November 13, 2018

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

Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Bread

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

He was sort of correct.

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

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

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

Perfection … and delicious … and dairy-free.

Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Bread

Adapted from Food Network Kitchen

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

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

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


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

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

The answer to both questions is … China!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted with permission of Hearst CT Media.

Jim Cameron


About the author:
 Jim Cameron is founder of The Commuter Action Group, and a member of the Darien RTM.  The opinions expressed in this column are only his own.  You can reach him at CommuterActionGroup@gmail.com

For a full collection of  “Talking Transportation” columns, visit www.talkingtransportation.blogspot.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Felix Kloman

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Jim Cameron

About the author: 

Jim Cameron is founder of The Commuter Action Group, and a member of the Darien RTM.  The opinions expressed in this column are only his own.  You can reach him at CommuterActionGroup@gmail.com

For a full collection of “Talking Transportation” columns, visit www.talkingtransportation.blogspot.com

Posted with permission of Hearst CT Media.

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

Sample a piece of delicious Banana Split Cake!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Banana Split Cake

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

Yield: 12 to 14 servings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Legal News You Can Use: Prepare for Autumn Driving Hazards

Photo by Val Vesa on Unsplash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The key is to write …

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

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

Other astute observations McPhee makes on the writing process are:

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

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

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

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

Try it … and keep writing!

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

Felix Kloman

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

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Talking Transportation: Secret “Hacks” of Grand Central 

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

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

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

Underground Access:

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

Fastest Way from / to the Lower Level:

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

Washrooms with No Wait:

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

Best Place To Get A Cab:          

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

Where to Have a Smoke:

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

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

Posted with permission of Hearst CT Media 

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

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

What, indeed, is “blight”?

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

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

Fascinating.

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

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

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

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

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

Can we as human beings actually learn to live together?

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

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

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

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

Felix Kloman

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

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Talking Transportation: Trucks as Traffic Scapegoats

“Why don’t we just ban all trucks from our interstate highways in rush hour?”

The question was asked of me by a small town mayor in Fairfield County who’d obviously given a lot of thought to solutions to our traffic woes. He’s a smart guy and thought he’d come up with “the answer” to our transportation crisis.

He said he wasn’t in favor of tolls, but liked them as a traffic mitigation tool.  By charging trucks more to drive our highways in rush hour, they’d be incentivized to instead go off-peak.  He was just taking the idea a step further:  ban them completely at certain hours.

Well, I explained, that’s probably illegal.  This is an interstate, federal highway built to carry trucks.  Wouldn’t it be a better idea to tell the merchants where they are going to only accept deliveries at, say, 3 a.m. instead of 9 to 5, which is more convenient for the stores?

But the truck-haters are not satisfied.  Any number of candidates are calling for truck-only tolls, pointing to Rhode Island’s recent launch of such as system.  It’s been a huge success, raking in $625,000 in its first month of operation.

But it’s also attracted lawsuits, because it is illegal, just like the Mayor’s idea.  Tolling only big-rigs is a violation of the US Constitution’s “Commerce Clause”.  The truckers and big-box stores say it’s not fair to toll them and not charge drivers of cars and small trucks.  I’m no lawyer, but I think they’re right.

Trucks are not the problem.  Cars are.

But it’s so easy to blame the trucks for delays on our roads, isn’t it?  Blame them, instead of ourselves.  Toll them, not me. I’m not creating the traffic, they are.

Trucks are not allowed on the Merritt and Wilbur Cross Parkways, so why are those roads so congested?  Look at I-95 in rush hour and count the number of trucks vs. single-occupancy-vehicles.  Again, it’s the volume of the traffic, not the kind of vehicles that are causing the delays. It’s the geometry of the highway … too many exits and entrances … and too few alternatives (aside from rail).

Truckers don’t want to be on the interstates in bumper-to-bumper traffic any more than you do.  They are not out there, driving on I-95 and I-84, just to annoy you.  Compared to you, driving solo in your automobile, they are high-occupancy vehicles carrying your Amazon orders and making deliveries to the big box stores.  You put those trucks on the road, and now you want to ban them at certain hours?  Then you’ll be moaning about late deliveries.

You don’t want to pay tolls?  Trucks already do, even in Connecticut.  They pay higher state gas taxes (44 cents for diesel vs. 25 cents for gasoline), even if they don’t buy that gas in Connecticut.  And they must pay to register their trucks in CT, even if they are from out of state, thanks to the International Fuel Tax Agreement, or IFTA.

Add a layer of tolls on top of those costs and guess who’s going to pay?  You!

There’s no free lunch, folks.  And the solution to our traffic is not to blame others … but to look in the mirror.

 

Jim Cameron

About the author: 

Jim Cameron is founder of The Commuter Action Group, and a member of the Darien RTM.  The opinions expressed in this column are only his own.  You can reach him at CommuterActionGroup@gmail.com

For a full collection of “Talking Transportation” columns, visit www.talkingtransportation.blogspot.com

Posted with permission of Hearst CT Media.

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Reading Uncertainly: ‘Writing to Learn’ by William Zinsser

Almost 30 years ago my wife bought and read William Zinsser’s Writing to Learn, with a copy autographed by the author.  It has taken all that time for me to find and read this perceptive and challenging work.

Late, but perhaps not too late!

The key lies in the title: this is not a “how to” book but rather an encouragement to write, and write, and then write some more, as the critical part of the process of learning.

Zinsser, who died in 2015, wrote for the New York Herald Tribune, The New Yorker, the New York Times, taught at Yale and New York’s Fieldston School, edited the Yale Alumni Magazine, and was extensively published.  His key point is “ … writing is a form of thinking … ”  He never stopped doing both.

Writing, he explains, “clarifies half-formed ideas.”  It is thinking on paper.  As our thinking constantly changes, so too should our writing, and, “ … the essence of writing is rewriting,” in the form of the alteration and clarification of our thoughts.

He describes his “liberal” education: Deerfield Academy, Princeton University, the U.S. Army in the War in Europe, newspaper reporting, teaching at Yale, being Master of Yale’s Branford College; and then even more writing, as a lifelong “linear and sequential” process.

Lovely quotes: on rewriting: “I heard the scratching out of words that is the obbligato of a writer’s life,” and on academic writing:  “It’s a language squeezed dry of human juices – a Sargasso Sea of passive verbs, long and generalized nouns, pompous locutions and unnecessary jargon.”

His Chapter 5 describes his pet Crochets and Convictions: information and noise; obscurity; voice and tone; brevity (“Brevity is one sign of a well-organized mind.”); jargon; killer nouns (“the pomposity of bureaucratic language”), lifesaving verbs (be active, never passive), and the illiteracy of the elite (corporate over-writing is “scandalous in its flatulence.”)

As Zinsser considered his thesis, he said, “I would write confidently from my own convictions and experiences – take ‘em or leave ‘em – and to illustrate my points I would present passages by writers I admired.”

And so he does …

He begins with William Strunk & E. B. White’s The Elements of Style (“read once a year”) and then on to:

  • Physics and Chemistry: Einstein, Primo Levi and Richard Feynman
  • Geology:  John Muir, Rachel Carson and John Rodgers (Yale)
  • Art: John Russell (NYT) and A. Hyatt Mayor (Metropolitan Museum of Art)
  • Natural World: Darwin, Roger Tory Peterson (a former Old Lyme resident!), and Archie Carr (University of FL)
  • Music: Alec Wilder, Virgil Thomas, and Roger Sessions.

For Mathematics he extensively quotes Joan Countryman, a teacher at Germantown Friends School in Philadelphia: he says music is also “a language” and advises, “keep a journal with a running account of your work.”

And for Memoirs, he cites Lewis Thomas (Lives of a Cell): “it had never occurred to me that a memoir could be pre-natal.” It’s too bad he never read Ian McEwan’s 2016 novel of life before birth, Nutshell.

William Zinsser’s reading marathon is condensed into a 100-yard dash. Read it and write on.

One further comment: William Zinsser and his wife had a summer house in East Lyme for many years, and Caroline Fraser Zinsser wrote a short study of the 1828-1851 letters of Charles and Mary Chadwick of Lyme (he was a sailing captain), which was published by the East Lyme Public Library in 2005.

Editor’s Note: ‘Writing to Learn’ by William Zinsser is published by Harper & Row, New York 1988

Felix Kloman

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

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Talking Transportation: ‘Train Time is Your Own Time’ … True or False?


Train time is your own time” was the old marketing slogan of Metro-North, encouraging commuters to kick back and enjoy the ride while reading, working or taking a snooze.

But in reality, train time is shared time.  They don’t call it “mass transit” for nothing as passengers much share their space with a hundred other commuters on each railcar.

Assuming you get a seat, this means you’re squeezed in next to one or two fellow riders.

Usually commuters are respectful of each other and don’t blare their radios or carry on loud conversations, with each other or on cell-phones.  Or so we’d hope.

It was almost 20 years ago that Amtrak first introduced the concept of The Quiet Car, following suggestions of daily commuters riding to DC.  It was such a success that quiet cars were soon added to other Northeast Corridor trains and Acela.

The concept was simple, as conductors reminded passengers on every trip:  maintain a “library like atmosphere”.  That meant no cell phone calls and only quiet, subdued conversation.  You want to yuck it up over a beer, go to the Café Car.  Got an important phone call … sit in any other coach.

Other commuter railroads picked up Amtrak’s cue … but not Metro-North. While serving on the CT Metro-North Commuter Council, I regularly beseeched the railroad to give us a break and dedicate just one car to peace and quiet, convinced it would attract riders.  Finally in 2011, the railroad took the hint and launched such a car, branded as a “Quiet CALMmute”.

Victory for the sonically overloaded?  Not by a long shot.  This is Metro-North and if anyone can screw up a good idea, they can.

First, they offered the worst car location on the train to their CALMmute:  the last car in-bound and the first car out-bound from GCT.  And there were no signs indicating which car was “quiet”.  Worst of all, conductors all but refused to enforce the quiet rules, leading to altercations between passengers.

Conductors have no trouble enforcing other rules:  luggage on the overhead racks, no feet on the seats, no smoking etc.  But asking people to keep down the chatter was apparently too much.  All they would do, at first, was hand “Shhh cards” to offenders.

In 2016 the quiet car program was expanded to two cars per train, peak and off-peak.  But, still no signage (until just recently) and no enforcement.

Now, a major change.  The railroad announced that effective immediately there would be only one quiet car per off-peak train.  And the PR team at MNRR spun the story so well that some local media made it sound like the program was being expanded, not cut in half.  Brilliant.

There was no explanation for the cut in quiet cars though one official told me, “We have had no reports of quiet car demand exceeding availability in the off-peak.”  In other words, people who ride off-peak just prefer to yap.

That’s an amazing PR “spin” on what is really an admission of failure.  Metro-North never wanted quiet cars and clearly didn’t want to enforce the rules.  The people have literally “spoken” and the Quiet CALMmute won’t be as accessible anymore.

This is what happens when you have a monopoly, answerable to nobody, especially its customers.  I’d raise my voice in protest but … I’m in the quiet car.

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

Posted with permission of Hearst CT Media.

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Talking Transportation: “The Automotive-Construction Complex”

How did Americans develop their love affair with driving?

Visit the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington and the transportation exhibit, “America on the Move,” will sell you on the commonly-held theory that when Henry Ford made cars affordable, Americans loved them and demanded more and more highways.

Of course, that exhibit is sponsored by General Motors, which donated millions to put its name on the collection.

But University of Virginia history Professor Peter Norton, author of “Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in American Cities,” says that’s a myth.  Just as outgoing President Eisenhower warned us of the military industrial complex, Norton says an automotive-construction complex took over our country, paving from coast to coast.

Sure, Americans like their cars.  But it was a conspiracy of economic interests that turned us into a car culture.  Where cities once enjoyed a network of cheap, fast streetcars, GM, Firestone and the oil companies bought and wiped them out, replacing them with buses and cars.

“This country destroyed and rebuilt its cities in the 20th century to serve automobiles,” says Norton.  And those same interest groups are alive and well today in Connecticut.

Groups like “Move CT Forward” aren’t pro-transportation as much as they are pro jobs … their jobs, in construction.  And they’ve spent a lot of money lobbying in Hartford to keep their members, the unions and contractors, busy.   While I’m happy they’re promoting transportation, their motives are hardly altruistic.

This is nothing new, says Norton.  The original interstate highways built in the 1950s used Portland Cement because that company lobbied so hard for its product over cheaper asphalt.  And now that rusting rebar and crumbling cement is costing us a fortune.

Another myth from that era was that President Eisenhower built the interstates to move troops quickly for national defense.  That may have been the pitch to Congress, but the real reason for the highways was to evacuate civilians from the big cities in the event of nuclear war.  Lucky we never had to test that idea.

Last August when Hurricane Harvey hit Houston … the most urbanized highway city in the country … authorities didn’t even try to evacuate people because they knew more would die on congested roads than in the storm.

Who pays for all this road building?  You do, in the form of income taxes and, yes, gasoline taxes.  But Norton says gas taxes are hardly a fair way to pay for all this.

Why does the motorist driving on a dirt road pay the same gas tax as one driving I-95?  The costs they place on road maintenance, the environment and our stress levels are grossly different, so why isn’t the cost?

“It would be like having Best Buy selling everything by the pound.  People would flock to the electronics (our crowded interstates) instead of the towels,” he notes (though I’m not sure Best Buy even sells towels, but I take his point.)

He reminds us that before the interstates, the nation’s first “super highways” like the Pennsylvania Turnpike and the New Jersey Turnpike were built – not as freeways – but toll roads, and they still are today.

Driving may seem to be free, but it isn’t.  And until we ask drivers to pay for its real cost, there is no incentive to do anything but drive (and pave) more.

Jim Cameron

About the author: 

Jim Cameron is founder of The Commuter Action Group, and a member of the Darien RTM.  The opinions expressed in this column are only his own.  You can reach him at CommuterActionGroup@gmail.com

For a full collection of “Talking Transportation” columns, visit www.talkingtransportation.blogspot.com

Posted with permission of Hearst CT Media.

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Talking Transportation: Federal Air Marshals? Worthwhile or Worthless?

Do you feel safe when you fly?

Forget about exploding jet engines, cracked aircraft windows and clear-air turbulence.  What about terrorists?

We haven’t seen a domestic case of terrorists attacking jetliners in years, thanks to increased scrutiny of passengers by the TSA, the Transportation Security Administration.  From the moment you book a flight, you are being screened.  If you’re on the “No Fly List”, you’d better switch your travel plans to Amtrak or MegaBus.  And when you get to the airport, get ready for a full pat-down search.

But airlines’ last line of defense against terrorists is FAM, the Federal Air Marshal Service.  Created in 1961 after a spate of skyjackings to Cuba, the air marshal program, now administered by the TSA, has grown to 3000 marshals and an $800 million budget.

But the program is now in trouble.

The Government Accounting Office last year reported that even TSA could not demonstrate that FAM is effective or even served as a deterrent to bad guys.  Since the program was accelerated (from 33 marshals before 9/11), air marshals have not made a single terrorist arrest, though the armed, undercover agents have thwarted several “disruptive passenger” incidents.

In April, a deranged woman on a Delta flight from London to Salt Lake City jumped on an air marshal who had been supervising her after she overturned a drink cart.  She was cuffed (by another marshal) for the duration of the flight and faces a year in prison.

In December 2005, air marshals shot and killed a man as he ran off an American Airlines flight in Miami, claiming he had a bomb.  Ignoring calls to “stop” and “get down”, the shooting was declared “legally justified” in a 46-page follow-up report.  The man had no explosives, but was found to have missed his meds for a bipolar condition.

Even with 3000 marshals, there is no way the TSA can cover the 42,000 daily flights in the US.  There were no marshals on shoe-bomber Richard Reid’s (2001) or underwear bomber Umar Farouk’s (2009) trans-Atlantic flights.

One of the criticisms of FAM is that they waste their time policing “flights to nowhere” on regional 50-seat aircraft when it’s the longer, bigger jets that need attention.

FAM is also sullied by low morale and allegations of alcohol abuse.  Between 2002 and 2012  air marshals were arrested 148 times and charged with 5000 cases of misconduct including 1200 cases of lost equipment — including their weapons.

If you travel for a living, imagine their job.  They can’t sleep in-flight, suffer from the same delays as the rest of us and have to be ready on seconds’ notice to discharge their weapons at 30,000 feet.

Some marshals say FAM’s problems are due to its ties with TSA.  They suggest the service would be better off as part of Customs and Border Protection or the FBI.

But Robert MacLean, an air marshal fired in 2006 after disclosing that the service was cutting back on coverage of overnight flights, calls FAM “security theater serving absolutely no purpose other than showing they (TSA) are doing something”.  (MacLean was finally taken back into FAM after a 10-year legal fight that went all the way to the Supreme Court.)

Jim Cameron

About the author: 

Jim Cameron is founder of The Commuter Action Group, and a member of the Darien RTM.  The opinions expressed in this column are only his own.  You can reach him at CommuterActionGroup@gmail.com

For a full collection of “Talking Transportation” columns, visit www.talkingtransportation.blogspot.com

Posted with permission of Hearst CT Media.

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Letter From Paris: Exhibition Explores Work of American Female Artist in Male World of French Impressionism

Nicole Prévost Logan

“Mary Cassatt (1844-1926) was the most French of all American artists,” said art historian Jerome Coignard.  She was the only woman – along with Berthe Morisot – to be recognized by the Impressionist movement and therefore permitted to show her works in their annual Salons. 

A rare photograph of Mary Cassatt — supposedly the only photograph for which she ever posed.

For 40 years she developed a personal and artistic friendship with Edgar Degas, which was somewhat surprising considering Degas was well known for his misogyny.  Her long association with the famous art merchant Paul Durand Ruel, especially after he opened a gallery on Madison Avenue, increased the exposure of impressionism in the US.

The Jacquemart-André Museum in Paris is currently holding a retrospective exhibition of monographs by Mary Cassatt titled, ‘An American Impressionist in Paris.’  It is a long overdue recognition of an artist whose works are found mostly in the US, but who is better known in France.  Jacquemart-André is one of the most elegant art galleries in Paris.  It was built in the 1860s as one of the townhouses of the imperial aristocracy in the “plaine Monceau” (an area of Paris in the 17th arrondissement.)

The property is slightly set back from Boulevard Haussmann, and on the upper level, opens up onto a vast courtyard under the watchful eyes of two stone lions.  The magnificent residence, with its eclectic furniture, boiseries (wood wall paneling), fireplaces and Gobelins tapestries, used to attract thousands of guests from the high society.

In the West Wing of the Metroplitan Museum in New York, paintings by Cassatt are hung in a gallery exclusively reserved for the works of other women.  Cassatt might have been upset by this apparent patronization by critics and art historians toward domestic scenes created by women.  She might have deemed it unfair because painters like Edouard Vuillard (1868-1940) or Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947) are famous for their paintings inspired by the intimacy of the home. 

Art historian Guillaume Morel comments that the many mother and child scenes painted by Cassatt were, in fact, more feminist than it appears at first.  He writes that she may have found herself endowed with a mission to represent scenes to which men did not have access.  Her “maternity scenes” effectively propelled her into modernism.

La Loge (The Theatre Box) by Mary Cassatt.

At the turn of the 20th century, women were tied to their homes, seemingly leading an indolent existence limited to feminine activities, primarily the care of small children.  They almost never ventured onto the public place – like a café, race track or a prostitute’s haunt.  The subject in “La Loge (The theater box)” (1878) is a departure from this tradition: a self-assured woman is by herself looking through her opera-glasses, and apparently unconcerned by the male spectator staring at her from another balcony.

Even in France, the obstacles inflicted on women artists were enormous: they were neither allowed in the Ecole des Beaux Arts nor were naked models permitted in their art classes.  Women could not copy the grands maitres (Old Masters) in museums like the Louvre.

The special talent of Cassatt was to have overcome these obstacles by taking advantage of her place in the privileged class, traveling extensively and establishing contacts with members of the artistic elite such as Isabella Stewart Gardner (Boston), Alfred Atmore Pope (Connecticut) or Henry Walters (Baltimore.)

From a very young age, she rebelled against the formal teaching offered in the few fine art institutions open to women.  She hated the idea of learning her craft through the use of castings and copies.  She showed an intrepid personality when she told her father she wanted to pursue her artistic education in Europe.  Her father admonished her, saying, “I would rather see you dead.”

And her response to her father’s threat?  She went anyway.

Cassatt was born in Pittsburgh into a well-to-do family.  Her father was an investment banker and her mother was educated in a school created by a former chambermaid of Marie Antoinette.  At the age of seven, she sailed for the first time to Europe with her family.  David McCullough, in his superb book titled The Greater Journey, published in 2011, describes the luxury steamers carrying less than 300 privileged passengers, who could afford the crossing in comfortable accommodations in an “interior richly embellished with satin wood, gilded ceilings … and indoor plumbing.”

The co-curator of the present exhibit held in Paris,  Nancy Mowell Mathews, rejects the expression “woman Impressionist.”  She comments, “Mary Cassatt did not paint differently from other Impressionists.  What she had in common with them was her taste for rough sketches, the unfinished feel of strokes and her daring cadrages (framing of the subject) mostly used in photography or  cinematography.”

‘The little girl in the blue armchair’ was painted in 1878 by Mary Cassatt.

Cassatt’s models – mostly members of her family – do not pose in a stilted attitude, but appear relaxed and natural.  In “The little girl in a blue armchair” (1878), the little girl is literally sprawling on a big, shapeless, overstuffed blue armchair.  And so is the small boy looking at us in the painting called, “Woman sitting with a child in her arms. 

‘The Cup of Tea’ is a classic Impressionist work by Mary Cassatt.

“The Cup of Tea “(1880) is an unsurpassed exercise in Impressionist virtuosity.  Fast brush strokes  and the rejection of details are sufficient to render volumes.   The dramatic contrast between the fluffy, pink dress and the black of the solid armchair creates a strong composition.  In 1879, Cassatt was officially accepted in the Impressionist Salon.  The two following decades marked the summit of her career. 

Although Cassatt painted mostly in oils and pastels, Degas had also detected her exceptional talent as both draughtsman and engraver.  Her eaux-fortes (etchings) constitute a large part of her works, while “La Toilette” and “The letter ” (both dated 1891) show signs of japonism.  The engraving process with a pointe-sèche (dry point) is a painstaking and dangerous process since acid is used.

She was the friend of the most influential American feminists and joined their movement for equality, which had started in the US in 1840.  Toward the end of her life, she increasingly devoted her time to counseling American art collectors.  Among them was her close friend Lousine Hvenmeyer, wife of wealthy sugar baron, who owned more than 2,000 Impressionist works. 

After spending 60 years in France, she died in her estate, the Chateau de Beaufresnes in Le Mesnil Théribus, north west of Paris, although interestingly, she never took French nationality.

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Reading Uncertainly? ‘Wicked, Weird & Wily Yankees’ by Stephen Gencarella

Editor’s Note: Stephen Gencarella, the author of ‘Wicked, Weird & Wily Yankees’ will be the guest speaker at the Lyme Public Library’s Annual Meeting on Tuesday, June 26, at 7 p.m.

What a pleasure: to read an engaging book by a close neighbor (Steve and his family live just down Tinker Lane from me) and to encourage other Lymies to do the same!

Steve, a professor at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst and the resident folklorist at the Connecticut River Museum, offers us a series of essays about unusual folk from New England, eccentric and out-of-the-ordinary men and women: hermits, healers, poets, mesmerists, fortune-tellers, prophets, reformers, bandits, visionaries, vagabonds, introverts, and misogynists.

In other words, most of us!

But what is eccentricity. The professor explains: “ … eccentricity is not an inherent quality but one always partially imposed from the outside, from the society that demarcates and gazes upon the eccentric … “[it] is always a matter of contested perspectives” and “ … tendencies to the reclusive or to the flamboyant quickly garner the label of eccentricity.”  He continues, “As tends to happen when history yields to folklore, this oddity began to grow in dimensions through the course of a century” of retelling stories of eccentrics.  And “the stories themselves are vagabonds.”

Among the locals described in these essays are a character at the Monkey Farm Café in Old Saybrook, William Gillette of Gillette’s Castle, that “Hadlyme stone heap,” and Elizabeth Tashjian, perhaps better known as “The Nut Lady” of Old Lyme.

Steve concludes with the counsel, “but that is precisely the challenge of eccentrics: to demand respect for the integrity and for the unique and unusual demands of every individual and to refuse to allow authority – however minor – to get away with discouraging people who hear a different drummer.”

We are all story-tellers!

But I was most impressed by the author’s continued use of the word “passing” as his euphemism for death: he uses it 31 times, by my count. It reminded me of that famous “Dead Parrot” skit from Monty Python, in which John Cleese presents an inert parrot nailed to a stick to Michael Palin, the man who had just sold it to him.

“E’s passed on! This parrot is no more! He has ceased to be! ‘E’s expired and gone to meet ‘is maker! ‘E’s a stiff! Bereft of life, ‘e rests in peace! If you hadn’t nailed ‘im to the perch, ‘e’d be pushing up the daisies! ‘Is metabolic processes are now ‘istory! ‘E’s off the twig! ‘E’s kicked the bucket, ‘e’s shuffled off ‘is mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisible!! This is an ex-parrot!”

Does this usage “passeth all understanding” (Philippians)?

I pass … but do read these entrancing stories of eccentric Yankees!

About this book: ‘Wicked, Weird & Wily Yankees’ by Stephen Gencarella was published in May 2018 by Globe Pequot, Guilford, CT 2018.

Felix Kloman

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

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Talking Transportation: Connecticut: Love It or Leave It

The recent debate over tolling our highways should remind us of just how divided our state has become.  Not red vs. blue and not even just upstate vs. downstate.  The real divide is between those who commute by car vs. those who take mass transit.

I’ve written for years about the fact that riders on Metro-North pay the highest commuter rail fares in the US, and those fares will only keep going up.  Most rail riders have little choice, especially if headed to New York City.  What are they going to do … drive?

Yet every time the fares go up … and they have increased 55 percent since 2002 … ridership goes up as well.  Why?  Because conditions on the highways keep getting worse and worse.

But those who chose to drive, or must because there’s no viable mass transit option, seem literally to hate rail commuters.  I think it’s jealousy.  During the tolls debate, the venom was dripping and one Tweet in particular hit home.

“Just because your commute (by train) is so expensive doesn’t mean mine (by car) should be too (because of tolling),” read the post.

The driver had clearly missed the point.  We aren’t looking for tolls to subsidize rail fares, just to get motorists to pay for the upkeep of their roads and bridges before we have another Mianus River Bridge collapse, which we will.

But it gets worse.

The anti-toll forces now sound like Howard Beale, the deranged newsman from the movie “Network” who was “mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.”   Doubtless, much of this is directed at Governor Malloy who enjoys (suffers from?) the lowest popularity rating in the history of polling.  Sure, the economy of our state is in bad shape.   But Malloy didn’t create this economic mess.  He just inherited it and mishandled it.

And it will get far worse, whoever succeeds Malloy in the fall.  The solutions will be few and all will be painful.  Forestalling tolls and gasoline taxes today won’t stop the bridges from rotting.

But this opposition to tolls or modest gasoline tax increases to pay for roads has now been taken to a maniacal pitch predicting that “everyone is leaving the state,” conditions are so bad.   That’s fine with me.

I was recently at our town dump and saw a young man unloading a bunch of items.  “My parents are moving,” he told me.  “Everyone is leaving Connecticut!” he exclaimed.

“Really?”, I asked.

“It’s all Malloy’s fault,” he said, sounding like a Pied Piper leading a caravan down I-95 to some Promised Land.

I asked him one question:  “Did your parents sell their house?”   “Sure,” he said.  “And at a profit over what they paid for it.”

“Well,” I said, “I guess not everyone is leaving.  Your folks are moving out and someone else is moving in.”  Someone who wants to live here.

To those who hate it so much living in Connecticut, I extend an invitation:  please leave.  Enjoy your low-tax destination.  And don’t forget to pay those highway tolls as you drive down I-95 through NY, NJ, etc.

But enough already with the “I hate Connecticut” mantra.  Some of us actually like living here.  And losing ‘the haters” will only mean fewer cars on our roadways.

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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Family Wellness: New Beginnings

Spring is a time of renewal and rebirth.  Every year in New England nature reminds us of this.  Crocuses emerge, the landscape turns from brown to green and many animals have their babies: foxes, otters and black bears, just to name a few. 

I look fondly back on my grandmother’s stories about lambing season in Ireland.  Human babies are born year round, of course, but my thoughts went this month from lambs to human babies. 

Not only is birth the start of a new life but it is the start of a new (or newly reconfigured) family.  It is often a time of unimaginable joy, but it is also a time of stress.  Stress is defined as, “… bodily or mental tension resulting from factors that tend to alter an existent equilibrium.”

Few could argue that a new baby alters an existent equilibrium in ways that are delightful and challenging at the same time.  A new member (in this case tiny and cute) affects the family identity in that constellation in a whole array of ways: emotionally, physically, socially and economically.  All the resources, whether few or many, need to be allocated differently.

Just as adolescence has been described as the transition from childhood to adulthood, the transition to motherhood has been called “matrescence” by anthropologists — for more information, visit this link.  A similar term for the transition to fatherhood does not exist as far as I know, though it has received attention in both academic and popular circles and the media, with online forums such as fathersforum.com. Similarly some attention has been given to the transition to grandparenthood and “older-sibling-hood.”  (I am waiting for an especially gifted and precocious 3-year-old to blog about the challenges of losing attention to a tiny usurper in the house.)

Societies and cultures around the world have different constructs that help or hinder the development of a new family.  These constructs range from policies (paid parental leave) to the practical matters (village and neighborhood folks bringing food to the new family). 

Looking at and understanding how we can support families in transition at this stage of the family life cycle and the stressors that they face (stress being a challenge to equilibrium, not positive or negative) can only be a good thing.

Betsy Groth

Betsy Groth is an APRN, PMHS – BC and a pediatric nurse practitioner with advanced certification in pediatric mental health.

She is a counselor, mental health educator and parent coach in Old Lyme and writes a monthly column for us on ‘Family Wellness.’

For more information about Betsy and her work, visit Betsy’s website at betsygroth.com

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Reading Uncertainly? ‘Moonglow’ by Michael Chabon

This is, at one and the same time, a work of fiction and the author’s actual family history, selectively combined and embellished. It is the story of Michael Chabon’s grandfather and grandmother, recreated as a totally engaging novel, covering more than five decades in Germany, Philadelphia, Baltimore, New York City, Florida and California.  He “recreates” these two antecedents, beginning with his grandfather’s work with the Office of Strategic Services (O.S.S.) in Germany in the waning day of World War II, followed by the meeting with his grandmother in Baltimore two years later, and then their fractured lives thereafter.

The key lies in Chabon’s candid Author’s Note: “In preparing this memoir, I have stuck to the facts except when facts refused to conform with memory, narrative purpose, or the truth as I prefer to understand it.” He went on later: “To claim or represent that I retain an exact or even approximate recollection of what anyone said so long ago would be to commit the memoirist’s great sin.” And so his imagination is unleashed …

This is a history, or really even slightly connected stories about his grandparents and their lives in these United States, as they allowed their interconnected emotions to respond to ever-changing stimuli. As Chabon confesses, perhaps there is nothing such as a defined “self”: “Maybe ‘self’ was a free variable with no bounded value.”

Chabon is rich with descriptive phrases. (1) a priest’s cassock: “White dust patterned the black cassock in big splotches like continents or the spots on a cow.”

(2) “The small room was all cross-hatchings of shadow like a lesson in shading a sphere, an arc of darkness wrapped around a circle of gray with a bright spot a bit off-center.  The bright spot was my grandmother; all the light in the sad little room seemed to be radiating from her.”

And describing his father reminded me of John le Carre’s father: ” … my big-talking, sweet-talking, fast-talking father was in and out of courtrooms, tax dodges, marriages, and my life … ” And as Chabon concludes, “That was only human, the common lot. But once your dream revealed itself, like most dreams, to be nothing but a current of raw compulsion flowing through a circuitry of delusion and lies, then that was the time to give it up.” His grandfather’s was with Wernher von Braun and space exploration.

Finally, a curious note. The chapter heads are safety matches formed into roman numerals. But two matches are lit, one in Chapter XX describing an O.S.S. excursion, and the other heading Chapter XXV, when his grandfather heads off to jail.  The connection: I do not know.

A rich and completely engrossing story!

Editor’s Note: ‘Moonglow’ by Michael Chabon was published by HarperCollins, New York 2016.

Felix Kloman

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

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A la Carte: Bake the Best Big, Chewy Oatmeal Raisin Cookies!

Big and chewy oatmeal raisin cookies

A few days after I made banana bread (about six overripe bananas I had, to which I added five overripe ones from Noank friends), I decided it was time to make cookies. (By the way, all four of the banana breads left my homes to friends’ kitchens, because I didn’t want to eat them.) Alter all, I had already thawed two pounds of unsalted butter and, while looking for the chocolate chips (wafers, actually), I saw an unopened package of cinnamon chips and an unopened package of candied ginger.

So I searched for my favorite oatmeal cookie recipe and could not find it under any headings—oatmeal, cookie, cinnamon, nothing. And it wasn’t in my paper file, either. Is it possible I never wrote about them? Anything is possible, I guess, so I found the same book I had used for the banana bread and didn’t even have to use the index; I just leafed through the nearly 600 pages and it opened to Big and Chewy Oatmeal Cookies. I have probably made that recipe so many times that it had three or four different stains on it and maybe some of the pages were damp too.

As with many recipes, I double this one. They freeze beautifully. I pay little attention to raisins (not crazy about raisins, anyway) and for this recipe I use those two ingredients I love: cinnamon chips and candied ginger. How much of each?  The recipe calls for one and a half cups of raisins, so I use 1 cup of cinnamon chips and half a cup of candied ginger; I chop the latter coarsely with a sharp knife. But you can use any combination for this recipe or none at all if you just want a delicious oatmeal cookie

Big and Chewy Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

From The Best Recipe by editors of Cook’s Illustrated (Boston Common Press, 1999)

Yield: about 18 large cookies

1 and one-half cup all-purpose flour
One-half teaspoon salt
One-half teaspoon baking powder
One-quarter teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
One-half pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup light brown sugar*
1 cup granulated sugar*
2 large eggs
3 cups rolled oatmeal
1 and one-half cups raisins (optional)

Adjust oven racks to low and middle positions and heat oven to 350 degrees. Line two large cookie sheets with parchment paper. (I use Silpat instead of parchment.)

Whisk flour, salt, baking powder and nutmeg in medium bowl.

Either by hand or with electric mixer, beat butter until creamy. Add sugars, beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in eggs, one at a time.

Stir dry ingredients into butter-sugar mixture with wooden spoon or large rubber spatula. Stir in oats and optional raisins (or chips or candied ginger or dried cranberries).

Working with generous 2 tablespoons of dough each time, roll dough into 2-inch balls. (I often make smaller cookies.) Place balls on parchment- lined cookie sheets, leaving at least 2 inches between each ball.

Bake until cookie edges turn golden brown, 22 to 25 minutes. (Halfway through baking, turn cookie sheet from front to back and also switch them from top to bottom.) Slide cookies, on parchment, to cooling rack. Let cool at least 30 minutes before peeling cookies from parchment.

*I have found that three-quarter cups of both sugars is plenty sweet enough

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