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Category: Opinion & Reader Forum

CORRECTION!

A story in last week’s issue about the North Arlington Board of Education mandating school uniforms for its students misidentified BOE President George McDermott. He is a police dispatcher.

Thoughts & Views: Hey, LEGO, put on a happy face

lego

From the Department of You Can’t Make This Stuff Up: Down under, at New Zealand’s University of Canterbury, the head of its Human Interface Technology lab has been studying the faces on LEGO mini-figures.

I am not sure exactly what Human Interface Technology is, but it apparently has something to do with “improving human computer interaction.

” I’m not sure what that is either, but the first thing I thought of was:

‘’Hello, HAL. Do you read me, HAL?”

“Affirmative, Dave. I read you.”

“Open the pod-bay doors, HAL.”

“I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.”

But I digress.

The HIT expert, Dr. Christoph Bartneck, has reportedly examined 3,665 LEGO minifigures produced from 1975 to 2010 and has discovered what is, to some, an alarming trend.

According to the university’s website, he found: “The number of happy faces . . . is decreasing and the number of angry faces is increasing.”

So?

Said Bartneck, “Children’s toys and how they are perceived can have a significant impact on children. We cannot help but wonder how the move from only positive faces to an increasing number of negative faces impacts on how children play.”

Hey, this is important stuff. Bartneck will present a paper on his findings at the International Conference on Human- Agent Interaction, to be held in August in Japan.

Suppose we are raising a generation of children who can never outgrow the psychological effects that growly, grimacing LEGOs had on them as tykes. Eventually, I am sure, there will be a “Criminal Minds” episode based on the predations of a LEGO-warped unsub.

And LEGO’s response? According to Britain’s The Guardian newspaper, the company’s communications manager, while not directly addressing the New Zealand research, “said every toy developed by the manufacturer was tested by a range of children, while child psychiatrists, parents and teachers were also consulted.”

He also noted that in LEGO games, “the good guys always win in the end.”

And, he told The Guadian, if parents are still concerned, “they can always just switch heads with another figure.”

By the way, the name of the LEGO spokesman is:

Roar Rude Trangbæk.

You can’t make this stuff up.

On another matter entirely, up in Boston, the murder/ racketeering trial of the infamous James (Whitey) Bulger is beginning. According to The New York Times, the defendant is apparently irked most by reports he had been an informant for the FBI, since “nothing was more despicable in his insular Irish enclave of South Boston than a rat.”

This reminded me of a joke I heard during The Troubles in Northern Ireland:

Q. What do you have if you have one Irishman?

A. A secret.

Q. What do you have if you have two Irishmen?

A. A conspiracy.

Q. What do you have if you have three Irishmen?

A. An informer.

The subtle subtext of this is not that there would be an actual informer, but that (the Irish having a mistrustful streak) one of the three would inevitably begin to suspect one of the others.

This riddle was told to me by a supporter of the Provisional IRA, which I mention only because I do not wish to be accused of ethnic profiling. The Provo and I both thought it was funny.

– Karen Zautyk

WE’VE GOT MAIL

Volunteer as advocate for elderly

To the Editor:

Every day across the country and in our own community, vulnerable elderly people are being abused, neglected and financially exploited.

As New Jersey’s Long Term Care Ombudsman, I oversee a state- and federally-funded program that advocates for elderly people living in longterm care facilities, like nursing homes and assisted-living residences.

While the care and treatment of elderly individuals in long-term care facilities is strictly regulated and can be very good, these facilities are not exempt from incidents of abuse, neglect and exploitation.

Indeed, anywhere you have extremely vulnerable people, there is the potential for serious abuse.

That is why I urge anyone who is truly concerned about elder abuse and exploitation to call my office at 609-826- 5053 to find out about how to become a Volunteer Advocate in a local nursing home.

Volunteer Advocates receive 32 hours of training and asked to spend four hours a week at a local nursing home, listening to residents’ concerns and advocating on their behalf.

We have a critical need for volunteers in the northeastern part of the state – especially in Hudson County, where there are 17 nursing homes but we have just nine volunteers, and in Essex County, where there are 34 facilities but just 15 volunteers assigned.

The need is clearly there. If you are interested in having a direct impact on the lives of elderly citizens in nursing homes, please consider becoming a Volunteer Advocate.

James W. McCracken

NJ Ombudsman for the Institutionalized Elderly

Trenton

Thoughts & Views: Snooping makes the world go round

There’s been a lot of gnashing of teeth over The Guardian’s revelations about how Verizon – and probably others of that ilk – are willingly turning over customers’ electronic data to the government under the cover of the U.S. Patriot Act.

And the government is building a million square foot facility in Utah – maybe it will turn out to be our next national monument – as a repository for the multi-billions of bytes of information about its citizens (and outsiders, too), our comings and goings, who we’re talking to, for how long, etc.

Pretty sophisticated stuff.

I’ve been meaning to clean out my accumulated electronic trash for some time now. The government is welcome to it.

I guess the National Security Agency will be – if it hasn’t already done so – programming high speed computers to match up patterns of communication among terror suspects and maybe then, someone or something – after the President gives the go signal – will dispatch a drone to take out the target.

And, we’re told, at least a few people we elected to Congress bothered to read some briefing papers prepared by the people in charge of official government secrets and began worrying aloud whether this was too much invasion of our privacy and maybe a breach of the Constitution.

And the government got upset, not because maybe our individual liberties may be under siege, but because some darned government bureaucrat entrusted with national security clearance went and told some newspaper reporter about what was happening.

What with China hacking our electronic data bases and the U.S., perhaps in partnership with Israel, playing havoc with Iranian computer systems, this whole snooping business is getting really sloppy.

It reminds me of the really bad old days when the country was battling the Depression – (not like today when government economists cheered the latest unemployment rate because more people were actually going out and looking for work – imagine that!) – and Kaufman & Hart penned a daffy comedy called “You Can’t Take it with You.”

In the play, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1937, Martin Vanderhoff, the central character of an eccentric New York household says he sees no sense in paying the government income taxes because the government won’t know what to do with the money.

Another character, Ed Carmichael, makes homemade candies and prints anarchist slogans on the candy boxes, just for the fun of it.

Things go rather swimmingly for a while until a family hobby goes awry, and a big set of fireworks blows up in the basement, causing much consternation among federal gendarmes.

It all ends happily, of course, with a wealthy industrialist’s son getting hitched to a member of the daffy brood.

The point, here, is that even in what was one of America’s darkest hours, the nation gave itself permission to laugh – perhaps a bit nervously – at its own real fears while showing respect for what we, today, might refer to as “home values.”

Yes, the world can be a dangerous place but all nations can do a better job to make it safer – and healthier – for all of us who live here.

Thousands of Turks have come out to protest the proposed razing of a popular urban park slated to be uprooted by a shopping center, only to be tear-gassed by local police while the government’s leader detached himself from the situation. Simply amazing. – Ron Leir

WE’VE GOT MAIL: Avoid meat, live longer

To the Editor:

This week’s issue of Time magazine brings more documentation that vegetarians live longer than their meat-chomping friends.

A six-year study of 70,000 Seventh-Day Adventists, published in the current issue of the American Medical Association’s prestigious Journal of Internal Medicine, found that vegetarians and vegans have a 12% lower risk of death.

This is but the latest evidence linking meat consumption to diseases that kill 1.3 million Americans annually. It comes only two months after a discovery at the Cleveland Clinic that carnitine, contained in all meat products, is a major factor in heart failure.

Similarly, an Oxford University study of nearly 45,000 adults published in last January’s American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that vegetarians were 32% less likely to suffer from heart disease than people who ate meat and fish. A Harvard University study of 37,698 men and 83,644 women, published in last year’s Archives of Internal Medicine, concluded that meat consumption raises the risk of heart disease and cancer mortality. Indeed, each of us can find our own fountain of youth by adopting a meat – and dairy-free diet. An Internet search on “vegan recipes” or “live vegan” provides ample resources.

Cory Baker

Kearny

Thoughts & Views: What’s in a (street) name?

Opinion_web

 

Okay, boys and girls, our new word for today is “contumacious.” According to the dictionary, that’s: con·tu·ma·cious.

Adjective. Pronounced: kon-tuh- MAY-shuhs or kon-too-MAYshuhs.

Definition: stubbornly disobedient; rebellious .

Usage in a sentence: “The judge threatened to charge the contumacious witness with contempt of court.”

Synonyms: balky, contrary, disobedient, defiant, froward [froward? drat, now I have to look up froward], incompliant, insubordinate, intractable, obstreperous, ungovernable, unruly, untoward, wayward, willful.

First known use of “contumacious”: 1583.

That’s all it says. 1583.

Really? How do we know? Used by whom? Where? Why? In what context?

Maybe two peasants were sitting around the hearth one evening and one says, “Forsooth, mine oxen hath become contumacious.”

And his friend says: “Awesome word, dude! Did’st thou just maketh that up?

How would’st thou spelleth it?” “Spelleth?

I can’t even readeth or writeth.”

Anyway, I’d like to know the whole story. Some citation would help. The trouble with research is that it often raises more questions than it answers.

These days, the word appears to be used primarily in courtrooms and legal documents. With at least one intriguing exception.

I had an assignment at Washington School in Kearny the other day, and because I can never remember which of the Belgrove Drive schools is Washington and which is Garfield (I never said I was bright), I needed to check a map. The one shown here. On which I noticed something strange.

Look at West Hudson Park. See it? A road named Contumacious Trail.

I Googled the name and the only references I could find were on a Kearny High School alumni message board that appears to have been inactive since 2006. But there I found several postings by an A.J. Perry, with such comments as: “I . . . was quite surprised to learn that most of us on this Forum probably travelled over its half-mile length multiple times without ever knowing what it was officially called. What I couldn’t figure out was why it was called that.”

“I knew what the definition was,” Perry continued. “but was unable to match it up on a search engine with the name Kearny. It makes better sense now knowing a little more about the relationship between General Kearny and his horse! I wonder why the town never acknowledged this bit of historical trivia by putting up a simple street sign.”

The historical trivia appears to refer to another poster’s citing Gen. Philip Kearny’s having to deal with a “contumacious” horse and mule during a Western expedition. But it was only an incidental comment in a book and doesn’t appear to have much importance. Certainly not enough to warrant a street name in the Town of Kearny.

There must be more to the story. And it may have nothing to do with the general at all.

If any Kearny history buff has ever solved the mystery of Contumacious Trail, contact me at The Observer. Meanwhile, somebody please put up a street sign.

– Karen Zautyk

Thoughts & Views: Ensuring they get ‘the best years of their lives’

vets_web

 

As the nation prepares to remember America’s war dead on Memorial Day, the last Monday in May, a veterans’ advocate group in Kearny is continuing its efforts to aid and comfort our living members of the military, both active and retired.

Realizing that many veterans and their families are struggling on the homefront, VOICE (Veterans Outreach Information Community Education) – the brainchild of American Legion Frobisher Post 99 Auxiliary President Maryallyn Fisher – is marshaling a host of resources to get them back on their collective feet.

Researching records in the Kearny tax assessor’s office and using the Open Public Records Act, “we’ve identified 352 military families living in Kearny,” Fisher said. “We want to thank them for their service to our country and we want them to know we’re here to help at the American Legion.”

So far, over the course of several months, according to Fisher and outreach coordinator Bill Sweeney, VOICE has gone to bat for 19 local vets in various stateside campaigns: getting copies of service discharge papers, getting veterans’ benefits, getting hearing aids, getting legal help to document service-connected disability ratings, making medical referrals to the V.A., getting answers on a military spouses’ life insurance policies, getting housing assistance and more.

Two area veteran centers in Bloomfield and Secaucus have been particularly friendly and helpful, Sweeney said.

To deal with those returning vets who may have been traumatized by wartime experiences, VOICE has arranged to get many locals and others trained online in an intervention technique, “Question/ Persuade/Refer,” to talk to troubled vets.

So far, 15 members of the Kearny Fire Department, 10 in the Police Department, 15 at the Board of Education, Health Officer John Sarnas and about 60 employees of the Passaic public school system – where Fisher works – have done the training.

“We’re willing to train local business people,” Fisher said.

Recently, Post Commander Tony Capitti organized a local workshop conducted by the state Attorney General’s Office on its civil law military initiative. “They’re trying to fast track cases of local veterans looking to regain jobs lost because of possible discrimination,” Fisher said.

Through the Hudson County Clerk’s Office, which sponsors a veterans’ discount card program for honorably discharged vets, Post 99 held an open house on April 24, inviting local vets to apply for the card, which is accepted by certain stores in the area. “We issued 55 cards that day for discounts county-wide,” Sweeney said. “And now we’re trying to expand the program by getting more stores to participate.”

The post has scheduled another discount card drive for those who weren’t able to attend the April event for Thursday, June 6, from noon to 3 p.m., at post headquarters, 314 Belgrove Drive, opposite Veterans Field.

For those returning veterans looking for work as civilians, Sweeney said the post hopes to partner soon with Goodwill Industries in Harrison. “Goodwill will donate a suit to any vet going on a job interview,” he said.

On its website – kearnyamericanlegionauxiliary.com – VOICE has posted a host of local, state and federal referral resources available to local veterans, who are also invited to call the post Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., or Wednesdays, from 6 to 8 p.m., to talk to a VOICE representative. The contact number is 201- 991-6919.

We applaud their efforts.

– Ron Leir

WE’VE GOT MAIL

‘Hail to the chief’

To the Editor:

A page in the history of the Borough of East Newark will be turned on June 1, 2013, when the chief of the East Newark Police Department, Kenneth M. Sheehan, retires after 28 years of honorable and meritorious service to the residents. It is with this bittersweet feeling that we bid farewell to the chief. Of course, we are congratulating him on his retirement but on the other side, we know how much this man will be missed on a day-to-day basis by the mayor, Borough Council and most importantly the residents.

This writer had the honor and pleasure of meeting Chief Sheehan 22 years ago in the borough and we developed a strong rapport and solid relationship through the years both on a professional basis within official capacities and on a personal friendship basis. The chief carried out his duties with the utmost honesty, integrity and knowledge of the myriad regulations but most importantly in a kind, caring manner. And yes, when possible, the Irish wit was an added ingredient that made working with him a pleasure, not a task.

It is to be noted that Chief Sheehan is respected by all the police chiefs in Hudson County and he has also the respect and admiration of the county, state and federal authorities that he has interacted with over the years. He has the respect of the officers under his command and all who work for him state he is a “cop’s cop” standing by them.

We wish Chief Kenneth M. Sheehan and his family all of the best of health and happiness in the years to come and as he makes his last rounds on May 31 we know that he left the Borough of East Newark a safe, secure and wonderful place to live.

Robert B. Knapp

Jersey City

Thoughts & Views: Still seeking answers, 4 decades later

Steven Soden

Steven Soden

It sounds like something from a “CSI” episode, but it’s not fiction. And though the story has no (apparent) link to the area The Observer covers, you never know. Over the course of 40+ years, people can move aound a lot. Old memories can resurface. Maybe someone knows something; something they didn’t even realize was important.

In any case, the story is a fascinating, what-are-the-odds saga, and it has brought some amount of closure to a Washington State woman who once lived in a New Jersey orphanage.

In April 1972, that woman, then a young girl, and her 16-year-old brother, Steven Soden, were among 18 children from a Paterson orphanage who, along with four adults, were on a weeklong camping trip in Bass River State Forest, on the eastern edge of the Pine Barrens.

On the night of April 3, ‘72, Steven and another boy, Donald Caldwell, 12, disappeared from the campsite without a trace. In the words of law enforcement, “never to be seen or heard from again.”

Nearly 30 years later, in 2000 — and, coincidentally in April — an off-duty N.J. state trooper hiking in the park found a piece of a sneaker and several bones. These were sent to the State Police Forensic Lab, but could not be identified.

Meanwhile, detectives from the Cook County (Ill.) Sheriff’s Office have been continuing efforts to ID victims of serial killer John Wayne Gacy, who was executed in 1994 for the murders of (at least) 33 young men and boys. His rampage apparently began in 1972.

Last October, Steven’s sister, on the off-chance that her missing brother was among the Gacy victims, submitted a DNA sample to the investigators, but there was no genetic link found.

However, the forensics experts at University of North Texas Center for Human Identification put the sample in their database, found an apparent match and contacted the N.J. State Police lab and the Burlington County Medical Examiner’s Office to confirm the identity.

Steven Soden had been found.

But exactly what happened to him is still a mystery. As is the fate of young Donald Caldwell.

Is Caldwell still alive somewhere or did both boys die? Were they the victims of foul play? Of an accident or an animal attack? Or did they just get lost and die of hunger or exposure?

Bass River State Forest covers 23,563 acres, and it’s not likely two boys from urban Paterson had the wilderness skills to survive in that vastness. We don’t know if they even had a compass. And early-April weather can be unforgiving if you’re not equipped to deal with it.

Last week, New Jersey authorities announced that the State Police and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children “are continuing the investigation in an attempt to locate additional evidence” in the 40-year-old cold case.

State Police detectives “are asking the public’s assistance with any information about Donald Caldwell, Steve Soden, and the Paterson Orphanage group.”

Anyone with any information is asked to call 1-800-THE-LOST.

Yes, the odds against solving this are enormous. But so were the odds against finding and matching those bones and identifying Steven.

The ending to this story may not have been written yet.

– Karen Zautyk

Thoughts & Views: Hold government’s feet to the fire

A couple of major news stories that made headlines recently made me wonder where the United States is headed as a force for change in the world.

First, there was the devastating fire at the fertilizer plant in Texas that laid waste to much of the host town, West, and the puzzlement over what, if anything, to do about it.

Then there was the globally alarming development, reported in last Saturday’s New York Times, about the record level of carbon dioxide the world is producing through the burning of fossil fuels.

Both issues should raise concerns over what Americans stand for and how America can try to use its geopolitical power to effect positive outcomes for our planet.

In the aftermath of the tragic fire April 17 at the West Fertilizer Co. plant that killed 14 – mostly emergency first responders – and injured some 200, both Lone Star State Gov. Rick Perry and West Mayor Tommy Muska weren’t pushing for more aggressive regulation of fire codes for these facilities, of which there are said to be several hundred in the state, according to reporting by The Times on May 10.

Texas even outlaws rural counties from implementing fire safety codes. Its largest city, Houston, the Times noted, doesn’t even have zoning laws.

Maybe when you have a state with such wide open spaces, you figure you don’t need restrictions telling folks how they can live.

Texas being a super business- friendly place, I guess it makes sense that its officials would ease off pressuring factory owners to put in expensive fire sprinkler systems and provide other safety precautions.

Couldn’t Lyndon Johnson have used the same persuasive techniques he was famously associated with in the White House to push through his “Great Society” legislation to corral Lone Star lawmakers to afford their citizens more protection?

Maybe it’s all about the votes and the money.

That’s “states’ rights” for you.

But official government neglect extends to the national sphere, too.

As the Times reported on May 11, two agencies that monitor carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere – the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego – announced that the gas had reached an average daily level of about 400 parts per million.

That’s a level that, scientists say, the earth hasn’t seen in perhaps 3 million years when the planet was a lot hotter.

The time isn’t far, those same experts fear, when the ice caps will continue to melt at such a pace that the oceans and waterways will flood cities all along the coast.

All because countries around the globe – including the U.S. – aren’t doing enough to push the development of alternate technologies – like the electric car – to significant reduce the volume of that heat-trapping gas.

Yes, some nations have subscribed to international treaties pledging to get that done but where is the U.S. around this goal? Why isn’t our President sounding the alarm with more alactrity? Why isn’t the United Nations reacting? Do we just keep putting this issue off like Congress has done with sequestering?

We can’t afford to wait until we’re carried off to oblivion. Act now and don’t leave this terrible legacy for the next generation.

– Ron Leir