Author Archives: Dan Woog

Tweetless Turkey Day

Today’s teenagers don’t know life without Snapchat, Instagram or Facebook. Not to mention Twitter, Yik Yak, Whatsgoodly, streaming videos from Netflix, and — not incidentally — using laptops, tablets and smartphones for schoolwork, in class and out. Staples High School’s BYOD (“bring your own device”) policy ensures that students are connected — to the internet, and each other — 24/7.

(That’s not an exaggeration. Some kids today sleep with their phones underneath their pillows, so they won’t miss any 3 a.m. notifications.)

Technology is wonderful. But it’s also awful. It causes stress. It fragments attention. Social media in particular raises unrealistic expectations. It prevents people from actually being present — connected personally, not wirelessly — with real friends and family members, in real time.

These are not Staples students. But they could be.

These are not Staples students. But they could be.

No one knows this more than Staples’ guidance counselors. They’re on the front lines, watching students battle with the demands of social media, along with the usual stresses of sky-high expectations in a very competitive community.

The guidance department’s Resilience Project is a way to help teenagers find balance, strength and direction. Counselors regularly share videos, stories and ideas with students, teachers and parents, offering strategies to ease anxiety.

This week, they’re doing more. The Resilience Project proposes a Thanksgiving technology break. For 24 hours — any 24 hours during the holiday — Staples students (and staff!) (parents too!) are urged to step away from all social media. Including (aaargh) texting.

(Graphic/Cameron Lynch, Carla Eichler's Beginnign Design and Tech class)

(Graphic/Cameron Lynch, Carla Eichler’s Beginnign Design and Tech class)

The technology break coincides with another Resilience Project initiative: Teachers are encouraged to not give homework over Thanksgiving weekend, and to delay long-term project due dates to later in the following week.

Without that obligation, and with family and friends nearby, the hope is that for 24 hours, Stapleites can engage — really, truly, not sporadically or half-heartedly — with other human beings.

The Resilience Project suggests that teachers and students discuss the technology break during Communication Time, a 15-minute period on Tuesday after Thanksgiving.

It’s a great idea. Give it a try.

And if you can’t go 24 hours without technology, at least don’t tweet during Thanksgiving dinner.

Ken Bernhard: Syrian Crisis Is Of “Biblical Proportions”

In the wake of the Paris terror attacks, more than 30 governors have said their states will not accept Syrian refugees.

Connecticut’s Democratic governor, on the other hand, personally welcomed a family diverted from Indianapolis to New Haven.

A former Republican legislator from Westport thinks that’s great.

Ken Bernhard

Ken Bernhard

Ken Bernhard is not just reacting to the news of the day. He’s been concerned with refugees’ plights  since the crisis began several years ago. A noted attorney, he helped found The Syria Fund. That 501(c)(3) provides education, medical supplies, household goods and food to families living in dire, desperate areas underserved by large, mainstream organizations.

Bernhard’s humanitarian efforts began at a typical suburban setting: a cocktail party. A woman who’d studied in Syria told him about the refugee crisis brewing in the Mideast.

Bernhard had taught under a UNESCO program in Jordan. He recalled the “lovely, hospitable, generous people” he’d met, and vowed to help.

The refugees who began fleeing Syria nearly a year ago are primarily middle class, he says. Rich and poor Syrians left a long time ago; store owners and professionals thought they’d be able to “hunker down.” Now they’re leaving their embattled land with only what they can carry. Up to 80,000 are jammed into temporary camps.

Syria Fund logoWestporters have reacted “very generously” to his pleas for help through the Syria Fund, Bernhard says.

The former elected official — he’s been Westport’s 3rd selectman and served 4 terms in the Connecticut General Assembly, including a stint as assistant minority leader — is wary of politicians who “advocate simple solutions to complex situations.”

The US has been actively involved in the Middle East for 70 years, he notes. Our actions — like supporting the Shah of Iran and Saddam Hussein (“until we turned against him”) — have helped sow the seeds of the current dangerous problems.

“I don’t think we can turn a blind eye to the humanitarian crisis that’s partly the result of our own actions,” Bernhard says. “We’ve had the advantage of an ocean between here and there. Now we’ve got a choice with these refugees: step up or not.”

He is not naive about the need for security. But, he insists, “the process to get here is so arduous. These are people who have been seeking sanctuary for years. In 2 trips over there, I’ve never seen people hostile to the US.”

He adds, “what are these millions of people fleeing Syria supposed to do? If we don’t help, the problem will migrate. We’ll have to deal with it somewhere else.”

Many current Syrian refugees are middle class, Ken Bernhard says.

Many current Syrian refugees are middle class, Ken Bernhard says.

Bernhard calls the conditions in the migrants’ camps appalling. Families sit idle in the hot (and cold) desert. Children grow up there knowing no other life. “If we don’t educate them, and give them employment and prospects for hope, these are the young men who will turn to ISIS,” he says.

He is proud of what The Syria Fund has accomplished — with help from his fellow Westporters. As long as refugees need aid, he’ll continue raising funds.

“This is America. This is Westport,” Bernhard says. “It’s a mass migration — a crisis of biblical proportions. We’re witnesses to it. We all have an obligation to step up and do something about it.”

(To learn more about The Syria Fund, including how to contribute, click here.)


Fire In The Sky

A number of Westporters snapped photos of tonight’s spectacular sunset. Chip Stephens’ shot — taken at Winslow Park — was one of the best.

Sunset - November 22, 2015

Click on or hover over to enlarge.

And so was Chris Swan’s, from the beach:

Sunset -  Chris Swan

Oh My 06880 — Photo Challenge #47

Save the Children is gone from Wilton Road. Hariri International House — across the Post Road on Riverside Avenue, where the organization placed their international guests – has been gone even longer.

Ellen Willmott was the only “06880” reader to nail last week’s photo challenge. She knew where Larry Perlstein’s shot was snapped, and she knew the backstory to Hariri House. Congrats! (To see the full post, click here.)

This week’s challenge — courtesy of Jennifer Jackson — is a two-fer. We’ll even tell you what they are: the Confederate stars and bars, and of course a Nazi swastika.

Oh My 06880 - November 21, 2015

Oh My 06880 - November 21, 2015 - 2

Both are displayed prominently — and near each other — in a very public Westport building. If you think you know where, click “Comments” below.

From Westport To Anatevka And Syria, With Love

For the past 2 weekends, Staples Players’ production of “Fiddler on the Roof” awed and inspired packed audiences.

The show’s run ended last night. But its magic lives on.

The plight of early 20th century Russian Jews resonated with the teenage cast and crew. They made connections with world events today. At each performance, Players collected money for Save the Children’s Syrian Children’s Relief Fund.

At the end of last night’s final show, Players president Vig Namasivayam announced that audiences had donated $4,750 to the cause.

Staples Players:  Take a bow!

The symbolic check, presented to Save the Children after last night's performance.

A symbolic check, presented to Save the Children after last night’s performance.

(To add your own donation, click here.)

Happy 100th, Howard Munce!

Mark your calendars, Westport. On Friday, Howard Munce turns 100.

Howard Munce at work.

Howard Munce at work.

In a town long known for its great artists, illustrators and painters, he’s a towering figure. Howard’s resume — advertising director, graphic designer, sculptor, cartoonist, book author, teacher — ranks him with the most prominent creative folks in our history.

He served his country in World War II, seeing action as a Marine platoon sergeant at Guadalcanal.

He’s served his town too. Howard has been an honorary board member of the Westport Arts Center. For over 25 years, he volunteered as graphics director for the Westport Library.

Whenever he was asked to help — donating dozens of paintings and illustrations to the Permanent Art Collection; curating exhibits for the Westport Historical Society; mentoring young artists — he always said “of course.”

Howard Munce epitomizes 2 of our community’s proudest traits: our arts heritage, and our spirit of giving back.

He’s been a proud Westporter since 1935. He came here to live with family friends, while commuting to Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. One of his first jobs was modeling for famed artist Harold von Schmidt.

Westport has been an important part of Howard’s life ever since. And he’s been an even more important part of ours.

What do you give a man who has seen and done everything? How about a townwide ton of birthday wishes?

(Birthday card/Denise Woods. Photo on right/Lawrence Untermeyer)

(Birthday card/Denise Woods. Photo on right/Lawrence Untermeyer)

Just click “Comments” below. Howard does not get on the computer much, but his daughter and home health care aide look forward to reading them to him.

Here’s my contribution:

Howard, happy hundred! Thank you for all you have done, for all of us. You have made Westport a far better place, and my life is far richer for knowing you. May your momentous day be as bright as your ever-present smile!

What’s yours?




Because Searching For An Actual Parking Spot Is Just Sooooo Inconvenient…

Parker Harding Plaza - November 21, 2015

From A Tiny Acorn…

Several interesting sculptures frame the Westport Library’s lower entrance, near the Riverwalk and Taylor parking lot.

But the most eye-catching of all was created by Mother Nature. A massive oak tree sits on Jesup Green.

The other day, Lynn U. Miller captured it in all its autumnal beauty.

Oak tree near library - Lynn U Miller

Click on or hover over to enlarge. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Customizable Calendar App Covers Westport sponsors a “Celebrate Westport” calendar — which, for some reason, does not include town government meetings.

WestportNow offers a calendar — with events for that day only.

A new startup hopes to become our go-to local calendar app.

Burbio — a “fun play” on the word “suburb,” they say — has spread to 30 Fairfield and Westchester County towns. Users pick and choose calendars for local organizations, non-profits and schools, customizing which ones they see. Color coding permits everyone in, say, one family to see every other family member’s calendar at once.

Burbio users can also sync information to a digital calendar, and be notified of changes or additions.

An email digest of “important school, community and school sports events” is sent to users every Sunday, a press release says. (It looks, though, as if the sports link is not yet live. It also looks pretty minimalist, as shown below.)

A Burbio screenshot.

A Burbio screenshot.

Burbio is the brainchild of Julie and Dennis Roche. The Pelham, New York couple with 4 kids was going bonkers trying to keep track of everyone’s activities. Dennis is no stranger to Westport — he lived near the beach in the 1990s.

Burbio is still finding its way. The groups currently listed for Westport are the library, schools and Farmer’s Market. So the main calendar includes events like a 6th-7th grade “can competition,” and an elementary school parent social.

A “Westport Holiday Events” page included “The Nutcracker,” craft shows — and Staples Players’ “Fiddler on the Roof.” (Okay, maybe they were thinking Chanukah.) And there are no town commission or board meetings.

Burbio is just getting started. As more people use it — and more organizations add their calendars — it will become more inclusive, more robust and livelier.

For now, check it out:


The Doors In Westport

A relatively new Westporter writes:

I can’t believe Westport allows door-to-door solicitation! It is very frightening to be home alone during the day with young children, and have strangers come to the door.

I have encountered everything from a man selling food out of his truck, to Optimum sales guys who show up at the most annoying times.

This is a concern for many people. I think it is dangerous that our town allows this. Who in Town Hall would we need to petition to get this changed? Thank you!

Door to door

Living in a condo — where we don’t even get Halloween trick-or-treaters — this is a new one on me.

So I went to my go-to guy: town operations director Dewey Loselle. He replied:

We do not have an ordinance that prohibits it. However, we do have an ordinance that requires a vendor to get a permit from the town (selectman’s office) before being able to do any sort of sales/soliciting door to door.

There is a small fee. The Police Department also does a cursory background check before we approve the permit. The permit says there should be no soliciting after 6 p.m. Persons soliciting without a permit may be reported to the Police Department.

There have been questions (constitutional) as to whether religious groups need to get a permit to go door to door, so we don’t make them get permits. Also, we usually don’t require permits for not-for-profits selling fundraising tickets (like for the Rotary).

Thanks, Dewey! Now, if you can take care of those !@#$%^&*s who call every night from “Customer Service,” the (not-Westport) Police Benevolent Union, Kevin the roofing guy…

And yes, I am on the do-not-call registry.