30 January 2006

NJ Transit at a crossroads

    If God had intended us to fly, he would never have given us the railroads
      Michael Flanders

The business section of this Sunday's Times of Trenton had an article by Michael Lavitt about the NJ Transit's current crossroads. Unfortunately, it's not on NJ.com - don't know why.

It builds on some of the issues Lavitt raised in this article questioning whether Amtrak should remain in control of the Northeast Corrider, framing the debate with a story about a 60-year-old power line that shut down the Northeast Corridor, North Jersey Coast and Raritan Valley Lines and inconvenienced 10,000 morning commuters. He notes that:

The stretch of railroad between Washington and Boston is the only significant right-of-way that Amtrak owns and operates. And there are some who question whether the current Amtrak, headed by a board of Bush cronies who Congress refused to confirm, starved for capital funds and struggling with huge operating losses, should continue to own or control the busiest stretch of railroad in the country.

The aformentioned cronies got new recess appointments. You've got to wonder what's up when a Republican president is afraid to let his choices face Senate confirmation.

NJ Transit has funding concerns of its own. The state's Transportation Trust Fund, which pays capital expenses of mass transit and highways, needs a new source of revenue. If none is found, all money from the fund is obligated to pay for bond debt. An increase in the gas tax is shaping up to be that new source of funding. There seems to be growing support, especially with the recent decrease in gas prices. Personally, I think increasing the gas tax was a good idea even at the post-Katrina highs, but I digress.

I think the state needs to keep funding NJ Transit. Mass transit in NJ has seen vast improvements in New Jersey. Trains run more often, with more seats and more new cars. The Hamilton and Secaucus stations were both immediately successful, offering commuters more options for departures and connections. There is still debate about the River Line, but its ridership growth continues to be in line with projections.

There is more on the horizon. Lavitt's article points out some of the things we have to look forward to. There are the new multilevel cars, which he reported on last week. There is also the renovation of the Trenton station, scheduled to be complete in 2007. With proper funding, a direct connection could be added between the River Line and the Atlantic City line.

Even better, a by placing an electric locomotive at one end of a train and a diesel at the other, a train could run directly from New York's Penn Station to Atlantic City in 2 1/2 hours. This, in particular, seems like a no-brainer to me. What better way to lure New Yorkers to Atlantic City?

Here is my thinking on all of this: We need to keep expanding and improving our mass transit. The gas tax is the appropriate funding source, and there's room to increase it. We have too many cars on the road as it is. We need to make it easier for people to use alternatives. Continuing to improve the infrastructure and increase services will make mass transit more and more attractive. With each improvement, each new service, ridership will to increase. Like the movie said, "if you build it, they will come."

We've come a long way, we can't turn back. And with Bushies in charge of Amtrak, the stakes on one of the nation's busiest railroads just got higher.

Cross-posted at BlueJersey.net.

23 January 2006

Good fortune

    Every man is the architect of his own fortune.

You're no doubt aware of the simple game people often play with the fortunes received in fortune cookies. You append two words to find humor and innuendo.

Well, I had Chinese for lunch today, and this is what I got in the cookie:

I'm just saying....

22 January 2006

Carnival thirty-something-or-other!

    There's a party goin' on right here
    A celebration to last throughout the years
    So bring your good times, and your laughter too
    We gonna celebrate your party with you
      Kool and the Gang

The new Carnival is up. Check it out!


21 January 2006

That same old song

    We hum the same old lines to a different crowd
    And everybody wants to cheer it
    We run on endless time to reach a higher cloud
    But we never ever seem to get near it
    We sing the same old song
      The Who

Karl Rove has resurfaced to talk up the Republican strategy for the 2006 elections. I doubt that anyone on the face of this planet would be suprised by what he said. It goes something like this:

Blah blah blah... 9/11... Republicans will protect you... 9/11... Democrats
want to retreat and let terrorists win... 9/11... 9/11! NINE-ELEVEN!!!

Rove said that Democrats have a pre-9/11 view of the world while Republicans have a post-9/11 view. It's a nice line, and it gave him a chance to mention 9/11 a some more, but it's a load of crap. Republicans don't have a post-9/11 view - they just have a 9/11 view. They make decisions like 9/11 was yesterday. They want Americans to remain afraid and irrational.

Democrats have the post-9/11 view. They are actually using the four years since the attack to put them in context. That's why they're not so willing to abandon our personal liberties to the Patriot Act. That's why they're questioning a war in a country that had no involvement with the terrorists that attacked us.

The question is, can we make voters understand this? The Republicans will be chanting their 9/11 mantra anywhere and everywhere they can. It's the same song they've been singing. They'll change a note or two, maybe add a new lyric, but we've heard it before. The question is, have we heard enough?

Cross-posted at BlueJersey.net.

20 January 2006

Judge strikes down Maryland marraige ban

        Although tradition and societal values are important, they cannot be given so much weight that they alone will justify a discriminatory law.
          Judge M. Brooke Murdock
          in a ruling striking down Maryland's ban on same-sex marraige

      You can't put it much better than Judge Murdock in her ruling striking down the 33-year-old Maryland law against same-sex marriage. Of course, the state will appeal, so the battle isn't won yet, but what a great way to put it.

      Thanks Skippy!

        Say hello to my little friend!
          Tony Montanna

      It's not every day a two-bit low-life blog like mine shows up on bigtime blogs like skippy the bush kangaroo. I saw an uptick in my stats today and a quick look at me referrers told me why: Skippy gave me a "say hello" link today! Thanks!

      That being the case, I want to highlight a couple of good blogs and blog posts. I usually don't hightlight these blogs because they're where I get all my hits from.... Anyway, here they are:

      • On Blanton's and Ashton's you'll find this excellent post about the State of Union speech Bush gave and the one he's going to give.
      • This post on Laughing at the Pieces you just need to read. I won't try to describe it here, but you'll love it.
      • Podcast listenners might want to visit the Jersey Jam Cast for some podsafe local music.
      • Author Jeri Smith-Ready offers insight into both her craft and her life here.
      • And for general excellence, visit The Center of NJ Life, the blog that should have won the Screaming Carrot.

      Check them out.

      Bullet in a Bible

        I've got a bullet that's stuck in a Bible
          Curator at the Imperial War Museum in London

      I got Green Day's Bullet in a Bible for Christmas. It's a two-disc set. One disc is a two-hour concert film, the other is the concert CD. I've seen a few reviews of this, and they tend to fall into two categories.

      This review typifies the first category. The reviewer starts out by trashing American Idiot as "punk rock lip service" before going after Bullet in a Bible as proof of their sell-out status. It's the common complaint leveled at alternative artists when they find success or seek to expand the boundries of their musical style. Green Day did both and this reviewer could accept neither.

      At the other end of the spectrum is this review. Everything the previous review saw as signs of Green Day's artistic demise this review sees as a sign of their greatness. The reviewer loved American Idiot which they found intelligent and ambitious. It's no surprise, then, that they loved Bullet in a Bible, ate it up actually.

      I was not quite so ecstatic, myself. The performances on Bullet in a Bible are solid and will enjoy a steadily increasing play count on my iPod. The different segments between the performances on the DVD are standard concert-file fare. That's not a slam, mind you. There's a nice matter-of-fact honesty in their comments, particularly those of Billie Joe Armstrong and Mike Dirnt (Tre Cool is more comic relief). Some of the bits might be a bit over-dramatic, like their visit to the Imperial War Museum, but on balance it's good stuff. The only other nit I could pick is Billie Joe's constant shouts of "ENGLAND!" and "HEY-YO" to the crowd, but then, the crowd was into it and that's why they were there.

      In all, if you like Green Day and concert films, you'll like Bullet in a Bible. I like both, so I like this. Now if only someone would put out a DVD of their VH1 Storytellers appearance.

      Find good beer

        "He was a wise man who invented beer."

      All over the web people are using the Google Maps API to develop their own map-based guides and services. Many of these efforts are chronicled on the Google Maps Mania blog.

      For the beer drinkers among us, here are two great efforts:

      • The Crooked Beat Beer and Music Map maintained by The Crooked Beat, a site dedicated to local music in the NY/NJ area. The page allows you to limit your search based on live music and the number of good beers available.
      • The Beer Mapping Project does it on a national scale. It features maps for several metropolitan areas (including NY and Philly) as well as a nationwide map of breweries and brew pubs.

      Now you have no excuse for drinking lousy beer.

      A New Horizon

        It was so awe-inspiring to watch something like this. It’s something you can’t put into words. You just feel it.
          Annette Tombaugh-Sitze
          (her father, Clyde Tombaugh, discovered Pluto)

      The New Horizons spacecraft has begun 3-billion-mile trip to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt. It was nine hours to the moon's orbit, it will be nine years to Pluto. Next year it gets a bit of a boost from Jupiter's gravity.

      I had the NASA TV feed on, so I was able to catch the whole launch. Once they lost sight of the rocket from the ground, they switched to a cool 3-D rendering that updated based on live telemetry data. After that, during the third stage burn, it was just a shot of a launch controller watching the telemetry data as it rolled of the printer. Kind of a low-tech finale, but it was neat to watch. Clyde Tombaugh's widow was there for the launch of the probe, which carried some his ashes onboard.

      This is the fastest spacecraft ever launched from Earth. Despite that fact, it will take at least nine years for it to reach Pluto, illustrating how incredibly far away Pluto is. I told one of my daughters that she'd be driving by the time the probe gets to Pluto. "Wow," she said. Wow indeed.

      17 January 2006

      Riding music

        They're my theme music. Every hero's got to have some.
          Jack Spade
          I'm Gonna Git You, Sucka

      One of the nice things about riding the stationary bike is my iPod. I don't use it when I'm out on my bicycle, as I like to hear the car before I can taste its hood ornament. Besides, there's stuff to look at and enjoy in an outdoor ride. The view in my basement is kind of limited.

      I've been trying out different albums and artists, looking for good exercise music. This is music that helps me keep pace and push harder. So, following is something not entirely unlike Jeri's Megashuffle, my commented exercise music album list.

      Soundtrack to The Matrix: This was a no-brainer, really. You've probably seen the film, so you know the music has plenty of energy to keep you going.

      "Sehnsucht" by Rammstein: Their self-described musical style is Tanz-Metall ("Dance Metal"). I bought this because I liked "Du Hast", and I wasn't disappointed. Also, its German lyrics mean I'm less likely to sing along, which can be difficult while exercising.

      "In Your Honor" (Disc 1) by Foo Fighters: This, their latest, is an excellent album. It's a double-disc album, with all the hard stuff on the first disc and the slow stuff on the second. The tempo of a few songs is a little slower than I'd like, but it makes up for it in power.

      "Guero" by Beck: I think this is Beck's best effort to date. This is one of those CDs I played to death when I got it. It works well for exercising, but I had to skip "Broken Drum" because it was just to plodding. I also didn't make it "Farewell Ride" before I stopped. It's title is vaguely apropos, but it's way to slow.

      "Party Mix!" by the B-52's: This was an EP with danced-up versions of material from their first two albums, songs like "52 Girls" and "Private Idaho." This is one of the best so far for pacing. It also turned out to be a really good match for one of the programs on the bike - when you hit the really hard part, "Lava" starts with a beat that is just a little slower.

      "Substance 1987" by New Order: More remixes, this time on the class New Order compilation. It's a long album, so it was a good choice when I decided to lengthen my ride to 45 minutes.

      "Music for the Masses" by Depeche Mode: Not a bad start on this one, but there were too many slow points. Slow plodding melodies from Depeche Mode? Who woulda thunk.

      "Comfort Eagle" by Cake: You might not think this works, but it does. It's all in the beat, I think. This was another one that meshed with the program I picked on the bike. "Comfort Eagle" came up right during the final push.

      "American Idiot" by Green Day: This is an example of pure power trumping any tempo issue. Plenty of fast beats there, to be sure, but even when there isn't, there is enough drive to keep you those pedals turning.

      "Dookie" by Green Day: I don't know why I didn't see this one sooner. Every now and then I forget how great this album is. It doesn't slow down until track eleven ("When I Come Around"), and then only barely.

      Other candidate albums mostly have the same issues as "Music for the Masses" - too many slow spots. It's probably time for some playlists. There are plenty of great songs for exercise, even if the whole album doesn't fit. "Immigrant's Song" and "Run Like Hell" work well, even if "Since I've Been Loving You" and "Waiting for the Worms" don't.

      Well, I don't know how relevent this analysis is to anyone, but there you go.

      15 January 2006

      We still have a dream

        Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends.
          Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

      The litany in church today was a recitation of the "I Have a Dream" speech, in which we all affirmed that we have that dream. If you haven't read or listened to it lately, you should. Audio and text can be found here.

      Let us keep the dream alive.

      Happy landing

        It’s an absolutely fantastic end to the mission.
          Carlton Allen
          of NASA’s Johnson Space Center

      It sure is. The Stardust probe's sample return capsule landed safely in the Utah desert, completing its 2.9 billion mile round trip!

      08 January 2006

      A Song for Pat Robertson

        I do not sit with deceitful men,
        nor do I consort with hypocrites
          Psalm 26:4

      I always liked the musical Godspell, even with the decisions I've made concerning religion. It's a good telling of Matthew's gospel (if a little hippy-dippy). I recently read Rob's post about Pat Robertson's latest idiocy. Since then, every time I think of it, I think of a song from Godspell. It's pretty much Matthew 23:13-36:


      Alas, alas for you,
      Lawyers and pharisees
      Hypocrites that you be
      Searching for souls and fools to forsake them
      You travel the land you scour the sea
      After you've got your converts you make them
      Twice as fit for hell!
      As you are yourselves!

      Alas, alas, for you
      Lawyers and pharisees
      Hypocrites that you are
      Sure that the kingdom of Heaven awaits you
      You will not venture half so far
      Other men that might enter the gates you
      Keep from passing through!
      Drag them down with you!

      You snakes, you viper's brood
      You cannot escape being Devil's food!
      I send you prophets, and I send you preachers
      Sages in rages and ages of teachers
      Nothing can mar your mood

      Alas, alas for you
      Lawyers and pharisees
      Hypocrites to a man
      Sons of the dogs who murdered the prophets
      Finishing off what your fathers began
      You don't have time to scorn or to scoff
      It's getting very late!
      Vengeance doesn't wait!

      You snakes, you viper's brood
      You cannot escape being Devil's food!
      I send you prophets, and I send you preachers
      Sages in rages and ages of teachers
      Nothing can mar your mood

      Blind guides, blind fools
      The blood you've spilt
      On you will fall!
      This nation, this generation
      Shall bear the guilt of it all!

      Alas, alas alas for you!
      Blind fools!!

      You've got to wonder if Robertson even reads that Bible he waves around. How can he, or anyone in the RRR read the New Testement and not see that they are the lawyers and pharisees? Blind fools.

      05 January 2006

      Can't keep a good rover down!

        Wheels keep on spinning round spinning round spinning round
        Wheels keep on spinning round spinning round and round
          "Wheels" by Cake

      Yesterday marked the two-year anniversery of the rover Spirit's arrival on Mars. In two weeks, Opportunity will also pass the two year mark. Not too shabby for a pair of rovers meant to last three months!

      Read more here.

      04 January 2006

      Much ado about swearing

        You will swear by your true Kingship... to grant me what I wish, then you shall have it.

      In yesterday's Times had an article about Paula Sollami-Covello with an accompanying photo of John Corzine administering the oath. I thought this was a little odd, but figured that, as a U.S. Senator, he could do it. Turns out he can't, and didn't. It was just a photo op, with the real oath administered in private. In today's Times, Krystal Knapp reports the swearing-in was just for show.

      What's more, Sallami-Covello wasn't the only one sworn in like this. Edison mayor Jun Choi was also "sworn in" by Corzine, receiving the real oath later. To make matters worse, Choi's spokesperson David Donnelley didn't even know the Corzine-administered oath was unofficial.

      Why couldn't Corzine have just stood by them when they received the oath? Was it really necessary for him to administer the oath? Now we have a story making them look like ill-informed grandstanders.

      Cross-posted at BlueJersey.net.

      03 January 2006

      Takin' that ride

        We're on a road to nowhere
        Come on inside
        Takin' that ride to nowhere
        We'll take that ride
        Feelin' okay this mornin'
        And you know,
        We're on the road to paradise
        Here we go, here we go
          The Talking Heads
          "Road to Nowhere"

      For the openning quote, I almost chose the "Move It, Move It" song from Madagascar. It is one of those catchy tunes that implant themselves in you conciousness. It's also one that your kids will sing over and over and over no matter how much you beg them to stop. I almost picked it because of the part with King Julien chanting, "Physically fit, physically fit, physically, physically, physically fit!"

      The Today Show this morning noted that the New Year is a time when people resolve to get in shape. I want to point out that I did start a little earlier, last October (or there about). I began bike riding three times a week. A light start, yes, but you've got to start somewhere. Then it got cold and snowed a lot. So much for riding. For Christmas I asked for and got a stationary bike. It has a computer that varies the resistance according to a program and/or heart rate. So I'm back riding again, though I never leave my basement. One plus is that I can listen to my iPod without fear of getting run over because I didn't hear a car horn....

      I am taking a risk in announcing my new exercise initiative, because I could let it slide. But, then, I already got the bike and I don't want that to be a waste. Besides, I'm actually a kind of excited about the opportunity to be a little more physically, physically, physically fit.

      Sorry. See what I'm talking about?