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Category: Opinion & Reader Forum

Thoughts & Views: The foundations of our nation

Tomorrow being the Glorious Fourth, I decided to give myself a little refresher course in American history, and wouldn’t you know, I learned something I never knew before.

On the day in 1776 when the Continental Congress approved (this is the original wording and capitalization) “The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,” it apparently marked the first time the former British colonies officially referred to themselves as “states.”

If I’m wrong about that, would some historian please correct me?

In any case, I wanted Observer readers to get a little refresher course of their own. We all (I hope) know bits of the introduction to the Declaration of Independence, but this is a suitable occasion on which to repeat the initial sentences, which set the stage for the birth of a nation:

“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands [I always thought it was “bonds,” didn’t you?] which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. . . .”

I would also like to offer for your consideration, the Bill of Rights, the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

More than one of these has served as a flashpoint in recent national debates, but I did wonder how familiar those on the sidelines are with the precise wording. TV’s talking heads offer scraps and phrases, but rarely enlighten the public by reading the entire amendment at the heart of an argument.

So here, for your edification, is what they say, in their original form. Take into consideration such things as subordinate clauses and (18th century) punctuation and you can get a bit of feel for what it must be like to be a Supreme Court justice:

Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Amendment II

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Amendment III

No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

Amendment IV

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Amendment V

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

Amendment VI

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.

Amendment VII

In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

Amendment VIII

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

Amendment IX

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Amendment X

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

Reading all this over, I am struck by one thing: These truly are living documents, as relevant today (except perhaps that $20 reference) as to when they were written. Therein lies the genius of our Founding Fathers. Please give a little thought to, and thanks for, that tomorrow night when our skies are ablaze with fireworks.

– Karen Zautyk


Beware of barbecued bugs

To the Editor:

Whatever happened to the good old days when the worst things we had to fear on the 4th of July were traffic jams and wayward fireworks?

According to the Department of Agriculture’s Meat and Poultry Hotline, this year’s top threat is food poisoning by nasty E. coli and Salmonella bugs lurking in hamburgers and hot dogs at millions of backyard barbecues. The Hotline’s advice is to grill them longer and hotter. Of course, they don’t bother to mention that the high-temperature grilling that kills the bugs also forms lots of cancer-causing compounds.

Luckily, a bunch of enterprising U.S. food manufacturers and processors have met this challenge head-on by developing a great variety of healthful, delicious, and convenient, veggie burgers and soy dogs. These delicious plant-based foods don’t harbor nasty pathogens or cancer-causing compounds. They don’t even carry cholesterol, saturated fats, drugs, or pesticides. And, they are waiting for us in the frozen food section of our supermarket.

This 4th of July offers a great opportunity to declare our independence from the meat industry and to share wholesome veggie burgers and soy dogs with our family and friends.

Cory Baker


Thoughts & Views: Death of ‘Sopranos’ star a harsh lesson

James Gandolfini, the man we came to know as the strangely endearing and intriguing Tony Soprano from David Chase’s breakthrough TV series about a fictional mob family from New Jersey, is dead at the age of 51.

That’s a real tragedy, not just because we’ve been deprived of the talents of a wonderful actor but, more importantly, because the New Jersey native apparently gave more attention to learning his lines than to learning how to take care of himself.

Weighing 275 pounds, and given to binge eating and drinking, according to published reports, Gandolfini – much like his character in “The Sopranos” – wouldn’t – or couldn’t – restrain himself.

And, for that unwillingness – or inability – to adjust, he paid the ultimate price, suffering a fatal heart attack while on a trip with his 13-year-old son in Italy.

Am I setting myself up as Gandolfini’s judge? Heck no, I don’t presume to hold myself above anyone, particularly since I myself am no slim Jim (pardon the pun) for someone my size.

And I am a victim of my own self-neglect, having become a Type 2 diabetic some years ago, undoubtedly from downing too many beers and sugar drinks. I control my blood sugar with meds.

But Gandolfini’s – and his family’s – misfortune, given his extraordinary popularity, can serve as a valuable lifesaving lesson for all of us.

The common sense approach to living life in a productive, healthy manner is a virtue we can – and should – all strive to achieve. The ancient Greeks had it right – moderation in all things.

The nation’s First Lady, Michele Obama, has taken the lead in raising awareness about the dangers of obesity in our population, particularly among our youth, and she is right on the money there.

Too many of us are content to sit on our couches and watch the boob tube or fiddle with our electronic games when we could be in the gym or biking or taking a brisk walk, exercising the mind and the body.

Me? During the summer, I’m a weekend warrior, playing softball doubleheaders on Sundays in New York’s Central Park with the Appalachian Mountain Club. But that’s about it. I have a bike sitting, collecting dust, in a basement storage room and I hardly bother to ride it. There’s a health club in the building where I live and I don’t use it. So shame on me for failing to exploit the resources easily available to me.

There is one area, however, where I am, I think, improving: watching what I eat and when I eat it. I’ve been trying to incorporate more salads and veggies into my diet. Even fresh fruit, now and again. I’m avoiding heavy stuff like pasta, bread and potatoes. And I’ve been getting better about not packing away my dinner meal late at night.

It’s still a work in progress.

But unlike the mysterious scene that ended the last episode of “The Sopranos,” I’m striving for clarity as I move through my twilight years.

I hope I can pull it off. I hope we all can.

– Ron Leir


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


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.”


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


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


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


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



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’



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