November 27, 2015

Letter From Paris: Thoughts on the Aftermath of Friday the 13th

Screen Shot 2015-11-25 at 1.10.55 PMThe Nov. 13 attack was not the end of it.

The Parisians lived through a first somber weekend listening to the non-stop sirens of police cars.  On Nov. 18, RAID (Recherche-Assistance-Intervention-Dissuasion), assisted by hundreds of special police forces launched a massive assault  in St Denis, barely one kilometer from the Stade de France and next to the 12th century basilica of the kings of France.  At four in the morning and for seven hours the tiny street became a war scene of incredible violence.  Explosions shook the shabby buildings so much that walls and floors collapsed.

Two suspects, a woman and a man, unidentified for almost two days, were found in the rubble. Terrorist Salah Abdelslam was still on the run.  Every day the police uncovered new details about the terrorists — in Montreuil and in the 18th arrondissement.  On Nov. 23, a belt with explosives was found on a sidewalk in Montrouge, south of Paris.  The Belgium connection intensified, particularly in Melenbeek, a town with a mostly Moslem population and 85 mosques.  One week after the French attack, a major terrorist threat forced the Belgian capital to shut down for several days.

How are the French coping?  They feel “80 percent anger and 15 percent pain,” commented Thierry Pech, head of the Terra Nova Fondation.  One feels outraged that petty delinquents, often on drugs, would commit such atrocities.  A mood of mourning and solidarity spread throughout France.

We are now in another era, prime minister Manuel Valls declared,  and we will have to learn how to live with terror but must not give in to it.  The French people have heard this sobering message and are behaving with great dignity, albeit with nervousness.  At no point did the citizens feel an infringement on their personal freedom. Public debates , such as the Friday night TV show “Ce soir ou Jamais”, are more heated than ever.

There was a temporary disconnect between the politicians and the general public.  During a stormy session at the Assemblée NationaleLes Republicains (LR) (new name of UMP) gave a hard time to the prime minister.  Catcalls and jeers made his speeches barely audible.  The right wing daily Le Figaro explained how Christian Jacob, leader of the LR parliamentary group, instructed his party to calm down.  On the following day, the behavior of the deputés was exemplary as they voted unanimously to prolong the Etat d’urgence (state of emergency) for three months.

To reassure the population, the government took several security measures including the creation of 10,000 posts in the police and border control personnel.  A major change in the Code Pénal was put in place to facilitate searches of private homes and house arrests, as well as preventive arrests without the intervention of a judge.  Close to one thousand searches were carried out last week, which is more than during a full year under normal circumstances.  To enhance the efficiency of the police, the definition of legitimate defence is being altered.

The Patriot Act, signed into law by the US Congress on Oct. 21 2001, developed surveillance on the whole nation and the gathering of “metadata.”  It is very different in France,  since the new administrative and judiciary steps, taken by the Executive, are targeted at a concrete enemy of about 11,000 dangerous individuals, registered on the “S” form, living in the midst of the population, practically next door.   In the US, the task of protecting the country is shared between the Justice Department, the Homeland Security, the FBI and the 50 states.  In France, overall responsibility lies with the Ministre de l’Interieur – at present Bernard Cazeneuve.

When it became known that Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who was finally identified in the St. Denis assault, a co-author of the terrorist attack of Nov. 13,  had been on the loose for several months, it literally infuriated public opinion.  Flaws in the surveillance system became obvious.  That man was well known by the Intelligence officials, had taken part in four out of six recent aborted attacks, and, at one time, was convicted to 20 years in prison.  He made several round trips to Syria and apparently passed easily through porous airports, including Istanbul.

Close to one million migrants have entered Europe since the beginning of the year and there is no end in sight.  Should the Schengen principle of free circulation of people and goods within the European Union (EU) be suspended?  The Paris correspondent of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung thinks that, to abandon Schengen, would be a very serious threat to the survival of Europe.

But many disagree with that opinion.

The  “Schengen Space” was created in 1985 for six countries and intended to function in peaceful and normal times when the external frontiers were real.  That is not the case any more.  How can Greece, financially broke, stop or at least control 80 percent of the migrants who have landed on their shores?

The European Commission is trying to alleviate the situation somewhat.  One decision is to apply the PNR (passenger name record) even on EU nationals entering the continent.  The other is to intensify the controls of arms and assault weapons’ spare parts coming mainly from the Balkans.  The idea of depriving bi-national  jihadists of one of their nationalities is also being considered.

On the diplomatic and military scenes, the repercussions of Nov. 13 have been huge.  It seems to have caused a major turn- around in the main powers’ policy – a 180 degree shift, one might say.  No one wanted to admit they were making concessions, but they did.  Suddenly Putin recognized that the Russian plane had indeed been blown up over the Sinai desert. He changed course and started limiting his air strikes to Daesch (ISIS) and no longer to Syrian rebels.   In a recent interview in the courtyard of the Elysée Palace, John Kerry did not mention the ousting of Bachar al-Assad as a preliminary condition to negotiations. The French, who had been the most hawkish among the warring countries prior to 2012, skipped Assad’s removal as well.  It is concentrating the action of its Rafales on Rakka, the self-proclaimed capital of Daech. At this point, none of the main powers are willing to put “boots on the ground.”  The only boots one has seen so far are Kurdish boots.

This will be a marathon week for François Hollande: Cameron on Monday,  Obama on Tuesday, Merkel on Wednesday and Putin on Thursday.  His objective is to build up a single coalition against Daech.

Intense soul-searching and analyses by experts are going on to try and understand a conflict to which we have never before been exposed.   Can we win a war against terrorism?  No, said former minister of foreign Affairs Dominique de Villepin.  We cannot defeat this invisible enemy, which we have helped create.

What is Daesch really and what does it want?  To destabilize our society by increasing the divide between Moslems and our secular values, says Gilles Keppel, professor at Sciences Po and a specialist on Islam.  Philosopher Alain Finkelkraut believes that Daesch is not just reacting to the bombings.  He says that by nature it is a conquering culture and today it is on a crusade to destroy the West.


Letter from Paris: Je Suis en Terrasse — Reflections on Life in Paris After the Terrorist Attacks

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

For the second time in 2015, Paris was the target of  the terrorists.  But, in contrast to the “Charlie Hebdo” massacre, the attacks were not made in the name of an idea, like freedom of expression — especially of the press, or to single out the Jewish community, but aimed at French society as a whole. The blind rampage was intended to butcher the greatest number of normal Parisians having fun on a Friday night.

The killings took place almost simultaneously in five places obviously following a well prepared scenario acted by three  professional and heavily armed commandos.  Never before had the French been exposed to kamikazes.  The carnage left 129 dead, 355 injured including more than 99 in critical condition.


It all started at 9.20 p.m. at the Stade de France, north of Paris, on Friday, Nov. 13, where the Bleus were playing against a German soccer team in front of 80,000 spectators.  President François Hollande was in the crowd.  He left discreetly at half time.  In spite of two explosions, the match went on uninterrupted to avoid the panic.  Afterwards the public lingered on the lawn, still dazed.   Spontaneously the crowd started singing the Marseillaise.  Outside the stadium, the double suicide had left a scene of destruction.  The social networks went to work.  Taxis offered free rides.  Twitter launched an operation “open doors” to disoriented people.

In rapid succession , the terrorists drove from one crowded place to another in the 10th and the 11th arrondissements to proceed with their slaughter: Le Petit Cambodge, the Carillon bar, the Cosa Nostra restaurant and finally La Belle Equipe on Rue Charonne,

An American rock group was on stage when four terrorists broke into the concert hall Bataclan packed with an audience of 1,500.  They started shooting blindly at people.  From the account of a seasoned policeman, the scene of horror  was apocalyptic.  Bodies were lying in pools of blood.  After holding a group of hostages for three hours and using them as ramparts against the assault of the special forces, the terrorists blew themselves up, using their belts padded with sophisticated explosives.

Why was the 11th arrondissement again the main target of the terrorist attack?  Since I live there, I have pondered over this question.  Ann Hidalgo, mayor of Paris, gave some of the answers during an interview on TV.  The 11th, she said with some pride, is a multi-ethnic, socially mixed population with large and visible religious communities.  It has a distinct personality, rebellious and rather impertinent.  The French call these types of people “bo-bo” (meaning bohemian-bourgeois.)  It is an unpalatable cocktail for the IS (Islamic State).

The other reason why terrorists seem to be attracted to the 11th might be the availability of good hiding places in this working class arrondissement – the largest of Paris.  Geographically the 11th is close to “difficult” suburbs.  Finally, It is near the highway leading to Brussels.  The inquiry has revealed connections between the authors of the Paris attack and the Molenbeek district, a hotbed of radical Islam in Belgium.


As it is often the case at time of crisis, people show their best side.  It certainly was true with the French who rose up above their usual attitude of self-disparagement.  Here are just a few examples — the police, the SAMU (ER), the Red Cross, the army, the BRI (brigade de Recherche et d’Investigation), the RAID (Recherche-Assistance-Intervention-Dissuasion) and other elite units could all be considered as heroes.   Doctors and surgeons happened to be on strike on Friday Nov. 13, but returned to work with news of the killings.  Some even volunteered in services other than their own.   At the Pompidou hospital,  dozens of volunteers waited three hours to donate blood.  People living near the attacks opened their apartments to wounded victims.

François Hollande acted as a compassionate and strong president during the crisis and announced immediate security measures to reassure the population.  He declared a etat d’urgence  or highest state of alert, suspending temporarily individual liberties and including the delay of all street manifestations, of public gatherings and the closing of monuments, etc.  It was a bleak sight for the tourists to see the Tour Eiffel lost in darkness.  To emphasize national unity, Hollande convened a Congress made up of the National Assembly and Senate in solemn Versailles.  It was the first time that had happened since the Algerian war in 1962.

The French colors appeared on monuments around the world in an amazing show of support.  President Obama was the first leader to make a declaration; Angela Merkel, who marched in the streets of Paris on Jan. 11, extended her message of friendship;  David Cameron declared – in French – Nous sommes tous solidaires.  The Moscovites laid flowers in front of the French embassy in Moscow.  In a different tone, Bashar al-Assad told the people of France: you suffered last night, but think of what the Syrian population has lived with during the past five years.

One detects an acceleration of terrorist attacks: Ankara in October, Lebanon and the crash of a Russian plane in November.   IS is now exporting its war to other countries.  It is an assymetric war since one side welcomes death.  Zero security is impossible to guarantee.  All one can do is to minimize the danger .

For the past 15 years, France has been on the front line of the war against radical Islam and acted alone in the Sahel, Mali, Nigeria, Chad.  For the past two and half months, France has taken part in the air strikes over Syria.  This is a brave but dangerous policy, probably untenable in the long term.

Bernard Guetta, specialist in geopolitics and commentator on France-Inter,  described the Nov. 13 tragedy as a shock  therapy, which might lead to a strong coalition able to defeat IS.

On Sunday, two days after the attack, the Parisions were still nervous.  I was walking on the Bastille square when  police cars suddenly cordoned off the avenue — rumor of an explosion spread.  In a panic, people started running.  I had to run also so as not to be caught in the stampede.  Thankfully, it was a false alarm!

It is your duty as a citizen, a comedian joked on the radio the other day, to sit on the terrace of a cafe and have a drink to show you are not afraid.  To-day, one does not say, “Je suis Charlie,” but rather, “Je suis en terrasse.”


Reading Uncertainly: ‘H Is For Hawk’ by Helen Macdonald

H_is_for_HawkThe New Yorker ads trumpet admiring words: “Riveting;” “Breathtaking;” Dazzling;” “Captivating.” May I offer a modest dissenting view?

Helen Macdonald’s new novel about her response to the death of her father in England and her adoption of a goshawk to help her overcome her misery is, in fact, an orgy of compulsive introspection. She draws heavily on the earlier history of T. H. White, the author of the Arthurian novels, including The Once and Future King, and, more importantly, his own story of self-awareness, The Goshawk. 

White also tried to tame a bird, much less successfully than Macdonald.  This self-assessment actually becomes a triple biography: of Helen Macdonald, of T. H. White, and of Mabel, the hawk she trains.

Macdonald begins by arguing that “I was a different animal. . . . . Like White, I wanted to cut loose from the world.” She quotes Marianne Moore: “the cure for loneliness is solitude,” just Helen and Mabel. She sees England as “an imaginary place.”

The essence of this book is found is her words: “Sometimes when light dawns it simply illuminates how dismal circumstances have become.” But some 300 pages of gloom?

But Helen Macdonald does write lyrically. Her observant eye notes and her mind translates what she sees into phrases often reminiscent of James Joyce in Ulysses and Finnegan’s Wake (the more coherent ones!). The English countryside comes alive with her descriptions: clouds, flowers, grasses, and, above all, birds..

And so does Mabel, her adopted goshawk, come alive, so much so that at the end we are rooting for her future, not Helen’s. She is in fact the one intensely interested in her outside world. The goshawks, ospreys and eagles wheeling in the skies above Lyme make me think of Mabel.

Editor’s Note: ‘H is for Hawk’ is by Helen Macdonald and was published by Grove Press, New York in 2014

Felix Kloman_headshot_2005_284x331-150x150About the author: Felix Kloman is a sailor, rower, husband, father, grandfather, retired management consultant and, above all, a curious reader and writer. He’s explored how we as human beings and organizations respond to ever-present uncertainty in two books, ‘Mumpsimus Revisited’ (2005) and ‘The Fantods of Risk’ (2008). A 20-year resident of Lyme, he now writes book reviews, mostly of non-fiction that explores our minds, our behavior, our politics and our history. But he does throw in a novel here and there. For more than 50 years, he’s put together the 17 syllables that comprise haiku, the traditional Japanese poetry, and now serves as the self-appointed “poet laureate” of Ashlawn Farms Coffee, where he may be seen on Friday mornings. His wife, Ann, is also a writer, but of mystery novels, all of which begin in a bubbling village in midcoast Maine, strangely reminiscent of the town she and her husband visit every summer.


Dear Cammy: Making New Friends, Keeping Old Ones

We’re delighted that our advice columnist for middle schoolers has rejoined our growing ranks of contributors.  Cammy answers two letters this week from local students about issues with school friends.  If you would like to send a letter to Cammy, email it to


Dear Cammy,

I am in 10th grade and just started a new school this year. Everything is going all right. All my classes are good and the kids there are nice, but I feel as if I don’t belong. I have made a few friends and we all get along. But every time the whole group is together I feel out of the loop. They all already have so much history together because they’ve all known each other since they were in kindergarten. I really want to keep these friends; I just don’t know what to do about this one problem. What do I do?

The New Kid

Dear The New Kid,

I understand where you are coming from. Going to a new school is hard and coming in at such a late time in your life is even harder. It’s great that you are enjoying your classes and you have begun to make friends. What a great start! The hardest part is over. It will take time to fully connect as a part of this friend group. They all have so many memories together, so try making new ones with them. Why don’t you try inviting them over to go to your favorite place or for a sleepover. This will help all of you to get to know one another, trust one another, and have memories to help create that foundation of the friendship. Wishing you the best of luck!


Dear Cammy,

Throughout all my life, I have had the same friend group. We have done everything together since kindergarten. This year we are going into our final year at the middle school and things are starting to change. I do not have many/no classes with a lot of my friends and I feel as though the group is slowly falling apart. I don’t want to lose my friends; I care about them so much. Help Cammy, what should I do?

Not Sure

Dear Not Sure,

You have been so fortunate to have had such amazing friends and I see where you are coming from. After going through so much, it is hard to let go of the people you know, love, and trust the most. You need to understand that this is a time in your life when people are finding themselves and where they fit in. I believe that it is in your best interest that you talk to your friends about how you feel. Everyone goes through times when they aren’t in a lot of classes with their friends. That doesn’t mean that you can’t hang out outside of class. Just always remember to be open to new friends no matter how secure you are with your closest friends; you will never know who you will meet. Wishing you the best of luck!



Legal News You Can Use: The Gift of Real Estate From Parent to Child

real-estate-giftShould I gift my house to the kids now, or leave it in my estate?  This can be a tricky question.  There are also many other factors to consider, including mortgages, capital gains tax, Medicaid regulations, and other risks. 


The current federal law gives each donor (maker of a gift) a $5.43 million lifetime exemption from the federal gift tax.  The Connecticut statutes provide for a $2 million lifetime exemption from the Connecticut gift tax.  Therefore, there is no gift tax due unless the donor has made more than $2 million in taxable gifts during his/her life.

Each donor receives a  $14,000.00 annual gift tax exclusion per donee (receiver of a gift) for gifts of a present interest, meaning that the recipient can use and enjoy the gift immediately.  For example, the exclusion for a gift from a parent to two children may total $28,000.  If both the donor and their spouse join in the gift, the exclusion would be $56,000.00.  That is, the value of the gift for gift tax purposes would be reduced by $56,000.00.

The $14,000.00 annual gift tax exclusion is not available for gifts of a future interest, such as a gift of real estate in which the donor reserves a life use.  So, if your total estate is below the $5.43 million federal estate tax exemption and the $2 million Connecticut estate tax exemption, there is really no practical difference in this case.


Most mortgage documents prohibit the borrower from transferring an interest in the real estate without the lender’s written consent.  To be assured of avoiding trouble with the lender, be sure to seek this consent before making a transfer.


A donor may have purchased real estate many years ago at a price that is much lower than the property’s current value.  Because the gift recipient’s basis for capital gains tax purposes is the same as the donor’s basis, if and when the donee children sell the property, they could anticipate paying capital gains tax on a substantial gain.

By contrast, if the children were to inherit the property at the parent’s death, the children’s basis would be the fair market value of the property at the parent’s date of death. In that case, if the property were eventually sold, the gain upon which capital gains tax may be due would be much smaller than it would be if the property were received by gift and then eventually sold. 


The current Medicaid regulations provide that if a person makes a gift of assets, and subsequently applies for Medicaid sooner than five years from the date of the gift, a period of ineligibility based on the value of the gift will apply.  For instance, if a parent gifted real estate to a child on September 1, 2014, and the parent or the parent’s spouse needed to apply for Medicaid to pay for the cost of long term nursing home care prior to September 1, 2019, the parent or their spouse would be ineligible for Medicaid.  Because of this five year look back rule, it is important to examine what other assets are available to pay for long term care.


What if your child passes away before you do?  As much as we don’t like to think about these scenarios, this can be particularly problematic if the parent has not reserved a life use in the gifted property. In this case, the deceased child’s interest would pass under his/her own estate plan documents, possibly to a spouse or to the deceased child’s own children.

Other unexpected events such as bankruptcy, or an accident suffered by one of the donee children, or a divorce, could leave the gifted real estate vulnerable to claims of creditors or claims of the child’s spouse.

The long and short of this complicated discussion is that it is very important to consult with an experienced estate planning attorney before making the decision to gift property to your children.

Attorney Jeanette Dostie is a Director at Suisman Shapiro in New London, CT, the largest law firm in eastern Connecticut.  She has a wide experience in estate planning, ranging from simple wills to complex estate plans designed to maximize estate tax savings for clients.  For more information, visit or call (860) 442-4416.  Suisman Shapiro is located at 2 Union Plaza, P.O. Box 1591, New London, CT 06320.


Letter From Paris: Legislative Elections Move Poland to Right

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

Bringing bad news for Brussels, the block of Euro skeptics stretches now from Warsaw to Budapest.  For the first time since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, a conservative right wing party has won the elections in Poland.  On Oct. 25, the Right and Justice party (or PiS) obtained 232 seats out of 460 and wiped out the Left with the liberal Civic Platform party (or PO) taking second place.  Donald Tusk, the former prime minister of Poland from 2007 and founder of the Civic Platform party, became president of the European Council on Dec. 1, 2014, and is therefore far away in Brussels.

Jaroslav Kaczynski

Right and Justice Party President Yaroslaw Kaczynski

Yaroslaw Kaczynski, president of the PiS, is today the strong man of Poland’s politics and overshadows even the president Andrej Duda. Since he is now pulling the strings, Kaczynski will favor the appointment of his protégé senator Beata Szydlo as prime minister to replace the current prime minister Ewa Kopacz, another woman who belongs to the the PO party.

Former Polish president Lech Kaczynski – Yaroslaw’s twin – died in a plane crash in 2010 with his wife and a high level delegation of government officials. To this day, many Poles still suspect an assassination and wonder why the plane has never been repatriated from Russia.

Economically, Poland can be considered as a success story. As the sixth largest country of the EU, unemployment is only 7.5 versus 9 percent for the rest of Europe. But these figures are somewhat misleading. For instance, out of the 115 billion Euro profit generated by foreign companies, only 75 percent came back to Poland and 63 percent of the banking sector is run by foreigners.  Moreover, the spectacular 4 percent growth of the Gross Domestic Product since 2004 is beginning to slow down.

Remnants of the “old economy” still exist, such as the reliance on coal as the main source of energy. The future prime minister Beata Szydlo was born in the south of Poland near Oswiecim (Auschwitz) from a family of  miners. It is likely that she will not close the coal mines as advocated by the PO opposition party. The economic program of Poland is a sort of a cocktail between the French right wing of Marine Le Pen and the French Parti de gauche headed by  Jean-Luc Melanchon.

Regarding the problem of refugees, Poland is aligned with the position of  the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Hungary and also the UK. It is reluctant to accept the recent directives from Brussels to relocate 160,000 people between the 29 members of the EU.  In the same way as the UK, Poland is concerned with security and also, being a catholic country, it has somewhat of a fear of Islam. It tends to reject any decision, which it considers a breach of its sovereignty.

The shift to a more conservative and nationalistic government in Poland therefore may increase the fragility of the European Union. Right now it contributes to a growing divide between western and eastern Europe, though Poland cannot afford to be too hostile to a federal Europe since it still needs its financial support.

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.


Letter from Paris: Fabulous FIAC Celebrates Contemporary Art Throughout Paris

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

She’s back!  We’ve probably been asked more often about what has happened to Nicole Prévost Logan than any other of our wonderful writers.  You see, Nicole takes a break from writing for us in the summer when she is living in Essex, Conn.  But now she has returned to her house in Paris and (metaphorically) picked up her pen again … and we’re delighted … along with many of our readers!


In late October every year, France attracts visitors from around the world to take part in the FIAC (Foire Internationale de l’Art Contemporain.) Multiple exhibits  open, not only in museums, but also hors murs (outdoors)  on the grounds of historical monuments like the Chateau de Versailles, or on public squares and parks like Place la Concorde or the Jardin des Tuileries .

For a few days, Paris becomes the capital of arts, fashion and design. The main event of the FIAC takes place in the Grand Palais and was attended this year by 75,000 professionals in the arts and owners of the 173 most prestigious galleries of the world. (not individual artists.) The high entrance fee was set at $40. The works exhibited were in all media –  paintings, sculptures, videos, installations.  Values of the objects varied from a few thousands euros to several millions.

What makes the specificity of the FIAC is that it expands every year and  becomes increasingly accessible to the general public.  The French minister of Culture and Communication Fleur Pellerin, who occupied the media center stage during the week, stressed the civic importance of the richness and diversity of culture open to all in the public space.

When walking around Paris it seemed impossible not to stumble over some work of art: on the banks of the Seine in the new Cité de la Mode et du Design, in the department stores or the elegant lobbies of five-star hotels palaces. In the historical districts of the Marais, or St Germain des Prés, unbridled art creations were the norm.  The “off” art found additional space under  white tents.  Digital art celebrated its tenth anniversary near the Alexandre III bridge.

The “Outsider Art Fair” (art brut) – made up of the works of mentally disturbed , marginal or self-taught artists –  placed its 38 stands in a private mansion.  It included the works of the well known American artist Henry Darger whose permanent collection is in the New York American Folk Art museum.

To  stroll through the Jardin des Tuileries was to be in for a great treat.  One could admire whimsical, mostly thought-provoking artistic creations on lawns, near the two pools,  along the tree-lined paths. Young and articulate art students from the Ecole du Louvre  described the works to the curious passers-by.

Just two examples.  Heimo Zobernig, who lives and works in Vienna, created a  tall androgynous statue. The body was made of three pieces from three different sculptures scanned in 3D. The head, legs, and torso were assembled digitally, raising the question of figurative sculpture.  On the Tuileries bassin rond, a transparent sphere, of about 10 feet in diameter was floating  under the motion of a crystal chandelier hanging inside and spinning around.  The artist’s intention was to show the hidden properties of objects by the incongruous mix of an inflatable toy, a scooter’s chain and a 24 volt rotating mechanism.

The visitor reaches the Place de la Concorde.  Four pavilions mesmerized the crowds. They had been erected by St Gobain – the French company specialized in construction material for the past 450  years (it built the Louvre pyramid.) The pavilions showed the company’s innovations for the future: how can sensorial modules create thermic and acoustic comfort or a 21st house being built entirely from materials created by 3D printers.

After an absence of a few months, what better way than the FIAC to reacquaint  oneself with the Paris scene?


Talking Transportation: Traveling by Tube

Cutaway graphic of "The Loop."

Cutaway graphic of “The Loop.”

Will the train of the future be a high-speed tube, not a railroad?  That’s inventor and entrepreneur Elon Musk’s and others’ vision.  And Musk, the man who brought us the Tesla (all-electric car) and SpaceX (for-profit space rocket company) is putting his own money behind a proof-of-concept project for what he calls Hyperloop.

The concept sound simple:  move passengers in a sealed tube through a series of giant pipes propelled by air pressure at speeds up to 700+ mph.  That would mean a trip from New York to DC would take 20 minutes.

Diagram of the "Beach" pneumatic transit system.

Alfred Beach’s “Pneumatic Transit” system.

But this is not a new concept.  In fact, the first experimental “subway” in New York City, Alfred Beach’s “Pneumatic Transit” proved back in 1870 that it would work.  Despite political opposition, Beach secretly built a 300-foot-long subway under Broadway near City Hall, offering daring passengers a round-trip ride in the system’s only railcar, pushed and pulled by air.  The system ran for almost three years and carried over 400,000 riders, 11,000 alone in the first two weeks.  The fare was 25 cents (equivalent to $18 today). Competing elevated railroad owners eventually won the City’s franchise and Beach’s system was abandoned.

Even Beach’s idea wasn’t new, as vast underground pneumatic tube systems in Paris and London were already delivering telegrams and mail by the 1850’s.  As recently as the 1960s, office buildings in major cities were designed with pneumatic tube systems for inter-office mail.  Some older department stores still use the tubes to record sales and make change from a centralized money room.

Hurtling through a tube may be fine for mail, but what about humans?  As a recent article in Smithsonian Magazine points out, the psychological factor of being enclosed in a sealed tube, traveling 700+ mph, is not that much different than flying in a jet … maybe just a bit more claustrophobic.

Whether by train or plane, I always like to look out the window.  Seeing where we’re going is half the fun, even on a familiar route.  But wrapped in a metal tube inside a giant pipe affords no views at all.  Riding 31 miles in the Chunnel under the English Channel takes 20 minutes at today’s speeds, and that’s more than enough time for me, thank you very much.

Of greater concern are the propulsion methods and the sheer physics of accelerating and braking from near-supersonic speeds.  But the biggest challenge of all would be where to locate the “pipes” and how to acquire necessary land.

A station inside the"Pneumatic Transit" system.

A station inside the “Pneumatic Transit” system.

Like high-speed rail, it would make no sense to follow the median on Interstate 95 or the Metro-North / Amtrak rights of way with all their twists and turns.  And anyone crazy enough to invest in any project along the coastline with the inevitability of rising sea levels should probably think pontoons, not pipes.

It will be interesting to see if Musk’s and others’ Hyperloop concepts get off the ground (pun intended) … but I don’t expect to ride such a system any distance in my lifetime.

Jim Cameron

Jim Cameron

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  

For a full collection of “Talking Transportation” columns, see


Talking Transportation: Good News — and Bad — for Metro-North

It’s been a rough few years for Metro-North what with derailments, crashes and commuter deaths.  But it finally seems like service and safety are coming back.

The best metric of that is the recent surge in ridership, up 1.7 percent compared to last year.  That works out to more than 3,000 additional riders every day.

Certainly this ridership gain is a sign of more people finding jobs. But with gasoline prices near a record low, there’s a reason these folks are training instead of driving:  they like what they see.

  • The trains are on time.  Yes, running slower than in years past, but what’s a few minutes if it means better safety?  What matters most is that the 7:37 shows up at 7:37, plus a minute or so, and arrives in NY pretty close to on-time.  It’s much more dependable now than last winter.
  • There have been no fare increases (at least in Connecticut), even though our fares are still the highest in the nation.
  • There’s more service too:  at least two trains per hour, even in off-peak.  That means more options.
  • And we have the spiffy new M8 railcars, at last.  Riders seem to like the clean, modern interiors and amenities, such a power plugs at each seat.

So for all of these reasons, a lot more people are taking the train.  Good news, right?  Yeah, but in the long run, not so good news because “supply” is not keeping up with “demand”.

More riders without additional capacity means crowding, and we’re already hearing more reports about that, especially at rush hour when some trains are SRO.  And that’s only going to get worse.

The problem is, we didn’t order enough new M8 cars back in 2005 when we placed our order:  just 300 cars for $762 million.  That worked out to $2.54 million per car.

By the time those cars finally went into service in 2011, CDOT and Metro-North realized they should order more. This time, just single un-powered cars, so trains could run with 7 or 9 cars, not just 6, 8 or 10 using the “married pairs” in the original order.

But by then, Kawasaki whacked us $3.3 million per car … and those newest single cars don’t even have motors.   Were we to try ordering more M8 cars today, who knows the price … or delivery time?

From the legislature’s approval of the M8s in 2005 through design, testing and construction, the first M8s took six years to get into service.  The latest single-car order took 4 years.  So even if we were to call Kawasaki today, we couldn’t get new cars until probably 2020 even if we could find the money.

Meanwhile, the Malloy administration is pushing an almost $10 billion, multi-year plan to widen I-95 and I-84.  By the time it’s done, crowding could be so bad on our trains that getting on a four-lane wide interstate might just be better alternative.  Ironic, no?

Jim Cameron

Jim Cameron

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   For a full collection of “Talking Transportation” columns, see


Legal News You Can Use: Technology can be Worrisome for Parents

internet_safetySponsored by Suisman Shapiro Attorneys at Law:

The issues facing parents today, as technology ushers in newer and faster means of communicating, are markedly different from those faced by our parents.  Through ever increasing methods of communication, our children have, at their fingertips, the ability to reach a multitude of people in an instant.  Take that instantaneous availability, and mix in the processing and maturity of the adolescent brain, and, in the blink of any eye, circumstances may be set in motion that can immediately change the course of your child’s life.

While the above may seem drastic, it is, nevertheless, true.  On the Internet, our children can access and disseminate child pornography, commit racial and bigotry crimes, and violate our state’s bullying laws, without even knowing it.   Through posts on Facebook, Twitter, Yik Yak, Flickr, Tumblr and MeetUp, just to name a few social media sites, words and images can be sent into the vast world of social media and the internet, where they can be reposted, retweeted, tagged and sent to all corners of the globe.  Once sent, they are there for all to see, including law enforcement.

This onslaught has led organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics to issue clinical reports on the impact of social media and sexting on our children (Fn1).  Further, it has led each state, Connecticut included, to pass laws making it a crime to engage in certain activity that affects the health and safety of our children.

While this article is not meant to be an in depth analysis of each and every statute which criminalizes certain conduct of our children through their use of social media, it bears mentioning some common issues which arise.  One widespread problem that occurs in the educational environment is bullying.

Connecticut has enacted a comprehensive statute, in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Education, to ensure that bullying does not impede our children’s learning environment.  Enactment of criminal laws, some of which are felonies punishable by more than one year in jail, has made it illegal to discriminate on the basis of race, religion, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity.

Another common problem occurs if your child sends a “visual depiction” of child pornography (nude or showing genitalia) of himself/herself or that of his/her partner, and either one of them is under 16-years-old, they have violated our state’s “possessing or transmitting child pornography” statutes (fn2).  If they use their Facebook account to meet someone under 16, for the purposes of engaging in a sexual act, they have violated our state’s “enticing a minor” statute.

The above is just a snapshot of the complex issues that occur when you mix the not-yet-fully formed mind of a child and the speed of the Internet and social media.  It is also the reason you should seek competent legal representation when confronted with these issues.  Consulting with the right attorney can potentially prevent mistakes such as those mentioned above from affecting your child’s future.

Editor’s Note: Attorney Michael A. Blanchard is a Director at Suisman Shapiro whose practice concentrates in criminal and family law.  Contact him via email at or via phone at (860) 442-4416 with questions regarding these laws.

Fn1.  Clinical Report-the Impact of Social Media on Children, Adolescents, and Families; O’Keeffe, Gwenn Schurgin, Clarke-Pearson, Kathleen and COUNCIL ON COMMUNICATIONS AND MEDIA; published online March 28, 2011; Sexting and Sexual Behavior among Middle School Students; Rice, Eric PhD, et als; published online June 30, 2014.

Fn2.  Connecticut General Statutes sections 53a-181i through 53a-181l.


Reading Uncertainly: ‘The Sympathizer’ by Viet Thanh Nguyen

The_SympathizerHow often do we take sides while harboring a suspicion that the other fellow’s view actually has some merit? Nguyen’s narrator, never named, but referred to as “The Captain,” states his position at the outset: “ … I am also a man of two minds … I am simply able to see any issue from both sides.”
The Captain is a Vietnamese, ostensibly working for the American forces at the tail-end of the Vietnam (or “American,” as it is called there) War, while acting as mole, an undercover agent, for the Vietcong and the northern forces. Born in North Vietnam of a Vietnamese mother and a father who is a Roman Catholic priest, he leaves for the south and is immediately enmeshed in contradictions. One of the first is the obvious double-meaning of the word “father.”
There he becomes part of an unusual three-man team, the “we” of this compelling take: Bon, an ardent anti-communist, Man, an equally committed communist, and The Captain, who deliciously equivocates through the saga. It is, in fact, a perfect elaboration of the yin and yang culture that dominates the Far East, from the I Ching, to Lao Tse and Confucius. Forces seemingly in opposition are in fact complimentary — they cannot exist without one another.
Nguyen, in the role of The Captain, argues men of “utter conviction” are “insufferable,” noting “The General”, to whom the narrator reports, “ … was a sincere man who believed in everything he said, even if it was a lie, which makes him not so different from most.” The narrator then goes on to puncture every conceivable balloon of human fatuity. We live, he claims, in a litany of contradictions.
Witness another character, “The Congressman”, who berates the “controls” of communism but then describes his “democratic” system as even more autocratic, using censorship and control, because, as he says, “Americans are a confused people.” The Captain comments: “ . that omnipresent American narcotic, optimism, the unending flow of which poured through the American minds continuously whitewashing the graffiti of despair, rage, hatred, and a nihilism scrawled by the black hoodlums of the unconscious.”
Here is a delicious story of the last days of that War and what followed in both the United States and Asia. “We are all puppets in someone else’s play.” And the story is often hilarious, too. The Captain describes, in three joyful pages, his attempt to masturbate with a dead squid!
Nguyen ends with yet another double meaning, “Nothing is more precious than independence and freedom,” as The Captain finally realizes the two senses of this phrase. But he remains “the most hopeful of creatures, a revolutionary in search of a revolution.” A thriller in one sense but a social commentary in another and a challenging counterview to this year commemorating the end of that War.
Opposite ideas are indeed complimentary!
Editor’s Note: The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen is published by Grove Press, New York 2015.

Felix Kloman_headshot_2005_284x331-150x150About the author: Felix Kloman is a sailor, rower, husband, father, grandfather, retired management consultant and, above all, a curious reader and writer. He’s explored how we as human beings and organizations respond to ever-present uncertainty in two books, ‘Mumpsimus Revisited’ (2005) and ‘The Fantods of Risk’ (2008). A 20-year resident of Lyme, he now writes book reviews, mostly of non-fiction that explores our minds, our behavior, our politics and our history. But he does throw in a novel here and there. For more than 50 years, he’s put together the 17 syllables that comprise haiku, the traditional Japanese poetry, and now serves as the self-appointed “poet laureate” of Ashlawn Farms Coffee, where he may be seen on Friday mornings. His wife, Ann, is also a writer, but of mystery novels, all of which begin in a bubbling village in midcoast Maine, strangely reminiscent of the town she and her husband visit every summer.


Talking Transportation: Happy 75th Birthday to The Merritt: Queen of the Parkways

A century ago the only way to drive between New York and Boston was on Rte. 1, The Post Rd. If you think traffic is bad today, imagine that journey! So in 1936, 2,000 men began work on the state’s largest public works project, the $21 million four-lane- parkway starting in Greenwich and running to the Housatonic River in Stratford. The adjoining Wilbur Cross Parkway didn’t open until years later when the Sikorsky Bridge across the Housatonic was completed.

The Merritt, named after Stamford resident, Congressman Schuyler Merritt, is best known for its natural beauty, though most of it was planted: 22,000 trees and 40,000 shrubs. And then there are the bridges, since 1991 protected on the National Register of Historic Places.

Architect George Dunkleberger designed 69 bridges in a variety of architectural styles, from Art Moderne to Deco to Rustic. No two bridges are exactly alike. In short order the Merritt was being hailed as “The Queen of Parkways”.

The parkway at first had tolls, a dime (later 35 cents) at each of three barriers, not to pay for the parkway’s upkeep but to finance its extension to Hartford via the Wilbur Cross Parkway, named after Wilbur Lucius Cross who was Governor in the 1930’s. Tolls were dropped in 1988.

The old toll booths themselves were as unique as the Parkway, constructed of wooden beams and covered in shingles. One of the original booths is now preserved in Stratford at the Boothe Memorial Park.

At recent celebrations of the parkway’s 75th birthday, one old timer told of a friend from Yale who resented paying the dime toll in the 1940’s. So he went to the medical school and procured a cadaver arm, glued a dime on its finger and hid the arm up his sleeve. When the prankster slowed to pay his toll, the collector got the dime and the arm as the student sped off.

The Merritt’s right of way is a half-mile wide, the vistas more obvious now since massive tree clearing after the two storms in 2011 and 2012 where downed trees pretty much closed the highway.

Since its design and opening in 1938 the Merritt Parkway has been off-limits to commercial vehicles and trucks. But as traffic worsens on I-95, debates rage from time to time about allowing trucks on the Merritt and possibly widening the road. Either move would probably mean demolition of the Parkway’s historic bridges, so don’t expect such expansion anytime soon.

The best watchdog of the Parkway is the Merritt Parkway Conservancy which has fought to preserve the road’s unique character. Their latest battle is against plans for a multi-use trail along the south side of the roadway. Costing an estimated $6.6 million per mile, the Conservancy worries that the trees and foliage that would be clear-cut to allow bike and pedestrian users would despoil the eco-system.

Jim Cameron

Jim Cameron

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 For a full collection of “Talking Transportation” columns, see


Talking Transportation: Sound Barriers: A Waste of Money?

One and a half million dollars a mile.  The cost of building a new lane on I-95?  Hardly! That’s more like $20 million.  No, “$1.5 million dollars a mile” would be the cost of building new sound barriers on that crowded highway, according to testimony by the Connecticut Department of Transportation’s Commissioner.

This won’t win me many friends among my neighbors in Darien, but I just don’t see that they should be asking the government to subsidize their peace and quiet.  After all, most of them bought houses near the highway benefiting from speedy access to the roadway and should have known full-well that being that close would subject them to noise.

Do you have sympathy for those who buy homes near airport runways, then complain about the jets?  Neither do I.

The first sections of what became I-95 were built in Darien in 1954, long before most current residents came to town.  Sure, traffic has increased on I-95 over the years.  We are well over the planned capacity of this interstate highway.  But thinking the solution to highway noise is to create a walled concrete canyon through our coastal communities paid for by others, is just selfish and short-sighted.

I live about 1500 feet from I-95.  On a quiet summer’s night I can hear the trucks as they whiz by at 70 mph, especially when they’re “Jake braking” (illegal in many states).  And yes, there is a wooden sound barrier between me and the road which helps a bit.  I try to think of the noise as like surf at the beach.  But when shopping for my current home, I knew that highway noise was the price I would pay for being so near an on-ramp.

Some neighbors in my, and many other towns, want the state or Uncle Sam to build miles and miles of new sound barriers to cushion their karmic calm.  But why should the few benefit at the expense of so many?

Can we really argue that someone in Tolland or Torrington should pay for sound barriers in Westport or Greenwich?

Sound-barriers seem to me to be wasted money.  They don’t reduce accidents, improve safety or solve congestion.  Two miles of sound-barriers would buy another new M8 rail car for Metro-North, taking 100 passengers off the road.  And sound-barriers are often just sound-reflectors, not absorbers, only bouncing the sound off to bother others.

Consider these alternatives:

  • Soundproof the homes. This has worked well for neighbors of big airports and is probably cheaper than sound-proofing entire neighborhoods.  And insulation against noise also insulates against heat loss, saving energy.
  • Explore rubberized asphalt. Reduce the road noise at its source, literally where the “rubber meets the road”.  Using this new road surface, some highways have seen a 12 decibel reduction in noise.  Rubberized asphalt also reuses 12 million junked tires each year.
  • Pay for it yourself. Let neighborhood associations affected by road noise create special taxing zones to collect funds to build sound barriers they’ll benefit from, both with reduced noise and resulting increased home valuations.

I can think of any number of better places to spend federal tax dollars to improve mass transit than erecting sound barriers.  Can’t you?

Jim Cameron

Jim Cameron

About the Author: Jim Cameron is founder of The Commuter Action Group, and a member of the Darien RTM.  The opinions expressed in this column are his alone.  You can reach him at   For the full collection of “Talking Transportation” columns, see


Talking Transportation: The Fairest (and Least Popular) Way To Pay for Roads

Back in April, I wrote about the challenge we face to pay for Gov. Malloy’s $100 billion transportation plan.  And I expressed sympathy for his bipartisan, blue-ribbon panel tasked with coming up with funding alternatives, the Transportation Finance Panel.

To be honest, I think that panel may be on a fool’s errand.  They’re trying to pay for a wish list of projects not of their making and many of which may not be necessary let alone affordable.  Maybe we only need $50 billion.  But it’s not their mandate to question our “transportation Governor.”  Someone else will have to do the “vetting.”

But even as the Finance Panel does its work, exploring all manner of funding options, they are being second-guessed by politicians and public alike.

How about tolls?  Too expensive … they’ll slow traffic … and don’t forget those flaming truck crashes at toll barriers!  (Not true … no they won’t … and there won’t be toll barriers).

Gas tax?  Unfair … out-of-state motorists won’t pay … improved gas mileage means dwindling revenue.  (Totally fair … maybe so … and absolutely correct).

Which brings us to what would seem to be the fairest, most equitable fundraising mechanism for paying for our roads, but which brought a bipartisan crap-storm of response when suggested:  a mileage tax, or VMT (vehicle miles traveled) tax.

The concept is simple:  have each motorist pay a tax for the number of miles he/she drives each year.  The data could be collected electronically by a GPS or with an odometer check when you get your annual emissions inspection.  You drive more, you pay more … whether you drive on I-95 or back-country roads.  Take mass transit, you’d drive less and pay less.

The VMT idea was discussed at the Finance Panel’s July 29 meeting, and the public and political reaction was immediate and universally negative.

Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-Norwalk) called it “unproven,” despite successful trials in the Netherlands and Oregon and VMT’s endorsement by the US Government Accountability Office.

Republican State Senator Toni Boucher calls VMT nonsensical and an invasion of privacy, though testimony proved both claims wrong.

Face it:  nobody likes a tax that they have to pay.  Tax the other guy … the trucker, the out-of-state driver, the real estate transferor … but don’t tax me!

Driving a car is not free.  Paying for gasoline is only part of the cost and even Connecticut’s relatively high gas tax comes nowhere near to paying for upkeep of our roads.  Our deteriorating roads are a hidden toll as we pay for car repairs.

The Transportation Finance Panel will find there is no easy or popular solution to paying for the Governor’s $100 billion untested and unattainable wish list of projects.  Whatever they recommend, citizens will scream bloody murder and their lawmakers will vote it down.

But shame on reactionaries in Hartford for calling the VMT, or any funding alternative, “dead on arrival.”  Let’s at least let the Finance Panel do its due diligence before saying they have wasted their time.

Jim Cameron

Jim Cameron

Jim Cameron is founder of The Commuter Action Group, and a member of the Darien RTM.  The opinions expressed in this column are his own.  You can reach him at   For a full collection of “Talking Transportation” columns, see


Reading Uncertainly: ‘The Children Act’ by Ian McEwan

The_Children_Act“Who am I to judge?” asked Pope Francis last year, when asked about the Roman Catholic Church’s view of homosexuality. An excellent question, as our lives are full of “judgments” rendered by a wide variety of personalities.

So with interest I turned to Ian McEwan’s latest novel. I’ve read most of his work, thoroughly enjoying his language, characters and situations, set in today’s England. The Children Act opens with a highly respected High Court judge, Fiona Maye, age 59, having a profound disagreement with her professor husband of many years, over his announced decision to have an affair with a younger colleague, just for the excitement of the sex. Her personal life is now in turmoil.

But her professional standing as a judge couldn’t be higher. She has a case for immediate decision involving Adam, a 17-year-old boy with advanced leukemia, who, along with his Jehovah’s Witness parents and the elders of his church, refuses a life-saving blood transfusion. His doctors have appealed to the court and she is about to decide. Fiona rules in favor of the physicians and the boy’s life is saved. Most of us would applaud this decision, but was this a rational decision? The story unfolds from that point. Who is she to judge?

McEwan traces Fiona’s thoughts as she tries to weigh the conflicting opinions, beginning with her own religious beliefs: “Religions, moral systems, her own included, were like peaks in a dense mountain range seen from a great distance, none obviously higher, more important, truer than another. What was to judge?”

After ruling against the parents, their church and the young boy’s own beliefs, and saving his life, she rationalized, “… that churchmen should want to obliterate the potential of a meaningful life in order to hold a theological line did not surprise or concern her. The law itself had similar problems when it allowed doctors to suffocate, dehydrate or starve certain hopeless patients to death, but would not permit the instant relief of a fatal injection.” So we have both “the law” and its interpreters trying to do their imperfect best …

This conundrum drew me back to Richard Posner’s Reflections on Judging, which I read in 2013. He too sees a “rising complexity” in our judicial systems, amplified by a “dizzying advance in technology” and in scientific knowledge. So is our judiciary system responding appropriately to these advances?  Unfortunately no, according to the good judge, who plies his trade on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, as well as being a lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School.

His considered opinion (in proper nautical language!), “The judiciary navigates the sea of modernity, slowed, thrown off course, by the barnacles of legal formalism (semantic escapes from reality, impoverished sense of context, fear of math and science, insensitivity to language and culture, mangling of history, superfluous footnotes, verbosity, excessive quotation, reader-unfriendly prose, exaggeration, bluster, obsession with citation form) – an accumulation of many centuries, yet constantly augmented. There is little desire to give the hull a good scraping.”

Fiona wrestles with her decision in the midst of her personal crisis, weighing all the future possibilities. Therein lies the remarkable and surprising aftermath in Ian McEwan’s compelling story.

If you are interested in the entire art of judging, do read both Ian McEwan and Richard Posner.

Who am I to judge? Uncertainty bedevils us all!

Editor’s Note: Review: Ian McEwan’s ‘The Children Act’ is published by Nan Talese/Doubleday, New York 2014 and Richard A. Posner’s ‘Reflections on Judging’ is published by Harvard University Press, Cambridge 2013.

Felix Kloman_headshot_2005_284x331-150x150About the author: Felix Kloman is a sailor, rower, husband, father, grandfather, retired management consultant and, above all, a curious reader and writer. He’s explored how we as human beings and organizations respond to ever-present uncertainty in two books, ‘Mumpsimus Revisited’ (2005) and ‘The Fantods of Risk’ (2008). A 20-year resident of Lyme, he now writes book reviews, mostly of non-fiction that explores our minds, our behavior, our politics and our history. But he does throw in a novel here and there. For more than 50 years, he’s put together the 17 syllables that comprise haiku, the traditional Japanese poetry, and now serves as the self-appointed “poet laureate” of Ashlawn Farms Coffee, where he may be seen on Friday mornings. His wife, Ann, is also a writer, but of mystery novels, all of which begin in a bubbling village in midcoast Maine, strangely reminiscent of the town she and her husband visit every summer.


Legal News You Can Use: Know Your Rights When Unexpected Injury Occurs

Car_accidentAn unexpected injury can be frightening and disorienting, whether from an automobile accident, slip-and-fall, or a “freak” accident.  It is helpful to know your rights, and consider in advance the important steps you should take in these situations.

#1. Seek Emergency Medical Care

This may seem obvious, but take a minute to be sure you’re alright!  If you are able to do so, check on any passengers in your vehicle, or on others who may have been injured in a motor vehicle accident.  Once you have taken precautions for your safety, move your vehicle out of the lane of travel, if possible.  Then, call 911.

If you refuse treatment at the scene, go directly to your doctor or the local emergency clinic to be checked out, even if you think your injuries are minor.  Often times it is well after the adrenaline wears off that we start to experience pain.

#2. Inform Authorities and Get Copies of Reports

Wait for the police to arrive on the scene, and, respectfully ask that the other driver do the same.   If you have been injured in an accident on the premises of a business, notify the manager or supervisor immediately, or, inform the homeowner if you have been injured on residential property.  Always remain calm during the course of any conversations with the police, authorities, business representatives, or other parties involved.  Remember to ask for copies of any accident reports that are generated.

#3. Exchange Insurance Information and Take Photos

Try to get the names and contact information for any witnesses to the accident. If you have been in a motor vehicle accident, you should exchange insurance information with the other driver.  If you were injured on residential or commercial premises, ask for contact information for the appropriate insurance company.  Take photos of any visible injuries and damage to your vehicle or property.

#4. Don’t Ignore Follow-up Medical Treatment, and Keep Good Records

Don’t skip follow-up appointments, and be sure to obey the recommendations of any medical professionals who are treating you. Not keeping your medical appointments or failing to follow your doctors’ advice may hinder the healing process, and can also have an impact on any compensation to which you may be entitled. Insurance companies often try to reduce compensation for failing to do these things, calling it “failure to mitigate damages”. Your medical records will provide documentation in the event that the insurance company asks for it.    Save copies of doctors’ notes, time off from work, and receipts from any expenses incurred.

#5. Seek Legal Counsel

It’s important to understand your rights after an accident. It usually takes time to assess the full nature of your claim, including your injuries, property damage, loss of wages, out-of-pocket expenses associated with the claim, etc.  Do NOT sign any documents, releases or checks from the insurance company without first consulting with an attorney.

Beware of insurance companies who are quick to offer you cash after you have been injured.  Often, accepting a cash payout from an insurance company shortly after the incident means signing a written promise that you will not bring a claim or a lawsuit against the insurance company or the party they insure.  If you discover additional injuries or property damage after you have made this promise, you may inadvertently waive future recovery to which you may be entitled.

#6. Claims

Many, but not all, motor vehicle collisions have a two-year statute of limitations.  This means that you have the right to bring a lawsuit claiming damages arising out of the collision up to two years after the date on which it happened.  On the other hand, in some situations, if you fail to notify certain parties within as little as 60 to 90 days that you intend to bring a claim, you may forfeit certain legal rights. The time limits prescribed by Connecticut law vary depending on the type of accident and if the responsible party is an individual, business, municipality, or other entity; where the accident occurred, and other factors.

It is wise to consult with a competent attorney who can advise you as to the statute of limitations that applies to your particular situation.  It’s important to understand your rights after an accident. Many people mistakenly assume that if they file a lawsuit, they will be required to go through the stress and anxiety of a court trial.  However, the majority of lawsuits that are filed settle before reaching the point of a trial.  Following the important steps above will help make the road to physical, emotional and financial recovery much smoother.


Attorney John A. Collins III

Editor’s Note: Suisman Shapiro Attorneys at Law is the largest law firm in eastern Connecticut, serving the community for over 70 years with a wide range of legal services.  John A. Collins III is the Managing Partner of the firm and a Director/Shareholder who concentrates in the areas of Personal Injury Law and Civil Litigation. For more information, visit or call (860)442-4416.

Suisman Shapiro is located at 2 Union Plaza, P.O. Box 1591, New London, CT  06320


Nibbles: Super Summer Salmon

Salmon with tarragon sauce is the quintessential summer dish.

Salmon with tarragon sauce is the quintessential summer dish.

Why don’t I like salmon? Maybe because the few times I order it in restaurants it is overcooked. Maybe because I only want fresh salmon, preferably wild caught.

It’s funny: every time I have had salmon at someone’s house, it is glorious.

James O’Shea roasted a huge piece of salmon on my grill in Old Lyme, chopping only the herbs in my herb garden plus a few tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil and it was heavenly.

My friend Joan does a slow-cooked salmon that I adore.


Maybe I should just try it with Andrew Zimmern’s recipe with my friend Robert Rabine’s recipe for tarragon sauce. By the way, this sauce is wonderful with cold roast beef, grilled chicken or any other fish, especially swordfish. He served it last week with poached salmon, tiny sliced warm potatoes, sliced summer tomatoes and a corn and tomato salad. I will make this before the summer is gone.

Cold Poached Salmon

Recipe by Andrew Zimmern on Epicurious

3 cups white wine
1 small onion, peeled and quartered
3 celery ribs
1 tablespoon black peppercorn
3 sprigs of parsley
1 three-pound-salmon fillet, pin bones removed

In a fish poacher or a pot big enough to hold salmon, pour wine, onion, celery, peppercorns and parsley. Add 3 inches of water and bring to a boil. Add salmon (submerged with a plate). Bring to a simmer, cover and cook gently over low heat, 6 to 8 minutes. Turn off heat and allow to cook for 5 minutes more.

Using two spatulas, transfer salmon to a platter. Remove white bits. Allow it to stand at room temperature for about 15 minutes, then cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate until cool. Serve on the platter or cut into slices for serving. (You can reserve the liquid, refrigerated, to use again for chowder.)

Swifty’s Tarragon Sauce

1 bunch fresh tarragon, washed, leaves only
1 large shallot, peeled and finely chopped
Juice from 2 lemons
1 and one-half cups mayonnaise
One-half cup parsley leaves, finely chopped
One-quarter cup thinly sliced chives
Small pinch kosher salt
Additional mayonnaise to taste

Finely chop the tarragon leaves and place them in a medium stainless bowl with the chopped shallots.  Squeeze in the juice from the lemons, stir and let it macerate for two hours.  Add the remaining ingredients, stirring well to combine.  Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.


Reading Uncertainly: ‘Sea Room’ by Adam Nicolson

Sea RoomWhy do islands so often seem to be symbols of disconnection when, in fact, they illustrate multiple connections to the past, present and future?

Adam Nicolson, a privileged Englishman (Eton, Cambridge and Parliament) explores these thoughts through the medium of the three rugged Shiant (pronounced “Shant”) Islands, in the middle of The Minch, a rushing, spilling, tumultuous tidal spillway between the mainland of Scotland and the Hebrides islands off its northwest coast. They were purchased by his father, deeded to him and are now the possessions of his son.

But, as he cautions early in this story of the seasons in Scotland, “My islands are not a place from which to exclude others … Land … is to be shared.” And so he does in this captivating exploration of essentially three rocks “owned” by millions of birds: puffins, kittiwakes, fulmars, gannets, and eagles comprising a veritable, “… theatre of competition and enrichment.”

I first heard of the Shiants through Robert Macfarlane, in his story of trekking and sailing both land trails and waterways, The Old Ways (Penguin, New York 2012), when he and a friend sailed a small lugger from Stornoway, on the Island of Lewis, to spend two idyllic days and nights there. He too found them far from lonely with the evidence of past habitation, the teeming avian population (primarily puffins) and a copy of Nicolson’s Sea Room about the islands’ former residents.  Macfarlane noted the, “delusion of comprehensive totality … a boundedness” of islands, in light of the reality of their connectedness to the sea, to other islands, to the mainland, to history, and to present inhabitants.

“Sea room” to me, a long-time sailor with modest service in the U. S. Navy, means always maintaining proper distances between my ship and the shore, other ships, and especially the bottom. To Nicolson it also connotes a “room,” a place near the sea, from which to appreciate both motion and stability.”

And he does appreciate the seasons. “Spring here is always beautiful for those uncertainties … It is the season of uncertainty … Summer … is languor … Autumn hangs on like an old tapestry, brown and mottled, a slow, long slide into winter … and winter itself, of course, has persistence at its heart, a long, dogged grimness which gives nothing and allows nothing … “

This is a very human exploration. Nicolson’s approach: “I never think things through. I never have. I never envisage the end before I plunge into the beginning. I never clarify the whole. I never sort one version of something from any other. I bank on instinct, allowing my nose to sniff its way into the vacuum, trusting that somewhere or other, soon enough, out of the murk, something is bound to turn up. I’m wedded to this plunging-off form of thought, and to the acceptance of muddle which it implies.”

Nicolson advocates “ … an excited ‘what next?’ as the motivating force in life, a stodgelessness, an inability to plan.”

His enthusiasm, however, in investigating the past of his islands leads too often to simple conjecture. In 11 consecutive pages, I found the following words and phrases: “a possibility – perhaps – maybe – no record – almost certainly – might have been – probably – is it? –  one can only imagine – no way of telling – guesses – may have been used – may well be – suggests – may be dated – would have been seen – another version – might well have been – fragmentary at best.” Almost a fictional novel , but he remains a thoroughly engaging tour director for the Shiants and the lore of Scotland.

So isn’t it time to explore our islands? How many of us have been ashore, lifting rocks and staring at the mainland, on some of the Lyme islands: Selden Neck, Brockway, Notts, and the evocatively named Calves, Goose and Rat? What are their histories?

I think I will try one of them this summer …

Editor’s Note: Sea Room by Adam Nicolson is published by Harper Perennial, London 2001

Felix Kloman_headshot_2005_284x331-150x150About the author: Felix Kloman is a sailor, rower, husband, father, grandfather, retired management consultant and, above all, a curious reader and writer. He’s explored how we as human beings and organizations respond to ever-present uncertainty in two books, ‘Mumpsimus Revisited’ (2005) and ‘The Fantods of Risk’ (2008). A 20-year resident of Lyme, he now writes book reviews, mostly of non-fiction that explores our minds, our behavior, our politics and our history. But he does throw in a novel here and there. For more than 50 years, he’s put together the 17 syllables that comprise haiku, the traditional Japanese poetry, and now serves as the self-appointed “poet laureate” of Ashlawn Farms Coffee, where he may be seen on Friday mornings. His wife, Ann, is also a writer, but of mystery novels, all of which begin in a bubbling village in midcoast Maine, strangely reminiscent of the town she and her husband visit every summer.


Talking Transportation: PT Barnum and Metro-North

P.T. Barnum

P.T. Barnum

What do Connecticut’s own PT Barnum and I have in common?  No, not just a love of circuses.  We are both “rail advocates” fighting for the interests of commuters.

This amazing piece of news about Barnum, a man better known for his showmanship and menageries, came to me while watching a speech at the Old State House in Hartford broadcast on CT-N (every policy wonk’s favorite channel).  The speaker was Executive Director and Curator of the Barnum Museum Kathleen Maher.

She explained that Barnum was more than a showman.  He was also a railroad advocate. (He also went on to be part-owner of a cross-Sound ferryboat service that’s still running today.)

In 1879 Barnum wrote an impassioned letter to the NY Times promoting a street railway be built in New York City along Broadway between Bleecker and 14th Street, enlisting the support of local merchants such as the Brooks Brothers and, “the carpet men, W & J Sloan”.

Earlier, in 1865, Barnum went to Hartford representing the town of Fairfield as a Republican — later he became Mayor of Bridgeport.  As he writes in his autobiography, he arrived at the capitol to find that powerful railroad interests had conspired to elect a Speaker of the House who had protected their monopoly interests in the state.

Further, he found that Connecticut’s “Railroad Commission” had been similarly ensnared by the industry it was supposed to regulate and that one member was even a clerk in the office of the NY & New Haven RR!  Barnum pushed through a bill prohibiting such obvious conflicts of interest.

Then he turned his sights on helping commuters.  Barnum noted that New York railroad magnate Commodore Vanderbilt’s new rail lines (now the Hudson and Harlem divisions of Metro-North) were popular with affluent commuters.  Once Vanderbilt had them hooked as passengers for their daily ride into and out of New York City, he jacked up fares by 200 to 400 percent.

Sensing that Vanderbilt might try to do the same to Connecticut riders on the new New Haven line (in which “The Commodore” had a financial stake), Barnum set to work in the legislature to make sure the state had some control over “its” railroad.  Barnum said his only ally in the fight was then-State Senator Ballard of Darien.

So spirited were they in their lobbying that the railroad’s “man” on the state Railroad Commission “took to his bed some ten days before the end of the session and actually remained there ‘sick’” until the legislature adjourned.” (Sound familiar?)

Fast forward to the present and we could again use Barnum’s help.

Though Connecticut hires Metro-North to run “our” trains on “our” tracks, our contract with that New York state agency gives us little say and no seat on it board.  As one lawmaker noted, the Connecticut Department of Transport defends Metro-North much as a kidnap victim fights for its captor (what he called the Stockholm syndrome).

Jim Cameron

Jim Cameron

Editor’s Note:
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   For a full collection of “Talking Transportation” columns, see


Nibbles: Summer Just Isn’t Summer Without Ratatouille (and a Five-Bean Bake!)

Ratatouille is always a welcome addition to any summer meal -- or as a meal on its own.

Ratatouille is always a welcome addition to any summer meal — or as a meal on its own.

I am so enjoying this summer.

I do love my CSA baskets (Hanukkah or Christmas every Tuesday afternoon), but I still delight in visiting my local farm and farm markets twice a week to get more tomatoes and sweet corn, either at Whittle’s in Mystic or Becky’s in Waterford.

If that were not enough, a neighbor, who is a scientist at Pfizer, asked if I liked tuna. “Fresh tuna?” I asked. Sure enough, her colleague was going tuna fishing the next day and she came home with two simply gorgeous tuna fillet.

The next day I marinated it with extra-virgin olive oil, salt, pepper and fresh tarragon. Aside from the fact that I overcooked the tuna, it was amazing and my plate shared space with two big tomatoes with burrata (from Fromage) and sweet corn. Life can be pretty darn good.

Over the July 4 weekend, I went to a party at John Colton’s house in Lyme. His sister, Beverly Picazio, made two salads—ratatouille with fresh vegetables and another that can be whipped up with pantry staples.

I loved both of them so you might consider making these from your next potluck or party. The ratatouille is not only a great side dish, but, with a crusty loaf of bread and a salad, it is a terrific vegetarian dinner.


Slightly adapted from recipe of Beverly Picazio of Stonington


2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 to 4 large cloves of garlic, minced

One-half teaspoon crusted pepper flakes

2 medium-sized eggplants, peeled and chopped

3 zucchini, chopped2 green peppers, chopped

2 8-ounce packages of sliced mushrooms

4 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped

1 can lima beans

1 yellow squash, chopped

2 28-ounces crushed tomatoes

Fresh ground fresh black pepper and salt, to taste

Chop all vegetables to about the same side.

In a large (or Le Creuset) Dutch oven, saute garlic in oil. Add pepper flakes. Stir in all the vegetables, including the tomatoes. Bring ingredients to a simmer, then cover and bake until fork tender, about 45 minutes. Season to taste.

Beverly thinks the dish is better made a day or two earlier. When reheating, water if ratatouille is too thick.

Five-Bean Bake

From Beverly Picazio of Stonington

Yield: serves 12 as a side dish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

8 bacon slices, chopped

1 medium onion, diced

1 28-ounce can Bush baked beans

1 19.75 ounce of black beans, rinsed and drained

1 16-ounce can chick peas, rinsed and drained

1 15-ounce can kidney beans, rinsed and drained

1 15-ounce can lima beans, rinsed and drained

1 cup ketchup

Three-quarter cup firmly packed brown sugar

One-half cup water

One-quarter cup cider vinegar

Cook bacon I a large skillet over medium high heat until crispy. Remove bacon, reserving 3 tablespoons drippings in skillet. Add diced onion and saute until tender. Combine the rest of the ingredients in a large bowl.

Add all ingredients into a 9-inch by 13-nch baking dish and cook in the oven covered for 1 hour; uncover and bake another 30 minutes.