August 31, 2015

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

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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.

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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.

jcollinsnew_square_headshot

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 www.suismanshapiro.com or call (860)442-4416.

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

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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.

Dunno.

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.

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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.

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

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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.

Ratatouille

Slightly adapted from recipe of Beverly Picazio of Stonington

Yield:

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.

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Reading Uncertainly: ‘How The Mind Works’ by Steven Pinker

How_the+Mind+WorksWhy is reading, at least for me, so soothing, stimulating and confusing, all at the same time? Why does my mind react so strangely at times to what I am reading?

Four years ago, I tried Steven Pinker’s monumental (some 800 pages of small type!) suggestion that we humans are actually becoming less violent, in The Better Angels of Our Nature. So it was only natural that I stepped back in time to read How The Mind Works, his equally long tome of 1997, updated to 2009, describing the innumerable quirks and ramblings that emanate from inside our heads.

A noted professor of psychology at Harvard University, Dr. Pinker attempts, and succeeds, I think, in synthesizing, “An emerging view of human nature,” one replete with frequent humor, quotations from numerous other sages (ranging from Plato and Pascal, to Bierce and Mencken, including Monty Python, Peanuts and Woody Allen!), and solid scientific evidence.

But he begins on a “note of humility,” saying, “We don’t understand how the mind works and I have not discovered what we do know about how the mind works.”

He cautions, “… our minds are not animated by some godly vapor or single wonder principle.” We do know, “the mind is a product of the brain and the brain is a product of evolution.” That leads him to “the central idea … that the mind is a system or naturally selected organs of computation.” He notes, “We increasingly understand ourselves in terms of the inner workings of our minds, their origins in the natural world, and their interplay with the contents of culture and civilization.”

Pinker explains further: “The mind is a system of organs of computation, designed by natural selection to solve the kinds of problems our ancestors faced in their foraging way of life; in particular, understanding and outmaneuvering objects, animals, plants and other people.”

Many of his succinct “definitions” made me come to a complete halt, frequently with a laugh, followed by serious reflection:

The tongue: “a boneless water balloon, controlled by squeezing.”

The computer: “the most legalistic, persnickety, hard-nosed, unforgiving demander of precision and explicitness in the universe.” (Could a computer actually become a “thinking machine?”)

Life: “a series of deadlines”

Winter: “the best insecticide”

Our brains: “… take up only two percent of our body weight but consume 20 percent of our energy and nutrients.”

Information: “…  the one commodity that can be given away and kept at the same time.”

Mathematics: “… ruthlessly cumulative.”

The stock market: “a large industry of self-appointed seers hallucinating trends in the random walk of the stock market.”

Jewish dietary laws: “Talmudic sophistry and bafflegab”

Status: “the public knowledge that you possess assets that would allow you to help others if you wished to.” (But Pinker notes that these “assets” must be conspicuous to be of any use …)

Music: “an enigma – a cocktail of recreational drugs that we ingest through the ear to stimulate a mass of pleasure circuits at once.”

And humor: “an anti-dominance poison, a dignicide.”

But “problems continue to baffle the modern mind: consciousness in the sense of sentience, the self, free will, knowledge, and morality.” Pinker suggests that you “step outside your own mind for a moment and see your thoughts and feelings as magnificent contrivances of the natural world rather than as the only way that things could be.”

And comments in conclusion, “Our bafflement at the mysteries of the ages may have been the price we paid for a combinatorial mind that opened up a world of words and sentences, of theories and equations, of poems and melodies, of jokes and stories, the very things that make a mind worth having.”

We human beings, surmounting by our minds, are extraordinary, complex and yet strange adaptations.

What a read!

Editor’s Note: ‘How The Mind Works,’ by Steven Pinker is published by W. W. Norton, New York 2009.

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.

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Talking Transportation: Transportation News Updates

It’s time to update you on some of the hot topics we’ve discussed in recent weeks:

MALLOY’S TRANSIT LAND GRAB:
Remember the Governor’s stealth proposal for a “Transit Corridor Development Authority,” described by some as “eminent domain on steroids”? Well, the initial idea to allow the state to acquire any land within a half-mile of train stations was modified, then killed in the legislature. I predict it will be back.

BRIDGE WOES:
Just as planning begins to replace Norwalk’s 118-year-old railroad bridge, which opens but doesn’t close, another ancient bridge is suffering the same engineering arthritis. On July 1st the Devon Bridge in Stratford was raised but wouldn’t close, delaying every train that ran across it for days. Estimated replacement cost, $750 million.

STAMFORD GARAGE:
It has been two years since the CDOT tapped Darien developer John McClutchy as their choice to demolish the old rail station garage. (That announcement came 10 days after, just coincidentally, McClutchy’s wife donated $10,000 to the state Democrats.) But a final deal has yet to be signed for reasons unknown, so any work is still many months away. Meanwhile in April of this year the old garage was crumbling so badly that the CDOT closed it for safety inspections. Those inspections were completed, but the garage is still closed, displacing 700+ daily commuters.

THIS IS “SAFETY FIRST”?
On June 29, Metro-North allowed two trains to run toward each other on a single track just south of New Canaan. Fortunately they stopped before a collision and one of the trains backed up and out of the way. When reporters first asked Metro-North what happened, they insisted nothing was wrong. Later, they described the incident as “undesirable train routing”, an amazing euphemism for a near collision.

TAKEN TO COURT IN HANDCUFFS:
Is it reassuring to passengers to see MTA conductors and engineers on a “perp walk” for the news media? Thirteen current and former employees of the MTA were taken to court last week, indicted on charges of cheating on safety exams that were testing their knowledge of signals, speed limits and safe operation of trains. The cheating ring ran for more than two years in a period just before Metro-North was hit with a series of derailments and collisions. Eight different exam cycles were compromised before the MTA’s internal investigators started their probe.

HOW LATE WAS YOUR TRAIN?
When the 11:39 p.m. left Grand Central on the night of July 1, passengers settled in for a nap en route to Stamford and a 12:48 a.m. arrival. But instead of taking one hour, their journey took three. Near Woodlawn, the train entered a section with inoperative third-rail and coasted to a halt. The train sat there for 90 minutes before a rescue train arrived, taking 40 minutes to pull them to a station where passengers got on another train. To their credit, the crew did pass out water to the stranded passengers … never a good sign when you’re on a stranded train.

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

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Legal News You Can Use: Man’s Best Friend (?) and the Law

Dog with LeashThe state of Connecticut is very strict about the keeping of dogs.  In addition to requiring all dogs to be licensed and leashed, Connecticut has what is known as strict liability as to injury that may be caused by man’s best friend.  Section 22-357 of the Statutes provides:

“If any dog does any damage to either the body or property of any person, the owner or keeper … shall be liable for such damage except when such damage has been occasioned to the body or property of a person … who was committing a trespass or other tort or when the person was teasing, tormenting or abusing such dog.”

So, the law specifies that the dog has the right to defend its owner’s property against a trespasser and no one has the right to abuse a dog.  This is called Strict Liability, because if a dog causes harm, the victim does not have to prove that the dog was of “known vicious propensities” as is required in some states.  Or as it is known in those states, “the dog is entitled to its first bite.”

Connecticut’s Strict Liability law only applies to the owner or keeper of the dog.  However, victims of dog bites are not limited to the owner or keeper of the dog.  If the victim can show another person, e.g., a landlord, was aware of a known vicious dog kept by his tenant, the landlord could be held personally responsible, similar to the other states described above.  This is called the common law.

Insurance

Homeowner’s insurance has traditionally provided coverage for injuries caused by the owner’s dog.  However, with the growing popularity of special breed dogs, e.g., Pit Bulls, Rottweilers, Akitas, etc. more insurance companies are excluding such breeds from coverage or excluding all dogs completely.

Apartment dwellers can also obtain tenant’s insurance with the possibility of exclusions as in homeowner’s insurance.  Of course, where these are such exclusions, special endorsements to include dogs can be obtained, for an extra premium, of course.

Damages

The usual cases we see arise from dog bites which can be quite serious.  Risk of infection, even rabies is always a possibility – therefore any dog bite should be reported to the dog warden/animal control officer/police so the dog can be quarantined for the proper length of time.  Medical attention should be sought immediately, especially if the skin is broken.

Next the identity of the dog and its owner should be obtained – from its license and/or the Town Clerk.

Any witnesses should be identified and contact information be obtained.

Next, any injury should be photographed.  Frequently, we employ a professional photographer because scarring and disfigurement are difficult to portray accurately and realistically.

Cosmetic surgery may be required or recommended.  This may be problematic for children as surgery may have to wait until their teens.  Meanwhile, children must live with scars and disfigurement, which can be psychologically traumatizing.

There will be medical bills, which, if paid for by health care insurance, may have to be reimbursed.  Future medical costs also may have to be considered.

So although a dog may be man’s best friend, it’s usually your own dog, not the other guy’s dog.

Editor’s Notes: i) Attorney Matthew Shafner is a Director at Suisman Shapiro Attorneys-at-Law in New London, and a nationally recognized lawyer in the fields of personal injury, asbestos injury, maritime injury and workers compensation law. Contact him at mshafner@sswbgg.com or (860) 442-4416.
ii) Suisman Shapiro Attorneys-at-Law is the largest law firm in eastern Connecticut, serving the community for over 75 years with a wide range of legal services.  For more information, visit suismanshapiro.com or call 860-460-0875.  Suisman Shapiro is located a 2 Union Plaza, P.O. Box 1591, New London, CT  06320.

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A Number of Nibbles: Strawberry Recipes Galore and Corn Chowder

#1

strawberries_compressedIt has been a pretty wonderful seven-day period. My daughter had given me tickets to see Bette Midler at the TD Center in Boston, along with a lovely room at the Onyx, right next to the arena. I took my daughter-in-law, Nancy, with me. We had a wonderful dinner at Bricco, walking distance to both hotel and Bette, loved the show, and had cocktails at 11 pm in the hotel lobby.

We slept ‘til 9:17 the next morning, then heading home, she via Amtrak to pick up her car at GE and I in my car to Connecticut.  (If you are a dog lover, Onyx, a Kimpton Hotel, not only allows pups in the rooms, but the manager’s own 100-pound-plus Alaskan malamute greeted all visitors and looked into my handbag to see if there was anything good to eat.)

On the way home, I stopped at Whittle’s in Mystic to buy strawberries, but it was not open and didn’t look like it has plans to do so.  I hope I am wrong.

Instead, I drove down to East Lyme and bought two quarts of gorgeous, ruby-red berries, hulled them, mashed about a quarter of them, added a little water and a little sugar. Four hours later I juiced the strawberries, used half of them along with rhubarb to make a crisp, and then froze the berries and juice separately for next winter.

As I mentioned last week, I will do that often before the season is gone.

I found two new recipes for the strawberries, both simple, as all recipes should be in the summer. I also found out that rhubarb can also be frozen easily: wash it, cut the bottoms and tops, slice the stalk into one-half to one-inch pieces and froze in plastic bags.

Strawberry Rhubarb Compote with Greek Yogurt
From Ina Garten Make It Ahead (Clarkson Potter, New York, 2014)

Yield: serves 4

1 pound fresh strawberries
2 cups fresh rhubarb, three-quarter-inch-diced
1 and one-half cups sugar
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
Pinch of kosher salt
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
17 ounces \Greek yogurt, for serving
Good granola

Hull the strawberries and cut them in half or. If large, in quarters. Place the berries and rhubarb in a small (9-inch) heavy-bottomed pot and heat over medium-high heat. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the juices release from the fruit and start to boil. (Winter fruit doesn’t release as much juice as it does in the summer, so you may need to add one-quarter cup of water.) The fruit should still remain most of its shapes. Off the heat, stir in the sugar, lemon juice and salt and stir to combine. Cover pot tightly and allow preserves to sit overnight at room temperature.

The next day, bring the preserves to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, until mixture thickens (it will be about 220 degrees on a candy thermometer. Stir in orange zest and serve warm or cold over Greek yogurt and sprinkled with granola.

Strawberry Sour Cream Sherbet

From Moosewood Restaurant Book of Desserts (Clarkson Potter, New York, 1997)

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

1 pint fresh strawberries, hulled and rinsed
Three-quarter cup sugar
1 cup sour cream
One-half teaspoon pure vanilla extract

In a food processor or blender, puree strawberries until smooth. Add sugar and whirl for another minute. For best flavor, refrigerate for about an hour. Stir sour cream and vanilla into the strawberries and whisk well until smooth.

Transfer to an ice cream machine and freeze according to manufacturer’s directions. Store in freezer in a covered container until ready to serve.

Note: the sherbet can be served straight out of the ice cream maker, but it keeps well in the freezer, too. If your freezer is particularly cold, let the sherbet soften a little, at room temperature or in the refrigerator before scooping it.

#2

Oh, summer is here and native strawberries are in. I haven’t bought them yet, but I will buy quarts during the next couple of weeks. I will come up with a new recipe for you in my next column.

In the meantime, here is how to freeze native strawberry juice so you can add it to those not-so-wonderful strawberries next winter: Take a quart of strawberries, wash them, hull them and cut them in half (or smaller if they are big), put them in a stainless steel bowl. Mash about a quarter of them, add maybe a quarter cup of sugar and about half a cup of water; stir the mixture. Put the bowl on the counter and let them marinate for a couple of hours. Pour the juice into little Mason-type jars. Put the lids on and freeze them.

When you buy those winter strawberries, thaw the juice and mix it with the berries. Close your eyes and pretend it is summer.

I did have my first fried oysters at Starboard Galley in Newburyport, Mass. Within days I will have my first lobster roll at Captain Scott in New London or, depending where I am, at Lobster Landing in Clinton. At Captain Scott’s, the roll goes to the geese or swans or gulls as I eat the lobster. I love gulls.

In any case, summer is here. This afternoon I thawed (and drained) about a pound of sweet corn kernels I had frozen last summer. I cooked a corn chowder I hadn’t made in years. It was absolutely delicious. I still have about five or six pounds of corn and will make this often until it’s time for native sweet corn, maybe four weeks from now?

Corn Chowder
Adapted a lot from an 1964 edition of Joy of Cooking

corn-chowder_compressedOne of the best things about this recipe is there is no butter or heavy cream in this recipe. Sure, some salt pork for flavoring, but this is pretty healthy after all.

Yield: serves 6 to 8 as a main dish with a salad and maybe some good bread

2 tablespoons olive oil
6 to 8 ounces salt pork, diced
one-half cup chopped onions
one-half cup chopped celery
1 green pepper, seeded and chopped
1 and one-half cups peeled diced raw potatoes (with Yukon Gold, you needn’t peel)
2 cups water
one-half teaspoon salt
one-half teaspoon paprika
1 bay leaf
3 tablespoons flour
1 cup milk*
6 to 8 ears of fresh corn, blanched for 2 minutes in boiling water, then drained in iced water
3 cups hot milk*
chopped fresh tarragon (fresh tarragon if you have it, dried if you don’t)
salt and pepper to taste

Pour oil into a heated heavy-bottomed stock pot, add salt pork and saute until browned. Add onions, celery and green pepper and saute until lightly brown, Add potatoes, water, salt, paprika and bay leaf and simmer until potatoes are soft, around 15 minutes. Add flour and 1 cup of milk and stir until mixture is thick.

Remove kernels from ears and add kernels to stock pot, along with hot milk. Toss fresh chopped tarragon into soup. Taste and adjust for seasoning.

*I used 2 percent milk, but 1 percent might be fine

#3

One of the most amazing about cooking is learning how little you actually know, or how much you can still learn. Last Sunday I went to the Gordons for leftovers. I have already said, in print, that going to Michael and Joan’s  for leftovers is better than having dinner at my house before leftovers.

Among the leftovers were chicken filled with pancetta and cheese, a scalloped potato dish with fresh mussels (trust me, it was luscious) and a fava bean and chickpea salad.

Flossie Betten had brought  a yeast bread with onions, black olives, chopped tomatoes and dried chiles that was terrific, but even better was her strawberry-rhubarb pie made just for us. I make that, too, but hers was way better.

The pie was a one-crust dessert, filled with the filling and topped with a crumble. Here are the differences: the crust was an all-butter one with the addition of a little sugar and cold buttermilk (instead of water.)

For the topping she added shredded coconut instead of nuts. She added some of the topping into the filling. For the filling, she added brown sugar and granulated sugar and some cornstarch.

Now, I make my crust in my food processor. I quadruple the recipe of my topping and freeze most of it in little baggies. I am going to give you the recipes for the filling and the topping.

Please e-mail me at leeawhite@aol.com for her crust recipe and my own, which Deb Jensen gave to me years ago

Strawberry-Rhubarb Filling and Topping
From Flossie Betten of Norwich

Filling

3 cups one-inch thick slices rhubarb (about 1 pound)
1 pound strawberries, hulled and sliced in half
One-third cup light brown sugar
One-half cup granulated sugar
One-quarter cup cornstarch
Large pinch salt
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

In a medium bowl, toss together all the ingredients. Toss until all the fruit is covered in a coating of sugar and cornstarch. The cornstarch will disappear and the sugars will begin to make juice with the fruit. Allow to rest at room temperature while you make the toppings.

Topping

Three-quarter cup all-purpose flour
Three-quarter cup old-fashioned oats
Two-third cup granulated sugar
Large pinch of salt
8 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small chunks
One-half cup unsweetened coconut flakes

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, oats, sugar and salt, Add cold butter chunks and, using your fingers, work the butter into the flour mixture. Quickly break the butter into the mixture until well incorporated. Some butter bits will be the size of peas and smaller. Add the coconut and toss to combine.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. When the crust is in the pie pan, add a handful (about one-half cup) of topping into the fruit filling and toss. Dump the fruit mixture into the pie crust. Top generously with topping mixture. Place on a preparing baking sheet. ( I put the baking sheet in the oven while preheating to give the bottom of the pie a bit of a searing.) It is important to use the middle rack because if the pie is too close to the top of the oven, the coconut will burn quickly.

Bake in a preheated 400 degree oven for 20 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake for another 35 to 45 minutes, or until the pie is juicy, bubbling and golden brown.

(Please e-mail me at leeawhite@aol.com for two crust recipes. Also, Oronoque makes an incredible frozen pie crust. I have at least three of them in my freezer at all time.)

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A Number of Nibbles: Places to Go – Chester Farm Market, St. Sophia’s Greek Festival & JAMMS

#1

Chester Farm Market
Sundays, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., June 2 through October 2

Chester sunday marketI know summer is here when the Chester Farm Market opens, I missed the first, but I will be there every Sunday ‘til fall. This year they have closed Main Street, there is music and the tents are full of gorgeous food and incredibly nice people. Friends and I spent almost an hour there (my friends say it takes that long because I have to pet every dog there, and there were quite a few).

This year, in addition to produce, there is a dairy with fresh milk (in bottles!) and the most delicious yogurt you’ve ever tasted. At the Hay Person’s tent, there were beautifully flowers and handmade jam. There was lots of honey, a lot of lettuces and seafood.

The amazing thing, to me, was the bread. Howard Kaplan had not only baguettes but bialys. Joan and I bought all that were left.

I got two boules from Alforno’s Bob Zemmel and Linda Guica (some of which we ate with fresh radishes, salt and butter at home). At Simon’s Market, we shared mozz, tomato and basil sandwiches on salt-encrusted bread that was chewy enough to give our teeth a workout. And Charlie van Over wasn’t even there with his incredible baguette. We are one fortunate shoreline denizens.

#2

St. Sophia’s Greek Orthodox Church Festival

st sophia NewLondonSome years ago the congregants of New London’s St Sophia Greek Orthodox Church had a serious problem: the church’s needed a new roof and the cost was mighty expensive. Their solution was to have two Greek Festivals instead of its annual fundraiser in order to help raise money to pay for the new roof.

Because both were so successful, there are now two festivals each year. I have never missed one, although I know people who go six times at each of the festivals, from lunch on Wednesday until the last on Friday night.

In June I went with friends. I had lemon chicken soup, moussaka, spanakopita and one cookie.

I never eat the stuffed grape leaves because they are simply not as good as those made by my daughter-in-law and her mother. I have made it myself with their recipe. If you e-mail me (leeawhite@aol.com), I will send the recipe to you.

And if you know where I can find real grape leaves (instead of the jarred ones), I will be forever grateful.

#3

J.A.M.S.S.
1522 Boston Post Road
Old Saybrook, CT 06475
860-510-0839

jamss_fruit_3I do head south quite a few times during the week on I-95, though rarely on weekends in the summer. I had errands to run and decided to have lunch at J.A.M.S.S in Old Saybrook.

Ooops, it had moved, but not too far away. It now has a much bigger kitchen and dining room and serves breakfast all day. (By the way, their breakfasts may be better than those at Kitchen Little.)

But it was lunch. The menu and specials are fabulous, and I chose a soup and half a sandwich—the former cream of mushroom and the latter curried chicken salad with halved grapes. For a side I opted for macaroni salad.

Everything at J.A.M.S.S is housemade, by the way. The sandwich was the best ever, as was the macaroni salad (almost as good as Gloria Pepin’s recipe). But the mushroom soup was pure heaven. I asked to buy a pint to take home; sadly, I had gotten the last bowl and there was not a soupcon left.

Service was terrific: pleasant and knowledgeable waitstaff, including a 6’8” waiter who just finished his freshman year at Kenyon College. And, yes, he does play basketball.

 

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Reading Uncertainly: ‘Amnesia’ by Peter Carey

Amnesia by Peter CareyPeter Carey’s latest view of our future is either ominous or optimistic. I’m inclined to the optimistic — good on ya, mate!

And how could I not read this novel, since the lead character is named “Felix”?

Felix Moore is an aging, cantankerous, left-leaning newspaperman, who is caught in the middle of an international computer hack, the “Angel Worm,” purportedly engineered by the daughter of an old friend.

He is “commandeered” into writing a biography of the young lady to try and help her escape both prison and expatriation to the United States.

First, Carey’s words are a colloquial and colorful evocation of Oz. Back in 1988, my wife and took a four-month sabbatical to Sydney, and, to prepare for it, I read an Australian history and some of its novelists. First on the list: Oscar and Lucinda, Carey’s 1988 winner of the Booker Prize, and that naturally led to reading, over the ensuing years, nine more of his works. I’m hooked.

In the 40 years covered by this story, Amnesia opens up a more complex Oz. I’ve been to Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne, walked their streets and beaches like Baudelaire’s loyal flaneur. I’ve strolled alongside the Yarra River, rowed and sailed on Sydney Harbor, chartered a powerboat on the Hawkesbury River, lived in Neutral Bay and Mosman.

The places in this novel recall many scenes. But it requires frequent checking of local state maps for Victoria and New South Wales: have you heard of Katoomba, Coburg, Rozelle, Wodonga, Pittwater, and Wiseman’s Ferry? I had to look them up …

And strange birds interrupt conversations: magpies (including a robotic one!), kookaburras, whipbirds, lorikats, king parrots, butcherbirds, pelicans and cockatoos. Sounds from trees, too. Australia is a noisy country.

Underlying this tale is computer hacking, “…  a new type of warfare where the weapons of individuals could equal those of nation states.” Edward Snowden is the most obvious recent example, along with the Sony releases, following Julian Assange.

Carey seems to suggest that this may be the wave of the future. He shifts back and forth from the first to the third person, never uses quotation marks, and hits the reader with short, punchy chapters of two to four pages. And throughout is a latent skepticism of the United States and its continuing intercessions around the world. John LeCarre has also drifted in this direction.

He writes of the elusive and complex young woman hacker, “She was born into the Anthropocene age and easily saw that the enemy was not one nation state but a cloud of companies, corporations, contractors, statutory bodies whose survival meant the degradation of water, air, soil, life itself.” The ominous implication — elusive, ubiquitous malware, worming its way into every nook and cranny of our lives.

On the other hand, can anyone or any state hide anything any more?

Oh yes, I did learn how to pronounce the name of Gough Whitlam, Australia’s prime minister in 1975. It sounds like “cough!”

The Economist thinks Amnesia may corral Carey a third Booker Prize this year, following Oscar and Lucinda and True History of the Kelly Gang. Read any or all of his books.

Editor’s Note: Amnesia by Peter Carey was published by Alfred A, Knopf, 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.

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Talking Transportation: The End Did Not Justify the Means

As someone who has battled two decades for more spending on transportation, you’d think I would be happy with the state’s new biennial budget.  But when you drill down into the details, there’s reason for concern.

Governor Malloy promised a down-payment on his $100 billion transportation dreams.  And he did get one-half of one percent of the state sales tax repurposed for that … but it only pays down the Connecticut Department Of Transportation’s  enormous debt service.

That must have come as a surprise to his recently appointed Transportation Funding Task Force which is just getting started.  Why have a taskforce when you’re playing a shell game with transportation funds?

Not kept was the Governor’s promise for a “lock box” on the Special Transportation Fund.  Nor did he keep his promise to not raise taxes, having the chutzpah to blame the legislature for that when it was very clear that the budget’s new taxes were negotiated by his team with his blessing.  As the Governor signs the new budget into law, he owns those hikes and broken promises.

There will be tax hikes on the middle class, sin taxes (cigarettes and Keno – a tax on ignorance) and corporations.  You know it’s bad when GE, Aetna and Travelers all scream in pain, though they’ll doubtless be paid off to stay put just as UBS was paid $20 million years ago.

Any budget that narrowly passes the House 73-70 and the Senate 19-17 in an “emergency vote” without debate bears closer scrutiny, especially in a state with one party so clearly in control.

CT-N’s coverage of the marathon two-day final session showed lawmakers who were deliberately sleep deprived, kept at their desks all night debating measure after measure until they were exhausted.   Sleep deprivation is a great interrogation technique for terrorists but no way to pass new laws.

I am told that Democrats who did not toe the party line on this budget and threatened to vote “no,” were told to “go home,” rather than cast a negative ballot.  Indeed, in the final House tally eight lawmakers did not vote, some because they were said to be “sick,” others because they were “absent on other business.”  What legislator misses the final ballot on a two-year, $40 billion budget that passes by a single vote?

So divisive was the final debate, the Governor didn’t even have the guts to speak to lawmakers after the budget session ended, a long-standing tradition.

I have respect for the office of Governor, but also believe strongly in open, transparent government “of the people, by the people.”  Beware the tyranny of any one party when majority power is so brazenly wielded and the public ignored.  Governor Malloy did deliver on his promise to start funding long-neglected transportation projects.  I just disagree with the way he did it.

Keep your eyes on the prize but embrace the process.  Whatever good came out of this year’s budget process, those ends did not justify the means.

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 only his own.  You can reach him at CommuterActionGroup@gmail.com   For a full collection of “Talking Transportation” columns, see www.talkingtransportation.blogspot.com

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Talking Transportation: Collecting Fares Using the Honor System

Connecticut’s newest mass transit system, CTfastrak, is off to a great start.  The bus rapid transit system running from New Britain to Hartford is carrying up to 10,000 passengers daily.  Mind you, that’s coming off of its debut week when all rides were free.

In fact, it’s the fare collection process on CTfastrak that makes it innovative:  it’s on the honor system.

Unlike most buses, CTfastrak passengers pay before getting onboard, purchasing tickets ($1.50 for two hour’s use) at the stations or online.  This reduces the “dwell time” at each stop as passengers can board through any door. A similar system is running in NYC on certain “Select Bus” routes and seems popular.

But without paying a fare to the bus driver as you board, how do they know you have a ticket?  Ah, there’s the rub.  The “honor system” relies on “Fare Inspectors” making random checks.  Getting caught without a valid ticket means a $75 fine, though in these early days they’re mostly giving warnings.

Only a handful of US transit systems have adopted the honor system for fare collection, including the San Diego Trolley and the MUNI subway in San Francisco. In Minneapolis getting caught on a bus without a ticket is a $180 lesson in “doing the right thing”.

In Los Angeles, the Metro had so many problems with free-loaders they converted to turnstiles. Even a $250 ticket for fare evaders didn’t encourage payment, resulting in a $9 million loss in ticket sales. And the fare there is only $1.50.

On Metro-North, fare evasion doesn’t seem to be a problem.  If you don’t have a ticket, they’ll just throw you off the train (at the next station, of course).  Or get an MTA cop to issue a fine.

Until a few years ago you could buy a ticket on the train for the same fare as on the platform.  That meant wasted time for conductors and a “money room” at Grand Central processing a million in cash each week.  Now if you don’t have a ticket and buy one on the train, there’s a $5.75 – $6.50 penalty… even on a $2 ticket.  Senior citizens get a break, as do those boarding at stations that don’t have ticket machines.

The bigger problem on Metro-North is uncollected fares. The railroad admits it loses money by not collecting all tickets … but less money than it would cost to properly staff trains with enough conductors to collect them all.

Most infuriating is when trains from Grand Central leave Stamford.  Everyone can see that dozens of commuters got off there and scores more got on.  But the new arrivals’ tickets are seldom collected unless conductors have issued seat checks to the original NY passengers.

Watching someone traveling from Stamford to, say, Bridgeport get a “free ride” is like watching someone shoplift in a store.  You just know you’ll be paying more to subsidize their larceny, with neglectful conductors as their willing accomplices.

href=”https://www.ftc.gov/faq/consumer-protection/get-my-free-credit-report”>credit report before quoting us a fare?

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 only his own.  You can reach him at CommuterActionGroup@gmail.com   For a full collection of “Talking Transportation” columns, see www.talkingtransportation.blogspot.com

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Reading Uncertainly: Kenko, “Essays in Idleness,” from The Tsurezuregusa of Kenko, (1332?)

KenkoOccasionally, I find myself compelled to drift into the past, seeking older words of wisdom. I was therefore drawn to Kenko, a Japanese Buddhist priest who wrote these words some 700 years ago: “The pleasantest of all diversions is to sit alone under the lamp, a book spread out before you . . . “ How true!

In these Essays, he leads with repeated cautionary admonitions: “The most promising thing in life is its uncertainty,” following that later with “A man is more likely to seem a true master of his art if he says, ‘I cannot tell for certain.’ “  And he concludes: “The one thing you can be certain of is the truth that all is uncertainty.” Yet today how often do we hear politicians, commentators, and ourselves state “absolutely,” “exactly,” “emphatically,” “certainly,” and unequivocally.” So much for uncertainty …

Here are a few more delicious Buddhist quotations:

  • “People tend to exaggerate even when relating things they have actually witnessed, but when months or years have intervened, and the place is remote, they are all the more prone to invent whatever tales suit their fancies, and, when these have been written down, fictions are accepted as fact.”
  • “What a foolish thing it is to be governed by a desire for fame and profit and to fret away one’s whole life without a moment of peace. Great wealth is no guarantee of security. Wealth, in fact, tends to attract calamities and disaster. Even if, after you leave enough gold to prop up the North Star, it will only prove a nuisance to your heirs . . . . The intelligent man, when he dies, leaves no possessions.”
  • “If you trust neither in yourself nor in others, you will rejoice when things go well, but bear no resentment when they go badly. You will then have room on either side to expand, and not be constrained.”
  • “In everything, no matter what it may be, uniformity is undesirable. Leaving something incomplete makes it interesting, and gives one the feeling that there is room for growth.”

So this brief comment is deliberately left incomplete, to encourage you to try Kenko!

Editor’s Note: Kenko, “Essays in Idleness,” from The Tsurezuregusa of Kenko, (1332?), as edited and translated by Donald Keene, is published by Columbia University Press, New York, 2nd edition, 1998.

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.

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Legal News You Can Use: What Do You Mean — I Don’t Have Enough Insurance?

Car Crash
In our personal injury practice we frequently deal with clients injured in automobile accidents. Frequently (and sadly), we often have to explain to severely injured people that their insurance may be inadequate to compensate them for their injuries. Thus, part of our initial client consultation is spent reviewing – and trying to simplify – Connecticut’s laws dealing with liability and uninsured/ underinsured motorist coverage.

Our job is to zealously advocate for our clients . . . and to provide good counsel.  So, let’s cover some basics (different rules may apply for commercial and fleet policies):

1. What is “liability coverage”?
This coverage protects the negligent operator and/or owner of a vehicle for injuries caused by negligent operation of the vehicle up to the amount of the purchased coverage limit. This coverage is generally found in Part A of your policy.

2. What is uninsured motorist (UM) coverage?
Connecticut law (C.G.S. 38a-336) provides that that each automobile liability insurance policy shall provide uninsured motorist coverage with limits equal to the policy’s “liability” limits. Uninsured motorist coverage provides protection and compensation to the driver and/or passengers in a vehicle if they sustain injuries and the negligent tortfeasor (“the bad guy”) does not have insurance. This coverage is generally found in Part C of your policy.

3. What is underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage?
UIM coverage provides protection for the same occupants in the event that the tortfeasor does not have enough insurance. Connecticut law requires that the tortfeasor only needs $20,000 in liability coverage.

4. What’s the cost for UM/UIM coverage?
When the liability limits and UM/UIM limits are the same most companies charge a premium for UM/UIM coverage that’s significantly less than the liability premium. Check Part C of your policy declarations page and compare that premium to Part A; it’s often 60-75% less. It’s less because insurance company actuaries have determined that you are less likely to use UM coverage than liability coverage.

5. Should I purchase UM/UIM coverage which is lower than my liability coverage?
The short answer: No. Connecticut Law allows you to reduce your UM/UIM coverage. Don’t do it.  UM/UIM coverage is designed to protect the operator, passengers and family members (and in some circumstances, pedestrians) associated with your vehicle. The cost is much cheaper than the liability coverage premium.

6. Can I purchase higher UM/UIM coverage?
Yes you can . . . and should. Generally, as you purchase more insurance the premium cost becomes cheaper per $1,000 purchased.  Connecticut law allows you to purchase UM/UIM coverage which is double your liability limits. Thus, if you have a $100,000 liability policy, you may elect to purchase $200,000 in UM/UIM coverage. If you can afford it, you should do so for your own protection.

7. What’s the difference between straight UIM coverage and conversion UIM coverage?
Under Connecticut law your insurance carrier is allowed to reduce from your UIM recovery any amount paid to you by the tortfeasor. Here’s how it works:  let’s assume that you have an injury for which $100,000 is fair compensation. Further assume that the tortfeasor has a $25,000 liability policy and that you have a $50,000 straight UIM policy.  You would think that you could collect $25,000 from the tortfeasor and $50,000 from your UIM carrier. Wrong!  If you have a straight UIM policy your carrier can deduct the $25,000 from your $50,000 policy, leaving you with $25,000 from the tortfeasor and $25,000 from your carrier. . . to compensate you for your $100,000 injury. Conversion coverage eliminates the ability of your carrier to claim a credit for money you receive from the tortfeasor. Thus, you could collect $25,000 from “the bad guy” and the full $50,000 from your policy.  Better yet, if you had double UIM conversion coverage ($50,000 x2 = $100,000), you could receive $25,000 from the tortfeasor and up to $100,000 from your carrier, thus fully compensating you for your loss.

There are many local insurance agents who can arrange coverage for you. The intent of this article is to simply better educate you on the need for, and issues surrounding, uninsured motorist and underinsured motorist law, so that you can make a better informed decision to protect you and your passengers in the event that the need to use such coverage should arise.

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 www.suismanshapiro.com or call (860)442-4416.

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

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Talking Transportation: Personalized Airfares

Last time we were talking about mass transit systems collecting fares on the honor system.  This time, something completely different.  But to understand it, consider this analogy:

Let’s say you’re in a store shopping for a commodity.  You and another shopper each select one of the same items at the same time and head for the cashier.  But before you can pay, the cashier asks for your name and some identification.

You’re from Darien or New Canaan and a new customer.  The other shopper is from Hartford, but a regular at the store.  The cashier plugs in that info and you’re told that your purchase will cost 10 percent more than the other shopper’s.

What?  Well, welcome to the world of “personalized prices”.

You may not realize it, but this happens all the time when you’re buying gasoline, thanks to “zone pricing” where gas stations charge higher prices in more affluent communities, not just in Connecticut but nationwide.

And giving discounts to “best customers” is also quite common.  Monthly pass holders on Metro-North pay only half of what their peak fares would cost purchased separately.

But never before have these concepts been combined in some secret algorithm to apply to purchasing airline tickets … until now.

IATA, the International Air Transport Authority, has petitioned the US to allow its 250 members to capture and use new kinds of personal information about would-be flyers before quoting them a fare.

Most frightening of these could be some sort of “means test.”  In other words, as in a bazaar when the salesman sizes you up and asks, “How much do you want to pay?” the airline would figure out that answer itself based on your zip code and flying patterns.

So if you live in a rich town, they’ll assume you can pay more and quote you higher fares while folks in poorer communities are offered discounts.

To his credit, our US Senator Richard Blumenthal along with others in Washington are questioning the fairness, if not the legality, of all this.  They’ve written to the US Transportation Department asking if this plan isn’t hurting more consumers than its helping.

Airline flights have never been fuller.  Because they’ve shrunk their fleets and customer demand has come back, almost 80 percent of all seats are full on domestic and international flights.

Gone are the glory days of my mis-spent youth when students could fly “stand-by” hoping for an empty seat just before departure in return for a 50 percent discount. That only worked because planes were empty.

Today the incentive to get a cheap seat is to book early, weeks in advance, not to show up at the last minute hoping to find an empty seat.  There are none.

But to price the same seat bought at the same time at two different prices simply because of shoppers’ demographics seems unethical … if not illegal.

Airlines are not allowed to discriminate on the basis of race, gender, national origin.  So why would we allow them to, in effect, look at our credit report before quoting us a fare?

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

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Reading Uncertainly: ‘Let Me Be Frank With You’ by Richard Ford

let me be frankLet me be frank with you, Frank: you are a bystander, a passive yet sensitive observer of the daily stream, but frustratingly disconnected!

“Frank,” of course, is Frank Bascombe, Richard Ford’s complex and compelling character who has now reached the age of 68. Ford first introduced him to us in The Sportswriter in 1986, when he, his wife and son moved from New York to “Haddam,” New Jersey (in reality Princeton, without the university) as he tried a new career as a novelist. That failed, his wife divorced him and he lost his son.

Frank resurfaced in Independence Day in 1995, when he took his second son for a quick tour of the Halls of Fame in Springfield and Cooperstown, just before the Fourth of July. This one included a delicious put-down of the town of Deep River! He had then become a real estate agent in Haddam.

And in our Millennium Year of 2000, in The Lay of the Land (published in 2007), Frank found a new wife, only to see her depart, had prostate surgery and, in this three-day story, tried to celebrate Thanksgiving as a 55-year-old in his new home on the Jersey Shore, still working in real estate.

Let Me Be Frank With You is the fourth in the series (doesn’t this remind you of John Updike’s Rabbit Angstrom?) and we find Frank back in Haddam, his second wife returned, as he interacts, still passively, with four unusual characters.

The first is Arnie Urquhart, a college classmate whose Jersey Shore house (it used to be Frank’s) has been demolished by Hurricane Sandy (Sandy, it seems, is a major character in this set of novellas). The second is Charlotte Pines, a woman he finds knocking on his Haddam door, an ex-resident of that house in which her family was killed. Then we reconnect with Ann Dykstra, his former wife, who has returned to Haddam to an “extended care facility” to cope with her onset of Parkinson’s. And finally we share Frank’s visit with Eddie Medley, an old friend who is in the final stages of dying.

Throughout these sessions Frank remains the foil, yet a remarkable observer of every facial tic, bodily motion and surrounding sights, smells and sounds: crows jousting in a tree, a trash truck grinding debris, auto horns, laughter next door. He just never seems connected. He’s open to everything …

But his stock answers in conversation are: “I don’t know. Maybe.” “It makes me realize how remote I am.” “All is frankly enigma.” He is an aloof reporter experiencing a syncopation of senses and sounds, in the middle of brief conversations.

Frank acknowledges his advancing age: “ . . .  the ‘gramps shuffle’ being the unmaskable, final-journey approaches signal.” And “as you get older things slide away, like molasses off a table top.” And “ . . . life’s a matter of gradual subtraction.” And someone asking of you “Are you okay?” He thinks: “No more grievous words can be spoken in the modern world.”

His self-description: “I am: a man who doesn’t lie (or rarely), who presumes nothing from the past, who takes the high, optimistic road (when available), who doesn’t envision the future, who streamlines his utterances (no embellishments) and in all instances acts nice.”

But Frank winds into all this a marvelous sense of humor, often acidic: An “extended care facility: Nothing’s bleaker than the stingy, unforgiving one-dimensionality of most of these places; their soul-less vestibules and unbreathable antiseptic fragrances, the dead-eyed attendants and willowy end-of-the-line pre-clusiveness to whatever’s made life be life but that now can be forgotten.”

Hurricane Sandy seems to be the primary stimulant of Frank’s aging recollections. As he notes, “There’s something to be said for a good, no-nonsense hurricane, to bully life back into perspective.”

But Ford’s Frank Bascombe lives on! Will we see a fifth view of him one day soon … perhaps at 80?

Editor’s Note: Let Me Be Frank With You by Richard Ford is published by Harper Collins, New York 2014.

Felix Kloman_headshot_2005_284x331-150x150

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.

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Legal News You Can Use: Is Your Teen Gearing Up For A Driver’s License?

Teen_with_drivers_licenseYoung people ages 15-24 represent only 14% of the U.S. population. However, they account for 30 percent ($19 billion) of the total costs of motor vehicle injuries among males and 28 percent ($7 billion) of the total costs of motor vehicle injuries among females.1

The risk of motor vehicle crashes is higher among 16- to 19-year-olds than among any other age group. In fact, per mile driven, teen drivers ages 16 to 19 are nearly three times more likely than drivers aged 20 and older to be in a fatal crash.2

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the leading causes of teenage crashes are as follows:

  • Driver inexperience
  • Driving with teen passengers
  • Nighttime driving
  • Not using seat belts
  • Distracted driving
  • Drowsy driving
  • Reckless driving
  • Impaired driving

Confronted with these staggering statistics, it is only right that we take steps to address this with our children.

While the prospect of getting a driver’s license is an exciting step for teenagers, parents have to be mindful of the risks associated with young drivers in their formative years.  Unfortunately, the worry over executing the parallel park during the road test should be the least of parents’ concerns.  It is ever so important for parents to instill in their teenagers the responsibility that comes along with driving an automobile.  This is especially true considering the wide range of distractions present now as compared to the recent past.  For instance, we all recognize the growth of multi-media applications regularly accessed and used by teens on their cell phones, IPods or tablets.

Parents must be resolute in setting forth ground rules with their young drivers.  Driving is, after all, a privilege – one that perhaps we take for granted, but that endows us with civic and personal responsibility.  Do our young people truly internalize these concepts? Do they understand the power inherent with operating a motor vehicle? Do they consider the consequences of aggressive driving? We were all there once.  Our focus at sixteen or seventeen was the freedom and fun associated with getting a driver’s license.  I would submit that young folks today have similar interests.

You should not be timid or embarrassed to lay down strict rules with your teenage drivers.  Our children are the center of our lives and we’ll do anything to protect them and ensure their safety.  It’s not important to be the cool parent.  Perhaps consider one or more of the following suggestions for ground rules:

  1. Your teenager does not have to get his/her license at the very moment he/she is eligible. If he/she is not working or not participating in an activity that would require transportation not otherwise available, perhaps consider waiting.  This would be especially true for parents who feel that their child is not ready for the responsibility that comes along with driving.
  1. While it may seem obvious, reinforce the seriousness of driving under the influence. The topic should not be taboo, but rather one that parents should broach with their children.
  1. You should determine the friends that you trust to drive your teenager. Whether it’s to after-school practice, the movies or a part-time job, make sure you are comfortable with the friend or teammate who is driving your child.  Once again, do not be afraid to prohibit your child from travelling with another teenager who you don’t fully trust.
  1. Take the opportunity to establish a vested interest in the eyes of your teenager. If your child has a job, perhaps mandate that he/she contribute to the car payment, insurance or repairs.  The obvious benefit is that the teenager will appreciate the privilege of driving.
  1. Practice good driving habits as parents. For the first 16-18 years of his/her life, your child has been observing you driving.  We can be an example for our children by practicing good driving habits.

Driving can be an amazing and fulfilling adventure for a teenager.  In many cases it ushers in rich experiences, both for social and vocational advancement.  It must, however, be approached with care and responsibility and the parents’ role is vital. If we try our best to send this strong message of responsibility and safety, it will go a long way toward ensuring that the driving experience of our young people is fruitful.  Being the caring and loving parent is more important than being the cool parent.

Editor’s Note: Attorney Bryan Fiengo is a Director at Suisman Shapiro whose practice concentrates in the areas of criminal law (including DUI defense), employment law and general litigation. To contact Bryan Fiengo, email him at bfiengo@sswbgg.com or call (860) 442-4416.

Suisman Shapiro Attorneys-at-Law is the largest law firm in eastern Connecticut, serving the community for over 75 years with a wide range of legal services.

1Finkelstein EA, Corso PS, Miller TR, Associates. Incidence and Economic Burden of Injuries in the United States. New York: Oxford University Press; 2006.

2Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Fatality facts: teenagers 2012. Arlington (VA): The Institute; 2012 [cited 2014 Sept 29].

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