The Pesci Prize for distinguished commentary, awarded in lieu of the Pulitzer Prize, this year has been bestowed on Laurence Cohen for his entrée “A Spell Is Broken.”
Mr. Cohen writes a regular column for the Hartford Courant, Connecticut’s state-wide left-leaning daily. The award committee has not been able to determine whether Mr. Cohen, once associated with the Yankee Institute, actually is on the staff of the paper, now owned by the mercurial Sam Zell, a real estate magnate who lately has threatened to make the paper profitable.
Mr. Cohen’s winning column is reprinted below. Don Pesci, commenting on the entrée, said, “Cohen is always good for what ails'ya, but this one is a rib tickler. Many of us can’t understand why Zell doesn’t let Cohen write the whole dammed paper.”
There were no runner-ups.
A Spell Is Broken
April 11, 2008
What was the likelihood that the Connecticut General Assembly was going to pass up the opportunity to forgive women accused of being witches or practicing witchcraft, or, at the very least, of registering Republican?
The heavy lifting and creative public relations had already been done: A mom and her 14-year-old daughter, standing around one day boiling puppy-dog tails, decided to tell the legislators that they were direct descendants of a 17th-century Connecticut woman accused of witchcraft — and served up the notion that the legislators should absolve all the Connecticut women branded as witches.
What a home run. You assign Legislative Research to dig up the stuff on hysteria and witches and Salem and the Wicked Witch From the East that Dorothy killed when the house fell on her. You wake up the staff at the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women and have them issue a quick report on how most of the accused witches were women, because men are pigs.
And then you clear a path for Gov. M. Jodi Rell and Attorney General Dick Blumenthal and a coven of legislative leaders, as they fly to the microphone as if on brooms, to express their regrets and sympathy and a promise never to execute any more witches, except perhaps for the governor's chief of-staff, Lisa Moody, who has a reputation at the Capitol for being a real, well, you know, witch.
It's not like the General Assembly didn't have enough time for the witches. The decision to extend the emergency temporary real estate conveyance tax only took about 15 seconds. You didn't really think that tax was going to be "temporary," did you? Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha.
And yet, despite the lack of apparent risk, despite the opportunity for positive news coverage and being named "Legislators of the Year" by the Aggrieved Witches Division of the American Civil Liberties Union, the resolution melted away like a witch with water poured on her.
This is not a case of important legislation being sabotaged by lobbyists. In fact, many lobbyists are witches or at least instruments of Satan, and thus sympathetic to the resolution. So, to what can we attribute the failure of that old black magic to exercise its, well, magic?
In part, the problem may be that modern-day witches have changed the rules of the game. They market the bubbling caldron stuff as sort of a New Age religion; they go to the University of Connecticut School of Social Work and apply witch-stuff to social problems; and they call themselves Wiccans.
The modern witches seem so mainstream that the label from days past doesn't seem so bad — except for the part about being hanged.
Also, the modern witch advocates didn't play the game. You have to liquor up those legislators and hire their relatives if you expect to get stuff passed. Intimidating them with flying magic monkeys doesn't work.
As many students of Welsh legend remember, the brave warrior Peredur spent three blissful weeks with the witches of Kaer Loyw, learning how to be a man, despite a ruling from the Celtic Ethics Commission that the witches should been reimbursed for the beer and cigars.
The most troubling aspect of the exoneration pitch to the legislators was the possibility that the women in question actually received fair trials and were, in fact, actually witches.
For instance, one of the first witch trials of the time was that of Judith Catchpole in 1656, who was accused in Maryland of secretly giving birth on a crowded boat, killing the baby when no one was looking, slitting the throat of a sleeping woman and then sewing it back up again without waking her.
The evidence was way-cool, as they said in those days, but totally unbelievable — and Judith was acquitted of witch stuff, although she did have trouble finding boyfriends after that.
Perhaps we will never know the real reason that the witch exoneration juggernaut failed to win the day in Connecticut. As early as 1697, in the Massachusetts general court, one of the judges and several of the jurors repented for their roles in the Salem witch trials.
Connecticut? We know witches when we see them. And we aren't apologizing for nothin'.