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Category: Opinion & Reader Forum

Thoughts & Views: Memo to NSA: I’m giving full disclosure

Having boned up on the latest endeavors of the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) to keep up with the Joneses (and Snowdens, and Mannings, and all overseas points of contact), I wish to offer my assistance.

No need to check my e-mails or cell phone records, fellas.

I’m ready to fully divulge everything so no need to waste taxpayer money on extraordinary rendition to, say, Guantanimo, for water-boarding. What a waste of perfectly good hotel towels, anyway.

As I say, I’m ready to come clean.

OK, guys, here’s the situation. Got your tape recorders running?

I sent four packages to a small town in Israel in early September and the U.S. Postal Service informed me it would take “six to 10 days” for the items to reach their destination, once they were sent to an international sorting facility in New York.

Well, as far as I can determine, from using the USPS’ efficient online tracking system, my merchandise – all wrapped up in official USPS postal boxes – still haven’t gotten to their “sendee” and now it’s early October.

The sendee tells me, via Skype, that one box is reportedly sitting in some postal facility in Tel Aviv but that it could take anywhere up to three weeks to move from there to the sendee’s apartment. The others don’t even show up on their computer.

Now I have nothing bad to say about the staff at the Kearny Post Office. They went out of their way to help me wrap my boxes and make sure they were properly addressed. They can’t control where the mail goes. Thank goodness the USPS – being a semi-autonomous federal agency – won’t be subject to sequestration because then, I’d venture to say, there’d be nobody in the post office to begin with. And then where would I be, right? Couldn’t even buy Forever stamps. And that’s critical since the price of stamps is going up three cents in January, right?

Ah, what the heck, what am I bothering you fellas with this for? You don’t read my mail, anyway, do you? All you’re worried about is my electronic correspondence, right?

Oh, well, back to those overseas-bound packages. I want to set your mind at rest about those shipments. Nothing in those boxes, fellas, but some clothing, a kids’ game and a couple of books.

Alright, so one of the books does deal with the Lincoln conspiracy theory, I grant you, but please don’t get any funny notions that I believe in any of those cockeyed theories. I trust my government explicitly. I firmly believe that there was only the single shooter (Oswald) in the Kennedy assassination, that the U.S. would never foment revolution in another country (unless it would further our national security), or that Bush 2 knew in advance about the WTC attacks.

But I can sense your doubts about my sincerity so I’m going to go further to make you believe that I’m as true blue – or red, if you need me to be – as any of our fervently patriotic Tea Party Congress people.

So, to that end, in order that you be spared the expense of attaching an ankle bracelet to my leg or sending a drone to monitor me, I had planned to provide you with a schedule of my projected whereabouts during the coming week.

Unfortunately, that will be longer be possible.

See, I had planned a trip to Yosemite but, since Congress is shutting down the government this week, all national parks will be closed.

My Plan B is to spend the next week going in and out of The Observer office at 39 Seeley Ave. at 15-minute intervals so if you want to check in with me on any important national security matters, please leave a red flower pot on our windowsill and I’ll be in touch.

– Ron Leir

Thoughts & Views: Alarming info for sleepyheads

Today’s column is prompted by a recurring event in my life: Oversleeping.

I am a night person. Earlier in my journalistic career, I started work at 4 or 5 p.m., which was perfect since I didn’t have to get up until midafternoon. There were times in the dead of winter, when daylight hours are few, when I would not see the sun for days. It was like living in the Yukon without the benefit of the Northern Lights.

(I kept hoping that, just like some nocturnal animal, my eyes would grow bigger, but that didn’t happen.)

Now, however, I must be among the living during the day. And once again, this week I was late for work because I slept through the alarm. Or, more accurately, I kept hitting the snooze button until it got sick of being smacked and turned itself off.

I regret not having bought a clock I saw advertised years ago. It was inside a tennis ball. When the alarm went off, the only way to shut it up was to throw it against the wall. It would remain silent for several minutes and then go off again. But since it was inside a tennis ball, it could have bounced anywhere and you had to get out of bed to hunt it down, and since you were now out of bed anyway, you’d likely stay out.

After my recent snooze-in, I went online to see if I could find this clock. No luck. But I did find some others, even more diabolical.

Consider the Ramos Nixie, which costs $350. But that’s not the only diabolical thing about it. The only way to turn it off is by entering a code on a keypad, located in another room. And you must change the code daily. Plus, it’s battery-operated so you can’t unplug it.

Then I found a website, apartmenttherapy.com, which featured a list of the “most evil” alarm clocks. One appears to be a variant on the tennis-ball idea. It’s called the Clocky, and it’s on wheels. If you don’t turn it off immediately, it rolls off your bedside table and skitters around the room until it finds a hiding place. At $50, it’s less of a monetary nightmare than the Nixie.

My two favorites, though, turned out to be merely conceptual. One is the Shredder. Apparently, you would feed it a dollar bill, or a higher denomination if you’re rich, and each time it goes off, a bit of the bill would be shredded. Keep hitting the snooze, and you’d end up with confetti.

The other, reportedly just a ThinkGeek joke, is called SnuzNLuz. It would be connected to your bank account. Each time you hit the snooze button, $10 would be deducted and sent to a charity you’ve chosen — preferably one you detest, so you are never tempted to grab that extra few minutes of zzzzz.

SnuzNLuz is brilliant, and I wish ThinkGeek would actually market it. I’ve already decided on the “charity” I’d select: Any fund-raising group that thinks Chris Christie should be President.

I’d never oversleep again.

 – Karen Zautyk

We’ll feature home holiday stylings

Time seems to be flying by faster and faster each day. With October right around the corner, and the weather dropping down to the 60s, many people are thinking about the upcoming holidays. Which holiday in particular? Well, Halloween, of course.

It’s every kid’s fantasy and we’re sure every parent is already hearing about it. The candy, the costumes, the spooky houses: the three in conjunction never fail to leave a child in awe.

Well, here at The Observer, we like to thank those who work hard in keeping traditions like these alive for the kids, so in the coming issues, we’ll be introducing our new “Halloween On The Horizon” section that will run until the end of October. Designed with the average reader in mind, the section will feature helpful information such as: costume ideas, recipes, party favors, games, and discounts for all holiday supplies needed.

We will also highlight the best-decorated houses in the area and give them an exclusive feature in the section, applauding them for their spirit and contribution to the community.

As the local newspaper, we understand our readers, and like to provide them with a beneficial read, as well as some holiday spirit.

Thoughts & Views: Game, set & match: the women prevail

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The other week, PBS ran an American Masters documentary on Billie Jean King, a ranking Wimbledon tennis champ in the ‘60s and ‘70s who was a champion of equal pay for women.

Most of us probably remember her best for the “Battle of the Sexes” match pitting her against the male chauvinist Bobby Riggs, played in 1973, in which she firmly put Riggs in his place.

But we should also recognize King for the leadership role she assumed in taking on the world tennis establishment and its old boy network by organizing the Women’s Tennis Association and insisting on pay parity for the ladies, even in the face of several women’s tennis stars aligning with that establishment.

And, after being outed as gay, King found herself standing alone again, after several merchandising firms that had pledged endorsements abruptly dropped her from their radar. But by refusing to shrink away, King made it easier for those following in her giant footsteps like Martina Navratilova to take the court with pride.

King’s experience made me think back to my days as a cub reporter on The Jersey Journal in the late ‘60s when, essentially, another old boy network called the shots.

Females on the staff tended to be relegated to what, in journalistic parlance of the day, was referred to as “the Society Page,” where women reporters wrote about such things as home decorations, recipes, women’s clubs, and the like.

One of the longtime staffers there was Hilda Couch, a graduate of Columbia School of Journalism and a onetime president of the Women’s Press Club of New York, and while I never heard her complain about the clear double standard that existed in the newsroom, now I wonder whether she had ever set out to be the next muckraker like Ida Tarbell, only to be shunted off to “the women’s section” of the newspaper.

Ironically, the woman who presided over our “women’s section” – Lois Fegan – started her career in journalism as a gender pioneer – the only woman in the country covering professional ice hockey games. Starting during World War II, she was assigned to write about the Hershey Bears in the American Hockey League for a newspaper in Harrisburg, Pa.

As recounted in her obituary (she died at age 97), published by NJ.com in June 2013, when she went to Cleveland to cover the team playing in the AHL championships in 1945, the men in the press box refused her entry.

“So I took my typewriter in my lap and say my fanny down on the cold concrete steps,” Fegan said.

Ultimately, the men made room for her.

During her 35-year career with the Journal as its women’s and travel editor, ending in 1987, Fegan – who once had a tryout as a Rockette – traveled to New York and Paris to report on world fashion shows. She also interviewed actors of the caliber of Clark Gable and Frank Sinatra, as well as seven U.S. presidents.

Probably the toughest – and best – staff member I knew on the Journal – next to a chain-smoking copyreader named Fritz Bennett – was Rae Downes Koshetz who covered City Hall like nobody’s business.

A bit later, Rae got her law degree and went on to distinguished service as special assistant Attorney General in the New York State Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office, Assistant Manhattan District Attorney, Deputy Chief Assistant to New York State Narcotics Prosecutor and Deputy Commissioner/Trials of the NYPD.

Looking to get a job done, efficiently and expediently? Just ask a woman and you’ll likely find a multi-tasker capable of solving any problem at hand.

– Ron Leir

It’s like deja vu all over again

Have you ever heard of Lt. Col. Stanislav Petrov?

I hadn’t either until the other night when, thoughts of nuclear annihilation on my mind, I did a bit of research on the times the world walked a thin red line between survival and horrific destruction.

I had lived through one such time, the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962 and remember vividly the hours before American warships blockading Castro’s island were expected to face off against the approaching Soviet fleet, and most people were wondering exactly how long they had left to live.

On Oct. 22, President John F. Kennedy had addressed the nation, revealing the presence of nuclear missiles in Cuba and announcing: “It shall be the policy of this nation to regard any nuclear missile launched from Cuba against any nation in the Western Hemisphere as an attack by the Soviet Union on the United States, requiring a full retaliatory response upon the Soviet Union.”

Everyone knew what “full retaliatory response” meant, and it had nothing to do with “boots on the ground.”

On Oct. 24, Nikita Khrushchev sent a telegram to Kennedy, stating: “If you coolly weigh the situation which has developed, not giving way to passions, you will understand that the Soviet Union cannot fail to reject the arbitrary demands of the United States” and that the Soviet Union views the blockade as “an act of aggression” and their ships will be instructed to ignore it.

And so we waited. It was over by Oct. 27, thanks to a frenzy of negotiations and an agreement: Russia would remove its nukes from Cuba and the U.S. would remove its missiles in Turkey. There would be peace in our time. Or at least not nuclear war.

However, that sickening stab of fear I recalled from so many years ago struck again when I read a headline last week: “Russian Warships Cross Bosphorous En Route to Syria.”

I have listened to our President and our Secretary of State and I cannot for the literal life of me accept their arguments for a (shall we label it “humanitarian”?) strike against Syria — especially when the American people are so overwhelmingly opposed. I am also having difficulty accepting the “evidence” put forth.

There is more at stake here than Barack Obama’s losing face.

I am not saying there will be a repeat of the 1962 trauma. At least not initially. If we strike at Syria, the repercussions will be complex and ongoing.

There are far more than two players in this game. Things will progress in steps. But progress toward what?

Mock me as a doomsayer. However, deep inside there is that flicker of fear. Perhaps it comes from having been traumatized in my youth, but in recent days I have been hearing the echoes of the language of Armageddon that I remember from 1962.

And so, who was Lt. Col. Stanislav Petrov? According to various sources on the internet, the Soviet officer was on duty the night of Sept. 26, 1983, in a bunker in Belarus. (Yes, ‘83, 21 years after the Cuban Missile Crisis.)

Petrov was alerted by computer that one of the USSR’s warning satellites had just detected the launch of five Minuteman missiles from silos in the U.S. Midwest.

According to website warandpeace.org: “In the midst of the chaos created by the attack warnings, Petrov, convinced that the alarm must be false, made an historic decision not to alert higher authorities. Had Petrov cracked and triggered a response, Soviet missiles would have rained down on U.S. cities. In turn, that would have brought a devastating response from the Pentagon.”

Petrov’s decision proved correct. There had been no U.S. launches. The warnings were the result of a computer malfunction.

The world had been minutes from destruction, and we never even knew it.

I prefer not knowing. There are moments when one’s head finds justifiable sanctuary in the sand.

Because I have no confidence whatsoever in our current chief executive, and because I, and you, have absolutely no control over an ill-advised march toward potential disaster — be it military or political — I shall not be watching his interviews on the major networks Monday night. Neither shall I watch his address to the nation on Tuesday night.

I have decided to ignore them. This will allow me to sleep those nights. And the ones after. However many that may be.

– Karen Zautyk

CORRECTION!

In last week’s issue, our story on the Pioneer Boys & Girls Club of America mentioned, Herbert Brookall, who is actually Herbert Crookall, a junior police detective back in the 60’s. We apologize for the inconvenience.

Thoughts & Views: Do we cross this ‘red line’?

Every day the civilian casualties mount in war-torn Syria, with an estimated 1,000 deaths blamed on chemical weapons, allegedly used by the Assad regime, or so we’re told by President Obama.

The President wants to send “a shot across the bow” to show the U.S. means business when we say we’re horrified that a government would gas its own citizens to stay in power.

And Sen. Robert Menendez (D-Union City) has got the President’s back, saying that while it’s nice to try and saddle up Congress for the ride, he shouldn’t wait too long for a consensus before firing those missiles.

Maybe don’t even wait for the U.N. inspectors to document the deadly deed before striking, the congressman suggested.

Congressional Republicans and many Democrats – recalling how lawmakers were misled by previous administrations into deadly forays into Iraq and Vietnam – are demanding that the President show convincing proof that the Assad government plotted to use sarin gas against insurgents.

In Russia, Putin – who has been an ally of Assad – says nothing while the British Parliament rejects the Prime Minister’s call to arms.

Meanwhile, the numbers of the dead in Syria continue to rise, with an estimated 100,000 people having been killed in the two years that the country’s civil war has raged.

That ugly fact, alone, should rouse the international community into action to stop the bloodshed and destruction of cities. But this isn’t the first time that empty words have greeted wanton acts of violence and the slaughter of innocents around the globe. Remember Rawanda, the former Yugoslavia, the government-sanctioned indiscriminate sexual attacks on women in Somalia (even Doctors Without Borders have abandoned that country out of fear of lawlessness), the drug cartels’ killings in Mexico and elsewhere, the gassing of millions of Jews, political dissidents and gypsies in Nazi Germany, all the way back to the Crusades.

Geopolitical experts predict that any blow struck by the U.S. against Syria could ignite a powder keg in the region, with Iran poised to invade Israel as a retaliatory move and Syria’s neighbors warring on ethnic lines.

Many Americans, fed up with hopeless and costly military interventions and what they perceive as too many senseless deaths of U.S. military personnel, say that we should give up the notion of being the world’s policeman, that we shouldn’t be sticking our nose into other nations’ business.

Of course, with technology making the world smaller all the time, it will hardly be a surprise to Syria’s government if the U.S. decides to send that “warning shot” from one of our carriers in the region. With all the posturing going on by both sides, the whole controversy has taken on the trappings of a promotion for a WBC championship bout.

In the end, though, neither side will be a “winner” from more killing; we can talk all we want about implanting the ideals of democracy in Syria, Egypt, Iraq or Afghanistan but the roots of ethnic divisiveness seem so deep in that part of the world that American military intervention alone – even assuming the best of intentions – may simply be misguided and lead to even more tragic consequences.

If we really want “stability” in the Middle East, is it going to be accomplished through the threat of U.S. military force and the workings of the CIA?

Or should we continue to hope for – in the spirit of Woodrow Wilson’s League of Nations concept – and work toward global cooperation among nations to achieve world peace?

Take your pick.

– Ron Leir

Thoughts & Views: Woke up, it was a Chelsea Manning

KZcol_web

 

By now, you have heard that Army Pvt. Bradley Manning, pictured here as his alter-ego, and as he is now, to “live his life as a woman.” Named Chelsea.

I have no problem with that. He can live his life as a chimpanzeee named Chelsea for all I care. I do, however, have a problem with my tax dollars paying for his hormone treatments.

According to a written statement sent to the “Today” show and signed “Chelsea E. Manning,” the convicted WikiLeaker says: “As I transition into this next phase of my life, I want everyone to know the real me. . . . I am a female. Given the way that I feel, and have felt since childhood, I want to begin hormone therapy as soon as possible.”

If Manning has felt this way since childhood, one wonders why he/she didn’t pursue his/her transgender goal earlier. And on his/her own dime.

But no, he leaks classified documents, is convicted and sentenced to 35 years in Leavenworth, and then announces that he is seeking gender reassignment.

While prisoners are entitled to (taxpayer-funded) medical care, a spokesman for the Fort Leavenworth military prison said it “does not offer sex reassignment or hormone therapy for the inmates housed at the facility,” The Washington Post reported. He had better doublecheck; for all we know, sex reassignment might be an Obamacare entitlement.

In any case, Manning’s lawyer told “Today” he intends to do “everything in my power to make sure” his client’s wishes are accommodated.

The Post also reported that in 2010, while serving as an intelligence analyst in Baghdad, Manning sent an e-mail to a superior officer describing his “struggles with a gender-identity disorder.”

He wrote: “I thought enlisting in the military would get rid of it. . . . “ For an intelligence officer, Manning comes across as pretty dumb.

One wonders, though: If he does get the government (us) to pay for gender reassignment, would it (we) also have to then foot the bill for makeup, wigs and clothing?

For those of you who think I am being crass and insensitive – yes, I am. I am not, however, mocking those with gender issues. They can’t help it.

However, they should not expect anyone other than themselves to pay for whatever therapy or surgery they want.

Indeed, now that I am approaching my dotage, I am thinking of living the rest of my life as a man.

Not because I am attracted to women. I am not. Let’s get that straight (no pun intended). But because even in so-called liberated society, men have the advantage.

Men can:

• Date someone 20 years younger and not be labeled a “cougar.”

• Faced with hair loss, shave their heads and still look sexy.

• Faced with a double chin, grow a beard. • Own only two pairs of shoes: sneakers and sandals.

• Wear white knee socks with the sandals.

• Wear long, baggy shorts with the sandals and socks. •

Go unembarrassedly to the beach no matter how chubby they are.

• Live on take-out without being judged, because no one expects them to cook.

• Pay someone else to clean the house and not be called lazy.

Chelsea, dear, have you REALLY thought this through?

– Karen Zautyk

P.S. On another matter, my story last week on the 1943 Congoleum-Nairn explosion gave two different times that the blast occurred. The correct time was 5:50 p.m., not 5:05. The latter was a typo.

WE’VE GOT MAIL

Fate spared one worker at Congoleum-Nairn blast

To the Editor:

I am one of the “older folks” who remembers the explosion at the Congoleum-Nairn. I was 10 years old at the time. Both of my parents were employed at the plant. My father worked there for many years and my mother joined him when the Nairn began war work. Yes, they did make more than camouflage netting. My mother learned how to run a lathe and made the nose cones for bazookas! (Ammunition was filled in elsewhere.) My parents worked opposite shifts day/ evening so one of them could be home with me. However, on the day of the explosion I was at the shore for a week as the guest of my aunt and uncle. When the news reached us I realized that one or the other of my parents would have been at work. Our family did not have a phone nor did the bungalow at the shore. It was a great relief when I received a letter a few days later from my mother stating that my dad – for the first time ever – was assigned to the midnight shift that week.

My father was a volunteer member of the Nairn’s emergency squad. I learned that he immediately donned his hard hat and headed down hill from our house on Highland Ave. He was one of those workers looking through the rubble and debris for bodies.

I’m still a Kearny resident and often pass the remaining Nairn buildings. When I do, I thank God my Dad was on the midnight shift for one week of the 39 years he was employed.

Joan Miller McCann

Kearny

Thoughts & Views: A perspective on ‘stop-and-frisk’

A federal court has concluded that the New York Police Department’s stopand- frisk policy violates the constitutional rights of minorities – predominantly blacks and Latinos – who, each time they were accosted by police – were victimized by a “demeaning and humiliating experience.”

The Bloomberg administration has challenged that finding, reasoning that the policy has been an essential part of the NYPD toolbox in significantly reducing crime by taking guns off the streets and trimming the number of murders over the past decade.

An appeal of the ruling has yet to be heard.

It may be instructive to recall (with help from Wikipedia) that the stop-and-frisk policy was sanctioned by the nation’s highest tribunal in a landmark case known as Terry v. Ohio which stemmed from an incident that happened on Oct. 31, 1963, in downtown Cleveland when city Det. Martin McFadden observed two men – John Terry and Richard Chilton – repeatedly pacing back and forth along the same path, pausing to look into a store window.

Terry and Chilton then met a third man and the three talked briefly before the third man left. All three then met in front of another store a few blocks away. At that point, the detective, suspecting the men were “casing a job,” identified himself to the pair, spun Terry around, patted him down and felt a bulge in his coat pocket. After ordering all three inside the store, McFadden took off Terry’s coat and pulled out a gun from the pocket. He also removed a gun from Chilton’s coat pocket.

Terry and Chilton were charged with carrying concealed weapons but the suspects’ defense moved to suppress the use of the seized weapons as evidence on the grounds that the search and seizure violated the Fourth Amendment and the suspects’ right to privacy. But the court rejected that argument, reasoning that McFadden had cause to believe that Terry and Chilton were acting suspiciously and that McFadden had the right to search them for his own protection on the belief that they might be armed.

On June 10, 1968, the U.S. Supreme Court, then led by Chief Justice Earl Warren, affirmed a prior ruling by the Ohio Supreme Court that police may stop someone if they have a “reasonable suspicion” that that person has committed or is about to commit a crime, and may search that person’s outer clothing for weapons if they have reasonable suspicion that the person “may be armed and presently dangerous.”

But, as a Wikipedia entry on the case notes, this search must be based, not on an officer’s “hunch,” but on “specific and articulable facts.”

Associate Justice William O. Douglas, an extreme liberal, was the lone dissenter, saying: “To give the police greater power than a magistrate [to authorize such a search] is to take a long step down the totalitarian path. Perhaps such a step is desirable to cope with modern forms of lawlessness. But if it is taken, it should be the deliberate choice of the people through a constitutional amendment.”

The court’s majority recognized that permitting an officer to conduct a search “… while the citizen stands helpless, perhaps facing a wall with his hands raised … is a serious intrusion upon the sanctity of the person, which may inflict great indignity and arouse strong resentment, and it is not to be taken lightly.”

Asked his thoughts on the subject, Kearny Police Chief John Dowie – who recommended that his questioner look up the Terry case for background – said the policy has value. “It’s been proven in New York that it has cut down on crime,” he said.

“We’ve got damn good street crime cops in Kearny,” Dowie said. “In a place like Kearny, you get to know the criminality, their specialties. It’s good to keep the pressure up on them, let them know they’re being watched.”

And, Dowie said, if an officer has a “reasonable suspicion” (there’s that legal phrase again) that something’s wrong, then they have “probable cause” to act. The trigger for that action could be a “bulge in a coat, a suspected “hand-to-hand drug transaction,” or knowledge about an individual’s “past history.”

But the key for the officer involved is acting within the scope of the law, Dowie said. “Anytime you’re making an arrest,” and particularly if a stop-and-frisk is involved, “the officer should be thinking, “Is this defensible in court?’

’’As for the possibility of cops “targeting” certain ethnic elements of the population, Dowie observed that, “A lot of the technology we’ve been afforded takes the element of alleged harassment out of [the equation]. If your license plate reader goes off at 3 a.m., you’re not going to know if the driver is white, black, whatever.”

If U.S. District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin in New York has her way, officers in certain designated precincts in representative boroughs may be going on patrol with small cameras affixed to them as a way of documenting any stop-and- frisks.

We will await, with interest, results of the city’s appeal.

– Ron Leir