There’s bears in the pool!

Didn’t know there were these many bears in New Jersey. Years ago, they were wandering near where I worked. But when we lived in New Jersey, we did see deer in the back yard.

Time Machine: ‘The Great Train Robbery’ (1903)

I’ve been doing these Time Machine posts of movies that are more than 100 years old for more than a year now, so I’m shocked that it took me so long to put up one of the major classics of early cinema, “The Great Train Robbery.”

Granted, the acting is bad (the shooting victims really ham it up), the continuity is confusing (how does a posse catch up so quickly with a group of bandits who had a long head start on a train) and the action is ridiculous (all that shooting and the horses in the middle of it aren’t killed?). Let’s not overlook the never-ending gunplay. (Shooting at a dancer’s feet on a crowded dance floor?)

But it is a milestone in film making, even though the classic western was made in New Jersey for $150.

Considering we’re seeing something that was filmed 110 years ago, what strikes me the most is that the action it is depicting likely would have happened within 50 years of the time of filming. Let’s assume the filmmakers were depicting an Old West train robbery. Their reference would have been from the mid- to late-19th century. From a time standpoint, we are farther away from this movie than the filmmakers were from their concept of the era of train robberies. Our ancient history is their recent history.

And that’s why this movie is a Time Machine.

Paul vs. Christie: Let’s get ready to rumble!!!

Wasn’t the Chris Christie/Rand Paul catfight last week a thing of beauty? Let’s take a trip down memory lane:

Of course, Blitzer is going to let the person in Washington have the most air time, because that’s what he does. But although my home is in Kentucky, I’ve got to side with Christie on this one.

Rand Paul talks about government spending, and Kentucky gets more money from the federal government than it puts in. Chris Christie talks about government spending, and New Jersey (another state I’ve had a home in) gets less money than it puts in.

If Paul is going to be a champion of fiscal rectitude, he should cut spending in his back yard. But he doesn’t want to do that. He wants to cut spending that goes to other states.

And let’s not ignore the point that Rand Paul’s economic policies hurt the people of Kentucky. When he talks about spending cuts, he talking about cuts to education, infrastructure and government services. Kentucky is not a rich state, and part of the reason it gets more in federal spending than it gives is because businesses in the commonwealth don’t generate high enough individual wages to lead to a balance in taxes to government spending. New Jersey, with a higher quality of education, better infrastructure and more responsible government services, does.

So what do their arguments boil down to?

Chris Christie is saying Rand Paul is a hypocrite (which he is).

Rand Paul is saying Chris Christie is fat (which he is).

Anyway, both guys are running for president. A bunch of misguided political pundits say this catfight is good for both of them? I don’t understand that logic. If you’re on the defense this early in the 2016 election process, people will be fed up with you by the end of 2014.

But scratch away, guys.


Actor James Gandolfini dies at 51

This comes as a shock:

HBO and James Gandolfini’s managers say the actor famous for his role in “The Sopranos” has died in Italy.

The cable channel, and managers Mark Armstrong and Nancy Sanders, say the 51-year-old Gandolfini (gan-dahl-FEE’-nee) died Wednesday while on holiday in Rome.

In a statement, HBO called the actor a great talent and a gentle and loving person.

Gandolfini played conflicted mob boss Tony Soprano in the groundbreaking HBO series that aired from 1999 to 2007.

The last thing I saw him in was “Zero Dark Thirty,” where he played the CIA director.

But this is what he was known for the world over:

Since 1999, every time I drove through the Lincoln Tunnel from Manhattan to my home in New Jersey, this is the view I had and the song that played in my head.

RIP, Tony Soprano.

Springsteen in Louisville

A few weeks ago, I stood outside Nationals Stadium in D.C. to listen to a Bruce Springsteen concert. Saturday night, I sat inside the Yum Center in Louisville to actually watch one. It was my third. … Actually, if you count the Washington concert, it was my third and a half. Once in Philadelphia in the late ’70s. Once in Indianapolis in the early 2000s

I know, I’ve seen these references before, but Springsteen conducted more of a revival meeting than a concert. If one constant theme emerged, it was celebrate the living and honor the dead. I can imagine the Boss having gone on a different path as an evangelical minister, though the thought of a holy roller from the New Jersey coast is kind of hard to wrap my head around.

Still, the show was full of call and response, the hands of the congregation in the air waving in exultation and the constant shouts from the pulpit of, “Can you feel the spirit,” just seem to fit in a megachurch, not a basketball arena. This isn’t a complaint, though. It was extremely entertaining.

It started out with a couple of the newer songs (Shackled and Drawn” and “Lonesome Day”), then worked into “Hungry Heart” (with a significant amount of audience participation) and lingered in a mini-memorial mixture of songs for the victims of Hurricane Sandy in and around the Jersey Shore (No, not Snookieland).

He was really moved by the devastation by the storm (and I refuse to acknowledge the efforts to dub it Superstorm Sandy. … What? Hurricane isn’t devastating enough for you?). Sometimes, a Springsteen show seems to be in tune with the mood of the Midwest. But this show brought back the spirit of the Jersey bar band at the heart of E Street. “The E Street Shuffle,” “Atlantic City,” “Spirit in the Night,” “Growing Up,” “Rosalita.” These songs wallow in South Jersey, but surprisingly, he didn’t do “Fourth of July, Asbury Park.” Maybe because of the name Sandy?

“We Take Care of Our Own,” “Wrecking Ball,” “Death to My Hometown,” “My City of Ruin.” All talk about communities knocked down and fighting to get back up.

There was a second of political mischief … a well turned phrase in the conversation with the crowd that lingered on the word “Democratic.” But this was Kentucky, and the Boss knows that no matter what he says, the state is going Romney on Election Day.

Nevermind that. There was a lot of back and forth between Bruce and the folks with the floor tickets. He grabbed some posters with song requests and at key moments brought the requesters up on stage to sing or dance with him. A hyperactive 20-year-old who celebrated his birthday by not taking his Ritalin sang a section of “Growing Up.”

A group of girls in pink cowboy hats  crowded the stage for “Darlington County.”

Three brothers sang a section of “Waiting on a Sunny Day,” a capella.

A little girl ended up with the mike at one point and a guy around my age threw in a few bars of “The E Street Shuffle.” Hell, if I had been down there, I think I would have managed to get a few licks on the guitar, like the whole front row did during “Born to Run.”

Springsteen was mingling with the audience throughout the show, but there was one point where he literally fell backward into the middle of the crowd, which proceeded to bodysurf him back to the stage.

I swear, he was amazingly trusting for that little stunt. I’d like to think a few bodyguards were there to catch him if things went wrong.

As with the D.C. crowd, the age ranges were vast. From little kids to grandparents. I was there with my son. Bruce was onstage with Jake Clemmons, Clarence’s nephew, who resurrected his uncle’s sax solos note for note. At the D.C. show, Max Weinburg’s daughter joined the band, and his son has taken his place in earlier E Street Band tours.

A show that spans the generations.

Here’s the set list from Louisville. He did 30 songs in D.C., and though there is some overlap, it really was a different experience.

1) Shackled and Drawn
2) Lonesome Day
3) Hungry Heart
4) We Take Care of Our Own
5) Wrecking Ball
6) Death to My Hometown
7) My City of Ruin
8) Spirit in the Night
9) The E Street Shuffle
10) Streets of Philadelphia
11) Atlantic City
12) Because the Night
13) She’s the One
14) Growing Up
15) Open All Night
16) Darlington County
17) Waitin’ on a Sunny Day
18) The River
19) The Rising
20) Badlands
21) Land of Hope and Dreams
22) Rocky Ground
23) Born to Run
24) Rosalita
25) Dancing in the Dark
26) Tenth Avenue Freeze Out

What are they trying to pull?

Governor of New Jersey Chris Christie

Image via Wikipedia

Another half-term Republican governor is making moves to pave the way for a presidential bid.

Recent actions by Chris Christie, who was elected governor of New Jersey last year, show he is doing everything he can to wreck the state’s education and transportation systems. As a result of the incompetence of his administration, New Jersey lost $400 million in federal funds because the state didn’t correctly fill out a grant form. Christie’s immediate response was to blame the Obama administration, even though videotape shows his education commissioner was responsible for the screw up.

His budget also cut public education funding by $820 million and aid for colleges by $175 million.

His latest attack on the people of his state was to kill an already under way project that added another rail tunnel between New Jersey and New York. This is devastating to New Jersey commuters, because there’s already major congestion on the rail line. I commuted from New York to New Jersey for more than 10 years, and nothing was more frustrating that dealing with New Jersey Transit’s delays. It was bad 10 years ago, it’s worse now, and Christie has made sure it will continue to deteriorate.

But that’s not the worst part of the decision. New Jersey turned away $3 billion in federal funding for the project. Since the tunnel has been canceled, the state now has to repay the U.S. at least $300 million for the federal money already spent. And at a time when everyone talks about job creation, no tunnel means no construction jobs, and that means higher unemployment in the state.

So why does he see this all as a good thing?

Well, he gains a reputation as a cost-cutter. Fox news will tout how he stuck it to those eastern elitists and will play this up as fiscal responsibility: more red meat for the teabagger crowd, especially the ones who participate in the Iowa caucuses at the beginning of the 2012 presidential campaign.

His actions are hurting New Jersey, and if he keeps going like this, he won’t be re-elected governor. But, perhaps, he doesn’t care. Being president ($400,000 a year) pays a lot more than being governor of New Jersey ($175,000 a year).

NOTE: Here’s an interesting bit of presidential trivia. In real dollars, the president currently makes less than at any time in U.S. history. The $400,000 salary, established in 2001 is the equivalent of $487,000 in 2009 dollars. But when George Washington was president, the $25,000 annual salary was the equivalent of $566,000 in 2009 dollars.