Molly Jong-Fast: Political Tweeter Talks Trump

Molly Jong-Fast knows she doesn’t know everything.

So she sticks to writing about what she knows.

Like women’s issues. The absurdity of the Trump administration. The fact that Republicans can’t quite figure out when life begins (conception? Or after children are ripped from their families at ICE detention facilities?).

And nepotism.

“I come from a famous family,” she says. “I know it well.”

Jonathan Fast, Erica Jong and Molly Jong-Fast.

Her mother and father were novelists. (You may have heard of them: Erica Jong and Jonathan Fast.)

Her paternal grandfather — Howard Fast — was a noted writer too. He became a political figure when he was jailed for refusing to name names in the McCarthy Era.

Jong-Fast’s in-laws are politically active too. Stewart and Connie Greenfield have spent decades working for — and running for office as — Democrats in Westport.

Erica Jong and Jonathan Fast lived in Manhattan and Weston. Molly went to pre-school and kindergarten here. She attended Singing Oaks Day Camp, and rode horses there. Her roots in this area are deep.

Which is why her appearance this Sunday (October 20, 2:30 p.m., Westport Library) is a bit of a homecoming.

The event is the Democratic Women of Westport’s Fall Forum. The title: “How We Can Use Social Media to Beat Trump.”

Molly Jong-Fast

Jong-Fast is no newcomer to the topic. She is a social media veteran. She has over 300,000 Twitter followers (and has tweeted 169,000 times). She’s active on Instagram and other sites, and is a regular contributor to the Daily Beast, Playboy and The Bulwark.

Her bona fides include Tucker Carlson calling her “not super smart.” But she has been skewered by Democrats too: Marianne Williamson once called Molly’s mother to complain.

Jong-Fast began her writing career as a novelist. Her satirical bent found an outlet after the 2016 election.

“Because I’m dyslexic, my brain has always been a bit off,” she says. “In English class, I’d always give the wrong answer to what a book was about.”

However, she notes, “that helps me make connections that are not always the usual ones. They’re not necessarily right or better. But they’re different.”

Her talk on Sunday will build on a theme she’s tweeted and written about often: the need for ordinary citizens to be “the public editor,” calling out disinformation wherever it appears.

But isn’t social media just an echo chamber? Whether we’re Democrats or Republicans, don’t we all listen only to the people we agree with politically?

Not necessarily, Jong-Fast says. “Every Democrat has a cousin who watches Fox News. You have to find that person, and engage with them.”

She worries about the state of our nation. “How do you get the white nationalism genie back in the bottle?” she wonders. “And misogyny, discrimination, the judiciary — it’s a disaster.”

However, she says, “the Democrats won the House in the mid-terms. Polling shows more and more people interested in impeachment. And the younger generation is awesome.”

Tweet that!

(Sunday’s event with Molly Jong-Fast is free, but space is limited. Click here to reserve a seat.)

Pic Of The Day #910

The Westport Library held its first Mix It Up Tour last night in its new Forum space. Live music, a DJ, food, drinks, an art auction — and very cool decorations — inspired a young crowd that came early and stayed late.

The Westport Library held its first Mix It Up Tour Saturday night in its new Forum space. Live music, a DJ, food, drinks, an art auction — and very cool decorations — inspired a young crowd that came early and stayed late. (Photo/Dan Woog)

Willkommen, Westoberfest!

If you’ve ever been to a German Oktoberfest — a real one — you know the drill.

Volks enjoy beer from steins the size of kegs, and sausages larger than pigs. They dance in lederhosen to oompah bands. It is quite a party, no?

Westport is not Munich. But if you want great fun without a passport, Westoberfest is the place to be.

The 2nd annual event — set for this Saturday (October 19, 1 to 5 p.m., Elm Street) — builds on the success of last year’s inaugural event.

A slew of restaurants, businesses and non-profits joins together for this fun afternoon in the heart of downtown.

A scene from last year’s Westoberfest.

It’s family-friendly, but let’s start with beer. Beginning at 2 p.m., over 30 New England craft breweries will offer more than 50 pours, for unlimited tasting.

But man does not live by beer alone. Rothbard Ale + Larder (of course!) and Kawa Ni (surprise!) provide traditional brats and pretzels, and untraditional spicy miso ramen, tofu pockets and sesame noodles.

Live music comes from StompBoxTrio. Nearby, there’s a classic car rally.

Meanwhile, kids enjoy pumpkin decorating, face painting, apples and a live animal exhibit.

Westoberfest is sponsored by the Westport Downtown Merchants Association, with support from The Grapevine, Westport Farmers’ Market, Air-cooled Car Company, Earthplace, Westport Museum of History & Culture, Artists Collective of Westport, One River, Gault, Princeton Review, Southern Tide, Lux Bond & Green and the Goddard School.

Prost!

(Advance ticket prices are $40 for 1, $70 for a pair, $320 for a party pack of 10. Click here to purchase. Single tickets are available for $45 at the gate.)

Sgt. Nikki Elder Catches A Lift

It’s easy to ignore Veterans Day.

Sure, banks and the post office are closed. But many offices — and the stock market — are open. School is on.

Westport is not exactly a military town. The veterans who live here served mostly in long-ago wars. We’re almost entirely untouched by the endless battles in Iraq and Afghanistan. That conflict — and the men and women who fight there — is out of sight, out of mind.

But it sure isn’t for those who were wounded there.

The Catch a Lift Fund is a lifeline for those “other people.” Created by a woman whose brother volunteered after 9/11 and was killed in Afghanistan, it provides gym memberships and home gym equipment to help wounded post-9/11 service members heal physically and mentally, through physical fitness.

Thanks to one Westporter, however — and his dedicated crew of friends and supporters — Catch a Lift has become a prized, and very special, “local” organization.

In just 5 years, Catch a Lift’s Veterans Day event has become one of the year’s most important fundraisers.

I went to my first one 2 years ago. It was among the most moving nights of my life.

Catch a Lift veterans, at last year’s Birchwood Country Club event.

Adam Vengrow is the inspiration behind this inspiring evening. The next one is Friday, November 8 (7 p.m.), at Birchwood Country Club.

There’s great food and beverages. There’s a DJ, and a video.

But all that pales in comparison to the guests of honor. More than a dozen veterans will be there, mixing and mingling. One will speak. The room will fall silent. It’s a life-changing experience.

The men and women include double and triple amputees. Some are in wheelchairs; others use canes. But this is no pity party. The spirit, energy, life and joy in the group is astonishing.

These veterans are not your typical Westporters. They enlisted just after — or during — high school. They’ve seen things you and I can’t imagine (and, because the war is so distant, never read about).

They have suffered unfathomably — for their country, and us. Thanks to Catch a Lift, they’ve rebuilt their lives. Next month, they’ll honor us with their presence.

Sgt. Nikki Elder (ret.) was at Birchwood last year. She did not speak. This year she will.

Sgt. Nikki Elder

The upstate New York native joined the Navy, and worked as a cryptologic technician with the National Security Agency.

She got out — and then, after 9/11, Elder joined the Army National Guard. In 2004 and ’05, she was deployed to Afghanistan.

She medically retired in 2013. Elder went to grad school, earning a master’s in nutrition. That’s her job now. So is being a single mother to 2 sons.

For years, she battled PTSD. She thought she could conquer it on her own. One day, at a retreat, a fellow veteran told Elder “you have to get your life together.” She mentioned Catch a Lift.

The organization connected Elder with a squad leader, who held her accountable. It took a while — “I fought it,” she admits — but CAL stayed with her.

“I got a lot more out of it than a gym membership,” Elder says. “They believed in me, when I didn’t even believe in myself.”

Nikki Elder (5th from left), at a Catch a Lift event.

Last year she went to Birchwood Country Club, for the 4th annual Catch a Lift fundraiser.

That was the turning point.

“I hadn’t realized the support that was out there, until I saw it in Westport,” Elder recalls. “I had been fighting it. I was guilty, ashamed, depressed, angry. Catch a Lift, and the people in Westport, made me realize I wasn’t broken.”

The weekend “blew me away,” Elder says. “I didn’t know what to expect. But people came up and started talking. I had not been comfortable being complimented, or called a hero. But they genuinely appreciated what I did. It was amazing. I started being okay with thank-yous.”

Vengrow, his fellow organizer Andy Berman, and others were “so enthusiastic. They believed in us. They said ‘you can do this.’ There was no doubt in their minds. They sparked something in me that hasn’t stopped. They gave me confidence I hadn’t felt since I was in the service.”

Today, she has lost 140 pounds from her maximum of 264. She is off all her PTDS medications. “I’m myself again,” she marvels.

Nikki Elder (right) with a fellow Catch a Lift veteran.

She looks forward to returning to this year’s gala. “I want to support Westport, because Westport supported me,” Elder says.

For the past year, she has kept in touch with some of the people — veterans and civilians — she met here. They still encourage each other.

“It’s contagious. It’s infectious. I love it!” she says.

Westport loves Sgt. Nikki Elder, and all her Catch a Lift colleagues, too.

(In addition to Sgt. Nikki Elder, the November 8 event features 2-star General Charles W. Whittington and Catch a Lift founder Lynn Coffland, plus food, drinks and music. Click here for tickets. The next day, the veterans pay it forward by helping MyTeamTriumph, a program for people with disabilities who otherwise could not participate in endurance events like triathlons and road races.) 

Pic Of The Day #909

The sun sets earlier now, in mid-October. But the sunsets are as spectacular as any in the summer. (Photo/Seth Goltzer)

Photo Challenge #250

I’ve said it before: You guys are good.

I was sure last week’s Photo Challenge would be tough. Tim Woodruff’s image showed something dark, and rough textured. It could have been anything. (Water cascading over the old Embalmer’s Supply dam, someone suggested.)

But most of you knew — and quickly — that it was a close-up of one of the Compo Beach cannons.

It’s one of our town’s most beloved spots. Generations of Westporters have climbed and played on the cannons (and been photographed by other generations.)

Still, I’m impressed so many readers could identify them so easily. Kudos to Sharon Paulsen, Will Hamilton, Dan Herman, Andrew Colabella, Joyce Barnhart, Fran Taylor, Wendy Cusick, Mary Schmerker and Carla Fostet. (Click here for that very up-close look.)

So you like cannons? Here’s one!

If you know where in Westport you can find it, click “Comments” below.

(Photo/Mark Mathias)

 

Unsung Hero Needs Help

In June, “0688o” featured Mario Viola as an Unsung Hero.

The Coleytown and Saugatuck Elementary School bus driver truly went “the extra mile.”

He loves “his” children. He decorates his bus for holidays, shows up for their concerts, and keeps everyone excited for school.

When a youngster was sick, Mario gave him his hat to make him feel better.

On the last day of school, the driver took everyone to Carvel — and treated!

Mario Viola, and a young friend.

Recently, as he and his wife rode a motorcycle, they were hit by a drunk driver.

Mario is recovering at home. Meanwhile, his medical bills mount. Parents have created a GoFundMe page to help.

Mario Viola has been there for our children. Now we can be there for him. (Click here to help.)

Mario Viola and his happy kids, at Carvel.

Pic Of The Day #908

Burying Hill Beach (Photo/Marta Campbell)

Fresh Market “Freshens Up”

This summer, Westporters focused on a state Department of Transportation plan involving special left-turn-only lanes, curbing, sidewalks and more at the Fresh Market shopping center.

That’s far in the future. We should have been focused on a more immediate plan to renovate the facade. And the parking lot.

As customers have noted this week, work involved the installation of spiffy new old-fashioned light poles.

But there was a cost. Gone is some of the landscaping that once made the shopping center if not pleasant, at least tolerable.

(Photos/Michael Calise)

The work is not finished. Perhaps beautiful new trees and shrubs will be planted.

And perhaps one day I will walk to the planet Zork, too.

[OPINION] RTMers: Why We Voted Against Recreational Marijuana Ban

Earlier this month, the Representative Town Meeting considered an ordinance to ban the sale of recreational marijuana in Westport. (Currently, only medical marijuana is legal in Connecticut.) The motion was defeated, 18-16, after more than 3 hours of debate.

After the vote, 14 RTM members who voted against the proposal sent this email to “06880”:

Westport’s most recent RTM meeting included consideration of an ordinance that sought to ban the sale of recreational marijuana, despite the fact that it is already – and remains — illegal in Connecticut and Westport.

For reasons that persuaded the majority of the RTM, any ordinance passed in anticipation of a future state decriminalization statute would be speculative, premature, and passed now for no reason that could achieve even a modicum of extra protection for the town of Westport.

As explained below, it turned out that the proposed legislation was deeply flawed and poorly conceived.

Some states have legalized marijuana based on the view that legalization could ensure that the ingredients are standardized to make it safer, so it is not cut with unsafe or excessively strong or dangerous ingredients. Connecticut, other states, and the federal government have been considering whether the laws should be changed.

A variety of medical marijuana edibles.

Many states have permitted an opt-out provision, permitting individual towns to decide to limit retail sales.

To date, the versions of the marijuana decriminalization legislation submitted to the Connecticut legislature also included local opt-out provisions for retail sales.

The RTM’s final debate on this proposed ordinance to ban retail sales of marijuana made it clear that there is significant desire to restrict or prevent the sale of recreational marijuana retail sales in our town when, and if, a decriminalization statute is passed.

However, under no scenario would any such decriminalization statute afford any Connecticut town the right to make marijuana illegal for use. The legal concept of state preemption of municipal and town ordinances would clearly prohibit that.

The town attorney spoke at the RTM meeting and provided his opinion that the proposed ordinance, as written, was problematic. He was unable to testify in support of the petitioners’ defective ordinance. He noted that, under the law, there is something called the preemption doctrine, which means that any state law would preempt a town ordinance that contradicts it.  So, for instance, if the state legalizes marijuana, there is nothing Westport can do to make it illegal.

However, if the state statute expressly permits towns to decide how many retail stores for marijuana there should be or whether there should be any at all, then towns such as Westport would be empowered and permitted to limit or prohibit retail sales.

Moreover, there is typically a period of time between when a state statute is passed, and when it becomes enacted and has the force of law.  With respect to the legalization of marijuana, in Connecticut, it is anticipated that there will be an 18-month to 2-year interregnum between passage and enactment.  This will give Westport plenty of time to evaluate what the new law says, and how Westport can protect itself with the right kind of ordinance.

Passing such an ordinance now, however, is a bit like shadow boxing; we really have nothing to swing at and hit, as the legislation we are trying to address has not been passed yet.

Moreover, given that we will be afforded abundant time to address retail sales in the event the decriminalization statute is passed, before it becomes enacted into law, it makes no sense to swing in the blind now.  We have insufficient details about what the eventual decriminalization legislation would say, and/or whether it will even pass.  Therefore, any attempt to pass legislation in such a knowledge vacuum would result in a potentially deeply flawed and inaccurate ordinance.

That is not how responsible RTM legislators should proceed.

An ordinance is a law, so it must be legally viable. Some RTMers who voted for this ordinance said they recognized that it would be completely ineffective, but thought it would be “symbolic.”

Legislators who take their role seriously cannot pass legislation that they know to be ineffective and unenforceable, simply because it “feels good.” Symbolic votes are preserved for “sense of the meeting” votes; they should not be used for legislation.

At the hearing, the petitioners also acknowledged their proposed ordinance was flawed when they realized it accidentally outlawed a derivative substance, CBD, that is perfectly legal.

Additionally, the ordinance had what many perceived to be due process problems.  Instead of permitting the police to issue a citation for a violation and then a hearing with all afforded due process rights in court, the proposal politicized the process, permitting a politically elected official, the first selectman, to appoint a hearing officer – even a biased one — to be the judge and jury.

The “officer” would not have to have any legal background or expertise or even personal qualifications, would not have to follow the Connecticut Rules of Evidence or Civil Procedure, would not be required to be objective and unbiased, and the ordinance provided no means to seek recusal for bias or conflict of interest, etc.

Westporters believe in due process rights, and in protecting the legal rights of all, including the falsely accused, as well as the properly accused. This weakness in the petitioners’ proposed ordinance needs to be changed to permit the accused to have any violation citation to be initially heard in court, given the serious reputational and career harm to be had from such a citation for narcotics sales.

As a result of these shortcomings, the RTM did not pass this ordinance last week. However, with the right ordinance — without so many legal and due process flaws – brought forth when and if the state actually passes the decriminalization statute, the RTM may then (more appropriately) revisit this issue.

Many of the 18 members who voted against this particular ordinance are not opposed to a ban on retail sales of recreational marijuana in Westport, but recognized that, as our town attorney explained, this poorly constructed ordinance would not be legally viable.

Westport has already restricted the sale of marijuana.  The town’s Planning & Zoning Commission put in place strict zoning regulations that allow only the sale of medical marijuana in specific places. This highly proscriptive zoning restriction does not allow for recreational sales at these places. Despite scare tactics to the contrary, there is no mechanism for the approved medical facilities to suddenly become recreational facilities if the state were to permit the sale of recreational usage.

Whether you are for or opposed to the statewide legalization of recreational marijuana, you can rest assured that we RTMers will fight hard to ensure that we have a say as to whether it is something that we want here in Westport.

Once the statewide legal status is sorted out, the RTM will consider a better-crafted ordinance. For the time being, however, we must all remember that recreational marijuana is still illegal here and in all of Connecticut. Scare tactics aside, there is zero doubt that, should that legal status change in the future, Westport will have more than ample time to pass any necessary, legally permissible, local legislation.

Seth Braunstein
Andrew Collabella
Arline Gertzoff
Wendy Goldwyn Batteau
Kristan Hamlin
Richard Jaffe
Amy Kaplan
Nicole Klein
Ellen Lautenberg
Sal Liccione
Matthew Mandell
Carla Rea
Lauren Soloff
Cathy Talmadge