31 January 2008

Long Month

Maybe it's just me - but January seems to be the longest month. I am sure the cold weather has something to do with it - and having the maximum 31 days certainly doesn't help. But I suppose the real culprit is February. It's just not fair that such a short month follows such a long one.

January and February have so much in common - yet they couldn't be more different. January goes on forever while February - even during the 29 day leap year - just breezes right past.

And the strangest part is, even though January is soooo long, I almost didn't find enough time to get my requisite twenty blog posts in this month. In fact, I'm getting this one in just under the wire! It's not procrastinating - it's something to do with January itself. Everything is moving slower, even me!

I think I may take tomorrow off. Then, shadow or no shadow, I'm going to bust out twenty posts in 28 days starting on the 2nd. Keep reading!

30 January 2008

Baby's Best Friend

I have to admit I'm not much of an animal lover. Don't get me wrong - I appreciate the beauty of the wild and natural world, I enjoy seeing birds at the backyard feeder, and I always have a good time at the zoo.

What I have never been able to do is elevate pets to the status of people. I had a dog when I was a kid, and although I cared for him and enjoyed having a pet, he wasn't "like a brother". He was just a dog. I always feel uneasy when I see people who treat their pets like they were their children. I just don't get it.

Then I came across this story about a family in Neshanic reported in The New York Times on October 22, 1927.

In August that year, the home of Mr. and Mrs. Walter Snook and their two young children on Amwell Road was burned to the ground in a terrible fire. Mr. and Mrs. Snook, infant son David, and their faithful Airedale, Betty, were able to get out of the house unharmed. Little daughter Ruth was rescued from the home by neighbors who formed a bucket brigade.

After the fire, the family set up residence in their garage as they set about rebuilding their home. On the afternoon of October 21, Mrs. Snook was washing the windows of her nearly completed home when she saw flames coming from the garage. She tried desperately to enter the building to save her 12 month old David who was asleep in his crib. She was unable to reach her son, collapsing outside the garage - severely burned about the face, arms, and hands.

Almost forgotten in the emergency was Betty, who had been left in the garage guarding the baby. After climbing into the crib and finding herself unable to pull little David to safety, she did the only thing she could. She remained in the crib attempting to shield the baby from the flames which consumed them both. Their remains were found together by firemen - cradled, as The Times put it, "in the charred skeleton of David's iron crib".

29 January 2008

PSE&G Power Line

PSE&G will hold an informational meeting for residents Wednesday evening at the Hillsborough Township municipal building. The meeting will be at 7 p.m.

The utility has plans to build a four mile long high-voltage power line through Hillsborough from Flagtown into Branchburg. The line would be built on an existing right-of-way between two existing lines.

If you are concerned about electromagnetic fields, or have questions about why this additional power capacity is needed, your questions will be answered Wednesday night.

28 January 2008

Waiting for the Snow

Are you waiting for the snow? I'm not. I have seen enough big snowfalls in my fifteen years in Hillsborough to last the rest of my life. I don't like the shoveling - I don't like the ice - I don't like driving in the stuff.

Is there anyone who is really looking forward to the first big storm? Sure.

Skiers heading out to the Poconos or Mountain Creek would like to see a little natural snow, certainly. School children are dreaming about their first snow day. Landscapers and others in the business of snow removal are definitely hurting.

And then there's the guy who had to decide last month between a new big screen television and a snow blower - and chose the blower. This is no doubt the saddest case. And, although I feel your pain blowerman, I can't join you in a snow-dance this year.

But you are invited to watch the Superbowl over at my house!

27 January 2008

Mercury Math

Could this be the year Hillsborough becomes mercury-free? The Defense National Stockpile Center is now 98.6% sure that the 2,617 tons of mercury being stored at the South Somerville GSA depot will be shipped to Nevada by May 2008.

Now for some interesting math. The story in Sunday's Courier News reported that the Nevada facility can receive just four trucks a day - and only four days a week. It will take 308 trucks to move all of the mercury. This means it will take 20 weeks to empty the warehouses on Route 206.

If the trucks started rolling tomorrow, the mercury would not be in Nevada until the middle of June! Maybe the DNSC meant to say that the shipments would BEGIN in May. In that case, the mercury will still be here all through the summer into September.

Whatever the case, at least Nevada is no longer fighting the inevitable.

24 January 2008

The Open Space Race?

Somerset County announced today that they have finally reached 10,000 acres of preserved open space. This is a nice achievement, one that should be commended - even if it did take almost 50 years!

On June 14, 1958, The New York Times reported that Somerset County - which had no county owned parkland - proposed the acquisition of several tracts totalling 10,500 acres. The article described this as a "long-term" goal. They weren't kidding.

Public referendums in 1989 and 1997 established, and then doubled, the Open Space Trust Fund. In 1994, the county reiterated its goal of acquiring 10,500 acres. Again, no timetable - but in 2000 the goal was increased 20,500 acres.

I don't know when we will surpass 20,000 acres, but it is comforting to know that we have nearly reached our 1958 goal. Like the proverbial tortoise, we are moving slowly and steadily toward the finish line - except that in our case, the finish line keeps receding into the distance!

23 January 2008

Mad Hermit of Higginsville

On the morning of November 11, 1940, Leslie Gethard of Newark was out hunting near the Woodfern section of Branchburg, just across the river from Hillsborough. As he passed by the Central Railroad of New Jersey tracks, he discovered the skull of a man in a gully near the tracks. The State Police were called to the scene, but before they arrived another party of hunters composed of Frank Nagy of Morristown and his two sons discovered the headless, decomposed body of a man 100 feet away. Nearby farmers quickly identified the body from clothing and possessions as that of fifty-four-year-old Joseph "Big Joe" Kazlouskas - wanted for murder since September.

11 November 1940 Home News

The story begins in April 1940 when Kazlouskas  - also sometimes spelled Kazeleski -  lost his Three Bridges farm to foreclosure. Apparently, he took to the woods of the Sourland Mountain and vicinity and subsisted for weeks by stealing milk from the doorsteps of houses in Three Bridges and Higginsville. After the house and outbuildings on his former farm were set ablaze in an act of arson, a warrant was issued for his arrest and a posse was formed.

20 September 1940 Courier News

One of the young men leading the posse was twenty-year-old Julius Norvich whose family lived on a farm adjoining Kazlouskas. Residents of Higginsville and Three Bridges were terrorized the entire summer by the "mad hermit" as the posse failed to locate their prey. On the evening of September 17, Norvich went out to the pasture to care for some horses and never returned. His pellet-riddled body was found the next day at the bottom of a cistern.

19 September 1940 Home News

Early the next morning, while the posse which had now grown to seventy-five men was combing the area, several shotgun blasts were fired through the windows of the Norvich home, narrowly missing still-sleeping family members.

22 September  1940 Philadelphia Inquirer

The killer was next heard from again on the evening of September 27 when the car of a Centerville man, Charles Smithana, was fired on as he pulled his car up to the Davis farm. Smithana fell flat on the seat just before the first shot was fired, then got out of the car and shouted "Halt, or I'll shoot you", dropping to the ground before a second blast. After reloading, Kazlouskas fired a third wild shot into the night and ran off toward Three Bridges.

28 September 1940 Home News

State Troopers searching the area the next morning heard two more shots. It is assumed that sometime not long after this, with the pressure of being on the run mounting, Kazlouskas decided to take his own life. A shotgun and a wooden crotch found near his body were enough for police to rule the killing a suicide. Apparently, Kazlouskas stood in the gully with the shotgun barrel resting in the crotch and pointed at his head.

22 January 2008

Happy Birthday!

Today is my wife's birthday. I would like to take a few sentences to pay tribute to this wonderful woman.

Patty's life has been filled with many remarkable accomplishments. Just five years old when her family immigrated to the United States from South America, and not speaking a word of English, she nevertheless excelled in her studies, graduating high school near the top of her class, and earning two degrees from Rutgers University.

She is a 22 year employee of Merck and Co., Inc. - beginning with a two week externship, which led to a summer internship. She proved to be such a valuable asset to the company, that they hired her straight out of her internship, even though she still had a year left on her undergraduate degree.

Over her many years at Merck, Patty has been valued as a straight talker - someone who knows how to get the job done. She makes everyone around her better through her dedication and attention to detail, and has been a mentor to many younger employees. She has also been honored by being named the company's Most Amazing Woman for the past two years.

Undoubtedly Patty's greatest accomplishment is the way she has raised our two beautiful children. Both our kids adore her, and she returns their love tenfold.

She has been strong in the face of adversity - helping me get through the death of my father just ten days after our son was born. When our son was diagnosed with autism seventeen months later, she took the lead in finding the right doctors and the right early treatments - two things that were crucial to the success he is having now.

Patty was able to take the tragedy of our son's diagnosis and find a way that she could use her knowledge of the disease and her incredible energy in a positive way to help others in our situation. She has been raising money and awareness for autism research for just about four years now - exceeding her goals every year!

Primarily because of her efforts on behalf of the charity Autism Speaks, she found out today that she has been named by the Somerset County Commission on the Status of Women as one of Somerset County's Outstanding Women of the Year for 2008.

No one deserves this honor more. Patty has been my personal outstanding woman of the year every year since 1984. Now you know why!

17 January 2008

Hillsborough, RFD

January 16 is National Religious Freedom Day. It marks the anniversary of the day in 1786 that the Virginia General Assembly adopted Thomas Jefferson's Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. You can read more about it here.

Interesting to note that it took 150 years for new Americans who came to these shore seeking religious freedom to realize that freedom should be extended to those who didn't share their beliefs!

Are you seeking religious freedom in Hillsborough? Here are some places to start your search:

Center of Life Church
Chabad Jewish Center at Hillsborough
Christian Community Chapel
Clover Hill Reformed Church
Crossroads Community Church
Faith Lutheran Church
Fellowship Bible Church
Hillsborough Presbyterian Church
Hillsborough Reformed Church At Millstone
Mary Mother of God Church
Neshanic Reformed Church
New Horizon Christian Fellowship
South Branch Bible Fellowship
South Branch Reformed Church
St Joseph Church & Parish Center
St Mary's Byzantine Catholic Church
St Michael's Ukrainian Catholic Church
Temple Beth El of Hillsborough
True Jesus Church

16 January 2008

Concealed Beauty

June 4, 1890, was a beautiful Spring day in Hillsborough. A perfect day for a carriage ride with your sweetheart. Or so thought William Dilley of Belle Mead.

Mr. Dilley and his girlfriend began their outing in Belle Mead and followed the country roads out toward Millstone. We can be sure they discussed all of the current topics of the day - and with both of Mr. Dilley's hands on the reins and his eyes on the road, the young lady was quite comfortable being alone with her handsome beau. Surely she wouldn't need to defend herself on such a fine day!

6 June 1890 Courier News

As the couple neared Millstone, two young ruffians jumped out of the trees onto the road, stopping Mr. Dilley's horse and dragging him from the buggy. His stunned lover looked on as the brazen men demanded money and went through William's pockets.

6 June 1890 New York Times

Just then, the young woman put her hand inside the folds of her belt and produced the neatest little silver-mounted revolver, aimed squarely at the highwaymen and fired a shot through the coat of one of them and through the hat of the other. Certainly, all of her hours of target practice had paid off - a pretty girl can never be too prepared!

The assailants, who Mr. Dilley later identified as Larry Shine and Joe Barnington - two notorious characters from Millstone - fled into the woods.

When two constables went to Millstone the next morning with a warrant for their arrest, they were turned away by a mob of toughs. Perhaps the officers should have taken the plucky heroine with them!

15 January 2008

Officially Sorry?

New Jersey legislators are debating whether or not the state should officially apologize for slavery. This is an interesting topic for a number of reasons. Firstly, New Jersey - along with New York - was the first northern colony to begin the practice of slavery, in 1626. By 1790 blacks accounted for 7.7% of New Jersey's population - more than any other northern state.

The state "officially" abolished slavery numerous times. The 1804 "Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery" provided that females born of slave parents after July 4 of that year would be free when they turned 21. The act contained a provision whereby slaveowners could free their slave children who would then be turned over to the local poor houses with $3 a month support from the state. The slaveowners could then have the children placed back in their OWN households and collect the $3! Would it surprise you that 40% of New Jersey's 1809 budget was spent on the one line item labeled "abandoned blacks"?

New Jersey again abolished slavery in 1846 - the last northern state to do so - at which time two-thirds of all northern slaves lived in the state. But at the start of the Civil War in 1861, New Jersey still had 18 black "apprentices for life". The federal census called these people what they were - slaves.

I believe the state should apologize for its role in the institution of slavery. Not for creating it, or practicing it, but for not being at the forefront of abolitionist movements and in fact being the last northern state to outlaw slavery. New Jersey, a nanny state that has lately embraced everything from cell-phone bans to eminent domain, was once so concerned with "property rights" in the 18th and 19th centuries that they forgot about "human rights", and missed every opportunity to be a leader, or even a follower, in ending this abhorrent practice.

For that, New Jersey needs to apologize - officially.

14 January 2008

Can You See The Signs?

The Hillsborough Township Committee updated its 15 year old sign ordinance in March of 2007. Less than a year later, it looks like there may be some more changes.

The ordinance adopted last year had many improvements designed to help businesses - larger free-standing, wall-mounted and ground signs, larger tenant directory signs, and off-site signs within a half-mile of the business. The use of temporary signs, however, was made to be more restricted - generally permissible for 90 days after application for a permanent sign permit. The idea was that better permanent signs would eliminate the need for temporary signs.

Some business owners have been cool to that plan. John Sala of Hillsborough Landscape & Supply on Route 206 has been fighting the township over his temporary signs, which he deems necessary for his business.

Business signs really serve two purposes. Obviously they are a means of identification - helping a customer quickly find the location of the store. They are also important for advertising. Much of the advertising that Hillsborough businesses do is seasonal or sale-related - two uses not conducive to permanent signs.

The township Planning Department is beginning to understand this as well, and is looking into ways to ease the temporary sign restrictions. It is good to see that the township is seeking to improve this ordinance just 10 months after it was first adopted. It shows that they are listening to the business community,

The only problem I foresee with Hillsborough business signs is how are they going to possibly be seen by anyone when all of our traffic is diverted onto the Route 206 bypass!

13 January 2008

Flip That Switch?

Would you sacrifice the life of one person to save five? Are you sure?

There was an interesting article by Steven Pinker in today's New York Times Magazine about the psychology of morality. How does morality work? Is it universal? Can it be prioritized? What is the biology behind it? These are some of the questions that are extensively discussed.

The most fascinating part of the story was a discussion of the morality thought-experiment known as the Trolley Problem. A trolley is speeding down the tracks with the conductor slumped over the controls, heading directly for five railway workers who don't see it coming, and can't get out of the way. If the trolley hits them, they will all be killed. You are standing by the tracks near a switch. You can flip the switch - sending the trolley onto a sidetrack where only one person is working, and only one will be killed. Nearly everyone who is given this problem chooses to flip the switch, sacrificing one person to save five.

In the second part of the problem the circumstances are nearly the same. The trolley is again racing out of control down the tracks headed for the five workers. This time you are standing on a bridge above the track. The only way to stop the trolley is to throw a heavy object from the bridge down onto the tracks. The only heavy object nearby is the 300 pound man standing next to you. Do you push your neighbor off the bridge, killing him but saving the five workers? Nearly everyone who is given this problem chooses NOT to push anyone from the bridge.

The equation is the same in both cases - sacrifice one to save five. So why don't people push the man from the bridge? Is there something within us that is repulsed by the physicality involved in the second problem?

It appears that the moral compass within us is telling us that there is something wrong with the second problem. Indeed, functional MRI scans show us that different parts of the brain are working with each problem. In the problem involving the switch, only areas of the brain involving rational calculations were working. In the hands-on problem, areas of the brain concerning emotions were active.

After thinking about these scenarios for awhile, you may be inclined to force yourself into a "rational" way of making these decisions - discount the emotional completely. I disagree. The emotional response people give in not being able to throw the man from the bridge is a real human response - perfectly valid, perhaps evolutionary, perhaps necessary. I therefore think that all 200,000 people that participated in this thought experiment gave the correct answer to each scenario.

Of course in our everyday lives, problems don't come at us like trolley cars. And people aren't necessarily killed, or even injured. But the real challenge for us is to see clearly which kind of problem we are facing.

Sometimes heaving a man off a bridge can be presented to us as just "flipping a switch".

11 January 2008

Go Ask Alice (when the mercury is leaving)

The silvery liquid element "hydrargyrum" (Hg), better known as Mercury, is named for the fleet-footed Roman god - fond of flying quickly from place to place. Perhaps, like Lewis Carroll's White Rabbit, he was always running late for an important date.

Funny, since most of the 2617 tons of the slippery stuff stored at the former Somerville Army Quartermaster Depot in Hillsborough hasn't been anywhere in 50 years. Sixty percent of the nation's mercury stockpile is stored in those 75,880 flasks - and despite promises by the Defense Logistics agency and our representatives in Washington, it may be here for at least a little longer.

In February of 2006, the Defense National Stockpile Center announced plans to consolidate all of America's mercury at the Hawthorne Army Depot in Nevada. Two years later, it's still here.

Hillsborough Mayor Anthony Ferrera has accused Nevada officials of "dragging their feet" by setting up roadblocks to the mercury transfer. Township Committeeman Carl Suraci is more reflective, saying that requests by the Nevada DEP are not unreasonable and that "if the roles were reversed, we would have taken the same path".

They are both correct in their assessment - but the thing is - we HAVE been on the receiving end of the mercury transfer. And we took it unawares.

In fact - Hillsborough officials were unaware that ANY mercury was being stored in Hillsborough until 2000, when the depot received a transfer of the mercury stockpile that was stored in Binghamton, New York. Hillsborough was not given any consideration at all in this transfer - the Pentagon just went about their business as if they were at the Mad Hatter's Tea Party - time to move the mercury, everyone go one seat to the left! - while the folks in Bingahmton were left wearing bigger grins than the Cheshire Cat.

Take heart fellow residents. The mercury will be slip sliding out of here eventually - after it is checked and double-checked - packed and double packed. And this whole episode will seem like it was some kind of terrifying wonderful crazy dream.

09 January 2008

Wild Man on the Loose

Did you hear that? Is someone at the door? How about on the deck, or in the yard? Maybe it was a deer or just the wind - or maybe it was a Wild Man!

Impossible? Perhaps not.

In the summer of 1897, Somerset County was terrorized by its very own Wild Man. During a three week period from the end of June to mid-July, residents reported seeing a "wild man" in their fields and near their homes. He appeared in tattered clothing with no hat and no shoes - and he didn't hesitate to attack any and all that approached him!

New York Times headline, 17 July 1897

The Wild Man was later identified as Emil Funger of Scotch Plains. Emil and his wife were hard-working German immigrants who got along well with each other and the community - until Emil's mind started to go.

On the morning of Sunday, June 20 he took a heavy walking stick and headed out into his fields. He never looked back and did not return that evening. Mrs. Funger was worried that some tragedy had befallen him after he did not return the next day or the next.

17 July 1897 Washington D.C. Evening Times

Apparently, Emil spent the next three weeks living in the fields of Somerset County, eating herbs and berries, and terrorizing all that came in contact with him.

Mr. Funger returned to his homestead the evening of July 13 - but did not acknowledge his wife or pay any attention to her. The next day he went about his regular chores - working as if he was a hired hand!

17 July 1897 Philadelphia Inquirer

Funger's wife, friends, and co-workers indulged him in the hope that he would eventually snap out of it. Whether he did or not is a mystery to us today. The Fungers moved to Mountainside, and Emil died in 1925.

08 January 2008

Another Spin

I've been scooped! Well, sort of. That other newspaper reported Monday that New Jersey is considering plans to install energy generating windmills along the Turnpike. The idea is to try to harness our plentiful wind - especially in the windy area near Port Elizabeth - to generate some electricity and revenue. The State is looking to lessen the impact of the projected toll hikes that will come from the Governor's '"monetization" plan.

I had no idea we were considering such a plan - but it does make some sense. In fact, someone in Trenton is thinking the same way I do. Saturday night I was at a party, and was telling a friend (and I know she is reading this!) that Hillsborough should combine its detention basin rehab project with the recently passed windmill ordinance. Yes, windmills in the detention basins!

I was just kind of riffing on that idea - not really serious about it - but I liked it enough to mention that I was going to go home after the party and write up something for the blog. Unfortunately I got in pretty late - and I couldn't really come up with a hook for the story.

I forgot all about it until I read Monday's paper.

If the state is looking for anymore wacky, but workable, ideas, tell someone to give me a call. I've got a million of 'em.

07 January 2008

New Year's Resolution - Get Organized

The Hillsborough Township Committee can place one check mark on their list of New Year's Resolutions - they are officially "organized". Re-organized, that is.

Assemblyman Peter Biondi was on hand tonight at the Municipal Building to swear in our new committeeman Frank DelCore. Mr. DelCore thanked his family, Mr. Biondi, his predecessor Paul Drake, the Hillsborough Republican Club, and especially the voters of Hillsborough for allowing him the opportunity to serve. He pledged to do a good job, and to work honorably for all the residents of Hillsborough: "There is no place for partisan politics on the local level - we'll leave that for the folks in Trenton and Washington".

Township Administrator Kevin Davis ran the meeting until Anthony Ferrera was again chosen as Mayor and took over in the center chair. And yes, name plates were made up ahead of time for Mayor and our new Deputy Mayor, Frank DelCore.

After the necessary considerations and resolutions were passed, and the Boards and Commissions appointed, attendees adjourned to the multipurpose room - where Republicans, Democrats, and Independents offered congratulations to Mr. DelCore. And ate cake!

What other New Year's Resolutions should be on the Township Committee's list? Let me know, down below!

06 January 2008

Get Real!

I remember in Introduction to Metaphysics we took a quick look at Idealism and Realism - either everything we know about the world exists only in our minds or everything we know about the world exists independently of our minds. Thank goodness the following has nothing to do with any of that.

Are you starting to get tired of realists? You know the type. These people nay-say every laudable goal - and announce who they are with the catchy tag-line "Get Real".

"That project will never get finished - Get Real". "We'll never have enough money to fund that - Get Real". "No one is going to drive the speed limit, or put down their cell-phone - Get Real". "Parents have no control over their kids - Get Real".

Sound familiar? The idea behind this kind of realism is to look at the world as it really is - not what we would like it to be. Stop pretending - stop kidding ourselves - come back down to earth - that type of thing.

My problem with realism is that it tends to border on defeatism. That project will never get finished, let's not start it. We'll never have enough money for that, why bother with saving. People are going to drive however they want, no sense enforcing the traffic laws. Parents can't control their kids, why should they even try.

Here are some Hillsborough ones: The 206 bypass will never be built. We will never have a Town Center. We are never getting that firetruck. The mercury is never leaving. The Belle Mead Depot will never be cleaned up. GET REAL!

Fortunately in Hillsborough our Realism is offset by a healthy dose of Idealism. The idealists are the people who refuse to accept things as they are. The people who are working to make things better. People whose goals for the town are determined by their vision of the IDEAL Hillsborough. Not Hillsborough "as it is", but Hillsborough "as it can be".

Don't confuse realists and idealists with optimists and pessimists. Optimists and pessimists have the same goals, idealists and realists have different goals. Realists have "realistic goals". Idealists have "idealistic goals". When I took on this blog, an editor at the Courier News told me, "Ideally, we would like you to post five times a week". She could have followed that up by saying, "Realistically, three times a week would be great".

But she didn't. I don't know if that makes her an idealist or a realist, but I know what it makes me - a Hillsborough Idealist who probably should have told her to "Get Real!"

02 January 2008

Old Men on the Mountain

Sourland Mountain Hermit Dies


SOMERVILLE, N.J., Jan. 1. - Louis Casaccia, 72 years old, who for the last twenty-five years has been living the life of a hermit in a small shack on Sourland Mountain, about six miles from the Lindbergh estate, was found dead from exposure today. William Ely, 71, his only known acquaintance, found Casaccia after having missed seeing him for several weeks. [The New York Times, 2 January 1934]