Belle of Liberty

Letting Freedom Ring

Saturday, September 03, 2011

A Labor of Love

A job can be so much darned fun, that it’s nothing short of criminal.  Emma Watson posted a quote on her Facebook page saying: “You may forget the friends you laughed with, but you’ll never forget the friends you cried with.”  But a company photographer can do a lot of laughing (and a little crying), which you’re not supposed to do at work, as long as they don't let management find out. Employees are supposed to be photographed grimacing and scowling, cringing and shuddering; in other words, working. Yeah. Eventually, the bean counters catch up with you, though.  "Do we hear happiness here?!"  Having fun is such a scandal that no photographer would dare show, or even take, any happy photos with the company name on it, lest some crank call the CEO to complain.

Like Harry Potter’s adventures, it’s all coming to end in December . However, Labor Day weekend seemed like a good time to post a photographic tribute to the last 11 years and all the fun we had:

Seems that's all Blogger's going to allow for today.  Maybe more tomorrow and Monday.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Assignment: Happy 9/11 Day Stories

“Baloney is my business.”  Army Publicist Lt. Colonel Bruce Derringer  (John Lithgow), Memphis Belle

Our department manager gave us a special assignment yesterday for our website for 9/11 week:  Find “happy” 9/11 Day stories.  Needless to say, we were not at all happy.  We’re supposed to find positive, upbeat stories about how our subjects’ lives have improved since 9/11.

The trouble, among the many obvious problems with this assignment, is that even the inspirational stories were already written nine and ten years ago, when 9/11 first happened.  That’s when employees started joining the military, volunteering for the local fire department or rescue squad, and doing work for organizations like the American Red Cross.

September 11th is a commemoration, like D-Day or Pearl Harbor Day, not a holiday.  There’s nothing “happy” about it.  September 11th, especially on a milestone anniversary like this one, should be remembered for what it was:  a tragedy in which many people lost their lives.

A movement is afoot, led by Obama, to forget all about that nasty, disagreeable day, and especially the nasty, disagreeable people who caused it.  Osama Bin Laden is dead, they tell us.  Al-Qaeda is history.  Let’s do some volunteer work, instead of remembering history.  Let’s perk things up a bit.  Put away the American flags and start redistributing some wealth.  That’s the way to honor the dead.

Still, one has to write something.  So here’s this writer’s essay on how our lives have improved since September 11, 2001:

Trying to find a positive in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks is a challenge in navigating sensitivities.  However, if there is a positive aspect, some way in which we’ve all improved, it’s in our preparedness for emergencies, particularly in the wake of 9/11.

Sometime after the events of 9/11, September was declared National Emergency Preparedness Month.  In our cafeteria, employees have access to various literature on preparing for any kind of emergency:  flood, fire, tornado, hurricane.  One pamphlet is an Emergency Supply List from FEMA, with a checklist for all the necessary items.

During 9/11, ten years ago, a number of our employees were on their way to meetings on Long Island and in New York City.  With the bridges and tunnels closed, they were marooned without supplies.  Thanks to the kindness of our New York employees, they made it through the overnight until they could get back home.

No one knows if and when to expect a terror attack.  But hurricanes and other violent storms do announce themselves, and with that September 11th awareness, people get their “Go” bags ready and make sure they have a supply of batteries, water, medications, gasoline in their vehicles, and other necessities in case they have to evacuate their area.

People have evacuation arrangement plans, too.  When they have to “go”, they know where they’re going to.   Technology is vastly improved, so that it’s easier to communicate with loved ones, and to make sheltering arrangements ahead of time.   People have maps of their areas and new GPS devices make it easier to get around detours, adding an additional security if the driver has to steer into “uncharted” territories, especially in an emergency when stress levels are higher.

Government authorities have been getting their acts together, too, since 9/11.  Hurricane Preparedness Conferences have been held in New Jersey since before 9/11 – a conference was held in our former Northeastern Regional Office two months after 9/11.  Since then, they’ve stepped up their efforts to improve emergency response, efforts that came in handy as Hurricane Irene approached the coast of southern New Jersey.

Finally, the ten years since 9/11 have given us a greater and undying appreciation for our law enforcement and emergency responders.  We have not forgotten the risks they took then and continue to take on behalf of public safety and security.   More people have also felt inspired to volunteer for these services, generously offering donations of time, money, and supplies.

Goodness triumphs when good people do everything they can to help.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Talking Points for 10th Anniversary of 9/11

The 10th Anniversary of September 11th is ten days away.  The White House has issued a set of guidelines – two sets actually, one for overseas diplomats, the other for officials here in the United States – as to the proper way to commemorate the day.  The New York Times first reported on the issuance of the talking points.

The White House, desiring diplomats to maintain a partnership with foreign countries, wants our ambassadors to note in their remarks that the United States is not alone in being victimized by terrorism.  Just plain old terrorism, mind you, not Islamic terrorism.  This is necessary, Obama says, in order to gain the cooperation of other countries in the battle against terrorism.

He also wants all references to Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda deleted.  According to the White House, since Obama’s death, the terrorist organization is irrelevant.

Here in the Untied States, he wants observers to focus on community service.  Obama wants Americans to adopt a positive, forward-thinking attitude on 9/11.  Never mind those searing pictures of the second plane plunging through the south tower, people leaping from the flames, first the south, then the north tower crumbling into rubble.

Forget about the horrible 9/11 phone calls from workers trapped in the towers with no way out, screaming as the building collapsed under them.  Forget about the images of the burning Pentagon, symbol of our determination to protect ourselves against all enemies foreign and domestic.  Certainly never mind about the courage of the Flight 93 passengers.  That happened way out in a field in Western Pennsylvania.  Ever been on the Pennsylvania Turnpike?  Do you know how deserted it is between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh?  Don’t even go there.  Congress doesn’t, even though the ungrateful, arrogant members of Congress ought to be out there every single 9/11, on their knees in gratitude to Flight 93’s passengers.  There are no good restaurants out there in the wilderness.  There aren’t even any bad restaurants.  What?  Who, us?  Go out there, to the middle of Pennsylvania?  Why, we’ll just honor them here on the steps of the Capitol.


As for those of you in the Metropolitan New York-New Jersey, don’t even think of going to Ground Zero on 9/11.  It’s for the families.  That’s okay.  But apparently, the ceremony is only for family members whose relatives worked in the building, not for the families of rescue workers who died there – and of course, the politicians.  At least this time George W. Bush is allowed to attend the ceremony.  He was barred from going there while he was President, all because he reacted to the incident in a calm, controlled manner, rather than panicking.  He got all the facts before making decisions.  Some nerve.

Above all, you must not pray.  Not at Ground Zero, certainly.  All clergy have been banned from the ceremony.  The politicians are welcome; God is not.  Mayor Bloomberg has been taken to task for this decision, but he is standing firmer than a 30-foot concrete piling in the midst of a Category Five Hurricane.  Nothing in heaven, on the earth, in the wind, or the seven seas, will move him from his stance.  No God.  God showed Manhattan mercy, even when the eye wall of Hurricane Irene passed right over Manhattan.  Mayor Bloomberg has no intention of returning the favor.   If the politicians cannot make stump speeches at the ceremony, even though they’ll get plenty of face-time up there on the podium, then neither can God’s communications strategists.

The real person’s guidelines are easier to remember:  Reflect.  Pray.  Remember (and never forget).

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Hurricane Fedzilla

Journalists are fond of castigating politicians for all sorts of grammatical and geographic bungles.  But throughout the coverage of Hurricane Irene in New Jersey, the journalists have bombed the geography test.  Among other goofs, they reported that:

·         The collapse of Rt. 287 Northbound was in Parsippany.  It’s in Boonton.
·         The collapse of Rt. 23 occurred in Pompton Lakes.  The road was stripped away in Pompton Plains.
·         A photo caption of a shopping mall on Rt. 23 stated it was in Riverdale; it’s in Pompton Plains, where the highway collapsed.
·         Then yesterday, at a conference in Wayne, Gov. Christie spoke about a house blowing up Wayne; the house was in Pompton Lakes.

The newspapers really need to start paying their reporters more money.  The average salary is $35,000 a year.  Young journalists might also want to start studying maps of the areas they’re assigned to cover.  News12 NJ has been doing the best job; their meteorologist only missed one of the tributary rivers into the Pompton River, which begins in Riverdale – the Wanaque.  An A-minus for NJ 12’s weather dude.

Some citizen had the temerity to ask Gov. Christie a question, to which he replied, “I only talk to reporters.”  Evidently.  There he was patting the back of the despicable Congressman Pascrell.  Wouldn’t it be nice if the reporters talked to someone besides politicians about the building of the Pompton Dam.  Gov. Christie blamed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  He should have spoken to the guy whose back he was patting in bipartisan solidarity, evidently as a sneer at Tea Partiers and Town Hallers.  A note to Tea Partiers:  he’s never been our friend and has never said that he’s a Conservative, for all his sometimes humorous plain speaking.  Yesterday, he resorted to outright, decidedly unfunny insults, particularly towards some hapless reporter named “Lisa.”

To anyone who understands New Jersey’s shore, rivers, and roads, ordering the evacuation was the right thing to do.  Anyone who’s ever been stuck on the Garden State Parkway – a limited access road beyond the Cape May border, northward – knows just how bad the traffic can be.  Although the original forecasts turned out to be wrong, forecasters had the eye of the hurricane roaring right up the Garden State Parkway.

The storm shifted eastward towards the coastline, but only at the last minute.  The authorities couldn’t take the chance, with a forecast like that, that maybe the storm would shift and not sweep the traffic jam of cars right off the highway.  Don’t think that because some clowns were laughing and dancing around on the beaches that everything was beachy.  Take a look at Wildwood365’s Facebook pages.  The boardwalk in Point Pleasant upon which the clowns were dancing one day, were torn apart the next.

Some of those surfers, or surfers like them, that you saw on television out in the waves died.  We were lucky the storm shifted track towards the shoreline beaches and barrier islands, rather than farther inland, where permanent homeowners live.

As for the lack of wind – well excuse us.  The pundits and critics are making up for it.  The politicians may be overhyping the flooding.  This is neither the first nor the last time the mighty Passaic will overflow its banks.  It overflowed in 1968, 1984, 1999, just a few years ago, and this spring.  This isn’t global warming.  This is the glacier that cut its way through northern New Jersey some ten thousand years ago, leaving myriad lakes of melted glacier water, and rivers to drain them off when they became too full.

If journalists do want to find a scapegoat, start investing the real reasons for the creation of the Pompton Dam.  Follow the money trail.  Find out who would benefit by preventing flooding in Oakland along the Ramapo River.  Find out who would benefit by assisting such people involved.

Geographically challenged?  Follow the Hamburg Turnpike to the Pompton Dam.  Turn onto Route 202.  The sign says Terhune Drive.  Drive along Rt. 202 (you’re in Wayne at that point) and go as far as Doty Road.  Just the past the lake on the left (Pompton Lake) is the border between Pompton Lakes, Wayne and Oakland.  It’s that land in Oakland that was in dispute.  That’s the land, according to the locals, that the dam was built to protect.  Not the properties below the dam, the properties above. 

Since all 85 to 90 percent of all journalists are registered Democrats, and our Congressional representative is of that party, you can be sure absolutely no one is going to investigate and will happily lay the blame at the feet of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  Anyone who does investigate is sure to come back with a report that is politically correct and favorable.  The Media will blame its meteorological faction.  The politicians will blame the engineers.  Democrat voters will happily accept federal money for throwing away everything in sight.

Then the flooding will continue.  Our friends in southern Pompton Lakes, going through their third or fourth flood in almost as many years, meanwhile, really are devastated.  “Sick to their stomachs” to quote them exactly.  They bought the house, which had never flooded before the dam was built, from a relative.  They’d lived here most of their lives and were certain of the area’s history when they bought the house (prior to the building of Pompton Dam) from her. 

The house was no sooner fixed from one flood than another flood came along.  The family only just recently returned to the house earlier this spring or summer, when Hurricane Irene came along.  In the meantime, our company was downsizing and they were about to sell the house and relocate to another area.  They couldn’t wait, they had said, just a week or so prior to the storm.

Not only is this mess devastating to all the flood victims, but billions of our taxpayer dollars are bailing out this political mess.  No blame to the neighbors in Pompton Lakes who bought safe homes.  This is Hurricane Fedzilla’s fault.  Like the red spot on Jupiter, it’s permanent and self-perpetuating.

For distraught homeowner, no doubt it’s so comforting, seeing Gov. Christie and Congressman Pascrell sympathizing with them.  For those of us who know the truth, it’s infuriating.  The governor and the Congressman talk tough.  They are tough, among other things.  But we northern New Jerseyans are tougher.  Whether they like it or not.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

New Jersey Crude

Tomorrow, our mother celebrates the 50th anniversary of living in her house in New Jersey. The anniversary comes at a time when New York radio host and attorney Mark Levin is on a crusade against New Jersey Governor Chris Christie for conduct unbecoming a governor.

Like the trailing winds of Hurricane Irene as she departed the metropolitan New York-New Jersey area, Mark is lashing out at the portly governor for his rude and crude orders to New Jerseyans to get off the beach before the storm.

The governor’s manner of speaking is perfectly all right by most New Jerseyans. However, he’s a little hard on the ears of out-of-staters and transplanted New Yorkers who are accustomed to such language (except when driving on the LIE or the Cross Bronx).

If Mark has ever been east of the West Side, if he’s ever been over the East River, he has to know that the language is much worse there. The Bronx and Brooklyn are where New Jerseyans learned to talk. My parents were from the Bronx. My brother’s ex-in-laws were from Brooklyn and Queens. Then there was my grandfather, a seaman whose language was as blue as the seas upon which he sailed.

Who are we kidding, here? New York is the cradle of Jersey Crude. My parents moved north to Westchester for awhile. Living amongst wealthier relatives and neighbors, they gladly adopted the more genteel culture. But the Bronx was still in their blood. In our bedtime Bible tales, God spoke with a Bronx accent and attitude.

“Hey, Noah! Where’s my ark?!”

Once the George Washington Bridge was completed, New Yorkers who once only came (by ferry) to New Jersey for riverside vacations (!), came to live here permanently, building suburbs upon suburbs. My grandparents took up residence in a former cottage on the banks of the mighty Passaic River. Good thing Grandpa was a seaman.

My parents, eyeing the landscape and all the rivers warily, chose one of the New Jersey hills for our home. Mudslides instead of floods. They came to New Jersey to escape New York City and Westchester’s high taxes (by way of California). Only, New York City moved right in with them, including a neighborhood filled with former residents of New York’s infamous Hell’s Kitchen. The Hole in the Woods Gang.

The natives didn’t know what to make of the newcomers up on the hill. They weren’t happy we were here. But they had their own peculiar brand of roughness. One friend told us that as early as just before World War II, the locals had hillbilly feuds, where they’d shoot across the river at one another.

Hee-haw! Welcome to the suburbs!

The natives began moving farther west as New Yorkers encroached upon their territory. You can still find their remnants in western New Jersey. The second, third, and fourth generations went somewhat native, but we’re all more urban than rural.

Mark can criticize the governor if he wants to. That’s his God-given, all-American, First Amendment right. However, it is interesting to note that just prior to the storm’s approach, the governor indeed told the beach bums to get off the beach. But he didn’t tell them that the government would come and get them. He told them that the government wouldn’t come and get them. If they got into trouble, they were on their own; he wasn’t going to send any law enforcement or rescue personnel out to try to save them.

Good for the governor. How many more people’s lives would be lost in the future, if our rescue personnel died trying to save some fool surfer out there in a hurricane, trying to “catch a wave”? If they want to catch a wave, go out to California, where the water is colder and so, the waves are higher.

Our rescue personnel are more important than some darned fools running around in a hurricane. Legally, the governor did what he had to do to cover the state’s assets from a lawsuit by these fools, or their families. He made it very clear what the state would and wouldn’t do. He had to.

No, the government shouldn’t be ordering people what to do, except in an extreme emergency. Mark Levin is a great radio host and Constitutional attorney, but he’s not a weather forecaster. In a little state like New Jersey, even a little hurricane can cause a lot of damage and danger. It takes a pretty big governor to get through to a lot of small-minded people that putting themselves in danger doesn’t just put themselves in danger, but many other people as well. Since only a relatively small number of people died (although any death is always tragic), mostly they were fools who didn’t listen, not even to someone as blunt, brusque, rude, insulting, and crude as Gov. Christie.

Everyone else got the message.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Post-Irene: What's the Big Deal?

Pundits and residents of hurricane-prone Florida think people in the Northeast are a bunch of sissies, panicking over a little Category 1 hurricane like Irene.  Down there in the land of palm trees, a Cat 1 is just a little storm in comparison to the Cat 5s they’ve suffered.

The Northeast isn’t the land of palm trees; it’s the land of oak trees.  Big, heavy oak trees that can crush a car down to its axles, rip through the top story of a house, or take out the electricity for about 40,000 homes and businesses.  We also live in the land of rivers – quite a few.  New Jersey, in particular, is a working class state, not the home of tourists and retirees.  If a vacation home gets blown away in the Sunshine State, the owner calls their insurance company and then goes home.  Anyone who can afford a vacation home in Florida can afford the insurance.

Here in New Jersey, you have to live in a flood plain to even qualify for flood insurance.  Unfortunately, not everyone who qualifies can afford the insurance.  Then, too, floods don’t always cooperate.  Sometimes they flood non-flood plain areas, where there is no flood insurance.  Those homeowners are just plumb out of luck.

Then of course, there’s the problem with FEMA.   They condemn everything in sight, even items that could be salvaged.  That’s where those billion-dollar figures come from.  Wet clothes – washing won’t do.  Out they go.  Furniture – gone.  Appliances that got wet, toss ‘em (that’s understandable, but still costly).  Rugs; well, you wouldn’t want them anyway.  Ring up another cost.  Repairs to the house and property.  Ka-ching!  There’s your billions, you sun-baked sun worshippers.

Next come the cars.  Down there in Florida, the damage is mostly water.  Here, we’ve got some choices:  flood damage, tree damage, accident damage.  If your employer tells you you have to go to work, you go, unless you’re lucky to have a governor like ours who declares a state of emergency ahead of time, and say a prayer as you’re driving down the road.

The roads.  Now there’s a category of billions of dollars right there.  Route 287 Northbound in Boonton just collapsed.  Repairs are going to be at least a day-long nightmare.  Route 23 is closed from the intersection of Rt. 80 right up to the intersection with Rt. 287.  This is a highway that floods regularly.  In fact, highways throughout the state, from Cumberland County to Sussex County’s Rt. 15 are flooded.  Power is out in many places as well.  When power goes down, so do businesses.

Irene may have been a little hurricane, but it only takes a little hurricane to cause problems in a little state with a lot of people, a lot of houses, a lot of cars, a lot of heavy oak trees, a lot of roads, and a lot of streams, rivers, and dams.  We’re glad that the governors of New York and New Jersey gave the extreme warnings.  Those people you saw in Battery Park and other places behind the news reporters were a bunch of very stupid people just asking for a heavy tree limb to fall on them and crack their empty skulls.  August is the time when trees are at their heaviest, even without a hurricane or tropical storm.  Add a little more rain and a little more wind, send out the clowns, and you’ve got a walking, talking disaster on your hands. 

Before you criticize us, come and visit New Jersey.  Not just the Shore, but take a trip around the state just after a storm like this has passed through.  But bring your helicopter, because that’s the only you’re going to get anywhere.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Pomptons

Gov. Christie is doing such a great job with his press conferences during Hurricane Irene. What other  governor would tell his tanners, “Hey, it’s 4:30 p.m. You’re done. Get off the beach and go home!”

His main concern in the north is the Ramapo River. He keeps getting his Pomptons mixed up, too, which is quite understandable. There’s Pompton Lakes, which has all the lakes (Pompton Lake, Lower Twin Lake, Lake Inez, and some other lakes) and three major streams that all converge on the border between Pompton Lakes and Riverdale.

The three streams combine to form the Pompton River, which technically speaking, begins in Riverdale, and heads south through Pompton Plains (it’ flat; the Indians had a settlement there, where their high school is now located) and Wayne.

Pompton Lakes is where the waters meet; Pompton Plains is where the waters go. Although Pompton Lakes obviously floods. The Lincoln School is already under water, according to my neighbor, who has friends who live in that neighborhood.

We just got the evacuation order. Our OEM tells us that the Ramapo will crest around midnight and that it will be a record, a full foot above the 1984 level. In 1984, the water was so high that it flooded the ten-foot high railroad tracks. If they hadn’t released some of the water on Friday, that would be four feet above the record.

The governor is supposed to be flying up here to Pompton Lakes (not Pompton Plains, sir; the dam is on the border of Pompton Lakes and Wayne) to inspect the area; if he can get to it. First of all, we’re experiencing wild winds up here. Trees are coming down; the fire department is constantly on the run up and down the town and foolish people are driving around.

As for us, the question of evacuation is matter of the lesser of two evils: stay here, and possibly get flooded, or leave now, and get crushed in our cars by some tree. Until Post Brook starts spilling over the sidewall of the brook (and it’s still only halfway from that point), my neighbors and I figure we’ll just stick around and listen to the governor’s press conferences.

Maybe we’ll send him tee shirts from Pompton Lakes and Pompton Plains. XXXL.