June 24, 2019

Reading Uncertainly: ‘The Sense of Style’ by Steven Pinker

Every day we use words to communicate, in voice, letters, emails, reports, and even tweets. But do others really understand us?

Perhaps it is time to refresh our use of the English language. Steven Pinker, a renowned Harvard professor and author, suggests “the effective use of words to engage the human mind” (my italics), in his latest book.

“Style still matters,” he argues. It gets messages across, earns trust, and, perhaps most important, adds beauty to the world. We need to develop our “instinct for language,” coming from both reading and conversation, avoiding both the overly rigid rules of semanticists and simultaneously, the confusing colloquialisms of day-to-day communication. Trash such as “like” and  “you know”!

Pinker is an engaging writer. He begins by recommending a re-read of three earlier commentators on language: William Strunk and E. B. White’s immortal The Elements of Style (1959), Henry Fowler’s Modern English Usage (1926), and Theodore Bernstein’s The Careful Writer (1968).

But Pinker moves on from those writers, as does our language. Today, he cites the common problems of overuse of jargon, abbreviations, and technical vocabulary. He reminds us of Strunk and White’s repeated urging for simplicity. Avoid passive sentences and lengthy phrases. Use the active sense. Be brief.  Paragraph breaks: not too many and not too few. Avoid the “prissy use of quotation marks.”

One writer’s problem today is how to avoid the overuse of masculine nouns, when we are cautioned to use feminine or neuter. Pinker follows his own advice, alternating in each chapter, using masculine first as the object and then the subject, then the feminine, avoiding altogether the ugly and confusing neuter words.

For many years, I’ve followed the counsel of Occam’s Razor (the simpler answer may be correct). Pinker introduces Hanlon’s Razor: “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.” I’ll use this in my next critique of politicians.

Pinker meanders a bit in his chapters on diagramming sentences (too complex; I prefer my own ear) and coherence (do we really need to understand the wars between prescriptivists and descriptivists?) These chapters are often overly detailed, although rich in examples.

By far his best chapter is his longest (117 pages), “Telling Right From Wrong”. It is a detailed discussion of possibilities, often with no “right” answers. Examples: split infinitives; shall versus willthat and whichwho and whom; “very unique”; plus a section on words as seen and used by purists and relativists. How do you define and use decimate; convince; presently (one of my pet peeves); adverse versus averse; bemused; data (singular or plural?); fortuitous; irregardless (ugh!); parameter; tortuous; and the use of serial commas.

More damn fun and Pinker will change your habits. Enjoy stringing words together and above all, be coherent.

Editor’s Note: ‘The Sense of Style’ by Steven Pinker was published by Viking, New York 2014

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, 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.

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A la Carte: Spice Up Summer With These Carb-Free Chicken Lettuce Wraps

Photo by Brenna Huff on Unsplash.

My first visit to Stone Acres for my CSA [Community-Supported Agriculture] on a warm, pretty afternoon and it would have been perfect had not my old hip hurt. Fortunately, the parking lot is just a hop, skip and jump to the farmstand.

As I walked to the stand, I saw Stonington First Selectman Rob Simmons and his wife take some visitors on a tour of the farm. Someday I would love to see the farm; instead, I patted a sweet black Labrador and talked to a young girl, who explained that that Lab wasn’t hers. “I have a yellow lab,” she explained. “Is your lab as nice as this one,” I asked. “Yes, she said, “but not as mellow.” 

As I showed my receipt, I was given a dark green fabric-zipped tote I could use for all of my CSA goodies over the summer. That week there were fat gorgeous strawberries on a counter and baggies of herbs. In the refrigerator I chose lots of different types of lettuces, some blue mushrooms (local, but not from the farm), some blue cheese from Mystic Cheese Company, and French radishes.  Each week there will be more and more choices. This is going to be a terrific summer of cooking and eating.

Over the weekend I did little walking and, for the first time, I finished the Sunday New York Times on Sunday. I also went through The Day, four weeks of the New Yorker and my latest edition of Bon Appetit. While that magazine, and most other June magazines, are called the grilling issue, I found some incredible salad ideas in Bon Appetit, including one with cantaloupe and snap peas.

Then I noticed this recipe that could be ready to eat in under 20 minutes and carb free, using my favorite lettuce, Bibb or butter lettuce.

Spicy Chicken Lettuce Wraps

From Bon Appetit, June/July, 2019

Yield: 4 servings

2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon sambal oelek or Sriracha
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar (light brown sugar will do)
1 teaspoon fish sauce
3 scallions
2 garlic cloves
1 pound ground chicken
Salt to taste
Butter or Bibb lettuce leaves, thoroughly washed and dried
For serving: lime wedges and ramekin of Sriracha for a little more heat

Mix together the soy sauce, sambal oelek or Sriracha, sugar and fish sauce in a small bowl and set aside.

Trim the dark green parts of the scallions and slice thin. Set aside this part for serving. Thinly slice the white and pale green parts. Finely chop the garlic cloves.

In a skillet, heat the oil over medium Cook scallions and garlic, stirring occasionally, until softened (a little color is okay), about 3 minutes. Add ground chicken and lightly season with salt. Cook, breaking up with a wooden spoon and tasting occasionally, until chicken is cooked through, 5 to 7 minutes. Add reserve soy sauce mixture and cook, tossing occasionally, until liquid is almost completely reduced, about 2 minutes.

Serve in a platter with lettuce leaves topped with chopped dark green scallions.

About the author: Lee White (left), a former resident of Old Lyme, has been writing about restaurants and cooking since 1976.  She 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 the Shore Publishing newspapers, and Elan, a quarterly magazine, all of which are now owned by The Day.

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Talking Transportation: Why the Scorn for Bus Riders?

Jim Cameron

Why do many people have such scorn for those who take the bus?

Forty-one million trips are taken on 12,000 public buses each year in Connecticut in communities across the state (not counting school buses.)  Yet, those riders are regarded as losers, not by the transit operators, but by those who drive by car.

When Southington was recently considering restoring bus service for the first time since 1969, a local resident wrote a letter to the local paper declaring “Towns that have bus service are towns that frankly have a lesser quality of people.”

Really?  “Lesser quality,” how?  Because they can’t afford to own a car?  Or because they are minorities?  That comment is either racist or classist or both.

As I wrote recently, the Greater Bridgeport Transit bus system carries 18,000 passengers every day (5.2 million a year), 90 percent of them either going to school or work.  Something like 26 percent of all Bridgeport train riders got to or from the station by bus.

Sure, some are non-white or non-English speaking.  But why begrudge them transportation?  You’d rather they not have a job or an education?

And yes, their fares are kept low with state subsidies.  But their incomes are also low and for them, even a $1.75 bus fare is expensive.  Remember … Metro-North trips (26.5 million per year), though also expensive (the highest in the US), are also subsidized.

But the biggest target of transit scorn is CTfastrak, the four-year-old, 9.4-mile-long dedicated BRT (bus rapid transit) system running between Hartford and New Britain.  Transit planners from across the country come to study CTfastrak. The Feds are looking to spend $665 million on similar systems across the US.

Yet Connecticut Republicans were trying to close it before it even began.

When it first opened in 2014, the CDOT projected 16,000 daily riders.  To date, the ridership is closer to 11,400.  Fares are cheap ($1.75 round-trip) and service is frequent with buses departing every few minutes.  From New Britain to downtown Hartford, it’s only 20 minutes, even at rush hour.  That’s about half the time you’d spend on I-84 stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic.

From the dedicated bus-only right-of-way, buses can also transfer to local roads into downtown Hartford and communities ranging from New Britain and Bristol to Cheshire and Waterbury.  The stations are clean and modern and the buses even offer free Wi-Fi … something we still don’t (and probably never will) have on Metro-North.

Critics complain about “empty buses” riding up and down the system.  Sure, the buses may not be jammed like Metro-North on a summertime Friday, but they do carry thousands every day.  Imagine if those bus riders were in cars.  How’d you like the traffic then?

Why the scorn for bus riders?  Beyond racism and class-warfare, I think there’s actually some jealousy.  Why do they get a fast, clean, cheap ride when I’m stuck in traffic?  Well, for some it’s a matter of necessity: they don’t own or have access to a car.  For others, as with train riders, it’s a matter of choice: they prefer the bus for speed and convenience.

So can we please stop shaming bus riders?

Like all of us, they have places to go, so let’s just allow them to ride in peace and harmony.

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

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Legal News You Can Use: Injured at Work? Should I Make a Worker’s Comp. Claim?

Looks safe enough, but injuries can happen anywhere in a work environment.

Sponsored Post from Suisman Shapiro Attorneys-at-Law 

Imagine that you’re working at your desk. There are no significant hazards around you. You reach up and pick up a heavy box above you, and you suddenly feel a snap along your shoulder. You’ve been working in the same position for many hours, and combined with the strain of the weight of the box, you’re now struggling with a painful injury.

Situations like yours aren’t uncommon. It’s actually relatively common for accidents to happen on the job with little that can be done to prevent them. Whether it’s because of repetitive motions, picking up something too heavy or other causes, injuries can happen in an instant.

When they do, you need to know what to do next. No matter what kind of injury you suffer, your employer should help you file a claim with the workers’ compensation insurance carrier. If your injury is extremely painful, a coworker can take you to the hospital, or your employer can call for an ambulance.

It’s important that you receive care right away so that you can prevent the injury from worsening.

What information should you keep from the hospital visit?

Keep every piece of paperwork you receive. You should also inform the medical provider that this is a work-related injury so that they can give you copies of the correct documents for your employer.

If you are hurt on the job in any way, workers’ compensation should be there to protect you and pay for your medical care. Don’t delay in telling someone if you get hurt so you can get care quickly.

The Suisman Shapiro website has more information on the compensation and benefits you may receive after a work injury.

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Letter From Paris: Seeing “Red” at the Grand Palais

Nicole Prévost Logan

The year 1917 in Russia marked a unique moment of history when art and  revolution fused together into a mutual source of inspiration. The creativity and energy fed on each other for a short few years, to eventually vanish under the brutal repression and purges of Stalin to become an official and bland art form called “Socialist Realism.”

The exhibit “Red – Art and Utopia in the Soviet Country” at the Grand Palais, Paris, in the spring of 2019 is breaking new ground in describing that unique moment.

All forms of arts were impacted by the October Revolution, from the visual arts to architecture, theater, cinema, music and, of course, literature.  In addition to major artists, already well known before World War I, such as Malevich, the Bolchevik government did welcome all talented artists eager to experiment with new art forms.

Mayakovsky (1893-1930) was the voice of the Revolution – a giant with a booming voice, who galvanized the crowds when he read his poetry.  His emblematic play, the “Bedbug,” is a satire of the NEP (New Economic Policy.)  A young man of that period is frozen and found himself  in a perfect communist world 50 years later where there was no drunkenness nor swearing. 

He decided he was not made for the future.  As a journalist, Mayakovsky used  simple street  language.  A gifted artist, he drew satirical cartoons, making fun of the “petty bourgeoisie.” One of the main metro stations in central Moscow was named after him. He shot himself in 1930 at the age of 37.

Malevich (1878-1935), a major artist of the 20th century, was inspired until 1914, by Gauguin, Matisse and Cezanne, and then moved to abstraction and geometric forms until he reached his extreme “White on White” in 1918.  He was the theoretician of art par excellence. 

His book “From Cubism to Suprematism in Art …” is considered one of the most important reference works of the 20th century. Toward the end of his life he was  forced to reintroduce figurative characters into his paintings.  He never left the Soviet Union where he died of cancer in 1935.

Tatlin (1885-1953) was associated with the concept of “constructivism,” based on the use of materials, the exploitation of movement and tension in matter.  He aimed at the harmonization of artistic form with utilitarian goals.

Artists’ association multiplied at that time.  AKhRR  (Association of Russian Artists of Revolutionary Russia) was founded in 1922.  Vkhutemas (higher Institutes of art and technique) were created as early as 1920 all over the country.  Both Malevich and Tatlin occupied important positions in those institutions .

Vsevolod Mayerhold, (1874-1940) following in the footsteps of Stanislavsky (master of the stage in the 19th century – particularly Chekhov plays), revolutionized theatrical techniques, suppressed settings and replaced them by “constructivist” space, trained the actors according to a new system of “bio-mechanic” and how to form human pyramids. His stage production of Mayakovsky’s  “Bed Bug” is emblematic of the Soviet era.

Rodchenko  (1891-1956) was the leading innovator of the 1917 revolution-inspired  art.  He wanted to bring art down from its pedestal.  He stood against estheticism and “art for art” and made art the champion of productivity. He created a new artistic language by experimenting with photography, using photo-montage, double exposures, and unexpected angles. He gloried the machine in a factory or objects of daily life rather than still life motives in traditional art.

Among this group of brilliant artists were two women – Lioubov Popova, (1889-1924), who died of scarlet fever, and  Varvara Stepanova (1894-1958i), Rodchenko’s wife.

A poster by Gustav Klutsis.

Posters became a new art form used as the most important tool of propaganda. They were intended to make a strong and immediate impact on the viewer.  Using a graphic art medium with calligraphy and geometric designs, they carried a simple message.  The color red was used extensively  (it is interesting to note that, in Russian, “red” and “beautiful” are the same word.)

Oversize paintings like “Bolchevik” by Kustodiev are easy to understand.  A giant man walks through dwarfed  city landscape with churches, holding a huge red banner.  The messages of the October revolution were spread throughout the country in the “agit-prop trains”  to educate the masses.  Some figures are impressive: in 1917 the literacy of the population  was 25 percent whereas by 1939, it had risen to 81 percent.

Gustav Klutsis (1895-1935), born in Latvia, was also one of the best at using photo-montage and posters . He wrote: “Put color, slogan at the service of class war.”  Klutsis was arrested and shot in 1938.

Sergei Eisenstein  (1898-1948) – a pioneer of the cinema – created his own style characterized by melodramatic acting, close-up shots and theatrical editing.  A sequence of “Battlefield Potemkin” has become an absolute classic: during an attack by the Cossacks against Odessa civilians, a baby carriage falls all the way down the long steps.

Eisenstein ‘s mob scenes are so realistic (such as the storming of the Winter Palace in St Petersburg) that they are often mistaken for newsreels in documentaries.

Architecture played a crucial role in bringing about utopia of the proletariat.  Plans for grand buildings, squares and majestic avenues are intended to impress the masses, who are more important than the individuals.  Still standing today is the workers’ club Roussatov designed by Melnikov.

Roussakov Workers’ Club designed by Melnikov, 1927-28.

After the death of Lenin in 1924, power became concentrated in the hands of Stalin, who tightened his control over artists.  In 1932  all artistic associations were suppressed — artists were forced to join the official Union.

The creative, innovative productions had to bend and conform to rules of the new doctrine of Socialist Realism formulated by Andrei Zhdanov in a speech to the Writer’s Union in 1934.  In art,  it can be defined as representation of the bright future of communism through the representation of idealized  workers in healthy bodies.

Therefore, at the 1937 Universal Fair held in Paris, a double statue of a vigorous factory worker and a strong woman kolkhoz farmer stood on top of the Soviet building.

Most representative of this period was Alexander Deïneka, who painted naked, young factory workers taking a break on the beach in the Donbass or Lenin riding in an open sports car through bucolic countryside with several blonde children.

Somehow out of place in 1937 is a delightful painting by Yuri Pimenov called, “The New Moscow.”  A young woman is driving a convertible car on one of the main thoroughfares of central Moscow.  The style is very much in the Impressionist style.

Already in the 1990s, the Tretiakov Gallery of Moscow held exhibits on the 1920s and 1930s Soviet art.  At that time, the Soviet posters were readily available in the book stores of the Arbat pedestrian street.  

Although a large part of the exhibited works included in the “Red” exhibit come from the permanent collection of the Centre Pompidou, Paris, it is interesting to note that in the 1979 Paris-Moscow exhibit organized by that same museum, Soviet art was barely mentioned.

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: ‘Game of Thrones’ Has Ended — What Did YOU Think of the Finale? And Will You Sign the Petition??

Kevin Ganey

“What is dead may never die.”

In spring of 2011 I saw advertisements for an upcoming fantasy show on IMDb, Game of Thrones. I did not pay much attention to it, but it did not take long for me to see its effect on everybody else. It became a phenomenon.

Two years later, South Park aired an episode parodying the affairs of Westeros with the imminent Black Friday as retail’s version of “winter is coming.” I was intrigued and asked around if this show was all that it was hyped up to be. My Christmas list that year included the DVD for the available seasons.

But I did not catch on.

I made it to the third episode and got distracted. This paralleled my fitness life, “I should get back to it, but I’ll need some motivation.”

So, the next several years passed by, and I was always out of the loop when it came to references such as “You know nothing, Jon Snow” and “Hold the door.” I even accompanied a friend to a tattoo parlor as he had the phrase “Valar Morghulis” (All men must die) permanently inked into his body. My other attempts of getting into the series proved to be fruitless, as well. But I was aware that nobody was safe, as George R. R. Martin killed off his characters like it was a bodily function.

Then in 2017, I happened to meet the actor Pedro Pascal through my job, and I had to confess I did not know who he was, and he proceeded to fill me in on his role as Oberyn Martell, but I informed him I had only made it three episodes in. Pascal consoled me saying that I would need to get into the second or third season to get that “hook” that everybody experienced. The next year, I tried watching again, and I made it past the first season, but was distracted (again).

Finally, after taking a position in the night shift, I decided to give it my full attention, and by the end of March 2019, I got “the hook.” After finishing one episode, I would instinctively start the next one, without thinking.

I finally understood what everyone was talking about when they repeated those iconic phrases, and the memes that would perfectly allude to real life events. I would spend hours watching interviews with the cast, particularly Emilia Clarke (her interviews prove that she is a phenomenal actress, nothing like the steadfastly ambitious Daenerys, but someone so silly and adorable that you feel the need to hug her.)

And above all, I was finally ready for the end of the series. HBO opted not to air the eighth and final season in 2018, but rather delayed it another year. Perhaps I can be naïve and think it was cosmically arranged for me to get caught up? But whatever. I had my computer ready to screen each episode after my work was done.

I enjoyed the first three episodes, tearing up when Jamie knighted Brienne, and clenching my grip on the chair as the North battled the armies of the Night King. I was already speculating on how the series would end. It was revealed in the previous season that the supposed bastard Jon Snow was the true heir to the Iron Throne, not Daenerys, the girl we were rooting for the entire time, so how would things turn out?

Would he abdicate in favor of the Mother of Dragons?

Would there be a conflict between the two of them?

And what would become of the malevolent and self-centered Cersei?

Nearly a third of my text messages in the last six weeks dealt with me trading theories with friends and commenting on whether they would work or not. It had to be good, since the show had so many satisfying moments in their conflicts, particularly when Sansa imprisoned the poster boy of sadism, Ramsay Bolton, who tormented her and several others, and had him fed to his own hounds (I was grinning ear to ear and pumping my fists when I watched this transpire.)

But when the last three episodes aired, I did not get the fulfillment I anticipated. To be frank, it was the weakest conclusion to the most intense series I had ever watched. It was almost as if one of Daenerys’ dragons gathered in as much air as he could, cocking his head back, and then thrusting forward to reveal, not a firestorm, but rather a mouth full of sparklers that had replaced his teeth.

Really?

I put so much priority over the course of five years to get myself hooked on the show that had taken the world by storm, and I finally caught on for the lamest conclusion ever. They had us on the hook for over eight years, and they could not provide a fitting conclusion. I sat before my computer, often wondering to myself out loud “How much longer is this?” It’s almost as if their creativity ran dry, and they thought to themselves, “How else are we going to get paid?”

Without giving away any spoilers, I can say, even if it seems arrogant, that this is not the ending we fans deserve. In fact, this is not the ending that the show, in itself, deserves (particularly the actors who have been there since the beginning!)

Yes, this is probably what was bound to happen when George R. R. Martin neglected to publish his final books as the series took the world by storm, having nothing to work with at the end of season five … but David Benioff and D. B. Weiss did manage to make the two following seasons without the use of Martin’s base material.

There is already a petition circulating the internet of fans demanding that the eighth season be tossed away, and a replacement season made in its place. A piece of retroactive continuity (similar to how Halloween’s sequels were done away with, and the 2018 installment is now a direct sequel.) Here is a link to the petition, and should a reader reach a similar conclusion as this review, I would urge them to sign it.

“And now our watch has ended.”

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

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Reading Uncertainly? ‘Elastic’ by Leonard Mlodinow

This author writes, “ Today we consume, on average, a staggering 100,000 words of new information each day from various media, . . . a tidal wave of data . . . an unprecedented torrent of chaos . . . . “ It is his exploration of how human minds work when confronted with incessant and confusing change.

He challenges us to consider new ways of thinking, ways to use our brains, in light of this flood:

·      “the capacity to let go comfortable ideas and become accustomed to ambiguity and contradictions.”

·      Then “willingness to experiment and become tolerant of failure.”

·      Leading to “elastic thinking, a nonlinear mode of processing in which multiple treads of thought may be pursued in parallel”.

Mlodinow challenges, indeed encourages, our genetic ability to “make great adjustments”, contradicting centuries of fixed dogma handed down by soothsayers, priests, popes, imams, philosophers, and the millions who accept fixed ideas in return for a modicum of mental certainty. He suggests we become “neophiliac”, “attracted to both novelty and change.” For many of us that is a tall order, but Mlodinow makes a convincing argument. As he says, “The good news, as we face increasing novelty and accelerating change inn human society, is that although the changes are disruptive,. . . . Most of us have a good dose of neophilia in our genetic inheritance”.

Here’s how he explains it, “We tend to make quick initial assessments of issues based on the assumptions of the paradigms we follow. When people challenge our assessment, we tend to push back. Whatever our politics, the more we argue with others, the further we can dig I, and sometimes vilify those who disagree. Then we reinforce our ideas by preaching to the choir—our friends. But the mental flexibility to consider theories that contradict our beliefs and don’t fit our existing paradigms not only can make you a genius in science; it is also beneficial in everyday life.”

Mlodinow encourages “the symphonies in idle minds”, noting that our “unconscious minds” are at work all the time: “the brain is active even when a person is not engaged in conscious thought.” He goes on to encourage, therefore, “mindfulness,” those moments when we avoid deliberate though, when we can pause, reflect, and let the mind roam. Don’t even look at your cell phone for 24 hours! “Take a few minutes in the morning after you wake up to simply lie in bed” and “stare at the ceiling” – relax the mind. He also makes several references to the techniques of Buddhism, especially its Zen approach. For those so interested,, do try Robert Wright’s  Why Buddhism Is True (2017).

His suggestion: “history—and ordinary human life—is full of opportunities missed by not recognizing that change has occurred and that the previously unthinkable is now doable.”

This fascinating writer concludes: “ To be successful today, we must not only cope with the flood of knowledge and data about the present; we must also be able to anticipate the future, because change happens so rapidly that what works now will be dated and irrelevant tomorrow. The world today is a moving target.”

So open up our minds. And, if you are receptive, try some of his earlier words: Feynman’s Rainbow (2003); The Drunkard’s Walk (2008)and Subliminal (2012).

Editor’s Note: ‘Elastic’ by Leonard Mlodinow was published by Pantheon Books, New York 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, 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.

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Talking Transportation: The ‘Port Jeff’ Ferry – Mass Transit Making a Profit

Jim Cameron

Public transportation is a money-losing proposition.  But Connecticut is home to one of the few profitable transit companies in the US.  It’s not CT Transit or Metro-North, both of which are heavily subsidized.  No, the operation that’s squarely in the black is the Bridgeport – Port Jefferson Steamboat Company, a.k.a. “the ferry”.

“If you tried to start this ferry company today, you couldn’t do it,” says the ferry company’s Chief Operating Officer, Fred Hall.  Today’s ferry is a legacy of the 1883 cross-Sound service run by PT Barnum.

Hall has been on the boats since 1976 when he worked weekends as a bartender as a “side-hustle” to his advertising job in New York City.  In those days they used to run a Friday and Saturday night “Rock the Sound” cruise leaving Port Jefferson at 10 p.m.  Complete with a live rock band and a lot of drinking (the legal age then was 18), the three-hour cruise drew 600 passengers a night.

From there, Hall was promoted to General Manager of the Bridgeport terminal, Assistant General Manager and finally to Vice President in charge of the entire operation.  And he thoroughly enjoys his work, commuting from his home on Long Island to inspect the three-vessel fleet several times a week.

He’s not alone:  the ferry carries almost 100 daily walk-on commuters, crossing in both directions, who are an important indicator of the economy’s strength to Hall.  “When the numbers of monthly commuter (at $240 per month) are high, that’s a sign of a weakening jobs market because people have to commute long distances to find work,” he observes.

But for cars carried on the ferry, the opposite is true.  “In 2005 we carried 460,000 cars.  In 2018, only 450,000.”  Why?  Because Hall says so many of his repeat customers are using the ferry to get to second homes … beach homes on Long Island or winter ski cabins in New England.

“You can probably fly out West in the winter and get more reliable snow conditions and still save money compared to driving to Vermont,” Hall says of his northbound Long Island customers.

Big changes are coming for the Bridgeport ferry, starting with an annual May fare increase.  Tickets, which used to be sold on board “using carnival tickets on a broom handle,” are now e-tickets sold and scanned before boarding.  If you’re bringing a car, reservations are a must, especially on weekends.  If you show up without a ticket, expect to pay a surcharge, just like on Metro-North.

The ferry company is still working on moving to a new, larger terminal farther east in the harbor, a 19-acre site that will also support a deep-water shipping pier … if the US Army Corps of Engineers dredges the harbor.  But that work is a Catch 22, he says, noting, “They dredge where there’s shipping traffic.  But that traffic depends on dredging.”

The new $35 million ferry terminal will save up to eight minutes unloading and loading the ship and allow foot passengers to board using Jetways.  Depending on permits, this new terminal might open in 2020 – 2021.  The ferry company also hopes to add a fourth ferry to its fleet, built in the US and probably costing $30–40 million.

But long rumored plans to run additional ferry service from New Haven to Port Jefferson LI probably won’t happen, says Hall.  “We just couldn’t find the land [for a terminal],” in New Haven.

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

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A la Carte: Thinking Delicious Dessert? How About Date Walnut Bread with Buttermilk Sorbet?

This is a difficult time of year for me when I bake. I want fresh rhubarb, strawberries and blueberries (although the last I usually buy frozen because I don’t care for fat, cultivated blurriest, preferring  Wyman’s frozen wild blueberries).

With no fresh fruit, I made two lemon loaf cakes from Ina Garten’s recipe. I took the cakes to meetings and they were eaten in no time.

Loaf pan cakes or breads are easy to make and, unlike most cakes, require no frostings. In addition, once you follow the recipe (flour, sugar, butter, egg and liquid), you can add dried fruit, nuts, coconut or chocolate or cinnamon chips.

I also noticed that I have too many cartons of buttermilk and too many plastic bags of walnuts. So I made the date nut bread along with this delicious buttermilk sorbet. Imagine it as dessert with the date nut cake or the nut bread sliced with cream cheese and pineapple as a tasty lunch.

The sorbet does, however, require an ice cream maker. Buy an inexpensive one, or borrow one from a friend.

Date Walnut Bread

I will double this recipe, make two loaves and use buttermilk instead of regular milk;

2 cups flour
1 tablespoons baking powder
one-half teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (you may use ground if you don’t have fresh)
5 tablespoons light brown sugar
5 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 cup finely chopped walnuts (I use a small wooden bowl and a mezzaluna)
1 cup chopped pitted dates (I chop them with a little flour so they are not sticky)
1 egg
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons melted butter

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and grease a 9-inch loaf pan (I use Pam in the blue can).

Sift together flour, baking powder, salt and nutmeg. Add brown sugar and mix. Add nuts and dates and stir together. Beat together egg and milk and add to dry ingredients, along with butter. Blend just enough to moisten the mixture. Pour into prepared loaf pan and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until top is cracked and a wooden skewer comes out dry. (I use these wooden skewers instead of toothpicks since the latter are too short to get to the bottom any bread or cake.) Cool slightly and invert onto a wire rack.

Buttermilk Sorbet
(From Martha Stewart Living, February 2000, page 193)

Yield: 1 and one-half  quarts

1 and one and three-quarter  cups sugar
2 cups water
2 cups buttermilk
1 and one-half teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Combine sugar in a medium saucepan with 2 cups water. Stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves completely, about 10 minutes. Increase heat, and bring just to a boil. Remove from heat and let cool.

In a large bowl, combine sugar syrup with buttermilk and vanilla. Transfer mixture to an ice cream maker and

Follow manufacturer’s instructions to freeze.

When freezing is complete, transfer sorbet to an airtight container  and place in freezer for at least one hour. Sorbet will keep frozen for up to two weeks.

About the author: Lee White (left), a former resident of Old Lyme, has been writing about restaurants and cooking since 1976.  She 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 the Shore Publishing newspapers, and Elan, a quarterly magazine, all of which are now owned by The Day.

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Letter From Paris: As Notre Dame Burns, the World Mourns

Nicole Prévost Logan

On April 15, the world watched in shocked awe as the 850-year-old Notre Dame cathedral went up in flames.  The emotion was immediate, intense and spread around the globe.  Crowds of stunned people, who gathered on the banks of the Seine, many in tears, some singing religious hymns, gasped when the flèche (spire), consumed by the blaze, finally collapsed.

The French president decided to postpone an important public address.

Heads of state reacted to the fire in the same manner as if it were a major event in world affairs.

Michael Kimmelman wrote in the New York Times that France, “… Weeps for a Symbol of Paris’s Enduring Identity.

Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris was consumed by flames, April 15.

Why is this venerable monument so loved?  It is for a combination of reasons.  Situated on a strategic location on the Ile de la Cité, it is more than a place of cult but a symbol of a civilization.  A Gallo-Roman basilica or temple stood there in the 4th century when Paris was still Lutetia,  then a Merovingian palace was built by Clovis in the 5th century, which was followed by a Christian church in the 10th century.  The construction of the existing cathedral started in 1132 and was not completely finished until 1345.

Napoleon chose it for his self-coronation. as depicted by Jacques Louis David. in 1807. It was to Notre Dame that Charles de Gaulle went first, after marching down the Champs Elysées, in August 1944. During the funeral of François Mitterand, German chancellor Helmut Kohl could be seen with tears in his eyes.

“There was a great and furious flame rising between the two towers, with whirlwinds of sparks” wrote Victor Hugo in 1832. At that time, Notre Dame   was falling into disrepair and Victor Hugo accomplished the best ever exercise of “com” by writing the novel, “Notre Dame de Paris” (translated into English the following year as “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”) to attract attention to the plight of Gothic architecture.  The monument has become an iconic part of the popular culture since.

The 1939 American film,”The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” added to the collective memory by showing the unforgettable Charles Laughton begging for water on the pillory and the 19-year-old gypsy girl Maureen O’Hara helping him.  “Notre Dame de Paris” has been one of the most popular musical comedies in recent years.  Today computer games attract younger populations under the nave.  In this era of globalization, the cathedral has been an obligatory stop for mass tourism, bringing more than 12 million visitors a year to the building.

On a French televised literary program shown the day after the fire, British author Ken Follet was invited to talk about his 1989 best seller, “The Pillars of the Earth,” describing the generation-long construction of a fictional early Gothic church set in the English countryside.

The cathedral has inspired artists, like Turner, Corot, Hopper, Matisse.  In 1909,  Paul Delaunay created a modernistic vision of the city, as seen from the  top of the spire, through movement and light.  Listening to Debussy’s “La Cathedral Engloutie,” one can’t help thinking of  Notre Dame. The opening stark fifth chords describe the calm waters from which the cathedral slowly rose, inspired from a medieval Breton legend.

But the main reason to revere Notre Dame is that, like the Parthenon, it is a perfect example of the canon of architectural beauty. The masters of the 13th century created a well-balanced, light, elegant structure, devoid of unnecessary decorations.  They created a building at human scale.  Unlike some other cathedral, such as the much taller and rather austere Cologne cathedral, for example, the feeling of height is not oppressive because of the elegant archways of the  “tribune” and the “trifonium” and the upper windows pouring light over the six-point vault rib of the nave.  The giant 13th century rosaces (rose stained glass windows of the north and south transept) filter soft red-blue colors.

This is why I, like so many Parisians or visitors, have being seduced by the cathedral.  Once you visit it, it becomes yours.  Aware that I may never see it again, I am holding on to shreds of memories.

A view of Notre Dame before the devastating fire.

In the mid 19th century, the cathedral was showing its age and historian and medievalist architect Eugene Viollet-le-Duc,  aged 31, was chosen to lead the restoration starting in 1843 . He first created  stunning drawings, blueprints and watercolors.  Beside repairing the damage of time, he also made some bold additions such as the flèche – completed in 1859 – the gargouilles (gargoyles) and chimeras representing fantastic birds, demons, often used as rain spouts.  Built in Neo-Gothic style, they matched  the original spirit of the structure.

Within 48 hours of the fire, there was an unprecedented outpouring of donations.  French billionaires – Francois Pinault (maker of luxury goods, owner of Christie’s auction house) and Bernard Arnaud (LVMH, Vuitton) – rivaled each other as to whom would donate the most and turn down the tax deductions.

The main loss was the 13th century oak framework under the roof.  When it collapsed, the flèche fell through the nave at the crossing of the transept, leaving a gaping hole. For a while, experts feared the danger of collapse in three particular areas. Then stormy weather, with rain and strong winds, forced the workers  to do a fast and amazing job of protecting the structure.  The ones with mountaineering experience were dispatched to the most difficult places, like pinnacles, to lay down tarps over a temporary frame installed where the roof had been.

Two weeks after the blaze, Benjamin Mouton, former chief architect of Notre Dame commented that the building was still fragile.  Stones were at first dangling in the air.  Work by an expert will have to determine the damage caused, in a great part, by the tons of water the hundreds of firemen hosed on the building to put out the fire. It will take several months just to dry up.  The consolidation process alone will take about four months.

Fortunately the rosaces were not damaged, but to bring them back to their original condition will be a painstaking job: each pane of the stained glass will have to be taken down, cleaned, then stored until reinstalled.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced an international competition.  How to conduct the restoration is causing an ongoing controversy:  whether to duplicate the original building or modernize it by using new technology?  Philippe Villeneuve, chief architect of historical monuments, will arbitrate opposing point of views.  Should Notre Dame freeze in the past or at the same time, should one stay away from wild architectural projects not in keeping with the soul of the cathedral?  One of the main dilemmas is whether to replace the oak framework (called “the forest”) with wood or use another material such as metal — as in Reims cathedral — or concrete and metal as in Chartres?

An army of carpenters,  stone-carvers and glass-blowers will be needed.  Les Compagnons du Devoir et du Tour de France (nothing to do with the annual bicycle tours), dating back to the Middle Ages, is an association of monastic character, with 80 houses across France, producing the best artisans and craftsmen in the world.  The transmission, through the centuries, of their savoir-faire will be crucial.

Restoration work, as a rule, is overseen by the Ministry of Culture.  But this time the government appointed General Jean-Louis Gorgelin, former army chief of staff, to conduct the work … and on the double.

The day after the fire, Notre Dame, seen from the East on Quai d’Orléans on Ile St Louis,  looked like a wounded bird.  With the roof gone, buttresses seemed disconnected and to be flying in all directions.

Let us hope it will rise again soon in all its former splendor.

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: So You Want to be Creative With Chicken? Add Chili and Citrus!

When I was maybe eight- or nine-years-old, if I ever felt a little “nauseous,” or a bit sick to my stomach, I would ask myself if I wanted a bacon, lettuce and tomato (BLT) sandwich. If I didn’t want one, I knew I was sick.

When I was much older, a BLT is still my favorite sandwich and I will make an entire pound of bacon, let it cool on paper towels, then put all of it in a plastic bag and place in the crisper of the refrigerator. That way, when I needed a BLT, I would use nuke three or four slices and keep myself happy.

I don’t make pounds of bacon any more. My preferences these days are tuna, turkey or chicken sandwiches. Tuna I could eat every day but there is that problem with mercury. Instead, I make a roast chicken just so I can have chicken sandwiches for days. So when I saw an entire feature on chicken in the new Bon Appetit, I tried the one below, since I had every single ingredient. It was great and the leftover chicken will be one amazing sandwich.

Chili-and-Citrus-Rubbed Chicken with Potatoes

From Bon Appetit. April 2109, page 81

3 and one-half pound to 4 pound chicken
Kosher or sea salt
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
Zest of 1 small orange and 1 small lemon
One-quarter cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon mild red pepper flakes (like Aleppo-style)
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
Three-quarter cup low-sodium chicken broth (I now use Better Than Bouillon)
One-half cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon tomato paste
4 garlic cloves, crushed
2 pounds medium Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley

Pat chicken dry with paper towels and season generously inside and out with salt. Place on rimmed baking sheet and let sit 1 hour on room temperature.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Coarsley grind coriander and fennel seeds in spice mill or with mortar and pestle. Transfer to small bowl and add zests, oil, pepper flakes and paprika; mix well. Pat chicken dry, then rub all over with spiced oil.

Whisk broth, wine and tomato paste in a cast-iron skillet or 3-quart enameled cast-iron baking dish to combine. Place chicken in center and scatter garlic cloves around. Roast chicken, turning halfway through and adding an additional one-quarter cup water, if pan seems dry, until chicken is golden brown and instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of breast registers 155 , 50 to 60 minutes (temperature will climb to 160 degrees as chicken rests). Transfer chicken to a cutting board and let rest 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, strain liquid left in pan through fine-mesh sieve into a heatproof measuring cup or bowl; discard anything in sieve. Taste, season sauce with salt, if needed. Set aside.

Place potatoes in a large pot and pour in cold water to cover by 1 inch. Add large handful of salt and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are fork-tender, 25 minutes. Drain and transfer potatoes back into pan.

Cut potatoes into large pieces. Pour reserved sauce over potatoes. Add parsley, season with salt and gently toss to combine. Place chicken on a platter and serve potatoes alongside.

About the author: Lee White (left), a former resident of Old Lyme, has been writing about restaurants and cooking since 1976.  She 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 the Shore Publishing newspapers, and Elan, a quarterly magazine, all of which are now owned by The Day.

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Letter From Paris: Exhibition of Macke & Marc’s Art Unintentionally Makes Powerful Statement on European Current Affairs

Nicole Prévost Logan

The exhibition titled Franz Marc / August Macke. The Adventure of the Blue Rider (der Blaue Reiter) at the Musée de l’Orangerie is the exhibit to see this spring when in Paris.  It is a festival of colors by two German artists, Macke (1887-1914) and Marc (1880-1916), who both died prematurely on the front during World War I more than a century ago.

Long overdue, and shamefully so – I believe all art historians would agree – Macke and Marc have never before been shown in France in an exhibit dedicated exclusively to them. The event opened first at the Neue Galerie of New York, then will remain in Paris until June 17.  The curators have made a few changes, particularly stressing the connection with the Blaue Reiter movement and the relationship with other European avant-gardes, particularly the fauvism and cubism in France.

After writing an article myself on April 11 2015 on this very site, it was pure pleasure to see the original works hanging in the spacious lower level rooms of the Orangerie Museum in the Tuileries gardens.

Franz Marc, The Dream [Der Traum], 1912, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid. Image taken from the Musee de l’Orangerie website.

Although they are shown together, the two artists have distinct personalities and styles. They first met in January 1910 and became close friends until the war.  Macke lived in Bonn on the Rhine in central Germany.  Marc, with the Russian artist Wassily Kandisnky and his companion Gabriel Munter and other members of the Blaue Reiter, loved Bavaria in southern Germany. He settled  first in Mirnau, about 40 miles south of Munich, then on Lake Kochel.

At a time when Europe is currently torn by political fractures, when the closeness of France and Germany is crucial to the survival of the continent, this exhibit has a strong symbolic meaning.  The European Union was founded on a determination to put an end to all wars.  What a powerful message when the art of these two young men is displayed together in an exceptional exhibition in Paris, considering, ironically, both men loved France and its culture, and yet died fighting against the country they revered.

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A la Carte: Whether It’s Easter or Passover in Your Home, Lamb is Always Lovely!

Boneless rolled leg of lamb always makes a perfect Easter meal — but, as Lee explains, it doesn’t have to be boneless! Photo by Mike Tinnion on Unsplash

It seems lately that Christian and Jewish holidays seems to happen within weeks, or days, of the year.

For those who think that Hanukkah is like a Jewish Christmas, it is not. And Passover is nothing like Christian Easter either. Rather, the Jewish calendar and the Christian calendar (the latter is actually the Gregorian calendar) are not the same. I was born in the Jewish year 5704. I have no intention of telling you how old I am, but if you ask a Jewish person, perhaps that person will tell you how old I am.

More important, both holidays mean that families usually sit down together for dinner. While many of those who make Easter dinner will chose ham as the entrée of choice. Jewish people will not. But both holidays might choose lamb.

In the early 70s, I bought a book about how to cook French dishes in an American kitchen, meaning that we mostly buy our food at American supermarkets. So when you see the recipe calls for Campbell’s beef consommé, that I what I used for decades. If you do, try to get a canned consommé that is low in sodium. I now use More Than Boullion. I have used many of the recipes in that book, but my favorite is the one below.

Sometimes I buy boneless lamb, but the recipe is pretty much the same. I do suggest that you use a meat thermometer and the internal temperature of the roast should be 120 to 125 degrees for medium-rare, or 130 to 135 for medium.

Gigot d/Agneau a l’Ail (Leg of Lamb with Garlic)

From Charles Virion’s French Country Cookbook (Hawthorn, New York, 1972)

Yield: Serves 6 to 8

1 5- to 7-pound leg of lamb
8 cloves of garlic cut lengthwise into slivers
Salt and freshly ground coarse black pepper
Vegetable oil
3 cups brown sauce or canned beef consommé (I use Campbell’s)
2 cups cream sherry (does not have to be Harvey’s Bristol, but it should be cream sherry)
8 small new potatoes
4 tablespoons sweet butter

  1. Take leg of lamb out of refrigerator 3 to 5 hour before cooking time. Meat must always be at room temperature before roasting or broiling.
  2. Insert pieces of garlic all around the leg by making tiny incisions and pushing the garlic underneath. Season meat with salt and pepper. Pour on a little vegetable oil and let meat marinate until ready to roast.
  3. Meanwhile, simmer together stock or consommé and the cream sherry until liquid is reduced by half. This will be your basting sauce and gravy base.
  4. Place the lamb in a roasting pan and roast in a preheated 450 degree oven with the oven ajar. Turn frequently and baste with vegetable oil and fats accumulated during roasting. When the outside is brown and crisp, approximately 45 minutes later, take the meat out of the oven and place it in another roasting pan. Use the pan with the accumulated lamb fat to roast potatoes (separately from the lamb) for 1 to 1 and a half hours.
  5. Put butter on the meat and let it stand until 1 hour before you are ready to eat.
  6. Reduce oven temp to 300 degrees. The lamb should roast slowly now so that it will remain rare and juicy.
  7. Place lamb in oven and turn it every 10 minutes, basting with the stock-sherry sauce. Compute the approximately roasting time by figuring 20 minutes per pound, subscripting the 45 minutes for the first roasting.
  8. When cooked, take the meat out of the oven and let it stand for 10 minutes. This helps keep the meat juices inside. Then slice the meat and arrange on a hot platter.
  9. You should have approximately 2 cups of gravy left. Pour some of it, piping hot, on top of the roast. The rest should be served in a sauceboat. Surround the meat with vegetables (he suggests lima beans) and potatoes which have been roasted in the lamb fat from the first roasting. Serve immediately.

About the author: Lee White (left), a former resident of Old Lyme, has been writing about restaurants and cooking since 1976.  She 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 the Shore Publishing newspapers, and Elan, a quarterly magazine, all of which are now owned by The Day.

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Talking Transportation: Tolls Are in Trouble

Jim Cameron

Governor Lamont’s tolling plan is in trouble.  I knew it last weekend when I got a call from Dan Malloy.

The former Governor and I know each other going back to his days as Mayor of Stamford, but he’s only called me once before (many years ago when he sought my endorsement in his run for a second term as Governor.)

This time he was calling about my recent column about the Transportation Strategy Board, the panel that 18 years ago was tasked with prioritizing our state’s transportation needs and how to pay for them.

It wasn’t my fawning over then-TSB Chairman Oz Griebel that prompted Malloy’s recent call, but instead my characterization of the “lock box” on the Special Transportation Fund as having, to quote one wag, “more back doors than a hot-sheets motel on the Berlin Turnpike.”  The Wag’s words, not mine.

“That comment was not helpful, Jim,” said Malloy.  “We’re just trying to get this tolls idea across the finish line and your comments aren’t helping.”

That’s when I knew that the tolls plan is in real trouble.  (Why is he calling me, of all people?)  Not that there weren’t earlier warning signs that trouble was brewing.

The first was Governor Lamont’s somersaults on tolling from being in favor, then promising trucks-only tolling and finally settling (again) on tolling all vehicles.  Voters felt betrayed.

Then Lamont pulled millions in car sales taxes from the STF, potentially bankrupting the transportation fund by 2022.

Those moves gave grassroots No-Tolls groups new-found fertile soil, picketing and tapping into the media’s love of controversy by offering up great photo ops.

Sure, the Republicans helped fan the flames with their so-called “information sessions” in local communities, providing a forum to attack Lamont and tolls while resurrecting their “Prioritize Progress” bonding plan, asking our grandkids to pay for the roads and rails we use today.

Then there were the “no tolls votes” in local communities, non-binding of course, but a clear indication of local sentiment.  Even Stamford’s Board of Representatives voted against tolls.  Polling by Sacred Heart University, though perhaps poorly worded, showed 59 percent of respondents were against tolling.

But wait.  Where are the pro-toll voices?

Well, a coalition of Hartford lobbyists did try to organize an expensive campaign to support Lamont’s tolling vision, seeking money from construction companies and consultants who’d make a lot of money if tolls were approved.  But a reporter somehow got hold of their pitch book, detailing the campaign, and it now seems dead in the water.  Talk about “not helpful.”

Now, Governor Lamont is on a Magical Misery Tour, holding press events at every crumbling bridge, viaduct and train platform in the state.  Against those backdrops, he pitches the need for billions in funding achievable only, he says, through tolling.

In the last couple of months, Metro-North has had two major power meltdowns as circuit breakers, transformers and sub-stations have failed, slowing trains and disrupting service.  Commuters take such crises in stride knowing full well they’re riding in shiny new railcars on a century-old railroad crumbling beneath them.

But people upstate couldn’t care less.  It’s not their problem, so why should they pay tolls or support mass transit?

Cynicism abounds that toll revenues would really be spent on transportation and not get diverted.  Nobody trusts Hartford.

Tolls, my friends, are in trouble.

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

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Letter From Paris: And So It Goes On … Brexit, That Is

Nicole Prévost Logan

“Order, Order!” barked John Bercow, Speaker of the House of Commons before announcing the results of the third-time-around vote on Theresa May’s Brexit “deal” .  “The ayes to the right 286, the noes to the left 344,  the left have it.”

It was that fateful day, March 29 – chosen by the Prime Minister as the deadline to decide on the “divorce” of the United Kingdom (UK) from the European Union (EU).  The masterful and funny Speaker was able to control his troops and even to provoke laughter, telling one Member of Parliament (MP), “Get a grip, man, do yoga, it will be beneficial to you.”

In retrospect, not much progress had been made to resolve the Brexit issue on the British side since the June 23, 2016 referendum. It seemed that the government was taking its time and fantasizing about the legal elbow room it actually had to make decisions. (See my previous articles published on 3/5/2016; 4/6/2017 and 12/29/18)

Action in the House of Commons started really in earnest on Nov. 15, 2018 when Theresa May’s original deal was voted down. A second vote on the same motion, and a third with almost identical text were also rejected by the MPs. By drawing red lines, the tenacious but inflexible Prime Minister made it hard for herself to negotiate.

During the winter months, the parliament at Westminster offered the world a spectacle of one “decisive week” after another with votes ending in an inability to reach a majority. By March 14, Theresa May had lost her voice and the headlines in the press read “Game over.”

On the eve of the March 29 deadline, the situation turned surrealistic with two superimposed pictures (to use the words of Le Monde special envoy to London) of a vote on May’s deal and eight others on alternative proposals the MPs had organized on their own.  In a dramatic gesture, Theresa May used her last joker – stepping down from office – in case her deal was supported.   

The Prime Minister described the situation as “the end of a process” with the MPs having said no to everything : to the deal, to the absence of a deal, to Brexit, to Article 50 itself, to the eight separate proposals. In the face of this total collapse of a possible way out of this impasse, Donald Tusk, European Council President announced an extraordinary summit in Brussels on April 10.

A surprising amount of information and live coverage is now appearing on the French media,  shedding a new light on Brexit.

One report showed to what extent the public opinion was in fact manipulated.  More than 80 percent of the British press was hostile to Europe and contained “fake news” items.  The “Brexiteers” promised that the Commonwealth would save the UK. The famous red bus of Boris Johnson traveled throughout the country, displaying the number of 350 million pounds sterling ($455 million) in giant letters . That is the amount “BoJo” (Boris Johnson’s nickname) claimed that the UK is sending the EU every week instead of using it to fund the National Health Service (NHS). 

A Canada-based web site called AggregateiQ, created by Dominic Cummings, utilized private data collected from social networks and used it to “microtarget” individuals with “dark ads.” The “Vote Leave” site used a strategy comparable to that used by Cambridge Analytica, a company heavily implicated in the 2016 US election manipulation.

Other reports helped better understand why re-establishing a border between the two Irelands was a visceral impossibility. The Good Friday agreement in 1998 brought peace back but the catholic and protestant communities in Belfast, are still separated.

In this fragile context, the Irish people fear that a 300-mile external border with the EU would jeopardize the hard-won peace agreement. Trying to solve the problem of a border is an attempt at squaring a circle. The only solution might be a border at the bottom of the Irish Sea.  The backstop which allows the border to remain open until a final treaty is signed, is only a temporary solution.

It was not until the 11th hour – or less than one week before the March 29 deadline – that a significant turn occurred in London.  Prime Minister May entered into talks with Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour party, in spite of their sharp disagreements.  It was such a breakthrough that the Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond declared on April 5, “the threat of the UK crashing out of the Union is heavily diminished.”  The Conservative party began to lean toward a “soft Brexit” and the possibility of the UK remaining in the Custom Union.

During all these months, the Europeans showed a consensual unity.  Their only caveat being that another delay would have to be justified by a clear plan such as general elections or a second referendum.  Their patience though began to wear out by early April as some divergences of opinion emerged. 

The priority for Angela Merkel is to avoid a no deal Brexit and she will bend over backwards to make that happen.   Although sharing many views with the UK in economy or trade, Mark Rutte, Prime Minister of the Netherlands, confirmed his alignment with the collective position. 

The “flextension” of one year suggested by Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, might not appeal to everybody. President Macron and EU Commissioner Juncker sound tougher on more delays. However, Macron reaffirmed on April 1, that he will stand by the decision made by Brussels and will not use his veto.   

The repeated postponements requested by Prime Minister May (April 12, May 23, June 30) forced the MPs to cancel their Easter recess. Much more serious, is the imbroglio caused by the colliding of the Brexit discussions with the European elections scheduled to take place May 26.

This long saga turned rather nasty when Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, ultra Brexiteer, tweeted on April 5, “Let us stay [in Europe] and this way we will be able to damage the Union from the inside and oppose our veto on any Brussels decision”.

And so, the suspense goes on.  During these final hours, the two Houses of Parliament are scrambling to find a solution and seem to agree that a no-deal Brexit is unacceptable.  The Europeans do not want to push the UK out of the Union.

Chances are that the outcome will be Britain remaining in the Custom union, an à la carte solution, which was almost obvious from the beginning.  The British should take heart.  It only took 22 years for Norway to establish relations with the EU through the European Economic Area (EEA), and 29 years for Canada to negotiate with Europe through the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA)!

Since all the thorny issues – the City, fishing , citizens’ rights, Gibraltar, etc – are included in the 27 pages of the non legally-binding Political Declarations, a  second part of Article 50 (in other words, swept under the rug ) will have to be negotiated later . Brexit will continue to haunt both the divided British opinion and also Europe .

Some may think it is the UK’s vocation is to be independent from Europe and turned toward the rest of the world.  It certainly seems British people consider EU membership a straight-jacket. Interestingly, these are the same reasons General Charles de Gaulle gave persistently more than 50 years ago as to why he was against the original entry of Britain into the European Economic Community (EEC).

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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Reading Uncertainly? ‘Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind’ by Yuval Noah Harari

“I’m not trying to predict the future,” Yuval Harari argued in an Edge (an international group of the curious – see www.edge.org) discussion with Daniel Kahneman (March 5, 2015). “I’m trying to identify the horizon of possibilities that we are facing.”

Professor Harari, of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and an Oxford PhD, wrote this incredibly imaginative alternate view of the entire 200,000-year history of our species, Homo sapiens, on this earth, a mammal with a uniquely large brain. He suggests we have survived and prospered, perhaps too much, through the use of myths: “large numbers of strangers can cooperate successfully by believing in common myths,” even though we now know, “there are no gods in the universe, no nations, no money, no human rights, no laws, and no justice outside the common imagination of human beings.”

Harari re-thinks just about every “myth” that confuses our practices as human beings.

This “history” challenges our numerous “misconceptions” by stepping back from all we thought we knew, separating the growth of human existence through three “revolutions” of human existence: the cognitive (when we learned to think and communicate), the agricultural (when we shifted from nomadic movement to a more sedentary life), and the scientific (when we began asking “why” and “how.”).

In doing so he manages to skewer, with both rational argument and good humor, most of our cherished beliefs. And how little we actually know about our predecessors, saying, “a curtain of silence shrouds tens of thousands of years of history,” simply because of our lack of language and surviving relics.

What about the disappearances of many earlier species? We’ve been taught that climatic conditions or perhaps asteroids were the causes. Harari argues that we, homo sapiens, are more likely responsible for their demise than crashes or dramatic climate changes (ice ages, he notes, have occurred about once every 100,000 years). Our earth’s climate “is in constant flux” and most species have been able to adapt.

But many could not adapt to us!

As a student of risk management, I was interested to learn that our Agricultural Revolution, beginning about 12,000 years ago also increased our concern about our future, linked with the new “fundamental uncertainty of agriculture.” That is when we constructed “an imagined order.” Harari cites both the Code of Hammurabi (circa 1776 BCE) and the American Declaration of Independence (1776) as “imagined orders” that enabled “us to cooperate effectively and forge a better society.”

Acceptance of these “imagined orders” became “ embedded in the natural world and shaped our desires.” They “existed within the community network linking the subjective consciousness of many individuals.” Imagined orders both free and imprison us …

They are, Harari argues, how humans “organized themselves into mass cooperative networks.”  They result in “imagined hierarchies” and “unjust discrimination” such as the Hindu caste system and the Babylonian separation of human beings into “superior men,” “commoners,” and “slaves.”

But, for example, do the “fundamental values” of equality and individual freedom (liberty) contradict each other? Harari suggests they do but that “this is no defect. Such contradictions are an inseparable part of every human culture. In fact, they are culture’s engines, responsible for the creativity and dynamism of our species.”

Money is also a shared myth. It is wholly imaginary but it does create healthy inter-dependence. Money is a “purely mental revolution” to “represent systemically the value of other things for the purpose of exchanging goods and services.”

Today, “more than 90 percent of all money – more than $50 trillion appearing in our accounts — exists only on computer servers.” Bitcoin, indeed! Money is the “apogee of human tolerance,” based on two “universal principles: convertibility and trust.”

Harari steps back and also studies religion, “a system of human norms and values founded on a belief in a superhuman order.” Religion moves from animism, to polytheism, to monotheism, to dualism, to socialist humanism, and, most recently, to evolutionary humanism. It appears to be a human construct.

Questions always remain: “Are we out of the global economic crisis, or is the worst yet to come? Will China continue growing until it becomes the leading superpower? Will the United States lose its hegemony? Is the upsurge of monotheistic fundamentalism the wave of the future or a local whirlpool of little long-term significance? Are we headed toward ecological disaster or technological paradise?”

Our most recent “revolution,” the Scientific, says Harari, began on July 16, 1945 at 05:29:53 with the explosion of the first atomic bomb. It also coincided with the explosion of population: 500 million in 1500 and 7.3 billion in 2015. One of the keys to our scientific progress has been “our willingness to admit ignorance,” leading to insatiable curiosity and constructive, mathematical observation. But we also have an “obsession with military technology.”

Is it time to “rethink the idea of continual progress?”

Are we obsessed with “growth?” Harari answers, “For better or worse, in sickness and in health, the modern economy has been growing like a hormone-soused teenager.”  But is perpetual growth an illusion or “will this idea burst like all bubbles?”

His reply: “When growth becomes a supreme good, unrestricted by any other ethical considerations, it can easily lead to catastrophe.” Or will “ecological turmoil endanger the survival of homo sapiens itself?” Will only rats and cockroaches survive our insanity, as also suggested by Elizabeth Kolbert in The Sixth Extinction?

And what about “the pursuit of happiness?” Harari suggests a biological approach to happiness, that our natural system releases serotonin and other organic compounds to produce “ephemeral eddys of good fortune,” but never long-lasting and always returning us to a median level of euphoria. “Happiness” is, to him, entirely subjective, despite the story of Huxley’s “soma.”

How will it all end? Will advancing technology produce cyborgs of all of us, enabling individuals to “live” for hundreds of years, or will we simply destroy our species, leaving smiling cockroaches?

Harari’s last questions are: “What do we want to become?” and “What do we want to want?” Unanswerable, of course, but we are innately curious and creative!

Editor’s Note: Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari is published by HarperCollins, New York 2015.

Felix Kloman

About the Author: Felix Kloman is a sailor, rower, husband, father, grandfather, retired management consultant and, above all, a curious reader and writer. He’s explored how we as human beings and organizations respond to ever-present uncertainty in two books, ‘Mumpsimus Revisited’ (2005) and ‘The Fantods of Risk’ (2008). A 20-year resident of Lyme, he now writes book reviews, mostly of non-fiction, 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.

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Talking Transportation: State’s Transportation Strategy Solutions Are Remarkably ‘Déjà Vu’

When are we finally going to do something about our transportation crisis?

That question has been asked for decades … but never answered, or more importantly, acted upon.

I remember back in 2001 when then-Speaker of the Connecticut House Moira Lyons held a news conference about our state’s transportation mess.  The six-term Stamford Democrat, who was long on power by short in stature, stood next to a stack of consultant studies and reports almost as tall as she was.  Enough with the studies, she said.  Let’s fix it!

One of the best things to come out of that call to action was creation of the Transportation Strategy Board (TSB.)  It had representatives from business, labor, commuters, academics and planners.  They had a one year deadline to come up with a 20-year-plan for Connecticut’s transportation future and how to pay for it.  And they did.

Chairman of the TSB was Oz Griebel.  Yes, the same Oz Griebel who ran unsuccessfully for Governor last fall.

One of the TSB’s top recommendations was ordering new railcars for Metro-North, which finally happened under Governor Rell.  But they also recommended highly unpopular funding mechanisms:  a gasoline tax increase, sales tax surcharge and, yes, tolls.

What have we done since?  More studies making consultants rich but never persuading lawmakers to do something.  When our elected officials have no political will, they just suggest another study, board or commission.

Former Governor Dannel Malloy had ideas. His $100 billion, 30-year “Let’s Go CT” plan had something for everyone in every corner of the state.  It was ambitious, but it wasn’t really a plan, just a laundry list of projects without priorities or funding.

Politicians love to take credit for the ideas but never want their fingerprints on the nasty business of paying for them.  That’s why Malloy created … you guessed it … a blue ribbon panel: the Transportation Finance Panel.  Among its members … Oz Griebel.

“It was like that movie ‘Groundhog Day’,” Griebel recently told me.  “It was the same people we saw at the TSB debating the same issues” 10 years later.

And what did Malloy’s Transportation Finance Panel recommend to pay for his $100 billion “plan”?  A gasoline tax increase, a sales tax surcharge, fare hikes and, you guessed it, highway tolls.

Of course, none of those came to pass.  It was an election year and who wants to run for a job in Hartford explaining to constituents that they have to pay more, especially when the Republicans mischaracterized such funding as “taxes” instead of user fees.

Along the way, then-Governor Malloy abolished the TSB, ‘lest it should suggest one project had priority over another.  He wanted it all, but got none, because he couldn’t sell the plan to pay for it.

But now we have the Special Transportation Fund Lockbox, right?  Any money that goes in can only be spent on transportation.  Or so we were told.  But as one sage observer of the transportation scene for decades recently told me, “The lockbox has more backdoors than a hot-sheets motel on the Berlin Turnpike”.  We’ll see.

Will the new legislature have the guts to finally raise the funding we need to fix our roads and rails?  Or will I be re-writing this column again in another decade, like “déjà vu all over again”?

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: Present Pace of European Politics is Dizzying

Nicole Prévost Logan

The unity of Europe is being put to the test now more than ever: the deadline of the Brexit pushed back from March 29 to April 12 is heightening the uncertainty to an almost unbearable level, the visit of Chinese president Xi Jinping to Italy, Monaco and France is preoccupying several members of the European Union (EU), and the populist votes in recent European elections are gaining strength.   

On March 22, British Prime Minister Theresa May was in Brussels, waiting for a decision by the European Council gathered at an extraordinary Summit. She obtained a short “technical” extension of the Brexit deadline until May 24 in the event the House of Commons reaches an agreement.  In spite of their weariness, the 27 EU members wanted to show some benevolence by granting a few more days.  Another reason was that they did not want to be the ones to lower the hatchet on the UK.

Xi Jinping and his wife, a former opera singer and general, Peng Liyuan, landed in Rome on March 21.  The president of China has found in Italy a major beachhead for its Silk Roads initiative in Europe.  Italy, which fell into recession at the end of 2018, needs money to invest into its infrastructure. Presidents Giuseppe Conte and Xi Jinping signed contracts for billions of  Euros, including some earmarked for the development of  Trieste and Genoa commercial harbors. It is extremely worrisome that one of the G7 countries would grant access to Schengen Space to a foreign power.

French President Emmanuel Macron planned the official visit of the Chinese couple in grand style with a program loaded with symbols … an overnight in the famous Negresco Hotel in Nice; watching the sunset over the sea from the museum-villa Kerylos (a replica of an Athenian residence) in Beaulieu  and thus alluding to Ancient Greece as the cradle of European culture; dinner at the Elysée palace for 200 guests, including – at the request of Xi Jinping –  a French actress from the most popular TV series in China.  The top pastry chef, cheese expert and wine sommelier of France were collectively watching over the dinner, the menu of which remained a secret.  Last time Paris went all out for a Chinese president was in 2004, when the Eiffel Tower was turned red to mark the visit of Hu Jintao. 

But the crucial message of the visit came out loud and clear when Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the EU  Commission, together greeted the president of China.  The message was to present a joint European front.  In his address, Macron formulated the general guidelines of future relations between China and Europe avoiding no confrontation, a partnership based on reciprocity while not appearing to be naïve.

In recent years, the Chinese have invested more than 140 billion Euros in Europe.  Since 2014, they have organized “16+1” summits attended every year by 11 Eastern European and five Balkan countries to expand economic cooperation.  In announcing his vision for “renovated multilateralism,” Macron hopes to hamper China’s strategy, which has been until now to pressure individual countries with its power and capitalize on their vulnerability.  Finally, Macron stressed that European countries must preserve their sovereignty and stop the take-over of strategic installations by foreign countries. 

Although Europe appeared united as a bloc in the face of Brexit, recent developments in The Netherlands , Hungary and Poland are emblematic of changes taking place in the political landscape.

In The Netherlands, elections took place on March 20, the day after the terrorist attack on the tramway in Utrecht.  A new party, “Forum for democracy (FvD), headed by jurist and historian Thierry Baudet, age 36. caught up in the polls with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the “Popular and Democratic” party (VVD).  Baudet is a right-wing Eurosceptic, anti-migrants, and a supporter of Donald Trump.  He is for a “tolerant and inclusive nationalism.”  He denounces political “élites”and a multicultural society.

On March 16, Zuzana Caputova, a lawyer, divorced and pro-choice, won the presidential elections in Slovakia, a very catholic country of close to six  million people.  She won in the second round of the ballot against Maros Sfcovic of the leftist populist party.  Having worked before for an ONG defending human rights, she holds liberal views on the economy.  The elections were influenced by the murder, one year ago, of a journalist and his fiancée — the journalist was investigating the links between the Italian Mafia and the Slovakian Central Executive.  The protest demonstrations in Bratislava that followed the murder were the largest since the independence of Slovakia in 1993.

On March 4, Gdansk again showed its importance as a center of the opposition in Poland.  After the murder of  Pawel Adamovicz, the city’s mayor, Aleksandra Dulkiewicz, the mayor’s deputy, won the mayoral election with a landslide.  She may become a strong adversary to the government.

In another development, Robert Biedron, head of the party Wiosna (spring), 42, and Poland’s first openly gay politician, wants to end the monopoly of two parties in power since 2005, namely, PO –  a civic platform, conservative but liberal economically — and PiS or “law and order,” the ultra-conservative ruling party.  Although far behind the two major parties, this new candidate, who is anti-church, pro-women’s rights, and an ecologist, is a sign of change in Polish politics.

Hungary is the country making the most waves.  On March 20, ultra-right prime minister Viktor Orban’s party Fidesz was reprimanded for putting up anti-Brussels posters, and for his repressive policy.  The European parliament decided to take action and suspended  Fidesz from the Parti Populaire Europeen (PPE) with an overwhelming majority of 190 to. 4. 

Many are sickened by Orban’s provocations.  He appears obsessed with George Soros, the American  billionaire of Hungarian origin.  The European Parliament in Strasbourg voted to maintain Soros’ Central Europe University. “We put Orban in the freezer and Van Rompoy* holds the door”(*Herman Van Rompoy, a Belgian, is former president of the European Council) commented a Belgian Euro-deputy.

The suspension will at least prevent Orban from joining hands with Matteo Salvini of the Far Right League in Italy and the Law and Justice party in Poland.

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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Talking Transportation: Connecticut’s Hometown Railroad

The worldwide logo for Genesee and Wyoming Inc.

You might not realize it, but Connecticut is home to the world headquarters of a $5 billion international railroad company on whose trains you’ll never be able to ride.

In a small office building across from the Darien railroad station sits the offices of Genesee and Wyoming Inc, a “short line” railroad conglomerate.  The original railroad, founded in 1899, hauled salt on a 14-mile track in upstate NY.  Today, G&W owns 122 different railroads on three continents, serving 3000 customers with over 16,000 miles of track.

A “short line” railroad, as its name implies, only operates over short distances, sometimes thought of as rail freight’s first and last mile.  They pick up boxcars and tankers at factories and plants and carry them to junction points where they hand them off to the major railroads which carry them to their ultimate destination, a journey often completed by another short line railroad.

In the US G&W’s railroads are as short as a single mile in length and as long as 739 miles.  They operate 1300 locomotives and 30,000 railcars.  But they only carry freight, not passengers.

And because they only travel short distances, they’re not looking for speed as much as customer service.  Moving along at 15 mph saves a lot on track maintenance.

How does G&W’s sales team sell companies on shipping by rail instead of truck?  Fuel costs.  Trains are four times more energy efficient, a crucial consideration when you’re hauling tons of stone, coal, or wheat instead of Amazon boxes filled with packing peanuts.

The G&W’s most local affiliate, The Providence & Worcester, runs a train on Metro-North tracks each night, hauling crushed rock from Connecticut quarries to Queens NY.  I can hear the train from my home, usually just before midnight, as its locomotives strain under the load and rumble through town.

That’s about the only freight train left on the New Haven line.  But that’s another story for another time.

Overseas the G&W owns some much larger railroads, but still dedicated only to freight.  They run trains, container terminals and freight yards in the UK, Germany, Poland, Belgium and the Netherlands.

Down under in Australia the G&W runs a huge freight operation running north-south through the heart of the continent serving the iron ore and manganese mines hauling intermodal containers through the desert-like interior.

How does a tiny, 20-person office in Darien oversee such a massive railroad network around the planet?  It doesn’t.  Each of G&W’s nine operating regions is locally managed with capital allocated from headquarters.  Keeping the decision-making close to the customers, not being second-guessed from thousands of miles away, has been the key to G&W’s success.

But one thing that all of G&W’s railroads do share in common is the color scheme of their logos, originally designed by Milton Glaser (famous for the I Love NY logo).  Every G&W railroad’s logo is orange and black.  Not just any orange, but Princeton orange, harkening back to its former chairman’s alma mater.

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? ‘Why Homer Matters’ by Adam Nicolson

Our son, a teacher of English and a sailor, recommended this new study of the Homeric poems, the Iliad and the Odyssey. I had read them in the Robert Fagles translations, the first in 1996, the second a year later. Nicolson’s learned and lyrical commentary brings these 4,000-year-old stories into a fresh perspective of how memory, epic and history are important to us.

He argues that Homer “makes the distant past as immediate to us as our own lives.” In addition, the author is an accomplished sailor, adding to his understanding of Odysseus’s peregrinations throughout the Mediterranean.

These poems present a “plunging perspective into the ancient,” seeking “a form of reassurance that in the end there is some kind of understanding in the world … a braided stream of possibilities pouring into the present out of the past.” Nicolson adds, “no place for Homer is more filled with tragedy than the beach, ”a point of transition for the Greeks transforming themselves from a land-based horde to sea-faring seekers.”

But who was Homer?

Nicolson suggests, “there was no human being called Homer; his words are the descendants of memory and power, the offspring of the muse who had a beautiful voice.” Stories were created, then passed along from generation to generation through memory and song, always modified to fit more current conditions.

“Homer was an ancient inheritance in the eighth century BC … already a thousand years old … The Homeric poems, or at least versions of them, were written down … perhaps about 725 BC, or maybe as much as a century later.” And even then successive scribes often altered the written versions. “Homer is haunted by the threat of transience, by the way memory fails and meanings drift in the face of time.”

To Nicolson the Iliad is “ … a tapestry of sorrow, in which the noncity is set against the city, where the marginal and contingent confront the settled and the secure … the loved against the abused, the creative against the destructive forces of life.” And, yes, even today!

The Greeks attacking Troy were northerners, Indo-Europeans, “their roots in the steppelands of Eurasia … semi-nomadic pastoralists” exhibiting “the hero complex: maleness, heroic individuality and dominance.”  Their theme: “… we are all vagabonds on earth, nothing belongs to us, our lives have no consequence and our possessions are dross. We are wanderers, place shifters, the cosmic homeless.” The settled, affluent, and wealthy Trojans didn’t have a chance.

Much of this recurs in the Odyssey: “the heart of the poem is this contingency, the absence of any over-riding permanence,” the continuous search for meaning..

Nicolson’s frequent allusions to sailing are almost elegiac. Here is one about the Odyssey: “They won’t be wrecked on the illusions of nostalgia, the longing for that heroized, antique world, because . . . to live well in the world, nostalgia must be resisted; you must stay with your ship, stay tied to the present, remain mobile, keep adjusting the rig, work with the swells, watch for the wind-shift, watch as the boom swings over, engage, in other words, with the muddle and duplicity and difficulty of life. Don’t be tempted into the lovely simplicities that the heroic past seems to offer.”

Solid counsel for some of our politicians today!

While the Homeric poems illustrate the horrific mores of some 4000 years ago, “ . . . the usefulness of violence, the lack of regret at killing, the subjection and selling of women, the extinction of all men in a surrendering city or the sense that justice resides in personal revenge,” “what is valuable and essential in these poems is the opposite of that: the ability to regard all aspects of life with clarity, equanimity and sympathy, with a loving heart and an unclouded eye.”

Homer “provides no answers, ”… but simply illustrates, “the complexity of life, the bubbling vitality of a boat at sea, the resurgent energy, as he repeatedly says, of the bright wake starting to gleam behind you.”

To conclude: “So now, each time the wind fills in, and you roll your headsails out and get the main up, and you feel the boat starting to gather way, to pick up its skirts, unable to resist the pull of the wind, you will know something essential of the Homeric world. Here under the bow you can listen, like the Phaeacians carrying Odysseus home, to the water surge and fall, that repeated hoosssh-hoosssh of a hull at speed.

And here, as you make your way between the blue islands, the boat heeled far over and the curves of the headsails bellied out to leeward, you can begin to know and sense the power of possibility in the well-balanced, well-benched ship, equipped with all it needs, acquiring the world, stretching the idea of what it means to be alive, leading men to adventure, home or war.”

Isn’t it time to read Nicolson and reread the Iliad and the Odyssey?

Editor’s Note: ‘Why Homer Matters’ by Adam Nicolson was published by Henry Holt & Co., New York 2014.
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, 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.
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