A Season of Dinosaur State Park

Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History

Connecticut is a geologic hodgepodge. Only the northwestern corner, shown in blue and brown and yellow on the map above, is original to North America. The pink zone on the eastern border and southeastern coast was once part of Africa, while most of the state — the green and ocher areas — was the mud and sediment on the ocean floor between the two continents that was thrown to the surface as the tectonic plates pulled apart. The yellow zone down the middle was a failed rift in Pangaea.

To complicate things, the glaciers of the last ice age stretched from Canada all the way to Long Island Sound, completely blanketing Connecticut and terminating in the berm of rocks we now call Long Island. As they receded, the glaciers left the boulders and stones they had pushed before them, which makes Connecticut soil so infamously difficult to farm.

The yellow division on the map, called the Newark terrane, is chock full of fossils and dinosaur tracks. At the Dinosaur State Park in Rocky Hill, you can see hundreds of three-toed footprints left by Dilophosaurus, pictured here, or at least a theropod dinosaur very similar to her.

Dilophosaurus wetherilli, CC Heather Kyoht Luterman

The tracks — which crisscross each other, running hither and yon — were discovered on the site in 1968 during construction of a building. Those plans were scrapped and a geodesic dome was built over the spot, where visitors today can admire the tracks from raised walkways. Amazingly, what’s visible is a fraction of the total as scientists left several thousand more tracks buried for preservation’s sake.

A Season of Whispers

I’ve always associated dinosaurs and fossils with the southwest and the northern plains, so I was surprised when I discovered Dinosaur State Park less than an hour from our house. I haven’t been there in years but once upon a time it was a perfect day trip for our pair of dinosaur-obsessed boys, and our visits left, well, an impression on me.

This geologic history is a gold mine for a writer of Gothic fiction. After all, the overriding conceit of the genre is that the past haunts the present — and who’s to say if something from antediluvian epochs, thought long dead and gone, might not whisper in our ears tonight?

I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s tour through some of the settings and places that influenced my novel A Season of Whispers, which is now available in various ebook formats and as a trade paperback. Thanks for reading!

A Season of Machimoodus State Park

My novel A Season of Whispers is available this Thursday, and all week I’m touring the places that influenced its setting.

Machimoodus State Park, located in East Haddam, Connecticut, is a 300-acre park full of crumbled stone walls, trap rock, and towering white pines located along the Salmon River.

It’s also the source — or, at least, is one of the sources — of the Moodus Noises.

Back during my archaeology days, I encountered the noises firsthand while working a cultural-resource management gig in the woods near Old Saybrook. I’d arrived early in the morning before the rest of the crew, and while setting up, heard a series of low echoing rumbles coming from the north. They were very different than thunder — more like sonic booms. I assumed they were some kind of explosion but when my coworkers showed up, they told me there was nothing on the news. It was only afterward that I realized I’d heard the Moodus Noises.

Connecticut is very geologically active — we had two earthquakes alone back in July — but the good news is most of the quakes are below 2.0 Richter. Geologists have determined the Moodus Noises are generated by microquakes occurring deep underground, the sound of which then reverberates to the surface.

Local Native American tribes venerated the area around Machimoodus — which translates to “the place of bad noises” — as the home of a spirit they called Hobbamock or Hobomoko, who was a sort of Plutonic underworld figure. Later, the Puritans regarded the area as haunted and associated it with the devil (but then again, the Puritans regarded everything as Satanic — there’s another state park nearby called Devil’s Hopyard). It’s interesting to me that the tribes correctly pinpointed the origin of the noises as being underground.

The fictional town of Saltonstall, which is where A Season of Whispers takes place, is set a little south of Machimoodus State Park. It’s worth visiting for an easy hike.

Should I Stay or Should I Go

At the Yankee Institute, I have a brief tout for a new study they’ve published regarding Connecticut’s Jekyll-and-Hyde attitude toward business in the state, wherein corporations are heavily taxed until they threaten to depart — at which point Hartford throws some corporate welfare at them.

Proponents of the tax increases estimated $481 million in receipts from corporations for the two-year period, but in reality the taxes only brought in $323 million — just 67 percent of what they originally projected.

But during that time, the state’s Department of Economic and Community Development shelled out nearly $358 million in grants or loans to businesses to either move to Connecticut or, if they were already here, to stay put.

Many of the recipients of the DECD’s largesse are hardly strapped for cash and the economic incentives from the state did little to keep them from ultimately deciding to relocate.

United Technologies is the latest giant corporation to relocate its HQ outside the state even though they’ve received tax credits from Connecticut.

Meanwhile, HB 7222, which I reported on back in March, has died in committee. The bill sought to expand the power of the attorney general in the name of civil rights but was opposed as an encroachment upon other offices in the state.

The EITC in CT

For Tax Day I had a story over at the Yankee Institute about the Earned Income Tax Credit:

The EITC supplements the wages of low-income workers by sending them a check after they file their tax returns — even when they have no income-tax liability. The underlying idea is to refund the payroll taxes of low earners.

Who qualifies and how much they receive is based on what they earn and how many children they have. In Connecticut, for example, a married couple with two children making less than $51,492 would qualify. That family would receive at most $5,716 from the feds plus another $1,315 from the state. This would boost their total income to about $58,520, which is more than 227 percent of the federal poverty level.

Three different bills introduced in the Assembly sought to either expand the state EITC, kill it, or modify it, but all of them died in committee. I’ve become something of an evangelist for the EITC since learning about it last year, and it’s my hope the article, if nothing else, raises the program’s profile.

When I moved to Connecticut in 1995, I earned $21,000 a year, equivalent to about $35,000 today. I often think about how difficult it would be to live on that amount now, in part because of the increased tax burden. Back then, Connecticut only had income-tax brackets for the highest earners, but today anyone making $1 or more has some liability. I can’t imagine squeaking by on $35,000 and yet having to pay income tax on it.

At 3 percent for the lowest bracket, I’d be paying $1,050 to the state, which is very nearly the median monthly rent in Connecticut.

It’s incredible how low earners in this state are screwed, particularly by taxes. The issue of raising the minimum wage receives a lot of airtime, even though less than 1 percent of the American population earns the federal minimum wage or less (caveat: the fed’s minimum wage is very low — $7.25 an hour). In the article I cite Pew Research, noting that 3.3 million Americans earn the federal minimum wage or less, but that number is from 2013. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the total decreased to 1.8 million by 2017.

In contrast, 25 million received a refund via the federal EITC in 2018 — nearly 14 times the number of people earning the federal minimum wage or less. Many more people are impacted by the EITC than would be affected by raising the minimum wage. Don’t forget that raising the minimum wage also results in layoffs.

When you hear cries from certain quarters saying we need to raise taxes, what they really mean is the income tax (and maybe capital gains taxes too) because that’s our only progressive tax — that is, the more you make, the higher percentage you pay.

What they ignore — or maybe don’t want to admit — is that *everybody* pays taxes, including low earners. Low earners pay sales tax. Low earners pay property taxes through their rent or mortgage, and in Connecticut on their cars too. Low earners pay tariffs. Low earners pay payroll taxes. Demands for more taxes means just that: more taxes for everyone, not just for the reviled rich.

This is one of the few times you’ll ever see me boosting an entitlement program but if we’re going to have a system that uses tax money to fill the potholes (just kidding — most of our taxes go to pay interest on debt and to bomb people in other countries), then it shouldn’t be done on the backs of those living closest to the edge. The EITC is something we should keep in Connecticut.

The Road to the Senate Is Paved With Lawsuits

Over at the Yankee Institute I have an article on HB 7222, a bill currently sitting before the Joint Committee on Judiciary which would enlarge the powers of Connecticut’s attorney general, William Tong, to take action in civil-rights cases.

In the aftermath of last summer’s Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission ruling by the US Supreme Court — in which the court sided with the baker who refused to create a cake for a gay wedding — Tong promised on the campaign trail to create a civil-rights division at the AG’s office. …

HB 7222, if made into a law as written, would allow the attorney general to investigate allegations that someone has threatened, intimidated, or coerced somebody else from exercising their civil rights. This would include criminal acts of bias or bigotry, all of which are felonies in Connecticut.

While I don’t object to the AG opening a civil-rights division, I’m very worried about the draconian language specific to HB 7222, which robs the accused of due process and puts them on the hook financially the minute the AG initiates an action. I won’t repeat those criticisms here; instead, you can read my article at Yankee.

The biggest violator of civil rights is government, full stop. It was government that enforced Jim Crow; it was government that refused to acknowledge gay marriages. If a baker doesn’t make me a cake for my gay wedding, I have multiple avenues of recourse: I can file a complaint with our Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities, and/or I can simply go to another bakery. But when the violator is government itself, I have little relief except through their own courts.

From justice reform to overworked and underfunded public defenders, there’s plenty of civil-rights beef in this state for a hungry AG to chase. However, I’m skeptical that Tong is interested in taking on government bodies, which is why I worry about the bill’s language — it’s aimed at private citizens or companies who rouse his ire, not at municipalities or public bureaucracies.

While writing the story, I kept asking the AG’s spokeswoman what kinds of actions Tong was interested in taking if the bill passed. Would there suddenly be a crackdown on bigoted bakeries? Or would he sue the police departments of municipalities cooperating with ICE in tracking the whereabouts of illegal immigrants, as was revealed last week by the ACLU? In other words, was he planning to sue private citizens or take action against government nonfeasance or malfeasance? She didn’t answer my question, but instead told me the AG would do so himself in his testimony before the Joint Committee, which occurred on Friday.

Reading Tong’s testimony (pdf) did nothing to mollify my concerns. In it, he cites several recent incidents as examples his office would investigate:

The Islamic Center in New London receives fake poison in the mail, or Klansmen ride in Stafford Springs.

African-American and Latinx people in Hartford are denied safe, quality housing while the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development sits on its hands.

Immigrants in our cities and towns are subjected to large-scale, systematic wage theft.

Connecticut residents with disabilities fear being pushed out of jobs because a big box store has decided to reclassify their position without accommodation.

Somebody sending poison, fake or otherwise, through the mail is a straight-up crime. Keep in mind that in Connecticut, there’s a strict division of responsibility between the attorney general, who pursues civil actions, and the chief state’s attorney, who prosecutes criminal charges, so this case would fall squarely under the latter’s jurisdiction. Moreover, terrorism through the mail is a federal crime and the Postal Inspection Service would be all over this long before the AG arrived on the scene. I don’t see what Tong could do beyond sue the culprit who should already be in prison.

As for the Klan incident, it was hardly a “ride.” Police suspect it was a handful of dumb teenagers at a party. Tong might as well sue the governor of Virginia while he’s at it.

The other three examples are more relevant, although it’s still unclear what action Tong would take in each of those cases. Sue HUD? Sue the feds to bring about immigration reform, so that more immigrants are legalized and thereby on the books? Again, no answers. Keeping a close eye on Walmart is probably the only thing Tong and I agree on.

More instructive, however, are the five cases Tong further lists in which state attorney generals — armed with the same kind of power granted by HB 7222 — won civil-rights victories, most of them through settlements rather than through the courts. The opponent in each case he mentions is a private company or institution.

Which I think is the clearest answer I’m gonna get. Tong isn’t interested in suing police departments cooperating with ICE. He isn’t interested in suing HUD or the Department of Homeland Security. He’s looking to sue companies.

And it’s not a bad strategy when you consider Tong’s long game. Tong clearly has ambitions for national office: he ran for Lieberman’s senate seat in 2012, only to lose to Chris Murphy in the primary. Our other senator, Richard Blumenthal, is 73. Winning settlements against big companies is a great way for Tong to build his brand and increase name recognition for the day when Blumenthal’s seat comes up for grabs. After all, it worked for Blumenthal himself, who forged his career with consumer-protection victories as our state attorney general.

The Latest

Over at the Yankee Institute blog, I interviewed Frank Cortese, operations manager for a Greenwich-based fuel and energy company, who said the installation of tolls on Connecticut’s highways would cost him more than $57,000 during the winter months and maybe even $72,000 a year — a cost he will pass down to his customers.

Separately I also reported on a bipartisan movement to eliminate Connecticut’s Business Entity Tax, which is a tax businesses pay simply because they, well, exist.