August 23, 2019

Talking Transportation: The Train Ride From Hell 

Jim Cameron

It was the railroad trip from hell:  the hottest day of the year, stuck for five hours on a sold-out Amtrak train where only half the cars had air conditioning.

The ride to Washington days earlier had been uneventful, almost on time and pleasantly cool, even though I’d made the mistake of taking a Northeast Corridor train, not Acela.  Its older Amfleet cars, though recently refurbished on the inside, are still 50-years-old.

But coming back from Washington on a torrid Sunday, by cheaping out for the slower, less expensive train I got what I’d paid for.  Put another way, I didn’t get what I’d paid for.

Already a half-hour late arriving in Washington from Newport News Va., train #88 arrived on one of DC’s low-level platforms, meaning boarding passengers had to cue up for about 30 minutes before even being allowed on the platform to board.

One of the station agents said that “extra cars” had been added in Washington, so I immediately headed to the front of the train where I assumed the new cars would be empty.  It was already 98 degrees in DC, heading for a “feels like” high that day of 110, so I was looking forward to the super-AC Amtrak is known for.

No such luck, as even the newly added cars were only slightly cooler than outside.  That’ll improve when we get going, I thought.

Wrong!

By Baltimore it was getting hot and the fan system was intermittent.  Pleas for help to the conductors brought nothing more than promises that “they’ll try to reset the system in Philly,” another hour away.

In desperation I turned to social media, Tweeting sarcastically about Amtrak’s new “Sauna Cars”.  Direct messaging to @Amtrak brought no response.

The train was getting later and later on its schedule, partly because of the heat’s adverse effect on the power lines and potential warping of the rails. Knowing there’d be a lot of passengers getting off and on in Philly, I plotted my move to one of the few cars with breathable air.  Success … a cooler, though not cold, car with seats.

At Philadelphia, nothing changed, though we did learn that five of the 10 cars on this train bound for Boston carrying 700+ passengers were without air conditioning.

The DC conductor crew never apologized, though they did offer small, free bottles of water, which quickly ran out. But when a new set of conductors boarded in New York, the tone changed significantly.

“We apologize folks.  This is not the kind of service we want to provide or you deserve.  Please call 1-800-USA-RAIL and register a complaint.  If the cars don’t reset after New York, we’ll try again at New Haven,” said one conductor on the PA system.

We got off in Stamford, arriving 90 minutes late, so I don’t know if the cars ever did get cooler during the next four hours run to Boston.

The next day I called Amtrak Customer Service.  A 20+ year veteran agent commiserated, empathized and got me a refund voucher.

“Those old Amfleet cars shouldn’t be refurbished, they should be retired,” she said.  “Their air conditioning is either on or off.  There’s no moderating the temperature.  Next time you should take Acela,” she added.

Never mind that Acela costs twice as much.  Its AC works and it’s mostly on time! I’ve learned from my mistakes.

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

Share

A la Carte: Baby Carrot Soup is Best Served Chilled

Okay, I am having more fun this summer than I have in, at least, two years.

Last year was fine, too, as was the summer before. But this year, I am pain-free, since I had my hip replacement on July 1. A couple of Sundays ago I went to our boules party and saw people I rarely see except during the summer and our Christmas party in early December. I am not on a team this year, but I was able to throw a couple of boules (the game itself is called pétanque, while the stainless steel balls are called boules, but we all call the game boules, too). If they need a fill-out a team for the next two games, I can actually play.

I am also having such a good time with my CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) produce. Unlike most farms, I can pick anything I want that is available at the farm stand. Last week I bought about eight pounds of tomatoes, some green frying peppers, a big loaf of bread (made by the chef of the Oyster Club in Mystic) and almost three bags of baby carrots.

Now, let us talk about baby carrots. The carrots I bought were about the length of my pinkie finger, but even thinner, and the carrot tops were still attached. They are nothing like the “baby carrots” you buy at the supermarket. Those carrots are pared and thrown into a machine to make them look as if they are all the same size.

Sure, they are really carrots, but the ones I bought are tiny, sweet and still taste like the soil they grew in. I ate a lot them, then made a carrot soup I chilled and served with a dollop of sour cream (or crème fraiche.) I found the recipe online, but added a few fillips.

Of course, feel free to use big or smaller supermarket carrots.

 

Chilled Baby Carrot Soup

3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
1 medium  sweet onion, chopped
3 tablespoons fresh ginger, sliced thin
3 cloves fresh garlic, minced
1 pound of carrots, pared and diced (if they are really baby carrots, just clean them of tops and soil)
1 carton of low-salt chicken stock or vegetable stock
One-half teaspoon each of salt and yellow curry (I was out of Indian curry so I added a little red chili paste)
One-quarter teaspoon red pepper flakes (use less if you don’t like things too spicy)
1 can unsweetened coconut milk
Salt and pepper to taste

In a heavy-bottomed stock pot, add oil over medium heat. Add onion, ginger and garlic. Cook until just translucent, about 5 minutes. Add diced carrots and cook for another 3 or 4 minutes. Add stock and cook until just boiling, then reduce heat and add salt and yellow curry (or a quarter teaspoon or less red or yellow chili paste and/or red pepper flakes). Cook on medium-low for about 30 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool for at least an hour.

Using an immersion stick (which I do not have, I used my big Ninja), purée the soup. Put it back on the heat and add a can of coconut milk. Cook until hot and taste for seasoning. You can serve the soup hot, but I chill it and serve it cold with a dollop of sour cream or crème fraiche.

About the Author: Lee White, a local resident, has been writing about restaurants and cooking since 1976 and has been extensively published in the Worcester (Mass.) Magazine, The Day, Norwich Bulletin, and Hartford Courant.  She currently writes Nibbles and a cooking column called A La Carte for the Times and Shore Publishing newspapers, and Elan, a quarterly magazine, all of which are now owned by The Day. 

Share

Reading Uncertainly? ‘Identity’ by Francis Fukuyama

Stanford University’s Francis Fukuyama always challenges our minds. From his The End of History and the Last Man, addressing our futures after the end of the Cold War (1992), and continuing with The Origins of Political Order (2011) and Political Order and Political Decay (2014), two monster 600+ page tomes, his newest, and briefest (a slim 183 pager!) is Identity.

Who on earth are we? Fukuyama sees we humans as trying to manage, simultaneously, two conflicting pressures. The first is “isothymia,” — “the demand  to be respected on an equal basis with all other people,” and “megalothymia” — “the desire to be recognized as superior.”  This disparity has “historically existed in all societies; it cannot be overcome; it can only be channeled or moderated.”

He continues: “Contemporary identity politics is driven by the quest for equal recognition by groups that have been marginalized by their societies. But that desire for equal recognition can easily slide over into a demand for recognition of the group’s superiority.”

His themes are thymos (the third part of the soul), recognition, dignity, identity, immigration, nationalism, religion and culture. He calls on many earlier observers: Socrates, Luther, Rousseau, Kant, Hegel, Hobbes, Locke, Mill, Nietzsche, Herder, Adam Smith, Sartre, Freud, and Kahneman, arguing that the demand for dignity, “should somehow disappear is neither possible nor desirable.” Resentment at indignities remains a powerful force, a “craving for recognition” we must learn to understand and balance.

National identities are “critical for the maintenance of a successful political order.” They begin with a “shared belief in the legitimacy of the country’s political system, whether that system is democratic or not.” They include physical security, quality of government, economic development, “a wider radius of trust,” and strong social safety nets, all of which eventually make possible “liberal democracy itself.”

His chapter on religion and nationalism is particularly challenging. Can people who share a particular culture and language be subsumed into a global belief system (Hinduism; Buddhism; Communism; Islam; Christianity)? Probably not, but these systems continue to try. The advent of social media makes “identity” now the property of groups, not individuals.

Fukuyama cannot resist a comment of Trump, a “political figure who almost perfectly describes … narcissism: narcissism led Trump into politics, but a politics driven less by public purposes than his own inner need for public affirmation.” And “Trump (is) the perfect practitioner of the ethics of authenticity that defines our age: he may be mendacious, malicious, bigoted, and un-presidential, but at least he says what he thinks.”

“What is to be done?” he asks.  One, ”confusion over identity” is a “condition of living in the modern age.” Two, a “pan-European identity may someday emerge.” Three, “education is the critical ingredient”, but it must include a process of universal not parochial values, economic mobility, interdependence, and a growing exposure to other humans and their customs.

We humans seem to be simultaneously breaking down walls and building new ones!

Editor’s Note: ‘Identity’ by Francis Fukuyama was published by Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 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.

Share

Reading Uncertainly? ‘The Soul of America’ by Jon Meacham

This is an engrossing reflection on past American leaders, elected and publicly acknowledged, and how they have shaped our peculiar, yet resilient, form of governance.

Meacham leads us in a thorough review of our history: early (and conflicted) visions, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War, its aftermath (Reconstruction, the Klu Klux Klan), Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson and our entry into world affairs, the Depression, FDR, McCarthyism, Martin Luther King, and LBJ. Throughout he gives us the sense that all human beings, and, indeed, our so-called “leaders,” are both selfish and altruistic, often at the same moment.

We are both hopeful and fearful. It is, again, a story of trying to organize ourselves when we are simultaneously rational and irrational.

Meacham is a storehouse of relevant quotes from earlier observers. As an example, his last six pages cite 28 comments of others, often at length.

But his narrative ends with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Yes, that was a momentous achievement, but our scrambling did persist thereafter. As Sean Wilentz, in his New York Times review on June 10, 2018 explained, “Suddenly we are thrust back into the present with little understanding of how we got here from there”. What has gone wrong, or has, indeed, anything gone wrong? Are we simply, as so often in the past, struggling to find reasonable courses of action, both domestically and internationally?

Perhaps an answer lies in his quote of Eisenhower on leadership: “It’s persuasion – and conciliation – and education – and patience.” But are we ready, even willing, to accept that rational guidance?

Throughout, the author cites our very human compulsion to accept ”the most ancient of institutions, a powerful chief” connected to “the more modern of institutions, a free, disputatious populace.” Can they work together? Is our system really worthwhile (a strong executive, balanced by an equally strong legislature and judiciary)?

I continue to look with envy at a system almost as old (created in 1848), the one in Switzerland: seven rotating presidents, each serving a one year term, with a strong Assembly and local cantonal legislatures. And the Swiss employ four languages! It works and it has much less publicity …

Meacham’s five concluding “ideas”: (1) Enter the Arena, (2) Resist Tribalism, (3) Respect Facts and Deploy Reason, (4) Find a Critical Balance, and (5) Keep History in Mind.

Keep listening, reading, and thinking!

Editor’s Note: ‘The Soul of America’ by Jon Meacham was published by Random House, New York in 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.

Share

A la Carte: Corn Cacio e Pepe is a Perfect Summer Dish

Writing is a solitary pursuit, but, unless you write science fiction or fantasy stories, you become one with your protagonists, whether victims or predators. But if you write nonfiction, and I consider food writing nonfiction, you picture yourself with your readers and, in most cases, you have to go out to learn what you eat, what to shop for and what to cook.

I have been writing about food for decades. Much of that time, I have been writing in New England, some in Massachusetts and, during the best time, on the Connecticut shoreline. For the past three weeks, I have been just incommunicado, first for two days in the hospital getting a new hip, the rest of the two weeks at home.

I have a three-story condo. For three days, I slept on the couch. I made the stairs by the middle of the week, sleeping in my own bed on the second floor, but that trek was difficult. As I write this, I am up and down many times a day, have been driving for eight days, went to a movie with friends and ate a Norm’s for breakfast once and Olio twice (a lunch and a dinner). Yesterday I got my hair done and went to two meetings, a total of six hours.

As I sit on my desk working on my computer, writing two columns, I realize that I have missed you more than anything.

When my marvel of a daughter left for California, I was bereft. And scared.

My next-door neighbors spent lots of time with me, even helping me clean the cats’ litterbox and carted it, and other garbage, off to the dumpster. My appetite is just coming back, so I lived on eggplant parm my daughter made (what a dish, recipe coming in a few weeks), Chinese takeout my friends bought at Golden Lantern in Uncasville, and leftovers from Sneekers (chicken and penne) and meals from Olio (mini hamburger salad and veal piccata) 

I didn’t cook for two weeks, but I am cooking again now.

Whittle’s (and probably lots of local farms) has Silver Queen corn. This recipe, plus fresh local sliced tomatoes, means I am happy once again.

Corn Cacio e Pepe

From Bon Appetit, June/July 2019

Yield: 4 servings

16 ounces gemelli, orecchiette or other medium pasta
3 cups corn kernels (from 3 large ears)
8 ounces aged Pecorino Romano or Parmesan, finely grated (about 2 cups), plus more for serving
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper, plus more for serving

Fresh, sweet corn is a key ingredient of this delicious recipe. Photo by Virgil Cayasa on Unsplash

Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until al dente; add corn about 30 seconds before pasta is done cooking. Drain, reserving 1 cup pasta cooking liquid. Return pasta and corn to the pot.

While pasta is cooking, toss cheese and 2 teaspoon peppers in a medium bowl to combine. Add one-third cup cold water and use a fork to mash mixture into thick paste (try to get it as smooth as possible). Still mashing, add more water, a tablespoon at a time, until paste is about the consistency of cream cheese.

Add cheese mixture to pot with pasta and corn. Using a rubber spatula, toss pasta until cooked  (the cheese mixture will be too thick to form a sauce at this point). Tossing constantly, add reserved pasta cooking liquid a splash at a time, until a glossy sauce forms. (It should still be fairly thick.)

Transfer pasta to a large bowl and top with more cheese and a few additional grinds of pepper.

Share

Reading Uncertainly?  ‘Doing Justice’ by Preet Bharara

This is an entrancing, literate, and thought-provoking review of the experiences of the former U. S Attorney for the fabled Southern District of New York, now on the faculty of the NYU School of Law.

 “Justice is a broad and hazy subject”, he writes. “It is one of the most elusive and debatable concepts known to mankind, and disagreements over its meaning have spawned revolutions, religions, and civil wars.”  He argues its importance as “it seems preferred these days to demonize one’s opponents rather than engage them, to bludgeon critics rather than win them over. There is creeping contempt for the truth and expertise. Rigor is wanting everywhere. We swim in lies, never corrected … This moment in America (is) alarming.”

This is an odyssey of Bharara’s own experiences, focusing on many legal cases, a continuing search for “justice” found in engaging stories of human frailty. He argues for balance: “I have not only a healthy skepticism for the potential guilt of any suspect but also the necessary converse, skepticism of the innocence of any person.”  He adds, “the key is to make sure that prudent hesitation does not turn into paralysis and that responsible aggressiveness does not turn into recklessness.”

 His chapter on “Confirmation Bias”, natural to all of us, argues that every conclusion must be subject to challenge and revision.”  That on “Curiosity and Query” suggests that “dumb questions” are often the best to ask. That on “The Principles of Interrogation” note that “patience and humanity outperform threats and brute force every times” as proven in experience at Guantanamo. That on “Continuity and Change” concludes that “mindless adherence to old ways is, I think, worthy of mockery. Tradition is good and useful and grounding. But lazy habit and knee-jerk hostility to change are not tradition: they are an intellectual strati jacket.”

 Bharara presents his thoughts because, he argues, today “a crisis persists in public discourse and political debate. It is coarse and vicious and tone-deaf. Truth is a victim of self-interest and extreme tribalism, as are decorum and respect. The very notion of civility — and even the need for it – are hotly debated. Meanwhile the political tribes insulate themselves more than ever.”

This worried lawyer concludes with some cogent counsel: (1) “Justice, as I keep repeating, is done by human beings.” (2) Much of the time, your most important job as a lawyer is not to talk; it is to listen.” And (3)  “ …  probability is not certainty, and the uncertainty is always palpable.”.

I have a young grand-daughter, who has expressed interest in the law: I’m sending a copy of Preet Bharara’s challenging book to her to encourage that interest.

Editor’s Note: ‘Doing Justice’ by  Preet Bharara was published by  Alfred A. Knopf, New York in 2019.

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.

Share

The Movie Man: ‘Spider-Man: Far From Home’ is Deemed an “Entertaining Delight”

Kevin Ganey

New York City’s web-slinging superhero takes the stage all the way across the pond in Marvel’s newest installment, Spider-Man: Far from Home, and proves to be an entertaining delight.

Following up on the events of Avengers: Endgame in which the half of universal life that disappeared in what is referred to as “the Blip” has returned, Peter Parker and his classmates venture on a summer trip to Europe, where he unfortunately must confront another villain during his eager attempts to sway his crush, MJ.

We will notice that the iconic superhero, who debuted nearly 60 years ago, has been re-imagined in many ways. Aunt May is relatively young, Mary Jane is no longer a red-head and is now a different race — she also has a macabre sense of humor.

Changes in technology play a part in the plot, drones in particular, as well as internet-based news (this you will only see if you stay for the two post-credits scenes shown in every Marvel movie, and you will be more than satisfied to see the return of another important character in Spider-Man’s life, as well as the actor whose shoes nobody else can fill).

Tom Holland continues to deliver as Spider-Man, especially as his boyish looks allow us to believe that he really is a high school student, in contrast to the previous two actors who portrayed this character. Jake Gyllenhaal also delivers as Quentin Beck/Mysterio. In fact, the whole cast delivers on their performances, there was not a single character that I was not taken in by.

Photo by Muhd Asyraaf on Unsplash

There are only three complaints I had upon exiting the movie: the plot is somewhat predictable, the music just doesn’t live up to the hype of the action, and the design of Spider-Man’s suits. Okay, maybe the last one is based on a personal preference, but I still hold the design of the suits used in Sam Raimi’s trilogy to be extremely cool with the appearance of the “web” and “eyes.”

But you will get many laughs out of this flick, as Marvel is expected to deliver on this aspect. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why Marvel always excels while DC’s movies tend to disappoint. Marvel makes their characters lovable and gives you a good time, without experiencing any form of despair, somewhat of a theme for DC.

If you are a Marvel fan, seeing this latest installment is a must.

If you are not a Marvel fan, I highly recommend you see this anyway because this movie will entertain you, either way (and isn’t that what the movies are all about?)

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.

Share

Talking Transportation: Airlines That Are No More

Which airline company will disappear next into the clouds? Photo by Leio McLaren (@leiomclaren) on Unsplash.

Rail fans call them “fallen flags”… railroads that are no more, like the original New Haven and New York Central Railroads.  But before I start getting all misty-eyed, let’s also pay homage to airlines that have flown away into history.

Like PEOPLExpress, the domestic discount airline ,which flew out of Newark’s grungy old North Terminal starting in 1981.  Fares were dirt cheap, collected on-board during the flight and checked bags cost you $3.  You even had to pay for sodas and snacks.  The airline expanded too fast, even adding a 747 to its fleet for $99 flights to Brussels, and was eventually merged with Continental under its rapacious Chairman Frank Lorenzo, later banished from the industry by the Department of Transportation.

There were any number of smaller, regional airlines that merged or just folded their wings, including MidwayL’ExpressIndependence AirAir CaliforniaPSA and a personal favorite, Midwest Express, started by the Kimberly-Clark paper company to shuttle employees between its mills and headquarters in Milwaukee.

Midwest flew DC-9’s, usually fitted with coach seats in a two-and-three-configuration, but equipped instead with business-class two-and-two-leather seats.  Meals were free and included fresh baked chocolate chip cookies.

We all probably remember the fallen giants like TWA (acquired by American Airlines), Eastern Airlines (also gobbled up by Lorenzo), Braniff (which even flew a chartered Concorde at one point between Washington DC and Dallas TX) and Pan American (which was the US’s semi-official overseas airline for decades.)

And let’s not forget more recent carriers like Continental, merged with United Airlines in 2012 or US Airways (previously known as Allegheny Airlines), which was taken over by American Airlines in 2015.  Or how about the old Northwest Orient, which Delta took over in 2008?  I especially remember flying AmericaWest before its 2005 merger with USAir.

And then there were the name-change carriers, like ValueJet which rebranded as AirTran after a deadly crash in the Florida Everglades in 1996 following a series of maintenance and safety issues.  A 1982 crash of an Air Florida jet taking off in a Washington DC snowstorm quickly grounded that airline for financial reasons.

Anyone remember the Trump Shuttle, successor to Eastern Airlines’ Boston – LaGuardia – DC hourly service?  It only flew for three years but innovated such in-flight technology as GTE’s Airphone.  You could even rent laptops for use in-flight.

But did you know that the cruise ship line Carnival once had its own airline of the same name?  Its fleet of 25 jets funneled passengers to their ships in Fort Lauderdale until 1997 when Pan Am took it over, only to itself go belly-up months later.

Another quirky little airline was MGM Grand Air which flew JFK to LA in an all first-class, luxury configuration. There were swiveling lounge seats, private cabins, an onboard chef and even in-flight fax machines. Their 727 carried only 33 passengers and operated out of a private terminal at LAX, making it very popular with camera-shy celebrities. One way fares were $1400.

But did you know that there was also a Hooters Air, modeled after the restaurant chain of the same name? From 2003 to 2006 the seven plane fleet featured business class seating at low fares and in-flight meals served by, you guessed it, tight t-shirt clad Hooters Girls. The restaurant chain is still going, but the airline folded after $40 million in losses.

Jim Cameron

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

Share

Talking Transportation: Summer Vacation … Fly or Drive?

Photo by Sai Kiran Anagani on Unsplash

Going on vacation this summer?  If so, the question is … how to travel: drive, take the train or fly? (I’m eliminating the bus option because, well, life is too short to endure that kind of misery.  I have no problems with commuting by bus, but a 10-hour ride is not going to happen!)

In most cases, the choice depends on how far you’re traveling and what your budget allows. For trips of 300 miles or less, the train is my first choice … assuming it goes where I want.  In the Northeast, Amtrak service is frequent, convenient and affordable.  But to other destinations, not so much.

But it also depends on how many are in your ‘party’ (and traveling with your family is always a party, right?) because traveling as a family of four can add up, especially when each member needs a ticket.  Even going into New York City can be cheaper by car (including tolls and parking) than on Metro-North when you have three or more people.

Flying is faster, but maybe not if you include all of the door-to-door time: driving to the airport, arriving two or three hours before departure, checking your bags, going through security, then after arrival at your destination grabbing your bags, finding your rental car, driving to your destination.  In most cases by train, you go from city-center to city-center.  And by car, well, you get to determine where you’re going.

By train you get to see the country.  But so too with driving.  Train travel is pretty stress-free.  Not so with driving, and certainly not in flying.

In about eight hours you can drive 400+ miles, even with pit-stops.  If two drivers can share the behind-the-wheel duties, a full 12-hour day’s worth of driving can easily get you 700 miles.  That’s almost the distance to Chicago or maybe Atlanta.  But staying alert can really take its strain, so be sure to take frequent breaks and caffeinate.

Of course, having kids on board can complicate things … more stops, more whining.  “No, we’re not there yet!  Play with your Gameboy.”

If you’re confused about the fly-drive value calculations, there’s a great website that can help:  the Be Frugal Fly or Drive Calculator.  Plug in the information … origin, destination, make and model of car, driving hours … and voila!  The app will figure the cost for both alternatives, even including highway tolls and your car’s mpg.  Mind you, gas prices are heading up this summer, so factor that in too.

The final issue is safety.  You do want to arrive alive, right?

It used to be on airlines that after you landed the flight attendant would say something like “The safest part of your journey has just ended, so drive safely”.  Statistically, that’s true.

Federal safety stats say that one person dies for every 100 million vehicle miles traveled.  (Interestingly, Connecticut’s statistics are lower than the national average). Still, there are a lot more highway crashes than air disasters. In 2018 there were no fatalities on US commercial flights and worldwide, only one fatal accident for every 300 million flights.

The National Safety Council says you have one chance in 114 of dying in an automobile crash, but only one chance in 9,821 of dying on a flight.  You’re eight times likelier to die by drowning on vacation.

Thanks to the stronger US economy, a lot more people will be taking a vacation this summer.  A little planning and you should be able to save time and money.  So, bon voyage!

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

Share

The Movie Man: We Really Didn’t Need ‘Toy Story 4’ … Pixar Should Have Stopped At Number Three

Kevin Ganey

Corporate Disney has tossed away creative Disney’s masterpiece ending of Toy Story 3 and continued the series in a shameless attempt to rake in even higher profits.

The third installment presented us with one of the most beautiful endings in movie history, in which grown-up Andy hands his boyhood toys to the next generation of children, and tearfully waves goodbye to his favorite, Woody, who mutters “So long, partner.” Anybody watching the third film could tell this was the perfect way to end a series revolving around some of the most lovable characters in cinema. Because of this, many of us were scratching our heads when we learned that Pixar would be producing a fourth installment of the series.

As the years have gone by, I have had the ability to reflect on the world of Woody, Buzz, Slink, Jessie, and the Potato Heads and realized that all feature films, and even short films, revolve around the same plot formula: a toy goes missing, and the others must embark on a journey to bring it back. One could imagine my disappointment upon screening the trailer for the first time and observing that the plot remains the same for every film.

In the fourth part of this potentially endless series, Bonnie, their new owner, is off to Kindergarten, and Woody sneaks into her backpack and uses subtlety to help her create a new toy from the trash bin: Forky (Tony Hale of Veep and Arrested Development … to be honest, I’m always disappointed to see his characters with an in-tact left hand.) But Forky jovially identifies as trash and is always looking to return to the nearest garbage bin, much to the chagrin of Woody, who seems to be looking for something to fill his time as he is being played with less and less.

On a family road trip, Forky escapes and Woody dutifully goes to retrieve him, but on the way back runs into Bo Peep, who now lives an adventurous lifestyle as a “lost” toy near an antique store and temporary carnival. I particularly got a kick out of Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele’s characters, Ducky and Bunny (aptly-named stuffed critters, who are prizes at the carnival), as well as the sub-plot of Buzz listening to his “inner-voice.”

Major film buffs will take pleasure in noticing one of the creepy songs that plays in the antique store where we meet our antagonist, a baby-doll named Gabby Gabby (voiced by Mad Men’s Christina Hendricks.)

The viewer will observe that identity and vocation are the dominant themes during their screening. It’s never too early to teach little children about who they are meant to be and what their purpose is in society.

But I do hold some complaints about this installment, as the conflict does not stand out as was the case in the three previous films (escaping a sadistic pre-teen boy, Woody being kidnapped by a self-centered toy collector, and being held prisoner by a disenchanted toy at a day care center). The urgency does not match what was previously presented to us viewers, which I believe was also what made Finding Dory a disappointment.

However, Toy Story 4 remains an enjoyable flick.

Unnecessary, but enjoyable.

Share

Legal News You Can Use: What is a Nonadversarial Divorce?


Sponsored Post from Suisman Shapiro Attorneys-at-Law 

If you are in a situation where you and your spouse agree that a divorce is the right path, then you may want to pursue a nonadversarial divorce. The nonadversarial divorce process takes only 35 days at most and doesn’t require you to go before the judge. Typically, a divorce takes three or more months.

What makes you eligible for a nonadversarial divorce?

You may be eligible for a nonadversarial divorce if you have been married nine or fewer years, are not pregnant, have no children (adopted or biological), have no real property or interests, have no pending bankruptcy and have no property owned over $80,000 in value.

You will also have to show that there are no protective orders or actions for the dissolution of your marriage pending at the time you apply for the nonadversarial divorce. If so, you may need to wait for those to be dismissed.

You might ask yourself who would pursue this type of divorce, but there are many people with few marital assets and no children. Those are the primary factors that you’ll need to meet to get the divorce, along with being married less than a decade. If that sounds like your situation, then you may wish to reach out to your attorney to see if this divorce is right for you.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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

Share

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.

Share