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Category: Opinion

Thoughts & Views: How sweet was my habit

4-22Op_web

Now it can be told: Growing up as a kid, I was an addict.

Seems that I just could not get enough Coca-Cola.

If I had to drink milk – and I was forced to get that calcium – I insisted that I be allowed to mix in some chocolate flavoring or, better yet, Coke.

(Interesting that I later learned I was lactose intolerant.) Which also probably explains why I never really got along with my mom and constantly rebelled at all of her suggestions, or should I say, commands. Dad, being at work mostly, missed all the fun.

In its early years of production, according to Wikipedia, Coke had an estimated nine milligrams of cocaine – derived from the coca plant – per glass and was promoted for medicinal use but, reportedly in 1903, the cocaine was eliminated.

Today, a can of Coke ( 12 ounces) is said to have 39 grams of carbs – all from sugar – plus 34 mg of caffeine, 50 mg of sodium and 140 calories.

So apparently it wasn’t the cocaine that got me but the combination of caffeine and sugar that did me in.

Next, figuring that I had to live up my fuzzy image of what a newspaperman was supposed to be, I spent too many nights getting wasted on beer in my choice of dive bars followed by late night dining.

That led to Type 2 diabetes and a steady diet of meds since I refused injections of insulin. Why am I blathering on about the tales of a reprobate news hound? Because I’m not unique. Many of us in the general population come to depend on something we don’t need that robs us of time and energy we could be investing in a more productive, healthy way.

On Friday, as reported by The Star-Ledger, a survey by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention shows that more and more kids in middle and high schools are being turned on to nicotine, thanks to the novelty of the e-cigarette which, it is feared, is becoming a “… ‘gateway’ to a lifetime of smoking.”

And in Sunday’s New York Times, we learned that more and more collegians and people in the workplace who face a lot of deadline stress have been popping stimulants just to keep pace. Many cannot stop taking the pills and end up in substance abuse treatment centers.

Behavioral psychologists would likely tell us that the roots of addictive personalities are found in our DNA and cultural upbringing.

I’m not quite sure what it is that drives people to stand on line for hours and hours to grab the latest product from Apple, for example, but I guess it keeps our economy going.

Still, habits – no matter what they are – can be broken if we want to break them. I pretty much gave up drinking beer some years ago, no longer take sugar with my coffee, have Soy milk with my cereal. I’m still trying to revamp my daily food menu.

Some habits, though, I don’t want to give up. Like reading. And puns. Maybe I’d make some people happier if I stopped writing columns like this but, sorry, every other week I’m called on to fill this space.

Have a good week!

– Ron Leir 

Thoughts & Views: School daze, school daze . . .

4-15Op_web

When I was a toddler, there was no such thing as pre-school or day-care.

Formal education began at kindergarten, or, for many kids, not until first grade.

Until age 5 or so, we were free to be unrestricted children. While the daddies were out hunting/gathering and the mommies were cleaning the caves, we tots were outside playing with our pet brontosaurus. (The brontosaurus was the approved child-safe pet; when we got older, we might be allowed to have a T. Rex, provided it had obedience training.)

In any case, yours truly never went to pre-school. But if I ever felt deprived because of that (and I haven’t), today’s world offers a second chance. And this particular second chance is yet more evidence that today’s world is going stark raving mad.

Recently, a friend sent me an email link to an ABC News story about “the world’s first day-care experience for adults.”

What?

Yes, over in Brooklyn there has been established an adult pre-school, where for between $333 and $999 per month (the difference in price was not clearly explained in the email), you can attend classes featuring dress-up, games of musical chairs, Play-Doh crafting, fingerpainting, etc.

You will also have naptime. And maybe a field trip or two — but the destination was not specified. (I’d vote for a pub crawl.)

“In this one-month adventure,” the school’s founder was quoted as saying, “we’ll explore preschool concepts, like sharing and friendship, in order to apply and inject play, wonder, self-belief, and community into our grown-up lives.”

The program also includes a “parents day,” when the students can invite an (other) adult to speak to the class. (I would invite a psychiatrist.)

All of this reminded me of another “return to your youth” school I had heard about many years ago. This one was in England. For a fee — can’t recall the price — you could book a week at a private girls’ “boarding school” and relive all the joys of your privileged British adolescence.

It was touted as an alternative vacation option. The adult female students would be issued uniforms and live in dorms and spend their days in class and their evenings doing homework. There must have been some social events, too, but these have faded from my memory.

I was actually intrigued, until it dawned on me that I had never been either British or privileged.

I decided to give that particular “reliving” experience a pass.

As for the adult pre-school, I’ll give that a pass, too. I already have enough “play, wonder, self-belief, and community” in my grown-up life.

That’s because I’ve never completely grown up — as I have been told more than once. And I wouldn’t change that at all.

– Karen Zautyk 

Thoughts & Views: Don’t give up on peace

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In his Easter message delivered Sunday at Vatican City, Pope Francis rightly reminded us about the forgotten people of the world.

He talked about persecuted Christian minorities in such places as Kenya where 148 students were summarily executed by the Shabab, an extremist Somali group retaliating for intervention by Kenyan government soldiers in Somalia.

Also on his agenda was the ever-escalating conflict in the Middle East where the only people profiting from their dealings there are the merchants of death.

“We ask for peace, above all, for Syria and Iraq, that the roar of arms may cease and that peaceful relations be restored among the various groups which make up those beloved countries,” he said.

But the pontiff also went on to list the disastrous strife in Yemen, Nigeria, South Sudan, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ukraine, the Palestinian territories and Israel – all of which have contributed to the horrific displacement of refugees from their homelands.

He chose to take heart from the potential Iranian nuclear deal tentatively struck by negotiators in Switzerland.

All good words, indeed, but despite the popularity of the Argentinian cleric among his flock and beyond, the global community has done little, beyond isolated bombings, drone attacks and, with some exceptions, out-gunned and outmaneuvered boots on the ground, to try to stop the relentless killings, kidnappings and desecrations of historic sites by the Islamic State thugs and its affiliates.

Back in the Middle Ages, of course, the Vatican gave the world a taste of its own punitive might when it organized the Crusades, flexing its political muscles by expanding its authority through Europe and elsewhere.

So what to do?

Mahatma Gandhi famously turned fasting into a weapon of persuasion to accomplish his non-violent goals.

Between 1913 and 1948, Gandhi undertook 17 fasts of varying lengths – from one to 21 days – to protest oppressive British policies in India and internal fighting by segments of the native population as well.

Sad to say, even if the pope, President Obama and other world leaders committed to abstinence from food for any length of time, it would likely carry little weight with those forces who say they’re equally committed to establishing a world-wide caliphate.

There seems to be little appetite among the U.S. and its allies – still struggling with recessionary pressures – to mount a steady stream of attacks on an enemy that has proved to be elusive as it is brutal.

What’s more, ISIL continues to draw support from fringe elements world-wide, with media reports estimating that some 20,000 recruits, many from western bloc countries, have volunteered to join the jihadists.

While the root causes for the rise of ISIL may have been oppressive and intolerant measures imposed by governments, those callous practices will have to be left for later to reverse, no doubt leading to more future upheavals.

For now, though, as the pope says, the priority must be to halt the wanton acts of bloodshed which, if left unchecked, will continue to be a plague in our midst.

– Ron Leir 

Thoughts & Views: Drive the lane you’re in & don’t foul up

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It’s down to the Final Four. No, not NCAA teams. (Since I don’t follow basketball, I have no idea who’s still playing, if anyone.) I am talking about the Final Four in the NJDHTS tournament.

That acronym stands for the N.J. Division of Highway Traffic Safety. (Does Jersey have a Division of Local Streets Traffic Safety? It damn well should. Somebody talk to Christie, if he’s not wandering around somewhere in the Midwest.)

Anyway, the Final Four in the NJDHTS “March Driving Madness” tournament are: Texting & Driving, Yielding, Move Over Law and Headlight Use.

Speeding, Tailgating, Directional Use and Left Lane Travel have already bitten the blacktop. No surprise there. Jersey folk consider speeding, tailgating and left-lane travel to be constitutionally protected rights. As for misuse/nonuse of directional signals, many have no idea such equipment exists.

Before you become more confused, I shall explain.

Recently, we received a NJDHTS press release about “March Driving Madness,” which is “an online poll that is asking the state’s drivers which bad driving habits need to be fixed on the Garden State’s roads.”

My answer was, “All of them,” but that was not an option.

The tournament idea apparently was spawned in February after the division posted queries on Facebook and Twitter regarding N.J. drivers’ flaws.

Hundreds responded, with 28 different complaints.

From these, eight (cited above) were chosen for a tourney. More than 1,000 votes were tallied, resulting in the four finalists.

“The bad habits with the most votes will be the focus of public service announcements that the division plans to run on New Jersey’s radio airwaves in the coming months,” the release noted.

Personally, I think the Final Four are wise picks.

Headlights: Just as some drivers don’t know their car has directional signals, many obviously are unaware of low beams.

Yielding requires courtesy, and yo! this is Jersey. (BTW, on the Manhattan side of the Lincoln Tunnel, a N.J.-bound multi-lane approach route now carries signs saying “TAKE TURNS.” I fear for drivers who may be unfamiliar with colloquial English. Think about it.)

Re: texting and driving: I wonder how many voters in the poll sent their online responses while behind the wheel.

As for the Move Over Law, I always move over whenever any type of emergency vehicle approaches with lights flashing and siren wailing. If I am on a local street, I move over and stop until the vehicle passes by, which, it being an emergency vehicle, takes about 6 seconds. Even so, invariably the driver behind me starts honking in fury.

Someday, I know I will become the victim of road rage. I can only hope that the vehicle for which I have moved over is a police car so its occupant can arrest the motorist who has shot me.

For more about the “March Driving Madness” tournament (they may be down to the Terrible Two by now), visit the division’s web page, its Facebook page (New Jersey DHTS) or tweet @NJTraffic- Safety.

The champion will be announced April 6.

– Karen Zautyk 

Thoughts & Views: Maybe a Hollywood set crew could help

The U.S. Secret Service wants $8 million from Congress to build a fake White House so its agents can practice guarding the real place against outside threats.

Good luck getting it. Good luck getting anything from Congress these days. You can’t even get a free ride; in fact, that’s the one thing you know they won’t cough up. Anyway, you can’t really blame the new director for trying. Judging from the recent lapses that have been spotlighted in the national press – (so much for the “secret” part of their service) – it sounds like those agents of his must have a lot of time on their hands.

So having a place to practice should be a good thing because it will keep those agents occupied doing the secret things they do.

And, what’s more, if I were the director, I certainly wouldn’t stop there.

I mean, think about it: Part of the mission of the Secret Service (yes, I looked at their website to verify this and they didn’t make a secret of it) is to guard and protect our embassies overseas.

Well, we’ve got a whole bunch of embassies around the globe so the director should be asking for replicas of those embassies, too. Like the diplomatic compound in Benghazi, for example, where in 2012 we lost an ambassador and foreign service employee, and another location there where two CIA contractors were killed.

Of course, this is not to say that even if we had been more vigilant about protecting these facilities and representatives that extremists still wouldn’t have found a way to carry out their deadly missions.

Maybe we still need more communication between and among our federal agencies set up to detect and penetrate those groups who are actively seeking to do harm to our governments and representatives. There still seems to be too much territoriality exercised by our security agencies and lessons that were supposedly learned from 9/11 probably have been forgotten.

The Secret Service seems to have been snake-bitten, literally from the day President Lincoln signed the legislation on April 14, 1865, which happens to be the day he was fatally shot by John Wilkes Booth.

But don’t blame them for that outcome: the Secret Service was created as a creature of the U.S. Treasury to combat counterfeiting – then a scourge of the war-disrupted country.

An inept cop, John Parker, was assigned to guard Lincoln that night at Ford’s Theatre if you can believe the website todayifoundout.com which reports that Parker left his post at the president’s box to get a better view of the play and, during intermission, visited a nearby saloon, which probably didn’t help.

But the Secret Service did manage to thwart a counterfeiting gang’s scheme to steal Lincoln’s body and hold it for ransom in return for the release of a convicted counterfeiter.

After 1990, as its own website chronicles, the Secret Service widened its net to investigate any kind of threat, civil or criminal, to federally-insured financial institutions, including cyber-crime.

That, in turn, has led to several successful investigations including, notably, the arrest in 2004 of 24 suspects from various countries on charges of identity theft, computer and credit card fraud that caused the loss of more than $4 million to banks.

And in 2009, harking back to its original mission, the agency arrested nearly 3,000 counterfeiting suspects, nearly all of whom are convicted, and confiscated more than $180 million in phony U.S. currency.

Apparently, they did it without practicing on a currency replicator.

– Ron Leir 

Thoughts & Views: ‘Great gift of faith’

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(Editor’s note: Earlier this month, preceding its St. Patrick’s Parade, the Nutley Irish-American Alliance held its annual Mass at St. Mary’s Church in that township. This year, Msgr. John J. Gilchrist of Kearny was the guest speaker. In honor of March 17, The Observer would like to share a portion of his homily, and its local history lesson, with our readers. ) 

This annual parade has two great purposes. The first is, of course, to give glory to God and show gratitude to the Lord for sending St. Patrick to us to bring the great gift of faith.

Secondly, all of us who carry the Celtic DNA want to pay tribute to our forefathers and to those who brought us to this great country and especially to those who settled in this beautiful area that was once known as Avondale, then Franklin, and that we now call Nutley. And so, we represent faith, heritage, and gratitude to those who went before us.

You know the Irish came to this area as refugees from famine and persecution.

Once they arrived here, they needed work. The Dutch and English who preceded them had discovered that this beautiful river valley contained copper that could be mined, then brownstone that could easily be cut into building blocks for housing, and the running water in the rivers that turned wheels for mills.

So the Irish followed the river and came here to settle and make a living mining, cutting blocks, and working in the mills of the area.

It was a hard and difficult time. The single men lived in barracks, and families lived in shanties. The men and women worked six days a week from sun-up till sundown in all sorts of weather.

Until 1880, there was no Catholic church in Avondale, as Nutley was called in those days. Catholics went to Mass in St. Peter’s in Belleville from 1838 until 1877 when Father Hubert de Burgh came and took up residence here.

I would like to tell you a story that my mother uncovered. She was a member of the Belleville Historical Society and in the 1950s she wrote a history of St. Peter’s Parish.

She wrote of a Mission that was held during Lent in the 1850s. The Irish families from the quarries, mines and mills rose long before dawn that year and walked in the dark beside the river along Main St. to Mass at 6:30 a.m.

They then walked back to Nutley to grab a bite of breakfast and then went to work until sundown at night. They filled the church each morning for the nine days of the Mission.

I have to tell you that, on these frigid cold mornings, with the snow all around, I think of those faithful Catholics. By the way, in those days the Passaic River froze over and the Irish from Kearny and Arlington walked across the river on the ice to attend Mass.

I want to leave you with that image. On these winter days, consider what religion meant to those good men and women who endured so much to find their God in the Holy Mass.

My dear friends, if you would honor these saints, for holy they were, imitate them by giving God glory by practicing the Faith that meant so much to them.

May you have a great and glorious parade.

May God bless you all.

– Msgr. John J. Gilchrist 

Let the games begin … again!

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Money generally means power. And so it is with the American financial system.

Just take a look at what’s happened since we experienced our national financial meltdown in 2008.

Through the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act, the government spent billions of taxpayer dollars to bail out Ford, Chrysler and GM, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the banking industry and American International Group (AIG). Read more »

Thoughts & Views: Dressed to kill (my brain cells)

3-4 Op_web

Unless you have been hibernating with the groundhogs, you recognize the photo that accompanies this column. However, for the few of you who have just stuck your heads out from the burrow, I shall explain:

Last week, a woman in Scotland posted that picture on the internet. She had attended a wedding, and that was the dress worn by the mother of the bride.

Within hours, it became a worldwide sensation. Not because of the design, but because of the colors. Or more specifically, because of how the colors were perceived. Read more »

WE’VE GOT MAIL

‘A COWARDLY ACT’

To the editor, 

My family and I are deeply saddened and offended by a flyer that was recently distributed via U.S. Mail to the residents of Lyndhurst by cowardly individuals who implied that I am one and the same as mass murderer, anti-Semitic, anti-Christian Adolph Hitler. Never in my political career have I ever witnessed an attack that rises to this level. I consider it to be defamatory and criminally biased in nature, not only to myself but also to Commissioner DiMaggio.

The flyer makes reference to Hitler’s SS and Secret Police and their tactics, drawing a direct comparison to the affairs of my administration. In addition, the flyer makes reference to me facing criminal charges, which is a ridiculous allegation.

I have made numerous statements over the past seven months since my forced redesignation as Commissioner of Public Safety dealing with suspicious lawsuits being filed naming the Township and myself as the defendants, and issues related to the Joint Insurance Fund (JIF). Read more »

Thoughts & Views: It happens every spring

2-25 Op_web

In case you hadn’t noticed, pitchers and catchers have reported for the annual ritual of spring training.

By April, the baseball season will have begun and every team can dream of winning the pennant and the World Series.

But, as T.S. Eliot liked to say, “April is the cruelest month,” because while it theoretically offers the possibility of rebirth and hope, by the time October rolls around, it means that all but two of the teams in the American and National Leagues will have to “wait ‘til next year” for their chance at all the marbles.

Still, now is the time of year when we can all dream big with our favorite team – yes, even the woeful Cubbies who haven’t won the Series since 1908 when they knocked off Detroit and Hall of Famer Ty Cobb.

That team featured pitching ace “Three Finger” Mordecai Brown who had six seasons with 20 or more wins plus a double play combination made famous by poet Franklin Pierce Adams: Tinker to Evers to Chance. Funny thing was Tinker and Evers didn’t talk to each other after, it is said, Evers grabbed a cab to the ballpark one day, stranding his teammate.

You can look it up, fans.

Baseball, which is still our national pastime, has survived despite all forms of cheating – even a World Series fix in 1919 by that other Chicago team, the White Sox – and the infamous “reserve clause” famously challenged by Curt Flood and racism, successfully smashed by Jackie Robinson. I grew up in Jersey City where Jackie played for the Dodgers’ Montreal Royals farm team against the Jersey City Giants at Roosevelt Stadium in April 1946, a year before moving up to the parent club in Brooklyn and broke the color line.

Don’t bother looking for the stadium; like the Polo Grounds and Ebbets Field before it, that baseball relic was swept aside to make way for a residential development.

Luckily, the “Friendly Confines” of the Cubs’ home, Wrigley Field, still stands, as does the venerable Fenway Park in Boston (pictured above).

Remarkably, over more than a century of diamond history, there has been only one player fatality on the field. That happened in 1920, when Yankees submariner Carl Mays beaned the popular Cleveland shortstop Ray Chapman and not long after that, the baseball establishment mandated the use of helmets and outlawed the spitball (although it grandfathered in veteran pitchers who had been using the pitch).

Aside from expansion and a few rule changes, the game – with a dubious myth about its origins – has pretty much stayed the same, with its central premise being that it is a contest played at its own pace – unlike other sports — without concern about the passage of time.

Until now, that is.

In an effort to speed up the game, the baseball commissioner has decreed that the major leagues will now be on the clock for pitching changes and inning breaks and batters won’t be permitted to step out of the box willy-nilly.

And, based on experimentation with the Arizona Fall League last year (as noted by The Star Ledger) there could be more rule changes coming, like restrictions on managers’/ catchers’ visits to the mound, no-pitch intentional walks and more.

Naturally, baseball purists will be upset but it doesn’t bother me and I’m a lifelong baseball addict who tried out (unsuccessfully) for my college team when it was coached by onetime Cub utility infielder Norm Gigon and, as consolation, I play Sunday softball doubleheaders in Central Park.

I’d prefer to see these changes:

• The American League should eliminate the designated hitter and let the pitcher bat.

• Let fans watch batting and fielding practice. It’s part of the game. Fans can come early, relax, catch part of the pregame ritual and bond with the players.

• Stadiums should stop blasting loud music at us every chance they get. It’s annoying, harmful to the ears and takes away from the pleasure of watching the game.

• Team owners really need to re-think how they design their ballparks. AT&T Park in San Francisco, with a seating capacity of 41,000, has great sightlines and feels just right. Camden Yards in Baltimore is another good example.

• Get the Yankees to have open tryouts for a backup third baseman behind Chase Headley just to shake up ARod. Play ball!

– Ron Leir