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Category: Opinion & Reader Forum

WE’VE GOT MAIL

Dear Publisher,

I took the trip to New Hope on Wednesday and followed the guidelines set forth in the article. What a great trip I had in New Hope. I watched the people walking around while having lunch, did some shopping in the candle shop and sat by the river and the canal. I found the railroad and went on to Lahaska for dinner and looked at unique shops. It was a very interesting trip. I went on a weekday and was told the town is normally busier on the weekends. I will go again to ride the train and ride on the river. I just wanted to express my thoughts on this and to ask if this will be a weekly feature of this paper. What an exciting time I had. It was just great to travel someplace and not have to break the bank.

I am sure there are other places to visit in this great state. Here is hoping that this will be a weekly feature in The Observer and I am looking forward to going on more trips on one tank of gas.

Thank You,

Alexander J. MacDonald

Harrison

For America’s sake, let’s stop the Lin-sanity

No, this isn’t about sports – at least not in the way that you might think. “Lin-sanity” is used in this instance as a metaphor for the way that people behave in a society plagued by political correctness. In my opinion, it’s a damn shame. Yes, I said damn. Don’t worry, we’re still allowed to say that one.

If you’re not yet up to speed on the “Lin-Sanity” phenomenon, here’s the deal. Jeremy Lin is a pro-basketball point-guard with the New York Knicks who recently came to prominence despite being a former “bench-warmer.” To say that he proved himself to be a well-rounded basketball player is like saying that Shaquille O’Neal is sort of tall.

Almost overnight fans became captivated by Lin’s surprisingly quick moves and shooting prowess, as well as his propensity for playing “team ball” by passing the ball often and well. The fact that he’s of Asian American decent only added to the story, since the NBA features precious few players from that part of the world. Lin’s scoring streak has cooled a bit of late, but that’s how streaks go.

When Lin first came to prominence, sports writers, forever looking to differentiate from the pack literally went pun-crazy with his name. Almost every newspaper featured such uninspired phrases as Lin-spiration, Lin-sanity, Lin-surrection, Lin-ovation, Lin-put, and scores of other Lin-guistics that swapped the surname Lin for an “in” prefix. If Lin should ever get hurt while playing ball, I’m certain some dork in a tweed coat will say that he’s been “Lin-jured.” If he gets sick, they’ll say that he has a Lin-fection. The lesson is clear – one bad pun obviously deserves another.

But this, as they say is not about that. This is about what happens to good people in 2012 if they accidentally cross an often imperceptible line, as 28-year-old ESPN news-editor Anthony Federico did recently when he wrote the headline, “A chink in the armor” to describe gaps, or “chinks” in Lin’s game.

“I wrote the headline in reference to the tone of the column and not to Jeremy Lin’s race,” Federico explained after he was hypocritically raked over the coals by the media and those who chose to believe that his use of the saying was racism tinged. “It was a lapse in judgment and not a racist pun. It was an awful editorial omission and it cost me my job…”

Federico then tells of his charitable works with the poor and points out how crazy it would have been for him, a young journalist on the rise, to write an overtly racist headline.

I believe him. I have personally used the phrase “chink in the armor” numerous times in articles throughout the years. The word is defined as a gap or crevice, and the phrase is generally used to describe a weakness or “gap” in someone’s skill set – an Achilles heel in his or her arsenal if you will. A slang version of “chink” has also been used maliciously as a slur against Chinese- Americans, but any reasonable person who has ever heard this four-word combination knows that it is in no way a pejorative term. Not even close.

Lin himself doesn’t believe that Federico meant any harm with this and has openly accepted his apology. But Lin’s forgiveness doesn’t matter one iota. In a fear-driven rush, ESPN fired Federico for his oversight. Do the big-wigs at ESPN really believe that Federico’s headline was prejudice driven? Probably not. But they’re in the game to make money. To avert a potential loss of advertisers they showed typical corporate disloyalty and cowardice by dumping Federico squarely on his ass for the supposed infraction. Yes, I said ass. Don’t worry; it’s just a slang word that means donkey. Somehow, we’ll all survive.

And therein lies a lesson for all. Maybe someday it will be you that makes an innocuous remark, and then has to pay the piper for this imagined sin. If you’ve been riding the politically correct train up until that point, you’ll be mighty shocked when that train suddenly derails and the vultures of political correctness pounce upon you. And pounce they most certainly will. But don’t go looking for any sympathy. In this twisted, tiptoe-over-eggshells world that you helped endorse, it was only a matter of time. Truth be told, that’s the real chink in the armor in America, and a “bloody” sad one at that.

Webster’s Definition:

Bloody –Adjective

Covered, smeared, or running with bloo

Vulgar. Used to express anger, annoyance, or shock

Can you guess which meaning I was going for?

-Jeff Bahr

Respect for family’s grief outweighs ‘getting the story’

On March 2, Jeff Bahr and I conducted easily one of the hardest interviews we’ve ever had to conduct. Scheduled to write a tribute piece on the late Lance Cpl. Osbrany Montes De Oca for the March 7 paper, Jeff and I had the challenge of talking to the mother of the man, just two years my junior.

After conducting the interview, which was made easier by Osbrany’s mother Miriam having the most composure of any person I’ve ever met, I couldn’t help but think how happy I was to have the opportunity to do that interview.

As I continued thinking, however, I couldn’t help but think of the response we got at the Observer for not writing the article the minute we found out Osbrany had passed. Many readers called, e-mailed, and reached out via our website to ask us why we hadn’t done anything. One even said that we had, “a lack of journalistic spirit.”

I couldn’t believe what we had been accused of. A lack of journalistic spirit? Looking at our writing staff, which besides me, has many years in the business, a lack of journalistic spirit is certainly not something that we have.

I would like to say that maybe we just have a sense of compassion.

When I was in college, we were trained for many situations that we could be in as reporters. Whether it be as simple as covering a town hall meeting or as complex as asking about President Obama’s election, we had many different experiences, but not once did we have to ask a family member, a mother especially, about her young son’s passing.

I know about all about the shady side of journalism, where breaking information means money and the ruthless aggression it takes to succeed in this business, but personally, take a minute to think about your own mother.

Osbrany was only 20 years-old. Jeff, Ron, or myself, would have had to interview a mother the day of her son’s burial to get a word with her? I can’t speak about anyone else’s life experience, but I couldn’t imagine thinking about the death of friends of mine in the military, let alone elevating that to being personally related to them and trying to do the same thing.

Sure, its easy to sit back and watch as other papers got the who, what, where, when, why, and how of Osbrany’s sad passing, but did we need to be the gloom and doom added to this family’s already tough situation? I don’t think so.

The Observer did sit back, but only to give the mother time to heal, and ultimately, leading to a great article written by Jeff, giving great honor and personal touch to a story which needed to be told. A story that no other paper even bothered to try and obtain.

So for those of you who look at us and expect us to be the heartless “journalists” that you see in other places, I’m sorry to disappoint you. That’s not the kind of people we were, are, or ever will be.

On another note, Jeff and I wanted to make sure that we properly thanked Anthony Baez, a former Marine and close confidant to the Montes De Oca family for all his help in obtaining and conducting the interview with Miriam, Franklin, and Rosa Matos and translating two of the interviews for us. Without your help, we would not have been able to fully honor the life of one of our fallen Marines.

-Anthony J. Machcinski

WE’VE GOT MAIL

To the Publisher:

I was christened by Father John Washington at St. Stephen’s Church in May of 1939. As you are well aware, he was one of the four chaplains who gave their life jackets to others. They perished as the ship, Dorchester, sunk due to German torpedo in February 1943. I feel blessed and honored to have been christened by this good man who both lived and died his faith.

James J. Capobianco Sr.

Kearny

No definitive answers for school shootings

On the heels of the tragic school shooting in Ohio that left three students dead and two others injured in its wake, the fruitless “dance” will once again begin. Well-intentioned people, misguided as always, will clamber over one another to get to the underlying reasons for the tragedy. They’ll search for concrete “answers” in order to “understand” precisely what motivated T.J. Lane, 17, to walk into Chardon High School on Feb. 27 and allegedly mow down his peers with a .22-caliber Ruger semiautomatic pistol.
And as always the news outlets will feed on the story like blackbirds on a carcass. In a ratings scramble, the networks will trot out their top “guns” (no pun intended) who will lean forward in their chairs and talk softly – for added drama and effect – to show genuine (manufactured) concern as they probe the “senselessness” of the killings.

Then, almost on cue, school officials and posturing politicos from far and wide will chime in. They’ll talk about “getting tougher” on school violence, and will, for the umpteenth time, reassert their “zero tolerance” policies when dealing with firearms. This will prompt another countrywide order of metal detectors; the posting of even more security guards; appeals to parents to “look for the warning signs” in their children – blah, blah, blah, ad nauseum.

The trouble is we’ve been down this road many times before. Despite all of these maneuverings, plans, tactics and policy changes, not too much has changed. Most importantly, we’re no closer to deciphering the reason that such violent acts occur in the first place. Why is this, you ask? Because there simply isn’t one definitive answer.

Irish rock ’n’ roll star Bob Geldof and his Boomtown Rats underscored this sad fact with the hit song, “I Don’t Like Mondays.” For it was on Monday, Jan. 29, 1979, that 16-year-old Brenda Ann Spencer opened fire on children happily playing in a playground at Grover Cleveland Elementary School in San Diego, Calif. Spencer killed two adults and injured eight children and a police officer that day. When asked why she did it, the unrepentant girl could only offer the flippant comment, “I don’t like Mondays – this livens up the day.” Geldof, taken by the utter senselessness of the act, became even more intrigued when journalists kept asking the young shooter why she was driven to kill.  “It was the perfect senseless act and this was the perfect senseless reason for doing it,” said Geldof. “So perhaps I wrote the perfect senseless song to illustrate it.”

Our need as human-beings to wrap everything up in tidy packages, to get to the underlying whys and wherefores of such tragedies is understandable. In our naiveté, however, we believe that if can just identify the reason for a violent act, isolate and examine it, then we can pinpoint the warning signs in the future and prevent it from occurring again.

Yet deadly school violence continues to occur despite such research, and this unproductive dance continues. Were the killings drug-related? Was bullying involved? Was the child mentally stable? Did he/she have a score to settle? Was the act the result of desensitization from watching too much violence in movies and on television? Did the child have identity issues; questions and/or shame about his/her sexuality? Did the youth have an inferiority complex?  Did alcohol play a role?  Were violent video games responsible in some way? Could the teenage infatuation with vampires have driven the youth to go on a blood-spilling mission? Enough already!

As always, this pursuit for answers, noble though it is, will amount to nothing more than an exercise in futility. People’s motives for committing unthinkable acts aren’t interchangeable and are often mired in mystery. And we as watchdogs before the fact are not clairvoyant. There is no pat set of warning signs that can be relied upon to tell us if or when someone might suddenly go off the deep end and open fire.  Geldof got it exactly right.

As harsh as it sounds, people of all ages sometimes kill simply because they kill. After the murders are committed, some murderers can’t even tell you why they committed the heinous act in the first place, which suggests that there are underlying causes for this that may never be known to any of us. End of story. Fade to black. Take it away Boomtown Rats:

And daddy doesn’t understand it/ He always said she was good as gold/ And he can see no reasons, ‘cause there are no reasons/What reason do you need to be shown?/ Tell me why! I don’t like Mondays. /Tell me why! I don’t like Mondays. /Tell me why! I don’t like Mondays./ I wanna shoot the whole day down!

– Jeff Bahr
jeffbahr@theobserver.com

Should Kearny be considered gritty?

Yes – but not the way you might think

Growing up in Kearny, I can honestly say I’ve felt safe and protected, regardless of what part of town I was in or what I was doing.

That’s why after reading an article via Kearny on the Web, I was stunned that an Associated Press (AP) reporter labeled Kearny as “gritty.” The article was in reference to the Leonardo Parera shooting in Mountain Lakes last October.

As in all AP articles, the actual writer is not listed; at any rate, the quote was used as an attempt to paint a contrast between co-workers Christine King and the mysterious shooter Parera.

The author writes, “The 47-year-old King, a mother of two, lived in rural Oak Ridge, about 15 miles north of her job, while Parera lived about 20 miles southeast in Kearny, a gritty town sandwiched between Newark and Jersey City.”

That quote got me thinking: Is Kearny actually a gritty town?

In the context used here, gritty means rough, similar to perceptions of Jersey City and Newark and the crime that takes place there.

I’ll say it here: In no way, shape, or form, is Kearny as crime-ridden and “gritty” as those two cities.

I lived in North Philadelphia from 2007 to 2011 while I was attending La Salle University and returned to home to Kearny almost a year ago. Not once have I likened the “grittiness” I experienced there to anything that has taken place in Kearny.

While in Philadelphia, walking around the streets took a sense of being “street smart,” knowing that I have to watch what I do and not be too careless. I was never robbed or assaulted, but I knew several people who were, mainly because they did not have the sense to just walk away.

Now that I’m home, I can roam Kearny streets at night and not feel threatened about what is going on around me.

Kearny Police, despite the budget cuts they have experienced, do a great job keeping many of the issues of Jersey City and Newark out of our town.

However, in another version of gritty, and the one that I mostly associate with, the word means persistent.

Residents of Kearny have always been gritty in this sense of the word. There are people that continue to fight every day against life’s struggles. It’s no surprise that the recent economic downturn has affected many in Kearny, many residents maintain two jobs just to survive, but not once do you see them throw their hands in the air and just simply give up.

While Kearny is not a gritty town in terms of its violent nature, it is, however, gritty in its persistent approach to life, and that’s something town residents should be proud of.

- Anthony J. Machcinski

entertainment@theobserver.com

OOPS…

The Observer would like to apoligize to Larry Maleszewski. In last week’s story, “St. Patrick’s Day parade expects record turnout” from Page 2, we credited the Miss New Jersey Education Foundation for his photo of Parade Grand Marshal Laurence Bennet and Dep. Grand Marshal Michael O’ Donnell. The photo credit should read, “Photos of last year’s United Irish Associations of West Hudson St. Patrick’s Day Parade by Larry Maleszewski.

The Electric Car Revolution – D.O.A. (Discharged on Arrival)

I just read an interesting report. It seems the newest wave of electric cars are moving off of showroom floors at a rate that makes a glacier seem quick by comparison. To put it bluntly, sales are tanking. The buying public is showing these oddly silent vehicles about as much respect as they did comedian Rodney Dangerfield. To use an electrical impulse metaphor, the cars are currently “flatlining.”

This is distressing since these vehicles have been heralded as the most promising step in our path toward oil independence. The American government even offers generous tax incentives to lure drivers away from their dinosaurdrinkers in favor of these new “green” automobiles. Yet they barely sell. So, what gives? Well, I hate to kick an entire technology when its down, but I could have told them so.

In the beginning when electric cars were in their infancy their biggest problem was speed, or more precisely the lack thereof. With gas-powered cars easily capable of topping 100mph, not many were enticed by vehicles that could manage barely half of that – and at far stiffer prices to boot.

But that’s only part of the story. Designed in a classic form-follows-function style, these newfangled electric vehicles raised the ugly quotient by a sizable margin. Even if driving one benefitted Mother Earth and wrested proceeds from profit-crazy OPEC nations and equally greedy American concerns, not many were willing to pay big to go slow in one of these monstrosities. But that was then. Time and technology marched on and these deficiencies were eventually addressed. These days, if one wants speed and looks in their electric vehicle, they can drool over an ultra-sleek and blisteringly fast (0-60 mph in 3.7 seconds) Tesla Roadster wrapped up in Ferrari-like bodywork. Of course this exotic car carries an equally exotic price (over $100,000) but that misses the point. The Tesla, named for the inventor of AC current, has forever removed electric cars from the Poindexter category and made it “hip” to drive one. Nevertheless, some nagging problems continue to dog the technology.

The bane of electric cars is their limited range and lengthy recharge times. The far more affordable Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt, for example, offer operational ranges of just 75 miles and 35 miles (when run solely on electric current), respectively, and lengthy charge times of 4-12 hours – hardly a setup that will encourage people to ditch their more practical gasoline-powered vehicles.

Sure, one can argue, Tesla also manufactures a series of sedans that will go more than 200 miles on a charge, but the buy-in for these beauties starts at around $50,000; a price that places them firmly in luxury car territory.

So what’s the bottom line? It’s simply this: Who in heck wants to get stuck for hours at Aunt Matilda’s house when their battery runs out after Sunday brunch? Let’s face it, there’s only so much fruitcake a person can eat!

So, engineers, if you’re listening here’s the answer from an admitted layman’s standpoint: Somehow, some way you MUST give these cars a 200- mile range or better, and a recharge time more in line with a gasoline fill-up than a human sleep cycle. Then price them to move – even if this means taking an initial hit in profits, stir, and count the pile of cash that’s certain to come your way down the road.

And for those of us who wish to drive farther still, a nationwide network of recharge stations makes as much sense as our current system of gas stations. I can already see the new “Get Juiced!” and “Catch a Buzz!” franchises. Hmm… I might want to trademark those.

When the slide rule gang accomplishes this, people will get all “charged-up” and electric cars will “hum” off of showroom floors. Then, it’ll be “bye-bye Dino-juice” and “hello DC power!”

Will it ever happen?

Perchance to dream. But in the meantime one thing seems certain: These oil-cheaters sure ain’t world-beaters. Or, as Kermit the Frog says: “It’s not easy being green!”

-Jeff Bahr

We’ve got mail

To the editor:

Once again, the residents of Belleville have received requests from the police and fire unions for donations to their unions. This reader wonders why?

The request from the police union indicated the money will be used for the little league PBA team, high school programs, food baskets and to help with the general operations of this union. This reader learned that the phone is paid for by the taxpayers, and PBA headquarters is in the police station. What other expenses are we being asked to pick up?

Police and firefighters are an important part of the community. Most of them are greatly appreciated for their bravery and their bravery and they exhibit courtesy, professionalism, and respect to the public, their employers. A few police members, however, are bullies and arrogant. The police should not assume one is guilty when arresting someone, and should not abuse him.

The average professional receives a salary and benefits of at least $100,000 per year. This is probably more than twice what the rest of us receive from work or pension. They can retire much sooner than the rest of us. Why can’t they fund their own charities and union expenses?

It would be great if they would help start a Police Athletic League Club and, if not possible, volunteer to help staff a new recreation building to show our young people that they are concerned with their quality of life, and that they are paid to protect them, not intimidate them. Each officer can improve community relations by his or her attitude.

The teachers, the public workers, and other groups donate to the town with their money. It should be mentioned, the teachers have to pay for their four years of education and lose four years of income. The police and fire personnel not only get vocationally trained for free for a short time, but are paid.

The second concern is the perception that those who contribute will get better treatment. Putting these stickers on a house or car, gold shields on front car windows, carrying a business card from the police union will prevent us from getting that ticket or a hard time.

During contract negotiations, many local businesses put up signs prepared by the unions: “Support your local police and fire.” Did they feel under pressure to do so?

Do unions financially support our businesses? Decals, gold shields, union cards, stickers all over a car – do they invite special treatment? What happened to “liberty and justice for all?”

-David Harris
Belleville

 

To the editor:

I was delighted to read the new USDA guidelines requiring schools to serve meals with twice as many fruits and vegetables, more whole grains, less sodium and fat, and no meat for breakfast. The guidelines were mandated by the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act signed by President Obama in December of 2010 and will go into effect with the next school year.

The new guidelines offer a welcome change from USDA’s tradition of using the National School Lunch Program as a dumping ground for meat and dairy surpluses. Not surprisingly, 90% of American children are consuming excess fat, only 15% eat recommended servings of fruits and vegetables, and one-third have become overweight or obese. These early dietary flaws become lifelong addictions, raising their risk of diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.

In recent years, Hawaii, California, New York, and Florida legislatures asked their schools to offer daily vegetarian options, and most school districts now do.  The Baltimore public school system offers its 80,000 students a complete weekly break from meat.

Parents should continue to insist on healthful plant-based school meals, snacks, and vending machine items.  They can consult www.fns.usda.gov/cnd, www.healthyschoollunches.org, and www.vrg.org/family.

-Kenneth Miller
Kearny

A new holiday would be ‘Super’

Around this time every year, I always end up asking myself the same question, why can’t the day after Super Bowl be a national holiday?

I know I’m not the only one who thinks this, as nearly seven million Americans annually conjure up the best excuse they can just so they can lay in bed all day in celebration of the biggest sporting event of the year.

As a Packers fan and having one class on Mondays at this time last year, I definitely “called in sick” (Sorry Mom, you didn’t just read that) the day after Jarrett Bush picked off Ben Roethlisberger in the final play of Super Bowl XLV.

However, now that the Giants have won this year and our whole area has apparently caught Giants fever, I think it was worthwhile now, more than ever, that I write this column, because there has to be a day off after the Super Bowl next year.
Belmar attorney Thomas Ehrlich noted in a Google posting that in New Jersey alone this year, there were 96 DWI cases on the day after the Super Bowl reported by the State Police. Ehrlich goes on to say the volume of DWI incidents gets even bigger if you include local arrests, which are presumed to number more than 300.

I know that the people who drive are doing so at their own risk of arrest, but think about the amount of people who could simply stay at a hotel or wherever their party may be, instead of attempting to drive back to their homes, saying, “I can’t stay; I have to be up in the morning for work.”

Americans consume millions of gallons of booze each Super Bowl, leaving mighty hangovers on “Super Mondays.” Can anyone say productivity really rises on days when people are hung over just trying to stay awake, and can barely look at the computer screen?

Even those who refuse to partake in the drinking aspect of Super Bowl festivities will still stay up later that usual just to catch the end of the game.

Again, this is still a choice people who watch the Super Bowl will have to make, but with an estimated 111.3 million people watching Ahmad Bradshaw fall into the end zone this year, that’s a lot of decision making turned one way.

The question is: What day would people choose to give up in exchange for “celebrating” Super Monday?

Would anyone actually care if Columbus Day was taken away and shifted to February to become Super Monday? Workers still get the 10 federal holidays off a year and wouldn’t be forced to give up a day of vacation in the process.

Moving a meaningless holiday like Columbus Day (celebrating a guy who never really discovered the United States and really just got lost, finding a cool place in the process) would allow Americans to move an off-day to a day when the nation could really take full advantage.

Even businesses across the nation would see an increase in sales. This year, Modell’s saw their sales skyrocket based on the Giants’ victory and could do even better the next day, provided the day after the Super Bowl is a federal holiday.

On a totally different point, couldn’t a presidential candidate make this one of his or her issues and grab a large portion of the 111.3 million people who watched the Super Bowl? I will never say that I understand politics and am currently not a registered voter; however, I feel like this is an issue that I could get behind.

Instead of honoring a man who has been completely miswritten by many grammar school history books (Columbus), make the day after the Super Bowl a day not only for adults to recover, but another day for children to honor the freedoms we have as Americans to be able to put on such a worldwide spectacle.

And if you dislike sports (which cannot be many of you because we all know loving sports and being American are one in the same) just claim the day as whatever you want, whether its “Do Some Laundry Day,” “New Years Resolution Catch Up Day,” or my personal favorite: “ I Don’t Have Work, Let Me Sleep In Day.”

-Anthony J. Machcinski
entertainment@theobserver.com