June 5, 2020

Talking Transportation: The Road Ahead … for Rail Commuters: Will They Ever Go Back To Metro-North?

Jim Cameron

The road ahead for commuters may be less crowded … or maybe more.

One theory has it that, as people gradually return to work, they will shun mass transit out of safety concerns and commute, instead, by car.  That could create problems on our roads if people try to drive five days a week.

The other speculation is that the “new normal” will mean less commuting overall as people have found they can be just as productive from home and will commute less than the normal five days a week.

Work hours may also be staggered, asking employees to go to their jobs every other day to avoid crowding in the office.  And some New York City based companies may opt for adding suburban “satellite office” space, again changing the normal commute.

But for all of these scenarios, Metro-North will be the big loser.

“It will be years, if ever, before ridership gets back to pre-COVID-19 levels,” Catherine Rinaldi, President of Metro-North told me.

Ridership is already down 95 percent and service has been cut substantially to just one train per hour.  So far, cheaper off-peak tickets are valid on all trains, even at rush hour.  That seems unlikely to change.  Why give potential returning riders any excuse to not come back?

Because Metro-North charges the highest fares of any commuter railroad in the US, fares cover more of the railroad’s operating expenses than on any other railroad.  On Metro-North, 75 percent of the cost of running the trains is covered by fares compared to only 20 percent by MBTA in Boston (where fares are heavily subsidized to encourage ridership.)

Monthly commutation passes give riders a 50 percent discount over one-way fares.  But if people aren’t commuting five days a week, monthly tickets won’t make sense so maybe they’ll go for 10-trip tickets (still, a 30 – 40 percent discount over buying single tickets.)

The railroad’s parent, MTA, says it is expecting almost $6 billion in lost revenue, a $1.7 billion cut in tax revenue and $800 million in additional costs for employee safety.

The MTA will receive $3.9 billion from the Federal Government in aid, but that comes nowhere near what will be needed.

If ridership doesn’t come back strong and fast, the losses will only worsen.

With reduced ridership and fewer trains, the railroad may have to do something more to reduce costs … but layoffs and furloughs are not being considered, I’m told.  The MTA wants to keep those staffers close so they can be put back on trains if demand increases as some hope.

“We will have to be nimble and improvise, depending on how quickly passengers return,” says Rinaldi.

As CDOT is doing with our highways, Metro-North is taking advantage of this lull to accelerate infrastructure repairs.  The Waterbury branch, which has reverted to bussing, has seen 5500 railroad ties replaced, bridge timbers upgraded and signal work moving apace.

President Rinaldi gives a big “shout out” to her 6600 employees.  “I’m so proud of their amazing dedication” coming to work and keeping the railroad running.

And to riders, past and future, Rinaldi’s message is simple:

“Thank you for staying home and staying protected.  We want you to come back and we will do everything we can to keep you safe.”

Posted with permission of Hearst CT Media.

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.


A View from My Porch:  Great Leaders and Great Speeches, Part 2

Nazi Aggression through “A Rain of Ruin from the Air” on Hiroshima

Part 1 ended with a review of Theodore Roosevelt’s extension of the Monroe Doctrine to enable the United States to exercise “international police power” in the Western Hemisphere. I continue my review of significant speeches with one of Winston Churchill’s wartime speeches.

As noted last time, my selection is based wholly on my judgment that the speech is notable, or an important contribution to history. These speeches are arranged chronologically, but they are not contiguous. A passage taken directly from the text or transcript of the speech is delineated by quotation marks. Otherwise, the essay includes my own (and others’) analyses of the content.

6. Winston Churchill “We Shall Fight on The Beaches”:

This famous photo shows then Prime Minister Winston Churchill (center) on the balcony of Buckingham Palace on VE Day — May 8, 1945 — after victory in World War II had been declared. Standing to his right are King George VI and Princess Margaret while to his left are Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother and then Princess Elizabeth, who now still reigns as Queen Elizabeth II.

Churchill demonstrates the skills that able leaders display when speaking to their nation in times of crisis. This address to the House of Commons occurred on June 4, 1940, just after the rescue of the British Expeditionary Force from the coast at Dunkirk. “Beaches” is often cited as one of the defining speeches of World War II. At that time, France was falling to the Nazis, and the threat of an invasion of Britain seemed a near certainty; so much so that Hitler had given the plan of invasion the code name “Operation Sea Lion.”

Photo by Frederick Tubiermont on Unsplash

Churchill addressed the House of Commons to reconfirm, despite the near disaster at Dunkirk, the goal of “victory, however long and hard the road may be”, that he had declared in his May 13, speech (see below).

“Beaches” was the second of three major speeches given during that period in 1940. The others are the “Blood, Toil, Tears, and Sweat” speech of May 13, and the later “Finest Hour” speech of June 18. 

The speech was also an appeal to the Americans, who were still watching the war from the sidelines. Churchill eloquently and honestly informed the British of what was facing them all: “Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo, and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end”. 

“We shall fight in France; we shall fight on the seas and oceans; we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air. We shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be.

We shall fight on the beaches; we shall fight on the landing grounds; we shall fight in the fields and in the streets. We shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender. And even if this Island, or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle.”

He ended with a gesture to America: pleading that, “in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.”

7. FDR’s Four Freedoms:

US President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Original color transparency taken by Leon A. Perskie, Hyde Park, New York, in 1944. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

In his State of the Union Address on January 6, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt responded to Churchill’s appeal and began to move the United States further away from its post-World War One policy of neutrality. He had watched with fear as Europe fell to the Nazis; and was intent on rallying public support for the United States to take an expanded role in the war beyond the Lend-Lease program that already permitted war supplies be sent to Britain.

He had already initiated a buildup of the military. “I find it, unhappily, necessary to report that the future and the safety of our country and of our democracy are overwhelmingly involved in events far beyond our borders,” stating that, the need of the moment is that our actions and our policy should be devoted primarily – almost exclusively to meeting the foreign peril”.

He noted that, “by an impressive expression of the public will and without regard to partisanship, we are committed to full support of all those resolute people everywhere who are resisting aggression and are thereby keeping war away from our hemisphere. By this support, we express our determination that the democratic cause shall prevail; and we strengthen the defense and the security of our own nation”. 

He referenced his belief that America’s primary role was to support our allies as “the arsenal of democracy”, which he had introduced in a radio broadcast about a week before. “We cannot, and we will not, tell them that they must surrender, merely because of their present inability to pay for the weapons which we know they must have”. At that time, the United States was just nearing the end of the Great Depression, and industry, which had not yet recovered, was reluctant to expand. 

The Defense Production Act was not enacted until 1950, at the start of the Korean War. However, Congress provided FDR with sweeping war powers, which he used to break through that reluctance. These powers ultimately enabled him to requisition supplies and property; and force entire industries to produce wartime products rather than products for civilians. America began producing airplanes, tanks, military vehicles, weapons, warships, and other defense-related products. 

As justification, he stated that, “in the future, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms”. He insisted that “people in all nations of the world shared Americans’ entitlement to these same four freedoms: “the freedom of speech and expression, the freedom to worship God in his own way, freedom from want and freedom from fear”. 

The value of FDR’s many “fireside chats”, which he began right after his first inauguration, should not be under-estimated in moving the nation’s industry into wartime production. His radio broadcasts of “conversations” with Americans were very “well-attended” (e.g., an estimated 60 million Americans listened to his first radio address), and he had gained the trust and respect of Americans, who had grown to appreciate his honesty and straightforward language.  

8. President Truman and the Use of the Atom Bomb at Hiroshima:

President Harry S. Truman c. 1947. By National Archives and Records Administration. Office of Presidential Libraries. Harry S. Truman Library. (ID. 7865583)., Public Domain.

Less than two weeks after being sworn in as President after FDR’s death, Harry S. Truman was briefed by Secretary of War Stimson on the top-secret Manhattan Project, which began in 1942 to develop an atom bomb. He was informed that “within four months, we shall, in all probability, have completed the most terrible weapon ever known in human history”.

After a successful test of the weapon, Truman formed the “Interim Committee” to “advise the president” on matters pertaining to the use of nuclear energy and weapons. The Committee’s first priority was to provide counsel on the use of the atomic bomb to bring war with Japan to an end. 

The group considered four options: conventional bombing of Japan; ground invasion; demonstration of the bomb on an unpopulated area; and finally, use of the bomb in a populated or an industrialized area. Some historians have said that Truman and his advisers made the only decision they could have made in the context of finally bringing the war with Japan to an end. 

Prolonging the war was not an option for the President. His decision to use the bomb was made to prevent the estimated one million casualties associated with a Normandy-type amphibious landing on the Japanese mainland. He believed that use of the bomb would also save Japanese lives, and wanted a swifter close to the war than any other option of force would provide.

Allied leaders had gathered in Potsdam, Germany, after the European phase of the war had ended; and before the final decision to use the bomb in Japan had been made. 

Truman, Churchill, and Chinese Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek drafted a declaration that defined the terms for Japan’s surrender and made dire warnings if the country failed to end all hostilities. Soviet leader Joseph Stalin was not part of the group because his country had not yet declared war on Japan.

Truman issued the Potsdam Declaration on July 26, 1945 (jointly with Great Britain, and China), demanding the unconditional surrender of Japan, and warning, otherwise, of “prompt and utter destruction.” The “Declaration” claimed that “unintelligent calculations” by Japan’s military advisers had brought the country to the “threshold of annihilation.”

Hopeful that the Japanese would “follow the path of reason,” the leaders outlined their terms of surrender, which included complete disarmament, allied occupation of certain areas, and the creation of a “responsible government.” It also promised that Japan would not “be enslaved as a race or destroyed as a nation.”

Japan did not acquiesce; and on Aug. 6, and 9, 1945, the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were destroyed by dropping two atom bombs (known as “Little Boy”, and the more powerful “Fat Man”, respectively) At this time, the Soviet Union also declared war on Japan. On Aug. 15, Japan finally and officially surrendered. 

On Aug. 6, 1945, President Truman delivered a radio address while returning home from the Potsdam Conference aboard the USS Augusta: “Sixteen hours ago, an American airplane dropped one bomb on Hiroshima, an important Japanese Army base. That bomb had more power than 20,000 tons of TNT. 

The Japanese began the war from the air at Pearl Harbor. They have been repaid many-fold; and the end is not yet here. 

“These bombs are now in production, and even more powerful forms are in development. It is a harnessing of the basic power of the universe. The force from which the sun draws its power has been loosed against those who brought war to the Far East”.

“By 1942, we knew that the Germans were working feverishly to find a way to add atomic energy to the other engines of war with which they hoped to enslave the world; but they failed”. 

“The battle of the laboratories held fateful risks for us; as well as the battles of the air, land and sea”. We have now won the battle of the laboratories, as we have also won the other battles”.

“Scientific knowledge was pooled; and with American and British scientists working together we entered the race of discovery against the Germans”. 

“We have spent two billion dollars on the greatest scientific gamble in history, and won. “What has been done is the greatest achievement of organized science in history”.

“We are now prepared to obliterate more rapidly and completely every productive enterprise the Japanese have above ground in any city. Let there be no mistake; we shall completely destroy Japan’s power to make war.

It was to spare the Japanese people from utter destruction that the ultimatum of July 26 was issued at Potsdam. Their leaders promptly rejected that ultimatum”. 

“If they do not now accept our terms, they may expect a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on this earth”. 

Some Final Thoughts

President Truman’s decision to drop the bomb was very controversial. At the time, however, the majority of America’s political and military leaders believed that it was the best alternative. “It is an awful responsibility that has come to us.” He also recommended that Congress establish a commission to control the production and use of atomic power within the United States. 

It is refreshing that, like many of his predecessors, and some of his successors, he believed that “the buck stops here”, and he accepted accountability for all the decisions of his administration. Truman valued scientists.

Eleanor Roosevelt with her dog Fala in 1951. By Unknown author or not provided – U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain, 

After FDR’s death, President Truman appointed former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt as a delegate to the United Nations, where she served as Head of the Human Rights Commission, and was instrumental in framing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by the General Assembly in 1948. She often referred to FDR’s “Four Freedoms” when advocating for passage of the “Universal Declaration”.

I could have devoted this essay to the speeches of Winston Churchill, who exhibited the skills required of a wartime leader. Recordings of his speeches, are still available. I find his delivery to be very stirring. 

Churchill, authored his own speeches, and used “repetition” very powerfully in “Beaches”, as did FDR in “Four Freedoms”; who repeatedly used the phrase “by an impressive expression of the public will” (in the full text.) JFK also did so in his “Berlin” speech, which is reviewed in a later essay. 

I’ll wrap this up with an uncomfortable link to the WWII era. Repetition is, in no manner, synonymous with Joseph Goebbels’ Principles of Propaganda; which states, in part, that “if one wrong is reverberated many times, then people will accept that wrong as right”. “The most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly; it must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over”.

With apologies, the alternative to Goebbels is Bob Dylan’s Principle: “Don’t follow leaders, watch the parking meters.” 

Part 3 begins with a speech that defines the advent of the “Iron Curtain”, considers the “Military- Industrial Complex”, and proceeds through the Cold War.

Tom Gotowka

About the author: Tom Gotowka’s entire adult career has been in healthcare. He’ will sit on the Navy side at the Army/Navy football game. He always sit on the crimson side at any Harvard/Yale contest. He enjoys reading historic speeches and considers himself a scholar of the period from FDR through JFK.

A child of AM Radio, he probably knows the lyrics of every rock and roll or folk song published since 1960. He hopes these experiences give readers a sense of what he believes “qualify” him to write this column.



Talking Transportation: Cruise Ships Hit COVID Storm, What Happens Next?

What does the future hold for the cruise industry?Photo by Stephanie Klepacki on Unsplash.

Have you ever taken a cruise? 

According to that industry, something like 28 million people worldwide took to the high seas last year.  But that still leave 80 percent of Americans who have never cruised, enjoying the midnight buffets, spas and casinos at sea.

Obviously, cruising has lost its allure since the megaships became epicenters of COVID-19 outbreaks, trapping passengers in their cabins for days as some ships searched for a port that would let them dock with their contagious human cargo.

Even before the current pandemic cruise ships were notorious hotspots for simpler bugs like the norovirus which caused “acute gastrointestinal illness.”  It’s hard to share a confined space like a ship without touching surfaces that harbor the virus.

Years ago when we sailed on the Norwegian Cruise Line, we practically bathed in hand sanitizer.  You couldn’t board without a hand spritz or even think about eating.  The dispensers were everywhere, compliance was high and we never got sick.

Now, cruising is on lockdown by order of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for at least another three months though it looks like the White House is aiding the ailing industry by shortening the time before they can weigh anchor … assuming they can find passengers.

Because most cruise ships are not registered in the US, the operators were locked out of the government’s $2 trillion aid package.  But what’s become of the ships and their crews?

As of this writing there are about 100 cruise ships either docked or floating at sea staffed with 80,000 crew members caught in limbo.  Some of them have contracted COVID-19 and are sick but can’t be taken ashore.  Most of them are still getting paid, others not.

The onboard entertainment for passengers has been re-tuned to keep up staff morale.  And the fancy buffets have been replaced with simpler fare as the big ships now need to be resupplied while still at sea.

But what will happen to the cruise industry “after” COVID-19?

It depends mostly on the ship owners and the CDC. Among the recommendations: eliminate self-service food buffets, sanitize endlessly, increase air-filtration for cabins lacking fresh air, constant illness testing for crew and passengers and reduced capacity onboard to allow social distancing.

Even with those measures, the question is will the customers come back?  Cruising used to be fun and pretty inexpensive, but the industry’s mishandling of the COVID crisis is the kind of bad PR that will take months or years to overcome.

Among the first to cruise (and fly) will be those who’ve survived the virus and have documentation to prove it (COVID Cards, I call them).  Presumably they’ll be immune to reinfection and won’t be contagious.

But will the ports welcome the ships, especially those coming from the world’s COVID hotspot, the United States?

As travel consultant Peter Greenberg points out, it wasn’t that many years ago that international travelers had to carry a yellow immunization card, signed by their doctors, proving they were up to date on all their shots.  That’s an idea that is sure to return.

There’s a lot hanging in the balance for this industry’s return to business.  We’re talking about thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in business for the US and international ports’ economies.  I can’t imagine all of that disappearing. 

At least I hope not.

Posted 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.


A la Carte: Going to Grill, But No Idea What? How About Bourbon- & Mustard-Glazed Pork Chops

Lee White

I grew up in a house where, if something needed fixed, my mother called someone. My brother also grew up in the same house and, generally speaking, he didn’t learn how to fix things, either. I went to college and majored in English. My brother went to MIT undergraduate and then got himself a masters and Ph.D. in metallurgy at RPI. 

I married a man, who also majored in English (with a minor in philosophy), but he could fix anything. He could do plumbing, electrical wiring and built a three-car garage attached to our 17th-century house whose second floor he turned into an apartment for my parents. 

When my husband died, I was lost. I never learned how to fix things because Doug did everything. I remember asking him one night what to do if I lost power and didn’t know what to do with the electrical box in the basement. He said I should call Andy, our neighbor.

The only smart thing I ever did was to sell the house and buy a condo. Unfortunately, it isn’t like living in New York City where you just call the super.

So a few weeks ago I fired up my Weber to grill a steak, It wouldn’t work. I looked at the propane tank and it looked like it was out of gas. I figured out how to drag it out of the grill, but it was so heavy I knew it still had fuel.

So I went onto Groton Forum, asking for help. Within minutes, friends I knew and didn’t know said they could call and stop after work.

I went back to the patio and noticed out there was another electric cord. I picked up my handheld mixer and tried the socket. It didn’t work. I looked at the socket and saw two plugs and two little buttons. I think I knew what a reset button was, so I pushed it and the mixer turned on.

I dragged the tank back, turned everything on, and it works (even though the gauge still says it is empty.)

The next day I threw a New York strip onto the grill and had a nice dinner with peas and a big roasted sweet potato. Tonight I will make pork chops with a glaze of bourbon and mustard.

Photo by Vincent Keiman on Unsplash

Bourbon- and Mustard-Glazed Pork Chops
From Country Home Stay for Dinner (Meredith Books, Des Moines, Iowa, 1993)
Yield: serves 4

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard (regular mustard will do, but not the yellow stuff)
2 tablespoons bourbon (or frozen orange juice concentrate)
2 tablespoons of molasses
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon cooking oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
¼ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
4 pork loin chops, but 1 ¼ inches thick

For the glaze, in small mixing bowl stir together all the ingredients except the chops. Set aside.

In a covered grill, arrange coals around drip pan.* To test for hotness, carefully hold hand over pan at the height food will be cooked. The coals are ready when you need to remove your hand after 5 minutes. Place chops on rack over pan but not over coals. Lower hood. Grill 40 to 45 minutes or until no pink remains, turning once. Brush chops with glaze during final 10 minutes of cooking. Crush wit glaze before serving.

*If you are using a propane grill, that has two or three heat knobs, turn the middle one to a lower heat. Also, this recipe came out 30 years ago. I don’t think we need to worry about getting rid of the “pink.”

About the author: Former Old Lyme resident Lee White has been writing about restaurants and cooking since 1976 and has been extensively published in the Worcester (Mass.) Magazine, The Day, Norwich Bulletin, and Hartford Courant.  She currently writes a cooking column called A La Carte for LymeLine.com and also for the Shore Publishing and Times newspapers, both of which are owned by The Day. 


Legal News You Can Use: Does Mediation Make Sense for Your Divorce?

If you and your spouse are pursuing an amicable divorce, going through litigation may not make sense. No matter what your feelings are toward each other, you may both be clear communicators and able to work together.

If you have children, you may want to avoid a contentious process to protect them, too. In these cases, mediation may be your solution.

Yet, it’s important to understand both its benefits and drawbacks before moving forward with it.

What are the benefits of mediation?

Mediation is a dispute resolution process where a neutral third party – the mediator – can help both spouses reach an agreement. Mediators are trained to help couples avoid conflict, find points of agreement and reach an amicable resolution to their divorce in a timely manner.

Mediation makes sense if you hope to keep a peaceful relationship with your spouse, especially if there are children in the picture. By pursuing an amicable divorce, you two will serve as role models and display a united front despite your differences.

If you are also looking to reduce divorce expenses, mediation is typically far more affordable than litigation. And you may find that mediation gives you more control over your divorce, too, since you and your spouse are making decisions rather than the court. Yet, you two will still need any legal aspects of your agreement finalized by a judge before they are binding.

What are the challenges of mediation?

By choosing mediation, you and your spouse may run the risk of not reaching an agreement. Your mediator will not provide you legal advice and will only help you work toward a resolution.

Furthermore, mediation requires transparency from both parties, since all disclosures are voluntary. If there’s any chance your spouse is hiding assets, their failure to report them may prevent you from receiving your fair share.

Nonetheless, mediation may prove a worthwhile option for keeping the peace during your divorce. If you pursue this route, an attorney with family law experience can help you through the process.

This post is sponsored by Suisman Shapiro Attorneys-at-Law.

Editor’s Notes: i) During this challenging time, Suisman Shapiro is providing essential legal services via electronic communications that keep staff in touch with clients while, at the same time, keeping both groups safe.

ii) Family law attorneys at Suisman Shapiro can discuss the mediation process with you and answer your questions on the subject. Visit their website or call 800-499-0145 — lines are open 24 hours a day.


Reading Uncertainly? ‘How Democracies Die’ by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt

Two learned Harvard professors open this provocative challenge to many of our conventional beliefs with a brief sentence: “We feel dread  …” Their worry – that “democracy” as we have known it may be seriously threatened: “Democracies may die at the hands not of generals but of elected leaders … who subvert the very process that brought them to power.”

They cite Hitler, Chavez, Castro, Putin, and Erdogan, among past and current elected leaders who trashed democracy, even when some of them retained popular support.

What is democracy?

These professors define it as “a system of government with regular free and fair elections, in which all adult citizens have the right to vote and possess basic civil liberties such as freedom of speech and association.”

But, given the enormous explosion of human population and the way social media can manipulate many of us, are the precepts of democracy and our “Madisonian system of checks and balances,” still workable?

Our system in this country seems to be based on a desired but frequently non-existent “balance” among executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government, at local, state, and national levels

They continually pose difficult questions in this book:

  • Are “political parties democracy’s gatekeepers?” Are only two the best course (as in the U.S. and U.K.), or are many better (13 now in Switzerland)?
  • Who or what is an “extremist”? Do open primary elections encourage “extremists’? Do they encourage an enormous flow of money?
  • Are we in the midst of a “collective abdication” of the rules of democracy”?
  • Do “neutral arbiters” (the judiciary, for example) even exist?
  • Do “national referenda even serve a useful purpose, when society is fractured and when social media can move large numbers of voters in different directions almost instantly?

One of the authors’ fascinating chapters is a study of elected authoritarians, citing Peron (Argentina), Correa (Ecuador), Orban (Hungary), Berlusconi (Italy), Fujimori (Peru),  Kaczynski (Poland), Putin (Russia), Erdogan (Turkey), Chavez (Venezuela) and, perhaps to come, AMLO in Mexico.

These Cambridge skeptics conclude (properly!) with more questions:

  • Is the “fundamental problem facing American democracy (our) extreme partisan division?”
  • Is a  “multiethnic democracy in which no ethnic group is in the majority” truly possible? See Switzerland now …
  • Is it possible to be “both multiracial and genuinely democratic”?
  • Is trust possible?

There seem to be two critical norms for the continuation of “democracy”: the first is institutional forbearance (don’t try to control and manage everything) and natural toleration (respecting the opinions and habits of other others), but far too often religious beliefs and ethnic habits tend to corrupt our political universe.

Editor’s Note: ‘How Democracies Die’ by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt is published by Broadway Books, New York 2018.

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, a subject which 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 Farm Coffee, where he may be seen on Friday mornings. His late wife, Ann, was also a writer, but of mystery novels, all of which begin in a village in mid-coast Maine, strangely reminiscent of the town she and her husband visited every summer.


Letter From Paris: Thoughts on Life Under Lockdown in Fontainebleau, How France Has Coped With COVID-19

Nicole Prévost Logan in Paris prior to the lockdown.

There have been many deadly pandemics in the history of the planet but this is the first time ever that one has affected so many people. COVID-19 forced half the world population – or more than three billion – into confinement. I guess this is the price one has to pay for living in a globalized world. Each country handled the coronavirus crisis in a different way.

How did Europe, and more particularly France, manage the virus outbreak, both during the stay-at-home period and after the relaxation of the rules?

Like many people, I escaped the approaching lockdown of large cities – in my case the French capital of Paris.

The famed Château de Fontainebleu. Published under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.

On March 16, I left Paris on what I thought would be an extended weekend but turned out to be eight weeks, and was fortunate enough to stay with my daughter in Fontainebleau.  Only a 40-minute train ride south east from Paris, Fontainebleau is a lively town of 15,000 inhabitants, famous for its 12th century chateau restored and enlarged by generations of kings.

During the period of “confinement” – as the lockdown is called here – technology became quite helpful. People exchanged news and jokes across the globe, using WhatsApp; some did yoga or gym watching  YouTube; meetings took place via  Zoom;  people on Skype remained safely behind the screen while they urged other to stay home, and a French actor read La Fontaine fables on Instagram. In other words  globalization had not ended … it just had become virtual.

A feeling of anguish never went away. Week after week, one watched hospital scenes with medical staff and caregivers hovering over patients disappearing under respirators, ventilators, machines of all types connected by wires and tubes. We, the spectators, became numbed by so much suffering.

Every night the head of the health  department gave frightening, sometime confusing information. On TV all we saw were doctors, surgeons, epidemiologists, and doctors specialized in intensive care. Politics, economy, even social conflicts had been moved to the back burner.

In France, late March was the most frightening time. We were at the bottom of the curve showing an acceleration of the virus and feared a tsunami . It was on March 23 that the stock market fell to the lowest point, losing 40 percent from its high. The world was collapsing around us.

I attempted to read “The Plague” by Albert Camus, published  in 1947. Bad idea! The  description of the ghastly symptoms and of the panicked Oran population became unbearable. The story resonated too much with what we were going through.

The epidemic in France started in the Grand Est. A group of 2000 evangelists had gathered for a week of fasting in Mulhouse.  The area became the epicenter of the outbreak. Very soon it was joined by the heavily-populated Ile de France with Paris at its center.

France has been one of the countries hardest hit by the virus. Actually it ranks as fifth for the number of deaths, after the US, Russia, Italy and the UK.

The objective of the French government was to make sure that the medical facilities would be able to absorb the sudden surge of infected people. Chaos was avoided thanks to planning ahead. At the height of the crisis, transfers of patients were organized to areas less affected by the virus, and to other countries like Germany or Switzerland. Helicopters, fast trains, military planes, boats … all means of transports went into action.

French President Emmanuel Macron.

The Macron government showed compassion during this difficult time, expressed gratitude toward the caregivers, and showed humility in its limited ability to cope with such an  unprecedented situation. In other words it appeared human … while also gaining a few points in the polls.

The government took unparalleled measures compared to most other countries. It gave temporary unemployment status – with up to 90 percent of a person’s salary covered – to one out of three wage earners – or 13 million people. Some taxes were cancelled, and bonuses distributed. The total of this largesse reached 120 billion Euros. The Maestrich Treaty rule of capping European Union (EU) members’ deficit at 3 percent is now forgotten. The French national debt, usually limited to 60 percent of the Gross Domestic Product, doubled.

The management of the coronavirus crisis did not go without a number of hiccups however. The main one was the shortage of masks. It has been a source of irritation throughout. On the advice of medical experts, the government kept saying that the masks were useless except when used in public  places. It stressed that priority should be given to the medical staff who are battling the disease on the front line.

The real reason for this policy soon exploded into a scandal; in reality, there were not enough masks. Frantic orders were placed in other countries, mainly China. At one point, one witnessed a real war of the masks. Some shipments were burglarized, other rerouted.  One shipment intended for Italy was confiscated on its arrival at Prague airport and, in another case, France took over a shipment on its way to Sweden. On the eve of the “deconfinement” masks were still hard to find.

Another criticism of  the crisis management has been the insufficient  number of testing facilities.

One does not want to be old at a time of pandemic because statistics do indeed show that older people are most vulnerable to the disease. At one point, a rumor started that “our fragile seniors” should remain locked up long after the rest of the population.

Fortunately for all the older people, Bernard Pivot, a most popular and entertaining moderator of a literary show on TV, rebelled one day. He was so funny and convincing that the government changed its policy and replaced age discrimination by health criteria.

It is a fact though that real carnage has taken place in nursing homes and retirement homes with assisted-living.

The stay-at-home rules were quite strict in France. Public gardens and forests (like the forest of Fontainebleau) were off-limit. Only a one-hour walk was allowed and no further than one kilometre from the person’s residence. A signed document and ID were required at all times. Dispensation was only granted for the imperative need to purchase food or medicine.

By mid-April, one began to see the light at the end of the tunnel when Macron gave May 11 as the date for the end of our, “deconfinement.”

The gradual opening up of society after that date was a cautious, arduous and very gradual process.  Prime Minister Edouard Philippe and his key ministers  spelled out the rules in a 60-page Protocol. A map showed France divided between red and green zones. The hardest task was to organize public transport in heavily populated areas as well as re-opening of the schools. Today there is a limit of 60 miles for travel from one’s residence. Cafés and restaurants remain closed in the red zones.

On June 3, the government will reassess the impact of loosening the rules. About 30 small “clusters” of contamination are popping out around France. Several of them are where people work in in slaughter-houses. But nothing to worry about (as yet).

At the outset of the COVID-19, France was just pulling out of months of strikes and social turmoil following the government’s structural reforms intended to modernize the country. The crucial retirement system was being debated in the Parliament. Overall, progress had been made under the Macron mandate: the economy was sound and unemployment at its lowest levels in years.

Then progress and turmoil came to a full stop almost overnight because of the pandemic.

Culture felt the brunt of the crisis. Cinemas, theaters, opera houses, concert halls, museums and festivals will stay closed until June.  The cancellation of the Cannes Festival was the worst blow.

Europe has been slow in tackling the coronavirus.  Ursula von der Leyden , president of the European Commission acknowledged that fact herself. A gigantic stimulus is being negotiated by the  EU members. Thierry Breton, European Minister of Internal Trade said, “Only solidarity can help the EU get back on its feet.”

But the “North countries” like The Netherlands and some Eastern European countries, including  Hungary, are balking at the idea of helping those hardest hit by the virus. On May 19, an accord between Macron and Germany’s Angela Merkel was a real breakthrough with a proposal to create a bond of 500 billion to help the EU recovery.  The 27 members have still to agree to it.

How did the French accept the lockdown? Surprisingly well … at least at first. But as the anxiety diminished, the opposition found its voice again, public opinion resumed its usual pastime of scrutinizing and criticizing every move by the government.

Bruno Lemaire, the French Minister of the Economy declared, “The hard part is ahead of us.” The main priority will be to assist three sectors:  aeronautics, the car industry and tourism. It is a unique opportunity to redirect the economy to be carbon-free.

But the future looks like a black hole with the economy under perfusion.

Let’s end with good news though. Beaches have reopened and travel restrictions are set to disappear in July and August … just in time for vacation!

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

Nicole Prévost Logan

About 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.


Gardening With ‘The English Lady’: Tips for the Merry Month of May

May blossoms make for a truly enchanting month. Photo by Arno Smit on Unsplash.

“The darling buds of May” is such an apt phrase for one of the most enchanting months, bloom on bulbs and trees and the fresh foliage on trees winking in the sun.  

By now, you have probably removed most of the winter debris, pruned broken branches and re-edged borders. Do not however, apply that spring layer of composted manure as the soil needs to warm up to 60 degrees for the soil organisms to accept the bacteria of the manure in order to produce nutrients for the roots of the plants.  When shopping for garden supplies, pick up a soil thermometer to check soil temperature and I am sure the right temperature will be reached in about two to three weeks. 

I am seeing our old nemesis — weeds — springing up everywhere.  Pull them up by hand and try to get weeds complete with roots.  I say by hand, as using a tool breaks up the weeds, the result being hundreds more weeds from the broken pieces.  Follow on the weeding with the organic corn gluten based weed pre-emergent by Bradfield Organics; this product will keep weeds away for quite a few weeks.   

When the soil warms to 60 degrees, apply composted manure around daffodils and other spring bulbs so that soil organisms will produce nutrients to feed the bulbs for next year’s bloom. Also do not cut down the daffodil foliage as the nutrition from the foliage goes into the bulb for bloom next spring. 

In a few weeks apply composted manure and a light layer of fine bark mulch  on all maintained areas of the garden now, then again in July and before putting the garden to bed in October.  The manure and mulch will begin to build the humus component.  

A note on mulch  – only use the natural brown mulch of natural non-colored wood; do not use the colored mulches, which contain chemicals, and do not use rubber mulch. 

A special word of caution on Cocoa Mulch. This product is highly toxic to dogs and cats.  This product is manufactured by Hershey and sold in many large garden centers.  It is made from the residue of chocolate products and others ingredients and contains a lethal ingredient that has resulted in the reported deaths of a number of cats and dogs that are attracted by the chocolate odor. It contains Theobromine, which is a Xanthine compound similar to the effects of caffeine and theophyliline.  The symptoms for the animals are seizures and death within hours.    

All living things including us are all carbon-based creatures. Humus brings carbon from the air into the soil.

Humus acts like a sponge and holds 90 percent of its weight in water. Because of its negative charge, plant nutrients stick to humus bringing nitrogen, calcium, phosphorus and other important elements to the plant, preventing these nutrients from washing away, acting like nature’s slow release fertilizer.

Humus improves soil structure making it loose and friable, which helps plants to root in this environment with better access to nutrients, water and oxygen. Humus also helps to filter toxic chemicals from soil, much like carbon-based water filtration systems filter toxins from your water.

I recommend that you read this article in Scientific American to check out the dangers of Round Up. This is the most dangerous herbicide not only because of Glyphosate, which is on the list by the World Health Organization as a chelating agent that causes cancer but also because of the inert ingredients. I ask that you are not swayed by the word ‘inert’ as the ingredients are anything but inert and those ingredients combined with Glyphosate are deadly to human cells. 

Photo by Jonnelle Yankovich on Unsplash.

Forsythia, pictured above, is in bloom with its lovely fresh yellow blossoms.  If the bloom on your shrub is not as prolific as in previous years, prune out the old sparse wood after bloom ends.  

A favorite native tree is the Serviceberry tree, with its creamy panicle blooms, followed by small green leaves and within weeks, red fruit, and a delicious menu for our feathered friends. Before the birds eat all the fruit, pick some to make a delicious jelly for your morning toast.  

Here in my town of Old Lyme, the Magnolias, Cherries and Eastern Redbud are vying with one another to show their finery together with the graceful Dogwoods.  Following the recent rains many of these trees are blooming at the same time or within a few weeks of one another. Their bloom will soon be over then we can look forward to rhododendrons, azaleas and mountain laurel into June. 

The Carlesii viburnum (also known as Korean Spice) is showing pink buds, opening to white flowers and their delightful fragrance fills the air outside my kitchen door. 

Covering the barn wall and scrambling up to the barn roof is my climbing hydrangea – bright green leaves emerging with hundreds of buds indicating that this beautiful climber will be laden with blossoms in summer. 

Tulips (pictured left), creeping phlox, forget-me-nots, primroses and candytuft are bringing much needed color to borders and rock gardens. 

If you have not had time yet, for another week or two you can still prune your roses.  Pull back the old mulch from around the base of the roses and in two weeks apply manure about six inches from the trunk of the plant. Then a week later reapply a layer of the brown, natural mulch on top of the composted manure. As well as building the humus component, these layers keep the roots cool, keep weeds at bay and help retain moisture. Do not mulch right up against the base of any plants as this encourages rodents to nest and gnaw on the plants. 

Beware of fungi that look like weird mushrooms in your mulch; this is a sign of Artillery fungus and can stick and invade the walls of your home and cause problems.  If you notice this fungus, you will need to remove all the mulch and get it off your property. 

Apply lime and manure around the lilacs, they like sweeter alkaline soil, thus the lime. By now, you may have already applied lime to the grass, which also enjoys sweeter soil and organic grub control to kill the Japanese beetle larvae – less food for moles. 

If you are making an organic vegetable garden this year, a garden measuring 16 x 24 can feed a family of four for a year, but keep the size within your needs and capability.  Don’t work the soil if it is too wet or too dry.  

Double-digging is the best way to go; it takes time and effort but its well worth it – dig down about one foot and remove the top soil, put to one side, then dig down and loosen the next six inches of soil and add about three inches of composted manure then put back the top soil and add another three to four inches of manure.  

Do not rototill, as this will destroy soil structure. The gently loosened, aerated fertile soil will give an excellent yield of fruits and vegetables in the garden. 

I prefer 6 x 4 ft. beds rather than rows; beds produce a larger yield of crops. In addition, beds make for ease of weeding and harvesting by having narrow compacted soil or grass paths (having removed lawn from the area) in-between the beds. 

The vegetable garden should be situated on the south or southwest side of the property for maximum sun exposure. 

Make sure you remove as many weeds as possible by hand, before you even begin digging.  

You need a water source close by as vegetables require lots of water, particularly annual fruiting vegetables like tomatoes, which are hydroponics which means they are (mostly water). 

Rotate crops, by that I mean, do not plant the same vegetables in the same place as the previous year.  With this method you are preventing any soil born diseases from occurring.     

In the loosened soil, plant the vegetables plants so that they are touching, this forms a natural canopy, shading out weeds and helps retain moisture. 

I prefer to mulch the vegetable garden with composted manure the reason being that manure, as mulch, does not cap. Capping is when mulch forms a crust, which does not allow water or air to penetrate to the roots of the plants.

Fence in the vegetable garden with a tall fence to keep animals out. At the base of the fence install eight inches of fine mesh chicken wire above ground and eight inches below ground to keep out the digging and burrowing animals. 

Organic insect control – Insects do not like fragrance so plant fragrant plants like marigolds, nasturtium, lavender, nepeta and honeysuckle and roses to name a few.  

Encourage lacewings, which feed on aphids by planting marigolds and sunflowers,

Attract ground beetles by laying a log or a rock on the earth, under which the beetles can hide. These useful insects are nocturnal and eat slug and snail eggs, cabbage maggots, cutworms and even climb trees to feed on armyworms and tent caterpillars.  

Grass is now a vibrant shade of green therefore when mowing keep the blades of grass at about three inches; the taller blades attracts sunlight, promoting a healthier lawn. The taller blades also shade out weeds and help to retain moisture in the grass.   

When mowing, leave grass clippings on the lawn, the clippings are a natural source of nitrogen. If you have clover in the grass, clover is an added benefit as clover takes nitrogen from the air and fixes it in the soil, additional nutrients for plant growth.

After flowering is over, prune flowering shrubs by 25 percent – do this task immediately before new buds set for next year. 

On a rainy day go shopping for any garden supplies that may be needed, then when the weather is dry, you can be outdoors doing what you love and not indoors shopping.  Buy good hoses, cheap ones will bend and crack.  

Peonies need plenty of water to produce flower buds.  I have a 30-foot-long stand of Peonies in my field. The Peonies have been in the ground for over 40 years and are a sight to behold when in bloom.  I give them lots of loving care with a light dressing of aged manure in early May.  In a few weeks I will pinch off the side buds while they are still small, leaving the terminal flower bud on each stalk, which will develop into a large main bloom.

Photo by Gaetano Cessati on Unsplash

Hydrangeas (pictured above) are a wetland plant and require plenty of water during the season, also applying manure and mulch around the base. If you have blue Hydrangeas and want a deeper color of blue, add some peat around the base of the plant the acidity in the peat produces the color.   

If you need to prune a Hydrangea, which has become too large, then prune it immediately after flowering, in EARLY SEPTEMBER by about one third of the old wood and the weakest shoots. DO NOT WAIT, as Hydrangeas begin to develop bloom buds for next year later in September.  If you wait to prune, you will not have bloom for next year. 

My maternal grandmother’s favorite plant, the Lily of the Valley soon will bloom tucked under the boxwood hedge on the north east side of the farmhouse near the front door. I love the delicate white flowers and fresh unique fragrance.  

When the lilacs have finished blooming, pinch off the withered flower clusters, do the same on the mountain laurel and rhododendrons in late June to ensure good blossoms next year. 

In mid May apply composted manure, a light application of peat and fine bark mulch around all evergreens and rhododendrons, mountain laurel and azaleas; these plants are shallow rooted and the mulch will keep the roots nourished, protected, warm and moist. 

Some annual seeds that may be planted outside in mid May are: 

Calendula, Coreopsis, Marigold, Nasturtium, Nicotiana and Zinnia.  

If you purchase annuals, place them in a sheltered spot on the south side of your home. Plant them no earlier than Memorial weekend as we can still get a late frost. 

Tuberous-rooted begonias, caladiums, cannas and elephant ears can be moved from porch or cold frame to a part shade area as the weather becomes warmer and there is no sign of frost in the forecast.   

If you staked trees, when they were planted last year, cut the stakes off at ground level do not pull them out of the roots as you could tear and therefore damage the root system.

Aphid tip: squish a few in your hand; dead aphids release a chemical that causes other aphids to drop off the plants. 

Another ants and aphids tip – if you drink mint tea, any leftover tea sprinkle on the bugs, as they do not like the smell of mint.  

A word of caution on mint – plant mint only in containers, mint is tremendously invasive and can take over your garden.

When planting annuals, perennials, vegetables, trees, shrubs or evergreen, keep them watered but not drowned.   

Houseplants can be moved outdoors for their summer sojourn at the end of May.  However, do not put your African violets outdoors as they will burn, move them to a porch that is covered and shaded, or keep them indoors in a window that does not receive direct rays from the sun.

Wait until the soil warms up at the end of May to set out Dahlia tubers.  

Roses, pictured above, are not the troublesome creatures you have been led to believe.  I prefer  to plant David Austin roses; these shrub roses are repeat bloomers with lovely fragrances.  Roses need at least four hours of sun per day, good air circulation, and excellent drainage.  During their growing period from the beginning of June to mid August; add a little extra composted manure each month; it may be applied over the mulch.  Stop adding the manure in August so that the roses can go into a slow dormancy. 

Roses like the same growing conditions as Clematis and planted together in companionship planting, they flourish well together, with feet in the shade and head in the sun. Before you top up the soil around the roses, add water and check if the soil drains, roses need good drainage.  Deep watering is recommended at least once a week. 

Plenty of stuff to keep you hopping folks and remember to keep your eye out for any pest trouble and when you spot it get on the ball immediately to avoid further problems.   Carefully discard all herbicides and pesticides; these poisons have the same effect on your health as second-hand smoke.  

Your garden offers an anchor for peace and quiet enjoyment.  Enjoy the warmth, the gentle breeze, the earth’s fragrance and bloom and please remember to breathe. 

Maureen Haseley-Jones is “The English Lady.”

About the author: Maureen Haseley-Jones is a member of a family of renowned horticultural artisans, whose landscaping heritage dates back to the 17th century. She is one of the founders, together with her son Ian, of, ‘The English Lady Landscape and Home Company.’ Maureen and Ian are landscape designers and garden experts, who believe that everyone deserves to live in an eco-conscious environment and enjoy the pleasure that it brings. Maureen learned her design skills from both her mother and grandmother, and honed her horticultural and construction skills while working in the family nursery and landscape business in the U.K. Her formal horticultural training was undertaken at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in Surrey.
Contact Maureen at maureenhaseleyjones@gmail.com


A New Columnist Joins LymeLine! Welcome Maureen Haseley-Jones, ‘The English Lady,’ with Her Gardening Tips

Maureen Haseley-Jones is “The English Lady.”

OLD LYME — We are delighted to announce that Maureen Haseley-Jones, known professionally as, ‘The English Lady,’ has joined the swelling ranks of LymeLine columnists. Maureen will be contributing a monthly gardening column with tips for that specific month of the year, We may divide the column into two on some months depending on its length. Her first column will be published tomorrow.

Maureen is a member of a family of renowned horticultural artisans, whose landscaping heritage dates back to the 17th century. She is one of the founders, together with her son Ian, of the The English Lady Landscape and Home Company. Maureen and Ian are landscape designers and garden experts, who believe that everyone deserves to live in an eco-conscious environment and enjoy the pleasure that it brings.

Not only has Maureen lectured throughout New England on a broad range of landscape design- and environmentally holistic-related topics, but she also writes provocative columns for newspapers and magazines. She hopes to have her book detailing her adventurous life in and out of the garden published soon.

Beginning in 1648, Maureen’s family were tenants at Powys Castle in Wales and worked to develop the castle gardens for William Herbert, the first Marquess of Powys and thereafter for the Herbert family into the early 1900s.  The family refined their craft on all areas of the castle landscape including the terrace and formal gardens, the Orangery Terrace, and the Water Garden  The gardens at Powys are considered by many landscape experts to be the best example of 17th century gardens in Britain today.

Maureen learned her design skills from her mother and grandmother and honed her horticultural and construction skills while working in the family nursery and landscape business in the U.K. Her formal horticultural training was undertaken at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in Surrey, England, where she was one of the first women to join the program.




A la Carte: Pineapple Upside-Down Cake is Perfect for Parties!

Lee White

I remember the first time I went to the Fancy Food Show at the Javits Center in New York City. I had taken the train into the city, grabbed a cab and arrived at 10 in the morning. It is the biggest food convention in America and I thought I could see everything in one day. By early afternoon I was bushed and my feet hurt. It was lunch time and I  picked up a sandwich 

On my way back to the vendors, I saw cookbook authors autographing their books, including a stunning black woman laughing and signing her book. I picked up B. Smith’s Entertaining and Cooking for Friends and stood in line. As she signed my book, she asked what I did and where. “I’m a restaurant reviewer in New London, Connecticut.” With a smile as bright as the cavernous light-filled lobby, she suggested I have dinner with her and her husband at their restaurant that evening. Oh, I wish I could, I said, but I have to get a train to get home. “Oh, stay at our place in the city and go home tomorrow,” she suggested. 

I didn’t, but I have always wished I had. She was a lovely hostess and presided over at least three restaurants (New York, Union Station in Washington and the Hamptons). She had a television show for many years. She wrote cookbooks and her first, and my first of hers, is stained with ingredients of recipes I have cooked. Barbara Smith died, at 70, February 23, 2020, in her home in Sag Harbor, NY, with her husband, Dan, by her side. She had suffered with dementia for many years. People called her “the black Martha Stewart.” Martha could only wish.

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake

From B. Smith’s Entertaining and Cooking for Friends by Barbara Smith (Artisan, New York, 1995)


¼  cup unsalted butter, melted
½  cup firmly packed light-brown sugar
7 slices canned pineapple (reserve one-half cup juice for cake)
13 candied cherries (I like maraschino cherries)


2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½  teaspoon baking soda
½  teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
¼  teaspoon ground cloves
½  cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
½  cup heavy cream
½  cup reserved pineapple juice
whipped cream, for garnish if you like

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease the sides of a 9- by 13-inch round baking pan with nonstick cooking spray or melted butter.

For the topping: beat the melted butter and brown sugar together in a small bowl. Spread this over the bottom of the prepared baking pan. Arrange 6 pineapple slices around the edge of the pan and one slice in the middle. Place a cherry in the middle of each pineapple slice and the rest between the slices around the edge.

To make the cake: Stir together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, ginger and cloves in a large bowl. In another larger bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy (I use my big KitchenAid for this for about 4 minutes). Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Using a spatula, alternatively fold in the flour mixture and the heavy cream and pineapple into the butter and sugar mixture until well blended. Spread the batter over the pineapple slices and bake for 1 hour or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Let the cake cool in the pan for 5 minutes. Then run a sharp knife around the edge to loosen the cake, invert a serving plate over the cake pan and turn the cake and plate over together. Remove the cake pan. Serve warm with whipped cream.

(If you have a little time, visit Coffee’s on Route 1 in Old Lyme and pick up a pint of Reed’s ginger ice cream. It is amazing with this cake.)

About the author: Former Old Lyme resident Lee White has been writing about restaurants and cooking since 1976 and has been extensively published in the Worcester (Mass.) Magazine, The Day, Norwich Bulletin, and Hartford Courant.  She currently writes a cooking column called A La Carte for LymeLine.com and also for the Shore Publishing and Times newspapers, both of which are owned by The Day. 


A View from My Porch:  Great Leaders and Great Speeches, Part 1

Part 1: Washington’s Farewell through Theodore Roosevelt

I enjoy reading historic speeches. I often find them to be inspiring; and they can fill gaps in my understanding of an important event or period in history.

In this essay, I begin my review of these speeches, and provide some context for the events that precipitated their creation.

These essays will not be an exhaustive survey of the speaking arts. My selections are based solely on my judgment that the speech is notable, or makes an important contribution to history. A passage taken directly from the text or transcript of the speech is delineated by quotation marks. Otherwise, the essay includes my own, (and others’) analyses of the content.

These speeches are arranged chronologically, but they are not contiguous. They highlight leadership during periods of conflict and crisis. 

There has been considerable argument in Congress in the past few years regarding “what the founders and framers really meant” when they drafted the principles passed on to us in the Constitution, So, I’ll begin with a review of the first president’s farewell to the nation.

1. George Washington’s Farewell Address:

Portrait of George Washington, circa 1850. Public domain.

Washington wrote his “Address” near the end of his second term as president, working closely with Alexander Hamilton in the final draft. He also had input from James Madison; so, it represents the collective wisdom of some key players in the split from Great Britain and the founding of the United States. His “Address” was never presented as a speech, but was a public letter to the American people; and published in a Philadelphia newspaper, the American Daily Advertiser, on Sept. 19, 1796; and then, in newspapers throughout the country. His letter included three principles:

First, the importance of unity; “You have, in a common cause, fought and triumphed together. Your Union ought to be considered as a main prop of your liberty, and that the love of the one ought to endear you to the preservation of the other”.

Second, he cautioned that “the worst enemy of government is loyalty to party over Nation”. Dominating regional loyalties could lead to factionalism and the development of competing political parties. He warned that, “if Americans voted according to party loyalty rather than the common interest of the nation, it could foster a spirit of revenge”, and “enable the rise of cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men who would usurp for themselves the reins of government”.

 Third, he warned of the “danger of foreign entanglements” He believed that partisanship would open the door to “foreign influence and corruption.” He advocated that the United States be on good terms with all nations, especially in commercial relationships. “Inveterate antipathies against particular nations, and passionate attachments for others, should be excluded.”  He believed that a foreign policy based on neutrality was the safest way to maintain national unity and stability.

2. Emerging American Foreign Policy – The Monroe Doctrine:

Portrait of James Monroe, 1819. The White House Historical Association. Public domain.

It became evident in the first quarter of the nineteenth century that European powers were trying to reassert their influence in the Americas. Russia had tried to expand eastward into Alaska, and Spain was establishing new colonies in Central and South America.

Consequently, Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, on behalf of President James Monroe, began to articulate America’s foreign policy direction. In an address to the House of Representatives on July 4, 1821, Adams asserted that the United States is “the defender of freedom against the corruption of Europe, and should not let itself fall under the influence of any of those ‘old’ countries.”

“America, with the same voice which spoke herself into existence as a nation, proclaimed to mankind the inextinguishable rights of human nature, and the only lawful foundations of government.” “She has, invariably, though often fruitlessly, held forth to them the hand of honest friendship, and generous reciprocity.”

Two years hence, President Monroe proclaimed, in a Dec. 2,1823 Address to Congress, a new foreign policy initiative, largely drafted by Adams; that will always be known as the “Monroe Doctrine.”

This new policy forbade European interference in the American hemisphere, and also declared America’s neutrality in future European conflicts. It stated that “further efforts by any European nation to take control of any independent state in North or South America would be viewed as “the manifestation of an unfriendly disposition toward the United States”.

3. Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address:

Abraham Lincoln, the US’s 16th president. Public domain.

Lincoln delivered his second inaugural address on March 4, 1865. The capital city was a mess at that time, with mud-soaked streets and over-flowing hospitals treating Civil War wounded. The event occurred at a time when victory over the Confederacy was imminent, and slavery in all of the United States was proclaimed “ended”.

Sherman completed his march through the south, and Grant was confronting Lee at Petersburg. There was concern that, because of the teeming rain, Lincoln would not be able to take the oath on the steps of the Capitol. However, the sun appeared as he rose to begin his speech.

In an account of the event in the New York Times, Walt Whitman “noticed that a curious little white cloud, the only one in that part of the sky; had appeared like a hovering bird, right over him.”

Lincoln did not speak of victory, but of sadness. He sought to avoid harsh treatment of the defeated rebels by reminding the thousands in attendance of how wrong both sides had been in imagining what lay before them when the war began. “Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war, rather than let it perish.” 

Lincoln spoke of the unmistakable evil of slavery. “To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union, even by war. Neither party expected the magnitude or the duration that the war has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with, or even before, the conflict itself should cease” … (i.e., The Emancipation Proclamation).

He continued: “Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continues until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword; and as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said; “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”… (Psalm 19:9)

Lincoln ended his inaugural address : “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the  nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.” 

Abolitionist Frederick Douglass noted that the many African Americans in attendance, which included troops who marched in the inaugural parade, applauded vigorously, but were, “wonderfully quiet, earnest, and solemn during the speech.”

4. Booker T. Washington’s Atlanta Compromise Speech:

Booker T Washington. Public domain.

B.T. Washington was born a slave in Virginia in 1856. After Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, he moved with his family to West Virginia, which had joined the Union during the Civil War as a free state.

As a young freeman, he worked his way as a janitor through Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute (now Hampton University), and attended college at Wayland Seminary (which is now Virginia Union University). In 1881, he co-founded and became the first president and principal developer of what is now Tuskegee University.

He was advisor to several presidents, and the most influential spokesman for black Americans from the latter part of the nineteenth century through the first quarter of the twentieth century.

On Sept. 18, 1895, he gave a speech that would open the “Cotton States and International Exposition” in Atlanta. The “Atlanta Compromise” speech was the first address by an African American to a racially-mixed audience in the South. He asserted that vocational education, which gave black Americans an opportunity for economic security, was more valuable to them than social advantages, higher education, or political office.

In return for African Americans remaining peaceful and socially separate from whites, the white community needed to accept responsibility for improving the social and economic conditions of all Americans, regardless of color. He summarized his concept of race relations in this manner: “In all things that are purely social, we can be as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress.”

Many black leaders opposed Washington’s “accommodationist” form of politics. Some historians cite the “Atlanta Compromise” as being responsible for the founding of both the NAACP and the “Niagara Movement” civil rights organizations.

5. American Imperialism — Theodore Roosevelt’s Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine:

Theodore Roosevelt around 1904. Public domain.

European intervention in the Americas resurfaced as a foreign policy issue at the turn of the 20th century. Three European nations had blockaded Venezuela’s ports in an attempt to force Venezuela to pay its international debts, violating the Monroe Doctrine’s declaration that Europe should not interfere in the Americas.

Further, Roosevelt had recently gained, through hostile action, the right to build the Panama Canal; and he believed that any threat to the canal threatened our strategic and economic interests.

Accordingly, to maintain security and ensure financial solvency in the region, the President announced, in his State of the Union address in December, 1904, that, “Chronic wrongdoing, or an impotence which results in a general loosening of ties of civilized society, may in America, as elsewhere, ultimately require intervention by some civilized nation. In the Western Hemisphere, our adherence to the Monroe Doctrine may force the United States, however reluctantly, in flagrant cases of wrongdoing, to the exercise of international police power.”

Thus, the United States will intervene in conflicts between Europe and Latin America, rather than having the Europeans press their claims directly. 

As a result, Marines were sent into Santo Domingo in 1904, Nicaragua in 1911, and Haiti in 1915; and, several more times in the Caribbean and Central America over the next quarter century. America’s relations with our southern neighbors remained strained for many years; and. in 1934, Franklin D. Roosevelt renounced interventionism and established his “Good Neighbor Policy” within the Western Hemisphere. 

Some Final Thoughts

I am impressed with the eloquence of America’s early leaders. I have included only small portions of the actual transcripts of the historic speeches in the above; but, if I have piqued your interest at all to read the entire texts, they are readily available and require only modest search or library skills. 

Note that George Washington was not restricted to two terms. However, in somewhat failing health, he feared that, if he died in office, it would establish a precedent that the presidency was a lifetime appointment. Instead, he stepped aside to make way for a successor, and demonstrated his commitment to democracy, rather than power.

There is a tradition in the Senate, wherein George Washington’s birthday is celebrated by a reading of his Farewell Address on the floor of the Senate Chamber; with readers coming from alternating parties. Although his warnings are still relevant, attendance at these readings has, unfortunately, shrunk. 

Also note that historians cite Lincoln’s second inaugural address as one of the greatest speeches ever made by an American president. 

Finally, Part 2 of this essay begins with Nazi aggression in Europe, and continues through Hiroshima.

Tom Gotowka

About the author: Tom Gotowka’s entire adult career has been in healthcare. He’ will sit on the Navy side at the Army/Navy football game. He always sit on the crimson side at any Harvard/Yale contest. He enjoys reading historic speeches and considers himself a scholar of the period from FDR through JFK.

A child of AM Radio, he probably knows the lyrics of every rock and roll or folk song published since 1960. He hopes these experiences give readers a sense of what he believes “qualify” him to write this column.



A la Carte: May Means Meatballs … and Sausages and Gravy!

Lee White

It is May and May usually means lots of sunshine and warm evenings.  It is my favorite season of all, because trees are budding out, tulips are bright and gorgeous, lilies and irises are two weeks away as are lilies of the valley, mu birth flower. I am grateful that the people who sold me my condo, whom I knew from the yacht club, were gardeners. The best I can do is add a few annuals, but they planted the perennials, including a healthy and lush bright red azalea. 

I am also seeing much more wildlife than I’d ever seen in the six years I have lived in Groton. Driving down Rte. 1 and turning a right on my way to Eastern Point Beach, I watched a male fox ambling across the road, heading toward a small apartment complex. I turned another right to watch him and noticed a man on a walker in the fox’s way. I honked my horn so the man would not collide with him.

This morning, before I walked into my office, I looked at the parking lot and spied a turkey, the first I had seen in our complex. It was a young tom, in no hurry at all. I waited another 10 minutes and didn’t see another. I am feeding birds a bit longer than I usually do. (I take away the feeders and suet and add hummingbird feeders, although I haven’t seen one ever.) I am especially thrilled with catbirds and neon yellow finches. It is warm enough to open the outside faucets so I can add water to the bird bath, which they like. 

On the other hand, I still turn on my electric blanket. There is a reason we are told never to plant basil until Memorial Day. This past weekend, I wanted a make a good red sauce with meatballs and sausage. And I have everything for the dish, including pork chops, chopped beef and Italian sausage. If you have just one or two of the meats, the dish will be still fabulous.

Photo by Fidel Fernando on Unsplash.

Sunday Gravy with Sausages and Meatballs

Adapted from Johanne Killeen and George Germon, “On Top of Spaghetti,” (Morrow, New York, 2007)

Yield: Serves 4 to 6 as a main dish

One-quarter cup extra virgin olive oil3 pork chops (total weight 1 to 1 and one-half pounds)
1 and one-quarter pounds Italian sweet sausage, halved horizontally
1 cup chopped onions2 large garlic cloves, peeled and minced
½ teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes (or crushed) tomatoes
6-ounce can tomato paste
Cheese finds from Parmigiano-Reggiano or bits of Pecorino Romano (optional)
Mary’s meatballs
1 pound dried spaghetti or rigatoni, cooked
freshly grated Pecorino Romano

Heat oil in large heavy-bottomed stockpot. Add pork chops and sausages and brown on all sides. Transfer chops to a plate. Toss onions into pot with garlic, fennel seeds and salt. Saute over moderate heat, stirring frequently and scraping up any bits, until onions are soft and golden.

Put chops back in the pot with any juices. Add tomatoes, 2 cups water and tomato paste. Drop in rinds if you have any. Cover pot, bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Gently drop meatballs, a few at a time, shaking the pot to make room for the meatballs. Cover all the meatballs, cover pot and simmer for an hour or more. 

To finish sauce, take out chops, remove bones and chop of the meat and add to sauce. Check for seasoning. Ladle sauce over hot pasta and dust with cheese.

Mary’s Meatballs

Yield: makes 26 to 28 meatballs

12 ounces ground beef
4 slices white sandwich bread, crusts removed, cut into tiny cubes (I used challah)
three-quarters cup milk
three-quarters to 1 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano
8 fresh basil leaves, torn into small pieces
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 egg, lightly beaten
fine sea salt and pepper to taste

In a large mixing bowl, combine beef, bread and milk. Add cheese, basil, parsley, egg and salt. Mix gently but thoroughly. Form into small meatballs, no larger than one and one-half inches in diameter.

About the author: Former Old Lyme resident Lee White has been writing about restaurants and cooking since 1976 and has been extensively published in the Worcester (Mass.) Magazine, The Day, Norwich Bulletin, and Hartford Courant.  She currently writes a cooking column called A La Carte for LymeLine.com and also for the Shore Publishing and Times newspapers, both of which are owned by The Day. 


Legal News You Can Use: Work, Disability and SSD in the Age of COVID-19

Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash.

From New London to Los Angeles and beyond, the world has shut down to contain and fight the COVID-19 virus. The global lockdown has upended life for billions who now find themselves isolated in their homes.

While the isolation of self-quarantine and the anxiety of worrying about the illness that could lead to death is an alien experience for most people, it is for many disabled people a way of life that is not entirely new. Many who are unable to work because of injury or illness are excluded from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

recent article pointed out that even when those with disabilities can continue working, the odds of continuing their careers are long. After all, “people of working age with disabilities have an employment rate that is 28.6 percentage points lower than that of people without disabilities” the author stated, adding that only 4 percent of companies offer positions inclusive of disability.

It is almost impossible to find anything positive about the pandemic. Still, Americans have largely shown their best in dealing with the virus, going out of their way to protect not only themselves but to protect friends, family members, colleagues, customers and strangers.

Businesses have responded quickly to the virus, implementing home-work systems and customer-protection measures to keep us all safer.

The swift business adaptations have hopefully shown many CEOs and managers that companies can make simple accommodations that would successfully include valuable, productive workers who happen to have disabilities.

Of course, for those whose disabilities make them unable to continue working, no accommodations or adaptations will change their situations. They must instead turn to a social safety net, such as Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits.

Obtaining those benefits is a complicated process, however, requiring the disabled to complete and submit extensive and detailed applications and then gain approval from the Social Security Administration.

In many cases, applications are rejected. Appeals include revised applications and a hearing before an administrative law judge.

An attorney experienced in SSD appeals can guide you through the complex legal process and obtain for you needed medical records and physician statements, prepare you for the hearing and represent you before the administrative law judge.

This post is sponsored by Suisman Shapiro Attorneys-at-Law.

Editor’s Notes: i) During this challenging time, Suisman Shapiro is providing essential legal services via electronic communications that keep staff in touch with clients while, at the same time, keeping both groups safe.

ii) Attorneys at Suisman Shapiro can discuss Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits with you and answer your questions on the subject. Visit their website or call 800-499-0145 — lines are open 24 hours a day.


Talking Transportation: Flattening the Commuting Curve

Jim Cameron

In the post-COVID-19 world (whenever that may be) commuters will be asking themselves one question:  Is this trip really necessary?

Sure, when the quarantining is lifted and the life-threatening virus seems to have passed (at least until it returns next fall), we may look forward to getting back on the train and on the crowded highways.

But the weeks of not commuting have changed our attitudes toward work and the necessity of travel.  Going forward, I think we will be making that daily trek a lot less often and that will have a profound effect on transportation.

Sure, plumbers can’t telecommute, but knowledge workers can.  And they make up a large portion of southern Connecticut’s population.  They’ve been working from home just fine in recent weeks.  So they’ll be asking themselves (and their employers) if a daily schlep into their New York City, New Haven or Hartford office is really necessary, or if they can continue to work from home two or three days a week.

Being self-employed, I have worked from my home office for over 35 years.  I sure don’t miss the daily grind, nor the office politics, and love my work so I end up doing it six or seven days a week: it’s not a job but a passion.

When I started my consultancy I didn’t have a computer or even a fax machine. Today, the average home has as much communications gear as at the office.  We don’t need a physical presence “at work” to be working.

We will all be wearing face masks for many months to come any time we leave our homes.  And work meetings won’t involve shaking hands or exchanging business cards.  Business travel?  Not anytime soon.

I have a neighbor who used to make almost weekly flights to London for a single meeting or business luncheon.  That was nuts before COVID-19 and is certainly unnecessary now.

So in an ironic way, this virus might actually be a blessing for commuters.

Our trains and highways used to be crowded because we all bought into an outdated social construct that “work” was something we did from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, at an office.  Rush hours were called “peak periods,” just like when the virus was at its worst.

Post-COVID-19, we can flatten that commuting curve on the roads and rails.

Ridership on Metro-North need not peak in rush hours if it can be spread out over the hours or days.  And I-95 need not be a parking lot if people are working from home or staggering their hours.

Parking won’t be as much of an issue if demand drops.  And we’ve already seen New Yorkers opting for walking or bicycling instead of taking the bus or subway.

Less traffic should mean faster delivery times for trucks and shorter commutes for those who must drive.  And we’ll all be burning less fuel, cleaning our air.

Fewer cars on the road should mean a reduction in traffic accidents.  Driving less, our car insurance premiums should go down.

If we’re not wasting time commuting, we’ll have more time for our families, for volunteer work and our personal interests (and health-giving sleep.)

As horrendous as this virus has been, it’s given us all a chance to rethink our priorities.  Life is too short to work at a job you don’t like or waste hours a day getting there.

Post-COVID-19 will be a new world for commuters.

Posted with permission of Hearst CT Media.

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.


Talking Transportation: Airlines Hit COVID Turbulence

Jim Cameron

I’ve always been fascinated by the airline business.  Even though I’m not a great flyer, the whole idea of moving hundreds of people from point A to point B in a metal tube has astounded me.

I even remember the good old days of “Youth Standby” flights in the 1960’s when we could get a 50 percent fare discount just by helping fill empty seats.  But until recently the planes have been chock-a-block full and the airlines had actually been making money.

Of course, after 9/11 all that changed. 

With increased TSA security and a major economic hit, people were afraid (or unable) to fly.  I remember one commentator calling the aftermath to 9/11 being like an example of product tampering, akin to putting poison in Tylenol bottles.

Now, all that has changed, thanks to COVID-19.

Airlines are curtailing service, and in some cases shutting down completely, as people “shelter in place.”  That’s meant tens of thousands of layoffs of already underpaid airline employees.

But when we get through all this … and we will … what’s the long-term prospect for the airline business?

Will business people, the bread and butter of the airlines (because they pay the highest fares), return to the skies or find that teleconferencing is enough to make deals and stay in touch with clients?

Leisure travelers may still be there.  You can’t telecommute to Aruba.  And when the pandemic has passed, there will doubtless be such pent-up demand to get a change of scenery that will all want to get back on the road … at least if we have the money.

Even before COVID-19, airlines were mothballing their bigger, older planes.  The super-jumbo, double-decker A-380 was just too big and fuel-inefficient to keep flying on most routes (which is why it was never adopted by a US airline.)

The airline business is capital intensive (really expensive to run) and operates on very thin profit margins.  With low fares, you really had to pack a plane to make any money.  And factoring in inflation, airfares (before the virus) were the lowest since 1995.

Going forward, will people really want to sit for hours, three-abreast, with 200+ strangers, sharing their air and whatever else, when we know of recent cases of contagious passengers flying, even on smaller jets?

And you thought that fellow passenger on your last flight who insisted on sanitizing her seatback tray was a germophobe?  You ain’t seen nothing yet.

Will people who survive the virus, and most of us will, still be contagious?  Will doctors have to give us a “COVID CARD” after we are “clear” that we will need to show when we travel or attend large events?

And most importantly, will the airlines themselves survive?  The government’s stimulus package sets aside $25 billion for the ailing carriers.  And Uncle Sam may turn those loans into grants in return for an equity stake in the airlines.

The big airlines will probably get through all this, but some small carriers are already closing up shop.  The airports themselves are also hurting, their runways stuffed with grounded jets parked for the duration.

As difficult as these times may be for us, sheltering in place for the airlines and their employees is much, much worse.

Posted with permission of Hearst CT Media.

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.


A la Carte: Peek in the Pantry, You Likely Have all the Ingredients for Tasty Trail Mix Cookies!

Okay, as I write this, I am home for the sixth week. 

Each day seems a little easier. I like my condo. I love my cat (although I miss my Elderlee, who died in December). I eat when I want to, which seems to be more likely twice a day. I wake up and feed the cat around 7:30, watch MSNBC for an hour (why is it that I seem to like Mika and Joe more than I used to?)

Then I go upstairs, shower, get dressed, make the bed and think about whether my meal will be breakfast-y and lunch-y. Often it is eggs and sweet peppers, onions and garlic and rye bread. Sometimes it is cereal with bananas. I think about dinner around 3 p.m. and decide whether it will be something that I should prepare or leftovers in the fridge. Sometimes it is two kosher hot dogs.

I have not been very interested in dessert, but three nights ago I read the new Bon Appetit in bed and saw a recipe for trail mix cookies. It looked really delicious and I had every single ingredient in my pantry. The cookies required little sugar and almost no flour. But I read the recipe again: you make the batter, then refrigerate it for a few hours or overnight before you make the cookies.

So it isn’t a case of make the cookies and eat them hot in 20 minutes, but they are amazing. So check out your pantry; I bet you have most of the ingredients in yours, too.

Trail Mix Cookies

From Bon Appetit, May 2020

Yield: makes 12 every large cookies

1½ cups assorted nuts and seeds
½ cup old-fashioned oats
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted,
1 large egg
¼ cup dark brown sugar (although light will do fine)
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
¾ cup assorted dried fruit (cut into ½ inch pieces if large)
¾ cup chopped bittersweet chocolate chips, discs or chopped bars
½ cup all-purpose flour
Flaky sea salt

Place racks in upper and lower thirds of the oven; preheat to 350 degrees. Toast nuts and seeds on a rimmed baking sheet, tossing once until golden brown, 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer to a medium bowl; let cool.

Meanwhile, mix egg, butter, brown and granulated sugars, vanilla, salt and baking soda in a large bowl. Let sit until nuts and seeds are cool (this will make for a chewier cookie).

Add dried fruits and chocolate to nut mixture; toss to combine. Give egg mixture a good stir, then stir in the flour. Mix in nut mixture, smashing it against the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula, until combined and mix-ins evenly coated in dough. (It will look like too many mix-ins but dough will come together as it chills.) Cover and chill at least two hours and up to three days.

Reheat oven to 350 degrees. Using a 1/3 cup measure or a #16 cookie scoop, portion out dough, packing firmly, to make 12 cookies. Divide between two parchment-lined baking sheets as you go (I use my Silpat sheets.) Using a cup or your hand, press cookies into 2½” diameter disks about ¾” thick and sprinkle with sea salt. Bake cookies, rotating sheets top to bottom and from front to back, until golden brown and no longer wet looking, 11 to 13 minutes. Let cool on baking sheets.

Cookies can be made one week ahead. Store in airtight container at room temperature.

Lee White

About the author: Former Old Lyme resident Lee White has been writing about restaurants and cooking since 1976 and has been extensively published in the Worcester (Mass.) Magazine, The Day, Norwich Bulletin, and Hartford Courant.  She currently writes a cooking column called A La Carte for LymeLine.com and also for the Shore Publishing and Times newspapers, both of which are owned by The Day. 


Reading Uncertainly? “The Cockroach” by Ian McEwan

Cockroaches have successfully inhabited this earth for more than 300 million years and are like to continue to do so for millions more, so long as it exists. But what about their working relationship with Homo sapiens, we relative newcomers?

Ian McEwan, one of my favorite authors, suggests in this political satire that they may well take matters into their own hands (six each) in order to preserve their habitat. With the growing chaotic conditions in England, a group of cockroaches living in relative splendor in the bowels of the “pleasantly decaying” Palace of Westminster decide to act.

One, in particular, leaves “the floorboards, safety and solace among millions of its siblings” to make the treacherous crawl to Number 10 Downing Street, through a crack in the front door, up several flights of stairs and into the bedroom, where it (he) then takes over the body of and becomes the Prime Minister. Several of his mates also take over other government officials.

Their goal: make the United Kingdom (or what’s left if it) adopt a radical new economic policy called “Reversalism:” “Let the money flow be reversed and the entire economic system, even the nation itself, will be purified, purged of absurdities, waste and injustice.” It will be “forbidden by law to hoard cash.” “Bank deposits will attract high negative interest rates.” “The government sends out tax gifts to its workers.” You will pay an employer to take a job. You will be paid to take food and goods. In other words, spend!

The Prime Minister (appropriately named “Jim Sams” from Franz Kafka’s Gregor Samsa, in Metamorphosis) then plans a telephone call to the President of the United States to try and persuade him to adopt this new economic policy. “It was 6 p.m. in Washington. The president would be busy watching television and might not appreciate the interruption.”

But Sams went ahead, background noise and all. The conversation was, as he reported, “all poetry, smoothly combining density of meaning with fleet-footed liberation from detail …  There was nothing more liberating than a closely knit sequence of lies.” The president is never named, but the PM is interrupted when he starts to ask, “How is Mel—“

At the end of this brief exposition, our cockroach leaves the body of the Prime Minister and crawls safely back to its compatriots at the Palace, secure in the knowledge that universal adoption of Reversalism will result in a dramatic reduction of the human species on this earth, thus assuring the continuity of cockroaches.

 A delightful, challenging, and worrisome satire.

Editor’s Note: “The Cockroach” by Ian McEwan is published by Anchor Books, New York 2019

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, a subject which 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 Farm Coffee, where he may be seen on Friday mornings. His late wife, Ann, was also a writer, but of mystery novels, all of which begin in a village in midcoast Maine, strangely reminiscent of the town she and her husband visited every summer.


Legal News You Can Use: I Filed For Workers’ Comp: Can I Get Fired?

If you suffer an injury on the job in Connecticut, the law protects you when you file a workers’ compensation claim. However, some employers may try to find ways around these anti-discriminatory laws. 

Your employer is not going to tell you they are terminating you because you filed a workers’ compensation claim. Most employers know it is illegal. Instead, an employer may try to find other reasons to fire you. 

Your type of employment matters

Like most states, Connecticut is an at-will state. Your employer can terminate your working relationship at any time, for any reason, as long as that reason is nondiscriminatory. But retaliatory termination due to a workers’ compensation claim falls under the discrimination category. The law protects you in this case. 

If you are a contracted worker, your specific agreement could contain a common termination clause. The clause usually stipulates that the employer can terminate you if you are unable to work for a certain length of time. Employers can legally use this provision to fire you if you cannot return within that period. 

It is important to note that retaliation is not the only prohibited rationale for termination. Your employer cannot fire you for filing a discrimination claim or for refusing to violate state or federal law as part of your job duties.

Reasonable accommodation hardship

If you can return to work after an injury but have permanent restrictions, you and your employer must discuss reasonable accommodations. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, your employer cannot discriminate against you because you now need a reasonable accommodation. 

However, the ADA also states that if providing the required accommodation presents an undue hardship to your employer, the law may not require it. Your employer might try to use this to fire you, unfairly citing undue hardship as the reason for termination. 

When an employer retaliates against you for filing for workers’ compensation or otherwise tries to discriminate against you, you have protections under state and federal law. Pursuing a wrongful termination or disability discrimination lawsuit gives you the right to obtain compensation for the damages you suffered.

Attorneys at Suisman Shapiro can discuss Worker’s Compensation with you and answer your questions on the subject. Visit their website or call 800-499-0145 — lines are open 24 hours a day.

Sponsored Post


Senior Moments: Thoughts (all Positive) on Turning 91

Editor’s Note: I first met John Guy LaPlante when we both worked at the now sadly departed ‘Main Street News.’ I was a beat reporter covering Westbrook and he was busy writing columns about his most recent adventure, which happened to have been going round the world! We went our separate ways after the newspaper closed but stayed in touch.

He followed up that first amazing trip with another focused on Asia, and then at age 77, he joined the Peace Corps! He was the oldest volunteer the organization had ever accepted and was sent to Ukraine, where he served his full term of two years. John has written books on each of these experiences, which make fascinating reading.

Quite simply, he is one of the most remarkable people I have ever met. He suffered a serious accident in his former Deep River home, but made an extraordinary recovery and has just returned to his new home in Morro Bay, Calif. after a lengthy bout of double pneumonia. But does he complain? Never. John is probably the most positive, optimistic, cheerful person I have ever met and this column hopefully helps you understand a little of what makes him tick. He really is an example to us all.

Read more about John and information on his books at this link.

John Guy LaPlante

Today, April 26, I turn 91. Wow!

So of course today will be the first day of my 92nd year on this planet. Amazing.

Know what? I never, never thought I would live this long.

Like lots of people over 65 or 70, now and then I’ve wondered how long I’ll be around.

So recently I researched it. I checked at the Social Security website — 3.7 more years for me. and 4.5 for ladies. But those are averages. Some will live longer, some shorter.

Then I wondered, what are my odds of reaching 100? No idea.  I haven’t come up with that number yet. Actuaries know that. I don’t know any actuary.

I do believe I have a better chance to hit 100 by living here in peaceful and quiet and crime-low Morro Bay than in so many other places.

Anyway, here are a few reasons why I do think I might live to become a centenarian.

I’ve never smoked, well, since the age of 17.

I’ve never drank — oh, at Sunday dinner maybe, or on a special occasion, but just a small glass of Manischewitz.

And very important, I’ve always, or nearly always had work of the kind that I enjoy. Writing. Which is what I am doing right now. Although I no longer get paid for writing. Shucks.

As we know, so many people work at something so humdrum that they just can’t  wait to call it quits and start collecting Social Security.

So do I hope to hit 100? Not if I have to end my days suffering through some awful, monstrous, hopeless whatever.

Or in pain. Or being kept breathing through a machine. Or being a burden. Or with no loved one by my bed to hold my hand.

No problem there. I have three kids, and they are great, as are their spouses.

Of course, there is more doubt about all this now than there would have been a few months ago. The fearful Covid-19  pandemic!

I’m a perfect candidate for that, by the way. I’m very old as you know. And I was recently hospitalized for double pneumonia. From what I’ve read, that’s a very ominous possibility.

At times now and then, like you I’m sure, I’ve wondered what life is all about.

Is it an adventure? A highway we are plunked down on for better or worse and can’t get off of until we run out of gas, so to speak?

Is it a religious prelude to heaven or hell?

Or a good opportunity to use whatever talents we have been handed to make a better life for ourselves?

Or just a mystery, a very tough one, to try to fathom?

Or a bit of this and that? Please, what do you think?

And the big, big question now, is life over when it’s over? Or is there another life for us?  People with their smarts working have been pondering that question for eons. I believe it’s over. But I may be wrong.

Anyway, one thing I’m sure of is I’ve been most fortunate.  And in many ways.

I was born male. I never questioned that. I was fine being male. In recent years I’ve been astonished to find out many males are unhappy about that. So unhappy they will go to great lengths do change that.

I was born to a wonderful father and mother. They nurtured me in many ways. Loved me and showed that to me time and again.

I was born white, which many consider a big plus in our mixed society.

And was born American, which I’m sure you won’t disagree is more desirable than being born Nigerian or North Korean or Haitian or Costa Rican or citizen of so many other countries.

And I was born with an IQ a wee bit higher than 100, so I’ve been told . That’s a pretty good plus.

And have been blessed with better than average health over these many years.

And so lucky to have been privileged to get a good education. And of course that opened the door to numerous opportunities. And certainly saved me from ever having to stoop to cheating or trying something criminal to make a living.

Also, so fortunate to have become a vegetarian. Increasingly that’s considered a more healthful way of life. Yes, definitely, though I did that also because I liked the idea of not having to kill animals to fill my stomach.

And I’ve always had a lot of friends. I feel good about that.

Now another big question. A great big one. Have I thought of how I’d like to die?

Have you? Well, it may be you’re not old enough yet to have a question like that come to mind.

I have indeed given that some thought.

For sure before my health fails to the point that things really start to become hard and difficult. My sixth sense tells me that may not be that far off.

But definitely not the way my good friend Cam died ten days ago. No, no.

We met as freshmen at age 13 and were friends all through prep school and college. Early on, we found out we were born on the very same day, April 26, 1929! That became a special bond that kept us close these many, many years.

I became a journalist plus other things. He a Catholic priest. He loved being a priest and for the very best of reasons and he became a fine one.

Cam–never did I ever call him Father Cam–retired only some 15 years ago, long after he could have. And did so quite reluctantly.

We always kept in touch. It was important to us. Rarely did we miss on April 26.

Well, eighteen months ago Cam began slipping. A kind and gentle man, he began turning people off, fellow priests and longtime friends and even his own loving sister. Alzheimer’s! And it got worse. Hard to believe, but he had to be institutionalized. And then quickly he died.

May I be spared an awful ending like that.

His death was a huge emotional jolt to me. I’ve thought about it time and again.

On a couple of mornings I thought of him the minute I opened my eyes .

As for me, I’ve written my will and done everything else that goes along with that.

So, getting back to that big question, how would I like to die?

Well, while still reasonably healthy. Before the pain and the misery kick in. I’d like to go to bed here in my home one night and close my eyes … and simply die.

That would be nice and easy for me, and for my family and friends also.

But not, not quite yet.

So, friends, how does that sound to you?

And right now, what?

Well, it’s a beautiful day.

As usual this afternoon I’m going to hop on my tricycle and pedal it and pedal it.  For the exercise and fresh air and the fun of it. I do that on every fair day.

Often I’ll stop at Albertsons Supermarket for groceries. I have a big basket on the back of my trike, which is great for that.

Of course I put on my face mask for that and am careful about social distancing. Which I do whenever necessary.

Then I’ll pedal to McDonald’s for my daily cup of coffee. McDonald’s is take-out only now, of course. I used to like to read the paper in there. No more.

And today, my birthday, I’m sure I’ll be able to squeeze that in. But I’ll skip Albertsons. I will pedal longer to celebrate the fact I can still do that.

If things were normal, there would be a party, and there would be a birthday cake with a lot of candles on it, maybe even 91. Some jokester might do that. And I’d be expected, even cheered on, to blow them all out. No way!

Oops, not to worry. There’s not going to be a birthday cake. There’s not going to be a cake. No candles. And no party, either.

Social distancing!

But I’ve been getting birthday cards and phone calls and emails. And that’s been wonderful.

And in 365 days, the gods willing, let’s hope Covid-19 will be over. And then on my birthday, I’d love  a little party and a cake with candles on it. Yes, sir.

Maybe 8 or 10. But please, please, not 92!


Talking Transportation: What is Connecticut’s Transportation Future Post-COVID?

Jim Cameron

When it comes to transportation, Joe McGee is often the smartest guy in the room. If I want a vision of our state’s mobility future, he’s the first man I turn to.

McGee served as then Gov. Lowell Weicker’s Commissioner of Economic Development. For years I worked with him on the Connecticut Metro-North Rail Commuter Council. And until recently he was the Fairfield Business Council’s VP for Public Policy, specializing in the intertwined issues of transportation and economic development. Sadly, that group recently announced its closure after 50 years of service.

True, McGee and I have sparred in the past, especially over his uber-aspirational 30-30-30 plan for speeding up rail service. But nobody is a better advocate for our state’s transportation future than McGee, so in this dismal period I turned to him for inspiration.

“We will get through this,” he says. “There will be life after this and now’s the time to start planning.”

You’ll remember that McGee and the Business Council led the charge for tolling on our highways, rejecting Republican proposals that we instead dip into the state’s “rainy day” fund. Wasn’t that prescient?

“Lamont is looking so good through all of this (crisis). He’s handling it so much better than he dealt with the legislature,” McGee said with a smile.

Sure, transit ridership is down. But he’s confident it will come back.

“I’m old enough to remember the days of polio when people evacuated cities. Same thing with HIV,” he said.

Despite their new-found success with telecommuting, McGee is confident that once the virus is gone workers will return to their jobs in New York City.

“The city brings vitality, creativity and job opportunities. People feel isolated now. They need face to face physical contact to really be connected.” McGee predicts that some companies may open new offices in the suburbs but will still maintain a presence in Manhattan.

And to get there they will need the trains.

“The trains are the economic backbone of our state,” he says. And he means the branch lines as well as the main line. McGee says he’s worried about CDOT’s recent decision to replace Waterbury line trains (which have seen a 95 percent drop in ridership) with buses for four weeks … both to save money and to accelerate construction of sidings.

“The (Naugatuck) Valley’s economic future depends on those trains,” he says. With better train service will come jobs and economic growth, tying the Valley to both Stamford and New Haven. “It’s a regional economy,” he says.

Trains mean mobility and higher real estate values. In New Jersey when they opened the new Secaucus line, communities offering a one-seat ride to New York City saw a 14 percent jump in home prices.

Just look at the twin communities of New Canaan (served by a branch line) and Darien (on the main line of Metro-North). Housing prices in Darien have remained much stronger because of better access to the trains.

In the short run, the railroad’s huge deficits will need Federal assistance. MTA is already seeking Federal money to cover the $125 million they are losing in each week in lost fares. “No one state (or agency) can handle this,” says McGee.

Now is the time for all the towns and states to work together, not throw up literal roadblocks to out-of-staters.

We will get through this.

Posted with permission of Hearst CT Media.

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