web analytics

Category: Opinion & Reader Forum

We’ve Got Mail

Let’s get to that garden!

To the Editor:

We are happy to hear about the Machs starting the community gardening project. As featured in an article (Feb. 27) by Ron Leir, it was written that “…the team would look to the town to finance acquisition of garden supplies …”

We believe that yes, citizens can look to the government for assistance. We also believe that those of us who can share a little something for a worthy cause, be it our time, talent or treasure, should do our part.

Rico and Merle Dolot, Kearny

Thoughts & Views

Accentuate the negative



Definition of pes-s-mism (ps-mzm) n.: A tendency to stress the negative or unfavorable or to take the gloomiest possible view.

Quote about pessimism vs. optimism: “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” –Oscar Wilde

Another quote about pessimism vs. optimism: “Yeah, and while you’re looking at the stars, someone will step on your face.” — Me I am a born pessimist. Every once in awhile I get into the power-of-positive-thinking mode, but it doesn’t last long. Not that I expect it to.

An anecdote: Not long ago, I was having some vision problems. I made the mistake of Googling the symptoms, and the results led me to web pages dealing with a debilitating disease.

I had not yet seen the ophthamologist, but I told a friend that I now assumed I had this affliction.

“Karen,” she said, fed up with decades of my negativity, “do me a favor and try, for just one year and just with me, to have a positive attitude. You can do that.”

And I said, “Okay, how about this? I am positive I have a debilitating disease.”

And she said: “Bitch.”

By the way, it turns out I am not disease-afflicted. Not that you care.

All of the above came to mind this week when I read a news story out of Germany. Psychological researchers there have released the results of a 10-year study of 40,000 people between the ages of 18 and 96 and the subjects’ attitudes toward life.

As reported in the Los Angeles Times, the study “suggests that people who are overly optimistic about their future actually faced greater risk of disability or death within 10 years than did those pessimists who expected their future to be worse.”

The researchers also “hypothesized that people who were gloomy about their future may be more careful about their actions than people who anticipated a rosy future: ‘Perceiving a dark future may foster positive evaluations of the actual self and may contribute to taking improved precautions.’”

Such as, when you’re out walking, looking at the ground, lest you trip. Or looking over your shoulder. Anywhere but at the stars. Muggers hide in dark alleys waiting for the stargazers to stroll by.

In any case, if the new study is correct, there appears to be a bright side to pessimism. I’m going to have trouble dealing with that.

– Karen Zautyk

Editorial — March 6, 2013


To protect innocents abroad and at home

In its Sunday editions, The New York Times reported the deaths of two Afghan brothers, ages 11 and 12, who were killed in an attack Saturday by a NATO helicopter whose crew mistakenly took them for what we in the American press refer to as “insurgents” – code for Taliban supporters.

The Times reported that the boys were walking behind their donkeys and were collecting firewood, a badly needed resource to keep the home fires burning during the severe Afghanistan winter.

Gunfire from the chopper also killed the animals, the report said.

Read more »

Thoughts & Views

Hollywood vs. history

Did “Lincoln” win the Oscar for Best Picture? Don’t know, since this is being written pre-awards. I have yet to see the film, but my attention was called to it this week in an email noting a small problem in the screenplay.

In a scene depicting the final balloting on the 13th Amendment, two members of Connecticut’s congressional delegation are portrayed as voting “no.” Or, more accurately, “nay.” But neither is accurate at all. In fact, all four Connecticut representatives approved the amendment.

Current Nutmeg State Rep. Joe Courtney, rightly appalled at the inaccuracy, fired off a protest letter to director Steven Spielberg, noting that “placing the State of Connecticut on the wrong side of the historic and divisive fight over slavery is a distortion of easily verifiable facts.”

According to a report on CNN, screenwriter Tony Kushner “conceded the discrepancy but defended the film.”

Kushner, CNN said, “explained that the alterations were made to serve the narrative that the outcome of the vote was in doubt until the very end.”

Other defenders noted that “Lincoln” is not a documentary but historical fiction, and, hence, the filmmakers were permitted some poetic license. Well, what the heck, it’s only history, right? And who the heck cares about history these days? I’m beginning to wonder if it’s even taught in schools anymore.

Two anecdotal notes.

1) Some months ago, I was watching one of those “person- in-the-street” TV bits in which they question passersby on this and that. The subject was Abraham Lincoln.

“Do you know how Lincoln died?” one woman was asked.

“Yes,” she said. “He was assassinated.”

“And do you know the name of his assassin?”

Her answer: “Lee Harvey Oswald.”

I repeated this story to two twenty somethings the next day, and they both looked at me as if I were mentally challenged. One, because he thought “Lee Harvey Oswald” was the correct answer. The other, because he didn’t understand why this bothered me so much.

2) This one I know was on “Jaywalking.” Jay Leno was at a college commencement, questioning the grads, including one woman still wearing her cap and gown and clutching her degree.

“Have you ever heard of the Gettysburg Address?” Leno asked.

“Of course,” she sniffed.

“Do you know it?”

Her answer: “Well, I don’t know the EXACT address.”

I do believe that young woman has a bright future in Hollywood.

–Karen Zautyk

Thoughts & Views

Don’t take away chance for residential relief

In a number of waterfront communities along this side of the Hudson River, there are signs that developers are beginning to make inroads in the residential marketplace.

Despite the continuation of an at-best sluggish economy, banks are evidently lending again to support the building of rental apartments, along with some retail and commercial space.

Read more »


In last week’s article “North Arlington’s Little Secret? The uncloaking of The Angry Coffee Bean” it was said that they sell out of fish and chips on Saturday and Sunday, but they sell out of it on Friday and Saturday.

Thoughts & Views

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow



Yes, I’m one of those perverse individuals who love snow. I don’t love power outages or falling tree limbs or ice (unless it’s on a rink), but snow is magnificent. (Don’t argue with me. You have your opinion; I have mine.)

Anyway, the weekend’s storm brought to mind two snow-related stories, both of which date to the days when I lived in Brooklyn. I may have shared these before. If so, sorry, but they’re worth repeating.

Read more »

Thoughts & Views

Silence of the damns






We’ve learned that the girls at Our Lady Queen of Peace High School in North Arlington have pledged not to utter swear words so they can be more lady-like, according to the teacher whose idea it was to wage war on blue.

As for the Q of P male students, well … boys will be boys, I guess.

I say this: If those young ladies want to clear the air of foul language, fine and dandy. Just don’t expect me to follow their lead.

Let me be the first to admit I’m a coarse, nasty newspaperman and the newsrooms in which I was nurtured were filled with an ever-present tobacco haze, punctuated by ripples of profanity. In the latter, I became a somewhat proficient practitioner.

Typically, I would direct my venom, not at any human target, but rather, at the gobbledygook contained in a public relations press release or to myself — [editor’s note: it is a well-known fact that reporters are not humans] – when confronted by a soon-approaching deadline with a gaping hole in my story.

But I well remember the day when I lost my cool in a municipal clerk’s office and let loose a stream of invective that an offended public official later informed my editor “was worse than I ever heard when I was a truck driver.”

Gosh. Didn’t know I had it in me. Classic case of reporter rage.

But I’m glad I vented – much better to release the pent-up son of a b—- , er, frustration, than to keep it inside and get an ulcer later, right?

No? Well, if you don’t believe me, then listen to what Mark Twain said on the subject of cussing: “Under certain circumstances, urgent circumstances, desperate circumstances, profanity provides a relief denied even to prayer.”

Or this: “There ought to be a room in every house to swear in. It’s dangerous to have to repress an emotion like that.”

And, more famously, this: “If I cannot swear in heaven I shall not stay there.”

Twain, as a lover of American idiom, was mining that linguistic treasure even when uttering or writing those words that Victorians find offensive. As he put it in a speech on Private and Public Morals he gave in 1906, Twain observed: “The idea that no gentleman ever swears is all wrong. He can swear and still be a gentleman if he does it in a nice and benevolent and affectionate way.”

When Twain’s wife Livy, who was averse to her husband’s liberties with the lingo, one day repeated his out-ofbounds orations to him, Twain replied: “You got the words right, Livy, but you don’t know the tune.”

John Nance Garner IV, a Texas politico popularly known as “Cactus Jack,” who served as FDR’s vice president, got the tune just right when he referred to his office as “not worth a bucket of piss.” [Print newsmen of that era changed the wording to “spit.”]

Now lest folks think I’m applauding swearing for the sake of swearing, think again.

As Twain would have it, let the circumstances dictate the content and manner of your verbal behavior.

So the next time some misguided motorist cuts you off, roll down your window, open your mouth and tell the driver what you’re thinking “… in a nice and benevolent and affectionate way.”

Even a lady can do that, right?

– Ron Leir

A salute to women in combat



Finally, another wall has fallen. That the wall had been breached in practice, if not in policy, appears to be lost on those who persist in viewing women as the weaker sex.

When Defense Secretary Leon Panetta last week announced that the U.S. military had lifted the ban on women serving in combat roles, the chorus of protest and doubt was immediate and strident.

Among the most quoted critics has been Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin (Ret., USA), who termed the decision “another social experiment.”

Sort of like giving women the right to vote?

A friend says that response is not fair to the general, who objects primarily to women being in units like Special Ops. But the term “social experiment” is jarring, and I can’t help but think of the historic battle American women had to wage against a patriarchal society before that secondclass citizenship was removed in 1920.

Another criticism is that, while the focus of military commanders “must remain on winning the battles and protecting their troops, they will now have the distraction of having to provide some separation of the genders during fast-moving and deadly situations.”

Perhaps, instead of all the nay-saying, experts like Boykin – a battle-hardened, medal-bedecked former Delta Force officer – could volunteer to help those commanders solve the problems they foresee.

American women in combat will be a reality. Has been a reality. Technically holding only combat support roles, they have been wounded and they have been killed. They have been combatants. Unofficially. But they are officially dead.

In a 2011 article datelined Afghanistan, the N.Y. Times quoted a staff sergeant who had lost one of his female platoon members to a roadside bomb: “Out here,” he said, “there is no male gender and no female gender. Our gender is soldier.”

The battalion commander commented, “To the average soldier who’s out there on a mission, it doesn’t make a difference. Can that person on my left or right shoot is what matters. I got to tell you the females in my battalion are absolutely amazing.”

In announcing last week’s decision, Panetta noted, “This is where we have been heading as a department for more than 10 years. It will take leadership and it will take professionalism to implement these changes. Not everyone is going to be able to be a combat soldier, but everyone is entitled to a chance.”

He also said: “If members of our military can meet the qualifications for a job — and let me be clear, we are not reducing qualifications — then they should have the right to serve.”

Repeat: Not reducing qualifications.

Unfortunately, too many people believe that women cannot possibly fulfill equal requirements. They should reserve judgment.

Back in 1976, there was a similar uproar when women were finally admitted to West Point.

In his brilliantly written book “The Long Gray Line,” author Rick Atkinson recounts an incident when some male cadets complained to the physed instructor that the females were “poor runners.”

The instructor’s response was: “Okay, guys, physiologically, the women have 40% more body fat, so just to make it even. let’s give you a 70-pound weight to carry. They have only 60% as much lung capacity, so let’s degrade your breathing by making you wear this mask. They have a little mechanical disadvantage in their hip structure, so we’ll put a brace between your legs to make you pigeon-toed. Now go run a mile, guys, and see if you can keep up with the women.”

– Karen Zautyk

In memory of Stan & Earl

Earlier this month, the sportswriters who get to vote on who goes into the Baseball Hall of Fame decided to reject all the candidates on the ballot.

Can’t say it was a huge surprise, given the number of big-name players like Bonds. Clemens and McGuire whose career records are tainted by their alleged associations with forbidden drugs.

I’ll leave that dilemma to future experts to solve, along with the perennial question about the banning of Pete Rose from the Baseball Valhalla.

Makes me long for the golden days of the National Pastime when fellas like Stan “The Man” Musial and Earl Weaver – both of whom we had the misfortune to lose this past Saturday – made their presence known.

No problem putting them in the Hall, right?

Although the way Earl behaved much of the time – toward umpires and players on his own team — you could justifiably wonder what kind of tobacco was he chewing? (For the record, it was Raleighs.)

Musial – like Willie Mays – was quoted as saying he’d enjoyed playing the game for the “fun” of it but — like Mays – he was practical enough to be grateful for the money he received for excelling at what he loved to do.

Weaver, whose lexicon for offensive strategy didn’t include sacrifice, steal or bunt, was credited for being the “Moneyball” manager of his day. The three-run homer suited him fine, thank you very much. Platooning – as it was for Stengel – was also in his arsenal.

Musial – whose immigrant Polish dad worked in a Pennsylvania factory – and Weaver who spent his entire playing days toiling in the minors – chose baseball as much as the sport chose them.

It was as if they’d realized their calling toward some higher purpose: something that could be achieved through hard work, studiousness and working with teammates (Weaver had his own interpretation of that, of course) toward a common goal.

Mays, maybe, was the real “Natural” (forget Robert Redford and Wonderboy for a minute), but he made himself a student of the game to the extent he’d position his fellow outfielders because he recognized the tendencies of opposing hitters.

Was Mays’ godson, Barry Bonds, as much of a team player? I don’t know.

Can any sport be “pure”? I doubt it. In baseball’s early days, pitchers applied foreign substances to the ball and threw at hitters to gain an advantage, until Carl Mays fatally beaned Ray Chapman in 1920.

But every game has rules and you’ve got to play by those rules if you want to be taken seriously. People like Musial, Weaver and Mays found ways to win and achieve great things – for themselves and their team – in the context of how life is governed within the chalked lines of the diamond.

Maybe that’s why they have two statues of Musial at the ballpark in St. Louis.

I figure if they ever put up a likeness of Weaver, Earl would appear and kick dirt on it – just out of habit.

– Ron Leir