February 1, 2015

Letter from Paris: Ten Days Later

US Foreign Secretary John Kerry pays his respects at the memorial to the Charlie Hebdo victims.

US Secretary of State John Kerry pays his respects at the makeshift memorial in Paris to the Charlie Hebdo victims.

Ten days after the assassination at the Charlie Hebdo office including the magazine’s editor and leading cartoonists, France is on high alert. Threats against persons and acts of vandalism are multiplying. The Jewish community is scared, the Muslims feel stigmatized, the Catholics are worried. It would be exaggerated however to describe – the way a Fox News journalist claimed – that certain areas of Paris, such as the 11th arrondissement, are dangerous and should be avoided. Incidentally, the journalist quickly withdrew his remark.

Prime minister Manuel Valls and minister of the Interior Bernard Caseneuve have launched maximum security measures: the Vigipirate alert system (at first created by president Giscard d’Estaing in 1978) now includes 10,000 troops from the Foreign Legion, the army and the police. They are positioned throughout France to protect monuments, schools and places of worship, as well as strategic points like airports or railroad stations. On Thursday, Francois Hollande was on the air force carrier Charles de Gaulle in Toulon to review the 2,000 troops before their departure for manoeuvers in the Indian Ocean. France has currently nine Rafales in Jordan and two Mirages in Saudi Arabia.

The criminal investigation has been fast and efficient. In lightning speed, they uncovered more ramifications of the jihadists’ organization, extended to their families, friends and acquaintances, with the “Buttes-Chaumont connection” at the center. The Belhoucine brothers are on the list of suspects. A large number of individuals have been taken for questioning and nine are currently in police custody . In the Paris region, five caches of weapons have been located and searched.

Reinforcement of the legal system to control the jihadists’ travels and activities is being studied by the government. Measures such as the creation of special files on terrorists similar to the ones kept on sexual offenders and withdrawing the French nationality of returning jihadists are being considered. Voting on a new law should take place as early as the beginning of February. Control of internet has become a priority. The social networks constitute a counter culture expressed in simple manichean terms to be accessible to the largest possible numbers. Calls for violence and hatred never stop.

The recent events have marked the French. On Wednesday, January 14, after a powerful speech by the prime minister at the National Assembly, all the deputies stood up to observe a minute of silence. Then one voice started singing the Marseillaise and soon everybody followed in unison. The last time this happened was on November 11, 1918! At the Institut du Monde Arabe and during all the official ceremonies, the president and the prime minister reiterated their basic point: the French government is not against Islam nor the Muslim population. Around the world, French diplomatic representations and economic interests are under attack. The TV news shows the fury of violent mobs shouting their hatred in the streets of Niger — quite a contrast from the calm of the people in the streets of Paris on January 11.

Laicite (secularism) is a specificity of France, and the outcome of a tumultuous history, starting with the 16th century wars of religions, opposing monarch and church. It took a whole century for the Catholic Church to accept the separation of church and state in 1904. That principle was enshrined in the first article of the 1958 constitution at the outset of the fifth Republic. It is alien to most of the other countries and should be “formatted” (to use a computer science term) in order to be understood beyond our borders.

US Secretary of State John Kerry paid a visit to Paris, saw the places where the violent attacks took place on January 7 and used warm words (in French) to express his support of France.

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

Reading Uncertainly? “The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History” by Elizabeth Kolbert

The_Sixth_Extinction

Rats! Is there a real possibility that rats may be the species that survives the human race? Elizabeth Kolbert suggests such an outcome in her engrossing perambulation around this modest earth on which we live, since we may well be living at the start of the “Sixth Extinction.”

Science tells us the earth has experienced five earlier “extinctions,” when many living creatures, small and large, disappeared because of a major change in the earth’s constitution or because of an errant asteroid. But these five occurred approximately 450, 375, 250, 200 and 60 million years ago, in a universe that is 13.5 billion years old.

So we are minute upstarts on this planet. But, as a thinking and intensely curious species, we’ve tried to understand that long past, plus our present and a most uncertain future.

Kolbert’s question: are we creating our own Sixth Extinction?

Like Pogo, she suggests “the cataclysm is us!” “Since the start of the industrial revolution,” she writes, “humans have burned through enough fossil fuels—coal, oil, and natural gas—to add some 365 billion metric tons of carbon to the atmosphere. Deforestation has contributed another 180 billion tons. Each year we throw up another nine billion tons or so . . . . The concentration of carbon dioxide in the air today . . . is higher than at any other point in the last eight hundred thousand years. . . . It is expected that such an increase will produce an eventual average global temperature rise of between three and a half and seven degrees Fahrenheit . . . (triggering) the disappearance of most remaining glaciers, the inundation of low-lying islands and coastal cities, and the melting of the Arctic ice cap.”

Then add to that “ocean acidification.”

We know that all species on this planet are interdependent, but are humans also an “invasive species?” Yes, we seem to be collective problem solvers (much like ants, according to E. O. Wilson) but we seem to be unable to solve our biggest problem: us! “Though it might be nice to imagine there was once a time when men lived in harmony with nature, it is not clear he ever did!”

Is it possible, then, as Kolbert suggests, “ . . . a hushed hundred million years from now, all that we consider to be the great works of man – the sculptures and the libraries, the monuments and the museums, the cities and the factories – will all be compressed into a layer of sediment not much thicker than a cigarette paper?”

Kolbert visits locations all around this earth – some 11 countries – very much like Alan Weisman’s research for his Countdown, exploring current rates of extinction. One is on an island in the Great Barrier Reef of Australia, looking at the erosion of coral. Another is the decline of bats in the eastern United States. Still another is the Panamanian golden frog. Together, she says, they indicate we are a part of the Anthropocene epoch, during which we may well become extinct.

This is a sobering analysis of current practices and signs. She acknowledges the possibility that “human ingenuity will outrun any disaster that human ingenuity sets in motion.” But I’m left with the likelihood that our friend the rat, who has hitchhiked to almost every piece of this earth with us, and who successfully scavenges our debris, may survive us. As Ratty pronounced, in Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows (my paraphrase), “Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing – absolutely nothing — half so much worth doing as simply messing about with humans.”

Her book is “one of 2014’s best” according to The Economist.

HFK_headshot_2005_284x331About 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.

Share

Letter From Paris: Nous Sommes Tous Charlie

Our French correspondent Nicole Prévost Logan was in Paris last Wednesday when the horrific shootings at the Charlie Hebdo office occurred and for the subsequent days of terror in the environs of Paris. This column reflects her thoughts on the tragedy.  She writes:

Je_suis_Charlie_v3

They were a talented, irreverent, friendly and humorous bunch of cartoonists and journalists.  They were like family.  We knew them by name.  Charb, Cabu, Wolinski (Stéphane Charbonnier, Jean Cabut,  Georges Wolinski) and the others were also incredibly courageous.  Round the clock they had to be protected by police and body guards.  In 2011, their office was blown up in an explosion.  Charb, leader and editor-in-chief of the Charlie Hebdo weekly satirical newspaper, was on the ‘Wanted’ list of Al-Qaeda as someone to be eliminated.

On Wednesday, January 7, at noon, I was walking by the Bastille, near my apartment, when police cars, ambulances, Red Cross vehicles, fire trucks – their sirens howling – seemed to be converging on the square.  Strange, I thought.  When I met my daughter for lunch, she told me that the entire editorial board of Charlie Hebdo had been shot.  Being “connected” with her smart phone, she was able to follow every minute of the crisis

The crisis lasted for three days with the pursuit of the two Kouachi brothers by tens of thousands of police and special forces.  Two more attacks (related, as it turned out later) occurred in Montrouge and Porte de Vincennes with the taking of hostages by a third terrorist Amedy Coulibaly.  Seventeen people died during the 72 hours, including four Jewish hostages  who had been held in a Kosher supermarket.

From left to right, Charlie Hebdo victims Cabu, Wolinski and Charb

From left to right, Charlie Hebdo victims Cabu, Wolinski and Charb.

The emotion in France was intense.  The French have always relished Charlie Hebdo’s iconoclastic derision aimed at everyone … women, Jews, Moslems, blacks, no exceptions … and their making fun of politics, religion and other serious topics.

The tragic end of an entire editorial staff of a newspaper at the point of a gun in the name of a principle explains the incredible shock wave of sympathy with spread around the world in a few hours.  A journalist from Los Angeles said in his grief at the talent lost that, in one throw, more cartoonists were killed than the total number existing in the US.  The victims have become the heroes, for having pushed to the extreme the right to say, write or draw anything in a free democratic society.

One may quote Voltaire, “I may not agree with what you say but I will fight to death for your right to say it.” Humor rather than violence or a call to violence, this was their motto.  This weekend France became a libertarian banner and the world seemed grateful to France for doing what no one else dared to do.  This attack and the planet’s reaction that it triggered can be seen as a fight for a secular state threatened by obscurantist developments, both in the regions where ISIL is taking hold and against terrorism anywhere in the world.

The French opinion from all parties, (except the Front National) is that president François Hollande managed the crisis superbly.  He was on the front line at all times.  He scared the police forces beyond belief when he came to the Charlie Hebdo street barely one hour after the attack, even before the area was made secure.  Hollande was at the helm of the operations and gave the green light for the two final assaults  to be perfectly synchronized.  He addressed the nation several times, avoiding grandiloquence and photo-op opportunities.

Instead of being belligerent and declaring “at war” status, what he stressed was the national unity and the need of inclusion of the overwhelmingly moderate Moslem population (about four million or 6.8 percent of the population, by 2012 figures.)  He urged the leaders of that community – imams, clergy, intellectuals and associations – to speak up and to join the march organized on Sunday. Hassan Chalghoumi, imam of the mosque of Drancy, a neighborhood with a majority of immigrants, declared on television, “What they have done is not Islam, we strongly condemn their acts.”  This is important because the problem of “integration” in France (one remembers the hostility caused by the ban on the veil) is a difficult process.

For three days, men in black, super-equipped with helmets, bullet-proof vests, shields and heavy arms, occupied our television screens.  We learned more about the elite groups which carried out the assaults.  In Dammartin-en-Goële,  it was the GIGN  (Groupe d’Intervention de la Gendarmerie Nationale), part of a 400-strong military elite corps based in Versailles.  At the Kosher market of the Porte de Vincennes, RAID (Recherche pour Assistance Intervention Dissuasion) is part of the police.  It was the first time ever that GIGN and RAID collaborated.

A question was immediately raised: how was it possible that Cherif and Saïd Kouachi and Amedy Coulibaly, young French men with murky pasts of convictions, prisons terms, and, most of all, trips to Syria and several months training in Yemen with the most  dangerous groups of Al-Qaeda (AQPA) in the Arabian Peninsula, included on the US “no fly list,” could have been overlooked by the DGSE  (Direction Generale de la Securite Exterieure)?  Pierre Martinet, one of the heads of  the DGSE explained that the data about all these people has been collected, but they do not have the manpower to put several thousands potential terrorists under surveillance.

Gilles Keppel, a Middle East specialist and professor at Sciences Po) revealed that France has been designated as the prime enemy. There are about 1,200 French Jihadists, the largest group in Europe.  The era when terrorists learnt how to fly planes is over — today the social networks have created another situation when Al-Qaeda is less an organization than a system.  Private individuals make decisions, hence the difficulty in controlling them.

In an interview Monday morning, Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs, summarized the priorities:  control the calls for violence on the internet; in prison, separate radical islamists to prevent their radicalization of other prisoners; and intensify the coordination of intelligence agencies within Europe and around the world.  The Socialists are reluctant to introduce legislation comparable to the Patriot Act in the US at the expense of the rule of law.

Millions gathered Sunday to pay tribute to the victims of the previous week and stand together in defense of the right to free speech.

Millions gathered Sunday to pay tribute to the victims of the previous week and stand in solidarity in defence of the right to free speech.

Sunday, January 11, saw the march of the century.  Forty heads of state participated in the demonstration.  François Hollande led the march, accompanied by Angela Merkel and 40 other heads of state.  Some commentators wondered whether Benjamin Netanyahu’s presence was politically motivated or also to defend the principle of freedom of expression.

Four million people were on the streets, almost half of them in Paris.  The crowd, including many children, was calm and disciplined, sang La Marseillaise, and applauded the police – probably for the first time in French history.

3_pencils_97.5KB

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

Talking Transportation: “Getting to the Airport”

The old Cunard line used to say that “getting there is half the fun.”  But anyone who’s endured the challenges and indignities of air travel know that getting to the airport can sap your strength, if not your wallet.  Consider the alternatives.

A car service is certainly convenient.  But at $110 one way to LaGuardia,  $140 to JFK and $150+ to Newark, getting to the airport can often cost more than your air fare. (Mind you, these are the advertised rates, so I wouldn’t be shy about asking for promotions and discounts when you call to book.  It’s a competitive business.)

But car services aren’t just expensive, they’re also wasteful.  Couldn’t solo travelers share a car with others in a “limo-pool”?  Is one passenger in a Lincoln Town Car an efficient use of limited space on I-95?

How about Connecticut Limousine? Now there’s a misnomer!  Since when is a cramped van a limo?  And try explaining that name on the receipt on your expenses to your company’s accountant.  “Really, boss … it was just a van!”

Being thrifty, on a few occasions I’ve actually rented a car at the airport, driven home and then dropped the car the next day in Stamford.  A day’s car rental is about half the cost of a car service.

Some regular fliers hire neighborhood teens to drive their own car to the airport, drop them off and drive the car home, repeating the process on their return.  That’s less expensive than a car service, but puts double the miles on your car.

My preferred airport transfer is in my own car. Airport parking is $39 a day. Not cheap, but certainly convenient. And nobody complains about my cigar smoking en route to the airport.

Another alternative, believe it or not, is Metro-North. Get off at 125th Street and catch a cab or livery and you’re at LaGuardia in about 15 minutes.  There’s also a new Express Bus, the M60, that whisks you from 125th St to LGA in about 20 minutes.

If you’re heading to Newark, definitely consider Amtrak.  Many Northeast corridor trains stop at Newark Airport where a convenient connection to the airport monorail has you at the terminals in just minutes.  The train sure beats the Cross-Bronx and GWB any day. And fares are as low as $28 one way.

Mind you, New York’s three airports aren’t the only choices. Westchester County’s White Plains airport offers non-stop jet service to many cities on a variety of major carriers including JetBlue.  Hartford’s Bradley Airport offers another alternative, including low-fare carriers like Southwest … if you don’t mind an hour plus drive to get to the airport, north of Hartford.  One faithful reader extols the virtues of New Haven’s Tweed Airport where US Air flies to Philly where you can connect to most anywhere.

Clearly, the trip to and from the airport can start and end a trip on a very sour, and expensive, note.

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 CommuterActionGroup@gmail.com   For a full collection of “Talking Transportation” columns, see www.talkingtransportation.blogspot.com

Share

Talking Transportation: The Myth of the Third Rail

Metro-North’s mangled and much-maligned service in Connecticut is made all the more challenging by a technological quirk of fate.  Ours is the only commuter railroad in the US that operates on three modes of power … AC, DC and diesel.

On a typical run from, say, New Haven to Grand Central, the first part of the journey is done “under the wire”, the trains being powered by 13,000 volt AC overhead wires, or catenaries.  Around Pelham, in Westchester County, the conversion is made to 660 volt DC third rail power for the rest of the trip into New York.  Even diesel trains must convert to third-rail as their smoky exhaust is banned in the Park Avenue tunnels.

And there’s the rub: Connecticut trains need both AC and DC, overhead and third-rail, power pick-ups and processors.  That means a lot more electronics, and added cost, for each car.  While the DC-only new M7 cars running in Westchester cost about $2 million each, our new dual-mode M8 car designed for Connecticut cost $2.5 million each.

So, some folks are asking, “Why not just use one power source?  Just replace the overhead wires with third-rail and we can buy cheaper cars.”  Simple, yes.  Smart, no.  And here’s why.

There’s not enough space to lay a third-rail along each of the four sets of tracks in the existing right of way.  All four existing tracks would have to be ripped out and the space between them widened.  Every bridge and tunnel would have to be widened, platforms moved and land acquired.  Cost?  Probably hundreds of millions of dollars, years of construction and service disruptions.

Even with third-rail, the Connecticut Department of Transportation (CDOT) would still be required to provide overhead power lines for Amtrak.  That would mean maintaining two power systems at double the cost.  We’re currently spending billions just to upgrade the 80-year old catenary, so why then replace it with  third rail?

Third-rail AC power requires substations every few miles, meaning further construction and real estate.  The environmental lawsuits alone would kill this idea.

DC-driven third rail is less efficient.  Trains accelerate much faster using overhead AC voltage, the power source used by the fastest trains in the world … the TGV, Shinkansen, etc.  On third-rail, speeds are limited to 75 miles an hour as opposed to 90 mph under the wire.  That means, mile for mile, commute time is longer using third rail.

Third rail ices-up in bad weather and can get buried in snow causing short circuits.  Overhead wires have problems sometimes, but they are never buried in a blizzard.

Third-rail is dangerous to pedestrians and track workers.

The idea of conversion to third-rail was studied in the 1980s by consultants to the CDOT.  They concluded that, while cumbersome and costly, the current dual-power system is, in the long run, cheaper and more efficient than installing third-rail.  This time, the engineers at the CDOT got it right.

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 CommuterActionGroup@gmail.com  For a full collection of “Talking Transportation” columns, see www.talkingtransportation.blogspot.com

Share

Reading Uncertainly: ‘Fire and Ashes’ by Michael Ignatieff

Fire and Ashes by Michael Ignatieff

I admit to a lifelong fascination with the people and territory of that land just north of the United States.  I first drove through Alberta and the Yukon in 1952, on my way to Alaska, and then sailed up the St. Lawrence River on a Navy cruiser to Quebec City in 1954. Since then I’ve spent considerable time in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Quebec, with side excursions to Victoria, Banff, Edmonton, Trenton, and Beaconsfield. So it was only natural to buy an early copy of Michael Ignatieff’s description of his six-year foray into Canadian politics.

Who can ignore this description of Canada: “ten provinces and three territories strung out like birds on the wire of the forty-ninth parallel?” And its political uniqueness: “ . . . the fact that we didn’t have capital punishment or a right to bear arms; that we believed in group rights to protect the French language and aboriginal title to land; the fact that we believed a woman’s right to choose should prevail; the fact that a bilingual national experiment, always under stress, forced us constantly, as a condition of survival, to try and understand each other and reach common ground.”

Ignatieff first ran for Parliament in 2005, resigning a professorial chair at Harvard and returning to the land of his birth after many years abroad. He later became the leader of Canada’s Liberal Party, one with which his family had early close connections, only to lose a national election in 2011. The book is his analysis of those years and the nature of politics in a democracy. He concludes with a “renewed respect for politicians as a breed and with reinvigorated faith in the good sense of citizens,” and “ . . . what is right about the democratic ideal: the faith, constantly tested, that ordinary men and women can rightly choose those who govern in their name, and that those they choose can govern with justice and compassion.”

But how can mere mortals stand for leadership positions? “Politics tests your capacity for self-knowledge more than any profession I know,” Ignatieff says, going on to offer “self-dramatization is the essence of politics,” playing on a perpetual stage. He also urges development of listening skills: “listening, being deeply able to deeply listen to your fellow citizens, is the most under-rated skill in politics.” And “standing” is equally important: “When you first enter politics, your first job is to secure your standing, the authority to make your case and ensure a hearing.” That is especially true for newcomers, who will certainly be attacked for their “lack of experience.”

He also argues for civility in political life, something all too lacking recently. But is it possible to treat someone, civilly, as an “adversary” when that person treats you as an “enemy?”

The “virtues” of successful politics include “adaptability, cunning, rapid-fire recognition of Fortuna, the keen intuition that a situation has changed and that what was true is no longer so, together with the noble capacity to lead, to charm, to inspire.” Politics is then “the baffling combination of will and chance that determines the shape of life.”

I now know something more about my Canadian friends and their country. Oh, Canada!

Editor’s Note: Michael Ignatieff’s ‘Fire and Ashes’ is published by Harvard University Press, Cambridge 2013

Felix Kloman

Felix Kloman

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

Share

Letter from Paris: The Magic of Merkel

Angela Merkel

Angela Merkel

She has been the German chancellor for 13 years, longer than any of her predecessors since the creation of the country in 1949.  Forbes magazine puts her #1 on the world’s list of powerful women.

The key to understanding Angela Merkel and the successful way she runs her government lies in her upbringing.  She was born in 1954 in Hamburg.  When she was three, her father – a Lutheran pastor – moved the family east of Berlin in order for him to head a home for mentally disabled children.  Growing up in one of the most repressive countries in the world, she always feared being spied on by the East German State Security Service – commonly known as the ‘Stasi’ – and was careful not to put the life of her family in danger.  No wonder the wire-tapping of her cell phone last July hit a raw nerve.

Between a distant father and the dreary atmosphere of East Germany, she found security and stimulation in hard scientific work.  She obtained a doctorate in physics and wrote her thesis on quantum chemistry.  She also became an excellent Russian speaker — a skill she has used in her relations with Putin.  Her Polish ancestry – her mother came from Gdansk (formerly Danzig) – will undoubtedly make her close to the new president of the European council, Donald Tusk.

She is a shrewd politician, pragmatic enough to adjust to changes.  She likes consensus and has accepted a coalition between her Christlich Demokratische Union (CDU – Christian Democratic Party) with the Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (SPD – Social Democratic Party).  She treats politics like a science , taking a long time before reaching a decision, thus giving a comforting stability to her performance.  She wants power, but hates being in the spotlight.  This is why she preferred the “Merkozy” (Merkel-Sarkozy) days to being alone in dealing with the European Union.

Merkel has a difficult task to accomplish.  Her obsession with the rule of balanced budgets is creating austerity, which many members of the Euro zone now reject.  Her policy is increasingly being criticized by economists.  Emmanuel Macron, the new French Economic Minister, and Wolfang Schäuble his German counterpart, strongly disagree with her positions and think that growth is more important than austerity.  Marcel Fratzscher, professor of macro economics and finances at the university of Humboldt, also thinks that the priority is to invest in the crumbling German infrastructure.

Germany is perceived abroad, and particularly by the US, as carrying Europe financially.  However, this assessment should be corrected by keeping  in mind that the European Central Bank capital is made up of the contributions from the national banks.  The Deutsche Bundesbank contributes 19.99 percent, Banque de France 14.1 percent, Banca d’Italia 12.3 percent and so on. The burden of the debt is shared by all the countries of the Euro zone.

On Dec. 10, 2014, Angela Merkel was reelected by an astounding 99 percent of the votes as head of the CDU, which she has led since 2000.   After a 10-minute-long standing ovation, the party members proceeded to enjoy three more days of the Cologne Congress.  Today, an overwhelming  64 percent of  Germans would like her to run for a fourth mandate as chancellor in 2017.

Nicole Prevost Logan

Nicole Prevost 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

Simple, Real Food: A Favorite New Year’s Eve Feast

Coconut shrimp and pineapple dipping sauce

Coconut shrimp with pineapple dipping sauce

The holidays are upon us and winter is now in full swing. Time for entertaining and planning what to make for New Year’s. I for one, do not love New Year’s Eve (does anyone over a certain age?) but my husband and I often make a gourmet meal and have a really good bottle of champagne (Veuve Clicquot, anyone?) and enjoy a quiet, cozy evening at home.

I have many entertaining menus up my sleeve and focus heavily on appetizers as they are so creative and fun to eat.

Here is a sample of one such menu that is sure to make your guests or maybe just your significant other happy.

This recipe can be cut in half as well as frozen, both the shrimp and the sauce freeze well.  If you  decide to make this ahead and freeze the shrimp, do not defrost, simply drop them into the hot oil.

Coconut Shrimp with Pineapple Dipping Sauce

Serves 12

Ingredients

1 cup flour

3/4 tsp. salt

1 tsp. cayenne

3 to 4 egg whites, lightly beaten

2 1/4 cups unsweetened coconut

1 1/2 pounds large shrimp, peeled, de-veined, butter-flied

2 cups vegetable oil, for frying

Dipping sauce:

1/4 cup canned pineapple, drained

1 scallion, white part only, thinly sliced

2 Tb. apricot preserves

1/4 cup cilantro leaves

1 Tb. lime juice

1/2 jalapeno, chopped

Salt

Procedure

1. Combine the flour, salt and cayenne on a flat baking sheet. Place the egg whites and coconut on two separate baking sheets. Dredge the shrimp in the flour mixture, then the whites, then in the coconut. Press the coconut onto the shrimp. Chill for at least an hour.

2. Heat the oven to 200. In a medium saucepan heat the oil until moderately hot but not smoking. Working in batches, fry the shrimp until golden about 2 minutes. Drain on paper towels. Transfer to a baking sheet and keep warm in the oven.

3. In a processor combine the pineapple, scallions, apricot preserves, cilantro, lime juice, jalapeno and salt to taste. Process until blended and taste, adjust seasoning.

4. Serve the shrimp on a platter with the sauce in a small serving dish.

 

Burrata on Crostini with Caramelized Shallots and Bacon

Serves 6 to 8

Ingredients

¼ cup olive oil

1 cup thinly sliced shallots

¼ cup balsamic vinegar

1 Tb. brown sugar

1 baguette

12 slices applewood- smoked bacon

1½ pounds burrata, sliced into 12 slices

extra virgin olive oil

parsley, chiffonade

Fresh pepper

Procedure

  1. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the shallots and sauté for about 5 minutes stirring often. Add the balsamic and brown sugar and simmer the shallots until the bottom of the pan is dry about 6 minutes. Set aside.
  2. Heat the oven to 400. Slice the bread into ¼ inch slices and place on a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and rub with the garlic clove. Toast for about 8 to 10 minutes until golden.
  3. Cook the bacon on a rack on a baking sheet in the oven until down but not crisp about 15 minutes. Drain on paper towels. Cut in half.
  4. Place a slice of burrata on each crostini, then a piece of bacon and then a spoonful of the shallots. Drizzle with the extra virgin oil and then grind some pepper over each one before serving, garnish with parsley chiffonade.

 

Pan-Roasted Duck Breasts with Port Wine and Balsamic Glaze

Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients

1/2 whole duck breast per person

Salt, pepper

2 shallots, diced

4 garlic cloves, minced

½ cup Tawny port

1 cup chicken stock

¼ cup balsamic vinegar

1 Tb. honey

Procedure

  1. Heat the oven to 450.
  2. Score the fat on the duck and season the meat side with salt and pepper. Heat a medium cast iron or stainless steel skillet over medium high heat. Sear the duck skin side down until golden brown about 5 minutes. Place the duck on a rack fat side up in a roasting pan and roast in the oven for 5 to 8 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board and cover to keep warm. Reserve the fat from the roasting pan.
  3. Heat a medium skillet and add 2 Tb. of the duck fat to the pan. Sauté the shallots and garlic for about 3 minutes. Add the wine to the pan and de-glaze, reduce the port to half and add the stock, reduce to about 2/3 cup. Add the vinegar and honey and cook until thickened. Season with salt and pepper and taste for seasoning. Remove from the heat.
  4. Slice the duck breast and arrange on a plate pour the sauce over and serve.
  • Chicken breasts can be used in place of the duck.

 

Arugula, Endive Salad with Simple Vinaigrette

Serves 6 to 8

Ingredients

1 bunch arugula, washed and spun dry

1 head endive, julienne

2 cups mixed greens

1 lemon, juiced or vinegar of your choice

1 Tb. Dijon mustard

3 Tb. chopped mint

1/3 to 1/2 cup virgin olive oil

Salt, pepper

Procedure

1. Combine the arugula, endive and greens in a large bowl and toss.

2. Combine the lemon, Dijon and mint in a small bowl and whisk add the oil slowly while whisking, season to taste with salt and pepper.

3. Toss some of the dressing with the greens and reserve any leftover for another salad.

Amanda Cushman

Amanda Cushman

Editor’s Note: Amanda Cushman of Simple Real Food Inc., is a culinary educator who has cooked professionally for over 30 years.  She has taught corporate team building classes for over 15 years for a variety of Fortune 500 companies including Yahoo, Nike and Google.  She began her food career in the eighties and worked with Martha Stewart and Glorious Foods before becoming a recipe developer for Food and Wine magazine as well as Ladies Home Journal.  Having lived all over the United States including Boston, NYC, Miami and Los Angeles, she has recently returned to her home state of Connecticut where she continues to teach in private homes as well as write for local publications. 

Amanda teaches weekly classes at White Gate Farm and Homeworks and is also available for private classes.  Her cookbook; Simple Real Food can be ordered at Amazon as well as through her website www.amandacooks.com 

For more information, click here to visit her website.

Share

Reading Uncertainly: ‘Flash Boys’ by Michael Lewis

Flash_BoysWhat on earth is “the stock market?” It is something in which I have participated for almost 60 years, first as a most modest buyer of stocks, then through the investments of growing pension and profit-sharing funds, and finally, today, trying to stretch my dwindling IRA to cover our modest expenses as my wife and I enter our eightieth years. Throughout this time I’ve maintained a trust that the “market system” is reasonably fair.

Michael Lewis pops that balloon. In his mesmerizing story of high frequency trading on the world’s stock markets, but especially in the U. S., we learn that customers are “prey,” that “people are getting screwed because they can’t imagine a microsecond” (a millionth of a second), that “moral inertia” is the dominant trait, and that “ the entire history of Wall Street was the story of scandals.”

And yet, what the so-called high-speed traders were (and are) doing is “riskless, larcenous, and legal.”  The story seems to be the result of “human nature and the power of incentives,” plus the incredible complexity of today’s markets, a complexity whose outcomes are totally unpredictable — witness the recent series of “flash sales” in which markets drop precipitously and then recover, all within moments.

And how do the brokers, banks and traders respond, other than in their natural, self-admiring language?  They have learned the “art of torturing data” to try and persuade their customers they are entirely honest!  Lewis’s conclusion … “the stock market at bottom is rigged!”

But where on earth can we safely invest our funds?  My mattress is already stuffed!

Felix Kloman

Felix Kloman


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

Share

Letter from Paris: Chinese Make Increasing Inroads into France

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

china-franceChinese president Xi Jiping , wearing oversize headphones, appeared on the cover of the French weekly Nouvel Obs on Dec. 4.  “Are they spying on us?” asked the magazine.

The same week, huge parabolic antennae showed up on the roof of an inconspicuous building four miles from Paris.

Some people found the picture rather amusing and did not take this disclosure too seriously.  But not everybody.  In fact, the way China is making inroads into the French economy is somewhat disturbing for many.

This week, the International Monetary Fund announced that China surpassed the US as the largest economy in the world.  The sheer size of this sub-continent, which represents over one fifth of the world population, is rather frightening for a small country like France.  The economic strategy of China starts with the creation of partnerships with foreign companies, then a growing participation in their capital, and finally their acquisition.  It is by absorbing the ideas, the know-how and the technology of older countries, that China was able to race to the number one slot.  French officials and heads of private companies facilitate China’s grand design.

Economic relationships between the two countries have existed for years, but what is new is its accelerating pace.  In 2007, China had no high-speed trains.  Then it turned to France (Alstom), Germany (Siemens) and Japan ( Shinkansen) to obtain the transfer of their technologies.  Today China has the longest fast train network in the world.

In 1992, Donfeng Motor Corporation and Peugeot-Citroen, the leading carmaker in France entered in a joint venture and started manufacturing cars in China.

In March 2014, China Donfeng became an equal share holder of Peugeot-Citroen, thereby bringing to an end the 200-year-old family dynasty.

France sold the idea of Club Med and the Shanghai-based Fosun company is currently fighting to win a bid for its acquisition.

For the French, it feels like selling the family jewels when they see their prestigious wines of Bordeaux or Burgundy, along with their chateaux, being bought by the Chinese.

But the most unsettling development so far just took place on Dec. 4.  Emmanuel Macron, Minister of the Economy, signed an agreement with a Chinese consortium granting it 49.99 percent of the capital of the Toulouse airport.

It is a disastrous business move by the French government.  Toulouse is the country’s fourth largest airport.  Extensive work has just been completed at a high cost.  The airport has been a money-making undertaking, so why sell it for a dismal 308 million – the price of one Airbus?

The answer is simple: France is under extraordinary pressure from Brussels to lower its deficit.  It needs money.

The new giant facility will handle 20 million passengers a year, multiplying by five the number of Chinese tourists visiting France, with direct flights to several Chinese provinces.  Anybody, who has ever been to the “pink city” (pink is the color of the stone) on the banks of the Garonne with its quaint historical districts, will feel shocked by this decision.

Besides, Toulouse is the European capital of aeronautics as well as an important center of nuclear and spatial research.  A large Chinese presence in the neighborhood understandably makes some people nervous.

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

Talking Transportation: The Toughest Job in Transportation

Who do you think has the toughest job in transportation?  Airline pilots?  Long-haul truck drivers?  Metro-North conductors?    To my thinking, the toughest job is being an airport TSA agent.

Forget the recent furor over revised Transportation Security Administration rules soon to allow small knives in carry-on luggage.  The plastic knives the flight attendants distribute in snack-packs in-flight are already sharp enough to slit a throat.  By not worrying about every pen-knife and nail clipper, TSA agents should have more time to concentrate on truly lethal weapons.

A far bigger threat to aviation security is liquid explosives and non-metal knives.  Ceramic knives are undetectable on magnetometers, which is why the TSA brought in those full-body scanners we love so much.

But I think a bigger threat to aviation safety is the public’s anger at the TSA agents who are just doing their job.  After a thorough TSA screening at an airport last month I saw an angry passenger literally curse at the agent.  That passenger wasn’t pulled aside and given a retaliatory body cavity search. To her credit the agent kept her cool and didn’t even get into a verbal fight.  Could you be so thick-skinned?

It’s been 13 years since 9/11.  Have we forgotten what can happen when determined, armed terrorists take over a plane?  The TSA screens 1.8 million passengers a day.  If just one of those fliers got an undetected weapon onto a plane and blew it up, imagine the uproar.

Remember the holy triad of service:  fast, good and cheap.  You can achieve any two of those, but not all three.  Clearly, the top priority is “good” security.  So in this era of sequestration, we’re unlikely to see quality compromised for speed or lower cost.

If you want to fly, put up and shut up:  put up with the long lines while the agents do their jobs properly to keep you safe and keep your mouth shut.

What do all these TSA inspections do, aside from create long lines and frustrated fliers?  They turn up an amazing amount of weapons.  The TSA’s weekly blog makes for fascinating reading.

In one recent week alone the TSA intercepted 32 firearms, 27 of them loaded, and 10 stun guns.  There were clips of ammo, brass knuckles and (no surprise) sheer stupidity:  a passenger flying out of San Juan told the ticket agent that her bag contained a bomb and she was going to blow up the plane.  After an inspection by the TSA, her bag didn’t have a bomb.  But as a result of her threat, the ticket counter, checkpoint and terminal were closed for nearly an hour, inconveniencing thousands.  And there were, as the TSA blog put it, “consequences” for the flier.

Holiday travel is stressful enough without compounding things by arguing with those just trying to keep you safe.

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 CommuterActionGroup@gmail.com   For a full collection of “Talking Transportation” columns, see www.talkingtransportation.blogspot.com

Share

Letter from Paris: The UK and Europe: Divided, We Stand Together … for the Moment

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

France and the rest of Europe look at the United Kingdom with some envy: the UK is currently enjoying a three percent growth in its economy, unemployment as low as six percent, a paired down number of civil servants and the dynamism of the City as a world financial center.  No wonder young entrepreneurs and students are flocking to Britain from the continent.

This week the spotlight was on Prime Minister David Cameron.  On Nov. 28, he gave a resounding speech to an industrial audience in the West Midlands.  The main thrust of his message was to stress the inability of his country to absorb hundreds of thousands of refugees and job seekers.  He announced that, if reelected in May 2015, he will renegotiate the terms of the UK’s membership of the European Union (EU).  In the case of refusal, he would organize a referendum on “Brexit” (the colloquial expression for British exit).

To control immigration, his demands include the expulsion of  immigrants still jobless six months after their arrival in England and a four year waiting period for new immigrants before they can receive benefits, tax  credits or social housing .

David Cameron’s position in regards to the surge of immigration should not be singled out. An increasing flow of migrants is taking place around the world, from Australia  to America.  In Europe, the phenomenon is compounded because of several circumstances: sub- Sahara persons fleeing for political or economic reasons, refugees escaping the Middle East military conflicts and finally, the recent surge of migrants from Eastern to Western Europe (228,000 this year — the highest number ever registered.)

According to the “Schengen Zone Agreement”, Rumania and Bulgaria, which joined the European Union in 2007, had to wait until Jan. 1, 2014, to enjoy full rights to travel and apply for work within the Schengen space.  This explains the spectacular increase in the number of immigrants from those countries to England during the past nine months – increases respectively of 468 percent of Rumanians and 205 percent of Bulgarians.  Government corruption, hard to integrate “Romas” and a lagging economy in both those countries explain why other EU members are reluctant to open the flood gates too soon.  This week David Cameron sent a special message to the Polish Prime Minister, Ewa Kopacz, to reassure that his demands would not apply to job seekers from her country.

On Nov. 25, the Pope, speaking in the EU Parliament in Strasbourg,  admonished the Europeans for being too egoistic and urged them to coordinate their immigration policies.  The Mediterranean, he said, should not become a cemetery.  Stressing human dignity, the Pope puts immigration at the center of his message.  The choice of Lampeduza as his first trip out of Rome was symbolic.

David Cameron is under pressure from the Euro-skeptics  and the conservative UKIP (UK Independence Party).  It is clear he is ready to moderate his demands since he does not want to sever links with the EU.  The desire to negotiate is also strong on the other side of the English Channel.

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

Reading Uncertainly? ‘Average is Over’ by Tyler Cowan

Average_is_Over_by_Tyler_CowanTired of vapid novels featuring uninteresting characters that cannot manage in this complex world of ours? Then try Tyler Cowan’s, Average Is Over, (Dutton, New York 2013), which has the sub-title, Powering America Beyond the Age of the Great Stagnation, to give you a jolt of reality! I read it earlier this year.

Cowan gives us a fresh, both pessimistic and optimistic, view of our future, using frequent analogies to the game of chess in this engaging book. We appear to live in a current situation of diminished job opportunities with low wages for most and extremely high wages for the few.

As Cowan states, “It’s becoming increasingly clear that mechanized intelligence can solve a rapidly expanding repertoire of problems,” but at the cost of growing unemployment. And the larger question is “can mechanized intelligence” help us solve the problem of supporting our population of 7.2 billion, possible increasing to 10 billion by 2050? We already recognize the scarcity of “quality land and natural resources, intellectual property, or good ideas about what should be produced, and quality labor with unique skills.” But are we actually “overloaded with information,” stunting our ability to deal with the future?

Cowan writes a wide-ranging challenge to our futures, pointing out that, “Risk taking in humans . . . tends to bring out sweat and emotion.” It also stimulates both fear and hope, as those involved in risk management can confirm. Four of his chapters warrant serious attention.

Chapter 5, Our Freestyle Future, confirms the radical changes in the availability and quality of information. He notes the “most frequently consulted ‘doctor’ in the U.S. today is Google!” Cowan concludes that “human-computer teams are the best,” that “the person working the smart machine doesn’t have to be an expert in the task at hand,” and that “knowing one’s own limits is more important than it used to be.”

Chapter 6, Why Intuition Isn’t Helping You Get a Job, suggests we should “be skeptical of the elegant and intuitive theory,” and that “we should revel in messiness.” I particularly like that latter admonition, given the clutter in my own office. He also warns “the advances of genius machines (IBM’s Watson, for example – my comment) come in an uneven and staggered fashion.”

Chapter 9, The New Geography, confirms that “outsourcing” has always been a practice. It goes in all directions. And “immigration is vital to the future economic vitality of the United States.” After all, we are all foreigners … save for the few remaining native Americans. But can we, globally, manage increasingly free movement of our species?

Perhaps his most challenging chapter is 10, Relearning Education, in which he challenges almost all the current models. MOOCs (Massive Open On-line Courses) create an entirely “new world of competitive education, based on interaction with machine intelligence.” Cowan predicts the future of education will be underwritten by the following concepts: online education will be extremely cheap; it will be more flexible; there will be major profits from teaching innovations; and, finally, it will allow much more precise measurement of learning.”

Our “human instructors” will be “much more important for motivation, psychology, and teaching pacing” than in the past. They will become “a mix of exemplars and nags and missionaries.” With three of our children and their spouses involved in education, this chapter has special pertinence.

There is nothing, my friends, nothing quite so stimulating as a complete challenge to old convictions!

Felix Kloman

Felix Kloman

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

Share

Letter from Paris: Gambling on Impressionism

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

One could describe the exhibit as intimate.  Only 80 paintings hang in the small rooms of the Musée du Luxembourg, some of them never seen before.  The style is familiar. the colors are soft, the scenes are peaceful — we are in the Impressionists’ world to meet old friends: Monet, Manet, Degas, Sisley, Pissarro, Eugene Boudin, Renoir, Berthe Morisot, Mary Cassatt.

poster for Musee_de_luxembourg_ExhibitThe title of the exhibit is, “Paul Durand-Ruel. The Impressionist Gamble – Manet, Monet, Renoir,”  and it tells the endearing story of the first art dealer in history … and also one of the most influential.

The artwork is stunning: in “Le Pont à Villeneuve -la-Garenne,”  Sisley creates the fluidity of the water by using multicolor brush strokes and in Renoir’s dance scenes, 1883, couples twirl around happily, women’s eyes bright, their ruffled dresses contrasting with the dark suits of their older escorts.   “Liseuse” by Monet  shows a young woman sitting on the grass, enveloped by vegetation, spots of light dots her pink dress and in “Le Foyer de la Dance,” Degas’ dancers warm up, others are stretching, while, in the foreground, a little old lady, slouching in a chair is reading a newspaper.  Nearby another painting is identical, except for the empty chair — the little old lady is gone.

The story behind the artwork is equally fascinating.  Durand-Ruel (1831-1922) became an art dealer by accident.   Attracted to a military career, he entered Saint Cyr (equivalent of West Point) but  renounced for medical reasons.  He was struck by the paintings of Eugene Delacroix exhibited at the 1855  Exposition Universelle (World’s Fair). He became fascinated by the artists who were refused access to the official Salon of the Academy of Fine Arts because of their innovative techniques.

In 1871, Paul met Monet and Pissarro in London where they had taken refuge from the Franco-Prussian war.  After his return to Paris, he visited Manet in his studio, liked his work so much that he bought 23 of his paintings at one go.  The Luxembourg exhibit includes two of Manet ‘s major works:  “Clair de Lune at Boulogne” and “Le Combat du Kearsage et de l’Alabama”.

Left alone after the his wife’s death, he turned his art dealership into a family business with his five children.  He opened galleries in London, Brussels, New York and later, Berlin.

In 1874, a group of young artists – who were given, at that time, the collective term of ‘Impressionists’ – showed their work for the first time together in the studio of   photographer Nadar.

Durand-Ruel fought to help the artists, both morally and financially, and became their friend. He borrowed money to purchase their paintings. He offered his living room on Rue de Rome to a penniless Monet and lent him money to move to Giverny. Years later, when he was rich and famous, Monet wrote, “We would have starved to death without Paul. ”

In 1886, the American Art Association invited him to organize an exhibit in New York.  It was a success and became the first official recognition of the Impressionists.

One cannot help compare the story of such a life to the speculation around art today and to the giant art fairs (like Art Basel) when  intermediaries are commissioned by owners with deep pockets.

The exhibition at the Musée de Luxembourg continues through Feb. 8, 2015.

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

Letter from Paris: New European Union Commission Leadership Faces Rocky Road

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

On Nov. 1, following the mandate of Manual Barroso (2009-2014) from Portugal, the 12th Commission of the European Union (EU) moved into its headquarters at the Berlaymont  in Brussels.

The selection process of the Commission – the key institution of the EU and a formidable machine employing 25,000 persons – has greatly changed since its beginnings in 1951.  The mandate was shortened from nine years to five ;  whereas the president of the Commission used to be designated by the Council of Ministers (equivalent to the present European Council), he (or she) )  is now elected by the Parliament.  A major turn in the composition of the Commission took place in 2004 with the addition of 10 new members from Central and Eastern Europe.  The present rule assigning one commissioner per country creates an odd situation: Malta, with a population of 400,000, has the same representation as Germany with a population of 82 millions.

Jean-Claude Juncker from Luxemburg, a member of the European People’s Party, was elected by the Parliament with 422 votes out of 751 as the new president of the Commission.  Angela Merkel strongly supported him.  Linguistically and culturally he stands half way between France and Germany – a real asset for the most important official of the EU.

Upon his return from the G20 summit meeting in Brisbane, Australia, in mid November, Juncker had to face the “Luxleaks” crisis exposed by the press.  Forty international newspapers, including Le Monde, the Guardian and the Suddentsche Zeitung, investigated the tax breaks granted by Luxemburg to 340 multinationals, like Google, Apple or Amazon.  Yuncker’s critics said that, while he was serving as prime minister and minister of finances, Luxemburg became the leading tax haven of Europe.  To put an end to these practices, the “rulings” – holding companies and other devices used for tax “optimization” – were suspended.  As the new president of the Commission, Yuncker reaffirmed his commitment to fight tax evasion.

The post of commissioner of economy and budget was given to Pierre Moscovici, the former French minister of economy. The choice seems ironic since France almost flunked the rule imposed by the Pact of Stability and Growth requiring a deficit of 3 percent of the GDP (France’s deficit has reached 4.4 percent)

The new High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs is Federica Mogherini , 41,  a diplomat with an impressive record.  Her intention to improve relations with Russia was not appreciated by some of the Eastern European countries.

Tibor Navracsics, a former minister with the ultra conservative Hungarian government was to become commissioner of culture, but his nomination was voted down by the Parliament.

It is a tumultuous time for the new team of the EU.  In the guidelines he presented to the plenary session of the Parliament in July 2014, Jean-Claude Yuncker set his priorities as follows: a plan of public and private investment of 300 billion over three years to stimulate the economy, harmonizing budgetary policies of the member states and coping with the explosive surge of refugees.

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

Talking Transportation: Promises Still Not Kept

Someone once said:  “Judge me by my actions, not my words.”  So let’s do just that, comparing recent rhetoric to reality when it comes to Metro-North.

EXPANDED SERVICE:     During the election campaign much was made of a promised expansion of off-peak train service, growing from one train an hour to two.  But when the new timetable came out Nov. 9, riders found that the 14 newly added weekday trains don’t stop at five stations:  Southport, Greens Farms, East Norwalk, Rowayton and Noroton Heights.

Despite pleas from the CT Commuter Rail Council, the Connecticut Department of Transportation chose to skip those stations to save 10 minutes’ running time between New Haven and Grand Central Station.  There was never an expectation that the new trains would be semi-express, just a promise of expanded service.  What happened?

ADEQUATE SEATING:     Though we now have more rail cars than ever before, thanks to delivery of the new M8s, many trains still don’t have seats for every passenger.  The railroad’s own “Passenger Pledge” promises every effort to provide adequate seating, and Metro-North’s statistics claim that 99.6% of all trains have enough cars.   So why the standees?

ON TIME PERFORMANCE:         Yes, safety should always come first.  But October saw only 86.7% of trains arrive “on time” (defined as up to six minutes late).  In the morning rush hour, On Time Performance was only 82%.  And this is despite three timetable changes since the spring, lengthening scheduled running times to reflect new Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) speed restrictions.  They keep moving the ‘target’ and still can’t get a bulls-eye.

SAFETY:       After taking its lickings from the Federal Railroad Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board, Metro-North has proclaimed it’s a new day at the railroad, that a new “culture of safety” is ingrained in its employees.  But in early November, a collision was avoided by seconds after track crews erected bridge plates in front of an oncoming train at Noroton Heights.  And there have been at least three incidents of conductors opening train doors that were off the platform where commuters could have fallen and been injured.

RELIABLE SERVICE:        The new M8 cars are performing well.  But diesel push-pull service on the Danbury and Waterbury branch lines has been unreliable.  September saw several locomotive fires and break-downs, stranding passengers or forcing “bustitutions” (bus substitutions).

COURTEOUS EMPLOYEES:      Most Metro-North staff do a great job under often-times difficult circumstances.  But there are clearly some employees who either hate their jobs, their customers or both.  Hardly a week goes by without The Commuter Action Group hearing complaints about surly conductors snapping at passengers.  Yet it’s hard to complain because these staffers violate railroad rules requiring them always to wear their name badges.

It’s been a year since a sleepy engineer drove a train off the tracks in the Bronx, killing four and injuring 70.  As Metro-North President Joe Giulietti himself acknowledged, the railroad has lost the trust of its customers.  Rebuilding goodwill, like the infrastructure, will take years.

Jim Cameron

Jim Cameron

 

JIM CAMERON has been a Darien resident for 23 years.  He is the founder of the Commuter Action Group and also serves on 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, see www.talkingtransportation.blogspot.com

Share

Letter From Paris: The Dangers of Drones

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

Something strange happened lately in the skies of France:  drones were spotted over several nuclear plants, including one dangerously close to Paris in Nogent sur Seine.  A few days later more drones flew over nuclear complexes.  A wave of anxiety gripped the public opinion.  Who was manipulating those machines?  Was the country under threat?

Greenpeace was immediately suspected of being the one to operate the unmanned contraptions.  As a pro-environmental watchdog this international association has a history of peaceful action against nuclear power.  In 2012, a paraglider had landed on a nuclear installation to prove that the installation was not well protected.  In July 2013, 29 activists broke into Tricastin nuclear plant, in southern France.  Yannick Rousselet, head of the anti-nuclear Greenpeace campaign, vehemently denied any involvement this time in a television interview.

If Greenpeace had nothing to do with it, the question remained, who did?  A few days later, three individuals suspected of operating the drones, were arrested.  So, for now, the fear is defused.  But it was a wake-up call of a potential danger.

The most advanced drone technologies are found in Israel and the US.  To obtain current and accurate information, I interviewed a French engineer who used to work with a German company manufacturing drones.  He told me that 10 years ago, all of them were built for military use, mostly for reconnaissance and surveillance.  They included the HALE (High Altitude Long Endurance), MALE (Medium Altitude Long Endurance), tactical drones and portable drones for use in ground combat.  The Israeli Watchkeeper with sensors and camera can fire missiles and bombs from sometimes thousands of miles away.  Today drones have become a necessity in wars taking place in huge territories such as Mali.

France is at the cutting-edge of research but lacks funds to develop its ideas.  As an example, Dassault designed the NEURON and produced one model, whereas the American PREDATOR, built in 2010, has already flown one million hours.

European countries are catching up with drone technology.  On Nov. 5 of this year, François Hollande and David Cameron attended the signing of an agreement between Dassault Aviation and BAE Systems (British Aerospace and Marconi Electronics Systems) for a new generation of drones.  Germany and Italy will be part of the project in the future.

miniature-drone

Today civilian drones exist in all sizes and degrees of complexity.  Drones called “Insects” (see photo above) are so small that they can be held in the palm of the hand.  The  Chinese DJI Fantom flies like an helicopter with quadrotors,  carries a remote camera and is very popular with the general public.  Drones have become invaluable at times of natural disasters to test the strength of bridges, in mapping, archaeology and multiple other uses.

But they can be dangerous, for example, causing the crash of commercial airplanes by entering the reactors.  When a drone fell less than six feet from Angela Merkel during her political campaign in Sept. 2013, people realized that a drone was anything but a toy.

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

Talking Transportation: Commuters Have Clout

The recent elections have shown Hartford an important fact:  the 120,000 daily riders of Metro-North have political power.

The Commuter Action Group, of which I am founder, endorsed only five candidates for election and they were all winners.  (Trust me, there were many others seeking our endorsement, but they didn’t have the track-records (pun intended) to warrant our support.)

Those we backed have long supported mass transit. They have fought for more funding and understand their commuting constituents’ frustrations.   All we did was remind voting commuters who were their real friends in Hartford versus those who were just paying lip-service to the issue during a campaign.

While I have disagreed with him in the past (and will probably do so again), Governor Malloy was an easy choice.  His opponent was just the latest dilettante billionaire to be chosen by the GOP (remember Linda McMahon’s two runs for office costing $97 million?), by-passing experience political veterans.  Tom Foley was just clueless, saying such things as “we spend too much on mass transit” and surrounding himself with “yes-men” advisors.  Even his fellow Republicans on the ballot couldn’t talk sense into him.

What would give Foley or McMahon, neither of whom have ever been elected to anything, the idea that their track records as CEO’s would qualify them for the job of Governor?   A CEO can snap his fingers and say “do this or you’re fired”, but a Governor has to deal with a legislature, and in Foley’s case, it would have been of the opposing party.  Good luck with that.

Trust me … I am not a fan of one-party rule.  With their huge majority and deep pockets I think the Democrats in this state have become abusive bullies.

So why does the GOP keep choosing these kinds of candidates, aside from the fact that they can bankroll their own campaigns?  What a shame that veteran State Senator John McKinney didn’t get a chance to run against Malloy. McKinney was very strong on transportation issues. That would have been an interesting race.  Maybe in 2018?

Because we are non-partisan, the Commuter Action Group also endorsed three Republicans … State Senator Toni Boucher and State Rep’s Gail Lavielle and Tony Hwang, as well as Democrat Jonathan Steinberg.  They were all winners, not because of our endorsement but because we helped remind commuters they have been strong allies in Hartford.

What did we ask for our endorsement?  Only a single pledge:  that, if elected, they would promise to do something never done before… to caucus, Republicans and Democrats together, with fellow lawmakers from electoral districts representing commuters.

It was amazing for me to learn that doesn’t happen… that R’s and D’s from Fairfield County never get together to present a united front against up-state lawmakers’ attempts to cut funding for our trains.  Well, it will happen now!

Back in the dark days of February when the Commuter Action Group was formed, I reminded Hartford lawmakers that if they didn’t come to the rescue of our trains, that commuters would “remember in November” who their friends were.  And clearly they did.

Jim Cameron

Jim Cameron


Editor’s Note:
Jim Cameron has been a Darien resident for 23 years.  He is the founder of the Commuter Action Group and also serves on 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, see www.talkingtransportation.blogspot.com

Share

Tunisian Election Outcome Offers Remarkable Example to Countries Dealing With Terrorism, Violence

Nicole Prévost Logan

Nicole Prévost Logan

Map_of_tunisiaTunisia did it again!  This small country in North Africa was the one to start the Arab Spring in December 2010.  On Oct. 26 of this year, the parliamentary elections marked the return to some degree of normalcy after a difficult period of assassinations and violence.

The latest elections revealed a “collective intelligence,” to use the words of a French political scientist – the result of a well established civil society.  Instead of a single party hijacking the political scene, the people voted for several parties.  The liberal party Nidaa Taures won with 38 percent of the votes.  In order to reach a majority of 109 seats in the parliament, it is willing to form a coalition – quite unusual in this part of the world.

The Islamist party Ennahda secured second place with only 28 percent of the votes and 69 seats — or 16 seats less than in the previous election.  Wisely it  conceded defeat.  How to explain the resistance of the population to the Ennahda program?

The answer lies for a large part in the key role played by women.  They spearheaded the resistance against the strict enforcement of the Sharia or moral code, which limits their rights in many areas: inheritance, divorce, veil and regulations on clothing, custody of children, adultery sanctioned by stoning or “honor killing,” right to travel, right to open a bank account, and access to higher education, etc.

In the text of the constitution approved in January 2014,  Ennahda had reluctantly agreed to replace the expression “complementarity of men and women” by “equality for all.”  A journalist had the nerve to make the following extraordinary comment, “This was a small victory for a few Tunisian feminists”.

Tunisian_flagThe “Personal Status Code,” which was installed by president Habib Bourguiba in 1956,  had given empowerment to Tunisian women, thus making them the most emancipated in the Arab world.  This revolution was at the center of his program in order to model his country on Kemal Ataturk’s vision of a secular  and modern country.  Incidentally, it is interesting to note that both Turkey and Tunisia have almost identical flags.  Bourguiba is said to have remarked at one time, “… the veil – that odious rag.”

Tunisia can be considered to-day as a bulwark between a dangerously chaotic Libya and an Algeria unable to control terrorism (on Oct.14, a  Frenchman visiting the rugged mountainous area south of Algiers, in order to train young Algerians to become mountain guides, was taken hostage and  beheaded two days later.)   In other words, Tunis is of great importance not only as a model of democratic process coexisting with a moderate Islam but also, one hopes, as an oasis of stability for the whole area.

Nicole 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

Reading Uncertainly? The Narrow Road to the Deep North

Narrow Road to the Deep NorthRichard Flanagan, an Australian writer born in Tasmania, whose father survived labor for the Japanese in the Second World War, has written a compelling, mesmerizing and thoroughly memorable novel of that period.  And it is the 2014 Man Booker Prize winner!

The Aussies in the story are led by Dorrigo Evans while his physician officer tries to save his troops from starvation, disease and beatings as they attempt to build a rail line for the Japanese through the jungle from Siam to Burma.  They are controlled by a few Japanese, consumed with love for their country, their emperor and for the poet Matsuo Basho, whose most famous work is the title for the book.

You will remember the names: Darky Gardner, Rabbitt Hendricks, Rooster MacNeice, Wat Cooney, Gallipoli von Kessler, Jimmy Bigelow and their captors,  Colonel Shira Kota, Major Tenji Nakamura, Lieutenant Fukihara and The Goanna, Corporal Aki Tomokawa.  Flanagan follows many of them, plus Evans, in shifts of perspectives and time, from present to past, with uncanny ability to maintain our interest and understanding.  But did any of them really understand what they experienced?

It is a story of obedience and disobedience. The Aussies (and many of us from the West) are intuitively and culturally critical of authority: when an order is issued, their (our) first instinct is to ask “Why?”  The Japanese, and many Eastern cultures, in contrast, are taught to revere “authority.”  Their reply to an order is an immediate “Yes!”  Flanagan explores this natural friction, one that seems to continue even after the war.

Dorrigo Evans’ inability to connect with family and friends after the war is explained with these words:

“It did not fit within the new age of conformity that was coming in all things, even emotions, and it baffled him how some people now touched each other excessively and talked about their problems as though naming life in some ways described its mysteries or denied its chaos. He felt the withering of something, the way risk was increasingly evaluated and, as much as possible, eliminated, replaced with a bland new world where the viewing of food preparation would be felt more moving than the reading of poetry; more excitement would come from paying for a soup made out of foraged grass.”

Evans goes on: “Adversity brings out the best in us  . . .  It’s everyday living that does us in.”  And he gives us the perfect conclusion to this novel: “A good book, he had concluded, leaves you wanting to reread the book.  A great book compels you to reread your soul.”  The Narrow Road to the Deep North comes close to “the elegant mystery of poetry.”

And it is the poetry, the haiku, of Matsuo Basho that intrigues both Evans and his Japanese captors.  So that inevitably led me to his The Narrow Road to the Deep North (in Japanese: oku no hoso-michi) his story of a 1689 walk from Edo (now Tokyo) north along the east coast of Japan, then northwest through the mountains, and finally southwest by the Japan Sea.  In it are some of the poet’s most memorable haiku. Consider these:

Furuike ya  Old pond

Kawisu tobikomu  Frog jumps in

Mizu no oto  Sound of water

Flanagan incorporates Basho with a line late in his novel: “ . . .  the fish fell into the sound of water.”

Natsugusa ya  Summer grasses

Tsuwamono  domo ga  All  that remains

Yume no ito  Of mighty warriors’ dreams

And Flanagan’s final sentence: “Of imperial dreams and dead men , all that remained was long grass.”  I suspect I may well have missed other allusions to the poet’s famous haiku.

And for a more recent view of Basho’s walk, try Lesley Downer’s story of retracing his steps in the early 1980s.

A novel to read, reread and think on.  Rightio, mates!

Editor’s Notes: Book details are as follows:
Richard Flanagan, The Narrow Road to the Deep North, Alfred A. Knopf, New York 2014
Matsuo Basho, The Narrow Road to the Deep North, translated by Nobuyuki Yuasa, Penguin Classics, Baltimore 1966
Lesley Downer, On the Narrow Road, Summit Books, New York 1989

Felix Kloman

Felix Kloman

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

Share