web analytics

Category: Opinion

Thoughts & Views: Driven to fatal distraction



A few years ago, having picked up my brand new car at the dealership, I was driving home down Bloomfield Ave., stopped at a red light, and was instantly rear-ended.

“Great,” I thought. “The car is 15 minutes old, and already I’m in an accident.”

I pulled over, the auto behind me pulled over, and although I was aware of bump-and- run carjackings, any fears of that were assuaged when the careless motorist emerged. She was a petite, silver-haired octogenarian. Very apologetic. “I am so sorry,” she said. “I was talking on the phone and took my foot off the brake.”

Luckily, there was no damage. But this was my introduction to the perils of distracted-driving.

Elsewhere in this week’s edition of the paper, there is an article about a distracted driving report released last week by the Office of the N.J. Attorney General. It notes that, over a 10-year period, New Jersey recorded 1.4 million auto accidents in which distracted driving — usually involving use of a cell phone — was a factor.
Read more »




To the Editor:

To the dear friends of our beautiful mother, Barbara Gangi, who was recently taken away from us, my sister, brother, and I wish to thank you and the community for your words of sympathy and comfort. We appreciate this very much and shall treasure them always, North Arlington may be small but it has a big heart. Our mom was very blessed to have such wonderful friends like you. Again, thank you.

Donna, Joseph, Susan


A story in the April 16 issue of The Observer incorrectly reported the amount of additional real estate taxes that the “average” Nutley property owner would
have paid if the township hadn’t gotten special transitional aid for 2014. The municipal portion of the average tax bill would have risen by $181 – not $109, as reported. The Observer regrets the error.

Thoughts & Views: Jeff Bahr: An Appreciation




In the movie, “The Misfits,” Gay, the cowboy character played by Clark Gable (in what would turn out to be his last film) tries to persuade two buddies to join in a “mustanging” enterprise.

“Beats wages, don’t it?” Gay asserts.

The implication is that you get to keep your freedom by living life on your own terms.

Hearing that phrase echo in my mind, just a few days later, I thought of Jeff Bahr, my former Observer colleague and friend from Bloomfield who was killed April 10 while riding his beloved 2012 Triumph Explorer motorcycle in West Buffalo Township, Pa.

Jeff was the kind of fellow who liked to go his own way, carve out his own path – (he loved to play drums but never for a band and he ran like the wind but never went out for the school track team) – and the entertaining and instructive “One-Tank” trip columns he wrote for The Observer evidenced two of his lifelong passions: writing and motorcycling.

If Jeff were writing about the day trip he’d made to the Keystone State that fateful day, he’d be sure to point out, for example, that West Buffalo Township was a rural 38-square mile area of Union County, Pa., pocketed by dairy farms and a population of 2,795 (as of the 2000 Census) and featuring as a unique attraction, the 63-foot-long, King-post truss Hayes Covered Bridge, built in 1882 and named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.

Longtime associates and loving friends of Jeff, including fiancée Maria Cirasella, reminisced about their fallen comrade Sunday during visitation at the Levandoski Funeral Home, Bloomfield.

Lifelong friend Joe Appleton, who attended the same kindergarten class in Oak View School, Bloomfield, said that, already at age 10, Jeff had accumulated an astounding vocabulary, reinforced by a voracious appetite for reading.

Jim McDowell, now a resident of Dingmans Ferry, Pa., who met Jeff as a teen, remembered Jeff confiding that he was thinking of quitting school. “He told me, ‘The teachers just don’t get me,’ so I asked him what he intended to do with himself and he thought about it and finally he said, ‘I’ll just become a wordsmith.’ ‘’

And so he did.

“The way he processed things was amazing,” McDowell said. “The angle through which he viewed things had a perspective like no one else. And he could find humor in everything. He could always find a way to make you laugh.”

Jeff ’s writing career started by accident, Appleton said, when he was working for an environmental lab and his employer asked him to write something about the company. He went on to write for local newspapers, magazines and book series.

He was a contributor to “Weird NJ” and “Weird Virginia,” the “Armchair Reader,” “Amazing & Unusual USA: Hundreds of Extraordinary Sights” and Backroads: Motorcycles, Travel & Adventure magazine, a monthly publication that circulates on the East Coast.

Brian Rathjen, who, with his wife Shira Kamil, publishes Backroads, has enjoyed reading Jeff ’s prose for more than a quarter century. “We’ve been friends and biking pals,” he said. “Last August, when Jeff had his cancer – and I had had cancer myself – we were a mutual support team. We kind of lifted up each other.”

As for the articles Jeff submitted, Rathjen said the author’s copy “had a fresh and vibrant style” and invariably featured “a wealth of bizarre and interesting knowledge.” And, Rathjen added, “If we needed to fill space at the last minute, you could always rely on Jeff to provide something. He was always upbeat, positive, one of the most unique guys I’ve met.”

Jeff ’s ability to draw people out amplified his story-telling talent. As McDowell put it, “People fascinated him. He got them to open up.” And that probably explained why he was a CB radio operator. And why he outfitted his motorcycle helmets with radio units so he could carry on conversations with bike buddies while he was riding to share his adventures on the road with them.

Jeff ’s fixation with bikes began officially in 1985 when, according to biker buddy and Netcong resident Paul Alesi, he got his first cycle, a Nighthawk 950. “He kept it for a year, sold it and got a 550E Suzuki. And then he went to a Suzuki Intruder 700,” Alesi said. “He’d take that up to New Hampshire to visit his sister.”

Warwick, N.Y. resident Dave Erfer, who rode with Jeff for the past 15 years after they met at a Backroads rally, figures his pal went through “eight or nine” bikes in his lifetime.

“The bike he was using when he was killed he’d had only two weeks,” Erfer said. “He said it was ‘close to perfect’ because it had anti-lock brakes, traction control and cruise control.” “The biggest thing about Jeff was, he always knew his history about the places he visited,” Erfer said. “We used to say that riding with Jeff was like riding with Google because of all the facts he could recite.”

“I’m going to miss our morning wake-up calls. In fact, he called me at 9:10 [a.m.] the morning he died on his helmet intercom to tell me he was on his day ride to Pennsylvania. I was enroute to work. An hour later, he was dead.”

As he was working his way through his recovery from throat cancer, Jeff would work out in the basement of Appleton’s home. And, a week before the fatal accident, Appleton recalled, Jeff “rode his bicycle eight miles to try and get his wind back. He was so overwhelmed that he could do that, he pulled over and cried.”

For some reason, Appleton said, Jeff had a fascination for skyscrapers and high structures. “He’d drive anywhere to find one of those huge radio towers.”

Maybe now, Jeff is looking down from the ultimate height and realizing that he’s achieved all that he set out to do and that those he’s left behind appreciated – and were inspired by – the effort.

– Ron Leir

Thoughts & Views: In harm’s way around the world

Anja Niedringhaus

Anja Niedringhaus

These days, when we’re used to getting our news so easily on the internet, we tend not to think twice about the degree of difficulty that may have been involved for the news-gatherer to get that story or photographer to snap that image.

Especially if the coverage of that particular event is being done in countries where guarantees of press freedoms are unheard of and journalists are targeted for threats or physical confrontations.

Such was the case last Friday, April 4, when an Afghan police commander shot and killed Anja Niedringhaus, a 48-year-old Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer for the Associated Press, and badly wounded AP reporter Kathy Gannon as they were preparing to cover the national elections in that country.

The Committee to Protect Journalists, an independent, nonprofit organization that promotes press freedom worldwide and which has tracked attacks on news employees, has logged 703 journalists murdered globally since 1992. Read more »

Thoughts & Views: Once there was a ‘debris field’ in N.Y.



As the mystery and media feeding frenzy over Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 continue, I have been thinking about another aircraft disaster, this one closer to home and a long time ago.

When I was with the N.Y. Daily News, I wrote about it for a New York City history series the newspaper was running. If you’re interested in that article, you can find it online; the headline is, “Red Snow: The Brooklyn Air Crash, 1960.”

At the risk of plagiarizing myself, I’m going to write about it here, because it affected me deeply.

That’s because I grew up in Down Neck, Newark, directly under the flight path to nearby Newark Airport, and back in those days air crashes were more common, so I felt that what happened easily could have happened in my neighborhood. Read more »


Last week’s story about Barbara Gangi, the beloved North Arlington waitress who was tragically killed while crossing River Road, misidentified the funeral home that handled the arrangements. It was the Parow Funeral Home, North Arlington. The Observer regrets the error.

Thoughts & Views: Today, it’s Crimea, tomorrow, who knows?

Students of world history and geopolitics are likely burning the midnight oil these days, following the exploits of Russian President Vladimir Putin as he redraws the world map with the annexation of Crimea in Ukraine.

And the map’s contours could change even more, nervous Western observers note, if those thousands of Russian troops staging along the eastern border of Ukraine should happen to invade.

Perhaps Putin wants Russia to directly benefit from the tourism revenues from Crimea’s Black Sea resorts or perhaps Putin – with help from one of his loyal oligarchs – has picked out a prominent place on the coastline to build a posh hotel and fitness center where he can stay.

Frankly, with the rest of Ukraine’s economy reportedly in the tank, I’m not entirely clear why Putin is butting in, if for no other reason than to prevent the European Union from partnering with Ukraine and, of course, to gain control of the large Navy base in the region.

And he well knows how deeply many of the Union’s member countries like Germany and Poland and the Netherlands are dependent on Russia for their energy needs.

So Putin can afford to snub his nose at the sanctions that President Obama has mustered to try and deter his aggression against Russia’s neighbor.

Even Ukrainians themselves – the ones who haven’t declared themselves pro-Russian – haven’t seemed to kick up much of a fuss about being occupied and, apparently, being forced to relocate if they don’t wish to accept conditions of occupation.

Ill-equipped Ukrainian defense forces have folded quickly, offering little resistance to the masked intruders demanding their ouster and getting it.

One exception reported in a recent New York Times dispatch – which stirred memories of a famous scene in Rick’s Café in the movie “Casablanca” – was of a group of Ukrainian naval cadets who dared to sing their country’s national anthem in defiance of their “masters” who then ordered their allies to top them by vocalizing the Russian anthem even louder.

Somehow I don’t think this Crimea adventure portends a “beautiful friendship” between Putin and Chancellor Merkel of Germany in a new alignment of convenience. Perhaps, instead, it foreshadows new five year plan for Ukraine, with all the attendant hardships.

Did you read about the Weehawken teenager who managed to sneak through a hole in a construction fence, amble into the new One World Trade Center tower and take the elevator to the top?

It’s not exactly reassuring to know that the new symbol of America’s determination to stand up to terrorism and start over is so easily subject to such an embarrassingly simply “invasion.”

With the countless millions of dollars this country has spent on Homeland Security since September 2011, it is humbling to realize that simple human error – attributed to a lax security guard – opened the door to an enterprising youth’s indiscretions.

So you’re newly installed Knicks President Phil Jackson and you’ve watched your team come perilously close to blowing a huge lead to Phily after your coach clears his bench with five minutes to go in the game and then you see your team blow another big lead and lose to an injury-depleted Cleveland team after your coach allows the Knicks to sleep-walk through the fourth quarter.

Hey, Phil, the only system that you should be thinking of installing with this bunch is the Bermuda Triangle.

Good luck.

– Ron Leir

Thoughts & View: ‘Hereby you are notified . . . .’

Uh-oh. I’m in deep trouble. The following letter popped up in my email the other day:

Notice of appearance,

Hereby you are notified that you have been scheduled to appear for your hearing that will take place in the court of St. LouisTampa in April 19, 2014 at 09:45 am.

You are kindly asked to prepare and bring the documents relating to the case to court on the specified date.

The copy of the court notice is attached to this letter, please, download and read it thoroughly.

Note: The case may be heard by the judge in your absence if you do not come.

Yours very truly,


Clerk of court

I’m supposed to appear in court and I have no idea what I have done.

What documents am I to prepare and bring?

And to which court? St. Louis or Tampa? Or is there a place called St. LouisTampa of which I am unaware?

I need to make flight reservations. I need to get a lawyer!

Or not.

This is a scam.

(One of the clear giveaways — as in a lot of scam emails — is the abysmal English.)

Even though I recognized it for what it was, I was dying to know what the attached “court notice” could possibly say, but no way would I open the attachment.

It and the original email have been deleted.

Part of me is worried simply because I opened the email, but hopefully, hackers would gain access only via the download. Because hackers are exactly who are behind this con job.

I Googled “court appearance email,” and up popped links to various news stories, including one that ran in the N.Y. Daily News in January. Aside from the court date, place of appearance and name of the “clerk,” the scam missive it quoted is word-for-word the one I got.

Apparently, this relatively new scam mail was launched late in 2013 and is now infesting computers nationwide. And the big danger is the attachment. The News notes, “ . . . those who click out of curiosity or concern download a virus that can crash their computers.” (Ha! My instincts were correct! For once.)

The article also explains: “The malware attached in the email strike . . . reportedly subjects victims to having their passwords and files stolen and can turn a computer into a ‘botnet’ machine that spreads viruses far and wide unbeknownst to its owner.”

I have no idea what a “botnet” is, but I know I don’t want one.

I must also note that my email provider is a lot sharper than I. It automatically sent the letter to the spam file.

Email scamsters are forever coming up with new tricks. There is much info on the internet regarding how to recognize the phonies, so you can educate yourself if you are not email savvy.

Among the informational sites is http://www.us-cert. gov/, the webpage of the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Term, a division of the Department of Homeland Security. It has pages of advice, so I’ll quote just one bit, which can apply to all the scams:

“Regard Unsolicited Email with Suspicion”

“Don’t automatically trust any email sent to you by an unknown individual or organization. Never open an attachment to unsolicited email. Most importantly, never click on a link sent to you in an email. Cleverly crafted links can take you to forged web sites set up to trick you into divulging private information or downloading viruses, spyware, and other malicious software.”

Scamsters, evil creatures that they are, prey upon the trusting. Be aware. And ever wary.

– Karen Zautyk


A story in the March 12 issue of The Observer misidentified Joseph Longo as president of the Belleville Board of Education. Longo is a member of the board. John Rivera is the board president. The Observer regrets the error.