March 24, 2017

Letter From Paris: The Netherlands to the Rescue

Nicole Prévost Logan

Thank goodness for The Netherlands!  

Their March 15 vote for their House of Representatives was exactly what Europe needed at this point – the reassuring voice of a founding member of the European Community (EU) expressing its belief in Europe while being open to the world. The result was greeted with a sigh of relief by pro-Europeans. It was another sign — after the victory of the Green Party-backed Independents in the Austrian elections of December 2016 — that populism and rejection of Europe are not inescapable. 

A brief look at history will help better understand the elections of The Netherlands and realize how coherent the Dutch position is.  During its “Golden Age” in the 16th and 17th centuries,  Holland was an opulent merchant class society marked by Calvinist ethics of discipline and frugality.  It stood out as being tolerant toward religions and a place where liberty of conscience was inscribed in the constitution.

The founding of the Dutch East India Company opened a maritime and commercial empire, becoming a hub of finances and trade. The first ever stock exchange was created in Amsterdam.  Erasmus (1466-1536), the humanist Renaissance scholar, gave his name to a most successful student exchange program established in 1987.

Someone described The Netherlands of that time as having high literacy and low interest. Rotterdam, until recently the largest port in the world, is still number one in Europe.  What was tolerance has developed into permissiveness and it is one of the dominant traits of the Dutch people today.  Finally, that small country, located well below the sea level, has shown incredible courage in carrying out its Pharaonic fight against the elements. 

“The Netherlands is the country, which has the most to lose from the Brexit” says Marc-Olivier Padis, from the Terra Nova Think Tank.  It shares with the UK an attachment to free trade policies and also to the unhindered circulation of goods and capital within the European Common Market.  Holland’s agriculture, horticulture and dairy industry have always profited from Europe’s Political Agricultural Policy (PAC). The reason the Dutch voted “No”  to the 2005 referendum on a European constitution was because they  worried about the seemingly uncontrolled expansion of Europe, especially with Holland being the largest of the small countries in the continent.

The participation in the March 15 elections was incredibly high at 77.6 percent.  The ballot system by proportional representation produces multiple parties.  In order to be able to govern, any of the 28 parties has to join a coalition with others. 

Here is a snapshot  of the votes showing the changes since the 2012 elections.  The winner was Mark Rutte (VVD), former prime minister, head of the conservative liberal centrist party with 21.3 percent votes and 33 seats. He lost eight seats.  In second place, the far-right Party for Freedom (PVV), led by Greet Wilders, obtained 13.1 percent and will have 20 seats. Two pro-European parties, Christian democrat Appeal (CDA) and centrist reformer (D66) won 19 seats each.  Those two may share an alliance with Rutte.    

Rutte said he would not join Wilders again, as he had done in 2012.  The Labour party Social democrats (PVDA) collapsed going from 29 seats to only nine seats.  The radical left also did not perform well.  One notes two interesting developments: a young 30-year-old had a spectacular rise — Jesse Klaver has a Dutch-Indonesian mother and a  father of Moroccan origin.  His party, Groenlinks (GL)  or green- left, will secure 14 seats.

A new party, Denk, meaning “think”, headed by Unahan Kuzu, received 2 percent of the votes and will have three seats.  It is 100 percent Moslem.

Wilders, the “peroxide candidate,” leader of PPV, the only extremist party,  gained five seats.  He progressed but did not win.  “We are the party, which did not lose,” he commented.”  He is well-known for his outrageous attacks against Islam.  He wants to outlaw the Koran , close all mosques and expel the Moslems.  As a consequence, he is under constant threat.

For the past 13 years he has been living in a safe house with  a “panic room,” is under police protection round the clock and rides in an armor-plated car.  “I would not wish my life to anybody”  A “buffer zone,” to use the expression of German journalist Michaela Wiegel, isolates Wilders in the parliament. 

The Dutch elections took place at a time of high tension between Ankara and Europe.  The Turkish minister of foreign affairs Mevlut Cavusoglu was about to land in Rotterdam as part of a political campaign among the Turkish diaspora of  2.8 million.  Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s objective is to gather the Turkish population’s support prior to the April 16 constitutional referendum on his increased powers.  After Erdogan called Holland the Nazi capital of the West and kept hurling other insults, Germany and Holland had the courage to forbid the Turkish officials from entering their territories.  Rutte was very firm and impressed the voters scrambling during the last minutes before the polls.

Today Dutch economy is so healthy as to make its neighbors drool with envy with 6 percent unemployment and an economic growth rate of 2.1 percent.  The government reacted quickly to the recent economic crises in 2008 and 2010-11.  In 2012, it was even able to generate a trade surplus.  Its rigorous austerity program was so efficient as to lower public expenses down from 65 to 45 percent.  The reforms were not imposed on the people but accepted by them in a form of consensus.

The main issues at stake are not so much economic nor social but a fear of losing one’s cultural identity and also anxiety about security.  Therefore immigration and the challenge of integration are at the core of the people’s concerns. 

Holland is a multicultural society with a surge of a Turkish and Moroccan immigration — something which has occurred during the past 50 years.  Half the population of Rotterdam consists of recent immigrants.  The Dutch have been working hard at establishing good relations with these populations: 70 associations act as go-between; a minister from a reformed church in Rotterdam just gave a sermon in a mosque; Ahmed Aboutaleb, mayor of Rotterdam, is of Moroccan origin, and is strongly against the radicalization of Islam.

The Netherlands should be considered as a model for the other EU members. Unfortunately, many of their qualities are not to be found in other countries.  It is hoped that the position and demands of the Dutch are heard in a restructuring of the EU, possibly to unfold in the next few months. 

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

Nicole LoganAbout the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Reading Uncertainly? ‘Notes From Old Lyme: Life on the Marsh and Other Essays’ by Sydney M. Williams

Another neighbor turns to words, to look at where and how we live.

Sydney Williams, formerly of Smith’s Neck in Old Lyme and now of Essex, gives us an engaging and thoughtful autobiography and personal peregrination, in fits and starts (brief essays), leading us from Madison, CT and Peterborough, NH, to Massachusetts, New Hampshire again, the U.S. Army, Greenwich, CT, New York City and on to Old Lyme, with side excursions to California, Colorado and Austria.

It is, as he calls it, “a memory of mindfulness” stimulated by “time to think,” a great asset of old age!

Williams is ever humorous and self-effacing as he draws us into his history using “The Great Outdoors,” “The World at Large,” “Books” (he is a voracious reader and quoter), and “Family and Friends.”

His analogies pop up on almost every page. A marsh is a “cacophony” of sight and sound, creatures and vegetation. The sea “as calm as a toad in the sun.” That one reminds me of a recent haiku of my own:

October Reverie
Glistening green toad,
Snoozing on the hot tarmac:
Sound of tires ahead?

Often a subtle jab: “On occasion we have caught sight of weasels, which, while common in Washington, are rarely seen in our marsh.”

He apologizes for his longest essay (11 pages) of political musings in which he bemoans the excessive partisanship and incivility in today’s governmental climate, the “fiction” of representative government (he suggests term limits on all elected offices, especially those in Washington), and stresses “the importance of  confronting differing opinions” with reason, candor, and civility. We live, he suggests, in “a world marked with uncertainty.”

Sydney Williams’s essays also stimulate personal reflections: I too have experienced education in New Hampshire (Concord vs. Durham), working the the bowels of New York City (I lasted but three years!), skiing at Vail, climbing Marin County’s Mt. Tamalpais, summers on the Jersey Shore (Mantoloking vs. Rumson), and residences in western and eastern Connecticut (Rowayton vs. Greenwich). But the most remarkable coincidence is that of rowing: Williams describes his paddling a single scull on the Lieutenant River, while I have rowed Hamburg Cove, the Connecticut River, Selden Creek, and Rogers Lake. He describes his rowing as being “almost Zen-like.” My car’s bumper sticker describes it as “kinetic meditation.”

He also refers to Yale’s Peabody Museum of Natural History, the subject of another Old Lyme writer, Richard Conniff, a review of whose House of Lost Worlds appeared on LymeLine.com on Aug. 22, 2016.

Read on, neighbors, and do check out Sydney Williams’s blog: www.swtotd@blogspot.om for his weekly observations.

Editor’s Note: ‘Notes, From Old Lyme: Life on the Marsh and Other Essays’ by Sydney M. Williams is published by Bauhan Publishing, Peterborough, NH 2016.

Felix Kloman

About the Author: Felix Kloman is a sailor, rower, husband, father, grandfather, retired management consultant and, above all, a curious reader and writer. He’s explored how we as human beings and organizations respond to ever-present uncertainty in two books, ‘Mumpsimus Revisited’ (2005) and ‘The Fantods of Risk’ (2008). A 20-year resident of Lyme, he now writes book reviews, mostly of non-fiction that explores our minds, our behavior, our politics and our history. But he does throw in a novel here and there. For more than 50 years, he’s put together the 17 syllables that comprise haiku, the traditional Japanese poetry, and now serves as the self-appointed “poet laureate” of Ashlawn Farms Coffee, where he may be seen on Friday mornings. His wife, Ann, is also a writer, but of mystery novels, all of which begin in a bubbling village in midcoast Maine, strangely reminiscent of the town she and her husband visit every summer.

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Letter From Paris: The ‘Centre Pompidou’ Turns 40            

Nicole Prévost Logan

The Musée National d’Art Moderne (MNAM), better known as the Centre Pompidou – that crazy structure  with tubes, exhaust pipes, chimneys and metal rods in bright primary colors – is celebrating 40 years of existence.  Its revolutionary architecture oriented toward multidisciplinary activities, which turned it into what virulent opponents called  a “supermarket for the arts,” scandalized visitors at first, but is now the benchmark for art museums around the word.

In 1969, President Georges Pompidou and his wife Claude, wanted to create an institution accessible to everyone, innovative enough to arouse the curiosity and the interest of the general public.  He wrote in Le Monde on Oct. 17, 1972, “It is my passionate wish for Paris to have a cultural center like the ones they have created in the United States, which have thus far been an unequalled success.  It would be one that is both a museum and a center of creation where the visual arts take residence with music, films, books, audiovisual research, etc.”

The project was conceived soon after the May 1968 student contest, which shook French society to the core.  A location was found in a vacant parking lot in the dilapidated working class district of Beaubourg.  Construction lasted five years from 1972 to 1977.

Young architects – Italian Renzo Piano and Englishman Richard Rogers along with Italian Gianfranco Franchini – won the international competition and designed a project breaking away from the tradition of solemn museums.  Their innovative design consisted of a metal structure with six levels of flexible and open-plan floors.

The Centre Pompidou features a revolutionary design, which includes the external escalator known as the “caterpillar.” Photo by Nicole Logan.

The anchor of the assemblage was a giant pillar supporting a network of metal beams and interlocking parts.  The external escalator, enclosed in glass, zigzags its way up to the roof-top like a caterpillar (hence its nickname) along the face of the building.  The color-coded functional pipes – blue for the air, yellow for electricity, green for water and red for circulation – give a playful appearance to the construction.

The idea was to integrate the museum within its urban environment.  The facade is all glass and there is no threshold between the outdoors and the Forum or heart of the center.  Whenever the exhibits are too large to be set up inside – as was the case with the 1979 Dali retrospective, which attracted 800,000 visitors – they spill over the gently sloping piazza or the nearby Stravinsky Fountain.

President Valery Giscard d’Estaing inaugurated the building on Jan. 31, 1977 with high officials and celebrities in attendance.  Adding to the pageantry , the Garde Republicaine arrived on horseback , holding Andy Warhol-creation-like banners. Forty eight hours later, the Centre Pompidou opened to the general public.

The 40,000 visitors could not hold their excitement as they rode the escalator to the upper terraces, well above the roofs of Paris.  The organizers were afraid the building would collapse with the unexpected size of the crowds.  Looking at the metal structure, someone supposedly commented, “Why didn’t they take down the scaffolding?”

The permanent collections of modern art, spanning the period from 1905 until the 1960s, are on the fifth floor.  The plan layout allows for the easy flow of visitors between rooms of all sizes.  The walls are stark white.  A wide hallway leads to huge windows opening on a reflecting pool and a free-standing, 25 ft. high mobile by Alexander Calder.  Montmartre is in the background .

The art lover will see just a sampling or five per cent of the phenomenal collections owned by the museum, which includes works by Sonia and Robert Delauney, Fernand Leger,  Mondrian, Matisse, Picasso, Yves Klein, Juan Gris, Goncharova,  Larionov and many others.  One room is dedicated to Marcel Duchamp and includes the famous bicycle on a kitchen stool (MOMA has another copy), and the hard-to-understand Neuf Moules Mâlic, (generally translated as Nine Malic Moulds) 1914, which was a preparation for la Mariée mise à nu par ses celibataires (the bride stripped naked  by her nine bachelors).

Contemporary art, starting in the latter part of the 20th century, is displayed on the fifth floor. At present an exhibit entitled “Kollektsia” includes 250 works from the USSR and the new Russia from 1950-2000, donated by the Vladimir Potanin Foundation.  Fascinating videos bring back the world of the 1960s in the Soviet era.

One video shows Nikita Khrushchev in a heated discussion about modern art with the public at the Manege. Another video shows  the government’s bulldozers  destroying the open-air exhibit hurriedly organized by the dissident Russian painters.

The Centre Pompidou, as an institution offering cultural activities at all levels, includes two special departments.  One is IRCAM (Institute for Research and Coordination of Acoustics and Music.)  Founded by composer Pierre Boulez, it is a research center, using advanced technology working on ways to visualize music.  On the other hand, the Public Information Library or BPI is an enormous facility with resources in a multiplicity of media.  It is open to all and offers wonderfully convenient free access to its shelves.

The production of the Centre Pompidou, during the past 40 years, has included major retrospectives establishing links between artistic capitals such as “Paris-Moscow” or “Paris-New York,” hundreds of monograph exhibits or surprising sights such as the grand piano of German artist Beuys made of felt hanging from the ceiling.

The $64,000 question is, will the Centre Pompidou be able to sustain this feverish pace or will it ultimately run out of steam?  There is no question that the curators are fully committed to ensuring that this latter scenario does not happen.

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

Nicole LoganAbout the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: Another Presidential Race, But French-Style This Time, Filled With Pride, Passion, Power, Intrigue

Nicole Prévost Logan

The presidential campaign in France is undergoing a series of twists and turns, often spectacular, sometimes violent.  Traditional politics are going through a crisis and may come out rejuvenated from the turmoil.  The rest of Europe is watching the developments with anxiety because its future is at stake.

By the end of February, five candidates were still in the race: François Fillon, winner of the right wing primary and candidate of Les Republicains or LR (The Republicans), Benoit Hamon, who won the Socialist primary, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, gauche de la gauche (far left), Marine Le Pen, president of the ultra right wing Front National (National Front) and Emmanuel Macron, independent, and head of the party he named, En Marche! (Let’s go!)

And then there were five … from left to right, the candidates still running in the French Presidential election are Jean-Luc Melenchon, Benoît Hamon, Emmanuel Macron, François Fillon and Marine Le Pen.

“Penelopegate” has been covered with glee by the media around the world.  It all started with the suspicion that François Fillon had been paying his British wife Penelope for fictitious jobs as his ’employee’ for more than two decades.  Until the three independent investigating judges have determined whether she did work or not, Fillon is presumed innocent.  But whatever they find, the damage has been done to the candidate, who had run on the ticket of a man of integrity.

Actually Fillon is not entirely to blame, he is just a product of the system. The main problem in France is the opaque system of generous perks granted the legislators.  A deputy receives about 13,000 euros monthly (base salary and allowances) and an “envlop”of 9,100 euros to pay for a maximum of five assistants parlementaires (parliamentary assistants).  The British receive twice as much and the Germans 130 percent more.  Members of the US Congress receive 10 times that amount and are allowed a staff of 18 people.  By hiring his wife and two children,  Fillon was using the privilege of nepotism to the hilt, which is increasingly unacceptable to public opinion.

He appeared even more blatantly as a member of a privileged caste when answering questions on the media. His defense strategy went through several stages.  At first he appeared arrogant, bristling at any questioning of his entitlement and of his wife’s right to work (with the tax-payer’s money).  Second stage: “I offer my apologies but I have done nothing wrong.” Third : “I am the victim of a conspiracy intended to destabilize my campaign ” . Fourth: “only Bercy (where the ministry of finances is located) can be the source of all the accusations.” His last resort was to ask his lawyers to discredit the financial prosecutor as not being competent to handle the case.

Marine Le Pen is in more trouble with justice than Fillon and has a number of pending lawsuits against her. She is clever enough to uses this situation to reinforce the admiration of her unshakable supporters.  She is being sued for using the European parliament’s budget to pay her assistants parlementaires who should be working in Strasbourg, not in Paris.   Her other cases include fraud linked to misappropriations of funds during electoral campaigns.

In a recent three-hour-long TV talk show, she displayed her skills as a sharp, articulate and smooth speaker.  Answering questions fired at her from all sides.  Winning arguments was no problem for her.  It is hard to understand how she manages to appeal so easily to people with her populist ideas while omitting to point out the financial and economic disastrous consequences her program would have for France.

The conditions were now favorable – the right and far right candidates being embroiled with justice, a divided socialist party not likely for the first time since 1974 to reach the final ballots – for Emmanuel Macron to continue his meteoric ascent.  And he is using that open road with passion.  On Feb. 22, he accepted with enthusiasm the offer of a coalition from the president of the centrist MoDem (democratic movement).  This was a perfect fit between François Bayrou, a politically-wise older man, and Macron, a 39-year-old, brilliant, highly educated, former minister of  finances and economy, although never elected.  Bayrou declared, “My priority will be to guarantee the moralization of French politics,” a promise which could not be more topical.

Macron’s style is very different from the  other French politicians.  He smiles a lot and is warm and friendly.  The project he just laid out is not harsh and does not sound like a punishment. For a man as young as he is, what he proposes is surprisingly down to earth and realistic.  His priority is to modernize the system, simplify the  regulations, and decentralize the decision process.  He introduces many innovating measures, which may go against the entrenched privileges of some French.

He is counting on the suppression of 120,000 posts of civil servants to reach his goal of a 60 billions economy.  Nothing like the choc therapy proposed by Fillon to eliminate 500,000 posts.

As a good economist, he has two sound proposals: one is to lower corporate taxes from 33.3 percent to 25 percent to be in sync  with the average European rates.  Another proposal  makes a great deal of sense: stop penalizing people for making investments.  By lowering high taxes on their capital, the French may stop hiding their savings under their mattresses.

To tackle the endemic French unemployment, he intends to make sure that the allowances are linked to the efforts demonstrated by job seekers to find a job. 

Macron unveiled his project to an audience of 400 journalists on March 2.  The other candidates were very quick to pull his project to shreds.  Vicious messages circulated in the social networks trying to demolish him, particularly for having worked for the Rothschild bank. No French president has ever been able to carry out even a small portion of Macron’s proposed  reforms.  The fight will be ruthless.

Fillon’s situation is becoming more unsustainable by the hour.  An indictment is probable. A growing number of his team have jumped ship.  He is determined not to quit the race.  The name of Alain Juppe, who came second in the primary, is being mentioned as a substitute.

Only 50 more days until the first round of elections on April 23, and still no way out of the crisis — probably one of the worst France has ever lived through.

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

Nicole LoganAbout the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Legal News You Can Use: Protect Your Most Precious Cargo

As the seasons change and we transition from winter to spring, many of us also experience a change in our daily lives and schedules.  The days get longer, and children begin outdoor activities. As these inevitable changes occur, the need for parents to transport their children sometimes becomes more frequent.  This being the case, it is imperative for parents to be aware of and to employ proper car safety practices while transporting their children.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in the United States during 2014, 602 children ages 12 and younger died as occupants in motor vehicle accidents,  making car accidents one of leading causes of death for children under 12-years-old.  CDC studies also revealed that in 2014, more than 121,350 children under 12 year of age suffered injuries while occupants in cars involved in accidents.

In order to lessen these disturbing statistics, the CDC recommends the following to parents while driving with their young children:

  • Use proper car seats, booster seats and seat belts in the back seat on every trip. Which option is appropriate will depend on the child’s age, weight and height;
  • Use a rear-facing car seat for children under 2 years of age;
  • Use forward-facing car seats for children ages 2 through 5;
  • Use booster seats from age 5 until the seat belt fits properly. Seat belts should fit so that the lap belt lays across the upper thighs and the shoulder belt lays across the chest;
  • Never sit a child in front of an airbag. Children should ride in the back seat of the car, preferably in the back middle seat as that is the safest place in the car.
  • Use the proper restraint system on every trip, no matter how long;
  • Install and use car seats according to the owner’s manual or get help with installation from a certified Child Passenger Safety Technician;
  • If purchasing or using a pre-owned car seat, be sure to research the make and model to check for any recalls and if necessary contact the manufacturer to obtain an owner’s manual for proper installation and maintenance instructions.
  • Set a good example for children and always wear a seatbelt.

Aside from the important safety concerns discussed above, parents can face further consequences for failing to employ proper car safety practices with children.  Connecticut law not only requires all drivers to wear seatbelts, it also requires them to ensure that any occupant of their vehicle under 16 years of age wears a seat belt.  Connecticut law also requires children less than 6 years of age and under 60 pounds to ride in a proper safety seat.  Infants less than 1 year of age and under 20 pounds must ride in a rear-facing child seat at all times.  Drivers who fail to abide by these laws can face punishment including fines.

Apart from potential criminal liability, the failure to properly secure your child can affect their ability to recover civil damages for injuries they suffer as a result of a motor vehicle accident.  Such failures can be viewed as contributing causes of injuries and negate or decrease a civil settlement or verdict.

Injuries to children are some of the most difficult and emotional cases with which Suisman Shapiro deals.  We implore parents and guardians to educate themselves on and employ proper car safety practices for children.  Unfortunately, even when all proper safety steps are taken, accidents and injuries still occur.

If you or your child is injured in a car accident or due to the fault of another person, our law firm is here to help you.  Contact Suisman Shapiro today online or by telephone to arrange a free initial consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer.

SPONSORED POST

About the Author: Roger Scully is an associate attorney at Suisman Shapiro in New London, CT, the largest law firm in eastern Connecticut. His practice focuses on civil and personal injury litigation and criminal defense. Attorney Scully has extensive jury trial experience. Prior to joining Suisman Shapiro, he served as Assistant District Attorney for the Norfolk County District Attorney’s Office, representing the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in a diverse range of criminal matters. To contact Roger Scully visit www.suismanshapiro.com or call 860-442-4416. Suisman Shapiro is located at 2 Union Plaza, P.O. Box 1591, New London, CT 06320.

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Talking Transportation: Who Should Pay for Sound Barriers?

Sound barriers … great idea, but who should pay for them?

Building and maintaining our highways is expensive.  But here’s a quiz question:  on interstates 95 and 84, what costs a half-million dollars a mile to construct?  The answer:  sound barriers.

Why are we spending that kind of money to enshroud our interstates simply to protect the peace and quiet of its neighbors?  Didn’t they know that living that close to a highway came with the twin costs of increased noise and air pollution along with the benefits of proximity to the highways?

Do you have sympathy for people who live near airports and then complain about the jets?  Neither do I.  But the solution to highway noise is not to create a walled canyon paid for by others.

Sound barriers, in my view, are a waste of precious resources.  They don’t reduce accidents, improve safety or do anything about congestion.  And they’re a magnet for graffiti artists.  Three miles of sound barriers on both sides of an interstate would buy another M8 railcar for Metro-North, taking 100 passengers out of their cars.

Worse yet, sound barriers really just reflect the sound, not absorb it, sending the noise further afield.  But there are alternatives:

1)     Why not sound-proof the homes?  That has worked well for neighbors of big airports and would be a lot cheaper than miles of sound barriers.  Plus, insulation against sound also insulates against energy loss, saving money.

2)    Rubberized asphalt.  Let’s reduce the highway noise at its source, literally where the “rubber meets the road”.  Using the latest in rubberized asphalt some highways have seen a 12 decibel reduction in noise.  And rubberized asphalt, as its name implies, is made from old tires … about 12 million a year that would otherwise be junked.

3)    Pay for it yourself.  Create special taxing zones in noisy neighborhoods and let those home owners pay for their sound barriers.  They’re the ones who are benefiting, so shouldn’t they be the ones who pay?  And that investment will easily be recouped in increased property values.

4)    Penalize the noise makers.  Let’s crack down on truckers who “Jake brake,” downshifting noisily to slow their speed instead of using their real brakes.  And motorcyclists or those cars with busted mufflers, they too should be penalized.

5)    Go electric.  Electric cars are virtually silent.  And there are electronic ways of using noise cancellation technology that, on a large scale, can induce quiet at a lower price than building wooden barricades.

6)    Go absorbent.  Where there is room, erect earthen berms alongside the highway which will absorb the sound.  Or if you are constructing sound barriers, fill them with sound absorbing material, treating the noise like a sponge, not bouncing it off a hard, flat reflective surface.

Our interstates, especially I-95, are carrying far more traffic than they were ever planned to handle.  And there is no sign of it decreasing.  In Fairfield County the rush hour starts about 6 a.m. and runs continuously until 8 p.m. without a break.

If our state’s economy depends on these highways, we will have to live with the karmic cost of a little noise.  But if it’s too much to take, why ask others to pay for its remediation when they are the only ones benefiting from that spending?

Republished with permission of Hearst CT Media.

Jim Cameron


About the author:
 Jim Cameron is founder of The Commuter Action Group, and a member of the Darien RTM.  The opinions expressed in this column are only his own.  You can reach him at CommuterActionGroup@gmail.com

For a full collection of “Talking Transportation” columns, visit www.talkingtransportation.blogspot.com

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Letter From Paris: A European in Washington

Nicole Prévost Logan

On Jan. 27,  Theresa May was the first foreign leader to visit the White House during Donald Trump’s era.  The prime minister’s red dress matched the US president’s red tie and they both seemed  determined to cheer each other for the wonderful things they were about to accomplish together.

On the eve of Brexit, it was crucial  for the British visitor to obtain US support. For Trump,  it was a chance to welcome the UK as a “privileged” partner, to stress how the latter will benefit from Brexit and become a model for Europe in freeing itself from the “Brussels consortium.”

Actually, at this point, the US is not in a position to be much help for England. It is a matter that will have to be worked out directly between the UK and the European Union (EU.)   Beyond the posturing, the British prime minister was trying to reconcile her vision of a “global England” open to the world with the protectionism policies launched by Trump.

The task for May is incredibly complex since she has made clear her intention not to sever all ties with the continent while implementing  the “hard Brexit”and also to avoid a “cliff edge” situation.  She will need all her political acumen to surmount the obstacles coming from all sides and negotiate the best deal.

British Prime Minister Theresa May meets US President Donald Trump.

The “divorce” process has not even started and already dissenting opinions are being heard, even in her own camp.  On Jan. 3, Sir Ivan Rogers, the permanent British representative to the EU,  resigned after sending warning signals, and was immediately replaced  by “euro-skeptic” Tim Barrow, former ambassador to Moscow.  On Jan. 11, the Minister of Immigration, Robert Goodwill, proposed to impose a tax of 1,000 British pounds on EU workers. The business circles protested and the government backed down.  Andrea Leadson, Minister of Agriculture,  had to reassure farmers that the hiring of seasonal labor would not come to a stop.  Philip Hammond, Chancellor of the Exchequer disagreed  with the minister of Foreign Affairs Boris Johnson and proposed a departure “a la carte” from Europe. 

On Jan. 24, the British High Court voted by eight to three to route the Brexit process through parliament.  This decision created another hurdle for the prime minister. The House of Commons passed the text overwhelmingly.  The House of Lords will be next.    

The worst enemy of the UK in the Brexit process is the timetable.  Once triggered, Article 50 of the 2007 Treaty of Lisbon will take two years to be implemented and, of course, will have to be approved by all the EU members.  After that, it will take five or possibly 10 years for Britain to be legally able to conclude free trade bilateral agreements with other countries.

On Jan. 17, May gave a major speech at Lancaster House in which she spelled out the main points of her program.  This was followed a few days later by the publication of a White Paper containing a road map.  Control of immigration is a central preoccupation for the UK government.  It is understandable,  given the fact that that, from 2015 to 2016, 650,000 immigrants entered the country  (including 284,000 coming from the EU).  Britain had opted out long ago of the Schengen Zone, which allows for free circulation of goods, people, services and capital .

Right now Britain is a member of the European Customs Union and of the European single market. * Being a member of a single market like the EU, created by the 1957 founding treaty of Rome, comes with many constraints such as the harmonization of regulations, compliance with certain standards and the required contributions to the EU budget (Britain has already  committed 40 billion euros for the period 2016-2020.)  The European Court of Justice (based in Luxembourg) enforces those regulations and this explains May’s particular dislike for that institution.

In case of the departure of Britain from the EU,  there are alternatives to its present trade arrangements such as the ones used by  Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Lichtenstein, which are not part of the European Customs Union.  Three of them are members of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), which puts them close to the single market. Another example is Turkey, which is not part of the EU single market, but benefits from a special free trade agreement with Europe.  After her visit to Washington, May met with President Erdogan in Ankara to discuss these matters as well as a post-Brexit trade and military partnership.

One  of the most contentious issues of the Brexit is the future of The City.  For 30 years, it has been the financial hub of activities for the huge European market of 500 million people.  By leaving the single market, The City will lose its  “European passport”  and its say over the new regulations issued by Brussels every year.

Guy Verhofstadt, called “Mr. Brexit” at the European parliament, denounced the “illusion that it is possible to leave the EU while retaining its advantages.”

Michel Barnier has been appointed by Jean Claude Yunker, president of the European Commission, to head the negotiations with Britain.  This was a good choice.  Barnier is a man of consensus, experienced and pragmatic, according to The Telegraph.   Economist by training, he has held several posts as European Commissioner of various departments including finance, banking and defense. Interestingly, it was Barnier who supported the adhesion of Britain into Europe in 1972.

*for more on Cameron’s negotiations with the EU, which led to the June 23 referendum, see Logan’s article published by VNN on March 5, 2016.

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

Nicole LoganAbout the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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A la Carte: Craving a Crunch? Enjoy These Cashew Butterscotch Bars

Cashew Butterscotch Bars

It has been a while since we had a one-two-almost-three punch snowstorm. On the Wednesday before the storm, I had a meeting at 6 p.m. and then another at 6:30 (I was about 15 minutes late for the second one). In the first, my condo board meeting, we talked about the fact that snow was on its way.

We tried to figure out whether it was really going to be a tough one, or not. I felt it might be a real one, and I was prepared. Plenty of food for the cats (because, after all, they could not care less as long as they had a few warm velour throws, a clean litter box and cans of Fancy Feast to go with their dry food).

I do have a freezer full of people food, but that freezer is in the garage, a good walk easy when the weather is good but possibly not so if it really does snow for hours and hours. As it turned out, it snowed for around 10 hours and I couldn‘t get out of my condo for another half a day (except to shovel a path from my back door to the bird feeders).

But I had decided I wanted to cook.

It is actually my therapy, whether the weather is too hot or too cold, or too snowy. I had gotten chicken thighs from the freezer the day before and bought a big chunk of beef chuck and some ground meat for chili. For two of the recipes I used my slow cooker. I bought my first just  after my first marriage dissolved; my new one I have had for about eight years; I love my slow cooker although I usually sear the meat that will go into the crock pot these days.

The chicken thigh recipe was more work than it was worth  The pot roast was amazing (I added almost everything except the kitchen sink including half a can of Campbell’s tomato bisque from the fridge.) The chili, for which I used a package of Wick Fowler’s 2-Alarm Fire Chili, was yummy.

But a few days later, I wanted something sweet. Not chocolate, though. I found this recipe I had saved from the New York Times years ago. Boy, are these addictive.

Cashew Butterscotch Bars

From the food section of The New York Times, sometime within the past ten or so years

Yield: 36 bars*

Ingredients:

Two sticks plus 5 and one-half tablespoons unsalted butter, softened, plus butter for greasing pan
Three-quarter cup plus 2 tablespoons (packed) light-brown sugar
1 and three-quarters teaspoons kosher salt
2 and one-half cups all-purpose flour
10 ounces butterscotch chips
One-half cup plus 2 tablespoon light corn syrup
1 tablespoon and 2 and one-half teaspoons water
2 one-half cups salted cashew pieces

1. Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 13-by-18-inch jelly roll pan, including sides.

2. To make the crust: in a mixer with a paddle or in a bowl with a rubber spatula, best ½ (one-half) plus 2 tablespoons butter and all the brown sugar together until smooth. Stir salt into flour, then add flour to butter and sugar mixture. Mix until dough is well combined but still crumbly; if dough is mixed until a ball forms, crust will be tough.

3. Pat the dough evenly along bottom of buttered pan, taking care not to pack the dough down. Place pan in oven and bake 5 minutes. With a fork, prick dough deeply all over. Return pan to oven and bake until sough is lightly browned, dry and no longer soft to the touch, about 7 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack; do not turn off the oven.

4. To make butterscotch topping: In a large saucepan, combine remaining 3 ½ (three and one-half) tablespoons, butterscotch chips, corn syrup and 1 tablespoon plus 2 ½ (two and one-half) teaspoons water. Place over medium heat and cook, stirring constantly, until butter and butterscotch chips are melted, about 5 minutes. Pour topping over crust, using a spatula to spread, evenly all the way to the corners. Sprinkle cashew pieces on top, pressing down light.

5. Bake until topping is bubbly and cashews are lightly browned, 11 to 13 minutes. Transfer to a rack and cool completely before cutting into two-by-three-inch bars.

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Letter From Paris: How France Copes With Ongoing Terrorism Threat

Nicole Prévost Logan

Two years after the “Je suis Charlie” massacre, how does it feel to be in France today with the threat of terrorism?  

Numbers seem to speak for themselves: France, which is the most visited European country, saw a decrease last year of almost 50 percent in the number of tourists visiting – from 84 million to 42 million – while website commentaries lament empty hotels, restaurants and museums.

This observation is not quite accurate and, besides, does not take into account the complexity of the situation. In the first place, France has not become a dangerous war zone and people here still enjoy themselves: restaurants are full at lunch time, the new Paris Philarmonie orchestra is booked solid for months and there are more fantastic art exhibits – such as the Shchukin collection – than ever.

For the French, the threat of terrorism is not measured primarily by the dollar amount lost through a decrease in mass tourism (which is not the country’s vocation in any case.) There are many other serious considerations relating to the effects of terrorism on French politics and society, or the measures taken by authorities to protect the citizens.    

The cover of ‘Charlie Hebdo’ two years after the horrific attack on the magazine’s office in Paris.

In recent years, the French have been deeply marked by terrorist attacks with 237 people killed between January 2015 and July 2016. These range tragically from the murder of cartoonists; the bombing of the Bataclan night club, several bistros and restaurants; a truck plowing through the crowd on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice on Bastille Day; to the gory assassination of 85-year-old  father Jacques Hamel, whose throat was slit on the altar of his small Normandie church in front of two elderly nuns.

The impact on France’s national consciousness of the November 2015 terrorist attacks was enormous. As the two chambers of the parliament met in a joint session in Versailles, every single deputy stood up and sang the national anthem, La Marseillaise, a solemn event not seen since 1918.

François Hollande has been literally traumatized by the terrorist bombings. The president was immediately on the scenes of the attacks, even before the areas were made secure. For him, the defense against terrorism was a brutal awakening and a priority. The political price he had to pay was very high.

Under the intense pressure of the moment, he proposed a law on the déchéance de la nationalité (loss of nationality) for terrorists. This proposal caused havoc among the leftist segment of the French population. The president never recovered politically. Recently, when he announced his decision not to run again for another five years, Hollande declared, “I was wrong to make that proposal”.

The terrorist threat has become part of French people’s daily life. Alain Bauer, a professor of criminology, recently published a book titled, “How to Live in the Terrorist Era,” in which he gives practical advice on what to do in case of attack. Defense against terrorism is a major topic for the candidates in the upcoming presidential elections. .

France has come a long way since the affaire Merah in March 2012. The young Mohammed Merah had appeared all smiles on TV screens after killing seven civilians and military in the Toulouse area. At first believed to have acted as a “lone wolf,” he  turned out to be part of a whole network of siblings, relatives and friends. During the past five years, the French authorities – Intelligence, police,  judiciary and military both inside France and abroad – have made spectacular efforts to adjust to the terrorist threat, which is changing its modus operandi almost daily. 

Today the police wear bulletproof vests, carry attack weapons, and not only have the right, but also the duty, to intervene in the case of a terrorist threat.  The Direction Générale de Securiéte Interieure or DGSI (equivalent to the FBI) has stepped up its action, thwarting  90 percent of bombing attempts every year. In the past few months, it has dismantled sleeping terrorist cells in Marseille and Strasbourg.

France is the European country with the largest Moslem population. The latter is overwhelmingly considered to have nothing to do with radical Islam.  However, subjects which used to be taboo before, such as the relationship between extremism and religion, are now openly debated. Recent books also contribute to the change in thinking.

Gilles Kepel, an authority on the Arab world and Islam, demonstrates in his book, La Fracture, (‘The Divide’) that the only way to understand extreme Islamists is to analyze in depth their ideology. One should make an effort to understand  their strategy, which is to divide society, by teaching from a very young age, hatred against non-believers and the West, through brainwashing and conversion of an increasing number of people in both mosques and also in prisons. Keppel writes, “Prisons have become the ENA (Ecole Nationale d’Administration or French elite school ) for Jihadists.” 

In the fall, journalist David Thomson  published “Les Revenants” (those who returned) about the young men – and women – who joined ISIS or Islamist State in 2012 at the outset of the Syrian civil war. They would announce their plans openly on You Tube  and traveled freely through Turkey toward their final destination of Rakka. In 2013 -14 their number grew exponentially. With the loss of territory in The Levant , ISIS has changed its strategy and many of the “revenants” have gone underground and become “Jihadists of the keyboard,” to use Thomson’s expression.

Is it the end of the tunnel ? Probably not and the threat remains, the experts concur. We can be thankful, however, that the Intelligence services and police have become more successful in cracking down on radical Islam.

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

Nicole LoganAbout the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Reading Uncertainly? ‘Divergent Paths – The Academy and the Judiciary’ by Richard A. Posner

Judge and Professor Posner explores the apparent diverging paths of our judiciary, especially the Federal, from the academies that teach our would-be lawyers, some of them advancing to become judges. This is a sobering view. Forgive me for an extensive quote, but it summarizes in one page the 400 pages of his thesis:

“ . . . at this writing the United States exhibits an unprecedented array of failed social systems. The political system is in disarray – Congress is a mess, the executive branch poorly managed. The Supreme Court bears some of the responsibility for congressional malfunction because of its refusal to allow reasonable limitations on campaign expenditures and its refusal to outlaw, as a denial of equal protection of the laws, political gerrymandering.

Likewise in disarray is the medical industry (as in matters of cost and coverage, preventive medicine, and the care of the elderly and the poor); also education (other than in the elite private and public high schools and the elite colleges and universities), public pensions, immigration, federal taxation, and the nation’s transportation infrastructure.

Our prison systems and our criminal laws (especially sentencing) are an international disgrace, and the judges, including federal judges, are complicit. A number of state and local governments are seriously underfinanced. Our foreign and national security policies are pervaded by a degree of indecision unseen since the 1930s. Although admired by most Americans, our armed forces are plagued by serious cost, competence, and leadership problems.

Economic inequality has reached a dangerous level. There are too many guns in private hands. Conflict between religious and secular views on issues of public policy such as abortion, contraception, same-sex marriage, and the teaching of evolution is increasingly bitter. The government cannot get a handle on global warming or environmental regulation generally.

There are sectional tensions, racial and ethnic tensions along with sexual and religious ones, regulatory failures everywhere, bureaucratic incompetence, widespread corruption and fraud both public and private, and a weakening of family structure as reflected in the greatly increased prevalence of single-parent households. One can hardly expect the federal judiciary to be completely immune from so pervasive a national malaise, and it isn’t.

And this analysis was written before the death of Justice Scalia and the election of the loud-mouthed, newly elected president.

Is there any hope for us?

But there is!

From what he calls this gallimaufry (a confused jumble of things), Judge Posner extracts, first, notable deficiencies in our judicial system, followed later by his numerous suggestions for change. He is not an “originalist,” one who puts his faith entirely in earlier mandates such as our Constitution. “As society changes, so must the law,” is his thesis. He also acknowledges his own missteps: “Very wrong was I!” and “I don’t have a solution to this problem.”

At the end of Chapter 6, he summarizes his 55 “problems” and 48 reasonable and doable “solutions.” Best yet is his quote from Oliver Wendell Holmes: “certitude is not the test of certainty. We have been cocksure of many things that were not so  …  And this again means skepticism.” With this admonition in mind, Posner gives us a note of optimism.

Posner attributes much of our judicial problem to the “adversarial” nature of our system, in which lawyers tee off against one another in the courtroom, with judges as observers. He prefers the European “inquisitorial” approach, not in the sense of the Spanish Inquisition, but rather in the sense of judges acting as questioners and researchers, a third voice in the hearings.

He optimistically sees “the law” as a fluid, evolving instrument that “does not have a solid foundation. It is ultimately a collection of rules and procedures, highly malleable, often antiquated, often contestable, often internally conflicted, for managing social conflict – a set of aging, blunt tools.” Both we and the law can and should evolve. That is why we have judges, to help in interpretation.

But I do have a minor qualm with his writing. About halfway through his argument, he suggests a “good judicial opinion requires:

  1. No jargon.
  2. No footnotes.
  3. Forget citation form.
  4. Delete every superfluous word.
  5. Use adverbs and adjectives sparingly.
  6. Avoid section headings.
  7. Be grammatical.
  8. Brevity.
  9. Be candid as well as truthful.”

These are excellent admonitions, straight from Strunk and White’s Elements of Style. But Posner often fails to follow his own advice! Take footnotes, for example. In the 403 pages of his exegesis, he gives us 453 (!) footnotes, one of which is more than a page long. They are useful, perhaps, to legal minds, but to the uninitiated?

He frequently utilizes the word “utilization” instead of the simpler “use.” And he is the archbishop of parenthetical phrases, often inserting two or three within a single sentence (I confess to doing this myself – this one being an example.) His very last and very first sentences include those diverting asides. Am I being too pedantic? No. I fully agree with Posner’s recommendations.

Despite my minor reservations, Judge Posner’s analysis of our aging judicial system should be required reading.

Editor’s Note: ‘Divergent Paths’ by Richard A. Posner, is published by Harvard U. Press, Cambridge 2016.

Felix Kloman

About the Author: Felix Kloman is a sailor, rower, husband, father, grandfather, retired management consultant and, above all, a curious reader and writer. He’s explored how we as human beings and organizations respond to ever-present uncertainty in two books, ‘Mumpsimus Revisited’ (2005) and ‘The Fantods of Risk’ (2008). A 20-year-resident of Lyme, he now writes book reviews, mostly of non-fiction that explores our minds, our behavior, our politics and our history. But he does throw in a novel here and there. For more than 50 years, he’s put together the 17 syllables that comprise haiku, the traditional Japanese poetry, and now serves as the self-appointed “poet laureate” of Ashlawn Farms Coffee. His wife, Ann, is also a writer, but of mystery novels, all of which begin in a bubbling village in midcoast Maine, strangely reminiscent of the town she and her husband visit every summer.

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Talking Transportation: Why Metro-North’s ‘Quiet Cars’ Aren’t Quiet

What happens when a good idea goes bad?  Consider Metro-North’s ‘Quiet Car’ initiative.

Sixteen years ago a group of regular commuters on Amtrak’s early morning train to DC had an idea:  why not designate one car on the train as a ‘Quiet Car‘, free from cell phone chatter and loud conversations.  The railroad agreed and the experiment proved a great success.

Now all Amtrak trains in the Northeast Corridor have a ‘Quiet Car’.  They are a major selling point for taking the train … the chance to nap or read in a quiet environment.

But as early as 2006 when I suggested the same idea to Metro-North, it was rejected outright.  Then serving on the CT Rail Commuter Council, I persisted and finally, in 2011 the railroad agreed to a trial with one car on each rush hour train dedicated to what it called a ‘Quiet CALMmute.’

Almost immediately the plan ran into trouble.  Not because it wasn’t wanted but because it wasn’t enforced.

There were no signs designating which were the ‘quiet’ cars and only occasional PA announcements before departure reminding folks who sat there of the quiet, library-like environment that was expected.  Most of all, many conductors refused to enforce the new rules.  But why?

Conductors seem to have no trouble reminding passengers to keep their feet off the seats, put luggage in the overhead racks or refrain from smoking.  But all that the railroad gave conductors to enforce the ‘Quiet Car’ rules were bilingual “Shhh cards” to give to gabby violators.

It seemed left to passengers to remind fellow riders what a ‘Quiet Car’ was for and confrontations resulted.

This spring the railroad surprised even me by announcing an expansion of the program:  every weekday train, peak and off-peak, would now have two ‘Quiet Cars’!  Two ‘Quiet Cars’ on a 10-car train gives everyone a choice.  That sounds great, but still without signage, education or enforcement, the battles continued.

A commuter recently emailed me about an evening train from Grand Central with a group of rowdy drunks in the ‘Quiet Car’.  When commuters asked the offending passengers to chill out or move their seat, the tipsy  group told the complainer, “screw you.”  The quiet-seeking commuters then asked the conductor for help but he simply declared the train was too crowded and the ‘Quiet Car’ was being eliminated on that run.  “Have fun” he told the drunks.  Really?

On Amtrak trains those violating Quiet Car rules have been thrown off the train and arrested.  Even NJ Governor Chris Christie had to move his seat on an Acela once for yabbering with his staff in the wrong car.

Nobody wants these kinds of altercations on Metro-North.  So why initiate and then expand such a passenger amenity as ‘Quiet CALMmute’ without proper education and enforcement?  A few signs and friendly reminders from conductors should make passengers aware that “train time may be your own time” (as the railroad’s old marketing slogan used to say), but it’s also shared time.

Commuters want ‘Quiet Cars.’  The railroad gave them to us, but until they can get their staff to enforce the rules, consistently, they might as well not exist.

If you’re in a ‘Quiet Car’ and the rules are not enforced, report it to Metro-North on their website complaint form.  If we all raise our voices, we can get some peace a quiet.

Republished with permission of Hearst CT Media.

Jim Cameron


About the author:
 Jim Cameron is founder of The Commuter Action Group, and a member of the Darien RTM.  The opinions expressed in this column are only his own.  You can reach him at CommuterActionGroup@gmail.com

For a full collection of “Talking Transportation” columns, visit www.talkingtransportation.blogspot.com

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Letter From Paris: Extraordinary ‘Shchukin Collection’ Currently on View in Paris Attracts Massive Crowds

Nicole Prévost Logan

It is the first time ever that the masterpieces of the Russian art collector Sergei Ivanovich Shchukin have traveled abroad as a collection.  Until now only separate works have been seen in the West.  In the 1979 “Paris-Moscow” major retrospective at the Pompidou Center – a huge exhibition from Soviet state museums –  there was no mention anywhere of the origin of the art works.

It was not until  2010 at the “Matisse Malevich” exhibit held at the Hermitage Amsterdam that the French canvasses were identified as follows: “Origin: Museum of Modern  Western Art, formerly from the collection of Sergei Shchukin.”  So, it is a first to see more than half of the entire collection in Paris today.  Almost unnecessary to say that the astronomical insurance cost covering such important objects could only be afforded by Bernard Arnault, the 14th richest man in the world and CEO of LVMC (Louis Vuitton and Moët and Chandon).*

The Fondation Louis Art Museum in the Bois de Boulogne in Paris where the Shchukin exhibition is currently on display.

The thrill of seeing for the first time works from well-known artists – Monet, Derain, Gauguin, Cezanne, Matisse, Picasso and others – explains why the exhibit is attracting such huge crowds, happy to be in familiar territory.  The well-organized flow of people meanders through the Frank Gehry’s whimsical structure of glass panels seemingly billowing in the wind.  At each of the four levels, one catches spectacular vistas of the Eiffel Tower and Paris with its cluster of skyscrapers in the Defense business district or the vast wooded expanse of the Bois de Boulogne.

The wealthy textile merchant Shchukin was – with his friend and rival Ivan Morozov – the most illustrious Russian art collector at the turn of the 20th century.  He went into exile in France after the 1917 revolution and died there in 1936.  His collection was nationalized  and later divided between the Pushkin museum of Fine Art in Moscow and the Hermitage in St Petersburg, and then vanished into Siberian storage.  During the Cold War, the works were returned to Moscow, but remained in boxes.  By the 1960s, they gradually reappeared.

Shchukin was an avid and methodical collector.  Following the example of his older brothers (in a family of 10), he started collecting in the 1880s.  He acquired  paintings from the leading art merchants in Paris, such as Ambroise Vollard, Durand Rueil or the Swiss  Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler.  He had an exceptional ability to detect talent.  For instance, by including the constructivist Montagne Sainte-Victoire vue des Lauves, 1905, he revealed how well he understood the importance of Cezanne (26 paintings) as the spiritual father of modern art.

The organizers of the exhibit reproduced the way the canvasses were hung in Shchukin’s Moscow residence in a touhe touche fashion, that is touching each other all the way to the ceiling.

‘Pink Studio’ by Henri Matisse, 1911.

He had a special relationship with Henri Matisse and became his sponsor, commissioning  many of his 57 paintings, among them La Danse, the largest (8’6″x 12’10”) and most beautiful version of which is today on view at the Hermitage.  The painting had caused a scandal at the Salon d’Automne of 1910.  The Desserte dominates one of the rooms at the Vuitton exhibit with its decorative floral shapes and fruits scattered on a rich red background of a table dropping vertically and merging with the wall. 

‘Peasants picking apples’ by Natalian Goncharova, 1911.

His acquisition of Picasso’s works (54 canvasses) is particularly interesting.  At first  he was repelled by them, particularly by the cubist period.  Stephane Guegan, French art critic and curator at Orsay, wrote, “Shchukin compared the analytic cubism of Picasso to buckets of crushed glass.”  But gradually, he grew to appreciate the brutal forms,  such as Femme tenant an eventail (woman holding a fan) 1907.  He shared with Gertrude Stein the attraction for the preparatory studies to the seminal Demoiselles d’Avignon, 1907 .

‘Woman with a fan’ by Pablo Picasso, 1908.

Shchukin was eager to show his works and educate the public.  He turned his residence into a museum that was open several days a week.  Among the visitors were the members of the Russian avant garde. They were  stunned by what they saw.  In less than 10 years not only the talented young Russian artists assimilated Western  art but were able to grow from it and create suprematism, neo-primitivism, cubo-futurism, etc. 

The Vuitton exhibit offers a sampling of the works by the extraordinary generation of Russian artists on the eve of World War I : Casimir Malevich, Larionov, Tatlin, Klioune, Rodchenko and the acclaimed female artists: Goncharova, Popova, Rozanova, Exter, Popova, or Udaltsova. 

Shchukin heirs did not try to receive financial compensation for the art taken away by the Soviet government.   All they wanted was to restore their grandfather’s memory,  the recognition for his genius and avoid breaking up the collection among different owners. 

One century later they may have fulfilled their wish. 

Editor’s Notes:
i)   This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

ii) *See Nicole Logan’s previous article published  on ValleyNewsNow.com, Jan. 22, 2016.
iii) ‘Icons of Modern Art – The Shchukin Collection’ is on display at the Fondation Louis Vuitton, which is housed in a Frank Gehry building in the middle of the Bois de Boulogne in Paris, France through Feb. 20, 2017.

Nicole LoganAbout the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Letter From Paris: A Transition Like No Other … And a French Take on Trump

Nicole Prévost Logan

We Americans are always interested in knowing what the world is thinking of us.  From my listening post in Paris, I can say that for months the Europeans have followed the US presidential elections with fascination.

With only a few days left until Jan. 20, everyone here is watching the transition between a cerebral Democrat president and a “sanguine, non- principled” Republican president-elect, to quote professor Jean Louis Bourlanges during the popular Sunday morning radio talk show Esprit Public. The four participants in the discussion – all representative of the French intellectual elite and well-versed in American affairs – describe what is happening as totally unprecedented.

President Obama is cramming his last days in office with long interviews, articles in magazines, laying out policies to regulate the environment, drilling of oil, or family planning.  Furthermore he just made two important foreign policy decisions.

On Dec. 23, the US abstained in the UN Security Council vote on the 2334 resolution instructing Israel to stop any further settlements on the occupied West Bank and in East Jerusalem.  This represents a striking change from President Obama’s position during his eight-year mandate, especially when, on Sept. 15, he approved the largest ever military assistance package of 38 billion dollars and committed the US for the unusually long period of 10 years.

The reaction here was, why now?  Why so late?  French analysts suggest that Obama wanted to get even with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his repeated snubbing.

For instance, on both official visits of the American president to Israel, “by coincidence,” the Israeli government announced the building of more settlements.  But the real slap in the face took place in March 2015 when the Israeli prime minister gave a speech to the joint session of the US Congress, short-circuiting the White House.  The abstention at the Security Council  might be a way to express remorse for the failure to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and an effort to set a garde-fou or safeguard for the future.

On Dec. 30,  President Obama announced the expulsion of 35 Russian “diplomats” for interfering in the US elections by hacking the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee.  His outrage at a foreign power for influencing a democratic process was such that he had to resort to a tool reminiscent of the Cold War.

President-Elect Donald Trump.

As to Donald Trump, the French are literally baffled by his behavior.

He is making a point of dissociating himself from Washington while anticipating his role as president in making political and economic decisions by tweets.  “Trump, Tweeter in Chief” writes Sylvie Kauffmann, in Le Monde.  She adds, “When you have room for only 140 characters, you have to be brief and forget nuances.”  Tweeting is apparently catching on as a form of communication.

Thierry Pech, CEO of think-tank Terra Nova, made the Esprit Public live audience laugh when he described former Mexican president Vicente Fox’s reaction to one of Trump’s announcements.  He sent his own tweet saying  “your f—ing wall, we are not going to pay for it.” Former French ambassador to the United States, François Bujon de l’Estang, commented that “carrying out diplomacy by tweets is like an oxymoron.”  He added, “tweets are the degré zéro or lowest level of diplomacy.”

All eyes are turned toward the US right now.  Europe, like the rest of the world, is bracing itself to see how the key players of the planet are going to manage world affairs, since the rules of the game  have changed.  Traditional diplomacy is now replaced by tweets.  Social networks are turning out to be more effective than propaganda in shaping the public opinion and hacking is widely used as a political tool.

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

Nicole LoganAbout the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Reading Uncertainly? ‘Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics’ by Richard Thaler

This is the engaging story of the development and rise to practical significance of “behavioral economics,” the recognition that we “Humans” (as Professor Thaler calls us) are inevitably flawed in our dealing with finance and the market. It is also the personal biography of the author, along with many of the most important thinkers of the past 50 years.

The idea that our financial markets are “efficient,” as suggested by the “Econs,” the gurus we followed for many years, is destroyed by the realities of the human brain. First came Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, who discovered our innate aversion to loss. Thaler notes that “ … losses hurt about twice as much as gains make you feel good,” noting, “Loss aversion has become the single-most powerful tool in the behavioral economist’s arsenal.”

But, Thaler also warns that, “… people who are threatened with big losses and have a chance to break even will be unusually willing to take risks, even if they are normally risk averse. Watch out!”

We need to be far more aware of the vagaries of the human mind when trying to guide ourselves and others toward the best balance of risk and reward: “The bottom line is that in many situations in which agents are making poor choices, the person who is misbehaving is often the principal, not the agent. The misbehavior is in failing to create an environment in which employees feel that they can take good risks and not be punished if the risks do not pay off.”

Unfortunately, we all tend to follow the herd: “It is better for reputation to fail conventionally than to succeed unconventionally.” Many years ago, IBM tried a better idea: it created a “Skunk Works” (from Al Capp’s L’il Abner cartoon) where employees with new and uncommon ideas could use corporate funds and help to work them out. If they succeeded, glory. If not, they could return, without blame, to their former employment.

Thaler’s sense of humor is always evident. Instead of watching our investment portfolios too closely, a uniformly bad habit, he suggests doing a crossword puzzle instead. He made a correct prediction about the collapse of the market in 2008: “Having made that one correct prediction, I am resolving not to make any more.”

And in American football, he urges teams to do the unexpected, such as “going for it” on fourth down. It changes the psychology on both sides echoing the, “And now for something completely different,” from Monty Python.

Thaler’s language is distinctly non-academic, a pleasure to read. He quotes Douglas Bernheim (2002): “As an economist, one cannot review the voluminous literature on taxation and saving without being somewhat humbled by the enormous difficulty of learning anything useful about even the most basic empirical questions.”

The last third of the book details the writing and reception of Nudge, the 2008 book he co-authored with Cass Sunstein. Their original title was “libertarian paternalism,” abbreviated, thank goodness, to “nudge,” the idea that we can encourage someone to do something that is in their best interests, by making it slightly easier.

At the end, Thaler asks “What Is Next?” He answers: “the only sensible prediction is to say what happens will surely surprise us.” Behavioral economics, the role of humans in what we do and how we live, is critical to both strategic and tactical planning.

And I did find a word I’ve never seen before: “corybantic.” It means frenzied, agitated, unrestrained: exactly how some human respond when their traditional beliefs and ideals are challenged.

Editor’s Note: ‘Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics’ by Richard Thaler is published by W. W. Norton & Co., New York 2015

Felix Kloman

About the Author: Felix Kloman is a sailor, rower, husband, father, grandfather, retired management consultant and, above all, a curious reader and writer. He’s explored how we as human beings and organizations respond to ever-present uncertainty in two books, ‘Mumpsimus Revisited’ (2005) and ‘The Fantods of Risk’ (2008). A 20-year-resident of Lyme, he now writes book reviews, mostly of non-fiction that explores our minds, our behavior, our politics and our history. But he does throw in a novel here and there. For more than 50 years, he’s put together the 17 syllables that comprise haiku, the traditional Japanese poetry, and now serves as the self-appointed “poet laureate” of Ashlawn Farms Coffee. His wife, Ann, is also a writer, but of mystery novels, all of which begin in a bubbling village in midcoast Maine, strangely reminiscent of the town she and her husband visit every summer.

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A la Carte: Welcome the New Year with Oyster Stew

Oyster stew

Just once were we far away from home on New Year’s Eve. It was at Key West and it was wild. We ate dinner at a restaurant. I don’t remember much of the dinner (it wasn’t the champagne, honestly, it wasn’t.) But it was the first time I’d tried creamy crème brulée. Remember, it was the early 70s, iceberg lettuce was the only lettuce in a supermarket and I’d never tasted oysters.

In the next few years, I added New York City to my geographical resumé and tasted lobster, Mexican food, Szechuan dishes and escargots. I began to write about restaurants, although still pretty green, but not that many people were “criticizing” food.

More important, I started to cook. I was the daughter of a woman who didn’t cook and I had married a man whose mother did cook but hated it. I had seen a way to nurture my husband. I loved to cook and I was fearless in the kitchen. My husband loved my food. We had to go out to eat. I was paid to go out to eat, but my real laboratory was my kitchen.

After that New Year’s Eve, and one at the “21” in Manhattan, our New Year’s Eve was at home or at friends’ home. The following day, my husband always made oyster stew for dinner. Now that I am husbandless, I still make oyster stew, but I no longer have to shuck them. Instead I go to one of the many fish markets in our area and get the shucked oysters and a pint or more of their “liquor.”

Oysters Rockefeller Stew

From “Chowder land” by Brook Dojny (Storey Publishing, N. Adams, MA, 2015)

Yield: 4 servings

4 ounces bacon, cut into one-inch pieces (about 1 cup)

2 tablespoons butter, plus more if needed

1 large leek, cleansed, thinly sliced (white and pale green parts only)

1 celery stalk, finely chopped

One-eighth teaspoon cayenne pepper

2 cups bottled clam juice of seafood broth

1 cup water

2 pints shucked oysters with its liquor, cut in half if large

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce (I would use way less)

2 cups heavy cream

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

4 ounces baby spinach, thinly sliced (about 3 cups)

1 tablespoon medium-dry sherry (never use cooking sherry)

Cook bacon in large heavy soup pot or Dutch oven over medium-low heat until crispy and fat is rendered, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove cooked bits with a slotted spoon, drain on paper towels and reserve. You should have 2 tablespoons of fat in the pot; if there is too much, pour some off; if too little, make up the difference with additional butter.

Add butter to pot and cook leek and celery over medium heat until softened but not browned, about 8 minutes. Stir in cayenne. Add clam juice and water and bring to a simmer.

Add oysters and Worcestershire and cook over low heat until edges of the oysters begin to shrink and curl at the edges, about 2 minutes. Stir in cream and season with salt and pepper to taste. If  there is not enough liquid, add a bit more water. Let sit at room temperature for at least an hour, or refrigerate overnight.

Reheat over very low heat so the stew does not curdle and stir in spinach; cook for 2 minutes, or until spinach wilts. Stir in sherry, ladle into soup bowls and sprinkle with reserved bacon.

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Letter From Paris: Like UK’s Cameron, Italian PM Matteo Renzi Gambles His Future on a Referendum … and Loses

Nicole Prévost Logan

On Dec. 4, 2016, 60 percent of Italians responded “No” to the referendum question on constitutional reforms posed by Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. His aim was to modify the electoral laws, thus reducing the role of both the Senate and regions, and thereby enhancing his own power. This was a dangerous attempt at undoing the safeguards built into the 1948 constitution and intended to erase all traces of Mussolini’s fascist regime.

To better understand Renzi’s action, one should remember the omnipresent Italian dislike for a strong, centralized government. It was only in 1871 that the Risorgimento (meaning ‘rising again’) led to the unification of the country with Rome as its capital.

Beppe Grillo – the comedian turned populist – was quick to seize the opportunity and had his “Five Stars” party join the coalition opposing the referendum .

After the long “reign” of Silvio Berlusconi, who stepped down as prime minister in his 80s and the two-year-government of Mario Prodi, aged 70 and a long-time European Union (EU) economic commissioner, the Italian population must have found the arrival of 41-year-old former mayor of Florence as quite refreshing. Pleasant, laughing a lot and described as, “a young man in a hurry,” by a French diplomat, Renzi got along well with all the world leaders (too much so for my taste as he became close to President Erdogan of Turkey and supported that country’s accession into Europe.)

Former Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.  (Photo from Press-TV.)

Renzi’s resignation may trigger political instability given the state of financial crisis in the country. Italy is one of EU’s founding members and its third largest economy, but the Italian economy is lethargic and in a state of stagnation. The public debt is 120 percent of the Gross Domestic Product, well above the level of 60 percent allowed by Brussels. In fact, Italy is called the mauvais elève (flunking student) of Europe.

After the Greek debt crisis, a number of financial mechanisms have been put in place in Brussels under the respective leaderships of Germany and France. They include a Banking Union to assure the safety of the private sector and more stringent requirements imposed on the banks under the “single rule” book.

Mario Draghi, head of the European Central Bank (ECB), supervises the 6,000 main European banks. In order to boost the growth of Europe, the ECB has been pouring 80 billion Euros per month into the monetary market, buying back poor quality obligations. Renzi has often been in disagreement with these new rules and refused to be tied by institutional constraints, particularly when they come from Brussels.

The specific problem with Italy is that its banks are undercapitalized and hold about 360 billion of “toxic” loans comparable to the US sub-primes in 2007-08. Several of the largest banks are on the verge of collapse. The Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena (BMPS) – the oldest bank in the world, founded before Christopher Columbus – is in the worst shape and on Dec. 9, the ECB forbade Renzi to ask his government for a 20-day-prolongation of a four billion Euro financial assistance package.

Renzi’s relations with Brussels have been tense and he frequently refused to go along with its policies, blocking negotiations. For instance on Nov. 11, he did not agree with the decision made by the other EU members to protect themselves from cheap imports from China.

He also deemed insufficient the funds granted Italy to cope with the flow of refugees. (that request was justified though, since 500,000 refugees have entered the country in the past two years, and 171,000 since the beginning of 2016.) He was criticized by the other EU members for “sabotaging” the Brastislava talks last September about the European response to Brexit.

Referenda can be dangerous, particularly when the initiator bets his or her future on them.  In the case of Italy, however, it might have been a good thing. The departure of Renzi will likely bring more cohesion in the EU to face the many problems ahead.

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

Nicole LoganAbout the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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Talking Transportation: All Tickets Please!

Imagine you’re in a store and you see somebody shoplifting.  You’re embarrassed to say anything or to make a scene, but inside you’re pissed-off.  You pay for your merchandise, so why should that guy get it for free?  And if he’s ripping off the store, doesn’t the merchant actually make you pay more to make up for that loss?

It’s morally wrong and it’s just not fair.

Yet this is what happens every single day on Metro-North when conductors don’t collect all riders’ tickets.

Here’s a typical scene:  your train leaves Grand Central and the conductor makes his way through the train collecting tickets.  Sometimes he leaves a colored seat check, punched to show your destination, but not always. Why?

Your train makes some intermediate stop (New Rochelle, Greenwich or Stamford) to discharge some passengers and take on new ones.  You know who the new riders are, but does the conductor?

So when the conductor comes through again saying “All Stamford tickets, please” and you see that new rider not responding, you know the railroad got ripped off and that cheater just got a free ride.

Now, if the conductor had issued a seat check he’d know who got off, who got on and who owes him a new ticket.  Simple enough, but not for Metro-North which for years has not enforced their use.  Conductors who are too busy or too lazy, don’t use seat checks and we all end up paying more.

Metro-North acknowledges this problem and admits it loses millions of dollars a year to uncollected tickets.  But they’ve crunched the numbers and say that staffing trains with more conductors to be sure all tickets are collected would cost even more.

Hey!  Here’s a concept: make the existing conductors do their jobs instead of hiding out in their little compartments.  From Grand Central to Stamford you’ve got 45 minutes without stops to collect everyone’s ticket, give ‘em a seat check, say “thank you” and still have time for a cat-nap.  And there’s still time to ask people to keep their feet off the seats and to stop yapping in the designated Quiet Cars.

Back in the good ol’ days before the TVM’s (Ticket Vending Machines) came along, conductors collected cash fares to the tune of $50 million a year.  They had a money room at Grand Central that looked like a casino.  Now most fares are bought from the machines or on your smart-phone.  That means conductors should have a lot more time to make sure all tickets are collected.

Conductors on Metro-North make good money.  And they do a very important job keeping passengers safe, operating the doors, answering questions.  They’re the face of the railroad and most passengers give them high marks.

So what can you do if you see someone getting a free ride due to uncollected tickets?  Try this, which always work for me.

When I see a conductor miss a passenger’s ticket, I’ll wait until the conductor comes back and say something like “Excuse me, conductor.  I think you missed collecting that gentleman’s ticket,” and then smile innocently at the conductor and the chagrined would-be thief.

If I see the same conductor always missing ticket collections, day after day, I report it on the Metro-North website complaints page, detailing the incident by name, date, train number, etc.  That allows the railroad to “re-train” the offending staffer.

So if you’re tired of all these fare increases, let’s stop the shoplifters.  Make sure everybody pays for their ride by having conductors collect all tickets.

Please!

Republished with permission of Hearst CT Media.

Jim Cameron


About the author:
 Jim Cameron is founder of The Commuter Action Group, and a member of the Darien RTM.  The opinions expressed in this column are only his own.  You can reach him at CommuterActionGroup@gmail.com

For a full collection of “Talking Transportation” columns, visit www.talkingtransportation.blogspot.com

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Recycling in Old Lyme: Electronic Waste

LymeLine.com is publishing a series of articles in association with Old Lyme’s Solid Waste and Recycling Committee — these articles lay out best recycling practices. Previous articles have covered Old Lyme’s current curbside trash and recycling program; the safe disposal of medications; the recycling of paint, and the recycling of mattresses.

In this article we cover the more complex topic of managing electronics at the end of their useful life; i.e., what should we do with our e-waste? The topic is especially pertinent right now because — I’m certain — that more electronics move in and out of our homes during the holidays than at any other time of the year.

Scope of the Problem

Proper disposal of e-waste is a very significant issue. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), more than 2.5 million tons of e-waste are produced each year in the United States. The majority is not recycled, so most of our discarded electronics are ending up in landfills; the EPA estimates that less than one in 10 mobile phones is recycled, and only about 25 percent of all e-waste is collected for recycling.

If you’re checking the math, some of the rest gets donated; but according to EPA pundits, almost three quarters of computers sold in the United States end up stockpiled in garages, basements, and closets waiting to eventually enter the disposal stream.

Our e-waste contains materials that are toxic if improperly handled at disposal. These toxic chemicals, which can leach into the soil over time or be released into the atmosphere, include cadmium, lead, mercury, hexavalent chromium, and brominated flame retardants. Incineration releases these heavy metals into the air.

Mercury released into the atmosphere can bio-accumulate in the food chain, particularly in fish, a major route of exposure for the general public. If the products contain PVC plastic, highly toxic dioxins and furans are also released.

Moreover, electronics are made with valuable resources like precious metals, engineered plastics, glass, and other materials — all of which require energy to manufacture. When  equipment is discarded, these resources cannot be recovered and additional cost is incurred to manufacture new products from virgin materials.

Further, lanthanides, also known as rare-earth elements, are used to make magnets found in computers, cell phones, and many other consumer “gadgets.” Until recently, China was the main producer of these raw materials, giving that country an advantage in setting market prices. As a result, the U.S. Department of Energy developed an initiative to recover lanthanides from electronic waste.

An International Issue

It was/is common practice for developed countries to export their e-waste to developing countries, which may not have the resources to safely recycle and dispose of used electronics.  In the United States it is estimated that about a quarter of the waste collected for recycling is still being exported in this manner.

In 2001, the Basel Action Network (BAN), a non-governmental environmental organization based in Seattle, led an investigation of e-waste processing in China, India, and Pakistan. The investigation, which included sophisticated electronic tracking of recycled televisions, uncovered an entire area northeast of Hong Kong where migrant workers were employed breaking apart obsolete computers imported primarily from North America. The workers, who included children, were not using contemporary safety and anti-contamination precautions.

FRONTLINE’s coverage of the investigation can be viewed at: http://www.pbs.org/frontlineworld/stories/ghana804/

BAN is named after the 1989 Basel Convention, a United Nations treaty designed to control and prevent the dumping of hazardous waste from developed to less developed countries. BAN serves as a watchdog and promoter of the Basel Convention and its decisions.

Such dumping is actually “legal” in the United States because this country has not ratified the Basel Convention; although as of July 2016, 183 nations  and the European Union were already parties to the Convention. Haiti and the United States have signed the Convention but not ratified it.

There is still no federal law that requires the recycling of electronic waste or prohibits it from being exported to developing countries. There have been some efforts in Congress to pass a bill that would make overseas dumping of toxic e-waste illegal, but the Responsible Electronics Recycling Act (RERA) has been stuck in the House for more than two years.

Consequently, individual states began to take action. California passed an electronics recycling law in 2003, the first state to do so. Connecticut passed its law in 2007, and 27 other states and the District of Columbia have since followed suit.

Connecticut’s electronics recycling law requires electronics manufacturers to pay for the cost of recycling. This is another example of the producer responsibility or product stewardship  principle, which requires that those involved in production take responsibility for the safe disposal of a product.

However, unlike mattresses and paint, which were covered in past articles, where the consumer pays a fee at the time of purchase to support the recycling program, Connecticut’s law requires manufacturers to finance the transportation and recycling of these electronics. It also requires recyclers of electronics to be approved and monitored by the CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP).

Drop-Off Sites

The local drop-off location for recycled residential electronics is the Old Lyme Transfer Station on Four Mile River Rd. There is no charge for drop off. Large electronics retailers like Best Buy and Staples also have recycling programs in place.

Covered Electronic Devices (CEDs)

Recyclable CEDs currently include the following:

  • televisions;
  • desktop and portable computers; monitors; printers;
  • fax machines; scanners;
  • cell phones,
  • tablets, and e-readers with a video display greater than 4 inches.

In contrast, e-waste from non-residential sources (i.e., commercial, governmental, retail, etc.) is regulated under current federal and state hazardous waste and solid waste laws and should not be dropped off as recycled residential electronics.

DEEP-approved recyclers then pick up these CEDs from the various Connecticut collection points. The recyclers then sort the computers and monitors by manufacturer and submit a bill to the responsible manufacturer for the cost of transporting and recycling those CEDs with the manufacturer’s brand name on them. Television manufacturers will pay a percentage of the total cost of recycling televisions equivalent to their market share.  Recyclers then submit bills to manufacturers for covered costs.

Data security

Under Connecticut’s recycling program, approved recyclers are required to establish data security practices. They must secure hard drives until such point that they are physically destroyed for recycling. If they intend to reuse or resell the computer, they must erase (“wipe”) the hard drive to a Department of Defense standard.

If you are concerned about data security, you can erase the hard drive prior to dropping off the device for recycling. There are several ways to erase a hard drive.  It is possible to perform this yourself at home, but it may be a bit complicated for those not facile with desktop computing. Paraphrasing recent political history, it’s not just “Like with a cloth or something?” Retailers like Best Buy and Staples may also perform this task, but for a charge. About a month ago Staples in Old Saybrook quoted a price of $29.99.

DEEP has information on inexpensive software that can be used to permanently erase the data on your hard drive at: http://www.ct.gov/deep/cwp/view.asp?a=2714&q=397852&deepNav_GID=1645#Security

Our next article will cover the recycling of tires, and bulky items like appliances and furniture.

If you have questions or comments, contact: Leslie O’Connor at alete1@sbcglobal.net or Tom Gotowka at TDGotowka @aol.com.

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A la Carte: Pot Roast is Perfect Between the Holidays

A delicious pot roast simmers gently on the stove.

A delicious pot roast simmers gently on the stove.

It has been a busy holiday season, beginning at Thanksgiving. I will light my candles on my menorah beginning Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, the first time I can remember Hanukkah beginning on Christmas Eve. (In the Jewish calendar, which sometimes has an extra month, Hanukkah can arrive from November through most of December and is an eight-day holiday. I do not remember my parents giving me eight presents, one on each day, but I am not complaining in any way I was deprived. Just sayin’.)

I am not also saying that I married a Protestant just so I could have Hanukkah and Christmas, but it is fun to do both. For Christmas this year, I will spend the day with my daughter-in-law’s family in Somers, Conn. And in no way did I convince my stepson to marry a Greek girl so I could also have Easter dinner and Greek Easter dinner, too, but that is sort of fun, too.

The holidays made for a lot of leftovers, but at some point you want something that masks the kitchen smell like simple comfort. I love the idea of making a  pot roast between  Christmas and New Year’s Day. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that pot roast is terrific the day you make it and maybe even better a day or two days later. This is a really good recipe given to me from a friend some years ago.

Pot Roast

Adapted from Ralph Turri

4 to 5 pound beef roast, most fat removed (chuck roast has little fat)

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons butter

1 packet of Knorr reduced beef stock

3 to 4 cups water

5 carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks

1 medium onion, peeled and cut into large slices

2 stalks of celery, cut into big chunks (optional)

fresh herbs wrapped in cheesecloth (optional)

salt and pepper to taste

For the gravy:

4 tablespoons flour mixed into 1 to 2 cups of water

1 teaspoon Kitchen Bouquet (optional)

one-half cup milk

8 ounces of sliced mushrooms

salt and pepper to taste

Dry roast with paper towels. Into the large, heavy-bottomed pot with a cover, heat oil and butter. On medium-to-high heat, sear the roast on all sides. Add packet of stock and water and bring to a boil. Add vegetables and bring back to a boil again. Reduce heat to simmer and cook, covered, for about 3 hours. Remove roast to a platter and keep warm..

Strain all vegetables from the pot and herbs (I dump the veggies). Place the pot with the broth on the cooktop on medium-high until it reduces by two-thirds. Whisk the flour-water mixture into the broth stir constantly until the broth becomes gravy. Add Kitchen Bouquet (if using), milk and mushrooms and cook on simmer for a few minutes. Add salt and pepper taste. Slice the roast onto the platter, add some gravy to the slices and serve gravy in a gravy bowl.

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She’s Back! Nicole Logan is Here Again With Another ‘Letter From Paris’

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

We are absolutely delighted to welcome back Nicole Prévost Logan and her Letter From Paris column!  Nicole stayed longer than usual in Essex this year in order to see the outcome of the election and celebrate Thanksgiving.  She has now returned to Paris and here is her first column of the 2016-17 series.  We know this will please the many readers who have been asking about Nicole’s welfare and (perhaps even more intensely) the future of her column — it also pleases us greatly. Welcome back, Nicole!

In the Wake of Election Surprises Everywhere, Where is France’s 2016-17 ‘Saison’ Headed?

Debates, elections, referendums, reshuffling of governments- the political landscape of the European Union (EU) is shifting.  It would be a mistake however to place the events under the simplistic label of “populism,” a trend following the startling votes supporting both Brexit and the election of Donald Trump.  It is more accurate to describe the ongoing turbulence in the EU as a stand taken by its members toward the future of Europe.

Au revoir, Francois

Au revoir, Francois Hollande

On Dec. 1, the decision of president Francois Hollande not to run again in next May elections, caught everyone in France by surprise.  After many months of tergiversation, Hollande, with the abysmal 7.5 percent score in the polls, made the logical — but still wrenching — announcement during an unprepared TV news hour.

It was an unprecedented move in the fifth Republic, creating , a “lame duck” a la française situation for the next five months.  What a contrast with May 2012, when, on Bastille Square, I had watched the euphoria of the population when Hollande was elected!  The new president made a point of arriving by train instead of flying, like an ordinary citizen.  A delirious crowd was celebrating the end of eight years of Nicolas Sarkozy’s rule.

What went wrong with this “ordinary” president?

Specialists pondered over the assessment of his policies.  Many of his reforms, particularly to boost the economy like  the CICE (Credit d’Impot de Croissance et d’Emploi) or the Macron law, will survive him.   His mandate was highlighted by the signing of the Paris accords on climate change, the armed forces deployment against Islamist radicals on  the African continent, and the firm measures taken to protect the country from terrorist attacks.

But Hollande’s  political management was a disaster, commented Thierry Pech, director of the Terra Nova foundation.  Although intelligent and highly educated, the president lacked a visionary plan and the ability to give a direction to his programs.  He wanted to carry out reforms but never explained them in advance.

The battle to pass the el Khomry labor law was emblematic of his shortcomings.  His objectives were sound:- facilitate the laying off of workers, reject the rigid 35 hours per week Socialist taboo, and relax the rules concerning work on evenings and Sundays.  Unfortunately he presented the law proposal as a done deal and resorted to “49-3” or executive orders, which irritated the deputies in the National Assembly.  He frequently kowtowed to the anger of the street.  When the el Khomry law was finally voted on, it had been gutted of much of its content.  The scourge of high unemployment remained throughout  his mandate.

The campaign toward the May elections started with the primaries of the right and center parties.  Francois Fillon was catapulted into the lead of Les Republicains (LR) with 66 percent of the votes versus 23 percent for Alain Juppe who had been expected to win.  Nicolas Sarkozy , coming in third position, was eliminated.

Bienvenue, Francois Fillon

Bienvenue, Francois Fillon

Fillon, several times a minister and prime minister under Sarkozy, conducted a discreet but intensive campaign for three years, using social networks rather that the traditional media.  His program is quite conservative: reduce the number of civil servants by 500,000, decrease unemployment allowances, complement the social security benefits by increasing the share of private health insurance.  He advocates a free market economy.  In foreign policy, he has a pragmatic attitude to relations with Putin, wants a strong Europe and to control the flow of migrants.  By preempting part of the program of Marine Le Pen of the far right Front National , he may be in a good position to beat her.

Fillon’s victory represented only 40 percent of the total electorate, so there is still plenty of ground to cover. Next will come the Socialist primaries.

Emmanuel Macron, former minister of the economy in the cabinet of Manuel Valls, is running as an independent.  Only 38, he is a brilliant  young man who had had a versatile career, including one year with the Rothschild investment bank.  On Dec. 9, the boisterous gathering of 16,000 supporters marked the start of the movement he is calling, “En marche,” under which he promises to modernize the labor market in order to create jobs and eliminate the old divide between right and left.

The battle has just began.

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

Nicole LoganAbout the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

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