, "Perhaps you’d be better off to go home and think about what you might do to make things better."

      I think you should follow your own advice.

    3. As regards your list item 1 is, of course, a personal matter. Item 2 is true, but in many ways the resources for self education are substantially less than they once were.
      As regards item 3 that is hardly unique.
      Finally, item #4 is far from what it could have been. Look into the history of what happened to the Center for Advanced Fiber-Optics Applications (CAFA) in this town.

    4. Ken, your question was "what are you celebrating" which is inherently personal (subjective) in nature.

      What does any town "have" to celebrate? How about Auburn? They had a man who invented the modern rocket. How about Sturbridge? They have a museum. How about Charlton? I'm really not sure what your point is other than to spread your bitterness.

    5. What you continually refer to as my "negativity" or "bitterness" is not that at all. It is a deep and abiding love for this community that has been betrayed by decades of political ineptitude and public apathy. Those are what have given rise to our current situation and have left us with absolutely nothing of note from the last fifty years that warrant celebrating.
      It is my hope that in pointing out these shortcomings (as well as by making suggestions for alternatives)some people such as yourself will take the initiative for positive change.
      As for me, I am saddled by medical problems that have reduced my latitude for more direct action.

  4. Ken, I sorry for whatever medical problems you face as well. However they clearly do not impede your ability to read, think, and write.

    I note from one of your online profiles, you once worked for the American Stock Exchange. Therefore you should know the adage, "past performance does not indicate future results". The same is true here. I don't know that your assessment of the past leadership as "inept" is accurate. I'll wryly point out that you were a Town Councilor and somehow managed not to resign correctly. So, maybe there's something in the Southbridge water. I don't know.

    What I do know is that what happened 50, 30, 20, or even 10 years ago has little to no bearing on our future. The past is gone. What matters is now and the future. We need to analyze where we are, think of where we want to be, and come up with ideas how to get there.

    You CAN be part of that...if you choose.

    1. I will end this (I hope) by referring you again to my earlier list. There were plenty of positive actions and suggestions there. If you choose to characterize them innacurately so be it.
      When I have additional suggestions, I will make them.
      But, in the meantime, I will not refrain from criticizing what I think deserves criticism.

    2. And my closing comment is to point out that your list related to your tenure on Council, not on this blog. As a readers I'm interested in ideas for now


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