December 14, 2018

The Movie Man: ‘Ralph Breaks the Internet’ Offers Existentialism for Kids 101

In this sequel to 2012’s Wreck it Ralph, the title character and his adorable best friend, Vanellope, venture beyond their familiar arcade community into the world of the Internet.

And this depiction of the Internet is a tangible and personified version of the World Wide Web, akin to a thriving city with anthropological beings embodying many things with which we are familiar, such as algorithms and search engines (including a frustrated reminder to say “thank you” when your search engine brings you what you were seeking.)

There are some philosophical themes in these movies, at least entry-level for the younger crowds screening them (despite reading Dostoyevsky at a book club meeting later on, the film does not exactly go into themes from The Grand Inquisitor about whether we are responsible enough to handle freedom).

Vanellope ponders what the meaning of everything is beyond their games, the stark reality of being 0’s and 1’s, and wanting more, while Ralph expresses, not only contention, but joy with what his life is.

The previous film tackled the issue of personal identity and worth, with Ralph wanting to be more than just the “bad guy” character and Vanellope being included in her game.

This installment now tackles the issue of friendship, and what being a true friend really means: whatever is best for your friend, regardless of how it affects you. (And this is where memories of my Catholic education came to mind, reminding me that the real definition of love is to will the good of the other).

While the Wreck it Ralph movies have not demonstrated themselves to be Disney’s most groundbreaking movies in recent years (the plots can seem familiar at times), they still prove to be highly entertaining and filled with unique, lovable characters.

And Disney did have the joy of referencing itself by bringing Vanellope to Oh My Disney to see numerous iconic characters and environments, making everything more enjoyable. And the theme of Girl Power is brought up when she takes refuge in the Princesses’ dressing room, which will delight numerous girls (young and old.)

For the sake of pure entertainment, I would definitely recommend this film to viewers of all ages. It is not necessary for Disney to break ground through every film they release, but they certainly know how to make a good time at the movies.

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Kevin Ganey.

Kevin Ganey

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

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Legal News You Can Use: Are Connecticut Roads Prepared for Winter?

Snow’s so pretty but are the roads — and you and your vehicle — ready for the next winter storm? Photo by Korey Moore on Unsplash

SPONSORED POST by Suisman Shapiro Attorneys-at-Law.

Connecticut’s first winter storm of the season in mid-November caught many people off-guard, including the Department of Transportation. Snow blanketed many areas of the state just as people left work. Although the DOT salted the roads, it wasn’t enough.

Crashes and stuck cars closed three highways, causing major back-ups. A man from Florida died when he left his spun-out vehicle and another car hit him. Connecticut is no stranger to snow and winter driving, so what went wrong this time?

More snow than expected

First, the state received more snow than expected, but not by a huge amount. Fairfield County took the brunt of it, but many areas received over half a foot. This may have been enough to cause trouble. Drivers knew there would be snow, but didn’t expect quite so much of it. Connecticut drivers are used to driving in snow, and they may have thought they could handle it.

Bad timing

The storm’s timing did not help matters, either. Anytime bad weather coincides with the rush hour commute, you have a terrible combination. Commuters hurrying to make it home blocked the plows trying to clear the roads. Police had to escort them out of traffic.

Operations center failure

Unfortunately, the storm also caught Governor Malloy off-guard. He was speaking on prisoner reforms in California at the time of the storm and did not activate the emergency operations center. Nor did his chief of staff, Brian Durand, who sought advice from the Transportation Commissioner.

Are you prepared?

If you haven’t done your winter car check, now is the time to do it. You should check the following before hitting the snowy roads:

  • Battery. Many garages can test your battery. Carry jumper cables, even if you have a good battery. You may be able to save a neighbor in need.
  • Fluids. Top them off, especially windshield washer fluid and anti-freeze. Keep your gas tank at least half-full, as well.
  • Tires. Switch to winter tires if you have them. Otherwise, make sure your all-weather tires are in good condition.
  • Lights. It gets dark much earlier, and you want other drivers to see you.
  • Emergency kit. Make sure you fully stock your winter car kit with flashlights, water, snacks, a warm blanket, a first aid kit and kitty litter or sand.

Winter has only just begun. We will see more snow before the season is over. Stay safe and make sure you are prepared for the next winter storm. 

Visit the Law Firm of Suisman Shapiro  at this link for more information.

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Talking Transportation: Trucker Shortage Takes Its Toll

What does the future hold for the trucks on our highways? Photo by Rhys Moult on Unsplash

As if crumbling bridges and pot-holed highways weren’t enough to worry about, now America’s transportation network is facing a new crisis:  a shortage of truck drivers.

According to the American Trucking Association (ATA), trucks carry more than 70 percent of all domestic freight, bringing in $719 billion in revenue.  It’s trucks, not trains, that deliver our Amazon purchases and fill the shelves of our favorite big box stores for the holidays. So while we hate to drive behind them on our highways, we love what trucks deliver.

But now, of the existing half-million truck drivers in the US, demographics are taking their toll as more and more retire each year, leaving those jobs unfilled. The ATA estimates the industry needs 51,000 new truck drivers.  And new candidates are not stepping forward.

Why?  Well, the ATA says Gen Z’ers don’t like the lifestyle.  They don’t want to spend long, lonely days or weeks doing long-hauls, eating bad food and sleeping in their rigs.  Even money, like $50,000 signing bonuses, isn’t attracting them.

The average trucker makes $59,000 and drivers for private fleets can make $86,000. But lengthy, expensive training courses present a roadblock to immediate recruitment.  And newly-mandated technology tracking drivers’ time on the road is exacerbating the problem.

Drivers are only supposed to drive 11 hours of every 14 hours a day, but many used to fudge their paper log-book records because they got paid by the mile.  Since last December, electronic logging has been the law, so the safety rules are impossible to circumvent.  Of course, nobody wants tired drivers on the road, but in the cause of safety, truckers are losing efficiency.

Where will the industry find new drivers?  Well, women still only represent about 6 percent of all drivers.  And minorities have seen their numbers increase 12 percent in the past year.  And the industry is also seeking a reduction in the minimum driving age from 21 to 18.

What’s this all mean to us as consumers?  Higher costs.

Amazon saw a 38 percent increase in shipping costs in the first quarter, forcing it to raise its (unlimited free-shipping) Amazon Prime membership fee from $99 to $119 a year.  Across the industry spectrum, shipping rates are rising.

But the real solution will probably be self-driving trucks.

That’s why big companies like Waymo (owned by Google), Tesla and Uber, as well as truck-builders like Freightliner and Volvo are investing heavily in the autonomous technology.

Not that we’ll be seeing driverless trucks on Connecticut interstates anytime soon.  There’s probably too much congestion to make them practical.  But there are vast stretches of interstates in “fly over country” out west where self-driving trucks make perfect sense, delivering truckloads of products to automated warehouses where robots will unload them.

Automating trucking may be good for the industry but it certainly doesn’t help with recruitment.  Who wants to sign on for a career knowing full well they may be replaced by a robot?

Sociologist and 13-year trucker Steve Viscelli says the solution is in changing the system:  paying truckers for actual hours on the road (not just mileage), including those times when truckers must waste hours or days waiting for a new load.

Whatever the solution, it’s clear who’ll end up paying:  consumers.

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

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Letter from Paris: Riots Fuel ‘Yellow Vest’ Rebellion Against Macron’s Reforms, Stir Memories of May ’68

Editor’s Note: We are watching events in Paris today with deep dismay. Nicole Logan’s topical column gives her opinion on the background to the tense situation unfolding there.

Nicole Prévost Logan

France is in a tailspin.  

The crisis started with the fury against the seven-cent tax hike on diesel fuel. The movement of the gilets jaunes (yellow vests) spread like wildfire through the social networks as they blocked the roads all over France. For three weeks in November, the demonstrators congregated in Paris each Saturday. Their confrontation with the police culminated in scenes of violence, which shocked the world: Place de l’Etoile obliterated by the smoke of tear gas, graffiti desecrating the Arc de Triomphe, and a policeman being attacked near the monument.  

Riots have been occurring in cities all over France but are centered on Paris. File photo by Randy Colas on Unsplash

Since the Champs Elysées and the Place de la Concorde were cordoned off by the police, the casseurs (hooligans) spilled over Avenue Kleber and Avenue de la Grande Armee, where they looted shops and set fire to six buildings. Hundreds were wounded and 412 demonstrators arrested. By the day’s end, a picture of desolation remained with the smoldering remains of 35 cars and streets littered with whatever was used as a projectile by the radicalized mob.

The tension is mounting. The government seems unable to contain it. The gilets jaunes are widening their demands to lower all taxes, raise salaries and retirements as well as the dissolution of the National Assembly. At this point they will not stop short of the resignation of Macron. 

It is an unprecedented, unstructured popular anger directly aimed at the president.  The opposition parties – with much glee – are surfing on this tsunami.

The government is making concessions to meet people’s demands. Unfortunately these concessions always arrive too late. The more the government concedes, the more the gilets jaunes demand, apparently comforted by their success.  On Dec. 4th, Prime Minister Edward Philippe announced a six-month freeze on fuel and utility taxes followed by their cancellation the same evening. And the price tag of this measure? Four billion euros. This was the first admission of defeat by the Macron team – a measure very hard to swallow since it went against its own environmental principles. 

What are the causes of this crisis? Mistakes made by a president attempting to reform the country from the bottom up? Ungovernable French people? Perhaps a combination of both.

During the first 16 months of his mandate, Macron undertook structural reforms  to turn France into a modern and competitive country. These reforms dealt with political institutions, the labor code,  the impressive — but somewhat antiquated — railroad system or  SNCF (Societé Nationale des Chemins de Fer), crowded universities  by abolishing a chaotic and ridiculous entrance selection by lottery. 

But French people do not like changes and are attached to their privileges, tax niches and social benefits acquired over decades. An attempt at reforming the system was bound to face an uphill battle .

All these reforms were part of a general plan — a vision — which the president had placed at the core of his electoral campaign and on the basis of which he had been elected. in 2017. He gave himself five years to achieve his goals. 

Unfortunately for him the people wanted immediate results. He wanted to raise the French economy and society from the bottom up and encourage the active population. This was different from a “trickle down” process, but was not perceived as such by the French.  Soon the label,”President of the Rich,” was firmly attached to him.

Macron’s strategy was to consult with trade unions, elected local officials or business people at the Elysée Palace before making any decisions.

Apparently tetanized by the fast pace of the president’s method, the population seemed at first to accept the reforms. But gradually, overwhelmed by the sheer number of new regulations, taxes, or reforms facing them them every morning, its discontent started as an underground rumble until it finally exploded. The last drop was the additional tax on diesel. 

Overall, the French population is justified in its revolt against an unbearable tax burden. France is the world number one champion of taxes with 48 percent of its Gross Domestic Product coming from tax revenues versus 40 percent in the other European countries and less than 30 percent in the US.  One of the buzz expressions among the gilets jaunes is “ras le bol” (meaning “we are totally fed up.”) There are hundreds of hidden taxes in France. For example, did you know that here, one has to pay a tax on “oiseaux de companie” (pet birds)?

The French have a special craving for social justice as shown in their attitude toward the Impot de Solidarite sur la Fortune (ISF) or wealth tax. Macron had split that tax between property wealth — which he retained — and financial holdings such as stocks. In order to encourage investments — particularly on green energy — he created a “flat tax” of only 30 percent.  What he did was misunderstood by the public opinion and may be scrapped soon.    

Today Macron’s room to maneuver is very small.  Since the opposition has no leader to replace him, where is the country going?  Cohn Bendit, the hero of May 1968, the largest French uprising in the past 50 years, gave a frightening prognosis, “I see the present movement in France as a possibly the first step toward totalitarianism, headed by an illiberal despot.” 

The situation is evolving by the hour.  More demonstrations of force are already planned …

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.

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The Movie Man: ‘The Ballad of Buster Scruggs’ Delights, Challenges

It seems that the newest trend in film is to go from first screenings at movie theaters to permanent availability on Netflix, following the trend that TV shows have started.

Originally, it was seen with popular, but not so artistically influential, stars such as Adam Sandler. But now iconic brothers Joel and Ethan Coen have followed through on this trend with the release of The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, a Western collection of vignettes ranging from bank robberies to covered-wagon journeys.

I finished the film as I expected I would: scratching my head, pondering the meaning of every story in the anthology. But this is the case with nearly every film by the Coen brothers. This happened when I finished No Country for Old Men, A Serious Man, and even The Big Lebowski.

But have no fear, in our digital age, you will not be perpetually stumped. With the assistance of Google, one can find a medium that can help you understand the artistic, and often spiritual, meanings of these films.

But make no mistake: you will enjoy Buster Scruggs. This will not be ranked as one of the Coen’s most memorable and definitive films, but you will be entertained.

They’re back at it with their quirky humor and folksy manner of storytelling that is present in every film (even ones as dark as No Country, upon further reflection.) You will also see tributes to other iconic directors, such as Stanley Kubrick (through their amazing landscape shots that help reinforce the environment of the story), and Spaghetti Western legend Sergio Leone (via silence, creating a build-up of suspense) — and this is more than fitting, being a Western movie.

For most readers, it will be quite easy to screen Buster Scruggs on finishing this review. Simply open a new tab in your internet explorer and log in to your Netflix account.

For everyone else, you will have to go through the painstaking process of pulling out your credit card and paying a whopping $8 to $14 to have thousands of videos at your disposal. It is a convenient way to watch movies now, but I believe it takes the joy out of the occasion of going to the movies … and I hope to write about this in the future.

‘Til next time, this is the Movie Man signing out …

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A la Carte: Got Leftovers? How About a Turkey Casserole?

Perhaps you are reading this column on the morning after Thanksgiving as you drink your cup of coffee or tea. It has been quite a few years since I sat with the newspaper and figured out which I should do first. I have been in my condo for almost five years and only created Thanksgiving dinner once, and only for around six or seven of us.

Many, many years ago, when my own daughter was still in elementary school, there would have been at least four little ones (two nieces, one nephew and Darcy) or up to 10 or more (more nephews, nieces, two step-sons, one step-daughter and all their parents). Even when the little ones became high schoolers, we still did Thanksgiving. Although there were extra bedrooms, there were sleeping bags filled with humans on floors everywhere.

The last Thanksgiving enormous dinner was in Old Lyme, just a few months before I sold the house and moved into my condo. That crowd included more than 20 friends and family. Many of the family members stayed over the weekend, and, except for a few sandwiches, there were no leftovers.

These days turkey day happens at my daughter-in-law’s condo in Newburyport. My stepson and Nancy have divorced, but it is amicable. My Massachusetts granddaughters will be there (one already graduated from college and living in Boston, the middle a senior at Clark in Worcester and the baby now a freshman at UMass in Amherst.) There will be leftovers, but I will leave them in Massachusetts, because I bought two Butterballs at BJs.

As you read this, one is thawing in my refrigerator, the stuffing is in the freezer, the gravy is made (with an Ina Garten recipe made with no turkey juice, which she calls a base. I will add that base to the basting as Mr. Tom comes out of the oven. With the mashed potatoes, vegetables, gravy, stuffing, turkey and cranberry (I love the canned kind for this casserole), I will make at least two or three casseroles.

Because I never grew up with casseroles, I actually like these better than the original meal. Here is my go-to recipe for this and any kind of meat leftover this winter.

Photo by Jonathan Pielmayer on Unsplash

Turkey Leftover Casserole

3 to 4 pounds of turkey, dark or white meat, slices or chunked, divided
2 pounds of vegetables (beans, turnips, Brussels sprouts, corn or squash), divided
2 to 3 pounds of mashed white potatoes and/or sweet potatoes, divided
1 to 2 pounds stuffing, divided
1 can of cranberry sauce (or made-scratch) cranberry sauce, divided
Leftover gravy from Thanksgiving, or packaged or carton gravy

In a large casserole dish (or a big gratin dish or a big Tupper-type holder), begin to layer the ingredients. I begin with a little mashed potato, then turkey, some gravy, vegetables, mashed potatoes, stuffing and a few slices of cranberry sauce. I end with mashed potatoes and drizzled with gravy, if you still have some. Each casserole will feed at least four to six people.

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Reading Uncertainly? ‘Essays After Eighty’ & ‘A Carnival of Losses: Notes Nearing Ninety’ by Donald Hall

“I teeter when I walk, I no longer drive, I look out the windows … My circles narrow. Each season my balance gets worse, and I sometimes fall. My fingers are clumsy and slow with buttons. I have problems with memory, sure, but it’s short-term memory … My summer nights are NESN and the Boston Red Sox. I enjoy multiple naps.”  So did the New Hampshire poet Donald Hall define life after 80!

I know, I know … I’m about the same age.  I too enjoyed Sidney Bechet when I was younger (a famous New Orleans jazz hero for you younger lads and lasses).  I too listened to Robert Frost in person (he “said” his lines at my high school in 1950 and 1951).  And I too have tried my hand at poetry (the haiku).

Some years ago, I was advised that one should not read a book until one is the same age as when the author wrote it. I let that pass, but now, after becoming immersed in Hall’s two last books, I suspect the advice may be sanguine. But that doesn’t mean that my younger readers should avoid these two volumes. No, not al all …

In these brief, enjoyable, humorous, and always challenging essays (Hall writes that he decided at eighty to dispense with his renowned poetry, after he served as the United States Poet Laureate, shifting to the essay). He describes poems as “ . . . image-bursts from the brain-depths, words flavored by battery-long vowels” that challenge our brains and imaginations, “ . . . delicate rhythms with forceful enjambments and an assonance of dipthongs.” These essays, fortunately, are less poetic!

I enjoyed especially his warnings on writing: “Don’t begin paragraphs with ‘I’” (I failed that one!). “Avoid ‘me’ and ‘my’ when you can. . . . Avoid the personal pronoun when you can. . . . “ and “don’t be afraid of contradiction: it is the cellular structure of life. . . . The emotional intricacy and urgency of human life expresses itself most fiercely in contradiction”.

Death, of course, is on his mind. “There is only one road” and “Of course all of us will be forgotten” but these essays demonstrate a life lived to the fullest, with humor and good feeling for his years in New Hampshire.

Donald Hall died quietly in Wilmot, NH on June 23, 2018. Do read these brief, succinct and poetic essays: perfect for the aging mind, as well as for those advancing inexorably to old age. Enjoy every moment!

Editor’s Note: ‘Essays After Eighty,’ 2014, and ‘A Carnival of Losses: Notes Nearing Ninety,’ both by Donald Hall were published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New  York, respectively in 2014 and 2018.

Felix Kloman

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

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A la Carte: From Lee With Love — Thanksgiving Recipes Galore!

Editor’s Note: We are running three of Lee White’s wonderful columns together today to give readers a chance to savor a selection of her wonderful Thanksgiving recipes in one place.  Happy Thanksgiving to all!

For more years than I can remember, I have been writing about turkey at Thanksgiving. I get every food magazine every month and every single month, in October, a turkey is on the covers.

My mother never cooked a turkey. We had Thanksgiving at an aunt and uncle’s home in Kinderhook, New York. There was no gravy and no stuffing and the sweet potatoes were stuffed into oranges, which made the sweet potatoes taste like oranges. The first Thanksgiving with my husband and daughter was in Houston, and I ordered turkey and sides from a restaurant. The gravy was white. In following years I made turkey and sides it myself, sometimes on 20 or more friends and family. The first few times, I called the Butterball Hot Line for help.

Some years later I stopped using the throwaway aluminum pans and bought a $200 roasting pan, which I still use for every kind of roast I have ever made. It was one terrific buy. Over the years I brined turkey in a huge cooler. I bought organic turkeys. Last year I went to a friend who made a heritage turkey. I made all kinds of stuffing and once placed slices of bacon on top of the fowl. A few times I put buttered cheesecloth on the turkey. But these days I buy the least expensive turkey I can get and I buy it frozen. I make my stuffing the night before and put it in the refrigerator in an enormous plastic bag. The next morning I stuff as much dressing as possible into the thawed (but cold) turkey’s cavity. I put the rest in a casserole and when the roasted turkey come out of the oven, I add some juice to the casserole and bake it.

Forget all those other “new” ways to make turkey for Thanksgiving. Here is my favorite recipe. 

Turkey

1 14- to 16-pound turkey
salt
1 stick butter
½ (one-half) cup good white wine

Gravy

¼ (one-quarter) cup all-purpose flour
cold water
Gravy Master (optional)
salt and pepper to taste

Remove giblets from turkey (I don’t use them; instead, I boiled them for the kitties, less bones). Rinse and dry turkey inside and out. Rub salt inside cavity of bird. Fill cavity with cold stuffing made the night before or early morning. Place bird in a rack (or upside glass pie pan) atop a large, heavy-duty roasting pan. Place in a 350-degree oven.

Add butter and wine in a saucepan, bring to a boil, then simmer for about 10 to 15 minutes. Open oven, pour wine-butter over turkey and close oven. Every half hour baste liquid over turkey. Bake until turkey is done (when the thermometer plunged into the thickest part of the thigh registered 175 to 180 degrees, 10 to 12 minutes per pound if not stuffed or 12 to 15 minutes stuffed).

Turn off the oven, remove turkey from the oven, Place the turkey on a platter and spooned the Stuffing into a bowl; cover each with aluminum foil and return both to still-warm oven. (Extra stuffing can be heated in a casserole dish; it is not as tasty but if you spoon some juice on the dish before heating, it’s pretty good.)

Remove grease from roasting pan. and place the pan on the stove. Turn heat to medium. In a large jar, add all-purpose flour and about 2 cups of water. Screw jar cover and shake. When the brown bits are hot, add flour-water mixture and, over medium-high heat, whisk constantly. If you need more water, add some. Once the gravy is ready, add and stir in Gravy Master to taste (optional). Add salt and pepper to taste.

STUFFING AND SAUCE

Cranberry, grape and apple sauce.

This was a very busy but very pleasant week.

First was a lovely party for the retirement of Betty Anne Reiter at the Mystic Museum of Art. Betty Anne and I have worked together for quite a few years, she as librarian at the Groton Public Library, creating a couple of food series at the library. She and her staff made the series such fun that I hope we will do it every May.

Then there was cookbook time. Rose Levy Birnbaum, food writer extraordinaire, was on a book tour with her newest ???????? and we had a nice lunch at Olio before she and her assistant, Woody, went to their next signing and demo in Paramus, New Jersey. A few days later,, I went to RJ Julia in Madison to listen to Dorie Greenspan (who has a house on our shoreline), talk about her newest book, Everyday Dorie. I think this may be the best of her many best cookbooks and one of the best I have read by anyone in the last five years.

I had dinner that night with Madison friends at Elizabeth’s, a new one for me. The food was delicious, the service very professional and , service just  lovely.  If the chef will share a recipe with me, I will share the  house made gnocchi in a Gorgonzola cream sauce  topped with frizzled onions. Four of us shared that appetizers, and then we ordered another.

But I digress. I will have Thanksgiving with family in Newburyport and then drive back to Connecticut have another turkey dinner the next day in Durham. For the one with my family, I will make the turkey stuffing and a new side, so here is an old and a new; none is blue but one is borrowed.

Roasted Grape, Apple and Cranberry Sauce

From Cooking Light, November 2018
Serves 12

Cooking spray
2 cups seedless black grapes (about 10 ounces)
1 and three-quarter cups chopped Honeycrisp apple (or Gala or ????)
2 tablespoons chopped scallop
1 cup fresh or frozen whole cranberries
1 and one half tablespoons unsalted butter
3 and one-half teaspoons pure maple syrup
One-eighth teaspoon kosher salt
One-quarter teaspoon fresh thyme leaves or sprigs (optional)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Lightly coat a rimmed baking sheet with spray. Place grapes, apple and shallot on prepared baking sheet and lightly coat with cooking spray. Bake until shallots begin to soften, about 5 minutes.

Add cranberries to baking sheet. Bake at 425 degrees until cranberries burst, apple is tender and grape skins are beginning to burst, about 20 more minutes. Remove from oven and transfer mixture to a medium bowl. Stir in butter, maple syrup and salt. Cool completely, about one hour. Sprinkle with thyme, if desired.

Stuffing

I make the stuffing at least the day ahead,, because it should be cold when you put it in the turkey, which is also cold. This is probably more stuffing you will use. You can put the rest in a casserole and bake for Thanksgiving, or freeze it for another turkey or chicken dinner.

I large Pepperidge Farms herb-seasoned stuffing mix
6 to 8 tablespoons butter
1 cup onions, minced
1 cup celery, minced
1 small can of diced mushrooms
1 cup walnuts, chopped (I chop it with my hands because I don’t want it chopped fine)
salt and pepper, to taste
Bell’s seasoning, to taste

Make Pepperidge Farms stuffing according to package instructions.

In a skillet, add butter and melt over medium heat. Add onions, celery, mushrooms and walnuts. Saute for about 10 minutes. Add salt, pepper and Bell’s seasoning to taste. Add to stuffing mix and stir. Refrigerate until cold (I often put the stuffing in a large plastic bag and put it in the porch, since I rarely have much space in my refrigerator.)

SPICE CAKE

Old-fashioned spice cake

A couple of weeks ago, I flew to Pittsburgh to see my brother. Now, for those of you readers who are men, don’t send me letters and say I am not correct when I say that widows learn how to take care of themselves, but widowers are often reattached in weeks or months.

My sister-in-law died in March of 2018, the memorial service was in April and a few months ago my brother mentioned that he wanted me to meet Lois. As I walked down the Pittsburgh airline’s escalator, I saw them holding hands. And I am here to tell you that my brother has found, very simply, the nicest person I have ever met. In addition, she is around his age (he is 83) and they met playing duplicate bridge.

(There is that story, possibly apocryphal, about the fact that one of two duplicate bridge partners shot the other after a bad bid. My brother does take bridge that seriously, nor does Lois, but neither has a gun)

Anyway, I had a wonderful few days. One evening we had dinner at an inn where we shared oil-truffled French fries with a ramekin of srirachi. My entree was a small pork tenderloin with mashed potato side so delicious I had to ask what was in it: the sous chef said it was maple syrup and chipotle.

The second night, Lois’s three daughters and their husbands brought pot-luck to my brother’s house and called it a party. Lois’s daughters are as nice as she is, as are their husbands, although one of them showed me a picture of a 10-point buck he’d killed that afternoon.

Now I am home and the holidays have begun. For the past two columns, I gave you my recipes for turkey, gravy, stuffing and a new cranberry sauce. Although pies are de rigueur, why not make a lovely autumn cake and, if you have some extra, make a trifle? I will be driving to Newburyport, Mass., for the day, but feel free to e-mail me if you run into problems.

And my next column will include recipes for turkey leftovers.

Old Fashioned Spice Cake

Adapted from Linnea Rufo of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
Yield: serves 10 to 12 people
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 10-inch tube pan.

1 cup sugar
one-half cup (1 stick) butter
one-half cup currants or raisins or dried cherries (optional)
one-half cup candied ginger, chopped
2 eggs
2 tablespoons molasses
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
one-quarter teaspoon cloves
one-half teaspoon ginger
one-teaspoon salt
1 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350º F. Grease a 10-inch tube pan.

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time, blending well after each addition.

Whisk together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, ginger and salt. Stir dry ingredients into egg mixture alternately with milk, beginning and ending with dry ingredients.

Pour batter into prepared tube pan. Set on the middle rack of the oven and bake for 1 hour and 5 minutes, or until cake pulls away from sides of pan and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cool cake in the pan, set on a rack, for 10 minutes. Remove cake from pan and spread on icing at once, while cake is still warm.

Espresso Icing

1 and one-half cups of confectioners’ sugar
1 tablespoon of espresso (use a teaspoon or so of cold coffee)
1 tablespoon milk

Whisk icing ingredients together.

About the author: 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 Nibbles and a cooking column called A La Carte for LymeLine.com and the Shore Publishing and the Times newspapers, both of which are owned by The Day.

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Talking Transportation: An Open Letter to Ned Lamont

Dear Ned:

Well, you did it.  Congratulations on your election.  And my condolences.  The easy part of politics is over:  getting elected.  Now comes the hard part:  being Governor.

I hope you and your transition team are already working on that budget that’s due in three months.  There’s a lot of red ink ($4 billion) that needs to be mopped up.  And don’t forget those $80 billion in unfunded pensions.  But I’m sure you’ve got the solutions, right?  That’s what you promised voters, anyhow.  So have at it.

But as you are cutting and slashing, may I be so bold as to make a few suggestions on the transportation front?  Your campaign assured us you’d fix our roads and rails, so I’m sure you have your ideas.  But let’s see if these are of any help.

1)    KEEP YOUR COMMISSIONER:   Jim Redeker has been CDOT Commissioner since 2011 and nobody knows better what’s working and what isn’t.  He’s clearly the smartest guy in the room and you need his experience and talents.  Let’s not lose him to another state.

2)    FIX THE TRAINS FIRST:  You can’t keep high wage earners (and tax payers) living in Connecticut if Metro-North continues its downward slide.  Getting trains back up to speed and on-time is crucial to the state’s economy.

3)    THEN IMPROVE BUS SERVICE:  I hope you realize that the CTFastrak bus rapid-transit system is hugely important and not the “waste of money” your opponent claimed.  Not everyone in this state owns a car.  For the 15 million riders of that busway since it opened, those buses mean being able to get to their jobs.  That is what we want, right… people working?

4)    RIDE MASS TRANSIT:  You campaigned at train and bus stations, now why not get onboard?  Set an example by taking the train from Greenwich to Hartford and riding the bus with your constituents.  See the conditions first hand.

5)    GET GOING WITH TOLLS:  We both know they’re inevitable, despite your opponents’ “tolls are a tax” lie during the campaign.  Let’s stop losing revenue to out-of-staters and truckers and make them pay for driving on our roads.  Start with tolling trucks, though I doubt that’s legal.

6)    HONOR THE LOCKBOX:  Voters have spoken loudly!  The Special Transportation Fund is now padlocked.  Don’t you dare think about picking that lock or letting the Legislature touch those funds for anything but transportation.

7)    PLEASE BE HONEST:  You and your opponents glossed over the tough issues in the campaign, making vague, general comments about improving our lives.  You got the job, so now don’t give us any BS.  Tell us about the hard choices to come.  Embrace the FOI act.  Be open and transparent … and honest.  We’re adults.  We can take it.

8)    DON’T ABUSE THE MAJORITY:  Once again the Democrats are in full control in Hartford.  That’s a lot of power in a few hands and your party’s record on “reaching across the aisle” isn’t great.  Our problems can only be solved with bi-partisan cooperation, so please set the best example.

That’s enough for now.  Get some rest, maybe even a vacation, and we’ll talk again in the coming months.

Best wishes,

Jim Cameron
“The Train Guy”

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

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Return of ‘The Movie Man’: ‘Beautiful Boy’ Reveals Realities of Relationships Controlled by Addiction

Editor’s Note: We welcome Kevin Ganey back to LymeLine.com. We have missed his stimulating, thought-provoking, intensely personal reviews of movies and are thrilled he has returned

Author’s Note: It seems that in the last two years, I’ve fallen off the edge of the earth when it comes to keeping up with current films. In this time, I’ve skipped the Oscars, and have not even watched trailers to highly anticipated future features. I’m also too intimidated to watch whichever new Marvel film has been released, due to fear of being unable to follow the story. But I have spent a great deal of time immersing myself in older ones, and I owe a great deal to the Criterion Collection for this. But make no mistake, I intend to continue critiquing films for the readers situated in the Connecticut River and Long Island Sound.

The cover of the book on which the movie is based.

I left the screening of Beautiful Boy in a depressed mood.

The film, starring Steve Carell and Timothée Chalamet, depicts the relationship of a father and son, David and Nic Sheff, during the latter’s tumultuous period of drug addiction. While many fans of Dunder-Mifflin’s greatest regional manager will take delight in seeing that Nic’s mother is played by none other than Amy Ryan (Michael Scott’s wife), this will not contain any of the goofy humor we saw on the iconic sitcom. It deals with the gut-wrenching and horrific truths of what addiction is.

This is a true story, based on the memoirs of both father and son.

It captures the grim reality of addiction. From Nic’s days of smoking weed (with his father, on occasion) to his bodily dependency on heroin and crystal meth. In several points, Nic gets sober (at one point lasting over a year without using anything), only to fall into relapse.

The film captures the ugly truth of addiction’s harm to the user, and to the user’s loved ones; depicting Nic stealing prescription medicine from his girlfriend’s family, as well as taking the only money his younger half-brother has (a mere $8).

Along with addiction, this film also brilliantly depicts the relationship between David and Nic. We get to see things through David’s perspective as he watches his son spiral out of control and sends him to rehab time after time after time. We clearly see David’s frustration as he wants what is best for his son, whom he loves more than everything.

While I never struggled with drug addiction, I could see myself in Nic pleading to David in regards to numerous subjects, asking his father to have faith in him, and David’s stern responses, all in vigilance to protecting Nic’s well-being. For once, I could understand the mindset in which my parents denied my numerous requests throughout youth, and I could see the arrogance in the “What do they know?” reaction I would give.

This is not a film to see on the basis of pure entertainment. I could hardly imagine any filmmaker with a sound conscience taking addiction as a subject with the intent of making a light-hearted humorous project. I was also dissatisfied with the story’s editing and basic setup.

Without giving away the ending, I was unable to perceive the narrative had finished until the credits began to roll. The performances were stellar, and I would not be surprised if any of the cast receives award nominations, Chalamet, in particular.

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Kevin Ganey.

Kevin Ganey

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

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Letter From Paris: Thoughts on an Historic Day of Respectful Remembrance … and Distressing Disrespect

Nicole Prévost Logan

Editor’s Note:  We are delighted to welcome back Nicole Prévost Logan after her traditional break from writing while she summers in Essex, Conn.  She has now returned to Paris just in time for the centennial celebrations of the end of World War I, on which she provides an insightful commentary in this column.

Paris was the center of the world on November 11 – the 100-year anniversary of the Armistice of World War I.  Struggling against a strong wind and in pouring rain, 70 world leaders walked toward the Arc de Triomphe on a deserted Avenue des Champs Elysées – a striking image on an historical day.

The ceremony, taking place by the tomb of the unknown soldier, was magnificently choreographed by the French president Emmanuel Macron.  It was solemn and sober.  Not intended to be a show of triumphalism, it did not include a military parade.

The president only reviewed only some of the elite military academies: students from Ecole polytechnique, wearing bicornes (two-pointed hats), and from St Cyr (equivalent to West Point) with their emblematic “casoars” of red and white feathers, as well as students from the air force and naval academies.  The ceremony was to be essentially both an homage to the millions who died and a reminder of the importance of reconciliation and peace.

The timing of the proceedings was synchronized to the minute: at 11 o’clock  all the bells of France tolled, the five Mirages of the patrouille de France flew twice over the Place de l’Etoile in impeccable formation leaving tricolor strands of smoke in the sky.  The sounds of Sonnerie aux Morts (The Last Post) and other bugle and drums pieces added their somber touch. 

Whereas most of the foreign leaders had ridden busses from the Palais de l’ Elysée to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the American and Russian presidents as well as the Israeli prime minister were driven all the way in their cars for security reasons.  The honorable guests gathered under the transparent awning and waited.  And waited.  And waited.

Finally the armored car of Donald Trump, in a convoy of 53 vehicles carrying 700 security agents and US government officials, appeared at the bottom of the Champs Elysées.  The American president had a chance for a photo op alone in front of the other heads of State.  

The seating on the first row must have ben a nightmare for the protocol people.  Trudeau was far enough from Trump and protected from him by the King of Morocco and his son.  Trump was next to Angela Merkel.  A few minutes later Vladimir Putin arrived (according to a Russian radio commentator, he had been kept in his car for 20 minutes until the Trumps were settled.)  He took his place next to Brigitte Macron.  Trump broke into a broad smile for the first and only time of the weekend as he greeted Putin.

The visit of the American president to France had started on a sour note.  He distorted what Macron had said  during his November 10 interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria.  In a furious tweet, he said that he found the French president’s comment about building an independent European military force “insulting.”  In fact, Macron had never used the words “against the US.”

A cultural and emotional program started with the cellist Yo-Yo Ma playing a Sarabande of the Suite No.5 in C minor by Johann Sebastian Bach and ended with the 17-minute long Ravel Bolero, performed by the European Union Youth Philharmonic Orchestra.  A group of young people of all nationalities read excerpts form diaries written by a few French poilus (soldiers) among the 1.4 million killed during the Great War.  The message was the transmission of memory through the future generations.

Macron was born in Amiens, a provincial town in the heart of the devastated regions of France during World War I.  His four great-grandfathers fought there.  In his speech, the French president spoke with emotion of the battlefields he visited during the seven days prior to the centennial, saying, “I walked on the grey earth where so many soldiers were buried, which is today covered by innocent nature.” 

One of the highly symbolic moments of that week was in the clearing of Rethondes when Merkel (the first time ever for a German chancellor) and Macron sat side by side in the train car where the armistice was signed  November 11, 1918.

In the second part of his speech Macron, portrayed himself as a patriot.  Nationalism, he said, has nothing to do with patriotism and is, in fact, its betrayal.  Withdrawal within one’s borders is harmful for the rest of the world, he added.  The anger of Trump was becoming increasingly tangible as he heard those words, his face frozen in a  pouting expression.  One might describe the speech as outright provocation, but it was well-deserved .

The chasm between Trump and Macron grew deeper in the afternoon.  A Peace Forum had been scheduled at La Villette for business people, NGOs, associations and also political leaders, with the objective of  promoting multilateralism.  The American president chose not to attend.

TV viewers were treated to a surreal split screen: on one side Trump speaking at the American cemetery of Suresnes, near Paris, to honor some of the 116,000 Americans who fell during the Great War and on the other, Merkel giving the inaugural speech at the Forum, in which she supported Macron’s vision of an European army to be created in the distant future.

The American president intensified his flurry of angry tweets after his return to the US and threatened France with increased taxes on its wine exports.  In a November 15 interview held on the French nuclear aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, the French president commented: ‘I do not answer tweets. I believe in mutual respect between allies.’

How unfortunate that such a solemn commemoration was hijacked by low-level diatribe.

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.

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A La Carte: ‘Tis the Season for Some Scrumptious Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Bread!

Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Bread

Writing can seem like a lonely profession, but if you are a journalist, it never is. I always wanted to be a journalist and go to either Michigan State or Northwestern. Unfortunately for me, I got a New York State Regents Scholarship and my father, who wasn’t sure I wanted to be a student (I liked the social part but not so much the academics), told me to pick a college in the state college or university system since, at that time, it was free tuition and the scholarship would pay for my room, meals and fees.

He was sort of correct.

Eventually I finished my degree years later at the University of Rochester, where work got me free tuition. As an English major, I still wanted to be a journalist, but I liked my job and liked the fact that I made a bit more money than a journalist. I began writing, free-lance, and found that there was nothing lonely about being a food writer. I began as a restaurant reviewer; a decade or so later, I became more interested in what goes on in a home kitchen rather than a restaurant kitchen.

I love cooking and I love writing about food. Most of all, I love food writing for newspapers, because my readers e-mail me information about ingredients and recipes and tell me they like me (yes, there are Sally Field moments). Last week I heard from two farmers, the owners of 18th Century Purity Farm in Plainfield and Moosup and Scotts’ Family Farm in Essex. They both said they grow the Lodi apples I wanted, but its season is early and short, and the apples were gone by mid-September.

I put both of the farms on my calendar for the week after Labor Day, 2019. Also that week, my editor, Lee Howard at The Times in New London, said a reader was looking for a recipe for chocolate chip pumpkin bread. I played with a recipe. The recipe called for two nine-inch pans but, even at one hour, it was gushy in the middle. The next day I made it again and put the batter in three-loaf pans.

Perfection … and delicious … and dairy-free.

Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Bread

Adapted from Food Network Kitchen

3 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs, lightly beaten
16 ounces canned pureed pumpkin (not the pumpkin pie filling)
3 and one-half cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon cinnamon
One-half teaspoon ground cloves
Two-third cup water
2 cups chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour three 9-inch loaf pans (I use Pam with flour, the blue can). Stir (I use my KitchenAid low) the sugar and oil. Stir in the eggs and pumpkin. In a separate bowl, whisk the flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon and cloves. Blend the dry ingredients and the water into wet mixture. Fold in the chocolate chips. Divide the batter into the loaf pans. Bake until cake tester comes out clean, about 1 hour. Let stand 10 minutes. Remove from the pans and cool.

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Talking Transportation: ‘Getting There’ – China’s Transportation Strategy


Quiz question #1:  
What country has the largest interstate highway system in the world?  Hint:  It’s not the United States.

Quiz question #2:  What country has the most miles of high-speed rail?  Hint:  It’s not France or Japan.

The answer to both questions is … China!

China’s superhighways, most of them built since 1984, now cover almost twice as many miles as the US interstates.  And on the rail side, China’s 15,000 miles of high speed rail represents nearly two-thirds of all such rail in the world.

China’s fast trains travel up to 217 mph, linking Beijing to Shanghai (the distance of New York City to Chicago) in a five-hour run.  Trains carrying 1000 passengers each depart at 10 to 15 minute intervals.  Compare that to Amtrak’s Acela, once an hour, carrying 300 passengers at an average of 70 mph.

Sure, China is big.  Though measured in square miles, the US is slightly larger.  But with a population of 1.34 billion, China is huge compared to the US’s 325 million residents.  That means China has a lot more people to move, and they’re investing accordingly.

China spends over $300 billion annually on transportation.  Compare that to the US Department of Transportation’s $80 billion annual spending on highways, rail and air transport.  No wonder we feel like we’re living in a third world country with crumbling roads and obsolete railroads.

But more importantly, China is also investing abroad.  Chinese money is being invested in 68 countries to build highways, ports and railroads to take its exports to market on what it sees as a 21st century Silk Road.

The country’s “Belt & Road Initiative” has pledged $8 trillion in projects for under-developed countries’ projects where it will be able to conduct trade.  These destinations account for 70 percent of the world’s population, 55 percent of its GNP, and 75 percent of its energy reserves.

There is already a rail link from China to Europe with daily trains carrying electronics and manufactured goods to Europe.  After unloading, those trains return to China filled with food.  A trip that can take a month by sea now links 35 Chinese cities with a like number of European cities in just 15 days by rail.

On the high seas China is also expanding its reach, building a modern fleet of vessels and investing heavily in port operations in Europe and South America. Containers filled with cell-phones sail out from Chinese ports and much-needed oil sails back.  And where Chinese merchant vessels go, so too will its Navy.  While the US fancies itself as policeman to the world, there’s no way we can keep up.

The US merchant marine has only 175 American-owned vessels flying the US flag while 800 others are registered abroad.  The Chinese government-owned COSCO shipping conglomerate owns 1114 vessels, the fourth largest fleet in the world.  And that’s just one company.

President Trump seems headed to an all-out trade war with China, matching them tariff for tariff and Tweeting regularly about how “unfair” the Beijing government has been to us.

Meanwhile, Washington can’t even pass a domestic infrastructure spending bill to patch up our decrepit roads and rails.  To my thinking, we’re not only getting outspent by China, but clearly out-smarted.  Transportation is about trade and China is clearly planning for the future while we wallow in the past.

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

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Reading Uncertainly: ‘The Origins of Creativity’ by Edward O. Wilson

I will admit, right at the start, that I am an admirer of Edward O. Wilson, the Harvard biologist and professor emeritus. I’ve read and been stimulated by many of his earlier works: Half-Earth (2016), The Meaning of Human Existence (2014), The Social Conquest of Earth (2012), and Anthill (2010).

So too with this most recent work. It is a paean to the humanities and science, and “why we are both supremely advanced and supremely dangerous,” leading to ”creativity (as) the unique and defining trait of our species; and its ultimate goal, self-understanding” and “the innate quest for originality.”

We are a questioning species, constantly asking what, how, and why. Wilson argues that “it should be axiomatic that education of the young consists of a wisely chosen balance between science and the humanities,” avoiding the current over-emphasis on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics).

He recounts two previous “enlightenments,” the first around 500 B.C. with the Greeks, including Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, and the second from 1600 to 1800, with Descartes, Spinoza, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, and Voltaire. Today, he sees a possible Third Enlightenment with the marriage of the humanities and science. This wedding can help improve our natural instinct for empathy, “the intelligence to read the feelings of others and predict their actions” using our capacity for language to “recount episodes of the past and those imaginable into the future.”

This is a work of challenging questions (what, why, when, and especially how), also posing possible answers merging science and the humanities through Wilson’s knowledge of paleontology, anthropology, psychology, evolutionary biology, and neurobiology. He also cites literature, music and painting to illustrate his argument.

His conclusion: “Scientists and scholars in the humanities, working together, will, I believe, serve as the leaders of a new philosophy, one that blends the best and most relevant of these two great branches of learning”.

Editor’s Note: ‘The Origins of Creativity’ by Edward O. Wilson is published by W. W. Norton, New York 2017.

Felix Kloman

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

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Talking Transportation: What Does ‘On Time’ Really Mean?


Last spring, Japanese railroad officials apologized for a huge mistake: one of their trains left a station 25 seconds early!  This was the second time such an egregious error had been made and I imagine that the offenders were severely disciplined.

Meanwhile back on Metro-North’s New Haven line, the railroad’s latest OTP (On Time Performance) statistics stand at about 82 percent ... a new low.

To make matters worse, what the Japanese railroads and Metro North Rail Road (MNRR) consider “on time” are two different things.  “On time” in Japan means the 7:12 a.m. train departs at 7:12, not 7:11 (as in this horrendous incident which prompted the apology) nor at 7:13.  “On time” means on time.

Metro-North, however, defines a train is being on time if it arrives or departs within five minutes and 59 seconds of the scheduled time.  So the train due in Grand Central at 8:45 a.m. is still “on time” in its record keeping if it pulls in just before 8:51 a.m.

On a train run averaging an hour from Connecticut to Grand Central Station, that’s about a 10 percent margin of error, so their 82 percent “on time” record could really be much, much lower.  What the exact “on time” stats are, they will not say.

But Metro-North is not alone in such squishy record keeping.  Most commuter railroads in the US also observe this 5:59 standard.  And on Amtrak, it’s even worse.  On a short run (less than 250 miles), a train is on time if its 10 minutes late.  Long distance trains (over 550 miles) are given a 31-minute leeway.

When trains are late, there is usually a good reason.  For Metro-North it could be switch problems, overhead power lines (catenaries), track conditions and, of course, weather.  And when one train is late, delays can cascade, just like a fender-bender on I-95 can create a huge back-up.

But all of this is OK with me.  I’d rather be safe than on-time.

We used to be able to always count on MNRR to be on time and would schedule our travel accordingly, assuming no delays.  And yes, the trains were on time something like 98 percent of all runs.  But they were also unsafe and we didn’t know it.

So if my train now is five or 10 minutes late, that’s OK.  Because I took an earlier train just to be safe, I can handle the delay and still keep to my personal schedule.

Over the years I’ve found that when service on MNRR is messed up, there’s usually a valid explanation.  While commuters’ Tweets are quick to assume it’s stupidity or incompetence on the part of the railroad, it usually isn’t.  It’s aging equipment or things beyond their control.

The men and women who work at Metro-North may not be rocket scientists, but I honestly believe most of them are trying their best.

While OTP on the railroad has been slipping, there is one area where we have seen a huge improvement: communications.

A small army of railroad people now work 24/7 to Tweet and e-mail every problem on every line.  And they update the information, keeping us posted on delays.  That’s valuable information riders can use to make decisions, find alternatives and alert colleagues they may be late.

Let’s give the railroad credit for doing this much right.

 

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

Posted with permission of Hearst CT Media.

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A la Carte: Looking for an Incredible Dessert? Look No Further Than ‘Banana Split Cake’

Sample a piece of delicious Banana Split Cake!

Almost every Friday evening, I share an early dinner with friends from Groton and Noank at Sneekers. As I have mentioned before, the food is really good and the prices are easy on the wallet. The two owners, Annie and Rhonda, have been friends for years and they opened Sneekers over 30 years ago. They and our favorite waitress, Kelsey, take good care of us and all of their customers.

Before we decide what we will have for dinner (from a regular menu, a specials menu and an Early Dinner menu), we peruse at the blackboard dessert menu,  often ordering at the same time with our entrees, since the three or four special sweets disappear pretty quickly.

The cakes and pies are made elsewhere, we think. It is said that the sweets are made by Rhonda’s sister or cousin. I have often asked. Rhonda and Annie who makes the cakes and pies. In response, they smile. I think they think I might put the information in my columns. They are probably right. In any case, the cakes are always three layers, often creamy, sometimes fruity. The fillings are heavenly and the frosting ethereal. The plate is decked with whipped cream and maraschino cherries.

Last week it was a cherry lemon cake. Kelsey gives us four forks and we share one slice. As we talked, one of our group mentioned a cake her mother made, with Cool-Whip, pineapple and cherries, similar to an ice box cake. I have a similar recipe, too, and it contains  bananas.

My mother used to make a pistachio pudding cake. It was a box cake and baked in a Bundt pan, so there was no filling and, since my mother baked rarely, no frosting, either.

When I got home, I found the Cool-Whip recipe in my files. It requires no baking and is incredibly easy and yummy. I rarely use Cool-Whip, but it works well with this dessert. Do feel free to use real whipped cream. (By the way, if you add a scant teaspoon of dry instant pudding to the whipped cream, it will stay whipped for a couple of days without weeping.)

Banana Split Cake

I think this recipe was given to me by Barb Boynewicz of Stonington. It is an incredible dessert.

Yield: 12 to 14 servings

3 sticks (each 8 tablespoons) butter, preferably unsalted, separated
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
2 cups confectioner’s sugar
2 eggs
1 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
1 20 ounce can crushed pineapple, drained and squeezed
4 bananas, sliced
1 large container Cool Whip
1 cup walnuts, chopped
10 maraschino cherries, halved

Melt 1 stick butter and add graham crumbs. Form a crust in 9- by 13-inch baking pan.

Put 2 sticks butter, confectioner’s sugar, eggs and pure vanilla extract in a bowl and beat at high speed with an electric mixer for 10 minutes. Spread mix over graham cracker crust.

Spread crushed pineapple over filling. Place sliced bananas over crushed pineapple. Cover with container Cool Whip, Sprinkle top with walnuts and placed cherries on top.

Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerator for 16 to 20 (or somewhat more) hours.

About the Author: 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 Nibbles and a cooking column called A La Carte for LymeLine.com and the Shore Publishing and Times newspapers, both of which are owned by The Day.

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Legal News You Can Use: Prepare for Autumn Driving Hazards

Photo by Val Vesa on Unsplash

Sponsored Content by Suisman Shapiro Attorneys-at-Law. Driving around to see the beautiful fall foliage is a welcome activity for many people. If you are planning on heading out to do this, you must ensure that you are prepared for driving in this season.

You might not think of autumn as a season with specific hazards. Here are a few to remember as you head out the door:

  • The glaring sun can make it difficult to see, so choose polarized sunglasses as part of your driving gear
  • Leaves that have fallen are slippery, so don’t brake quickly on them
  • Deer and other wildlife might cross the roads, so remain watchful for them
  • Your eyes need time to adjust to the light outside, so plan for a couple of minutes for this before you pull out of the driveway
  • Fall rains can make driving conditions treacherous, so remember to avoid slamming on your breaks and steer into a skid if you hydroplane

Remember, even when you are driving safely, others might not be doing the same. There is a chance that you will be involved in a crash. If this happens, be sure to keep your wits about you.

  • Get medical care if there is any sign that you suffered an injury
  • Contact the police to get an accident report
  • Try to gather what evidence you can at the scene, including pictures and contact information
  • Be careful about what you say as you don’t want to admit fault, even if you didn’t mean to

All of this can protect your right to seek compensation if you should decide you need to pursue that path.

The Law Firm of Suisman Shapiro focuses on this area of the law. Visit their website at this link for more information.

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Reading Uncertainly? ‘Draft No. 4: On the Writing Process’ by John McPhee

“Hunt through your mind for a good beginning. Then write it. Write a lead.”  There, I found it …

As a semi-intoxicated reader of most of John McPhee’s 32 books, I launched into these eight mesmerizing essays on the art (and work) of writing as soon as they were published late last year. McPhee, a Princeton graduate (1953), a lecturer and writing advisor at the University, and a long-time contributor to The New Yorker, dissects the challenging process of converting ideas to understandable prose with erudition, clarity, and, above all, good humor.

The key is to write …

“Young writers find out what kinds of writers they are by experiment … Put words to paper as frequently as you can. Keep thinking.

McPhee states, “Whatever you do, don’t rely on memory.” How true! When I wrote an autobiography some years ago, I found my old letters, calendars, and notes all too often corrected an errant memory. As McPhee notes, “Writing is selection” and “Factual writing is also a kind of treasure hunt,” looking for nuggets through piles of old papers, adding, “Writing is a matter strictly of developing oneself. You compete only with yourself. You develop yourself by writing.”

Other astute observations McPhee makes on the writing process are:

  • the “considerable tension between chronology and theme … chronology usually dominates.”
  • “ … a basic criterion for all structures: they should not be imposed on the material. They should arise from within.”
  • “The approach to structure in factual writing is like returning from a grocery store with materials you intend to cook for dinner. You set them out on the kitchen counter and what’s there is what you deal with, and all you deal with.”
  • Finally, “the essence of the process is revision.” Hence at least draft #4!

One suggestion hit me personally: “The title is an integral part of writing, and one of the most important parts, and ought not to be written by anyone but the writer of what follows the title.” All three of the books I’ve written began with a title in mind.

But the title of one of my books, Mumpsimus Revisited, was so confusing to a possible publisher that I had to self-publish that one. It referred to the importance of being able to change your mind when you should. It came from a European story of a medieval monk who used the word “mumpsimus” in his reading of the Eucharist, rather than the correct “sumpsimus.” He refused to change. My book began with an acknowledgement that, when I found myself in error, I quickly made the correction!  But I refused to alter my title!

McPhee gives us an entertaining, thoroughly enjoyable, and knowledgeable guide to not only writing but also everything we read.

Try it … and keep writing!

Editor’s Note: ‘Draft No. 4: On the Writing Process’ by John McPhee was published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 2017.

Felix Kloman

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

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Talking Transportation: Secret “Hacks” of Grand Central 

Grand Central Terminal stands resplendent in the center of New York City. Photo by Rob Bye on Unsplash.com.

There is possibly no more beautiful railroad station in the world than New York City’s Grand Central Terminal (GCT).  As the destination of over 55,000 daily rail commuters from Connecticut, it’s a place where many of us spend a fair amount of time.

I’ve been riding in and out of Grand Central for over 50 years.  So to help you maneuver the station’s labyrinth of tunnels, ramps and stairs, here are some of the “secrets” of Grand Central that I find most useful.

Underground Access:

Sure, you can enter Grand Central from street level, but in bad weather you can find your way there underground from blocks away.  The north-end access entrances at Madison and 47th St., Park Ave. and 48th St. and the Helmsley Building walk-ways are dandy, though not all open on weekends.  But did you know you can also access from 43rd or 45th St., west of Vanderbilt, from inside the Chrysler Building, the Hyatt Hotel on 42nd St. or via the subway’s shuttle station, on the south side of 42nd St., just west of Park?

Fastest Way from / to the Lower Level:

If your train dumps you on the lower level, forget about the ramps or stairs for the long climb to street level, especially with luggage.  Walk to the forward end of the train and look for the elevator near Track 112.  It’ll take you to the upper level or, better yet, to within steps of Vanderbilt Avenue (see below).  Getting to the lower level platforms from street level is just as easy.  On the upper level, look for the elevators and take them down to “P” (Platform) level avoid two flights of stairs.

Washrooms with No Wait:

The new washrooms at the west end of the lower level have helped a lot, but still there’s often a line.  Take the nearby escalators up one level, turn around, and on your left is the Stationmaster’s Office complete with a small waiting room and lav’s … but for women only!  Or, go right and just before the ramp up to 42nd St. and Vanderbilt, look on your left for the sign for the Oyster Bar.  Go down the steps into the bar and you’ll find ornate bathrooms known only to a few.

Best Place To Get A Cab:          

Forget about the long line at the taxi stand on 42nd St. east of Vanderbilt.  Instead, go out the west end of the Main Concourse, up the stairs and out onto Vanderbilt Ave.  Cross the street and wait at the corner of 43rd.  Taxis flow through here, dropping off passengers every few seconds. If you’re heading west you’ll avoid the traffic on 42nd Street too.

Where to Have a Smoke:

Want to enjoy a cigar before your train?  Forget about lighting up anywhere inside the station. Instead, go to the Hyatt Hotel just east on 42nd St. From street level, go up two levels by escalator to their taxi stand and you’ll find yourself on the raised Park Avenue as it wraps around GCT.

These are a few of my favorite “hacks” of Grand Central.  Drop me an e-mail with yours and I’ll include them in a future column.

Posted with permission of Hearst CT Media 

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Reading Uncertainly? “Et Cetera, Et Cetera” by Lewis Thomas,

Awhile back, a conversation at Ashlawn Coffee in Old Saybrook brought up the word “blight,” in connection with a new committee in Old Lyme.

What, indeed, is “blight”?

Is one person’s “ugly condition” possibly a delight for someone else? That brought up the word “Blighty,” a word referring to England, possibly from Urdu and no connection whatsoever with the word “blight.” So do some words we use infrequently mean the same to all of us?

That question, nagging my brain, led me back to a book I had read almost 30 years ago, Lewis Thomas’s Et Cetera, Et Cetera, in which this medical doctor explores the derivation of many of our common words, with great humor and erudition.. Consider: animus, pessimism, snare, sleep, fastidious, scrutiny, pupil, hair, googol (not Google, I might add!), free, music, ethics, and Gaia.

Fascinating.

From their origins in Indo-European, Greek, Latin, and other languages, to today’s usages, these words have evolved almost as much as we homo Sapiens.

Take, for example, the word “presently.”  Some 300 years ago, it was used by the English to mean now or at this moment. Then, in the 18th and 19th centuries in “Old Blighty,” English novelists used it in the sense of the near future. That persisted into the 20th century, but in the last 50 years “presently” seems to have begun to revert to its original sense in many vocabularies.

As Dr. Thomas notes with the word “delight,” “But there is no lasting light in delight; its cognates carry soft warnings of the shadow just ahead.”

His introduction opens our minds to the delight of language: “the mark of being human is speech and the ready use of metaphor, and the evolutionary development of this trait is told, in part, by the history of words … I keep forgetting words. But forgetting is part of the fun, allowing the pleasure of looking them up and being flabbergasted all over again … I turned into an obsessed collector, picking up and storing in the untidy attic of my mind words upon words.”

More salient quotes: “ … something over 90 percent of the remarks made in a day’s turning are essentially idle sounds …  indicating presence, politeness, interest if interest is wanted, readiness to talk,” and  “ … the immense role played by small-talk in keeping discourse going.”  As such, “language is itself the most exhilarating of games, an endless contest in which we are engaged in all our lives, pure fun for the mind.”

Can we as human beings actually learn to live together?

Thomas is cautious about our future: “Right now, because of the noisy triumph of individualism in the last two centuries, and especially because of our collective follies since 1914, we seem to ourselves to have lost the game altogether, on our way to extinction. Good. We will need a few more decades of deep discouragement, casting about for ways to change our behavior toward each other, and then perhaps the notion deep in our collective consciousness will take hold, and we will start changing without realizing that we are transforming ourselves … letting nature, at last, take her course and relying on the language for new guidance.”

His conclusion is a bit more optimistic: we have “a brain capable not only of awareness and what we call consciousness … but we do something more than this. We record the details of our past experience and make compulsive guesses about our future … More than this, and here is our uniquely distinguishing feature, we talk to each other about these things. In short, we are unique because of language.  … The really important, far and away most important thing about human beings is human society. We are … a biologically, mandatorily, ineluctably social animal.”

Step back a moment and explore words with Dr. Lewis Thomas, and then go forth and share them with everyone else.

Editor’s Note: ‘Et Cetera, Et Cetera’ was written by Lewis Thomas and published by Little, Brown & Co., Boston 1990.

Felix Kloman

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

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