August 19, 2017

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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Nibbles: Turn Turkey Leftovers Into Turkey Chilli

turkey_chilliYou may be reading this column the day before Thanksgiving. If you are serving a feast for four or eight or maybe up to 20, just peruse this column. You have enough to do without reading this, but the recipe below may help you with turkey leftovers. (There is no clear segue here, but if you are hosting and see yourself in the weeds, e-mail me (leeawhite@aol.com) and we will work you through it.)

Many people make soup with the turkey carcass, although I have never loved turkey soup. To me, the flavor is gone after the gobbler has spent hours in the oven. My stepdaughter, Molly, makes a good turkey soup by roasting the bones at a high temperature in the oven and using the bones for the broth.  But I often use the leftover turkey for casseroles, enchiladas or even pad Thai.

Or chili.

This recipe calls for a pound of raw, lean ground turkey. Using it, it is the beginning of the recipe below. On the other hand, begin this recipe with the lightly sautéed vegetables After you add the broth, beans and tomatoes, add about a pound or more shredded turkey, and simmer, as the recipe explains. This recipe belongs to a friend’s daughter who adapted the recipe from Cooking Light. I doubled the recipe so it would feed more. I also changed the beans from garbanzo beans to kidney beans primarily because, if you’re on Weight Watchers, kidney beans have half the points as garbanzo beans.

Turkey Chili

Yield: Serves 8

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 (or more) pounds of lean ground turkey

3 cups chopped sweet onion, divided

2 cups chopped green bell pepper (or other sweet peppers)

4 (or more) cloves garlic, minced

2  (or more) tablespoons chili powder

4 tablespoons tomato paste

2 teaspoons cumin

2 teaspoons dried oregano

one-half teaspoon ground cinnamon

one-quarter teaspoon ground allspice

1 cup low-sodium chicken broth

2 15-ounce cans kidney beans

28-ounce can diced tomato, undrained

5 tablespoons chopped semisweet chocolate

one-half teaspoon salt

one and one-half cups (3 ounces) shredded sharp cheddar cheese

Heat a Dutch oven (like a Le Creuset pot) over medium-high heat. Add olive oil. When moderately hot, add turkey and cook for about 3 minutes, stirring to crumble. Add 2 cups onion, bell pepper and garlic; saute about 3 minutes. Stir in chili powder and next 5 ingredients (through allspice); cook 1 minute. Add broth, beans and tomatoes; bring to a boil, then cover, reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Remove chili from heat and stir in chocolate and salt. Top with remaining 1 cup of onions and cheese. Stir immediately.

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Reading Uncertainly? ‘The Invention of Nature’ by Andrea Wulf

the_invention_of_natureFor those who attended this year’s Florence Griswold Museum-sponsored Samuel Thorne Memorial Lecture, which took place on Nov. 12, this month’s book review will ring significant bells. Not entirely by coincidence, we venture, our esteemed reviewer, Felix Kloman of Lyme, selected ‘The Invention of Nature’ as his book of choice this month and its author — Andrea Wulf — was the speaker at this year’s lecture .

Who was Alexander von Humboldt, the subject of this engrossing new biography? I must admit I had only a fleeting memory of his name, but for many in the 1900s, he was acknowledged as a major icon of the previous century in science and philosophy. Humboldt was a well-born Prussian, and Wulf’s story of his life is one of an intensely curious man whose travels, meetings and writings influenced many of the key thinkers of those years.

Consider these names: Johan von Goethe, Friedrich Schiller, Simon Bolivar, Thomas Jefferson, Charles Darwin, John Muir, Henry David Thoreau, Ernest Haeckel, Joseph Banks, and George Perkins Marsh. This biography is an exultation of interconnections!

And connectivity was the theme of Humboldt’s life: “Everything seemed somehow connected – an (early) idea that would come to shape his thinking about the natural world for the rest of his life.” Nature, to him, was a “web of life and a global force … with plants and animals dependent on each other.” This “urge to understand nature, globally, as a network of forces and interrelationships” generated “ferocious activity” for his entire life.

It began with his remarkable initial expedition to South America, including a climb to the top of Chimborazo, an inactive volcano in what is now Ecuador, a search for a link to the Amazon River, then walking in Mexico and Cuba, and, finally, a visit to President Thomas Jefferson in Washington. As a note on those times, it took Humboldt and his fellow traveler three and a half days to move from Philadelphia to the capital city.

While he yearned to travel again to South America, and then to Asia, and Africa, his shortage of funds allowed him only one other extensive tour, from Prussia to Russia and its border with China. But he never lost his curiosity, even while writing his journals, publishing a later masterpiece of his thinking, Cosmos, and forever trading correspondence and ideas with everyone he had met.

Wulf writes “comparison not discovery was his guiding theme,” and Humboldt issued an early warning of three ways in which the human species adversely affected the climate, based on his travels: deforestation, “ruthless irrigation,” and the “great masses of steam and gas produced in the industrial countries.” Almost two centuries later, we still have not learned …

Charles Darwin and Humboldt had frequent communication, in person and through letters. They shared, according to the author, a “flexibility perspective … telescopic and microscopic, sweepingly panoramic and down to the cellular levels, and moving in times from the distant geological past to the future economy of native populations.”

Humboldt was an outspoken critic of colonialism and slavery, but he had to be cautious as he remained under the financial support of Prussian royalty. Those years featured the turmoil of revolutions, as Europe and the Americas shifted from absolute despotisms to emerging democracies, and often back again.

Wulf’s entrancing biography is reading history through the vision of one extraordinary man who saw “harmony in diversity.” Would that we had listened more closely to his words …

Editor’s Note: ‘The Invention of Nature’ by Andrea Wulf is published by Alfred A. Knopf, New York 2015

Felix Kloman_headshot_2005_284x331-150x150About 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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Reading Uncertainly? ‘Master and Commander’ by Patrick O’Brian

mastercommanderWhy is it that a fourth re-reading of this magnificent story of the Napoleonic Wars seems even more delicious than the first time around? There are 21 novels in this series and I’ve embarked on another voyage. “I give you joy,” as these sailors say to each other.

From listening to Locatelli’s C major quartet, that almost causes a duel, to the concluding words of acquittal in a naval court martial, we live life at sea with Jack Aubrey, the naval commander, but not quite yet a “Captain,” and the polymath physician and spy Stephen Maturin, an Irish-Catalan.

O’Brian uses a rich language that drives you to the dictionary. Ships and boats: frigate, ship-of-the line, sloop, long-boat, cutter, gig, jolly-boat, felucca, tartan, xebec, poluccas houario, barca-longa, bean-cod, cat, and herring-bus. Birds: upupa, epop (or hoopoe), ibis, mareotic grallatore. A flower: dianthus perfragans. An ant: tapinoma erraticum. Of an acquaintance, Maturin says: “I would not call him a gremial friend” (from the Latin, not a “close” friend).

And humor: a Frenchman sailed slowly “no doubt for fear of tripping over the lines of longitude.” Jack Aubrey trying to sound literate: “Alas, poor Borwick.” His sloop “the Sophie reeked of grilled sardines and fresh paint.” The sun shone “with idiot good humor.”

Or the two page delightful description of Maturin watching the mating of two praying mantises, the female then devouring the head and thorax of the male as the male ‘copulated on!” His conclusion: “You do not need a head, nor even a heart, to be all a female can require.”

On the word “death” in the English Articles of War, to be regularly read to the ship’s crew: “ . . . death had a fine, comminatory Leviticus ring, and the crew took a grave (my italics!) pleasure in it all. . . . “ I can hear O’Brian chuckling as he wrote that line.

Jack Aubrey is always urging speed: “There is not a minute to lose.” He repeats this counsel more than six times in this novel (and it is repeated in all the rest!)

And here is Maturin’s take on the human condition: “It seems to me that the greater mass of confusion and distress must arise from these less evident divergencies – the moral law, the civil, military, common laws, the code of honour, custom, the rules of practical life, of civility, of amorous conversation, gallantry, to say nothing of Christianity for those who practise it. All sometimes, indeed generally, at variance; none ever in an entirely harmonious relation to the rest; and a man is perpetually required to choose one rather than another perhaps (in his particular case) its contrary. It is as though our strings were each tuned according to a completely separate system – it is as though the poor ass were surrounded by four and twenty mangers.”

To which Jack Aubrey commented: “You are an antinomian.”

And Stephen Maturin replied: “I am a pragmatist.” A perfect description of the chaos two centuries later!

Finally, the author tossed a delightful tidbit my way, when Jack Aubrey said “ . . . how happy, felix, you would make me.” Yes, this Felix is basking in the delight of O’Brian’s words, looking forward to his fourth re-read of the remaining twenty novels.

Editor’s Note: ‘Master and Commander’ by Patrick O’Brian,  is published by W. W. Norton & Co., New York 1990 (first published in UK 1970.)

Felix Kloman_headshot_2005_284x331-150x150About 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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Nibbles: Savor Seasonal Pumpkin Whoopie Pies

These delicious Pumpkin Whoopie Pies won't last long!

These delicious Pumpkin Whoopie Pies won’t last long!

I am not sure when chocolate began to disappear as my drug of choice or, in truth, never was. Even as a child, when given a dime for penny candy (yes, I am that old!), I chose those Mary Janes and “watermelon” slices and those wax bottles filled with juice. On the other hand, my go-to birthday cake was chocolate layer cake, filled between layers with strawberry jam, topped with crusty white chocolate icing and drizzled with dark chocolate.

Over the years, I considered chocolate an add-on. It might want one candy from a Whitman sampler but not a whole Hershey bar. I still like sweets, but favor butterscotch pudding, blondies, carrot cake and rice pudding, the last served warm with cinnamon.

Until I went to college, I had never tasted pumpkin pie, candied sweet potatoes, vanilla-scented cookies or bread pudding. Now, when I crave dessert, it is more likely to be a slice of pineapple upside down cake or Key lime pie.

As a result, I love autumn. I have in my pantry cans of pure pumpkin and the October issues of food magazines are filled with recipes for pumpkin. Here is one I have been making for years. (If you try to buy cans of pumpkin in the spring or summer, you may be out of luck, so buy a few extra this fall if you love this recipe as much as I do.)

Pennsylvania Dutch Pumpkin Whoopie Pies

Yield: 12 to 18 “pies”

4 and one-half cups flour
1 tablespoon cream of tartar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
one-quarter teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1 and one-half teaspoon ground ginger
1 and one-half teaspoon ground allspice
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1 cup flavorless vegetable oil
2 and one-third cups brown sugar
1 can real pumpkin (not pumpkin pie mix)
1 large egg
2 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
one-half teaspoon fresh grated lemon zest
1 and one-third cups oats (quick- or regular-cooking)
milk or buttermilk, if needed, so the batter isn’t too thick to drop onto cookie sheet

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and spray several cookie sheets with Pam (or use butter).

Thoroughly stir together flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger and allspice in a large bowl.

In second bowl, with a mixer, beat butter, oil and brown sugar until smooth and fluffy. Beat in pumpkin, egg, yolks, vanilla and lemon juice. Gradually beat in flour mixture, then add oats. If too thick, add some milk or buttermilk until it looks more like cookie batter.

Drop 2 and one-half tablespoons batter at a time onto the baking sheets, about 3 inches apart.* Using your index finger (dipped in water), turn cookies into circles about the same size. Place cooking sheets on the bottom third and top third of racks. Bake 10 to 12 minutes, reversing them at about half-time. Remove from oven and cool for around 3 minutes before put cookies on wire cooling racks.

For the filling: Cream 12 ounces cream cheese, 2 large egg whites, one-quarter pure vanilla extract, one-quarter teaspoon grated lemon zest. Gradually add confectioners’ sugar. Chill for about 15 minutes. To assemble, place one cookie, flat side down, on a platter, spread about 2 tablespoons of filling and top with flat-top of another cookie.

*If you would like smaller pies, use 1 tablespoon each of the batter

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Recycling in Old Lyme: Getting Rid of Mattresses

mattresses
LymeLine.com is pleased to be publishing a series of articles written by Old Lyme’s Solid Waste & Recycling Committee that lay out best recycling practices.  To date, the committee’s articles have covered Old Lyme’s curbside trash and recycling programs; the safe disposal of medications; and paint recycling.  This article covers the recycling of mattresses and box springs.

The International Sleep Products Association (ISPA), which is the trade association for the mattress industry, estimates that 35 to 40 million new mattresses and box springs are sold in the United States every year, and at least 15 to 20 million are discarded.

Unfortunately, mattresses are really hard to throw out; there is just no easy way to dispose of them.  They are difficult to land-fill because they can’t be easily compressed and crushed; they pose challenges for incinerators.

So, disposal of mattresses and box springs at the end of their useful life was difficult for towns to manage. Hartford estimated that mattress disposal cost that city about $400,000 in 2010.  Consequently, they are often illegally dumped and found on vacant lots and roadsides.  As a matter of fact, there was a mattress lawn ornament right here in Old Lyme on Rte. 156. It was only recently removed after gracing our roadside for several months. (Thanks, neighbor!)

Connecticut passed comprehensive mattress stewardship legislation in 2013 (the first state to do so.)  Similar to paint, the law requires mattress manufacturers to establish programs to manage unwanted mattresses and box springs; and, like paint, a fee is assessed at the point of sale to fund the program.  California and Rhode Island have since passed similar mattress stewardship laws.

The Mattress Recycling Council (MRC) was formed by ISPA to operate recycling programs in the states that have such laws. Connecticut’s program launched in May, 2015.  “Bye Bye Mattress” (really!) is the recycling program established by MRC. They provide haulers that pick up and transport mattresses and box springs from drop-off sites to recycling centers. Our local drop-off site is Old Lyme’s transfer station.  There are currently mattress recycling facilities in East Hartford and Bridgeport; ours extends to East Hartford.  Mattresses get recycled through the state’s recycling program regardless of when they were purchased.  Note that most mattress retailers will remove your old mattress on delivery of new.

The industry estimates that nearly 90 percent of used mattress and box springs’ components can be recycled — the metal springs, foam, wood and fibers — and made into new useful products.

Before putting this topic to rest, it’s worthwhile to mention the issue of bed bugs. Infested mattresses require special handling.  If you have concerns regarding bed bugs you can find information and guidance from Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection at http://www.ct.gov/deep/cwp/view.asp?a=2714&q=482160&deepNav_GID=1645%20#BedBugs or the Connecticut Coalition Against Bed Bugs at http://www.ct.gov/caes/cwp/view.asp?a=2826&q=437580.

Our next few articles will cover the proper recycling of electronics, 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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Letter From Paris – No, Now It’s Essex!  A Brave, New Museum Opens in DC

Nicole Prevost Logan

Nicole Prevost Logan

Editor’s Note:  Our popular writer from Paris, Nicole Prevost Logan, is back in Essex, CT, for the winter.  She does not normally write for us from Essex, but this year, she is making an exception and will be continuing to contribute articles to ValleyNewsNow.com and LymeLine.com during the winter months.  Here is her inaugural column from Essex about the opening of  a very special museum in Washington DC.

The Grand Opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) will take place in Washington DC this coming Saturday, Sept. 24.  The NMAAHC, the 19th and newest of the Smithsonian museums, was established by a bi-partisan Act of Congress in 2003.

The Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture, Nov. 6, 2015. (Photo by Michael Barnes from http://newsdesk.si.edu/photos)

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, Nov. 6, 2015. (Photo by Michael Barnes / Smithsonian Institution.)

The massive structure occupies a prime location next to the Washington Monument and contrasts with the 555 ft. slender obelisk.  The dark bronze-colored metal lattice that covers the ‘Corona” also stands out from the white marble classical architecture of most of the other museums standing on the National Mall.

It has been a long struggle for the supporters, such as Congressman John Lewis (D-Georgia), to make the project a reality.  They needed to overcome the resistance from several senators who advocated another location. The final approval  was more than a triumph — it might be considered a miracle.  It succeeded in making a strong statement as to the importance of Black history and culture in the American nation.

The lead designer was David Adjaye, son of a Ghanaian diplomat and the lead architect Philip Freehon, who died in 2009.  Founding Director Lonnie B. Bunch III is the visionary and driving force of the project.  During some of the many interviews he gave to the press and to a variety of audiences, including select ones like the Aspen institute, he explains the building process and his objective with a very contagious enthusiasm.

The NMAAHC is not intended to be a Holocaust museum, he explains . Its mission is to show the pain but also the joy and the creativity of African-Americans.  A daunting fund-raising goal of 450,000 million dollars had to be reached.

The three-tier effect of the construction incorporates elements from African culture, such as the Yoruban crowns from Nigeria.  Inside the building, high tech designs and the enormity of the space will make it possible to be versatile in organizing several exhibits simultaneously.

The collections had to be created from zero.  It required a treasure hunt into the attics, trunks and basements of the population.  To date 35,000 artifacts have been collected.  A segregated train from outside Chattanooga (TN) was lowered by crane and the museum built around it.  All traffic stopped on Constitution Ave. when an oversized truck delivered the control tower from a federal prison.

Artifacts showing the terrible fate of the slaves are very moving.  Such is an amulet created by the Lombi tribe in the form of a shackle.  More tragic still were the shackles for children.

But fun and the world of entertainment are also present in the displays , such as Louis Armstrong and his trumpet, Lena Horne or Marianne Andersen . The film archives will be essential to build up history, from Harriet Tubman to the human rights movements of the 1950s and 1960s.

According to Washington insiders , the opening of the new museum is the hottest event in a decade.  More than 150,000 special tickets have been distributed to dignitaries while long lines of visitors gather at the entrances of the building to purchase tickets for general admission after the opening.

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? ‘Lafayette in the “Somewhat” United States’ by Sarah Vowell

lafayette-in-the-somewhat-united-statesThis quote describes Sarah Vowell’s new interpretation of our history: “… I like to use whatever is lying around to paint pictures of the past …”

The Marquis de Lafayette just happens to be her tool in this decidedly non-academic, irreverent, and often sarcastic interpretation of the effect that a rich 19-year-old French aristocrat had on our so-called “Revolution.”

Her prose is idiomatic, unpretentious, and humorous – two jokes a page! She sees our colonists as “state-sponsored terrorists, with French financial backing.” The Americans? “A squirming polygon of civilians, politicians and armed forces begging to differ.”

And she concludes: “That, to me, is the quintessential experience of living in the United States: constantly worrying whether or not the country is about to fall apart.”

Is it true that Justice Scalia read this book just before he died of apoplexy?

Ms. Vowell traces the rush of a young man from Paris to these shores, whose persuasive words and evident riches made him a general in the revolutionary forces, a youngster who rushed into battles with little experience and who contributed to the “patriot soap opera” that was our revolutionary period.

This is the seamy, seedy, and often-hilarious underside of “the ironically named ‘United’ States” and their Revolution, one that Ms. Vowell calls “FUBAR!” (I had to look that one up in Google: it means “f—ed up beyond all recognition”).

Hers is a re-interpretation of our past, richly intermixed with her current opinions.

For example:  “To establish such a forthright dream of decency, who wouldn’t sign up to shoot at a few thousand Englishmen, just as long as Mr. Bean wasn’t among them? Alas, from my end of history there’s a big file cabinet blocking the view of the sweet-natured republic Lafayette foretold, and it’s where the guvment (sic) keeps the folders full of Indian treaties, the Chinese Exclusion Act, and NSA-monitored electronic messages pertinent to national security, which is apparently all of them, including the one in which I ask my mom for advice on how to get a red Sharpie stain out of couch upholstery.”

She manages to get in asides on everything: Chris Christie’s “Bridgegate” at Fort Lee (the town was named during the Revolution) and “… it must quiet the mind of Bruce Willis that even though his fellow Americans never nominated him for an Oscar, the French awarded him the Legion d’Honneur.” Another one on General Washington, who was six feet four inches tall: “Still it does get on my nerves how easy it is for tall people to make a good first impression.”

Why did the French want to support us? They had just recently been tossed out of Canada, retaining only the island of St. Pierre and Miquelon (they are still part of France …) and leaving a taste of language in Quebec. So why not send some young aristocrats to these shores, along with a few troops and some naval vessels? They agreed with many of the colonists that the Brits were “pig-headed Anglo-Saxon islanders.”

Yet this historical perambulation is an animated read. No chapter breaks, so it becomes a continuous ramble through early American history using the author’s distinctly tinted glasses. Michiko Kakutani in the New York Times called it a “cutesy-pie book.” Perhaps she is right, but its melange of historical and personal tidbits, from past and present, make it a fun trip.

Editor’s Note: ‘Lafayette in the “Somewhat” United States’ by Sarah Vowell is published by Riverhead Books, New York 2015.

Felix Kloman_headshot_2005_284x331-150x150About 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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The Movie Man: ‘Kubo and the Two Strings’ is an Unexpected Delight

kubo-main_0Truly, if you enjoy learning about ancient mythology, you will enjoy watching Kubo and the Two Strings, brought to you by Laika, the filmmakers behind Coraline and The Boxtrolls. With an all-star-studded cast that includes Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey, Ralph Fiennes, Rooney Mara, and Star Trek actor/turned social media personality George Takei, this stop-motion animation film does not disappoint.

We are told the story of Kubo, a young one-eyed boy, who cares for his ill mother by transforming paper into origami masterpieces through his shamisen (a string instrument indigenous to Japan). After staying out past dark (as he was warned against many times), his mother’s sisters destroy his village and attempt to take his remaining eye.

Upon escaping the terror of his aunts, Kubo comes across the incarnate version of his wooden monkey (voiced by Ms. Theron) brought to life by his own mother’s magic, and eventually Beetle (Mr. McConaughey), who join him on a quest to retrieve the armor worn by his father, a Samurai warrior.

The film often invoked reminders of ancient mythology, in which the character is forced to embark on a quest, accompanied people who are both reasonable and unreasonable, in which the protagonist must locate something precious in regards to the parent he never knew, who was a great warrior and up to whose image he seeks to live. This ranges from classical mythology to modern entertainment (think of Luke Skywalker in Star Wars, prior to learning his father was the enemy he was fighting all along [not spoiling anything about this film, disclaimer] or even Telemachus, son of Odysseus in The Odysessy.)

Perhaps what is most rivaled by its story and performances is its original score, which I have no doubt will at least be nominated by many award shows this upcoming season.

It was released in 3D, a trend in movies that I do not understand. Despite being a family-friendly film, I would caution those who have very young children from seeing this. One of the main themes revolves around the title character missing an eye and his grandfather and aunts seeking retribution on his life or his remaining eye, as well as there being some frightening images and scary scenes.

But anybody above the PG-warned audience will find this movie to be an ultimate delight.

Kevin Ganey

About the Author: Kevin Ganey has lived in the Lyme/Old Lyme area since he was three-years-old, attended Xavier High School in Middletown and recently graduated from Quinnipiac University with a degree in Media Studies. Prior to his involvement here at LymeLine.com, he worked for Hall Radio in Norwich, as well as interned under the Director of Communications at High Hopes Therapeutic Riding Center. Kevin has a passion for movies, literature, baseball, and all things New England-based … especially chowder.

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