June 3, 2020

Op-Ed: TV News? Turn it Off

Jim Cameron

I can’t watch TV news anymore.

I used to be a news junkie, a control freak who thought that by knowing everything that was going on everywhere in the world I could somehow control it.  Hah!  Was that ever a naïve view.

Having worked in local and network newsrooms, what was coming over the AP and UPI newswires was like heroin for my news habit. 

I used to read two or three newspapers a day, listen to CBS Radio Network news almost hourly and never miss the networks evening newscasts … at least two or three of them a night, including the BBC. 

But now, I know that none of that matters.  My world has shrunk to the size of my house and I don’t need to know anything happening in the world that doesn’t directly affect me and my family.   

It was Simon & Garfunkel, who said, “I get the news I need on the weather report.’  My information consumption pattern is only slight larger now.  But it’s only “news I can use”… news I need to know.

Are my town’s parks still open?  What hours is the grocery store open?  Are my immediate neighbors OK?  Is my family alright?  That’s hyperlocal news.

I am so tired of watching CBS anchor Norah O’Donnell start every newscast with an emphatic “Breaking News!”, only to regurgitate hours-old stories that could be “news” only to someone living under a rock.  And I won’t even go near CNN or Fox News.  Their coverage is purposely designed to scare me and keep me tuned in for more.

I don’t trust TV news anymore.  Not the networks, not the local Connecticut stations and certainly not our local cable company’s offering.  So I’m not watching any of it. 

And forget about the rumor-mongering on social media.  “Unfriend” and “unfollow” are my defensive mechanisms there.

But I still read the papers, on paper and online.  I try to catch New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s daily briefings and anything that Dr. Fauci has to say.  C-Span and CT-N are my few remaining “reality TV” options as they are unfiltered and non-opinionated.  Just give me the facts.  Don’t tell me how to think.

(At this point, dear reader, you can stop reading this screed if you think I’m telling you how to think … but you’ll miss the good part.)

Over 30 years ago I changed my life in a program led by a simple prayer.

“God grant me the serenity to accept those things I cannot change.  The courage to change those I can … and the wisdom to know the difference.”

It’s known as The Serenity Prayer and it has brought me a lot of inner peace in the past few weeks. 

I know I’m not in control in this crisis, beyond protecting my family and myself as best I can.  I can’t change this virus, its lethality or effect on my community.

But I can keep my social distance, maintain my immune system, get plenty of rest and just take this world one day at a time.  Beyond that, I’m resigned to my fate and I hope that’s a sign of wisdom.

There’s no planning for the future … next week or next month.  It’s just making the most out of every single day.

And by avoiding the hysteria of TV news, my shrinking world seems a little less crazy and a lot more calm.  And that’s kinda nice.

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

Reading Uncertainly? ‘Varina’ by Charles Frazier

Slip back some 120 years and reconsider our Civil War through the eyes and mind of the wife of Jefferson Davis, Varina. This is Charles Frazier’s latest gripping and, often hilarious, novel.  Married to the much older man at 18, she gives us a stimulation of memories of her life with the Confederate President first in Richmond, then an escape attempt to Cuba by way of Florida at war’s end, then her later experiences in the South, and, finally her residences in New York City and summers in Saratoga Springs, NY, after Davis’s death.

And always accentuating her story is that of James Blake, a young mixed-race orphan she rescues one day in Richmond, brings into her home with her children, and carries with her on their escape south. He returns to her life in New York, trying to resurrect memories of their early days together. It was a volatile life, as she explains, “Thinking how all the lesser increments of the time between then and now — years, months, days, hours, moments – drained constantly into the black sump where time resides after it’s been used up, whether used well or squandered.” Varina goes on, “ … lives rarely have plots, but sometimes they find shape.”

Constantly she reminds us at that period, it was always “them or us,” referring to the dominance of color. As she notes to James, we are, “witnesses needing to apply skin color to every personal transaction.”  Varina describes the long-term working relationship between Jefferson Davis and his black slave, “that the fundamental note of their long history together condensed to a single fact – one member of the friendship was owner and the other was both labor and capital.”

Has that changed much today?

Frazier’s language is challenging and lyrical. Challenging thus, “an eidolon took her place” (an idealized person, specter or phantom), and “all gaumed up beyond belief.” (smeared or covered with a gummy, sticky substance.” Lyrical thus, “A dense flight of swallows formed shapes against the sky like a child molding a dough ball, never quite creating a convincing box turtle or dog’s head or teapot, but still moving from idea to idea with a beautiful fluidity.”

And at the conclusion of this joint memoir (by both Varina and James Blake), he writes in his notebook after a lengthy discussion with Varina: “Especially since I found the blue book, I’ve come to see Mr. Davis and his beliefs this way. He did as most politicians do – except more so – corrupt our language and symbols of freedom, pervert our war heroes. Because, like so many of them, he held no beloved idea or philosophy as tightly as his money purse. Take a king or a president or anybody. Put a heavy sack of gold in one hand and a feather-light about freedom in the other. And then an outlaw sticks a pistol in his face and says give me one or the other. Every time – ten out of ten – he’ll hug the sack and throw away the ideals, like the foundation under a building … And that’s how freedom and chains and a whipping post can live alongside each other comfortably.”

Do those words remind you of today?

Editor’s Note: ‘Varina’ by Charles Frazier is published by Ecco, New York 2018

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

Share

A View from My Porch: The Rising Waters of Long Island Sound — A Primer on Global Warming and Climate Change, Postscript Now Added

A peaceful summer scene at White Sand Beach in Old Lyme, but what does the future hold for Long Island Sound?

POSTSCRIPT ADDED 04/14: Our home is on a salt marsh alongside a small, tidal river. Over the past several years, we have observed gradual changes in the breadth and height of high tide. Eventually, the borders of our yard directly adjacent to the river were covered with brackish water at high tide to about 25 ft. beyond the riverbank. This occurs regardless of moon phase or the presence of a storm surge.

So, I investigated the scientific literature to seek out the wisdom of the experts in an effort to explain our localized tidal surge. I reviewed reports from respected scientific sources and data from state and federal agencies. The data are troubling. This essay summarizes the conclusions of those scientific and government sources.

I considered postponing this essay pending greater progress on resolution of the COVID-19 crisis, but a recent Mike Lukovich editorial comic in The New London Day showed the “grim reaper” at the front door, complete with hooded black robe and scythe, wearing a sign that says “Climate Change”. The caption reads “Whew, I thought you were coronavirus!”

Life will continue after we finally beat this disease, and return to some sense of normalcy; and we’ll still have those old and ongoing problems like global warming and sea level rise that require our collective attention.

Some Sobering Facts:

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reports that Long Island Sound’s levels have been rising for decades, and its waters are warming; as is Connecticut’s air temperature. Sea level has risen at a rate of 10 to 11 inches per century along the Connecticut coast, which is faster than the global rate. Longer-range projections are that global sea levels will rise one to four feet by 2100. James O’Donnell, executive director of the Connecticut Institute for Resilience & Climate Adaptation (CIRCA) predicts that Long Island Sound levels could rise by 20 inches by 2050.

There is general agreement among climate scientists in Connecticut and across the world that global warming is occurring and human activity is making it worse. The fear is that, unless more is done to curb pollution, the long-term effects of climate change will be devastating. Although there is some occasional dissent in academic opinion, the majority of climate scientists also agree that the rising seas are linked to warmer global temperatures.

The Fundamental Causes of Global Warming:

The impact of climate change is in our hands. Photo by Bill Oxford on Unsplash.

There are gases in the atmosphere that absorb radiation. These “greenhouse gases” are largely responsible for the “greenhouse effect”, which is the warming that occurs when certain gases in the Earth’s atmosphere trap heat; these gases let in light. but keep heat from escaping.

This concept is not new, and was first studied in the late 19th century by Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius, who concluded that fossil fuel combustion may eventually result in enhanced global warming. He proposed a relationship between atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations and temperature. His research was corroborated in the late 1980s, when scientists began investigating the gradual increase in the temperature of the earth’s atmosphere.

Greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, ozone, and water vapor. Of considerable impact are the fluorinated gases, which include the hydrofluorocarbons, sulfur hexafluoride, and several others; all of which are generated as by-products of industrial processes. Although the fluorinates are present in small concentrations, they trap heat very effectively. Note that chlorofluorocarbons, once used as refrigerants and aerosol propellants, were phased out in the 1980s by international agreement.

Other factors that clearly contribute to the Earth’s warming include the accelerated ice loss from the polar ice caps, which are now melting six times faster than in the 1990s. While rising seas may be the most damaging long-term impact of this ice loss, we are also losing the Earth’s natural cooling resource. Finally, the rapid deforestation of the Amazon rain forest in Brazil through unchecked harvesting of trees, clearing and expansion of land for agriculture, and housing development seriously reduces the natural capacity of the rainforest to absorb heat-trapping carbon dioxide; and much more carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere.

The Carnegie Institution for Science reports that Americans contribute more than twice as much carbon dioxide per capita than the Chinese or the Europeans, and have accounted for most of the greenhouse gas that is currently in the air.

The Impacts of Climate Change:

Aerial image of Hurricane Sandy.

New England’s geography makes it particularly susceptible to the impacts of climate change, which include an increased frequency of abnormal and severe weather events. Shoreline flooding is more frequent, and intense wind and rainfall has become much more common across Connecticut.

Long Island Sound is a fairly shallow body of water, averaging just 63 ft. in depth, so small changes in sea levels can have an exaggerated effect when storms come through. Rising water levels, when combined with bigger storms, may produce surges that hit the coast harder and penetrate farther, resulting in flooding that’s more damaging. Two fairly recent examples include Hurricanes Irene and Sandy, which battered our shoreline in 2011 and 2012 respectively, destroying homes, flooding roads and threatening sewage and power plants.

If you want to observe the power of such storms on our local shoreline, walk along White Sand Beach, past the break wall and over our “world class” moon snail shell shingle in a southwest direction up to, and around the Point. You may be astonished with the dramatic changes in beach topography and the amazing size of the timbers that have been deposited far above the high tide mark.

Long Island Sound Lobsters:

In 1999, the lobster population in Long Island Sound crashed; it has never recovered. Although many then considered pesticide pollution as the cause for the dramatic decline in lobsters, most scientists now agree that the warming of the Sound’s waters was the primary cause.

Reversing Global Warming:

Unfortunately, there is no single technological silver bullet emerging to resolve this immense problem. Further, given the geographic, meteorological, and political scope of the situation, it is probably better to focus only on mitigating the problem by stabilizing the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

International Efforts to Curb Climate Change:

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has stated that “without rapid cuts to carbon emissions, there could be, by the end of the century, a rise in sea levels that would leave 400 million people exposed to coastal flooding each year. They go further and state that, “Scientific evidence for warming of the climate system is unequivocal. There is direct evidence that humans are the main cause of the rise of atmospheric carbon dioxide.”

Consequently, the Paris Agreement was negotiated by representatives of 196 member nations within the United Nation’s Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The Agreement’s goal was to strengthen the international response to climate change mitigation by keeping the Earth’s temperature increase to less than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees. The language was adopted by consensus on December 12, 2015, and signed in 2016. As of February 2020, all UNFCCC members have signed the agreement, 189 have become party to it, and the only significant emitters, which were not parties to the agreement, are Iran and Turkey.

Unfortunately, on June 1, 2017, and only about six months past inauguration, a new “science-light” American president announced that the United States would terminate all participation in the Paris Agreement. He stated that withdrawal would be in accordance with his “America First” policy.

This decision stunned our allies, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that “it’s time to look ahead. This decision can’t and won’t stop all those of us who feel obliged to protect the planet; on the contrary. we in Germany, Europe and the world will combine our forces more resolutely than ever to address and successfully tackle challenges for humanity such as climate change.”

The President’s decision to withdraw could accelerate and worsen the impacts that global warming is already having on Long Island Sound and Connecticut’s environment. He has also proposed cutting federal funding for environmental programs in Long Island Sound and is easing anti-pollution regulations over various industries. He argued that those changes will help the economy.

Despite that decision, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oregon, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, Vermont and Virginia have all joined a coalition committed to upholding the Paris Agreement and taking aggressive action on climate change.

A Few Final Thoughts:

These are the data. None of this is really new and much of it factored into the Paris Agreement. I don’t know whether “accepting” climate change and sea level rise require a certain belief system or just the ability to understand and embrace scientific fact.

We’re at the point where we need to cut carbon pollution as quickly as feasibly possible. That’s true, whether Earth has warmed 1.0 or 1.1 or 1.2°C above “pre-industrial” temperatures. I believe that these “seemingly modest” increases have given us an unfortunate sense of security regarding the impacts of our changing climate.

In the speech announcing his decision to leave the Paris Agreement, President Trump argued that “even if all the goals in the agreement were met, it would cut global temperatures by only two-tenths of one degree by 2100.” He did not go further and explain why that supported his decision. In contrast, MIT researchers have said: “The real risk with global warming is if it accelerates so quickly that we can’t respond fast enough.”

My next column will examine some of history’s key speeches. I am a reader of speeches made by both American and World leaders. I often find them to be very inspirational.

In closing, former Connecticut resident Mark Twain is supposed to have said: “Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it”. I am not certain that he actually said that, but this is our chance to prove him wrong.

Postscript to: A View from My Porch: A Primer on Global Warming and Climate Change
By Thomas D. Gotowka
Published April 14, 2020

On April 11, the Washington Post, the New York Times, and several other newspapers published the obituary of S. Fred Singer, a scientist who made key advances in rocketry and atmospheric research in the 1950s and 1960s, who died on April 6 in Rockville, Md. According to the Washington Post, he was “President Trump’s most senior expert on climate change,” presumably assisting in decisions regarding termination of America’s participation in the Paris Agreement.

He was better known in the later years of his life for an unrelenting criticism of the scientific consensus surrounding climate change and global warming.

Siegfried Frederick Singer was born Sept. 27, 1924, in Vienna, Austria. However, after the Nazi invasion of Austria, he was sent to England as part of the “Kindertransport” program that resettled Jewish children. 

He came to the United States in the early 1940s and served in the Navy during World War II, and worked on weapons programs.

He received a Bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Ohio State University in 1943, and both Master’s and Doctoral degrees in physics from Princeton University in 1944 and 1948 respectively. 

His career was somewhat peripatetic. He conducted some of the initial experiments with high-altitude rockets and satellites, also enabling measurement of cosmic rays and other components of the upper atmosphere. He was a consultant during the start-up of the U.S. space program in the 1950s and later, while working for what is now the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), participated in early efforts to use satellites in weather forecasting.

He held senior academic positions at the Universities of Maryland, Miami and Virginia; and was also chief scientist at the U.S. Transportation Department in the late 1980s and a research professor at George Mason University in the 1990s. He also held senior-level positions at the United States Department of the Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency.

He had “very public” views and promulgated predictions that were usually considered as intentionally outside accepted scientific norms.  For example, he wrote that the “melting of ice caps and the redirecting of rivers could help irrigate the arid Southwest and produce a general improvement to the climate of the North American Arctic.” 

As many of his statements were proven spurious, Singer began a new phase in his scientific career. He adopted a new purpose as an “outsider” seeking to denigrate other scientists, who warned the public about secondhand smoke, greenhouse gas emissions, acid rain and the dangers of a steadily warming climate. “It’s all bunk,” he often said.

In a 2011 presentation at Colorado State University, he attempted to convince the audience that climate change is harmless and helpful to humans. He stated, “Stop worrying; nothing you do will have any effect on the carbon dioxide level in the atmosphere; and, even if it did, it won’t affect the planet.” Worrying about climate change, is a “psychosis.”

Singer founded the Virginia-based Science and Environmental Policy Project to “challenge” government environmental policies based on what he defined as “poor science.” In 2007, he also assisted in the launch of the Non-Governmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC), which was a climate change-doubting counterpart to the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which was established by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), and endorsed by the UN General Assembly in 1988.

Over time, his primary  focus became climate change, becoming perhaps the best-known scientist speaking in opposition to a growing body of evidence that rising global temperatures could have a catastrophic effect on the planet.

As I stated in the original essay, “There is general agreement among climate scientists in Connecticut and across the world that global warming is occurring and human activity is making it worse.”

He had a regular column in the Washington Post. He wrote in 1991 that “There is nothing remotely like scientific consensus that global warming is occurring, or if it is, that it will have disastrous consequences,” and that, “A respectable body of opinion in the international scientific community holds that any climate warming is as likely to be beneficial as harmful, acting as a hedge against global cooling.”

In 1995, he condemned the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences for making a “political statement” by awarding the Nobel Prize in chemistry to three scientists, who demonstrated that chlorofluorocarbon emissions were depleting the ozone layer. I refer you to my essay, wherein I also note that “chlorofluorocarbons, once used as refrigerants and aerosol propellants, were phased out in the 1980s by international agreement.”

Singer was eventually regarded within the mainstream scientific community as a fringe figure and a crank. 

Britain’s ‘Guardian’ newspaper called him the “grandfather of climate denial.” His false assertions about climate change have been largely discredited by scientists from the American Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, NASA and NOAA.

Finally, I am only adding this postscript to the essay because his faulty declarations seemed to be heard by lawmakers and some officials who called for the United States to withdraw from international agreements on climate and the environment. As I stated above, he was “President Trump’s most senior expert on climate change,” presumably assisting in decisions regarding termination of America’s participation in the Paris Agreement.

Share

A la Carte: Something Special for Easter? How About Sweet Honey Chicken with a Hint of Curry?

Well, it has been an interesting two weeks. 

I spend quite a time on Facebook with friends and family. My family seems fine. My brother and I do not talk often. This has little to do with the fact that we are not close. I like him and he likes me, but eight years is a big number. He went to college when I was nine and, except for vacations, he never really came back to Troy. After college, I moved away and just went back to see my parents.

In any case, he did call last week. He is sheltering in place with his lady friend and they are content. So am I. His children and mine are far away but all are fine. 

I feel closer to my friends on Facebook. Mike DiMauro, The Day’s sports editor, talked about making marinara vodka sauce two nights ago and shared a picture. He thought it might be as good as the one he gets at Filomena’s in Waterford. When I go to Filomena’s, one of my favorite restaurants, I usually get the chicken piccata.

Funny, too, is the fact that I had made marinara vodka sauce the same evening Mike did. I made it with penne and shared it with my neighbors. (I put the pasta on the red bench outside my porch; my neighbors walk out, pick up the dinner and take it home.)

After I ate hot dogs and peanut butter and jelly sandwich for three days, I began to cook with abandon. I made pounds and pounds of vegetables I had in the freezer. I made from-scratch baked beans with bacon, three different pasta sauces and some risotto 

I also made the first chicken dish I’d ever made without a recipe. I had everything I needed except real chicken breasts. I did have some boneless skinless chicken, but it fell flat. This is an easy dish, but it needs the bones and skin from thighs and/or breasts. I think you will like this recipe.

Chicken with Honey and Curry

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Butter a large baking pan (I use Pyrex 8” by 11” or bigger) with butter and set aside. 

Preheat oven at 350 degrees.

10 to 12 thighs
3 large chicken breasts, skin and bone on, cut in half
salt and pepper to taste
4 ounces (1 stick) butter
4 tablespoons good curry powder
one-quarter to one-half cup honey, to taste

Wash and dry chicken pieces. Place skin side up in buttered pan and add salt and pepper. Place in oven.

In the meanwhile, in a saucepan melt butter with curry and honey. Keep warm.

After 10 minutes, pour sauce on top of the chicken pieces. Begin to baste the chicken pieces with the sauce every 10 minutes or so. Bake chicken for a total of 50 to 60 minutes, when the chicken pieces have a dark, golden color.

Place cooked rice in a large, attractive bowl. Place chicken pieces over the rice, then pour the sauce all over the chicken and the rice. Serve immediately.

Lee White

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

 

Share

Reading Uncertainly? ‘Life Undercover’ by Amaryllis Fox

A lyrical memoir of an unusual woman’s life, in Washington, London, Moscow, London and finally Washington again, minus her father. Then on to the CIA, described in amazing detail, and her life afterwards as an agent around the world.

Fox’s language is engaging, plus her almost-total recall of conversations.  A compelling read, but it raises two questions: (1) How was she able to obtain the permission of her employer, the CIA, to describe in such detail her solicitation, training, and her actual work? And (2) do the details in her conversations make this almost a fictional novel?

It is as if she is being seduced by some opiate, “I feel the high of not just observing the world but actually changing it.”

At the outset she believes that “terrorism is a psychological game of escalation” practiced by all of us.” When she first goes to China undercover, she remarks “This is my first time living the lie around the clock. The years of deception yawn ahead, like an ink-black void.” It is as if the Cheshire Cat is asking her, “Who are YOU?”

Her stories provoked my own memories.

Her father, reporting on a visit to Moscow told her that his only hardship, “was the Soviet toilet paper.” How true! When I traveled with a small group to Yaroslavl, many miles north of Moscow, we were advised to bring our own. What was on offer was minuscule. Later, Fox herself  walked Red Square, stopping at Lenin’s tomb, noting that “Lenin seems smaller … petite and fragile … He looks weak and human and beautiful.” I had that same impression in 1992 on my own transit of the Square.

Later she explains to a friend her rationale for her secret work, “If not us, who? If not now, when?” That prompted my neurons to recall the famous haiku reported by Dogen Zenji when he asked the monk Tenzo why he was drying mushrooms on a steaming hot day. Tenzo replied:

If not I, then who
Dries mushrooms in the hot sun?
If not now, then when?

This is perhaps the best reward from one’s reading: the stimulation of buried memories!

The author, now a writer and exponent of peacemaking, continues her work in a different direction. She now asks “why?” continually. She suggests that, “planting a garden is the ultimate act of faith in tomorrow,” a thought worth remembering.

And finally, “ … peacemaking requires listening, that vulnerability is a component of strength … and building trust simply works better than exerting force.”

Hear! Hear!

Editor’s Note (i): We second Felix’s vote of support for Fox’s final statement.

(ii) ‘Life Undercover’ by Amaryllis Fox was published by Alfred A. Knopf, New York 2019.

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

Share

Talking Transportation: Memoirs of a Metro-North Conductor

Jim Cameron

Did you ever wonder what it would be like to work for the railroad?

That’s what Paul Holland did for 39 years, first with Amtrak, later with Conrail and finally as a conductor on Metro-North.  His self-published “My Life As A Rear End” pays tribute to his time in cabooses, but it’s his commuter rail stories that kept me laughing.

Like the colorful crowd from the psychiatric hospital on the Harlem line who’d escape, often in their pajamas, and ride his trains, obviously unable to pay.  Or the many times he was assaulted by knife-wielding thugs only to be rescued by his 6 ft. 7 in. cross-dressing frequent rider, “Rocky”.

Over the years Holland collected his stories, often scribbling them on seat-checks. Upon his retirement it took him less than a year to pen his “memoirs”, many of which are far too racy to mention in this column.  Let’s just say that the diminutive conductor was very popular with the ladies.  It must have been the uniform.

Because he truly loved his job, and had three kids bound for college, Holland worked six or seven days a week.  Railroad conductors can work split shifts of up to 16 hours a day, and with his overtime, Holland averaged about 80 hours a week.

Some passengers would ask him the stupidest questions, like the riders who would congregate in the front car for a fast exit at Grand Central.  A common query: why can’t you add more cars to the front of the train?

Occasionally, Holland would work the last train to depart Grand Central, the 1 a.m. train making all local stops to New Haven, affectionately known as “The Vomit Comet”.  It was a quiet run, though getting inebriated passengers off at their correct stop was always a challenge.

He also tells the story of the German tourist who had parked his friend’s borrowed car at a remote station, returning late at night to find it had been stripped of all four wheels.  He thought it was the local cops penalizing him for parking without a permit.

Enforcing the rules in ‘The Quiet Car’ was a thankless job, like the time a passenger kevtched about another rider eating a smelly egg salad sandwich.  Not a violation, ruled Holland.

Or the passenger angry about the woman in ‘The Quiet Car’ talking, albeit quietly, on her cellphone.  “Tell her to shut the F up,” said the vigilante.  As Holland approached the woman, he heard her say, “Have a blessed Easter” before hanging up.  Holland returned to the complainant and said, “She’s a nun, but I’ll relay your message.”  As he turned to approach the woman again, the now-penitent passenger raced after him to say, “Never mind”.  Holland said, “He must have gone to Catholic school.”

Holland insists all his stories are true.  “I have witnesses,” he told me.

Retired and living in New Milford, Holland obviously misses his job and his passengers, some of whom he still keeps in touch with.  He says that over the years passengers have changed.  “These days they don’t seem to show any respect (for authority), especially the kids.”

As “the face of the railroad” Holland says he never minded facing angry passengers, upset about delays.  “I just always told them the truth and treated them the way I’d want to be treated.”

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 View from My Porch: Keep Calm and Carry On

Original 1939 UK poster. From Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository.

The title of this essay is derived from a poster designed by the British government in the late 1930s to maintain morale when war against Germany became imminent. This essay roughly considers “a day in the life” of Southeastern Connecticut residents as the COVID-19 pandemic impacts each of us and our collective ability to “carry on” our lives as usual. I will present the key elements of this crisis, drawing from the wealth of real data that have become available, and define some of the terms used by our public health professionals so that you can better understand the basis for the required actions.

The Statistics: 

The Connecticut Department of Public Health (DPH) reported on March 23 that there were 618 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state; with multiple cases in each of Connecticut’s eight counties. Fifty-four patients were hospitalized, and 12 residents have died. Over 60 percent of Connecticut cases are in Fairfield County.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported over 50,000 cases and nearly 700 deaths across the United States. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports over 415,000 cases and nearly 19,000 deaths worldwide. Note that these numbers change, and probably increase, daily. 

Excuse me in advance, but this isn’t our first rodeo; and we’ve successfully dealt with pandemics in the past. These include the HIV/AIDS crisis that began in the mid to late 1970s, and the 2009 H1N1 pandemic. 

Unfortunately, our response to COVID-19 was late and disorganized with mixed and confusing messages coming from the highest levels of the federal government. As a result, testing for the disease started late, supplies of critical personal protective equipment (PPE) like masks and gloves for health care personnel became scarce, and were not replenished in a timely manner.  The same was true of essential hospital equipment like ventilators, which are the “breathing machines” used for treating patients in severe respiratory distress. 

And so, on March 10th, Connecticut Governor Lamont joined several governors in nearby states and declared both a public health emergency and a civil preparedness emergency. A public health emergency gives the state authority over quarantine, while a civil preparedness emergency grants the governor broad powers over state institutions, allowing him to restrict travel, close public schools, some businesses, and public buildings.

As a result, only “essential businesses”, which include: grocery stores, pharmacies, medical offices, hospitals, childcare, auto repair, banks, and emergency services remain open. Restaurants may remain open, but for takeout and delivery only. Schools were closed on March 31, and there is some thought that they may remain closed through the end of the semester. Hospitals have changed visitation rules.

I will not list the “non-essential” businesses. Tele-commuting is encouraged when at all possible. These restrictions and closures have resulted in significant displacement of workers and unemployment has grown.  

Important Terminology: 

COVID-19 is a disease triggered by a coronavirus, which is a relatively common virus that can cause both upper and lower respiratory tract infections. 

In the past, most coronaviruses weren’t dangerous and caused only mild respiratory problems. However, in early 2020, following a late 2019 outbreak in China, the World Health Organization identified a new type of coronavirus. Officials named this new virus “severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus2 “(SARS-CoV-2)”. This highly contagious and virulent microorganism is the agent that causes COVID-19; which can lead to pneumonia, respiratory failure, septic shock, and death.

Older adults and any individual with a serious underlying medical condition are at higher risk for COVID-19’s more serious complications. The CDC notes that people may be most contagious when they are at their sickest. However, note that many cases are still mild to moderate and not life-threatening. These can be treated at home.

You may have also heard this virus referred to as “novel”, which, very simply, refers to a virus that has not been seen before, or has never infected humans before. As such, it’s unlikely that anyone will have immunity, or antibodies that protect them against the novel virus. 

Public health professionals stress the need to “flatten the curve” as a means of controlling this disease. The curve refers to the rate of growth of new cases displayed graphically (i.e., the projected number of new cases over a specific period of time). A “flattened” curve staggers the number of these new cases over a longer period, so that people have better access to care, and do not overburden the healthcare system. 

Transmission:

The virus is spread primarily from person-to-person, commonly through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes, saliva, or from some hard surfaces on which the virus may live for four or five days and remain infectious for even longer.

Prevention:

The best way to prevent this disease is to avoid being exposed to the virus. The CDC still recommends social distancing to reduce the probability of contact between individuals carrying the infection with others who are not infected. 

The goal is to minimize disease transmission, and its resultant morbidity, and ultimately, mortality. The minimum recommended measures include:

  • Allow six feet of interpersonal space, which means avoid crowded social activities, like going to pubs, bars, and restaurants, sporting events, theaters and cinemas.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly and frequently; use hand sanitizers.
  • Stay home when you are sick. 
  • Use the “usual” coughing and sneezing protocols.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe. 

Testing is a good thing:

It is correct that testing does increase the number of individuals identified with the disease, but it also provides the data required to target resources and plan for future needs. Testing is now widely available. All acute care hospitals have the ability to test, although for those that utilize the DPH lab in Rocky Hill, testing is reserved for patients that have been admitted to the hospital.

There are also a number of outpatient testing sites that use private labs, and do not need to comply with the admission restriction. All sites require a physician’s order, who, at present, must make an appointment for the patient.

Critical and Immediate Issues:

This crisis will not end soon. Only one source predicts an end by April 12, which is Easter Sunday in the United States. Most experts agree that an end date is difficult to predict, but 60 days is feasible.

There is currently no vaccine or “miracle” drug specifically targeting COVID-19 — no antiviral drugs are licensed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat patients with COVID-19. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) and collaborators are working on development of candidate drugs for rapid testing and evaluating re-use of drugs approved for other diseases. Current treatments often focus on protecting against opportunistic infections and alleviating symptoms while the disease “runs its course.”

We do not yet know what the recurrence rate is for patients, who have recovered from COVID-19. 

Americans have never really faced the rationing of healthcare services. It is clear, however, that we must plan for a possible surge of critically ill patients and identify additional space in which to provide care. Unfortunately, it may be possible that our medical professionals will need to make decisions regarding assignment of scarce resources like ventilators. 

I am confident that the United States will allocate resources to support our citizens and small businesses that face economic hardships as we move through this crisis. 

Make certain that you know the source of the information about this disease. The most reliable data comes from Connecticut DPH, Ledge Light Health District, and the CDC. 

Finally, God save the United States if we ever reach the point when we have to value a life lost in this pandemic less than a life lost in an economic downturn (whatever that is.)

Share

A la Carte: In This Time of Crisis, We All Need (American Indian) Soup for the Soul

As I write this column, I am using Tylenol to tamp down my fever that spiked to 100.4 last night. I wanted to stay in bed this morning, but Junie, my only cat, had another idea. So I got up, fed her, changed her water dish, added water and ice cubes to my own water bottle, and made tea. I feel much better now. I am quite sure what I have is just a little bug—no sore throat, no headache, no congestion.

I do want to tell you about my two visits to a supermarket the week of the March 9. As you know, I have lots of extra food in my big freezers and plenty in my pantry. What I decided I needed in those two visits was produce, especially onions, and hot dogs and rolls. I have no idea why I have wanted hot dogs but I bought six Hummel, skin-on wieners, and the softest rolls I could find. 

Here is what I didn’t understand: two different men had carts filled to the top with the following: one had at least 10 cartons of Coca-Cola, while the other’s cart included 12 rib-eye or porterhouse steaks …

I didn’t visit the paper aisles: I have plenty of toilet paper, paper towels and napkins. For those who have Wi-Fi and YouTube, look for the Bangor (ME) Police Department and Tim Cotton’s essay on what to use instead of toilet paper. It is a hoot.

As for feeding your family, if your pantry has beans and chicken (or veggie or beef) stock, make soup. If you have a chicken, roast it or boil it with onions, celery and carrots for soup. If your supermarket has rotisserie chickens, after dinner make chicken salad and sandwiches for the next day. If you have some ground chuck, there is chili and pasta. And if you have one of those rib eyes, turn on your grill.

I will be making this soup this afternoon.

Indian Soup

Adapted from a recipe by Sherwood Cadorette from Groton

“This soup has been in my family since the turn of the century,” he wrote, and, remember, he is talking about the 20th century, not the 21st. “Up until 1983, we attributed its origin to my great-great grandmother on my father’s side of the family. She was an [American] Indian. To my amazement, my sister told me that it originated about 1905 when a customer in my grandfather’s barber shop game him the recipe.”

Yield: 4 servings

1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium to large onion, peeled and diced
1 14.5 ounces canned diced tomatoes with juice
1 small can creamed corn
1 cup milk
1 to 2 teaspoons sugar (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
12 saltines, crushed

Place butter and olive oil in a large saucepan and heat until melted. Add onions and turn to coat. On medium-high, saute onions until translucent, about 10 minutes. Add tomatoes and corn; on medium-heat, allow the vegetables to heat, almost to a boil. Add milk and heat for a few minutes. Stir in sugar. Season with salt and pepper to taste. 

To serve: Place hot soup in four warmed cups or bowls. Crush saltines into each and serve hot.

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

Share

 A View from My Porch: Who’s Played Sherlock? Who Did it Best?

Although more than a century and a quarter has passed since publication of Arthur Conan Doyle’s first story, Sherlock Holmes continues to inspire novels, movies, TV, and the stage. I will review some of the actors who played Holmes in this concluding essay in my Holmes duology; and assess how true each was to Conan Doyle’s artistic vision.

Where possible, I’ll contrast each actor’s portrayal with the Holmes described by Dr. Watson, which I have paraphrased as, “His very person was such as to strike the attention of the most casual observer. He was rather over six feet, and so lean that he seemed considerably taller. His eyes were sharp and piercing, and his thin, hawk-like nose and prominent chin gave his whole expression an air of alertness, decision, and determination.”

Note that I occasionally will refer to the “canon” in this essay, which consists of the 56 short stories and four novels written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and published in the Strand Magazine.

This is no easy task. In 2012, one of the world’s most reliable sources, i.e., The Guiness Book of World Records, awarded the title for “most portrayed literary human character in film & television” to Sherlock Holmes, who had already been presented on screen, at that time, more than 250 times. He has been played. in some manner, by nearly 100 actors, including Michael Caine, Benedict Cumberbatch, Christopher Lee, Robert Downey Jr., Ian McKellen, Jonny Miller, Peter O’Toole, Christopher Plummer, and Basil Rathbone.

However, I will focus only on the MSM, that is, the Main-Sherlock-Media, and exclude the “Sherlocks” in parodies like Without a Clue, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother, and The Great Mouse Detective.

Sherlockian Literature After Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Award-winning American playwright, Ken Ludwig, set The Game’s Afoot at a cast party in 1936 Gillette Castle. Published in 2012, the play was presented at the Ivoryton Playhouse in 2017. Jim Bennet, of Mystic, has written three historical mysteries regarding William Gillette under the pen name James Walker; in these, Gillette uses his stage persona as Sherlock Holmes to investigate murders and other crimes. 

In addition, a growing group of authors is writing short stories and novels “in the style of Arthur Conan Doyle”. Many of these “pastiches” are quite accurate in their portrayals and have begun to form a subcategory of popular literature.

Sherlock in the Cinema and on TV

Rather than attempt an exhaustive review of every actor who has portrayed Sherlock in any television or movie production, I will begin this review in the late 1930s with Basil Rathbone’s interpretation, and continue chronologically to the present. 

I feel that any review of Sherlock must also consider the associated Dr. Watson. However, I will not review the concomitant LeStrade or Moriarty characters in this essay.

I don’t pretend to have the expertise of Old Lyme resident David Handler’s character Mitch Berger of Dorset in judging these actors, but I can certainly distinguish good acting from bad; and sloppy dialog from a well-constructed plot. Moreover, in the spirit of some current American politicians, there’s absolutely no science in these assessments, although I’ll start with the null hypothesis that Basil Rathbone is Sherlock, and attempt to disprove that premise.

Basil Rathbone

Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes. From Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository.

In 1939, Basil Rathbone played Holmes in The Hound of the Baskervilles with Nigel Bruce as Watson. They continued through 1946 and completed 14 Sherlock Holmes movies. Almost concurrent with movie production, they also starred in a serialized radio drama, The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, that aired in the United States from late 1939 through mid-1947. 

With the exception of Hound, these films were only loosely based on Arthur Conan Doyle’s canon, but were updated to reflect the issues of the day. I’m not claiming that all 14 were great cinema; but they certainly were respectable wartime productions. 

So, by mid-century, the Rathbone/Bruce team was recognized and accepted in both America and Great Britain as Holmes and Watson. I’ll reference only two movies to support my claim. 

In Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon, Holmes, disguised as an elderly book seller, smuggles a Swiss scientist and his advanced bomb sight into England just as the Gestapo prepared to arrest him and seize control of his laboratory. Many of the Holmes’ wartime movies ended with a soliloquy by Basil Rathbone. This one always brings a few tears to my eyes.

At the end of Secret Weapon, Holmes and Watson, with a contingent of the British war cabinet, are observing a squadron of Lancaster bombers equipped with the bombsight as they leave for Nazi Germany.
Watson: “Things are looking up, Holmes. This little Island’s still on the map”.
Holmes: “Yes. “This fortress – built by nature for herself; This blessed plot, this Earth, this Rome, this England”.
This latter line is, of course, from Act II of Richard II by William Shakespeare. 

In Sherlock Holmes in Washington, Holmes breaks up a Nazi spy ring operating from a high-end D.C. antiques shop, and recovers the secret microfilmed documents that they had stolen from a murdered British intelligence agent. 

As Holmes and Watson prepare to leave the District, driving towards Capitol Hill, the conversation goes like this:
Holmes: “Look up there ahead – the Capitol, the very heart of this democracy”.
Watson: “Democracy; the only hope for the future?
Holmes: “It’s not given to us to peer into the mysteries of the future, but in the days to come the British and American people will, for their own safety and for the good of all, walk together in majesty, in justice, and in peace”.
In citing Churchill’s then recent address to Congress, Sherlock reminds us of how great that legislative body once was.

While Basil Rathbone was Sherlock, both physically and intellectually, Nigel Bruce regularly presented Watson as a befuddled English gentleman and a somewhat slower associate of Holmes. His interpretation of Watson is inconsistent with the more intelligent Watson of Arthur Conan Doyle’s canon. 

Ronald Howard
In 1954, British actor Ronald Howard began a two-season run of 39 episodes on the American television series Sherlock Holmes. He played a relatively light-hearted and campy Sherlock along-side H. Marion Crawford’s Dr. Watson; who played a sharp, and sometimes aggressive Watson, unlike Nigel Bruce above. Of the 39 episodes, only The Red-Headed League was based on Arthur Conan Doyle’s original body of work. The series included such titles as: The Case of the Texas Cowgirl, and The Case of The Shoeless Engineer. However, there were occasional allusions to the Doyle canon. 

Douglas Wilmer
In 1965, the BBC began its presentation of
Sherlock Holmes with British classical actor Douglas Wilmer as the lead, and Nigel Stock as Watson. This sometimes “noirish” series continued until 1968, with 13 episodes wholly- based on the original stories. Wilmer plays a shrewd, but arrogant Holmes; and sports all the expected trappings: deerstalker cap, pipe, prominent nose, and obsessive nature. Nigel Stock is another affable, but intellectually inferior Watson. 

Jeremy Brett
In the Granada Television series that aired in the UK from 1984 to 1994, Jeremy Brett played a more emotional and physically graceful Sherlock than the predecessor Sherlocks described above. His manner was more “swaggering” with occasional outbursts of passion used to re-focus Watson or LeStrade

His sometimes overly-precise and dramatic presentation quality demonstrate his background in musical theater. He played Freddy Eynsford-Hill” in My Fair Lady. Here’s a clue for you: “I have often walked down this street before; but the pavement always stayed beneath my feet before. All at once am I several stories high, knowing I’m on the street where you live …” 

There were two Watsons over this decade-long series, namely David Burke and Edward Hardwicke. Both played the character as a highly intelligent and intuitive associate of Holmes, and true to Doyle’s canon. Many consider Jeremy Brett’s characterization of Holmes as the defining Sherlock performance. To get a feel for his style, watch this video clip to see Holmes leap the couch at 221B in The Red Headed League.

Benedict Cumberbatch

Benedict Cumberbatch during filming of ‘Sherlock’ in Chinatown, London. From Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository.

Sherlock is a contemporized version of Arthur Conan Doyle’s consulting detective now operating in 21st century London.  Cumberbatch is Holmes, and Martin Freeman is Watson. Thirteen 90-minute episodes were produced in this BBC/PBS series between 2010 and 2017. The Cumberbatch Holmes is more arrogant and self-centered than the predecessors described above, and less-willing to contend with Inspector LeStrade’s plodding manner.

The deerstalker cap is absent, although other traditional detective attire (long coat and scarf) frequently appear. I believe that, although updated with contemporary technology, and despite the unruly hair, Cumberbatch’s portrayal of the character is first rate. His Holmes still has exceptional intellect, is excitable, and delights in “solving puzzles no one else could solve.” 

Dr. Watson is a younger veteran of the Royal Army Medical Corps in the Afghan War than those reviewed above and is certainly played as a more independent “self-starter”. He blogs about their adventures rather than writing by hand for publication in the print media.

However, Watson’s blog provides the pair some unwanted celebrity and  the press begins reporting on the cases and Sherlock’s sometimes eccentric personal life. Their cases, like those in the canon, come from both ordinary people and the British government. 

Jonny Miller

Elementary first aired in 2012, and ran for seven seasons and over 150 episodes. There is little connection to Arthur Conan Doyle’s body of work beyond some character names and occasional allusions to the original stories. 

Elementary is really a “police procedural” with Jonny Miller as Sherlock Holmes, and Lucy Liu as Dr. Joan Watson. Sherlock is a recovering drug addict and former consultant to Scotland Yard, who has re-located to a Brooklyn brownstone in present-day New York City for addiction treatment.

Watson is a former surgeon who has left practice, and is hired by Sherlock’s father to assist in his rehabilitation as his sober companion. Watson’s relationship with Holmes evolves from sober companion, to investigative apprentice, and into a professional crime-solving partnership with Sherlock and the NYPD. 

This Holmes is, of course, indifferent to proper procedure as he works with the NYPD. one critic describes the series as, “pretty good television; the stories are unpredictable, and often draw on contemporary issues like hacking, cyber-espionage, and corruption in international finance. I don’t recall whether the latter was Deutsche Bank. There is a definite “psychological component” underlying the series and the plots often include the characters’ struggles to deal with their many demons. 

Robert Downey Jr.

Downey is not, by any stretch of the imagination, Sherlock Holmes. Others disagree, as a third movie is apparently in progress, beyond Sherlock Holmes (2009), and A Game of Shadows (2011). His interpretation is more vulgar and more cynical than those reviewed above. There is significant violence in the plots, perhaps because the movies are targeting a less-sophisticated and/or a teenaged audience. The first two movies are totally lacking in subtlety and I think of them as the violent video games that you want your children to avoid. 

Some Final Thoughts

I always pass my penultimate draft by my wife, Christina. Her comments were that, “the essay is well-punctuated, but maybe a little obsessive.” I agree that I punctuate well. 

I have watched each of theafore-mentioned movies or TV shows at least once; either on DVD, or for the more recent ones, on television or in the theater. To explain, nine years ago next Halloween, I had just finished a two-year period during which I had almost unlimited time for reading and the media. I wasn’t incarcerated or unemployed; and, although I am a Navy veteran, I was not a member of a ballistic missile submarine team rotated ashore. 

I have also concluded that Senator Blumenthal does bear some resemblance to the Holmes described by Dr. Watson in the first paragraph of this essay; and certainly, his activities as Connecticut Attorney General also required some of the fundamental skills of a “consulting detective”. Our junior senator could, conceivably, be Watson. This is not a political column, so I won’t name any of the more obvious candidates for Moriarty.

The next essay changes focus from human icons to Connecticut’s iconic Long Island Sound and the rising water levels that I have observed from my porch over the past several years

Tom Gotowka

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

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

Share

Reading Uncertainly? ‘How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy’ by Jenny Odell

Are you overwhelmed by today’s information and attention economy? Then listen to Jenny Odell, a writer, artist, lecturer at Stanford University, resident of Oakland, Calif., and a true daughter of the current information revolution.

She suggests it is time to step back from today’s tidal wave of “information”: the resources of social media and constant “breaking news” that “capitalize on our natural interest in others, and an ageless need for community, hijacking and frustrating our most innate desires, and profiting from them. Solitude, observation, and simple conviviality should be recognized not only as ends in and of themselves, but inalienable rights belonging to anyone lucky enough to be alive.”

Our basic urges, “self-reflection, curiosity, and a desire to belong to a community” are being corrupted by  “ … the invasive logic of commercial social media and its financial incentive to keep us in a profitable state of anxiety, envy, and distraction.” It is, as she says, “the usefulness of uselessness.”

But is it really possible to “disengage from the attention economy” and to reengage with something else?

And with what?

Odell cites numerous writers before her: from Diogenes and Plato to Thoreau, Martin Buber, David Hockney and many others. But Herman Melville’s Bartleby, The Scrivener, had perhaps the best response: “I would prefer not to.” One idea is “deep listening” proposed by Pauline Oliveros: to cut out noise distraction in order to listen to “silence”, to “repair”, seeking moments of quiet, reflection and consideration, and simply to listen to what we are neglecting.

Social media, she argues, inevitably, and probably inadvertently, whip up a “permanent state of frenzy” and anxiety, and the compulsive need to be “connected”. But can we both “participate” and “contemplate”? This is a serious unanswered question.

Ms. Odell’s suggestions:

  1. “loosen our grip on the idea of discrete entities, simple origin stories, and neat A-to-B causalities”;
  2. accept “humility and openness . . . seek context . . and acknowledge that you don’t have the whole story”; and
  3. acknowledge that “an ecological understanding takes time.”

And her conclusions:

  1. “Instantaneous communication threatens visibility and comprehension.”;
  2.  “The immediacy of social media closes down the time needed for ‘political elaboration’ ”; and
  3.  “ . . . immediacy challenges political activism because it creates ‘weak ties’ .”

The author has also made progress: “I find that I’m looking at my phone less these days.”

But what have I missed? I have never used social media, never! Is this wrong? I am a retired, relatively ancient widower, writer, and deliberate contemplator. I check my email about twice a day, thinking that I should cut this to once.

I do read extensively (books, the Sunday Times and weekly The Economist and The New Yorker). I try to avoid “breaking news”, except, of course, the Boston Red Sox scores.

I do watch trees swaying in gentle breezes, flowers bursting into display, swirling clouds, birds (especially turkey buzzards), and listen to the sounds of Lyme. And write haiku and, of course, book reviews.

I relish relative anonymity!

Editor’s Note: ‘How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy’ by Jenny Odell was published by Melville House, Brooklyn, New York in 2019.

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

Share

Legal News You Can Use: Why are ‘Gray Divorces’ on the Rise?

While the overall divorce rate has declined steadily over the past few decades, the number of couples over age 50 who decide to end their marriages keeps climbing. So-called ‘gray divorces’ have quadrupled since 1990, according to multiple studies.

Divorce can be an emotional and devastating experience for anyone, and it can be especially challenging for couples who have spent many years together raising a family and sharing many wonderful experiences as well as attaining a certain standard of living.

What are the leading causes of gray divorce?

Getting a divorce doesn’t have the same social stigma it once had, which has no doubt contributed to the surge, but there are many reasons why older couples choose to end their marriages, such as:

  • Financial management: Disputes over money are some of the most common reasons for divorce. Managing finances can be tricky, especially when one spouse controls the checkbook. Couples who constantly fight about money often decide to split.
  • Growing apart: Many couples who have been together for a long time say they have lost the spark they once had, especially after their children are grown and have left the house. Others say the relationship is just “not working out.”
  • Infidelity: Spouses who cheat on their partners are another leading cause of divorce for older couples. Relationship experts say baby boomers tend to be more independent than previous generations putting their needs and happiness ahead of others.
  • Living longer: Life expectancy is also much higher for baby boomers than it was for their parents and grandparents, and many older people are still healthy. Many who are struggling in their relationships believe that they are not too old to find happiness with another partner.
  • Addiction: Spouses who develop dependencies for drugs or other negative behaviors, such as gambling or sexual addictions also tend to put their needs ahead of others, and many refuse to get help. Those actions often spell the end for their relationship, even if their spouse has been supportive in the past.

Divorce can be a positive but challenging decision

Gray divorces create significant dilemmas for all members of a family, even if the children are adults. Dividing assets can be complicated, and many couples believe that they will need to go to court to get a fair outcome.

However, a compassionate and experienced family law attorney here in Connecticut understands how the process works. Your lawyer will look to avoid a court battle through mediation or a collaborative process, if it’s in your best interests, but will also fight for you in court if litigation is necessary.

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

Sponsored post by Suisman Shapiro Attorneys-at-Law.

Share

A la Carte: The Irrestible Magic of Maple-Apple Blondies

Wow, three days of watching movies at The Garde:- The Farewell (wonderful) and Jojo Rabbit (which I was wary of seeing but, at the end, fell in love with it).  Then I saw Bombshell, but I liked the television adaptation about Roger Ailes/Fox better (The Loudest Voice). The Showtime movie made Russell Crowe (as Ailes) even more of an animal.

It was a busy week, but I found time to get to Shop-Rite and bought a rotisserie chicken, lots of vegetables (two big heads of cauliflower, which I cut into florets to parboil and freeze), green grapes, bananas and apples, along with pork cutlets and hot Italian sausage. When I got home, I wanted something sweet, so I made these blondies, below.

I tasted just one and will take the rest to a meeting. Nothing decadent is left in the house, except four pints of Haagen Dazs and Ben & Jerry’s.

Maple-Apple Blondies

From 100 Best Apple Recipes (Better Homes & Gardens, Meredith Co., 2019)

Yield: 36 bars

Nonstick cooking spray
¾ cup butter
2 medium apples, peeled, cored and chopped (about 1 and ¾ cups)
1 cup packed light brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup pure maple syrup
2 eggs
2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon baking soda
1 recipe for maple icing

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 13- by 9-inch pan with foil, extending the foil over edges. Lightly coat foil with cooking spray. In a medium saucepan, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter over medium heat. Add apples and cook about 12 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally. Remove apples from saucepan and set aside.

In the same saucepan, melt remaining butter over medium heat. Remove from heat and stir in both sugars and maple syrup until smooth. Stir in eggs and vanilla until combined. Stir in flour, baking powder, salt and baking soda. Stir in cooked apples. Spread batter in prepared pan.

Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until evenly browned and edges are puffed. Cool in pan on a wire rack. Spread maple icing over bars. Let stand until icing is set. Use edges of foil to lift uncut bars out of pan. Cut into 36 bars. 

Maple Icing

In a small bowl, stir together 2 cups powdered sugar, ¼ cup maple syrup and 2 tablespoons melted butter. Stir in enough milk (about 2 tablespoons) to make a thin spreading consistency.

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

Share

Talking Transportation: Avoiding Air Turbulence

Jim Cameron

“Buckle up folks.  There’s some bumpy air ahead”, said the pilot on a recent flight.  No need to remind me; my seatbelt is always fastened as “bumpy air”… a euphemism for air turbulence … is my worst fear in flying. It’s the whole “fear of death” thing.

Intellectually I know that modern aircraft can survive all manner of stress from changing or violent winds, but can I?  I’ve been on flights where our aircraft plummeted hundreds of feet without notice, sending passengers, their drinks and laptops flying.  There’s not much you can do in a situation like that except, hang on,  breathe deeply and pray.

Thanks to climate change there are dire predictions that in-flight turbulence is getting worse, increasing by several hundred percent in some areas.  Even today severe air turbulence is thought to cost airlines $200 million a year and is the single biggest cause of passenger injuries.

According to the FAA there were 27 passengers and crew injured by turbulence in 2015.  In 2016 that number was 42.  And with more and more people flying, those numbers will climb.

Only a few years ago, United Airlines offered passengers an in-flight audio channel where they could listen to air traffic control (ATC) handling their and other flights.  That was my favorite channel as I heard our flight being cleared to higher altitudes, warned about other aircraft and being guided across the country. It was reassuring to hear the professionalism of the flight crew and ATC.  But the channel was only available at the pilot’s discretion. And when it was turned off mid-flight, I always knew something nasty was coming our way.

Pilots regularly ask ATC for “ride reports” from other aircraft at the same altitude and flight path, always seeking the smoothest flight.  But sometimes the turbulence is unexpected, the so-called “clear air turbulence.”  You can be cruising along at 35,000 feet when, without notice, you get slammed.

On a Turkish Airlines flight to JFK last March, the 777 jetliner encountered clear air turbulence over Maine that sent everything flying.  The terror lasted about 10 minutes and when the plane finally landed, 30 passengers were taken to hospital.

That’s why you should always keep your seatbelt fastened so if the plane drops, you don’t crash into the ceiling.

Now there’s new technology that may help us all have a smoother flight.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) is testing an automatic tracking and reporting system to warn flights of “bumpy air.”  So far 15 major airlines are sharing data in the test phase of the program.

Their planes are equipped with a black box measuring changes in the flight’s speed and tilt eight times each second.  That data is transmitted to the ground and within 30 seconds, flights in the area can be warned of trouble ahead.

So far the participating airlines are generating 115,000 reports a day to the IATA Turbulence Aware system.  The system will be most valuable on long, overseas routes where there are fewer aircraft flying the same corridor.

The Turbulence Aware system should be fully operational this year when airlines will have installed the gear on most of their planes.  American Airlines alone hopes to have 800 airliners gathering and reporting data in the coming months.

Meantime … buckle up, friends!  There’s bumpy air ahead.

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

Reading Uncertainly? ‘The Goodness Paradox’ by Richard Wrangham

My goodness … we are indeed a strange species!

Dr. Wrangham, a Harvard anthropologist, tackles his subtitle, “The Strange Relationship Between Virtue and Violence in Human Evolution,” by going on to suggest, “We can be the nastiest of species and also the nicest.”

But, he offers, “The key fact about humans is that within our social communities we have a low propensity to fight. Compared to most wild mammals we are very tolerant.” One possible reason for this is “the domestication syndrome,” a process that started over 300,000 years ago, and, incidentally, is also found among some species of dogs and sheep.

Are we going to continue to evolve towards more pacifism, as Steven Pinker also suggests in his The Better Angels of Our Nature (2011), or might we regress?

Will our “progress’ continue or might we revert to once prevalent habits?

Wrangham notes that in 17th century New England, ‘”You could be executed for witchcraft, idolatry, blasphemy, rape, adultery, bestiality, sodomy, and, in New Haven, masturbation.”

Our altruism has continued to evolve within Homo sapiens, as we have delighted in “the sheer cosmological fascination of understanding where we come from,” and recognized that altruism is inherently more successful.

Edward O. Wilson also proposed this idea in Genesis* (2019): groups of altruists always beat aggressive groups. Wrangham also offers the idea that “docility … seems likely to be a vital precondition for advanced cooperation and social learning.” Chimpanzees lack this “docility,” while bonobos (pygmy chimpanzees), who are much closer to we humans in their development, seem to have it.

How will our genes move us in the future?

Might our natural “evolution” towards pacifism stall, and might other creatures move faster in that direction, adopting and encompassing altruism and docility, and therefore survive?

Dr. Wrangham challenges us to think seriously about these questions.

Editor’s Note: ‘The Goodness Paradox’ by Richard Wrangham is published by Pantheon Books, New York 2019.

*Read Felix Kloman’s review of ‘Genesis’ by Edward O. Wilson at this link.

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, a subject which explores our minds, our behavior, our politics and our history. But he does throw in a novel here and there.
For more than 50 years, he’s put together the 17 syllables that comprise haiku, the traditional Japanese poetry, and now serves as the self-appointed “poet laureate” of Ashlawn Farm Coffee, where he may be seen on Friday mornings. His late wife, Ann, was also a writer, but of mystery novels, all of which begin in a village in midcoast Maine, strangely reminiscent of the town she and her husband visited every summer.

Share

Letter From Paris: France is Embroiled in a Pension Reform Crisis, But Seems to be Doing Fine … or is it?

Nicole Prévost Logan

Reform of the retirement system was at the core of French President Emmanuel Macron’s 2016 campaign. He wanted to simplify the system and make it universal. The reform is so highly sensitive – one might even say explosive – that several prime ministers have fallen in similar attempts (1986, 1995, 2008.) Although close to 60 percent of public opinion is favorable to the reforms, the opposition is orchestrated into an angry movement by the unions and the Left.  

In a nutshell, the objective of the reform is two-fold: first, to prevent the system from being in the red in the 2020s and second to achieve social justice. This latter aim is being sought by suppressing the 42 régimes spéciaux (special systems), which grant privileges to certain groups of the population, such as civil servants, train workers (SNCF) bus and subway employees (RATP), personnel of the Paris Opera, members of the two legislative assemblies, etc. Some of these benefits include calculating the amount of retirement after the last six months of employment rather than the last 25 years.  And not surprisingly, these régimes spéciaux cost the French government billions every year.

The pension system in France is based on “repartition,” meaning that the active population pays for the retired one.  The problem is that in 1950, there were four working people for each retiree. Demography will soon reduce the ratio to 1 to 1.  In the US, the retirement system is based on “capitalization,” that is, individuals are free to invest their accumulated capital in a pension fund or other types of investment as they wish.  The Scandinavian countries use both systems – “capitalization” and “repartition”- simultaneously. 

For an American reader, it must be hard to comprehend the over-regulated retirement system in France, which applies not only to the 5.6 million civil servants  but also to the private sector.  A special dispensation is even required for retirees to be allowed to work.

The Macron plan is based on a points system.  Throughout one’s professional life, each hour’s work is translated into “points.” Variables – such as the political or economic environment – may impact the points’ value.  Employers and unions will determine together the value of each point.  Hence the anxiety of the people regarding this unfamiliar system.

France has the most generous retirement pension in Europe but it’s costing the country dearly. Photo by Hans Ripa on Unsplash.

France is the ‘Etat-providence’ (Welfare State) par excellence and the most generous in Europe.  The retirement age is 62 in France as compared to 65 in the UK.  It can be as low as 52 as in the case of train conductors.  More than 13 percent of the Gross Domestic Product is devoted to funding pensions.

The French government announced its plan to reform pensions on Dec. 5, 2019.  The reaction was immediate:- a general strike of all public transport. That meant no subway in Paris, except for two lines (which are automated), no buses, and very few trains.  That ordeal lasted for weeks without even a respite during the Christmas and New Year vacations.  Life for working people, who had to commute from the suburbs, became a pure nightmare.  Videos showed stampede scenes at stations.

On Jan. 28, 2020  the Gare de Lyon was packed as usual with passengers waiting for TGVs and suburban trains.  Suddenly a deafening sound resonated under the glass and steel structure.  Several explosions followed and pink smoke filled the station.  It turned out that dozens of the men getting off the train, wearing black parkas with yellow stripes, were firefighters on their way to join a demonstration at the Bastille. They were just getting warmed up, using their talents with pyrotechnics to blast powerful fire-crackers. 

After 50 days, the strikes had partially stopped.  The street demonstrations continued and have become a way of life in the city.  The left-wing unions and radical groups keep the momentum going and direct their actions to strategic areas such as blocking the main ports or shutting down oil refineries .

Tens of thousands people in black robes marched near the Bastille on Feb. 3.  They were some of France’s 70,000 lawyers, who have been on strike for five weeks – an absolute first.  The atmosphere was peaceful.  Not a single policeman in sight, no police vans nor water guns. 

I went down to take pictures.  ‘Why are you on strike?’  I asked a young lawyer. ‘We have our own retirement system,’ she answered, ‘which is autonomous and, furthermore, has a surplus.  Now the government has announced that the contributions toward the pension fund will double from 14 to 28 percent.’ Actually, what she said is not entirely accurate — the increase will be gradual: it will not start until the late 2020s and will not apply to all equally. 

French President Emmanuel Macron.

The launching of this crucial pension reform is like stepping into an anthill.  Wherever the government goes, it cuts into well-entrenched benefits, provoking an outpouring of protests.  Every time the government helps one group financially, this assistance has to be paid for by depriving another group.  This in turn feeds the popular mistrust for the government . 

After consultation with all the unions at the Hotel Matignon (seat of the Executive Power), an agreement was reached with the CFDT (Confederation Française Democratique du Travail), the most reformist of the unions.  For Laurent Berger, the CFDT leader,  the “age pivot” (retirement age) of 64 was a “red line” not to be crossed.  The Prime Minister agreed to pull back from it and replace it with a “cocktail of measures” to generate 12 billion Euros in order to balance the pension system. 

A parliamentary commission  of 80 deputies from all parties from the RN (Rassemblement National of Marine LePen) to LFI (La France Insoumise of Jean-Luc Melanchon) was appointed.  The government’s proposal was met with a ridiculous number of 22,000 amendments, (19,000 by LFI alone.)  Their obvious strategy was total obstruction of the process.  A general debate in the Parliament will follow.  If time runs out because of the municipal elections in 36,000 towns on March 15, the Prime Minister may resort to Executive Orders. 

In this crisis, I believe both sides are to blame: the government’s project may not have been prepared well enough and appeared confusing.  The opposition consistently refuses to enter any dialogue.  It is a French cultural trait:- first you flex your muscles then – possibly – you may be willing to come to the negotiating table.  But keep in mind that compromise is a dirty word in France.

The proposed retirement reform has somehow triggered other requests.  Seeing an opportunity, demands for higher wages and benefits are snowballing.  Some teachers in public schools are striking for pay raises.  These school students take their cue from their teachers and march in the street, or block their classrooms to protect their future pension rights — an odd sight indeed for 12- or 13-year olds!

The unrest (accompanied by violence) is dragging on.  There does not seem to be an end to it.

France appears to be functioning on two different levels — on the one hand, there is a France of  angry people, who feel very sorry for themselves. On the other, there is a dynamic France doing rather well, which has become economically attractive to foreign investors thanks primarily to labor market reforms. 

At the same time, Macron has chosen to keep above the in-fighting and focus on his role as the president of the only nuclear power of Europe, strengthening its defense and security while seeking a more integrated European Union.

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

A View From My Porch: An Appropriate Day to Remember Connecticut Icon William Gillette

Gillette Castle, former home of the iconic movie star and playwright, Connecticut-born William Gillette, who died in 1937.

Editor’s Note: Tom Gotowka sent us this piece last week, but we had always planned to publish it today. By an extraordinary coincidence, we now find — thanks to an article sent to us this morning by our friend and regular correspondent George Ryan — that today is the 90th anniversary of William Gillette’s final performance as Sherlock Holmes, given Feb. 12, 1930 at the popular Parsons Theatre in downtown Hartford.
Timing is everything … so many thanks indeed to George for his gem of information and Tom for his fascinating insight into the life and work of Mr. Gillette.

I am going a few miles upstream in this essay towards East Haddam and its medieval gothic castle to consider William Gillette’s impact on how Sherlock Holmes has been portrayed in movies and television. My goal in these essays is to cover the subject thoroughly enough to either satisfy your curiosity, or to pique your interest to pursue some additional research.

Assuming the editor’s forbearance, I will also review, in a subsequent essay, several of the actors who played Holmes or Watson to judge how true they were to either Gillette’s or Arthur Conan Doyle’s artistic vision.

Gillette was born to a progressive political family in Hartford’s Nook Farm neighborhood where authors Harriet Beecher Stowe, Mark Twain, and Charles Dudley Warner each once resided. His mother was a Hooker, that is a direct descendant of Connecticut Colony co-founder Thomas Hooker. Gillette is most recognized for his on-stage interpretation of Sherlock Holmes. He may have been America’s first matinée idol or to put it another way, the era’s rock star.

The Sherlockian Literature

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. See below for photo credit.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote 56 short stories and four novels between the 1880s and the early 20th century that comprise the “canon” of Sherlock Holmes. The stories were first published in Strand Magazine and two of the novels were serialized in that same periodical. 

Holmes defined himself as the world’s first and only “consulting detective.” He shared rooms at 221B Baker Street in London with Dr. John H. Watson, who was a former army surgeon wounded in the Second Afghan War. 

Holmes referred to Watson as his “Boswell” because he chronicled his life and the investigations that they jointly pursued as did 18th century biographer, James Boswell, of Dr. Samuel Johnson.  Watson was described as a typical Victorian-era gentleman and also served as first-person narrator for nearly all of the stories.

Holmes was known for his incredible skills of observation and deduction, and forensic science and logic, all of which he used when investigating cases for his myriad clients, which often included Scotland Yard. He played the violin well and was an expert singlestick player, boxer, and swordsman. He summarized his investigative skills for Watson this way, “Once you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth,” and, “It is my business to know what other people don’t know.”

However, Holmes had shortcomings. He was a very heavy smoker of black shag pipe tobacco, which he kept in the toe of a Persian slipper on the fireplace mantel at 221B. He also smoked cigars and cigarettes. A very difficult problem was called a “three pipe problem.” 

He used cocaine and morphine to provide “stimulation for his overactive brain” during periods when he did not have an interesting case or as an escape from “the dull routine of existence.” This was not really unusual in that period because the sale of opium, laudanum, cocaine, and morphine was legal and often used to self-medicate or for recreation. This habit was worrisome for Dr. Watson, although he once said of Holmes, “He was the best and wisest man whom I have ever known.”

The Holmes stories were immensely popular and Doyle’s last publication in Strand, “The Final Problem,” elicited such public (and Royal Family) outrage, that there were mass subscriber cancellations bringing the magazine to the brink of failure.

William Gillette. See below for photo credit.

Doyle decided to write a stage play about Holmes, set earlier in the detective’s career. He was probably compelled to do so because there already were several Sherlock Holmes on-stage productions, which provided him no income, and were of such poor quality that he felt the need to both protect his character’s legacy and improve his own income stream. 

He drafted the play and shared it with his literary agent, who sent it on to Broadway producer and impresario, Charles Frohman. Frohman reviewed it and said it needed substantial work before anyone would consider production. He suggested that William Gillette be offered the rewriting task. 

At that time, Gillette was already well-known as a talented actor and a successful and prolific playwright. His approach was a significant change from the melodramatic standards in the American theater of the time. He stressed realism in sets, lighting, and sound effects. Holmes Scholar Susan Dahlinger described Gillette’s acting style this way, “He could be thrilling without bombast, or infinitely touching without descending to sentimentality.” 

So, Doyle agreed with Frohman, and Gillette began the project by reading the entire “canon” of Holmes stories and novels. He began drafting the new manuscript while touring in California with the stage production of “Secret Service,” which he had also written.  He exchanged frequent telegrams with Doyle during the process and, with Doyle’s blessing, borrowed some plots and detail from the canon in adapting Doyle’s original manuscript into a four-act play. 

Unfortunately, neither Gillette’s first draft nor Doyle’s original script ever reached stage production. A fire broke out at Gillette’s San Francisco hotel and both manuscripts were lost. So, Gillette began a complete redraft of his lost script, and Doyle was finally able to present a play before the century’s end that he deemed worthy of Sherlock Holmes.

It is worth noting that Frohman perished on the Lusitania in May, 1915, after it had been torpedoed by a German submarine.

In 1899, Gillette was “predictably” cast for the lead role in “Sherlock Holmes A Drama in Four Acts.” Initially presented in previews at the Star Theatre in Buffalo, NY, it opened that November at the Garrick Theatre in New York City, and ran there for more than 260 performances before beginning a tour of the United States and then on to a long run in London, where it received great critical and public acclaim.

He starred in that role for more than 30 years, and about 1,500 productions in the United States and Great Britain. He also starred in the 1916 silent film, “Sherlock Holmes,” which film-historians have called, “the most elaborate of the early movies.”

Playing a role for so many years was not unusual at that time in American Theater. For example, James O’Neill, father of playwright Eugene, played Edmond Dantès, The Count of Monte Cristo, more than 6000 times between 1875 and 1920.

Some Key Elements of Gillette’s Sherlock

Although William Gillette is really no longer a “household name” — except perhaps,here in Southeastern Connecticut, where much of how we imagine Holmes today is still due to his stage portrayal of the great consulting detective. 

Gillette actually bore some resemblance to the Holmes described by Dr. Watson in “A Study in Scarlet.” Watson notes, “His [Holmes’s] very person and appearance were such as to strike the attention of the most casual observer. In height he was rather over six feet, and so excessively lean that he seemed to be considerably taller. His eyes were sharp and piercing, and his thin, hawk-like nose gave his whole expression an air of alertness and decision. His chin, too, had the prominence and squareness which mark the man of determination.” 

Gillette’s Holmes appeared in deerstalker cap and Inverness cape. He smoked a curve-stemmed briar pipe, and carried a magnifying glass.  He crafted a phrase that eventually evolved into one of the most recognized lines in popular culture: “Elementary, my dear Watson.” Gillette’s direct style was said to lend a bit of arrogance to Holmes beyond that which Doyle had depicted —  that arrogance has become a hallmark of Holmes’ portrayal in contemporary movies and television.

And finally, Gillette introduced the page, “Billie,” who had actually been played by a certain 13-year-old Charles Spencer Chaplin during the London engagement. At the end of the run, Chaplin began his career as a Vaudeville comedian, which ultimately took him to the United States and movie stardom as the incomparable Charlie Chaplin. 

Some Final Thoughts

I first learned of William Gillette a few summers ago when I visited his remarkable home, “Gillette Castle” built high above the eastern bank of the Connecticut River. I left that visit impressed with Gillette’s creativity in his design of the doors, light switches, and some of the furniture; wondering about his secret multi-mirror “spying” system, and with the assumption that he was just an eccentric artist who liked trains. 

However, I enjoy the Sherlock Holmes literature; and began reading the “canon” at age twelve. I have certainly re-read many of the stories a few more times. Over the past several years, I began to read several authors who write Sherlock Holmes short stories and novels “in the style of Arthur Conan Doyle.” Some of these “pastiches,” as they are called, are quite accurate in style and continuity of Doyle’s themes. 

In researching this essay, I was surprised with the breadth of scholarly work that is currently available regarding Sherlock and Gillette. There are several national and international literary organizations that have also developed around Doyle’s work.

The Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth offers a “Study of Sherlock” course, wherein students engage in critical reading, thinking, and writing by studying the iconic detective.

Our local expert on Holmes is Danna Mancini of Niantic. He has lectured and conducted seminars on The World of “Sherlock Holmes.” He is active in at least two Holmes literary organizations: The Baker Street Irregulars (NYC) and the Speckled Band of Boston.

Of some note, the Special Operations Executive (SOE) tasked by Winston Churchill to “set Europe ablaze” during World War II, had its headquarters at 64 Baker Street and was often called, “The Baker Street Irregulars.”

So, the ‘consulting detective’ continues to inspire novels, movies, and television.

As noted above, I will review several of the actors who played Holmes or Watson in these media in my next essay, and judge how true they were to either Gillette’s or Arthur Conan Doyle’s artistic vision.

Photo credit for the photo of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is as follows: By Arnold Genthe – PD image from http://www.sru.edu/depts/cisba/compsci/dailey/217students/sgm8660/Final/They got it from: http://www.lib.utexas.edu/photodraw/portraits/,where the source was given as: Current History of the War v.I (December 1914 – March 1915). New York: New York Times Company., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=240887

Photo credit for the photo of William Gillette is as follows: Billy Rose Theatre Division, The New York Public Library. William Gillette Retrieved from http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47de-e15c-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

Tom Gotowka

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

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

Share

A la Carte: Pepperoni Pasta is Easy to Prep, Delicious to Eat

The other Sunday, I drove to the Mystic Marriott to judge the chocolate gala to benefit Fairview in Groton, I used to call rest homes like Fairview old persons’ homes.  Now that I am actually an old person, there are other names that sound nicer, like independent or assisted living. Some years ago a friend told me that when she gets old, she wants to be at Fairview, with its gorgeous view of the Thames River. And when her time comes, she said, she wants someone to wheel her down the rolling green hills right into the river.

These days she might have a different take, since Fairview’s many-acred “campus” is gorgeous and has single houses which people buy long before they need any assisting at all. And among the hundreds of people who paid to get a sugar rush that Sunday, Fairview will fund activities for the very active residents there. 

The chocolate was pretty delicious, gorgeous and, for two of the competitors, mighty edgy. The biggest awards went to Franck Iglesias, executive pastry chef at Foxwoods, and Mark Vecchitto at Octagon, housed at the Mystic Marriott. By the way, we three judges (including The Day’s Rick Koster and Maurice Beebe, who was chef/owner of the late North End Deli) did not know whose chocolate we were eating; the establishments were numbered and only at the end did we know who was whom.

As with most dessert contests, by the end of the day I mostly wanted a hamburger. In truth, I got home and ate a tuna sandwich, because there were no leftovers in my refrigerator. With more weather events ahead, food to be make for a friend after surgery, and some dishes to take for a party coming up, it was time to cook.

This is one of my first ever pasta dishes. My nephew made it for me first, about 30 years ago, from Jeff Smith’s first cookbook. I have adapted it so much that I consider it my own. I will double the recipe for my friends and as leftovers for myself. 

Pepperoni Pasta

Yield: serves 4 to 6

2 to 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium-sized sweet onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 28-ounce can of whole or diced tomatoes
1 or so jigger of vodka (optional)
one-half pound thinly sliced pepperoni (buy the pepperoni sliced at the supermarket’s deli counter)
salt and pepper to taste
one-quarter teaspoon cayenne pepper (more if you like it spicy)
one-quarter cup heavy cream
1 to 2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
lots of freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Romano cheese
1 pound pasta (I like rigatoni or penne, but any pasta will do)

Photo by sheri silver on Unsplash

Place a big stockpot full of water on the stove and bring to a boil.

In the meantime, in a large skillet, warm oil, then add onion and garlic. Cook over medium-low heat until translucent (try not to brown the herbs.) Add the entire can of tomatoes; while warming, mash tomatoes if you are using whole tomatoes rather than diced tomatoes. When hot, add vodka and cook for about four minutes, at which point most of the liquor will have evaporated. Toss in pepperoni and stir; cook for another few minutes. Add salt and pepper, to taste, and beginning adding cayenne pepper, tasting each for amount of spiciness. 

In the meantime, when water is boiling, add quite a bit of sat (a few tablespoons), then add pasta. Stir until water comes back to a boil, drop heat to medium and cook until al dente (a bit of chewiness).

While pasta is cooking, add heavy cream and stir until a pretty coral color. Turn heat to low and cover. When pasta is al dente, drain but keep half a cup of pasta water to add to sauce if necessary. Add pasta to sauce (or vice versa). Toss well, adding pasta water if you want to thin it a bit. Add fresh basil and cheese; serve immediately, with more cheese so people can add more to their bowls.

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

Share

Letter From Paris: Brexit Has Happened – An Historic Day Which Sparked Joy, Tears, and Innumerable Challenges

Editor’s Note: The United Kingdom finally left the European Union (EU) at 11 p.m. on Jan 31, 2020, after being a member of the EU for 47 years. Despite a referendum passing in 2016 by a very slim margin that requested the extraction of the UK from the EU, it has been a long three years of butter argument to reach this point. Even now, it is estimated that roughly half of the population are delighted with Brexit and the other half are devastated.  But what are thinking on the other side of the English Channel?  Nicole Prévost Logan is back to give her thoughts from Paris on how the French see the whole business and where we all go from here.

Nicole Prévost Logan

The historic day has finally come … applauded by some and mourned by others.

The United Kingdom has left the European Union (EU).  With emotional tears the deputies of the European Parliament sang Auld Lang Syne – a 1788 Scottish song with a traditional folk tune – and hugged each other.

Now the real work is starting.  The UK has only an 11-month transition period (starting Feb. 1) to negotiate the terms of Brexit.

The extent of the long, drawn-out discussions has been covered many times in the past four years (see my previous article in Letter from Paris dated 12/9/14;  3/2/164/6/1712/29/18;  4/12/19)

On both sides of the English Channel there is, at least for now, a feeling of relief that a decision has been reached.

An image of 10 Downing Street — the UK British Prime Minister’s official residence – taken from a BBC broadcast moments after the 11 p.m. deadline on Jan. 31, 2020 when the UK left the EU.

How did Boris Johnson win

The French have been very impressed by the dexterity with which Boris Johnson (BJ) was able out to turn around the majority in the House of Commons: the Tories won 364 seats, an increase of 48 seats while the Labour party took 262, representing a loss of 60.   “Salut l’Artiste” (congratulations to the artist), wrote Françoise Fressoz, Le Monde editorialist  on Jan. 8.  On a radio talk show, a commentator said that BJ has become a model for the French Right: a conservative with social projects. The French feel that BJ, because of his super majority, is going to negotiate from a position  of strength.

A brillant strategist, he put his focus on the less wealthy population of the North of England and the Midlands, who supported Brexit. He undercut the Labour party by proposing a number of social measures such as raising the minimum wage, encouraging apprenticeships, building 40 hospitals and schools, and investing in railroad tracks at the cost of 100s of billions pounds sterling.  How will these projects be carried out?  How they will be paid for?  Not a mention of that in his campaign.

The other part of his strategy was to put pressure on the EU.  It is not clear how he did this, possibly in making concessions.  In a populist fashion, he probably told the Europeans what they wanted to hear.  A French journalist-columnist for The Daily Telegraph said BJ bluffed his way through. His optimism is more appealing that May’s stubbornness.  The French like another trait of his: his culture.  On our TV screens here, we saw him recite The Iliad poem for two and a half hours in classical Greek.

With Brexit both sides will lose, but many feel the UK will lose more.  The UK exports 47 percent of its products to Europe whereas the EU exports only 20 percent.  Some have compared Donald Trump’s attitude toward the EU to Boris Johnson’s.  There is one big difference though: BJ is not trying to destroy Europe.

Immigration has been at the core of Brexit since the beginning.  In this area, there is an inner contradiction.  Although the UK was never part of the Schengen Area (which guarantees freedom of circulation of the people), it still took advantage of the accession of eight new states to the EU in 2004, and 2007, to welcome these new labor forces – particularly from Poland.  It is unknown at this point how this situation will be resolved under Brexit.

The transition period

What’s going to happen during the transition?  Concretely, very little except that the Union Jack will not fly any more at the entrance of the EU HQ.

In the immediate term, ferry boats will continue crossing The Channel and Eurostar will continue to carry passengers and goods.  There will be no custom duties, no tariffs, and no visas required.

However, some changes are going to be immediately painful for the UK. The 73 British deputies at the European Parliament packed their bags on Jan. 31.  The British Commissioners have been gone for a while.  This means that the UK will not participate in the decision-making process, while it will still have to contribute to the EU budget and abide by the decisions of the European Court of Justice.

Michel Barnier from France has been appointed again as chief negotiator.  This is good news for everybody because he is a consensus-making personality.  He will work with a group of deputies from the European Parliament in Strasbourg,  Barnier has always stressed that the EU is not out to punish the UK.  Its only objective is to protect the EU’s interests.  Barnier feels sorry for the British population that was misinformed prior to the 2016 referendum.

The task ahead

In the simplest of terms, it is Herculean.

The UK is party to more than 600 international agreements with around 100 other countries through its EU membership.  As it leaves the EU , the UK will be cut off from these agreements.  However, it can retain its place whenever the UK signed an agreement in its own right.  The undoing of all these agreements is called (delightfully) “detricotage” in French (tricoter is to knit.)

The country has already taken steps to secure continuity in its relationships with other countries.  Examples include a treaty maintaining the UK’s civil nuclear trade; bilateral aviation agreements with the US and Canada; citizens rights agreements with Norway, Iceland, and Switzerland; protection for Scotch and Irish Whiskey exports.

The Lancaster House Bilateral Treaty of 2010 between the UK and France is a good example. It was signed between then French President Sarkozy and then UK Prime Minister Cameron and concerns Defense and Security Cooperation. Nathalie Loiseau, former French minister for European Affairs is the president of  the Commission on Security and Defense of the European Parliament.

One of the greatest fears in Europe is the prospect of a “Singapore-on-Thames.”  This would mean a country disrespectful of social and environmental norms and regulations.  Fiscal dumping will not be tolerated, says Brussels.  “There will not be quotas nor tariff if the UK forgets about dumping” writes the newspaper La Croix.

The first issue to be tackled will be fishing.  The negotiators will sit down around the negotiating table as early as Feb. 3, 2020.  The French fishermen have for years been fishing in 60 percent of the time in British waters.  The problem is that the British fisherman need the huge Single Market of 500 million people to sell their catch … and they already complain about quotas, which are imposed in order to avoid the depletion of fish!

France is one of the closest commercial partners of the UK (its foreign trade with that country has a trade surplus  of 12 billion Euros), which mean that it is particularly exposed to the consequences of the Brexit.  The manufacturing sector, such as the automobile industry, is fully integrated with Europe and relies on spare parts coming from the continent.  Every day 1,100 trucks transport parts back and forth through the Channel.  Aeronautics is facing a huge logistics problems since Air Bus employs 13,500 people in Great Britain.

The pharmaceutical industry, such as Sanofi, prepared for the Brexit by accumulating huge quantities of drugs.  The Total energy company is relocating its treasury department from London to Paris.

The traders of BNP Paribas Paris – the largest European bank in the UK – will have to leave the City of London whenever dealing with European clients. HSBC – the largest bank in the EU – is relocating many of its units to Paris.  One thousand personnel have already moved. Bank of America is now located on Rue de la Boetie in Paris.  J.P. Morgan has also relocated here.

The complicated problem of the border  between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland seems to have been defused.  One hears now that, in the long term, the two Irelands may be reunited.  The border would then go under the Irish Channel and the North Sea.  The idea of a “backstop,” which we heard so much about under Theresa May’s watch, seems to have vanished today.

In a recent debate, Pascal Lamy, Honorary Director of the Jacques Delors Institute (Delors was one of the founding fathers of the EU. He created the Single Market in 1993) made a few remarks about

Prognosis for the future

The more the UK diverges from the EU’s norms, the thicker the wall between them will grow.  The 27 members of the EU are extremely attached to the Single Market, the largest in the world.  It seems likely that BJ will in the end up aligned with Europe.  If BJ carries out his proposed social policy, the public deficit risks will be enormous.  Will there be “Boris Bonds” ?

Recently the populist governments in Denmark and Italy have collapsed.  Johnson’s electoral base is a mismatch between the less wealthy Brexiteers of the North and the rich ones from London. Nicola Sturgeon in Scotland and Arlene Foster in Northern Ireland will have an important role to play in whether there is going to be a break-up of the United Kingdom or not.  The UK will likely remain closer to the EU than the US.

On Dec. 13, 2019, some European leaders stated their position toward Brexit in carefully selected words:

Charles Michel, president of the European Council said, “We are ready.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel noted, “This will be a challenge.”

French President Emanuel Macron stated: “We welcome a new partner who should be a fair competitor.”

And in a Jan. 30, 2020 interview on French radio, Her Majesty’s Ambassador to France, Baron Llewellyn of Steep, said in the most British of ways,”Let’s have a cup of tea and go to work!”

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

A View from My Porch: Lyme Native Ezra Lee was World’s First Commander of an Attack Submarine in Battle

There was a time before our time,
It will not come again,
When the best ships still were wooden ships
But the men were iron men …

Sgt. Ezra Lee, 1749 – 1821, is buried   in the Duck River Cemetery in Old Lyme. Image from Wikipedia Public Domain: painter and engraver unknown, from The Story of the Submarine by Farnham Bishop.

I believe this eloquent verse from Rosemary and Stephen Vincent Benet’s ode to New England’s “Clipper Ships and Captains” can also be used to describe Ezra Lee, the first man to command an attack submarine in battle.

In this essay, I will describe the heroism of this native of Lyme, Conn., and present some key elements of this remarkable period in Connecticut’s history. However, I think that one must have some understanding of his primitive submarine in order to fully appreciate Ezra Lee’s courage.

Bushnell’s Genius

This first submarine, named the Turtle, was designed and built by David Bushnell in what is now Westbrook, Conn.

Bushnell was a farmer, but left the family farm in the care of his brother, Ezra, in 1771 to pursue his education at Yale College. He graduated in 1775. His last year at Yale coincided with the Battles of Lexington and Concord, i.e., the beginning of the American War of Independence.

By that time, several other important events leading to the war with the British had already occurred. They included the Boston Massacre (1770), the Boston Tea Party (1773); and enactment of the Boston Port Act, which was one of five “Intolerable Acts”, implemented in 1774 to punish the colonists after the Tea Party. The law, was enforced by a British naval blockade of Boston harbor, which effectively shut down all commerce and travel in and out of Boston and the Massachusetts colony.

Bushnell was a fervent patriot and felt strongly that defeating the mighty British Navy would require unconventional tactics. He began a collaboration with another member of the Yale community, Phineas Pratt. One of their first projects was the development of an underwater bomb with a mechanical time-delayed detonator – a distant forerunner of contemporary naval mines. It is noteworthy that part of his Yale tenure overlapped with Nathan Hale’s, who graduated in 1773.

Bushnell felt that he could use this underwater explosive against the British if he could develop the means to deliver it to a targeted warship and place it below the waterline.

So, having returned to Westbrook after graduation, Bushnell’s small team, which now included his brother Ezra, turned its attention to developing a vessel that could transport and attach these explosive devices to enemy warships … and the idea of a “sub-marine” was conceived. Bushnell recognized that, to be effective and avoid detection, the vessel would have to be completely submerged for some period of time during the mission; be able to move through the water; and, when ready, return safely to the surface.

Colonial Era Engineering Limitations

With little real successful precedent on which to build, Bushnell’s submarine would be a “true” invention. Clearly, there were many significant engineering and design problems that the team had to resolve. They included building a watertight, pressure-proof, and vertically stable vessel; propulsion – both vertical and horizontal; steering, and vision; and the actual weapons-delivery system.

A key issue was that of developing the means to vary the vessel’s ballast in order to enable submersion and re-surfacing. Bushnell eventually solved these problems and introduced some innovations. For example, he equipped his vessel with an early snorkel-type breathing device and a two-bladed propeller for propulsion.

The Turtle

‘Turtle’ model on dsplay at the Royal Navy Submarine Museum in Gosport, England. The image is published under this license.

I realize that I am over-simplifying here, but I’m trying to avoid getting stuck in the sea-weeds of the Turtle’s design and construction.

The Turtle resembled two tortoise shells, bound together. It was constructed of oak timbers, which were shaped, joined, and caulked at the joints. The vessel was bound with iron bands and covered with tar to ensure water tightness.

It was about 7 ft. long, 4 ft. wide, and 8 ft. from its keel to the top of its brass “conning tower,” which protruded about eight inches out of the water. It had no periscope, but the conning tower contained six glass ports.

The submarine was capable of only carrying one person, who sat upright on a seat roughly resembling a bicycle seat (see photo at left.) Moreover, Turtle was equipped with a depth gauge to measure distance from the surface. a compass for navigating, and a crude ventilator to supply the vessel with fresh air at the surface.

Controls included hand-cranks and pedals for operation of the propellers; a rudder, located behind the operator, controlled by foot; and; an “immersion chamber,” for flooding when additional ballast was required. Turtle submerged and surfaced via brass pumps that took in or expelled seawater as ballast, and 700 pounds of lead weights, which could be let out or retracted as needed.

The Turtle had no real ballast tanks; and the incoming seawater simply flooded the floor of the cabin – leaving the operator knee-deep in water until it was eliminated with the pumps when it was time to surface.

Two tubes, which passed through the conning tower hatch provided fresh air when near the surface. The air supply would last only about 30 minutes, and would soon become foul when the submarine was submerged. The exterior was equipped with a large screw that could be twisted into the planks of a ship’s hull. The screw was tethered by a rope to one of Bushnell’s timed explosive devices.

It is interesting that Bushnell had actually consulted fellow revolutionary, Ben Franklin, to solve the problem of illuminating the Turtle’s interior – who suggested using phosphorescent “foxfire.”

Sea Trials

Turtle was tested after completion of construction in 1775 in the relative safety of the Connecticut River. Ben Franklin observed the initial tests from the shore and was favorably impressed and understood its potential in naval warfare. The Turtle was also recommended to George Washington by Connecticut Governor Jonathan Trumbull. Ezra Bushnell had been trained in operating the Turtle and had assumed that role during testing, and presumably, would also pilot the vessel in battle.

As noted, the Turtle held only a single person, and that person was wholly responsible for bringing the craft to the target and attaching and arming the explosives. That person required substantial physical strength and stamina, incredible focus, and the utter absence of claustrophobia.

There are replicas of the Turtle in Groton’s Submarine Force Museum and the CT River Museum in Essex; which has a cut-away display in which one may experience Turtle’s cabin.

The Bushnell Farm house is located at 1445 Boston Post Rd., Old Saybrook, CT.

The First Mission

The Turtle was ready for deployment by the spring of 1776 – and may have originally been planned for use against the British warships blockading Boston Harbor. However, by that time, the British had ended their blockade and moved their ships north to Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Ezra Lee’s Mission

In July, 1776, a British naval force began to move into New York Harbor, carrying supplies and soldiers. General William Howe and Admiral Richard Howe had essentially shut down western Long Island and New York to the colonists.

The Turtle was transported overland through Connecticut to New York Harbor, which was still in American hands. After arriving in New York, Ezra Bushnell developed a terrible fever, possibly Typhoid, and was unable to carry out any mission.

Brigadier General Samuel Holden Parsons, also from Lyme, then recommended three men to train to pilot the submarine. One of those men was his brother-in-law, Ezra Lee. So, to avoid discovery by the British, David Bushnell returned to Connecticut with the Turtle, and began intensive training of the three recruits. After a month of training, Lee was chosen to make the first attack on a British warship.

General Washington gave permission for Turtle’s first mission on Sept. 6 – an attack on the HMS Eagle, Admiral Howe’s flagship, which was anchored in New York Harbor, south of Manhattan. Near midnight on the 6th, Turtle was towed by a pulling boat from the Battery towards the Eagle. Halfway, Ezra Lee entered the Turtle and secured the hatch over his head. – and a submarine was engaged in battle for the first time against an enemy ship. Later, Lee wrote several letters describing this mission.

It took Lee nearly two hours of pedaling to reach the Eagle. Once there, he took on some ballast, and submerged completely. When he thought he was under his target, he pumped out a small quantity of water from the ballast tank, until a bump indicated he was beneath Eagle, with the auger screw against the ship’s bottom.

Unfortunately, Lee’s attempt to attach the explosive with the auger screw failed, possibly because a metal plate covered the area where he was trying to drill. He was forced to re-surface to replenish his air supply. He submerged again and attempted to drill into another spot in the hull. On that second dive he was unable to stay beneath the ship, and eventually abandoned the attempt.

It is possible that the tide turned during the second attack and Lee was unable to compensate. Lee’s mission was near the southern tip of Manhattan, where the Hudson River and the East River merge. The currents tend to be strong and complex there. So, Turtle would only be able to attack a ship moored in that area during a short period of time when the incoming tide balanced the river currents.

Lee was exhausted, and the outgoing tide threatened to take Turtleout to sea. He ejected all the ballast water and began pedaling with his remaining strength. With the ballast water pumped out, one third of Turtle’s hull stuck out of the water, making it clearly visible in daylight. As the day grew lighter, the British spotted the Turtle, and set out in small boats to confront it.

To divert the patrol and to lighten his craft, Lee released the explosive device that he had tried to attach to Eagle. It drifted towards the East River and soon exploded. In Lee’s words, it, “went off with a tremendous explosion, throwing up large bodies of water to an immense height.” Lee returned safely after several hours on the water and received Washington’s congratulations in person.

Lee did make a second unsuccessful attempt against the British frigate HMS Cereberus, but was discovered and forced to retreat.

An Ignominious Victory

Although Turtle’s missions were unsuccessful in that no damage was inflicted on any British vessel, some historians feel that the venture was, by no means, a failure. They suggest that the explosion led to Admiral Howe ordering the British warships to be repositioned further off the harbor, from which they could no longer maintain their blockade of New York.

Perhaps an intangible psychological victory might also be claimed simply through her use as another unconventional weapon of war employed by the colonists. These also included the guerilla tactics employed by the self-trained and highly mobile militia, which was organized to assemble rapidly and deploy where needed, and aptly named the “Minutemen.”

Note that the National Archives possess a letter that George Washington wrote to Thomas Jefferson in September,1785 about the Turtle, saying, “I then thought, and still think, that it was an effort of genius.”

David Bushnell – After the Attack on Eagle

Bushnell loaded Turtle aboard a fast sloop, hoping that the sloop could slip unnoticed past the British into Long Island Sound and back to Connecticut. A British frigate discovered the sloop, however, and, according to the British, sank her and her cargo. Note that there are many versions of the Turtle’s final days.

In 1778, General Washington proposed the formation of a new military unit to be known as the “Corps of Sappers and Miners” (i.e., combat engineers.) It was organized in the summer of the next year. Bushnell was given command of the Corps with the rank of captain-lieutenant in August, 1779.

Ezra Lee – After the Attack on Eagle

Lee was moved by Washington into the secret service/special forces. He later participated in the Battles of Trenton, Brandywine and Monmouth.

Lee died in 1821. His obituary in the “Commercial Advisor” (November 1821) stated: “Died, at Lyme, on the 29th October Captain Ezra Lee, aged 72, a revolutionary officer. He died without an enemy. It is not a little remarkable, that this officer is the only man, of which it can be said, that he fought the enemy upon land–upon water–and under the water…”

Lee is buried in the Duck River Cemetery in Old Lyme. The inscription on his original grave marker was: “EZRA LEE. / DIED / Aged 72 Years. / He was a Revolutionary / Officer, / and esteemed by / Washington.” Unfortunately, during the colonial era, gravestones were often made from softer types of stone, such as sandstone and slate, which were easier to cut and carve. However, they deteriorated. Lee’s original marker has been replaced with a granite obelisk, but without the full original inscription.

Some Observations by the Author

I am not a native of southeast Connecticut. Rather. I am an émigré from West Simsbury in Connecticut’s northwest hills. I knew almost nothing about David Bushnell and Ezra Lee before visiting the Connecticut River Museum, but I was encouraged to learn more.

Stewart Holbrook, author of “Lost Men of American History,” has claimed that “… had a Longfellow fastened upon him, Ezra Lee would be as well known today as Paul Revere, and it is a pity that he isn’t.”

“Bushnell’s Infernal Machine” sung by New England balladeer Larry Kaplan

This song provides a view of Turtle from the inside. Kaplan is known for his songs of New England and its seas. Visit this link to see the song performed.

Editor’s Note: The author is going a few miles north on the Connecticut River for his next essay to visit William Gillette and review his impact on the cinematic portrayal of Sherlock Holmes.

Tom Gotowka

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

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

Share

Talking Transportation: A Conversation With CT DOT Commissioner Giulietti, Part 2

Jim Cameron

Editor’s Note:  This is the second of two articles written by Jim Cameron reporting on his conversation with CDOT Commissioner Joseph Giulietti. Read the first article at this link.

Connecticut’s Department of Transportation (CDOT) Commissioner Joseph Giulietti is about to finish his first year on the job and his plate is more than full.  It’s overflowing with controversy.

In my last column, in part one of an exclusive, no-holds barred interview he spoke of his challenges in speeding up Metro-North, coping with the over-budget, behind-schedule Walk Bridge replacement and ordering new rail cars.

This week, in part two of our conversation he speaks of the biggest issue of all … getting the legislature to pass truck tolls to raise money to replenish the Special Transportation Fund, which pays for transportation in our state.

I asked the Commissioner if Governor Lamont had “bungled” this initiative by his constant flip-flopping on what to toll and where.

Choosing his words very carefully, he said, “The Governor has admitted that there were some things he wished had been done differently.  If it was bungled, it was because he was trying to come up with bipartisan support for a solution everyone could buy into.”

Giulietti said nobody expected how pervasive and organized the opposition forces would be against tolling.

As for Mr. Sasser, leader of the #NoTollsCT movement, “I’ve never met him. This is never a personal issue.” But when the initial tolling plan was unveiled, he said the #NoTollsCT forces “ran with the paranoia.”  But if not tolls: “How do you want to pay for it [transportation]? Connecticut drivers have been subsidizing out of state drivers for years. Tolls are the closest thing we have to a user fee.”

As for the claim that truck tolls will lead to car tolls and the money will be misspent, “The Federal government determines that and that those funds must be spent on the roads [where the tolls would be.]”  Trucks don’t buy gas in Connecticut, so they’re getting a free ride.

On the claim that the CDOT wastes money: “We used to have 5000 people at the CDOT.  Now we have 2700.” Even snow plowing is done with one driver, guided by a computer on where to deploy brine and how to best clear the snow.  One truck can now even handle three lanes of pavement.”

“We’ve always looked how we can be more efficient. That’s the type of department CDOT has become. We always want to be good stewards of the public’s money.”

“I don’t know of a better way [to pay for transportation] than tolls.  The Governor has always said, ‘If you have a better idea, come to me with it,’ so if we’re not going to do tolling, what’s the alternative … gas tax, income tax, sales tax?  But there don’t seem to be any alternate ideas on how to get this thing [funding] through.”

Giulietti says he has a good working relationship with Governor Lamont. “I’m not a politician, I don’t run for office,” he said. “But I know of very honorable people who do the right thing [like voting in favor of tolls] despite the threats of being voted out of their jobs.”

“I’ve worked now for six or seven governors. Lamont is one of the most honest and decent people I’ve worked with … a genuine good guy who truly wants bipartisan support to try and get this thing through.  It makes it easy [for me] to face the criticism because I know he’s trying to do the right thing.”

To which I can only add … Amen!

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