Poison information, education system needs protection

“Never look a gift horse in the mouth,” but that is exactly what the state of New Jersey has recently done by cutting funds to the New Jersey Poison Information and Education System (NJPIES), and potentially foregoing federal funds of over $150,000.

The federal funds come with strings attached and cannot be accessed without the state commitment of dollars.

New Jersey receives federal grant funds contingent on the state maintaining its own financial commitment to the center’s operation. In decreasing the state commitment by 32 percent over the last four years, state residents take a much bigger hit of decreased federal funding.

The math doesn’t add up, and we strongly urge our newly elected executive and legislative officials to take a more informed look at the state emergency services system and the part the NJPIES plays within it. Studies in New Jersey and other states continue to show that millions of dollars are saved annually by poison control center interventions that handle problems at the scene and prevent unnecessary and expensive hospital visits.

Sadly, the NJPIES budget has been cut consistently for the past four years, just recently with a 22 percent budget cut for the fiscal year 2010. The system is currently running on bare bones, but still providing 24/7 free telephone support to all New Jersey residents, Emergency Medical Services professionals and doctors in New Jerseybased hospitals. The expertise and service is unparalleled and needs to be protected not impinged.

We urge our new governor and legislators to learn more about our services and support NJPIES as a progressive budgetsaving and health-reform measure.
Dr. Steven Marcus
Executive Medical Director
New Jersey Poison
Information and Education System
Newark

To turn alarm off, throw entire clock against wall

Coda • GREG BEAN

If there’s anything more frustrating than trying to follow a procedure manual for a product that was built in a non-Englishspeaking country and then translated into the King’s Own by someone with a limited grasp of our language, I don’t know what it is.

Back in the day when I didn’t have a garage, I decided to rebuild the carburetor on my Japanese motorcycle in my driveway. I carefully disassembled the crucial parts of the bike and laid them out on a tarp in the order they had been removed. Then, I followed the instructions on the rebuild kit that had been provided by the manufacturer.

I thought I was doing pretty well until the last step, when the instructions told me, in all caps, to MAKE SURE TO REPLACE THE STEEL ROUND!

Say what?

I had replaced all the parts I had taken off, except for one small spring I somehow overlooked. But there wasn’t a steel round anywhere.

The motorcycle ran decently after I finally figured out where that spring went, but I never trusted it again because I knew that it was missing a critical steel round. I sold it as soon as possible and bought an American motorcycle because I could understand the maintenance and repair manuals.

You’d think that in all the years since, the problems would have been resolved. Maybe the manufacturers could have hired native English speakers to translate the manuals. But as products have become more technologically complex, the situation has gotten worse.

I give you my recent quest to find a bedside alarm clock to replace my old model, one of those where the numbers flap down as time progresses. The old clock kept good time, but it finally wore out.

The first replacement I bought was a combination AM/FM radio, alarm clock and CD player. I bought it because it was designed to look like the dashboard of a vintage Studebaker, but that’s where the similarities ended. I once owned a 1956 pink and white Studebaker President, and there wasn’t much you couldn’t fix on that car with a couple of screwdrivers and a ball-peen hammer.

The instruction manual for my new alarm clock was 36 pages long, apparently translated from Chinese, where the thing was built. It had two alarm clock functions, and you had to make a choice whether you wanted to be awakened by a buzzer, the radio or a CD. After that, there were 58 steps to program the monster to work the way you wanted.

Those instructions began with “In the POWER OFF mode, press and hold the DISPLAY/ MODE Button (#15) until MUTI (sic) FUNCTION INDICATOR 1 (#9) and HOUR digit flash . . .

Then it told you to push button 17 or 20 until the correct hour is displayed.

And that’s only part of step one. When I finally finished, the digital clock ran about three minutes fast every day and the numbers were too small to read without my glasses.

Enter alarm clock replacement Number 2.

This clock — also made in China — looked fairly straightforward in the package, but it was even more useless than the Studebaker. To make it work to its maximum potential, you had to follow the incomprehensibly translated owner’s manual to set the time, the alarm, the event reminder, the countdown timer, the temperature, the date, the year and the month.

There were five or six tiny buttons on the back of the clock to accomplish this, but they were so small I had to wear magnifying cheaters to read them. To set the time, you pressed the mode button once, then pressed the set button once to set the hour, twice to set the minute, three times to set the year, four times to set the month, five times to set the date, six times to confirm the setting, and four more times to go back to the normal mode.

If you figured out how to make the alarm work, you had to push the mode button twice and the set button five times to turn it off.

And you were supposed to do all this when you just wake up, without your glasses, and likely in the dark.

I never could turn the thing off, but I discovered that throwing the entire clock forcefully against a wall is reasonably effective.

Which brings us to clock replacement Number 3.

This time, I went to a half-dozen stores to find the simplest, cheapest alarm clock in the world. I finally found a plastic thing that looks like the old Big Ben wind-up clock I had as a kid. There are only two setting knobs on the back, one for the time and one for the alarm. The alarm is turned off and on by a simple switch on the side.

The clock cost a whopping $6.95.

Perfect, I thought — until I got it home and discovered that it takes an unusual-sized battery (not included) and I had to drive to three stores to find one that worked.

The package of two batteries cost $7.95 with tax, a dollar more than the clock cost, and that didn’t count the cost of gasoline.

But at least it’s working, and I didn’t even read the manual. The face is big enough that I can see it without my glasses, even in the dark. And this morning, I turned the alarm off without opening my eyes.

And if you factor the cost of this clock in with the cost of the two clocks it replaced, the whole experience only set me back about $200.

Call me slow to learn, but I recognize what President Obama calls a “teachable moment” when one whomps me in the cranium, and the clock saga was one of those. Simpler, I now realize, is always better.

Tomorrow, I’m gonna go out and find a $3 crystal radio set so I can listen to the BBC morning news on NPR.

The expensive Studebaker radio I mentioned earlier is no longer with us — the victim of a ball-peen hammer.

Gregory Bean is the former executive editor of Greater Media Newspapers. You can reach him at gbean@gmnews.com.

January’s lament: Weight loss and taxes

Are We There Yet? • LORI CLINCH

This may be enough to make you shake your head with a proverbial tsk tsk.

But not only have I NOT adorned the abode with Valentine’s hearts, but I’ll be danged if all of the Christmas décor isn’t hanging around in every nook and cranny.

I have garland strewn about the staircase, glitter galore and bulbs in every see-through container. One day I was entertaining with glee and the next riddled with embarrassment that I was no longer on top of my seasonal décor.

Suddenly each and every person who walks in the door is remarking with shock, “Oh, I see you haven’t taken your tree down yet! ” Gosh, ya think?

I’d like to state for the record, that it’s not my fault. For it seems that I had no sooner pulled in from a sleigh ride with bells a jingjing jingling, ring-ring-ringling too and bid our New Year’s guests a hardy adieu, when the Christmas season reduced itself to the bottom of my life-screen and the weight loss and tax people moved in like a virus-induced pop-up and all but took over my hard drive.

I’ve got piles on top of my piles. Adding machines, file boxes, year-end reports and the whole shebang. I feel as though I’ve been locked up for days poring over figures and calculation, percentages and deductions, and that’s just to figure out how many pounds I put on in the last month.

It’s the commercials that are really getting to me. For instead of happy scenarios that involve cars adorned with big red bows and the Old Navy mannequins advertising scarves with matching sweaters, we’re being inundated with happy folks doing their taxes and belly crunches simultaneously.

There’s Millie from Manitowoc who is able to file her 1099s on her way to the laundry room, adds a decimal point to her tax data as she organizes her car pool and hits “submit” as she checks her lipstick.

Why her deductions practically categorize themselves, and thanks to her happy tax software, her refund check all but pops out of her CD tray as her family hoists her up on their shoulders chanting, “Go, Mom, you’re the bomb!”

Thankfully enough for Millie, she’d taken the time to do the Special K challenge (she wouldn’t want to have her husband’s back on the fritz when the verdict on the health care reform is still out).W

hile the rest of us are stuck in our chairs trying to figure out why we wrote a check to PDMO last July (and just who the heck is the PDMO?), Millie has joined the gym, got a few crunches in while packing away her artificial mistletoe, and has already addressed her Valentine’s Day cards.

And I thought the diamond commercials were bad.

To add insult to injury, there’s that advertisement with a svelte 20-something woman who cries ever so pathetically about her recent weight gain of 6 pounds, followed by her (someone grab me a hankie) growth from a three to a size four pants.

Now, thanks to prepackaged meals and six easy payments of $39.99, she not only looks like a model but she plays one on TV.

It’s enough to make a gal like me want to choke on her Dexatrim tablet.

Perhaps if I lose my skepticism and opt for patronizing the products that inundate my TV screen, I, too, can be as happy as those people.

I could see if a Nintendo Wii Fit Plus is a tax deduction and have my family gaze upon me with love as I try to make a meal out of a replacement bar and curb my appetite with herbs and natural suppressants.

Shoot, maybe I’ll even get in good enough shape to catch that annoying little stack of bills with the eyeballs and find out if I can truly save 15 percent or more on car insurance.

Possibly I’ll sip on some green tea, put on my Snuggie and work on our taxes in comfort and style.

Then all I’ll need is a product that’ll take the Christmas tree down.

Lori Clinch is the mother of four sons and the author of the book “Are We There Yet?” You can reach her at www.loriclinch. com.

Get cars off streets during snowstorms

I’m usually one to complain about the lousy job of snow removal in the Breton Woods section of Brick. I agree with Glen Campbell that the main problem is the large number of cars parked in the streets. However, if you walk around the neighborhood, you will notice that most homes don’t have three cars as stated in the article, but have areas to park multiple cars off the street, yet they go underutilized or unused.

Why? Is it laziness or the attitude that “we have been doing it this way for years” a reason why so many people choose to park in the street? After all, it is much easier to leave a car in the street versus clearing out a parking area on your property.

For a number of years I lived in a Pennsylvania community that had little, if any, off-street parking. All cars were required to be removed from the street during major snow events, or face a hefty fine and/or be towed.

This allowed for wider sections of the street to be cleared. Sure it was a hassle, but once the plows went through, we drove right back and parked with ease. This law benefited everyone. If the cars were allowed to remain on the street, it would have looked like Breton Woods did after the plows came through with only one cleared lane.

Where do you park if you don’t have off-street parking? Make arrangements with a friend or neighbor who has extra space and even offer to help them clear that space. The township can cooperate with local business and property owners associations.

Leaving your vehicle on the street is not neighborly and affects everyone and hinders the workers who are trying to help clear the neighborhood streets. While some may balk at this change, in the long run it is the right thing to do.

I would strongly urge the mayor and town council to quickly move ahead with a regulation that would require cars to be taken off the streets during times of heavy snowfalls.
Kristopher Krenz
Brick

Retired officers could be a valuable resource on airplanes

As politicians scramble to point the blame as to how the latest terrorist slipped through the security measures that were implemented to protect Americans and foreigners abroad, I would like to bring to their attention a more common sense solution to tightening up those cracks and bring forth what is in my opinion a better, more sensible way to assist in the security of air travelers and the general public.

The fact of the matter is that there is no airtight way to stop someone who is trained and cunning enough from infiltrating any security measure taken. There are many who can outsmart the system from the outside as well as from within. What politicians need to do is think out of the box and be proactive in taking security measures by cutting through the red tape and considering sensible alternatives to tighten security.

When you look at the most recent terrorist attempt and the attempt by terrorists to crash Flight 98 into the White House on Sept. 11, 2001, both of those incidents were thwarted by the passengers onboard those two flights. The federal, state and local governments need to unite and use their law enforcement resources and implement training while expanding jurisdictional powers in regard to public transportation.

This can be accomplished by giving all trained police officers advanced training in hand-to-hand combat and particularly in submission tactics, along with aircraft firearm discharge training. This would enable trained police officers to be an added security measure onboard any aircraft, boat or train. Off-duty federal officers are allowed to carry weapons onboard commercial aircraft, but off-duty state and local police are not.

Other then onboard aircraft weapons discharge regulations, I don’t believe that the federal training is that much different than the police training. The federal law H.R. 218 which authorizes all active and retired police officers to carry firearms nationally has more gray areas than a battleship. This is due to conflicting federal, state and local laws which need to be resolved. The states and local governments are plagued with bureaucracy and are more concerned with liability than public safety.

As a retired New York City police sergeant, I was most impressed with the New York Police Department’s (NYPD) decision to instill a retiree mobilization plan into their department. Volunteer retirees are trained by the NYPD so they can respond when called upon. This was a no-brainer after the powers to be had seen what an asset the retirees were during 9/11.

The difference between the retirees and the active officers is that the retirees have a heck of a lot more experience and can be used in an effective capacity during a crisis. You do not just throw away an old diamond knowing that its value will never diminish, when you can simply change its setting, making it just as desirable as the day you bought it. Allowing active and retired police officers to be trained and armed on federal flights and other forms of transportation that are under federal jurisdiction would increase the public’s safety drastically.

Just add up how many active police officers there are and you can probably double the amount of retirees. This all adds up to an undercover army of trained law enforcement personnel that are capable of responding in a crisis and saving human lives. I may be mistaken, but I believe that most police officers nationwide are already trained in hand-to-hand combat and submission training would be a plus.

The onboard aircraft firearm discharge training would be of minimal expense to any department, could probably be conducted during a normal precinct training session and be subsidized by the federal government. Training retirees is just as easy and they are all volunteers. Where can you get that level of trained law enforcement personnel for free? Ask yourself this question: “Would I be safer with a trained and armed police officer sitting next to me on a plane, train or boat whether he or she was on-duty, off-duty or retired?”

It is a simple matter of using a viable resource which is already trained, armed and readily available. If the politicians can sit down and implement a little common sense, the training, jurisdictional and liability issues can be resolved and all Americans would be that much safer.
Steven Cataneo
Retired NYPD Sergeant
Manalapan

Chamber offers top five reasons to spend locally

On behalf of the Brick Township Chamber of Commerce, I’d like to encourage Ocean County residents to think of local businesses when needing goods and services. In addition to patronizing local stores, try to think local first when needing services, as well.

Professions in Ocean County cover every category of services, such as attorneys, accountants, physicians, engineers, architects, building contractors and exterminators, to name just a sampling.

People should think local first for many reasons, all of which come back to benefit our community:

1. Jobs: Local businesses employ our friends and family members. Spending in our community keeps these people employed.

2. Charities, clubs and organizations are supported by our local businesses.

3. Youth sport leagues and scholarships benefit from donations generously provided by, you guessed it, local businesses.

4. Volunteers who make our community a great place to live are the local store owner, accountant … just look around, and you’ll recognize these friends and neighbors.

5. For every $100 spent in locally owned stores, $68 returns to the community. Send that money out of town, and that’s where it stays — out of town.

There are decals being displayed throughout the county in storefronts and on car and truck windows that remind you to “Spend Locally!” And there are posters displayed that explain why it’s in your own best interest to do so.

The chamber is providing the posters and decals free of charge to businesses in the county. If you would like more information or would like decals and posters to display, please call the Chamber of Commerce at 732-477-4949.

And remember, Spend Locally!
Michele Eventoff
Executive Director
Brick Township Chamber of Commerce

Changes in finance laws mean more negative ads

Coda • GREG BEAN

If you liked the barrage of advertising in some of the most recent elections, you’re absolutely going to love what’s coming down the pike in the next few contests.

Lost among the news last week about the intrusions and restrictions air travelers will face in coming years to keep us safe, and the latest dismal news on the economy, was a story about the United States Supreme Court, which is expected as early as this week to roll back many of the limits on campaign-spending laws. That comes on the heels of several other court decisions that made it easier for special-interest groups and corporations to pour as much money into political campaigns as they like.

Starting in 2010, for the first time since campaign-finance restrictions were put in place in the Watergate era, there will likely be few limitations on the amount of money corporations, unions and special-interest groups can pump into the campaigns of politicians they believe will further their agendas. And even though Democrats in Congress are vowing to enact new laws to put the restrictions back in place, nearly everyone agrees that the rules on the playing field will change.

Many Republicans, as you might imagine, are in favor of this development, because it will give them the opportunity to raise more money for campaigns. Because the party is in disarray nationally, contributions are off and they don’t have nearly as much in their war chests coming into the midterms as the Democrats. They stand to benefit from this relaxed atmosphere immediately.

And many special interests are happy about it as well. According to an article in The New York Times, groups like the United States Chamber of Commerce and labor unions like the AFL-CIO are already gearing up to spend more on campaigns in the next few years than they have in decades.

What does all that mean for us?

Well, for one thing it means there’s even less chance of a good and principled candidate winning any election, ever, on the basis of ideas and philosophy. It means that the candidate who can raise the most money will likely win in every race from the president down to the local school board. And it means that because candidates will be so much more beholden to the special interests and corporations that paid the price of their ticket to office, representing the interests of their constituents will take a back seat to keeping the guys with the checkbook happy.

There aren’t many candidates like Michael Bloomberg and Jon S. Corzine who can afford to spend obscene amounts of money out of their own pockets in order to win elections, after all.

It also means that the amount of negative, attack advertising we came to despise in the last few elections will increase astronomically.

And how, in the midst of that blizzard of special-interest advertising, will voters be able to find the truth and make an informed choice?

Well, that’s the question. And it’s not one the U.S. Supreme Court is likely to consider.

• • •

I was propped up in bed this morning with a pot of coffee and the sports section, telling my wife how much I enjoy the antics of Cincinnati Bengals player Chad Ochocinco, who changed his surname from Johnson to Ochocinco, the way his jersey number is pronounced in Spanish. The guy is single-handedly trying to put some of the fun back into pro football, although the NFL keeps fining him for it.

“Why did he pick the name Ochocinco?” my wife asked.

“Because he’s 85,” I said.

“Seems awfully old to be playing football,” she said.

She wasn’t kidding or trying to be funny. And that, dear readers, is why we never watch football together.

I suppose I should be used to her absolute dislike of the game after so many years of marriage. She likes a lot of things I don’t — like marathons of “Clean House,” a program that just skeeves me out. I like a lot of things she doesn’t — Clint Eastwood retrospectives, World War II, programs on the History Channel, and any form of fishing or camping, for example. We made accommodations for each other’s predilections and gave each other space.

That’s the kind of compromise you have to make in a marriage if you want it to last longer than a common cold. That, and home decorating, of course, but that’s a sore subject for another day. (If there’s any phrase that strikes more terror into a married man’s heart than “I’ve been thinking about repainting the living room,” I don’t know what it is. Whenever I hear that phrase, the little voice in my brain starts screaming, “Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!”)

While the kids were at home, however, it didn’t matter that she made herself scarce on football day. They liked football, at least the junk food that goes along with it, and it always seemed like we had a crowd.

But now that our nest is empty, the playoffs and the Super Bowl are the loneliest time of year for me at the Bean compound.

It’s just not as much fun to make a big tray of jalapeno poppers, pizza rolls and mozzarella sticks if you’re the only one eating them while you watch the game. And forget having a cold beer. You know what they say about people who drink alone.

There ought to be a support group for guys like me.

“There is,” my wife said. “It’s called a sports bar. It’s called going to a friend’s house. Now, would you explain one more time why the two-minute warning really means there’s an hour of game left? Is it really a hole in the space-time continuum?”

And back I go into my solitary bubble. Sometimes, one is truly the loneliest number.

Gregory Bean is the former executive editor of Greater Media Newspapers. You can reach him at gbean@gmnews.com.

Tuition caps hide more than they help

Guest Column • Paul Shelly

As it will still be a while until the next state budget is put before the Legislature, it is a good time to single out an artful Trenton creation that serves primarily a political aim: the tuition cap.

Over the past decade or so, ironically coinciding with a period of funding reductions to higher education institutions, Trenton has seen fit to impose, periodically, an arbitrary limit on the rate of state college/ university tuition increases.

As state investment declined, citizens had to make up for the difference by paying a significantly higher share of state college costs. Tuition caps gloss over this core problem. On the surface, the caps seem to help students and families.

Ultimately, though, they are poor policy because they impinge on the responsibility and accountability of the nonpartisan volunteer citizen trustees at each individual state college and university to make tuition decisions that strike a reasonable balance among affordability, educational quality and fiscal responsibility and commitments. By law, such decisions are made in public meetings.

It is instructive that, for the current year, tuition increases would have been about 3 percent without the cap set in the budget. The 3 percent cap simply codified agreements that had already been struck in Trenton with input from state college presidents and trustees who were concerned about college affordability amidst a worrisome economic climate.

Moreover, prior tuition caps that were set as part of past state budgets have not affected the overall affordability of college any more than the size of fuel tanks on automobiles has affected gas mileage or the price of petroleum. In both cases, there are larger, longer-term forces at play.

With colleges, the factors include student/ family resource limitations; enrollment demand; facilities debt accumulated because of lack of state investment in facilities over recent decades; and state-mandated, contractual salary obligations; among others.

This is not an argument for even higher tuition. Students are already paying a higher share of college costs than they should. Neither is this a case for less accountability; direct public accountability is important. Rather, it is an effort to clarify the kinds of actions needed to preserve and enhance the affordability of public, four-year institutions. These steps include:

• Reasonable and predictable state investment in college operations and facilities;

• Relief from state constraints and bureaucratic red tape that have long outlived their purpose or never helped the colleges in the first place;

• Relief from state mandates not backed by government funding that then have to be paid for using precious tuition revenues;

• Rethinking and realignment of some student financial aid programs with the needs of students from low- and middle-income families foremost in mind;

• Greater freedom for institutions to engage in entrepreneurial ventures and partnerships to help raise new revenues and defray costs; and

• Holding citizen boards of trustees at state

colleges and universities accountable for policy governing these institutions.

Based on the results of polls sponsored by the New Jersey Association of State Colleges and Universities, many New Jersey residents say that the state should do a lot more to help enhance college opportunity and affordability. State college leaders look forward to working with the new governor and Legislature on these matters.

“Capping” tuition is a feel-good measure that does not merit support because it creates a false reality that damages public trust and obscures the truly important college affordability issues that can and should be addressed soon.

Paul Shelly is the director of communications and marketing for the New Jersey Association of State Colleges and Universities. The association’s nine members — The College of New Jersey, Kean University, Montclair State University, New Jersey City University, Ramapo College, Richard Stockton College, Rowan University, Thomas Edison State College and William Paterson University — educate 100,000 students each year.

John A. Mastasio

Mr. Mastasio, 85, of Eatontown, died Dec. 1, 2009, at Jersey Shore University Medical Center, Neptune, following a battle with myasthenia gravis. He was a professional service representative at Wyeth, Pfizer and Dow Medical, for 38 years. Mr. Mastasio is survived by his wife of 58 years, Jean; a son, John F. Mastasio of Livonia, N.Y.; four daughters and sons-in-law, Carole Mastasio Bauer and Douglas of Toms River, Susan Mastasio Smith and Kenneth of Brick, Ann Mastasio McTigue and Robert of Toms River, and Gina Mastasio Bucci and Robert of Medford; 17 grandchildren; and three greatgrandchildren. A Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated at St. Dorothea’s Roman Catholic Church, Eatontown. Interment followed at Woodbine Cemetery, Oceanport. Arrangements were by Damiano Funeral Home, Long Branch.