Monday, January 14, 2013

Passage of Power

Just finished "Passage of Power," the latest installment in Robert Caro's massive LBJ biography. Very good, but uneven. Parts, especially those dealing with the Kennedy assassination, are brilliant, can't-put-it-down stuff, but other sections drag. Caro unfortunately engages too often in what an editor of mine called "dumping your notebook." Instead of picking and choosing the good stuff, you throw everything into the story.

Unfortunately, this was also true of "Master of the Senate." I have not read the first book in the series, but I can say that "Means of Ascent," Caro's account of LBJ's scandalous 1948 Senate campaign is by far the best so far. The story is so outrageous that it makes your jaw drop, and unlike the next two books, it never, ever drags. I think I read it in a day or two.

Oddly enough, I found LBJ much less interesting once he became president. Of course, the next volume that will talk about the tragedy of Vietnam and is sure to be gut wrenching.

I find LBJ fascinating. He was a vulgar, crude and cruel man who passed some of the greatest social legislation in our history, a man who could never break himself of saying "nigra," but nonetheless did more to assure equal rights than any president since Lincoln. He would be a great president were it not -- and this is admittedly a very big were it not -- for Vietnam.

I have always been fascinated by something I heard Caro say in an interview about one of the books. He dismissed the cliche about power corrupting. The key insight, the key question, he said, is what do people do with power when they get it. By that measure, LBJ, at least on domestic issues, ranks among our greatest presidents.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Chris Hoffman New Haven Pic of the Day

January Sunrise

Pez Pistol

You've heard of Dead Heads and Parrot Heads?

Carolyn Farrlley is a PEZ Head. She is a passionate collector of everything PEZ, including 300 PEZ dispensers and all manner of sweet paraphernalia.

Check out my story about her.

PEZ are originally from Austria, and I recall them when I went there as a child in the late 1960s and early 1970s to visit my grandfather. On one of the trips, someone gave me a PEZ pistol dispenser. It had a magazine that you filled with PEZ and inserted into the handle, and a firing mechanism that moved like a real pistol when you shot one of the rectangular-shaped candies out of the barrel. I recall PEZ flying out of the gun with considerable velocity.

Here's a link showing the exact model and colors of the one I had:

According to this blog, PEZ had to discontinue the toy because kids were shooting candy into their months. Can you say cracked teeth and choking hazard? Luckily, I was never that stupid.

Alas, the pistol broke, plus y wife was never comfortable with it, so I threw it away.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Dean

Today, Steve Kotchko, dean of Connecticut's Capitol press corps, begins covering his 40th legislative session. When the veteran radio reporter started out, Richard Nixon was president, legendary Connecticut Democratic Party Chairman John M. Bailey still held sway and Joe Lieberman was a liberal.

I had the privilege of sitting next to Steve during the five years I covered the General Assembly so I got to listen as he taped his reports. I was always awed by his ability to quickly and accurately summarize a press conference or event in a handful of sentences. 

I would add that Steve is also very funny and an all around great guy. Think gravitas meets Bill Murray in "Candy Shack."

Steve sat down with me last week for a story. Here's a link:,0,7549131.story

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Dreaming of Spring

Sweet Child of Mine

Check out Camille and Kennerly, the Harp Twins. Brilliant and bizarre at the same time. I'm surprised at how good Sweet Child of Mine sounds on the harp. Maybe there's more to Guns 'N Roses than Axl Rose's snarl.

I found this video while researching the harp, which my daughter has decided that she wants to play. The harp, it turns out, is a close cousin to the ancient lyre and one of the world's oldest instruments, dating back to ancient Mesopotamia.

Plus there's Harpo Marx, one of my daughter's inspirations for taking up the instrument. She loves Marx Brothers movies.

Funny thing about Harpo, as hilarious as he is, he's always dead serious when he plays the harp.


Thursday, January 3, 2013

Chris Hoffman New Haven PIc of the Day

First Church of Christ in Old Wethersfield at Dusk

Silent Cal

Watching the outrage over the GOP failure to vote on Sandy relief aid reminds me of Calvin Coolidge.

Why? Because Silent Cal faced a disaster comparable in scope and destructiveness, the 1927 Mississippi River flood. He was the last president do what the right wing of the Republican party wants today: he resisted calls for federal disaster relief, a stand that was controversial even at the time. It was the last time that the national government failed to rescue the states from a natural catastrophe.

I just read a sympathetic biography of Coolidge. He was actually very progressive early in his career. Far from uncaring or cold, he was deeply devoted to family and friends. The deaths of younger sister and especially his oldest son devastated him.

But he was also a man out of step with his own times. In a decade during which car ownership exploded, he never learned to drive. He refused to use a phone, considering it undignified for a president.

A good, hard-working, decent man, but a template for 21st century leadership? Doubtful.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Chris Hoffman New Haven's Pic of the Day

Gnome at Work

Storage Bores

I'm a big fan of the original Storage Wars. The characters are hilarious, richly layered and wildly entertaining: Barry, the good time Charlie, Daryl, the valley boy-surfer dude gone to seed, Dave, the ruthless predator and Brandi and Jarrod, the battling lovebirds (What a smok'n hot babe like Brandi is doing with a shlub like him is a mystery).

So of course I had to watch the premier last night of New York Storage Wars. And, well, it kind of sucked. Worse yet, it was boring. The characters were flat and uninspiring. The puns fell flat -- and I love puns. Really uninspiring and uninteresting.

We'll see if it gets better, but it seems like Storage Wars may be about to become Storage Bores. I'll take a  little Barry banter and Brandi trash talking over this any day.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Today's Chris Hoffman New Haven Pic

Gnome in White

Welcome to Chris Hoffman New Haven

Welcome to my new blog, Chris Hoffman New Haven. What's it about? Good question. I'm just going to start posting and see where the ride takes me.

A few things I'm sure of, at least in the short term: I'll post about cooking and baking. I'll regularly put up pictures of the gnome welcome sign and the frog at the entrance to my house. I expect to post links to certain stories I write. And I hope to make some videos about cooking and other subjects.

My goal is to be interesting, thought provoking and entertaining. I hope I succeed.