We had a death in the family and had to go up to central New Jersey for the funeral last weekend. It was extremely difficult finding a room as most of the hotels are still full of people who are homeless as a result of hurricane Sandy. When I did find a vacancy online, I quickly moved to lock it in with my credit card.  The reservation bounced back, with a message telling me that the room was no longer the $130 posted price but had instead increased to $160. I did the reservation form a second time only to have yet another message pop up telling me that the price had increased to $190, plus tax. I reserved the room at that price as I had no choice. I wondered to what extent the hotels were playing the same trick with FEMA, with the State of New Jersey emergency management, and with the hapless survivors who were paying their own way.

We talked to a number of people who had lived on or near the Jersey Shore. Many were either retired or were approaching the end of their working careers and had lost absolutely everything in the storm. The entire Shore area has been reconfigured and whole communities embracing a specific economy and way of life have been swept away. Many homeowners did not have flood insurance as it was prohibitive (upwards of $4000 per annum I was told). Like New Orleans, this was a disaster that will play out over many years as reconfiguration and reconstruction take place in the peculiar New Jersey human environment that combines widespread corruption with sometimes astonishing altruism. Our local best-in-New Jersey pizzeria (a significant accolade) had lost its power for a week but was up and running overtime when we arrived dishing out hundreds of free pies to people who had lost their homes.

Prior to last week’s election, my sister served as a volunteer for our home town’s elections board. She was helping register new voters. Most of those being registered were clearly foreign born and many spoke only limited English. She was not allowed to ask for identification or any documentation to demonstrate that the applicants were either American citizens or even local residents and was instructed to go by their word on what their names and addresses were. The application form itself asks for a drivers’ license number or the last four digits of one’s social security number as identifiers, but the drivers’ license is not required and there is no way that an electoral commission can verify social security numbers, even if the entire number were provided.  One Hispanic man who spoke broken English could not even provide an address. My sister concluded that most of those being registered were not citizens or even legal residents and were probably not actually intending to vote. She believed that they were likely obtaining voter’s cards to enable them to apply for other documents, including drivers’ licenses.

My town’s 1851 Dutch Reformed Church, a beautiful example of American neoclassical architecture where President Harding sometimes worshipped, is now the Shree Swaminarayan Mardir Loyadham Hindu Temple. The classical columns at the front and the trim along the building’s pediment have been painted orange.