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Category: Opinion & Reader Forum

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.

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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


Be polite when you park

Dear Editor:

I live on one of the main streets in Kearny and constantly see people who park their cars with no concern how they affect others who park on the same street. Some take up two spaces so others can’t park.

Then, there are others who have driveways but still park on the street, taking spots from residents who do not have driveways. The people with driveways will move their cars to the street as they see spots open up.

I am only asking for people to be more courteous when parking their cars. Maybe a resident-only parking law for residential areas could be used, as in other towns, between specific hours. That would help.

Cora Brown


Secrets in plain sight



This week’s column is one of my serendipitous ones. It concerns things we see often but never really notice, or if we do notice, never give a second thought.

Elsewhere in today’s Observer, there is an item about an auto accident last week at the corner of Woodland and Kearny Aves. Along with a light pole, a bollard was knocked off its base. Read more »

Frightening times for women worldwide

Millions of years ago, when the world was populated by dinosaurs and humans (such as we were at the time) domiciled in caves, males were hunters and females were nesters.

Or so we are told, anyway. Turn the pages of time to the present day and discover how we have slowly evolved: male and female species have tangled, negotiated and worked out an arrangement – more or less – for sharing responsibilities for local – and global – power. Read more »


Be wary of milk

Dear Editor:

A frequent bugaboo of the “fiscal cliff” debacle was the “milk cliff” – the threat of milk price doubling, if Congress failed to extend dairy subsidies. Parents were forgoing other necessities, because their children “had to have milk.”

Most industries would gladly give up their tax loopholes for that kind of product loyalty. But this one is totally undeserved.

Consumption of dairy products, laden with saturated fats, cholesterol, hormones, and drugs elevates the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. This is particularly critical during childhood years, when dietary flaws become lifelong addictions.

A study of 12,829 children by Harvard Medical School found that drinking cow’s milk leads to weight gain.

Several proteins in cow’s milk can thicken mucus secretions leading to respiratory problems in children.

Most African-Americans and Asian-Americans suffer from cramping and diarrhea because they lack the enzyme to digest lactose in cow’s milk.

The good news is that green leafy vegetables and legumes supply all the calcium and proteins touted in cow’s milk, without the excess calories and other yucky factors noted. Every supermarket offers a huge line of dairy-free milks, cheeses, and ice creams made from healthy nuts and grains.

This is why USDA’s current Dietary Guidelines for Americans, shunt dairy (and meat) off the recommended plate of vegetables, fruits, and grains. Cow’s milk is produced for bovine – not human babies. Let’s give our kids a healthy start!

Cory Baker


Kudos to Nutley FCA

Dear Editor,

I would like to thank the Nutley High School Fellowship of Christian Athletes for sending us local veterans Christmas cards. It was a beautiful surprise for me to see the signatures of all those NHS athletes remembering my service. I served in the U.S Navy from 1966 to 1970; it is a distant memory even for me, but it’s wonderful to be recognized. I salute these students and their advisors.

Charles M. Nunzio



East Newark law is for the birds


For the record, I have no criminal record. As far as I recall. But I have criminal tendencies. And I just might act upon them. You have been warned.

Elsewhere in this week’s Observer is a news story by Ron Leir about the Borough of East Newark’s war against an alleged public health menace: the pigeon.

In its pseudo-wisdom, the Borough Council has introduced an ordinance that would make it illegal to feed these poor put-upon fowl. Apparently, some anti-pigeon person complained. And government being government, it was decided that only a new law would do. (As far as I am concerned, this country has too many laws already, but that is fodder for another column.)

The pigeon, also called a rock-dove, has been sharing this planet with humankind since pre-history and as far as I know none of the pestilences that have struck the earth has ever been associated with the bird.

Look in the Bible. The plagues that afflicted the Egyptians when they refused Moses’ call to free the Hebrews involved frogs, gnats, lice, flies and locusts. “And if thou refuse to let them go, behold, I will smite all thy borders with frogs.”

Nowhere does it say, “I will smite thee with pigeons.”

Although East Newark cites the birds as a health hazard, a little internet research will show you there is an ongoing debate about that.

Among many pro-pigeon sites is that of the U.K.-based Pigeon Control Advisory Service, which notes: “The likelihood of a [wild] bird passing on a disease to a human being is so infinitesimally small that it is not even worth considering.”

I doubt that British pigeons are healthier than American ones.

You can, of course, find the opposing view. But I have never met anyone with a pigeon- related health problem. Have you? Has your doctor?

East Newark says that feeding the birds is actually harming them because “they lose their natural ability to scavenge and survive on their own.” Pish-tosh, says me. But perhaps I am wrong. When the pigeon-feeding ceases, East Newark could be filled with birds standing around on street corners wearing little “I am hungry” signs around their necks.

There will be a public hearing on the proposed ordinance. I hope the pigeon-haters are hooted down.

If East Newark persists in promoting pigeon prejudice, your correspondent just might start prowling its streets at night with bags of PigeonChow.

And I would refuse to pay the $1,200 fine, opting instead to languish in prison. I am sure they let you feed pigeons there. Remember The Birdman of Alcatraz?

— Karen Zautyk


Consider going vegan in 2013

Dear Editor:

This year’s developments have certainly vindicated those of us who care about our health, our environment, and our treatment of animals.

In January, first lady Michelle Obama unveiled revamped federal guidelines requiring school cafeterias to serve more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and less sodium and animal fat.

In March, a study involving nearly 38,000 men and 84,000 women by the Harvard School of Public Health concluded that one daily serving of meat is associated with a 13-20% increase in the risk of death from heart disease or cancer.

The American Journal of Preventive Medicine estimates that prevalence of obesity among American adults will escalate to 42% by 2030, with a $550 billion increase in medical costs.

The Humane Society exposed unconscionable atrocities among three pig producers in Oklahoma and a Pennsylvania egg farm. It’s little wonder that 7% of Americans consider themselves vegetarian or vegan and 28% are actively reducing their meat consumption, leading to a 12% U.S. drop since 2007.

We should all consider following suit for this New Year’s resolution. Entering “live vegan” in a search engine brings tons of recipes and other useful information.

Kenneth Miller