Identify This State

When we moved to the East Coast from California 30 years ago, I met someone who lived in New Jersey and told him that the state, from what I’d seen, was much nicer than I expected. He said “Yes, we like to keep that a secret”.

Of course, there are old cities and rundown neighborhoods, ugly factories and the challenging NJ Turnpike, but for such a small, densely-populated state (47th by size, 8th by population), there’s a lot of variety. We do have the most hazardous waste sites in the nation — a remnant of the state’s industrial past, when NJ also earned its nickname “The Garden State” because of the way NJ farms fed New York City and Philadelphia. New Jersey also has the 2nd highest income, 3rd highest percentage of college graduates and 3rd highest percentage of immigrants. Much of the Revolutionary War was fought here, Thomas Edison became “The Wizard of Menlo Park” here, researchers at Bell Labs developed radio astronomy, the transistor, the laser, the UNIX operating system and the C programming language here. Abbott met Costello here.

Much of the state away from New York City and Philadelphia is undeveloped. The coastline is beautiful. We’re in the top 10 in life expectancy. The public schools are highly rated. We get less back from Washington than any other state, compared to the federal taxes we pay (you’re welcome). And we avoid electing Republicans.

It was notable, therefore, that when 1,200 Americans were asked to choose America’s best states, New Jersey just barely beat Mississippi and Alabama, coming in 48th out of 50.


Maybe that’s because, according to generations of comedians, New Jersey is funny. “I’m from Joisey! You from Joisey? Which exit?”

Property taxes are too high. There are those toxic waste sites scattered around. And who knows whose remains are hidden in the Meadowlands, which is more swamp than meadow (and where the “New York” Giants and Jets play football, but won’t admit it)?

Fortunately, however, New Jersey and its state government have a sense of humor:


The state of New Jersey. A well-kept secret.

Meanwhile, in Newark, New Jersey

From The New York Times:

As many cities across the United States were filled with fiery scenes of rock-throwing demonstrators, burning squad cars and aggressive policing, peace has so far prevailed in Newark.

The 12,000-person protest on Saturday afternoon brimmed with rage at the death of Mr. Floyd, a 46-year-old African-American man…

But there were no protest-related arrests during the weekend. Tires were slashed on squad cars, but none were set ablaze and no storefronts were smashed. The most prominent graffiti, a message scrawled on a courthouse in spray paint — “WE LOVE U GEORGE” — had been power-washed clean by Sunday afternoon.

“A lot of tension. A lot of anxiety,” Newark’s mayor, Ras Baraka, said Sunday in an interview. “But the community held the line.”

About 15 miles east, in New York City, days of violent clashes have resulted in hundreds of arrests, dozens of injured officers and at least 47 damaged or destroyed police vehicles. Similarly large protests have roiled dozens of major cities, including Washington, Chicago, Minneapolis and Atlanta, leading to at least five deaths.

In Newark, some protesters danced as they marched for hours through the commercial and municipal hub of the city, with Mr. Baraka leading the way.

“It really almost brought tears to my eyes,” said John Schreiber, president of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, who watched as the march processed past his apartment. “I was so proud of my city.”

Newark is not the only community that, so far, has remained relatively calm. Protesters in other cities, including Camden, N.J., and Flint, Mich., held similarly peaceful rallies, and Newark’s march was not without moments of confrontation….

But the simmering tension never reached a flash point — a victory that city officials and residents attributed to a combination of tactical decisions, community and political leadership and the still-raw memory of 1967 [when Newark experienced] one of the most wrenching and deadly race riots [of] the 1960s.

Mr. Baraka, an African-American former high school principal whose father, the poet Amiri Baraka, was brutalized by the police in July 1967, invoked those dark days during a speech before the march as he urged only peaceful protest.

The director of the Newark Police Department, Anthony F. Ambrose, who is white, made a tactical decision not to position police officers in military-style gear along the route.

And members of the Newark Community Street Team, an entity formed six years ago to de-escalate violence in the city, and other community groups were deployed throughout the crowd to try to isolate those intent on destruction.

But in more than a dozen interviews, protesters and city leaders said it was the potent determination of predominantly young African-American members of the Newark community — many of whom have had past run-ins with the police — who stood in the way of widespread destruction.

“It was a combination of anarchists and opportunists waiting for a window to be broken so they could go in and grab something,” said Aqeela Sherrills, the director of the 50-person street team.

“But I tell you: The community wasn’t having it.”

At one point during the march, protesters lit an American flag on fire in the middle of Broad Street as a young white man used a bat to strike a window of a Dunkin’ Donuts store, witnesses said.

“He hit the window one time and there was like 20 people standing in front of him,” Mr. Sherrills said. As protesters whom he called “provocateurs” moved toward buildings owned by Prudential Financial, the city’s most prominent business anchor, which has maintained a presence in Newark for 145 years, a similar standoff was defused, he said.

James Wright Jr., a Newark resident and a student at Boston University, said he initially was not planning to march. But Mr. Wright, who is black, decided it was important to be heard….

“There were no officers in riot gear or SWAT gear. There were regular motorcycle cops. There were undercover cops, but they weren’t lined up to show a physical divide between them and the protesters. We had free rein.”

It was not until nightfall that the true test came.

After the structured march had ended, a crowd that the police estimated to be between 700 to 1,000 protesters moved toward the precinct on 17th Avenue.

The 320 members on duty from the Newark Police Department — which has lost four officers to Covid-19 and continues to struggle with coronavirus-related staffing issues — were “stretched,” Mr. Ambrose said.

At about 6:30 p.m., he placed a mutual-aid call asking for backup officers from the State Police, Jersey City, the Essex County Sheriff’s Office and nearly a dozen neighboring towns. Within hours, 280 officers from the region had arrived to help.

As a line of police officers stood at the front of the First Precinct wearing face shields and riot gear, members of the crowd threw bottles, shouted insults and attempted to move toward the door. One protester jumped on top of a squad car, and several police vehicle tires were slashed, but there were no arrests.

“It was a waiting game,” Mr. Ambrose said. “The police held them from going in, and the Newark community stood there and helped the police. And I am forever grateful to them for that.”

Newark, a city of 282,000, is about half African-American, 36 percent Hispanic and 10 percent white. Its police department, which remains bound to a federal consent decree linked to past abuses, is about 84 percent black or Hispanic, officials said.

A message eventually went out, spread by younger residents, that it was time for anyone who did not live in Newark to leave, according to clergy members, community leaders and police officials present during the standoff….

By 10:30 p.m., the crowd began to disperse….

Police officials said they are now poring over video from body cameras worn by officers, cellphones and street surveillance footage and will pursue arrests as warranted. They said they remain hypervigilant, well aware of the volatility and frustration sweeping the nation….

Junius Williams, Newark’s official historian, … credited Mr. Baraka’s leadership for the weekend calm.

“The mayor has kept touch with the people so they don’t see him as an obstacle to their righteous anger,” Mr. Williams, 76, said. “They know he’s angry, too.”

The chief executive of Prudential, Charles F. Lowrey, agreed.

“I truly don’t think you can underestimate his influence in this,” Mr. Lowrey said. “It’s a facet of an overall image if you will, a feeling, that we can do more together than we can do apart.”


Calm, steady leaders in government and the community who prefer de-escalation to confrontation can truly make a difference. 

New Jersey’s Steps to Reopening

Governor Murphy just presented the steps he thinks the Garden State needs to take before life can become more normal. Other states are doing the same thing. Murphy added that everything would be coordinated with neighboring states: “This isn’t just about NJ. Rushing ahead of our partners would risk returning our entire region back into lockdown mode”.

He didn’t announce a timeline:

Until we give the public confidence that they should not be fearful, we cannot take further steps. A plan that is needlessly rushed is a plan that will needlessly fail.

If businesses like restaurants, barber shops and theaters reopen, but their customers stay home, there won’t be any point to reopening.

The PowerPoint version:


He skipped page 19 (is it a state secret?):

EWn5SE9WkAEbyBP (1)

A Man Without Qualities

Well, I’ve had the virus, been hospitalized and am now very, very happy to be back home, seeing sunshine again.

In a hospital bed, you have a lot of free time. Hanging around; waiting for your next meal (Saint Barnabas’s simple offering of a plain, almost juiceless cheeseburger, a side of macaroni and cheese, steamed broccoli and a brownie was almost sublime); being visited every so often by hospital staff, well-guarded and unrecognizable deep inside their personal protective gear; them giving you “just a little pinch”, checking your vital signs or asking about your current state of affairs; being given that anti-malaria drug for a while apparently for no good reason; “wearing” that silly “gown” that won’t stay on; dozing off; occasionally losing an electrode; wondering when the hell you will get out of there.

I didn’t turn on the TV in the eight days I was there. (Nor, after they moved me to a double room, did my roommate, who was in worse shape than I was.)

I did look at news on my phone. It wasn’t good.

Aside from the obvious, the thing that got me the most was how people who have power or cultural significance are being so nice and respectful to the monster child.

Of course, they do point out his deficiencies. Larry David quoted in The New York Times:

You know, it’s an amazing thing. The man has not one redeeming quality. You could take some of the worst dictators in history and I’m sure that all of them, you could find one decent quality. Stalin could have had one decent quality, we don’t know!

Fran Lebowitz in The New Yorker:

Every single thing that could be wrong with a human being is wrong with him.

Tom Nichols in The Atlantic:

[He] is a spiritual black hole.

But have you ever seen a quote in which someone demanded that he resign? The acting Secretary of the Navy said something very bad and was quickly hit with demands to go. He left. Why not call on the worst president in our history to go too? If someone is so totally and dangerously unfit for a job, shouldn’t our political and cultural leaders have demanded his resignation, over and over again?

I know, the Electoral College put him there and (of course) odds are he wouldn’t go. Nevertheless, it’s remarkable how his resignation never comes up in our national conversation.

Another aspect of his benign treatment that especially bothered me (from my prone position) was (and still is) the daily “briefings” he’s been doing. I don’t know which organizations are part of it, but he’s allowed to spew and blather, unfiltered, to America whenever he chooses. It is truly outrageous. They broadcast his rallies from beginning to end during the 2016 campaign. Now they’re repeating the offense with these mini-rallies. He promotes himself, attacks and attacks, lies, spreads nonsense and they’re allowing him to do it. He is the president, but that makes it worse, since he speaks to some of us with authority. It is amazingly reckless that they’re letting him do it.

It’s a beautiful spring day here in New Jersey from an aesthetic perspective. Governor Murphy reports we’re at 58,000 cases, with 7,600 hospitalized, 1,700 in critical condition and 2,200 dead.

Please be safe and be kind.