Thursday, August 23, 2007

Politics and the County Fair

Most politicians will put politics before people in a New York minute, but not too many politicians have the nerve to put politics before kids – at least not in front of their parents the voters.

But Somerset County’s politicians did just that last Thursday when Governor Corzine arrived to visit the Somerset County 4H Fair. He was introduced to the 4H leaders who had worked hard to make the three days successful and the kids were primed to meet this unknown man while parents and grandparents warmed up their cameras.

But before anything else could happen, the county level politicians in attendance wiggled past the 4H representatives, clustered around the governor, and began to privately bend his ear. Considering the current county level political mess, it’s not hard to guess what they were talking about.

As the minutes ticked by, little kids began squirming while the adults started to mutter to each other that the Governor was there to see the kids and their projects, not other politicians and “those people” could talk to each other anytime. The votes were dropping like flies.

Finally the Governor’s staff disengaged him from the county mendicants and he was able to tour the fair, although a considerable amount of the time that had been allotted to the visit was already wasted.

While politicians and county fairs have gone together for centuries (maybe like ham and eggs?), our county level politicians have got to learn how to play the game or they will lose votes instead of gaining them.

And the politicians should have remembered that they were the guests of the 4H.


As a side note, although the would-be politicians at the Fair were trying to get their names before the voters, they should not have pushed their way into every family-oriented picture with t-shirts blaring their slogans. Use some self-control; we have had little enough of that recently.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Somerset County 4H Fair

Last week I attended all three days of the Somerset County 4H Fair and it still wasn’t enough time to do everything I wanted.

While I petted ducklings, snakes, rabbits, sheep, goats, llamas, and cows, I missed out on holding a newly hatched chick. I watched model airplanes fly and go karts race, but I missed the rocket launches and the radio control cars. I met a man who carved wood into beautiful pieces of art and a blacksmith, but I didn’t have a chance to have my name written in Chinese calligraphy or watch double Dutch jump rope or make jewelry or decorate a clothespin clip or run a big piece of machinery or make a print.

But I did have the chance to meet hundreds of members of the 4H family; kids with an incredible depth of knowledge about their projects and who are polite and patient when they explain the work they have done. And what work it is! They invite you to peruse their project books – binders where they have recorded each step in words and pictures.

When their projects involve animals they have done it all: cleaned, trained, mucked stalls, everything. Those who work with the farm animals have a better understanding of the food chain than many adults and know the end result of the market lamb auction or where those cute chicks are going to be in eight weeks; they know about birth and death.

The club members who work with mechanical items – trains, planes, vehicles of all types – don’t just pull it out of a box and play with it. These kids know how they work, how to fix them, how to maintain them, and how to build and personalize them; they respect what is behind each item.

When it comes to crafts they are tactful and clear while talking you through a simple project, hoping to spread their enthusiasm and knowledge.

The 4H has a depth of intergenerational family participation that isn’t often found these days. The kids aren’t just dropped off and picked up at club meetings, but their families are enthusiastic, encouraging, helpful, and involved; people who are making more than projects. They are making the strong extraordinary adults of the future.

And they helped me make memories. Next year I am definitely trying the Bubble Tea. And trying a new craft. And holding a newly hatched chick.

Go to and look through the three galleries of 4H Fair pictures.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Caution - Wet Cement

Hillsborough claims to be encouraging pedestrian friendly planning, but you can’t prove it by me. I am fed up with Hillsborough's pedestrian un-friendly sidewalks.

How do you make a sidewalk pedestrian unfriendly? You irrigate it. Yes, one of the most amazing aspects of Hillsborough’s pedestrian friendly walkways is the irrigated sidewalk.

And exactly how does one design an irrigated sidewalk?

A homeowner decides to have a lawn irrigation system installed. When the system is finished it has sprinkler heads not only in the main lawn, but also between the sidewalk and the curb spraying across the public sidewalk.

No, I don’t know why the irrigation installers do that, I don’t know why the homeowners agree to it, and I really don’t understand why Hillsborough allows it.

First, it’s a waste of water to irrigate cement. Second, you have got to somehow be undermining the walkways by running the piping under the cement slabs. Third, what if repairs are needed in a part of the irrigation system under the sidewalk? Fourth, you are installing the piping and the spray heads in the public easement, which is going to be a pain in the neck when the time comes that the township or a public utility has to do any work along the roadway or the sidewalk. And the homeowners who have installed these marvels of irrigation will complain like crazy when they discover the township does have the right to rip up the system if any work is needed in the easement.

Now, moving beyond the stupidity of the entire design, what about the pedestrians who are attempting to use the irrigated public sidewalk. If the system is already on, the hapless pedestrian – possibly accompanied by a pram or a dog - can choose to walk through the shower or walk out into the street.

Unless it happens to turn on just as the pedestrian is in range and just gets unexpectedly soaked. Maybe they are designed that way, with some kind of built-in motion detector for the amusement of the homeowner and the installers.

It seems as though plain old common sense would suggest that you do not install lawn irrigation systems that spray across public sidewalks.

I knew here was a catch. It involves common sense.

I can see a statute coming about not putting irrigation heads in the easements or aimed to spray across public walkways. I predict that the homeowners who are intent on irrigating their sidewalks will blame the radical pedestrian-loving politicians. They may even accuse them of being (horrors) tree-huggers or green-friendly.

When you walk out onto the street to avoid the spray, you often discover these same homeowners have their cars parked on the road thus forcing you to walk in the lane of travel. [I can only guess they don’t want their cars to get wet.]

Sometime we will discuss homeowners who park their cars in their driveways but across (blocking) the sidewalks. We will save this discussion for another time. I have to go get a towel. The dog is still wet.