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Category: Opinion & Reader Forum

A New Year’s resolution worth keeping

This year, people will make and swiftly break their New Year’s resolutions. It’s hardly surprising given that most of these pledges usually feature dieting. Last year, when I too swore that I would commit to the battle of the bulge, I made a critical error and failed before I started. Hey, it’s not my fault that Applebee’s was running a 2 for $20 campaign. I was a full hour away from my last meal when I noticed their enticing sign, so it’s only natural that I gobbled up both platters like a ravenous dog! Even so, my failing in the girth war mostly affected myself (and perhaps the eyes of those who would now be forced to view the amorphous mass encircling my waistline).  Maybe that’s the problem with resolutions; all too often they’re a “me” thing.
But what if they weren’t?  What if, just this once, people made their resolutions with the benefit of others in mind? Would such selflessness create a snowball effect of goodwill that would feed upon itself until everyone was helping everyone?  Not being a sage or soothsayer, I can’t answer this with authority, but a hunch tells me that such a paradigm shift in behavior could well become a game-changer. At the very least, it would take us away from ourselves, and our ever-increasing waistlines.
Allow me to address a common fallacy. Many of us believe that we will be happiest if riches come our way (have you checked out a lottery line lately?). But studies show that this is largely NOT true. In fact, the happiest members of society seem to be those who live simply and who give freely of themselves.  If you’ve ever helped someone, you already know the warm, fuzzy feeling that accompanied the deed. Now, imagine doing this regularly. It feels nice to be nice, wouldn’t you agree?
I have a close friend who lives this selfless lifestyle. He’s a lead-guitarist/ music teacher who defies typical Rock & Roll stereotypes.  While Joe has as much “scratch” in the kitty as the next guy, he doesn’t fancy expensive automobiles, posh digs or even shiny new Stratocaster guitars. He cares about people. A typical day will find him celebrating a musical “breakthrough” with one of his guitar students and afterwards lifting the spirits of some elderly folks at a nursing home. Please understand that Joe is nowhere near retirement age. His friends often wonder what he gets out of these prolonged visits with people many decades his senior. If you ask Joe, he’ll tell you that the arrangement is indeed lopsided.
“You know, I actually feel kind of guilty,” explains Joe with a hint of shame in his voice. “Sometimes I wonder if I’m doing this as much for me as I am for them. When I arrive at the nursing home and these older folks smile or suddenly perk up, there’s no denying that it makes me feel great. I don’t guess you can put a price tag on that kind of fulfillment.”
It’s obvious that people can receive as much from giving as they do from receiving. Perhaps more. Just ask Joe. And giving of oneself like this is far nobler than lusting after material goods, or trimming a few inches off of our waistlines.  So, why not resolve to help someone?  You may discover something “nice” about yourself in the process. But even if you don’t, there’s still a bonus here. Without those silly weight loss resolutions, you’re free to gorge on that tasty “twofer” at Applebee’s.  Happy New Year!

— Jeff Bahr

Best gift any writer can get

I know that, in general, Thanksgiving is the holiday where everyone is thankful for something. However, let me take a moment this holiday season to thank all of you, the readers.
I didn’t get into journalism for the money. I did it because I love writing, and I love how a newspaper can keep everyone informed and entertained, no matter what your personal preferences or biases might be.
Let me take this opportunity to thank all of our readers on behalf of the The Observer writing staff. There is no better feeling than getting feedback from our readers. Any response, whether it is thanking us for covering a story or telling us how we can do our jobs better, is appreciated.
I’ve been reading The Observer since I was a youngster growing up in Kearny, and part of the reason I wanted to write for the Observer was the response that people gave back. People talk specifically about subjects that are included in this paper, and that fact alone is warming for a young writer.
I’ve mentioned this in previous articles but it bears repeating. I am a 22-year-old fresh out of college writer who had searched far and wide for a job coming out of school. I couldn’t be happier finding a position in my own hometown at a place where the news really matters to people. Even after my first weeks here, I had already received responses from readers who recognized my name from years ago, without me saying a word that I was hired here.
So with all that in mind, from the writing staff and myself, I just wanted to thank all the readers for the best Christmas gift that any writer can get – the ability to write for a paper with a readership that cares so deeply about the material within.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

—Anthony J. Machcinski

We’ve got mail

Holiday Safety Tips
Retired New Jersey State Trooper Captain and former Sheriff of Hudson County Juan M. Perez offers tips to ensure all a happy, healthy and most of all safe holiday season:
Always be aware of your surroundings and other persons when you park your vehicle in a shopping area. If possible, shop with others as there is safety in numbers. Use your trunk to store purchased items and never leave any type of package in your vehicle in view of the windows. When paying for purchases in the store do not display large amounts of currency at the register or other areas.
When approaching an ATM, scan the area to determine if there are any individuals in the vicinity of the machine. If there are persons near the ATM, do not use it. Ensure that the ATM is well lit and secure. Report any suspicious activity immediately to your local police department.
If you reside in a one family home, or if your apartment is located on the first floor street level, do not leave packages or other valuables in view of your windows. Make sure the area around your home is well lit and free of large obstructions that a thief or would-be assailant could hide behind.
In regards to the holiday festivities, never drive with any type of alcohol in your system. Instead, ask a relative or friend who has not consumed alcoholic beverages to drive you home or call for a taxi.

In search of Christmas spirit

The term “Christmas spirit” is tossed around so frequently during the Yuletide season that it’s hard to gauge its true meaning. From a commercial standpoint it exists mostly as a syrupy lure. Here’s an example: “When the ‘Christmas spirit’ tugs at your heartstrings, our super-deluxe (fill-in-the-blank) makes the perfect gift for that special someone,” reads some typically sappy ad copy. When used this way, Christmas spirit serves as a mood inducer to help pry wallets open.  I just checked mine and it feels a bit light. Foiled again!
For many people Christmas spirit is measured in decorative trim and colorful lights. It goes without saying that such expression runs the gamut from mild to wild.  On the latter end of the scale, we all know at least one festive house that wraps itself in lights so very profuse, its glow rivals that of Alpha Centauri. “What’s Christmas without temporary blindness?” its proponents seem to be asking us. Note to self: This year remember to wear my welder’s shield when neighbor Kyle O. Watts gets his Christmas spirit on and trips the lights fantastic. Also, don’t forget the sun block!
Another form of Christmas spirit springs from the innocent hearts of our wee ones. “Daddy, I want an X-box 360 Kinect and $500 worth of I-Tunes gift cards! If you or that fat guy in red don’t get ‘em for me, I’ll throw myself on the floor and scream for an hour, or a day, or a week. Maybe I’ll even do it when we’re at the supermarket in a really l-o-n-g checkout line. Your choice. Feel lucky? Well do you, punk?” Wow. It’s one thing to be shaken down by a hoodlum or a paid solicitor; quite another when it’s your pint-sized daughter. Well, not this year! “Little Princess” must learn respect and the value of money! She’s getting the X-box and only $475 in I-tunes cards!
Finally, there’s a form of Christmas spirit that’s in woefully short supply these days. It doesn’t always look the same, but most know it when they see it. While jogging down East Passaic Ave. in Bloomfield, I happened upon it. Honestly, I felt as if I had been plucked from our graceless age and embedded in a Norman Rockwell painting.
What was it that had such an overpowering effect on me? Well it was nothing grand, like the overpriced baubles that I just bought for my fiancé (you win again, Madison Avenue!), and not nearly as blinding as Mr. Watts’ annual Xmas shrine to alternating current (I can’t see!). It was in fact a simple table with a hodgepodge of Christmas-themed bric-a-brac spread across its top. But what really set it apart was its unusual sign.
“Free Christmas Stuff!” the placard proclaimed with a bold exclamation point. “Take whatever you want or leave some items for others.”
Hmm… How could I even process such a thing in the year 2011?  The sign didn’t ask for money, and the display certainly wasn’t flashy. But many of the items (Xmas glassware, ornaments, pot holders, etc.) were indeed nicer than mere cast-offs. Most importantly, the anonymous homeowner(s) who had set up the table were inviting strangers to help themselves to any or all of the items on top – for free. Were they nuts?
Not even close! For those (myself included) who have had their senses dulled by years of meaningless keep-up-with-the-Joneses faux Christmas spirit, this was a genuine wake-up call. In fact, this was the simple but profound Christmas spirit that I knew as a child but had somehow lost sight of as I morphed into a self-absorbed adult. As I continued with my run I felt a little guilty but I also felt renewed. I made a mental note to drop by the table again with a few of my own Christmas items to place on top. “Just to add to the Christmas Spirit,” I told myself.
Merry Christmas!

— Jeff Bahr

Plenty of parks … where are the kids?

When I was a kid growing up in Kearny, I remember that getting friends together for a game of basketball or football was an easy thing.
Whether it was sunny and 70 degrees or snow was on the ground, we were always ready to play, and most likely would join a game already in progress.
Where did those days go?
And it’s not like I was a kid back in the 1960’s. I’m currently 22.
I understand why my group of friends doesn’t play; between the need to avoid black eyes, cuts, and miscellaneous injuries while going to work, plus the age factor, but why do I now drive past Manor Park in Kearny or many of the other places I used to frequent and see no games going on?
Older people complain that all children do nowadays is spend time on Facebook, or sit in front of the television screen. But when it comes time to get their own kids involved
in sports and such, these same parents often hold their kids back.
I understand that the dangers are great. I lived in North Philadelphia for four years while attending college. But we can’t shield our kids from every potential hazard. If we do, they’ll never learn to grow in life.
One of the excuses I’ve heard is that the people from outside communities who go to suburban parks make it unsafe for children. I’ve played with those same people. If you had the choice, would you choose a park one of those towns over a park in Kearny? I
don’t think you would.
All I’m saying is this: Be smart by trusting your kids. The more you trust them, the less they’ll have to lie to you about where they’re going.
And for the children, get up and get out! There’s no reason to let a 60-degree weekend in November pass you by.

—Anthony J. Machcinski


To the Publisher:
I feel the need to express my thankfulness to the North Arlington Police Department, especially to the following names which hopefully I spelled right due to the very hectic day on Nov. 16: Detective Horton, Det. Heddenberg, Capt. John Hearn, Officer
Ballinger, Officer John Hoffman and also the dispatcher on duty for his quick response to my call and also the woman from the Port Authority that spotted my father right away at the airport.
Rarely does it seem there are positive remarks and words of gratitude or appreciation for the many good things, which are done by our police department, but instead constant negative remarks that the officers are not around when you need them.
From my perspective, (it was) my extreme worry and emotional state from the problem in the disappearance of my 90-year-old father who speaks broken English and at times would act confused which was the reason for my desperate call to the
North Arlington Police Department, during which a dispatcher answered and connected me to the appropriate department of the Silver Alert.
They quickly acted upon my request and communicated with me all the needed information and requested a picture of my father. Within minutes they had reported to me that he was found by a Port Authority officer who located him at the airport and that I was to go there and pick him up.
On Nov. 16, as I stepped out for about 15 minutes to get my dad his daily paper, I came home to find him missing from the home with his dog and suitcase and other handbags and communicated quickly to the North Arlington Police that I felt my dad was on his way to the airport but had no idea how he could have gotten there.
I had a lot to be thankful for this past Thanksgiving Day as my father was found quite
quickly uninjured and relaxed and waiting for his family at the Newark airport when were able to take him home.
Once again, thank you all that helped in this situation and the great job that was done quietly and quickly and without any confusion.

Maria H. Furtado
North Arlington

Don’t judge all cops by actions of few

Images coming across TV screens of late go beyond troubling. If you think I’m referring to the senseless acts of terrorism and the myriad atrocities playing out across our world, I am not. Terrible as these are, they already receive ink from a wealth of news sources. I doubt that I could cast any more light upon them.
What I am referring to is something that I had hoped had gone the way of the Edsel. But before I delve into this, let me first explain my perspective, lest misunderstandings
My family features two members who work as cops in one of New Jersey’s largest cities. They take their positions very seriously. I have nothing but respect for them and the many other career officers who strive for integrity and professionalism in their work. Therefore, what I am about to say about certain law-enforcement officials isn’t a nod to cheap journalism, but rather a plea on behalf of these dedicated public servants
whose good names and reputations will be sullied if a few bad eggs aren’t reeled in.
You may have noticed that the Occupy Wall Street protests are on the move. I have personally seen small groups assembling within our coverage area. These gatherings have been peaceful for the most part, with the exception of one incident that I witnessed personally. It involved a lanky student protester and a rather large cop.
As I was sitting at a stoplight in my car, I saw the two men exchanging words. OK, these things can happen. But then something alarming occurred. As the protester remained seated, the cop inexplicably pushed him. In no way, shape or form was this
citizen inciting the crowd, challenging the officer, or attempting to resist arrest. Yet he forcefully pushed him. Luckily, the matter ended as quickly as it began without any apparent injury to the student.
Recently, a few cops sprayed military-grade pepper spray directly into the faces of seated, non-violent protesters at UC Davis, California. The act was so over-the-top and sadistic that School Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi denounced it as “appalling.” The two officers involved in the incident were suspended from duty on Nov. 20. Their final fate
hangs in the balance.
If the moral of this isn’t already apparent to you, it should be. Police officers move throughout our communities each and every day. The vast majority keep the peace by assisting those in need and arresting those who have broken the law. In order to do
their jobs properly an element of trust needs to be maintained with the very citizens that they serve. When rogue cops like the aforementioned bullies come “off of the rails,” so to speak, it obviously does harm to those citizens that they have pushed, peppersprayed, or otherwise assaulted without cause. But an even more insidious form of damage will exist long after the incident has passed.
After watching the UC Davis incident on TV, one of the cops in my family put it bluntly: “Man, this isn’t good. It’s hard enough for us out there! These cops obviously don’t have the right temperament for the job, but in the end it won’t be just them who
end up hated and mistrusted – it will be all cops.” No matter where your views on the current protests fall, truer words have never been spoken.
— Jeff Bahr


To the Publisher:
To the person who found my house and car keys, a great big thank you. I lost them on Tuesday, Nov. 15, near the Henrietta Benstead Center. It was very thoughtful of you to leave them on top of the mailbox at the Senior Center.
Some friends and I had asked St. Anthony for help in locating the keys. The next day, I received a phone call informing me that the keys were found. We honestly believe He answered our prayer through you. Thank you.

Catherine Pirrello

Relax… It’s only Black Friday

As November comes to a close, everyone’s other favorite holiday is coming… Black Friday.
Sure, Thanksgiving is all well and good, but let’s face it, in this recession, people are more concerned about saving money on Christmas gifts than being thankful for the idea that they even have the money to buy those gifts.
As in years past, people will be out at all hours of the night, hoping to catch the best deal that they can. Doors to some businesses open at 4 a.m. to accommodate the presumed rush, but are there really any good deals to be had?  If you’re in the market for a big screen TV, I’d say yes, but if you’re going for small items or just doing general Christmas shopping, you’re better off waiting until later in the weekend instead of getting up before sunrise.
Will I be huddled with the bargain-chasing masses in front of Wal-Mart at 4 a.m.? There isn’t a shot. The way I see it, if you care about someone enough to buy him or her a gift in the first place, you probably don’t need to wake up at 4 a.m. to get it.
The real reason people should be happy about Black Friday is that it is the official start to the Christmas season. It’s a time when people begin to gather their Christmas decorations and spend more time with their families.
Personally, it means that I will use Noel Drive in North Arlington more frequently just to see what displays the residents put up this year.
Without a doubt, the Christmas season is upon us, but don’t get caught up in the stress of Christmas shopping. Enjoy what’s around you, even if you don’t decorate. The minute the stress catches up to us, it just won’t be Christmas anymore. Relax. It’s only Black Friday.

—Anthony J. Machcinski


To the Publisher:
While President Obama is pardoning two turkeys for Thanksgiving, every one of us has that same presidential power by choosing a non-violent Thanksgiving observance that spares a turkey’s life.
And here are some good reasons:
•You are what you eat. Who wants to be a “butterball”?
• Your kids can tell their friends about their cool “Tofurky.”
•You won’t have to call Poultry Hotline to keep your family alive.
• Fruits and vegetables don’t have to carry government warning labels.
• Animal advocates, including some of your best friends, will cherish you.
• You won’t sweat the environment and food resources devastation guilt trip.
• You won’t spend a sleepless night wondering how the turkey lived and died.
• Your body will appreciate a holiday from saturated fat, cholesterol, and hormones.
Seriously, this Thanksgiving, let’s give thanks for our good fortune, health, and happiness with a life-affirming, cruelty-free feast of vegetables, fruits, and grains. Our own dinner will feature a “Tofurky,” lentil roast, mashed potatoes, corn stuffing, stuffed squash, candied yams, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie.
An internet search on vegetarian Thanksgiving provides more recipes and other useful information than you can imagine!

Kenneth Miller