Monday, November 01, 2010

The Oldest Continually Inhabited House in Our House in Jersey

I'm flipping through the October 2010 issue of Smithsonian magazine, and something has caught my eye: In a "Special Advertising Section" promoting travel to St. Augustine, Florida, the 445 year-old town is described as "the oldest continually inhabited city in the United States."

How can this be? I recall a previous issue of Smithsonian telling me that Acoma Pueblo in New Mexico is the oldest continually inhabited city in the United States. What gives? Am I remembering incorrectly?

I google Acoma Pueblo, nicknamed "Sky City", and the official website tells me that it is "the oldest continually inhabited community in North America."

So what's the deal, here? It seems to come down to a distinction between "city" and "community", but that just confuses me more. Is Acoma Pueblo, despite its nickname, not considered a city? Founded in the 12th century, it's the older of the two.

I'm not rooting for either one, here. I've been to both, and they're both wonderful and certainly worth your travel time and dollars. I'm just wondering whether St. Augustine and Acoma Pueblo are aware of one another. And who researches the oldest-continually-inhabited-whatever claims? It seems like there'd be some kind of government agency (the Department of Continual Inhabitation) dedicated to overseeing these things. Just where are my tax dollars going?!

Boy, I'd better get out and vote tomorrow. While I'm out, I think I'll have a sign made up: "Welcome to Our House in Jersey, the oldest continually inhabited house in this building."

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Spectra Pipeline (Or: Wait, You Want to Do WHAT?!)

Every now and then, an idea comes along that is so astonishingly terrible, so egregiously ill-conceived, so mind-numbingly lunatic, that even in the great State of New Jersey one cannot find an elected official who can be bribed into backing it.

I’m speaking here of the proposal to build a natural gas pipeline straight through Downtown Jersey City.

Well, not STRAIGHT through. The pipeline would have enough twists and turns to bring it within close proximity of the Jersey City Medical Center, the Liberty Science Center, and at least four public schools. It would follow a good length of the highly-trafficked NJ Turnpike Extension. It would come within four blocks of Our House in Jersey.

And the thing about gas pipelines is, well, sometimes there are mishaps.

Mishaps aren’t as infrequent as you might think. In June, one person was killed in Northern Texas when a pipeline was accidentally hit during a routine utility pole installation. Last week, a pipeline ruptured in Austin County, Texas. There were no fatalities or injuries, but then again, it happened in a field.

That’s just two very recent examples from somebody who’s too lazy to read through more than a half page of Google search results and too respectful of your intelligence to point out some of the more famous and catastrophic pipeline disasters.

But I will point out this: The news stories surrounding these incidents all use phrases like “near the village of” or “60 miles north of.” That’s because common sense dictates that you relegate hazardous materials to the outskirts of a densely populated area, not the heart of a city. When you’re playing with fire, you play the odds, and the odds are that there will be fewer casualties in a field than in any town big enough to have its own Financial District.

You have to wonder where the Department of Homeland Security stands on all of this. “If You See Something, Say Something,” the posters say. All right, then: I see miles of highly flammable, toxic gas winding through my town, just waiting to be ignited. I assume that the duties of the Port Authority police will expand from inspecting my handbag at the PATH station to confiscating lighters from the smokers outside.

The comical part of this to me is that anybody would trust Jersey City not to blow up a gas pipeline. This is an accident-prone town, with quarterly water main breaks, bad drivers, firecracker-wielding children, and frequent train delays attributed to electrical problems. It’s a crime-ridden town, with gang members, plenty of weapons, and a neighborhood known as “Gunshot Alley.” It’s a town lacking in oversight and competent leadership, full of sitting public officials who are busy defending themselves on corruption charges, and politicians who, historically and tragically, have been unable to distinguish between a pigeon and a dove.

Don’t get me wrong: I love it here. But I also love the e-trade baby. Doesn’t mean I’m going to hand him a matchbook and invite him to play.

I’m not naïve. I know that this world, this nation, this state, this town, and this house use a lot of energy, and I know that the energy has to come from somewhere, and I know that it has to be delivered somehow. And perhaps if it were being delivered to my house, my town, or even my state, I’d feel differently. But that’s not the case with the pipeline in question. This pipeline is meant to deliver natural gas to Con Edison in New York City. As far as I can tell, the only reason to route the pipeline through Jersey City (instead of through Staten Island, which is a viable alternative and, notably, an actual part of New York City) is because it will save the natural gas company, Spectra Energy, some money.

Of course, Spectra Energy and the New Yorkers who will ultimately benefit from lower Con Ed bills have put together an excellent package to compensate New Jersey for the risks they ask us to bear. Oh, wait. No, they haven’t. You would think they’d offer to pay for increased emergency response resources or infrastructure improvements, or help us relocate our schools away from the gas fumes, or throw some goodwill money at our community programs, or at least hand over the Statue of Liberty. But so far, nada.

So to sum up, Jersey City is expected to selflessly take on a considerable amount of risk for no good reason and with absolutely no compensation. If I may present this mathematically:

Great Risk + No Benefit = Outrageously Stupid

As an interstate energy project, Spectra’s proposed pipeline is subject to the approval of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). To FERC’s credit, they’ve scheduled a meeting to solicit feedback from the community about the project, and I intend to be there. If you’d care to join, the meeting is tonight, from 7:00 to 10:00 p.m. at Ferris High School (35 Colgate Street). More information is available at

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Upcoming Shows!

Andi and I are performing the Kurt Weill show on Tuesday the 2nd and Monday the 8th! Come join us!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Recital Date Change!

Hi, folks!

The Classical Cabaret recital is being pushed back a week - it will now be on Friday, Oct. 30, at 7:30. Will still be at the same venue, the Singers Forum.


Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Classical Cabaret Night!

Come one, come all, to the Singers Forum on October 23rd, when Andi Smela and I will be doing a recital of Cabaret songs! We're working on some really great music - Cabaret songs from Schoenberg, Poulenc, and of course our buddy Kurt Weill. We're also putting together some fun arrangements of some Piaf songs - not to mention, of course, the *incredible* Polish Tangos. All of this for the incredible recession special price of: FREE!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Live Long and Prosper

Well, I never really watched Star Trek. I’d seen a few episodes here and there, and mostly think of William Shatner in the context of the infamous Twilight Zone “monkey-creature on the wing of a plane” episode, or his strange (yet endearing) version of “Common People”. But in honor of the new Star Trek movie (which we’re preparing ourselves for), Moray and I have sat down this week and watched the first few Star Trek movies, which I’d never before seen.

Obviously the acting is fabulous. The relationships between these characters are what it’s all about. But aside from that, I’m starting to finally understand the Star Trek mentality. An era of peace, exploration and enlightenment. Equality. Friendship. In the 4th movie, a woman from the 1980s asks Captain Kirk (as they get up from a pizza dinner to rush back to the ship), “What? I suppose you don’t have money in the 23rd century?” to which he responds, “No, we don’t.”

When was the last time we stopped to imagine our future? What is the best possible outcome for our society? As a kid, I remember thinking that there would easily be a day in my lifetime when wars would be a thing of the past. Whatever major issues we were dealing with, we’d find the intelligence and wisdom to make the right choices. It was just an assumption; through trial and error, we would eventually learn and prevail.

It’s been a long time since I could think beyond the present. There is a classic moment from my college days (which I endlessly love recalling much to my friend’s dismay) when our music history teacher asked us (after a huge historical build-up), “…and when the spaceship Voyager lifted off in 1977, carrying a Golden Record bearing samples of the best of human culture, the music of which composer do you think was included?” to which I, of course, yelled loudly: “Yanni!”

Although the answer of course is J.S. Bach, it begs the question: How will our era be remembered? If we were to now send a time capsule into outer space, representing the best, most representative works of our generation, would it contain Riverdance? American Idol? Can you imagine an alien life-form’s reaction to Kelly Clarkson? Or maybe a commercial for male enhancement? Do you think an equivalent to the genius and beauty of J.S. Bach could possibly be a product of our times? I fear when our 23rd century selves look back on the current era, they will be quoting ancient wisdom from “Oops, I Did It Again”, by Brittney Spears - the obvious modern-day wordsmith equivalent of William Shakespeare.

Picture it: The year 2267. Our real-life, future versions of Captain Kirk and Commander Spock are about to be blown to smithereens by Klingons. In a tense moment, facing the abrupt end of their mission (and possibly their own deaths as well as the deaths of their crew), the Captain searches for the right words of wisdom to inspire and comfort his crew. He closes his eyes and slowly recites from memory:

With a taste of your lips
I'm on a ride

You're toxic, I'm slipping under

With a taste of poison paradise

I'm addicted to you

Don't you know that you're toxic?

And I love what you do

Don't you know that you're toxic?

Sadly, I fear the Klingons will be confused and probably blow up the ship as a result of their brain matter spontaneously melting. I fear for our future.

Anyway, I ask these questions because I’ve been thinking a lot lately about our priorities as a culture, as a civilization. I think everyone’s version of “progress” probably varies a lot these days, and it’s becoming harder and harder to see how we as individuals (and in many cases artists and musicians) fit into the bigger picture. It’s not easy to think about creating something beautiful, intended to explore and share the human experience, when the majority of our personal experiences revolve around trying to pay rent, bills, and not getting cancer (again). Well, maybe that’s just me. But I figure we’ve all got our own stories.

Any of you creative types out there have thoughts on this?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Awards Season

There's so much we've neglected to write about lately. We've failed to chime in on the election, the economic meltdown, and the plane that landed in the Hudson. We haven't told you about our sweet foster kitty, our broken gate, or the hawk that landed in our back yard.

So what could make us finally break our blogging silence? A better blogger, that's what.

If you glance down to our list of friends' blogs (on the left), you'll see the link to Friend Michelle's blog. Michelle writes a witty, inspiring, and foul-mouthed blog called Thursday Night Smackdown. It's a food blog, and it's the perfect blend of sweet and savory.

And it's a finalist for a 2009 Bloggie Award!! This is a big deal. The Bloggie is to blogs as the Oscar is to movies.

Out of thousands of nominees, Thursday Night Smackdown is one of only five finalists in the "Best-Kept Secret Blog" category. If you're so inclined, you can help Michelle take home the Bloggie by voting here: . The screen scrolls to the right, and you have to vote in at least three categories for your vote to count.

Who knows? Maybe Michelle's success will inspire us to be better, more consistent bloggers. (Or maybe I've just diverted what's left of our readership to her...)

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