28 February 2009

The Other Boat

It might be worth noting, before I move on to something more topical, that the USS Neshanic (AO71) was not the first vessel to bear that moniker. There was a 271 ton steam ship by that name built at Cornwallis, Nova Scotia in 1870.

Sailing out of New York, the 134 ft. merchant freighter Neshanic, crew of six, was still plying the trade routes as late as the 1920s, and possibly longer.

27 February 2009

USS Neshanic

It took a little digging, but I finally found a photo of the actual USS Neshanic (AO71). Here she is in 1943 before heading for the Pacific.

26 February 2009

It's a Mardi Gras Miracle!

Just call it "Lean Tuesday". With their announcement on February 24 that property taxes will go down, the Somerset County Freeholders have finally taken the fat out of Mardi Gras!

County Freeholders Robert Zaborowski and Peter Palmer are attempting to fulfill a campaign promise for 5-percent cuts across county departments, and this has largely been accomplished - resulting in an overall budget decrease of 2.63 percent.

So how did they do it? It took reducing appropriations for over 600 line-items, and significantly, not filling 30 vacant positions - a move that saved $1.4 million all by itself.

But essentially it took a conservative approach to fiscal planning - not expanding too rapidly when the money was rolling in so there would be no desperate contraction during a crisis. According to the Freeholders, the budget is designed to ride out a three-year economic downturn.

Budgets aside, what taxpayers in Somerset County care about is the overall tax levy. This too would decrease - by about a million dollars - resulting in a reduced tax rate, and, lower taxes!

Somerset County homeowners could see their wallets expand by about $20 next year.

I wonder how many beaded necklaces you can buy for twenty bucks!

25 February 2009

New Jersey's Soul Train

Does today's busy world offer Christians no time to observe the traditional forty days of penance leading up to Easter known as Lent? Are dietary prohibitions too strict? Is a six week period of fasting and humility too long to sustain? And what about people on the move, commuters unable to attend church services?

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 4 March 1965


Interesting questions. Today, and when they were first asked in a Time Magazine article in March of 1965!

Luckily for the harried sixties commuter, two New Jerseyans were ready with solutions. Rev. Craig Biddle of Morristown's St. Peter's Episcopal Church turned the last car of the Erie-Lackawanna's morning commuter train into a chapel on wheels. On Ash Wednesday, March 3, 1965, the 7:17 pulled out of the Morristown station with a full fledged church in place of a caboose! New Jersey's original Soul Train!

And what of Hillsborough's commuters? According to a New York Times article from 13 February 1965, there was help for them as well. Rev. Raymond C. Ortman, pastor of the Neshanic Reformed Church, revealed plans that same week for converting part of the parking lot on the eastern side of the church into a drive-in area where parishioners could park and attend services without getting out of their cars.

Slated to open on April 4, the drive-in church would have six parking spaces, sound speakers, and heaters. Hymn books and church bulletins would be placed in racks, presumably at car window height. No need to get out of your seat to be saved!

23 February 2009

One Step Forward, No Steps Back for GSA Depot

Hillsborough Township is one step closer to acquiring the 369 acre Belle Mead GSA Depot now that Governor Corzine has signed off on the Finding of Suitability for Early Transfer. This document allows the property to be transferred from the federal government to Hillsborough before environmental remediation has taken place.

During the three years that it has taken to get to this point, some have commented that we should be getting this property for free - all clean and ready to go. I have been unable to conclude whether or not that is true, but I do know one thing - if we waited for the feds to clean up the depot, we could be waiting decades.

The purchase price of approximately $16 million will be used to clean the site, and work can begin as soon as the transfer is complete.

Despite questions and lawsuits, Hillsborough is right on track with this project. Every bit of news so far has been positive, with no setbacks. Let's hope that lasts.

22 February 2009

Time for a Wheel Deal?

The Motor Vehicle Commission is looking to raise fees for some of its services, including motorcycle registrations and document copying. Some fees haven't gone up in years, and could rise substantially - 500% or more. The increases are expected to raise $40 to $60 million per year.

Maybe this would be a good time to revamp the driver's license fees also. As I wrote a couple of years ago, the $24/4 year driver's license is a bargain - maybe too much of a bargain. Why not a $100/10 year license? The state would get an instant increase of $4 dollars per driver per year, and a tremendous savings on processing costs - as driver's license renewal is one of the functions that can't be performed through the internet or by mail. And drivers would only need to renew their licenses half a dozen times or so in their lifetime.

How about a youth driver's license for ages 17 to 21, and a full driver's license starting on one's twenty-first birthday. Renewals at age 31, 41, 51, 61 - and a renewal with road test at 71, and - hopefully 81!

What do you think?

21 February 2009

Chinese Innovation?

I caught part of a television show on the Discovery Channel about China's highways. The premise seemed to be that China was copying the US interstate highway system almost exactly - even down to the numbering of routes and the color of the signs - and doing it better!

I was especially intrigued by the plan of the beltways and connecting highways of the Shanghai metropolitan area. The schematic shown looked something like this:



The show touted this unique plan of inner and outer looped highways, and praised the Chinese for their innovation. But I knew I had seen this map before. It's the Regional Plan for New York from 1929!
I especially like that road from Somerville to the Shore. Is that Route 92?

20 February 2009

But I Don't Even Work Here!

There was a notable episode of 90s sitcom "Seinfeld" where Kramer ended up accidentally working - without actually being hired or getting paid - at some generic corporate office. He proceeded to turn in incomprehensible reports, and was called into the boss's office to be fired. His only explanation, "I don't even really work here!" To which the boss replied, "That's what makes this so hard."

At least Kramer got some notice.

It appears that the Courier News have cut Gillette on Hillsborough from the free Community Courier newspaper that is delivered to mailboxes weekly.

Judging from the exclusion of my blog excerpt these past few weeks, it appears I have been permanently replaced by a column written by one of the editors. Can't be a money-saving measure, because, like Kramer, I don't really work there.

I hope this new column continues to get the same good community response that I have been receiving - from Hillsborough residents who don't read the daily paper or use the internet - who found my blog by reading Communtiy Courier each week.

19 February 2009

Science Faire

The Hillsborough Elementary School Science Fair that took place a couple of weeks ago was a real treat - and an eye opener. I don't remember ever participating in one of these when I was in school, and hadn't been to one in years. The students' chosen topics were fascinating, and it was great to see such a tremendous turnout - approximately 135 students creating displays for the fair.

Of course the best part was watching my own first-grader explain his project to one of the dozen or so judges who examined each student's work. A real thrill!


18 February 2009

Blow Your Horn

On a recent visit back to my hometown of Freehold Township, I noticed a large sign alongside one of the county roads adjacent to a large tract of open space.


Upon closer inspection, it turned out to be a sign touting Freehold Township's impressive record of preserving open space. The town has quite a number of commercial and retail centers, and oodles of housing developments, but has still managed to put 37% of the town into some type of open space preservation.

The signs are a cool idea, and one Hillsborough Township - or Somerset County, for that matter - should consider. It's nice to drive around here and see those "preserved farmland" signs, but they are quite small and don't really tell the whole story.

If there is one thing I would change about Freehold's signs it would be the inclusion of the township committee members names. Sorry guys, and gal, even though I went to high school with some of you and got a kick out of seeing your names up there, this achievement can be appreciated on its own for what it is. You don't need to blow your horns too!

17 February 2009

If It's Yellow....

First question: How often do you flush? Second question: Do you think you're getting your money's worth?

Montgomery Township officials obviously felt that many residents were not getting their money's worth when it comes to their sewer bills. After all, sewer usage is based on how much water you run down your drains - but all residents had been paying one flat fee of $850, no matter how may times they flushed or how long they showered.

Montgomery's new billing system, which went into effect January 1, is based directly on how much water is used at each home. Now, about 70% of residents should be paying under $850 - some as low as $541. High end users - unquestionably those who let the water run while shaving or brushing - could pay as much as $1562.

This seems fair to me, and could conceivably lead to water conservation - always a good idea.

Good job Montgomery. This idea gets four out of five plungers on the happy bathroom scale!

16 February 2009

The Most Important Meal

This Sunday my family and I enjoyed the last regularly scheduled brunch at Old Man Rafferty's on Route 206 at the Triangle Center. The few times I have had brunch there over the last few years I have enjoyed it very much, and Sunday was no exception. I'm sorry to see that they have decided to end this regular service, although they will still be serving Sunday brunch on selected holidays.

I am pleased to see that Red Wagon Gourmet have reopened for business after flooding caused by a faulty sprinkler shut down operations in December. Also interesting to note that they are now including more healthy food choices, and are offering an expanded breakfast menu.

And finally, one of my favorites, the Plaza Deli on Route 206 at the Mountainview Plaza is now open on Sundays from 8 until 2. With apologies to IHOP - which is another excellent breakfast choice that I couldn't leave out of this blog - Plaza Deli has the tastiest pancakes in Hillsborough. And their other menu items are delicious as well.

Can't wait till the weekend!

15 February 2009

Hillsborough's 21,000 Ton War Hero

Much has been written about our state's famous namesake battleship, New Jersey. She is the most decorated battleship in naval history, having participated in World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the Lebanese Civil War of 1983/1984.

Less is commonly known about Hillsborough Township's own namesake warship, the USS Neshanic (AO-71), one of five Chiwawa Class oilers named for rivers with Native American names. Oilers are used for refueling and for transporting petroleum products.

Built in 1942 at the Bethlehem Shipyard in Sparrows Point, Maryland, the USS Neshanic was commissioned on 20 February 1943 and saw service in the Pacific during World War II.




Neshanic's most meritorious moment came on 18 June 1944 off of Saipan. For about two hours that afternoon, Neshanic and other support ships were under continuous Japanese air attack. At 4:42 P.M. she took a direct hit from a 100 pound bomb, which landed on the cargo deck, but luckily did not pierce the deck through to the fuel tanks.

Thirty-three crew members were injured fighting the ensuing fires, which were quickly brought under control. Neshanic then exacted her revenge - gun crews were able to bring down two Japanese planes.

The USS Neshanic received nine Battle Stars for service in the war before being decommissioned on 19 December 1945. She was later sold to the Gulf Oil Corporation, sailing as the SS Gulfoil, and then in 1958 was sold to the Pioneer Steamship Company and converted to a straight deck bulk carrier.

In 1962 she was sold to the Oglebay Norton Company and renamed SS Middletown.




Neshanic was later sold to Liberty Steamship Company and renamed SS American Victory.



As of 2007, Hillsborough's 21,000 ton war hero was still afloat, sailing the Great Lakes cargo routes.

14 February 2009

Happy Valentine's Day from the USS Neshanic

What to do on Valentine's Day? Tough enough question for those of us who are ABLE to spend the day with our significant other. What about those who are somehow separated from their loved ones on February 14?

For the sailors aboard the USS Neshanic cruising the Pacific during World War II, a Valentine's Day Card to their sweethearts stateside was a must.

The card below is typical of the kind sent from naval ships in the Pacific. The front is designed to make the hometown girls jealous. Inside might be a poem like, "Every day I see something new, but every night I'm dreaming of you."


Something new, indeed!
Happy Valentine's Day!

13 February 2009

No Elbow Room? I wish!

So what set off yesterday's blog? Space. Personal space.

I'm not generally one of those people who needs a zone around myself. I enforce no three-second-rule for those who linger in my "lane". I have rubbed shoulder to shoulder with strangers on airplanes, and had my arm sat on by a woman "standing" in the aisle of a New Jersey Transit bus.

But there's a limit.

Just before the start of my son's first grade music concert last week, I was sat on by a woman in the folding chair next to me. She turned away from me to speak with her friends, and placed her butt literally on top of my thigh.

The chairs were close together - I had no place to go even if I managed to extract my leg from underneath her cheeks. I looked over at my wife on the other side of me and said, "Look what's going on over here."

Her advice: Push the woman off.

I don't know why, but I couldn't bring myself do it.

Upon seeing my lack of nerve, my darling wife began to exert pressure on me from the other side in an attempt to start these dominoes falling! No luck.

Mercifully, the chair-challenged woman straightened around when the show began a few minutes later.

12 February 2009

How Not to Succeed in Business

My dad liked to tell the story of how one of his co-workers, Harvey, at the General Cigar Company in New York City got fired from his job. This was back in the late sixties, early seventies, when any half-decent employee basically had a job for life - you really had to screw up to get canned.

Dad was an accountant working out of the company's corporate headquarters in Manhattan. His main duties consisted of preparing the quarterly and annual reports, and other aspects of consolidations. In the era before computers, number-crunching was actually labor intensive - teams of accountants with gigantic calculators and primitive room-filling photo-copiers.

Telecommuting consisted of a spreadsheet the size of one of the Santa Maria's sails spread out on the dining room table, Dad peering in, a ball point pen with the finest point ever created poised above a tiny green cell.

Dad definitely had a creative side, which you wouldn't think would be important in accounting, but was indispensable. He could make one plus one equal three, if that's what the bosses wanted. He did a good job there for over 30 years. He was well-liked, respected, and never stepped on anyone's toes.

The same can't be said for hapless Harv. Oh, I'm sure he was well-liked, and may have been respected by his peers - but he stepped on a lot of toes.

That's not a metaphor. He actually stepped on people's toes! Apparently this went on for years - he couldn't keep his feet to himself! Until one day when the boss had had enough - Harvey and his size elevens had to go!

Imagine trying that today. I'm sure "clumsy feet" is a protected medical condition covered by the Americans with Disabilites Act.

11 February 2009

Comcast Raises Rates!

It was just about a year ago that I wrote a blog entry titled Patriot Media Raises Rates!. That was at the end of 2007, and I was more than annoyed that Patriot was justifying the increase by touting expanded offerings for many of its packages, but was giving me nothing for the 3% increase in my service.

Last year brought a new cable company to town, and now a new rate increase. And this increase is even more exasperating than last year's, because they are trying to blame it on me!

Well, not ME specifically - at least I don't think so!

My January 15 bill has a note on Page One which reads:

"Effective 12/29/08, you made changes to your account. See the following page for more details."

What! O.K., let's see what's on the following page:

"Effective 12/29/08, you removed Expanded Service at $38.50 per month. You added Expanded Basic at $48.50 per month."

No. I did no such thing! Which is exactly what I told Customer Service Representative Chevelle when I called for clarification several days later. "Why would I charge myself ten dollars more for exactly the same service?", I explained.

After waiting on hold for several minutes, the young woman informed me that, indeed, I had not changed my service or initiated a rate change in any way - this was really a rate increase. It only reads like it is my fault - but I'm not to blame at all.

Thanks for the explanation Chevelle - I'm sure it's not easy to have to answer for such a deceitful company - one that would try to pass off rate increases by blaming it on bogus customer-initiated service changes.

And is it a coincidence that my rates went up on December 29 - exactly one year after I wrote about the previous rate increase?

I wonder.

10 February 2009

Fluff

Click here to read the short piece about snow that ran in the New York Times 25 years ago.

The story really isn't about Eskimos. It's about TV weathermen.

And it's ALL fluff, really!

09 February 2009

Snow!

Eskimos do not have 100 words for "snow". This myth has its origin in the 1911 book "The Handbook of North American Indians", by anthropologist Franz Boas, who likens the different Eskimo words for snow to the different English words for water, such as "lake" or "river". But even Franz doesn't credit the Inuit with 100 words for the white stuff.


The story of the Eskimo snow was exaggerated from seven words in 1940 to fifty by 1978.



It took a New York Times editorial, 25 years ago today, to put the final figure on the urban myth: 100!



I suppose the idea is that all cultures are rich and vibrant. All human experiences are rewarding. All people are wealthy. Even the Eskimo, who sees only snow and ice, can have an enriching life experience expressed through language. Hence, 100 words for snow!


All wrong! Cultures around the world can be rich, vibrant, rewarding - but they don't need to be expressed with language. That's our own Western bias coming out.
And by the way, there are many more words for snow in English than there are in any of the Inuit languages. Do you know any?

08 February 2009

Historic Move

This is a photo I took on January 3, 2009 just several days before the 5000 square foot two-story barn at the corner of Route 206 and Raider Boulevard was moved onto its new foundation.


 
The barn dates back to the 19th century, and the carriage house visible in the distance was built in the mid 1700s. Can you make out the barn and carriage house in this 1931 aerial photo of the area? The road running north and south is Route 206 - called Route 31 back then - and Raider Boulevard would be in the vicinity of the black line that runs east-west through the photo.


Both buildings will remain on the site, becoming part of the new retail-office complex. Read more here.