Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Worst Song on the Radio Now: Volume 1

I've always loved music.  I can still remember lying in bed in 1965 -- a ten year old with a small black transistor radio -- listening to WABC's Top 100 Songs of 1965.   But there have been two times in my life when I just couldn't listen to the music being played on popular radio: in the mid-to-late 70's during the disco craze, and in the mid 80's when bands like Boston, Styx, Rush, and Queen ruled the airwaves.
I'm not saying that either of these music genres were bad;  they just didn't interest me and pushed other music off the air.  Well, it's happened again.  A genre of music that I call "Teen Girl Pop" is now dominating commercial radio.  Songs in this genre contain at least one (but usually several) of the following characteristics:
  • Driving Drum Beat:  This music is meant to be played and listened to at clubs while dancing;
  • Banal Lyrics:  Partying, flirting, binge-drinking, breaking up, making up, living for the moment ... I think you get the picture.
  • Distorted Vocals:  A technique that makes the singer sound as though he or she is singing through a megaphone or a bullhorn. Think of The Strokes, only more so. 
  • Repeated Syllabic Lyrics:  Sure, this has been around since "talkin' 'bout my g-g-generation", but it's exploded since Lady GaGa's "p-p-p-poker face" .  A few wildly popular examples:  "Where have you been all my li-i-i-i-ife?", "the o-o-o-one, the o-o-o-one, the o-o-o-one, the one that got away", "kiss me, ki-ki-kiss me", and "as long as you la-la-la-la-love me, love me".
  • Dubstep Break:  Thankfully, these breaks are never long enough to cause nose bleeds, but just long enough to try and make the song sound hip.
  • Rap Interlude:  Nothing sounds as genuine as a rich 20-something white woman breaking into rap in mid-song. 
With that as background, here's a list of consecutive songs that were played on a popular New Jersey radio station last week while I was working out at my gym for one hour.  I've highlighted what, for me, is "The Worst Song On The Radio Now". 

If, somehow, you have yet to hear this song, click here.

So, besides being a song in a genre that I don't particularly like, what caused me to lose all objectivity and call this song -- not just a bad song -- but the worst song?

Style:  As with many of the songs listed above, it slavishly adheres to the "Teen Girl Pop" formula.  It has a driving guitar beat, the usual lyrics about drinking, dancing and partying, and a rap interlude.

Music:  Some songs in the "Teen Girl Pop" song actually contain interesting music which requires a real band with actual musical skills.  Not so here.  The music in this song can be easily replicated by a high school kid with a drum machine and a synthesizer.  

Lyrics:  This is where this song truly distinguishes itself.  Delivered with a poppy, catchy beat that you can't get out of your head, it contains lines like the following:
"It's pretty obvious that you've got a crush, that magic in your pants is making me blush."
"Oh what a shame that you came here with someone."
"Let's make the most of the night like we're going to die young."
And in case you're not getting the message, the refrain pounds it into you by repeating, "We're gonna die young."  In other words, live for today, have fun tonight with whomever you happen to be with because you might die tomorrow.  A wonderful philosophy for the "Teen Girl Pop" generation!  The amazing thing is that since this abysmal song is delivered without a single expletive, its lyrics are deemed safe for all ages.  Believe me, kids need to be protected from a song like this much more so than from a song like "Lose Yourself" by Eminem!

One more thing.  Ke$ha spells her name with a dollar sign.  That says all you need to know about the driving force behind this song and this artist.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Thank You Donald Trump!

"Constitution:  You're fired!"
The 2012 Presidential election was brutal.  The agony began with the Republican primary, which seemed to go on forever.  In case you've purged it from your brain, there were twenty debates, involving such eminent statesmen as Michele Bachman, Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich.  This was followed up by three Presidential debates and one Vice-Presidential debate that were almost totally devoid of substance.  Flowing through all of this was a deluge of campaign ads fueled by the most amount of money ever spent on a Presidential election.  According to some sources, when combined with Super PAC money, the Obama and Romney campaigns spent approximately two billion dollars. 

It was also an incredibly divisive campaign that left the US electorate split right down the middle.  Up until the day of the election, the race was too close to call.   But finally, on the evening of November 6, it all came to an end.  Barack Obama was re-elected by a comfortable margin in the Electoral College but by a fairly narrow margin in the popular vote.  Democrats cheered while Republicans wept.  About an hour after the election had been decided, Mitt Romney gave a gracious, if short, concession speech saying in part:
"This is a time of great challenges for America, and I pray that the president will be successful in guiding our nation ... At a time like this, we can’t risk partisan bickering and political posturing.  Our leaders have to reach across the aisle to do the people’s work.  And we citizens also have to rise to the occasion" 
While these were excellent words, it was hardly enough to heal the wounds of a nation and unify two parties that had been at each others throats for four year.  The country was still polarized.  It needed something else, something stupendous, that everyone could rally around.  To paraphrase Otter from the movie Animal House: "This situation absolutely required a really futile and stupid gesture be done on somebody's part".  But who would be a stupid enough guy to do it?  Enter The Donald! 

Speaking via Twitter to his followers on Election night, Trump starts out under control -- diplomatic, and rational:

Well said Mr. Trump, well said.  Almost Churchillian.  As the early results favoring Mitt Romney rolled in, Trump continued to wax philosophic:

Suddenly, though, somewhere around 11pm when Ohio fell to Obama and it was clear that Romney had lost, The Donald delivered a terse announcement:

But if you thought that The Donald was going to stop right there and call it a night, well, you don't know Donald Trump.  In rapid succession, he fired off the following tweets to his faithful:

He also posted the following tweets, which he deleted once they were discovered by Brian Williams, anchor for NBC Nightly News, and read over the air:
"He lost the popular vote by a lot and won the election. We should have a revolution in this country!"
"The phoney electoral college made a laughing stock out of our nation. The loser one!"
"More votes equals a loss…revolution! "
At this point, one can only assume that The Donald had been liberally sipping on an especially potent vintage of Viognier from the world renowned Trump Winery ever since the polls had closed on the east coast.  In the space of a few minutes he did everything he could to invite the federal government to prosecute him and his followers under Section 2384 of the US Code which states:
"If two or more persons in any State or Territory, or in any place subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, conspire to overthrow, put down, or to destroy by force the Government of the United States, or to levy war against them, or to oppose by force the authority thereof, or by force to prevent, hinder, or delay the execution of any law of the United States, or by force to seize,take, or possess any property of the United States contrary to the authority thereof, they shall each be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years, or both."
So far, the federal government has wisely avoided prosecuting Trump.  Why?  Because he is performing an incalculable service to the nation!  Democrats and Republicans who had been fighting each other tooth and nail finally have something they can agree upon:  Donald Trump is a blithering idiot!!  True, it's an extremely small and insignificant place to start, but it's a start.  Thanks, Don.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Say "Hello" to Logan Matthew Mullen!

Logan Matthew Mullen

Congratulations to Bridget Mullen on the birth of her son, Logan Matthew, on September 24, 2012.  Logan weighed in at 7 pounds, 4 ounces and  was 19.5 inches at birth.  Bridget wasted no time getting Logan into the swing of things, bringing him to a Family party at my house in Cranbury, NJ, on October 20th. 

Generation 9 of the Family Tree is starting to fill out nicely!  Welcome, Logan!

The Electoral College

As a result of Hurricane Sandy, the entire state of New Jersey postponed the celebration of Halloween until Monday, November 5th.  Once Halloween is safely behind us, though, we'll head to the polling booths for a truly scary event -- the election of the next President of the United States, the "leader of the free world"!   Why is it so scary?  For your consideration:  The Electoral College.

The Electoral College was created by Article 2, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution and was refined in 1804 by the 12th Amendment.  Together, they describe the following method used in the United States to select our President and Vice President:
  • Each state is allowed to appoint a number of Electors that equals the number of its Senators (two per state) plus the number of its Representatives (depends upon the state's population).  As such, New Jersey has 14 Electors (2 + 12) while Wyoming only has 3 (2 + 1). 
  • Each candidate running for President has his or her own group of Electors in each state.  In most cases, these Electors are chosen by the candidate’s political party, but the exact selection process and responsibilities of Electors could vary from state to state.
  • For each state, the Electors representing the candidate that won the popular vote in their state meet on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December after the presidential election to cast their votes for President and Vice President.  Technically, the next President of the United States won't officially be elected until the Electoral College cast their ballots on December 17, 2012. 
That's all there is to it.  Pretty simple, huh?  Not really.

To begin with, there are no Constitutional provisions or Federal laws describing how Electors are to be appointed or whether or not they must vote according to the results of their statewide popular vote.  While most states expect Electors to vote for the candidate that wins the statewide popular vote, only about half of the states actually require it.  Also, most states have a "winner take all" philosophy, whereby all Electoral votes go to the candidate that wins their statewide popular vote.  But two states (Maine and Nebraska) allow their Electoral votes to be divided among the candidates.  Other states are considering similar options.

Also, it is easily possible for a candidate to gain a majority of Electoral votes (and thus be elected President) while losing the popular vote.  That's exactly what happened in the 2000 election when Al Gore won the popular vote by 543,895 votes but George W. Bush won the Electoral College by a count of 271-266.  Indeed, as shown in the table below, it is theoretically possible for the winner of the 2012 Presidential election to garner less than 28% of the popular vote!   

A highly unlikely scenario, I admit, but a statistical possibility.

One last Electoral College quirk. As stipulated in the Constitution, in the event of an exact tie in the Electoral College (i.e.:  each candidate receiving 269 votes), the House of Representatives elects the President while the Senate elects the Vice President.  Should this happen in 2012, the House (controlled by the Republicans) would almost certainly elect Mitt Romney as President while the Senate could very well elect Joe Biden as his Vice President!   Who says the Founding Fathers didn't have a sense of humor?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Urim and Thummim

Let me start by saying that I have no particular religious axe to grind.  I was raised a Catholic but consider all religions to be equally nonsensical.  The very thought that human beings can possibly understand creation, the universe and (most of all) the afterlife is laughable. As such, the purpose of this section of the blog will be to shine some light on the particularly ludicrous aspects of some of the world's major religions.  Hopefully I can do this without ending up with a death threat hanging over my head!

I'll begin with the  "Urim and Thummim" for two reasons:
  1. Probably less than .01% of Americans have any idea what this phrase refers to. I, myself, had no idea of it's true origin until I began researching this blog entry.
  2. The candidacy of Mitt Romney for President of the United States has put the Mormon religion (officially known as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) into the spotlight.  Its sacred text, the Book of Mormon, was revealed to Joseph Smith, the founder of this religion, using a device he called a "Urim and Thummim".  To understand any religion it's probably worthwhile to take a glimpse at what it's based upon.
As background, the phrase "Urim and Thummin" appears a number of times in the Old Testament (Exodus 28:30; Leviticus 8:8; Ezra 2:63; Nehemiah 7:65; Deuteronomy 33:8; Numbers 27:21; 1 Samuel 28:6) and refers to an object that allowed Jewish high priests to communicate with God in order to obtain a "yes/no" answer to a particular question.  It's unclear what the biblical "Urim and Thummin" looked like, but many scholars believe that they were two stones or dice of some kind that were carried within the high priest's breastplate.  If you're interested in greater detail, this site provides what appears to be a fairly scholarly analysis. 

By all objective accounts, the Book of Mormon was translated by Joseph Smith from a set of golden plates that were loaned to him by the Angel Moroni.  The Angel also provided Smith with an object that he called the "Urim and Thummim".  This provided Smith with much more than a "yes/no" answer to a question:  it allowed him to actually translate the otherwise undecipherable contents of the golden plates.  The following quote from Joseph Smith's mother, Lucy Smith, describes what these objects looked like:  

"I have myself seen and handled the golden plates; they are about eight inches long, and six wide; some of them are sealed together and are not to be opened, and some of them are loose ... I have seen and felt also the Urim and Thummim.  They resemble two large bright diamonds set in a bow like a pair of spectacles. My son puts these over his eyes when he reads unknown languages, and they enable him to interpret them in English."

Additional accounts indicate that these spectacles were attached to a golden breastplate which Joseph would wear when translating the golden tablets. Later, for a variety of reasons best described in "The Mormon People" by Matthew Bowman or "Under the Banner of Heaven" by Jon Krakauer, Smith stopped using the "Urim and Thummim" to translate the golden plates.  Instead, he began using something called a "seer stone", a rock which he had found years earlier and had been using to search for silver or to help his neighbors find lost objects.  His use of this seer stone in the translation process is best described by David Whitmer, one of the Three Witnesses of the Mormon movement:

"[He] put the seer stone into a hat, and put his face in the hat, drawing it closely around his face to exclude the light; and in the darkness the spiritual light would shine. A piece of something resembling parchment would appear, and on that appeared the writing. One character at a time would appear, and under it was the interpretation in English. Brother Joseph would read off the English to Oliver Cowdery, who was his principal scribe, and when it was written down and repeated to Brother Joseph to see if it was correct, then it would disappear, and another character with the interpretation would appear. Thus the Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God, and not by any power of man."

The resulting translation is the most sacred text of the Mormon religion, containing what they believe to be the writings of ancient prophets who lived on the American continent from approximately 2200BC to 421AD.  Per Church teaching regarding this text, "a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than any other book.

Although all of this may appear laughable, there are now approximately 14 million Mormons in the world today, almost half of whom reside in the United States.  Some of the more notable personalities identified as Mormons include Jack Anderson (Pulitzer Prize winning columnist), Orson Scott Card (novelist), Glenn Beck (TV personality), Gladys Knight (singer), Harry Reid (Senate Majority Leader), Eldridge Cleaver (political activist), Stephanie Meyer (author of the "Twilight" series), and Bill Marriott (Chairman of the Board of Marriott International).  If I had a chance to speak with any one of these people (indeed, if I had the chance to question Mitt Romney at a Town Hall debate!) I would ask, "Do you actually believe that the Book of Mormon is the divine word of God as translated by Joseph Smith?"  There is only one possible answer to that question if you claim to have the intelligence and common sense necessary to be President of the United States.  Consult your "Urim and Thummim" if you wish, but reply "No!". 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

More on Bullying

I can't help myself.  I've got to talk about bullying again.  I was minding my own business, reading the "Living" section (of all things) in today's Trenton Times, and there it was:  an article in a column labeled Parenting entitled, "Does coach need to know of child's bullied past?"  The article was lifted from the Chicago Tribune and posed the following hypothetical dilemma:
Your daughter earned a spot on a high school team with two girls who bullied her in the past. Should you warn the coach, or hope this is a new beginning?
It then posted a variety of answers from a "panel of staff contributors" before posting Expert Advice from a clinical psychologist.  Before looking at the Expert Advice, though, I decided to play the game.  As a parent of three grown children, all of whom had been bullied at one time or another in high school, how would I have handled this particular problem?

First off, since this scenario is only concerned about talking to the coach (and not the bullies' parents, the school principal, or the police), I'll assume that this "bullying" is not something physically dangerous and is more on the order of derogatory comments and mind games at which high school cliques excel.  

My answer was almost instantaneous: I'd talk with my daughter about it.  If she wasn't worried about it, the conversation would be brief.  But if I sensed that she was getting stressed out about it, I'd give her the following advice:
  • I'll back you up (if needed) but this is something that you have to handle yourself.  
  • At this point, say nothing to the coach.  There's no indication that a problem even exists. 
  • The fact that the three of you are participating in a team sport like soccer is one of the best ways of eliminating the bullying.  You'll be hearing the word "Teamwork" every day in practice.  If the girls' attitude towards you affects their ability to play with you, the coach will notice. 
  • If the coach doesn't notice, though, it means that you have a very bad coach.  Meet with your coach privately and explain the situation.  It probably won't do any good (since the coach is pathetic) but it's a last-ditch effort. 
  • If the stress outweighs the enjoyment, quit the team, tell the coach why you are quitting, and play travel soccer or club soccer or intramural soccer.
Having formulated my answer, I then looked at the Expert Advice.  It basically said that you, as the parent, should immediately talk to the coach!!   I couldn't believe it!  To her credit, though, the Expert did say that you should let your daughter know that you're going to do this.  Oh, really? How thoughtful!  So here's why I think the Expert got it dead wrong:
  • Parents should be trying to instill self-reliance in their children.  Let them at least try to fight their own battles before Mom or Dad swoop in to save the day.
  • We're talking about a trivial issue here.  It's not about your kid seeing another kid with a gun at school, it's about two kids who may or may not pass the ball to your kid when she's open.
  • The coach's job is to ensure that his kids play like a team and support each other 100% while they're on the field, not to make them like each other off the field.  If two kids aren't playing team ball, the coach should see this without Mom or Dad pointing it out.
So, per the Expert Advice, you should weaken your daughter's self-reliance, give more ammunition to her bullies, and insult her coach.  Who would have thought?  Glad my teenage parenting days are over!

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Music Box

Often, especially on the weekends, I "go down the rat hole" while reading the morning paper.  A perfect example of this happened yesterday while reading the Sunday New York Times.  I began my breakfast reading this great article by Dick Cavett regarding a meeting he had with Stan Laurel (of Laurel and Hardy fame) back in the 60's.  Early in the article, he states:
"I actually was about to meet the man who helped the fat man struggle and wrestle and heave that piano up that long flight of steps in "The Music Box.'"

Now, I've always been a fan of slapstick, particularly back in the 60's.  I loved Abbot & Costello, The Three Stooges, and Dick van Dyke, and I was somewhat familiar with Laurel and Hardy, occasionally watching chopped up versions of their many short films from the 20's and 30's on syndicated TV.  And, of course, there was "Babes in Toyland" (aka "The March of the Wooden Soldiers"), their holiday classic that is still a TV staple between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  But I had never heard of "The Music Box", so it was off to the Internet and down the rat hole.

The first stop was YouTube.  I wanted to see that piano scene for myself!  I searched on "Laurel and Hardy" and "piano" and came up with a number of hits.  Click on the image below to see the first excerpt I selected, probably because it was colorized.

Encountering The Professor
If you found that scene lame, you can stop reading right now.  For me, though, there were at least three parts of that 100 second clip that had me laughing 15 minutes later whenever I thought of them.  I had to see another excerpt.   If you're still with me, click on the image below and watch another 90 seconds:

Getting a look at the stairs
That excerpt wasn't as uproarious as the first, but it was funny enough to pique my interest.  It was off to Wikipedia to research this film.  As it turns out, it's probably Laurel and Hardy's most famous, winning the very first Academy Award for Live Action Short Film (Comedy) in 1932.  On top of that, it was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

So, some night when you're looking for a few laughs and you've only got about 30 minutes available, grab a beer, open up your laptop, and click on the image below.   It's the full 27 minute and 43 second version in the original black and white and with all of the opening credits intact.

"The Music Box" in its entirety
One more thing:  For those of you who've seen the movie Barbershop (which all of you should), Laurel and Hardy were alive and well when those two guys tried to get that stolen ATM machine up a flight of stairs!

Trailer for "Barbershop" --  0:24 mark
It doesn't take much for me to fall into a rat hole but -- at least this time -- I'm glad I did.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Cosmos .... A Star is Born!

Untitled painting by Gavin Jantjes

It's time for me to brag a little.

One of my sisters, Chris Mullen Kreamer, is a graduate of Indiana University with a PhD in African Art History and minors in Anthropology and African Studies.  She is also the Deputy Director and Chief Curator of the Smithsonian Institute's National Museum of African Arts, located on the National Mall in Washington, DC.  

National Museum of African Arts

Despite her demanding job and busy schedule, Chris is a regular at almost every Mullen family function, including the 2008 Mullen Family Reunion in Ballina.  If you were fortunate enough to meet her at that event, she probably didn't talk a lot about her work.  Like nuclear physics and brain surgery, her field is complex, specialized, and not easily discussed at a bar while drinking a Guinness.   

Chris at the 2008 Reunion in Ireland

Those of us close to Chris, though, have long been aware of her preeminence in the field and her reputation among colleagues.  But now, thanks to the August 31 edition of the New York Times, the entire world knows!  It contains a review of an exhibition organized by Chris that opened in June entitled "African Cosmos: Stellar Arts".  And I'm not talking about a teeny-weeny review buried deep within the paper;  I'm talking about a huge page-and-a-half article with full color photos that headlines the Weekend Arts section and is referenced on the front page of the whole damn paper!!  I nearly choked on my morning coffee when I saw it on Friday!

For those of you that missed it, an online version of that review can be found here.  Before reading it, though, click on the photo below to hear Chris describe the exhibition on PBS NewsHour (formerly The MacNeil/Lehrer Report) in her own words. 

Being interviewed on PBS NewsHour

What Chris doesn't say in this interview is that the entire exhibition was her brainchild, that its content is totally original, and that it took almost ten years to bring it to fruition!  That type of modesty is typical of Chris.  With that as a backdrop, go back and read the NY Times article.   I'll wait .....

Fantastic article, wasn't it?  I particularly liked the closing paragraph:
"Ms. Kreamer is certainly busy; she seems to have been given a free hand in helping to determine where the museum is going and how it’s going to get there. Judging by her recent work the directions will be manifold and pursued with imagination and passion. At the end of the day the future of a museum that once fell short is now looking up."
Two other things to check out:
  1. A July 6 interview with Chris in the Washington Post that quoted Chris extensively and gave the exhibition some much-needed publicity.
  2. An online tour of the exhibition.  
If you live within traveling distance of Washington, DC (which, these days, means everyone), the Cosmos exhibition will be on display until December 9, 2012.  Needless to say, I highly recommend it.  

There's a new star in the Cosmos and this one's a Mullen!

Upper level view of the Cosmos exhibition

Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Brooklyn Folk Festival!

A few weeks ago, I received an email from Hannah Davies, my 4th cousin once removed.  (Doesn't everyone know their 4th cousin once removed?)  In her position as Policy Advisor at the U.N. Mission in Liberia, Hannah had an assignment that required her to work in New York City until mid-July.  While she didn't provide any details regarding this "assignment", Hannah suggested that Marilynn and I meet with her somewhere soon for some live music. 

Taken at face value, Hannah's request seemed very innocuous.  However, the last time the three of us got together for live music was on the evening of May 1, 2011, to see The Smoking Popes at The Knitting Factory in Brooklyn.  If that date rings a bell it's because that was the night that Osama Bin Laden was killed during a firefight with the Navy Seals.  I wondered, could Hannah be hoping for a reprise of that night, this time involving someone like Bashar al-Assad of Syria?  A few days later, Hannah wrote back suggesting that we go to a Folk Festival.  When?  May 20th!  Where?  Brooklyn!!  Despite severe misgivings that I was being drawn into international intrigue, I agreed to go.

On the day of the event, Marilynn and I drove from Cranbury to Brooklyn to meet up with Hannah at high noon.  As we approached our rendezvous, the steps of Brooklyn Borough Hall, Hannah was nowhere in sight.  We assumed that she hadn't yet arrived until we saw her standing under an overhang, deep in the shadows.  When I questioned her somewhat covert behavior, she made a comment about trying to avoid the sun — a plausible explanation since people from England are rarely exposed to it — but my misgivings intensified.  What was going on here??

We spent the next half hour wandering the streets of Brooklyn without seeing any evidence whatsoever of a Folk Festival.  We finally stopped for lunch at an outdoor cafe in MetroTech Center and asked a few people for directions.  No one had even heard of this festival!

After lunch, Hannah suggested one more stroll down Jay Street in search of the Festival, but by then I had had enough.  I was just to about to confront her and expose her clumsy attempt at orchestrating international affairs when ... there it was!  The Brooklyn Folk Festival!  As shown in the photo at the top of this post, it was not an outdoor Hoboken-style street fair with roads blocked off and live performances at a variety of venues.  Quite the opposite:  the entire Festival took place inside, behind the doors of a warehouse cleverly labeled "Sid's Hardware"!  

Clearly, I had let my imagination run wild.  And, although initially dismayed that the Festival was entirely indoors, a Brooklyn Brewery draft beer quickly remedied my mood.  The three of us then spent the next four hours enjoying a variety of folk performances. Some of the highlights:

Brett Ratliff
  • Kentucky Banjo Styles Workshop led by Brett Ratliff.  I've never been able to play a musical instrument worth a damn, but it was very interesting watching Brett play the banjo and even more interesting watching him teach his technique to a bunch of people who came to the festival with their banjos.  An audio of one of the riffs that he taught the group can be heard here.  Keep in mind that when Brett played the riff it was much faster! 
Marilynn and I dancing a square
  • Square Dancing! At about 4pm, a large space just inside the lobby was cleared away to create a dance floor.  A few of the days' performers then came forward to form a bluegrass band.  A caller than appeared and invited the audience to square dance.  Marilynn, of course, joined in immediately.  Hannah and I had just gotten a beer, so we hung back.  After the first break, though, I had to join in.  Everyone was having too much fun!  At some point in time, Hannah snapped the photo on the right, documenting the event and proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that she needed a new smart phone.
Wretched Refuse String Band
  • Wretched Refuse String Band:  Any band with a name like this deserves to be listened to at least once.  This band, though, deserves to be listened to again and again!  They are billed as "New York City’s oldest, largest, and most eclectic local bluegrass and old-time string band" and have been performing for more than 35 years.  Excellent musicianship and very entertaining.  Even better, it was clear that they enjoyed playing as much as the crowd enjoyed listening!  A small taste of what it was like can be found in this video clip.
Brotherhood of the Jug Band
  • Brotherhood of the Jug Band:  Yep, the guy with the black hat on the far left in this photo is playing a jug.  I might be wrong, but I think this is purely an American invention.  I've always loved jug bands and this ensemble was no exception.  They played a variety of instruments (jug, harmonica, banjo, mandolin, guitar, drums, percussion) and at least four of them took turns singing.  Excellent stuff.  Here's a 30-second clip that captures their performing style.  Too bad it isn't longer. 

All in all, it was another great afternoon/evening of music in Brooklyn with Hannah — even if there wasn't any international intrigue involved!   (I still scanned the New York Times the next morning, though, just to be sure ...)

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A Few Thoughts About the Dharun Ravi Case

I've been following the events surrounding the suicide of Tyler Clementi since the story broke back in September of 2010.  It's a story that has received worldwide attention but, if you're unfamiliar with it, take a few moments to read this account.  

Tyler Clementi's decision to end his life was indeed a tragic event but, unfortunately, it was not a rare one.  According to statistics compiled by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), suicide is the third leading cause of death for kids between the ages of 10-24, accounting for over 4,400 deaths a year.  Another 149,000 kids in that age group receive medical care each year for self-inflicted wounds.  Having experienced the teenage years as a kid and as a parent, I'm aware that they are difficult, but it was startling to learn that suicide is such a high cause of adolescent death.

It's virtually impossible to read about Tyler Clementi without feeling sympathy and grief, both for him and for the entire Clementi family.  As the case unfolded, though, I found my sympathies unexpectedly extending to Dharun Ravi as well.  Although  his actions indicated a high level of insensitivity and questionable morals, I was amazed to see him become a nationwide symbol of bullying.

THIS is a bully!
According to  stopbullying.gov (a government website managed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) bullying is the "aggressive" and "repetitive" use of power to "control or harm others".  OK.  I'll buy that.  It totally agrees with my personal definition which is "John Sitterly", a kid who lived on Holmes Street and chased me and my friends whenever he saw us walking home from school.  Think Scott Farkus from "A Christmas Story" and you won't be too far off.  Almost everyone reading this blog was either bullied as a kid or knows a kid who was bullied, mentally or physically.  It's not hard to spot. 

But do Dharun Ravi's actions against his roommate fit the definition of bullying?  Were they aggressive?  Were they repetitive?  Was it Ravi's goal to either control or harm Tyler Clementi?  Or was it simply a 20 year old kid playing an incredibly insensitive and invasive prank, one that violated basic human decency and his roommate's right to privacy?  Prior to the initial webcam spying incident, there's no indication of any aggressive or repetitive behavior by Ravi against Clementi.  Following that incident, Clementi easily prevented a second spying incident by turning off Ravi's computer.  Clementi also felt sufficiently empowered to lodge a formal complaint, asking for an immediate roommate swap and punishment for Ravi.  Keep in mind, all of this happened in the span of two days!  To me, this doesn't sound like bullying.  It sounds like one kid doing something extremely stupid, being caught doing it, and being faced with certain expulsion from college as a result.  Dharun Ravi is hardly a saint, but if you want to see true poster-boys for bullying, check out this story.  Or this one.  

THIS is a hate crime!
As amazed as I was about Dharun Ravi becoming the nationwide face of bullying, I was absolutely dumbfounded when he was charged with a "hate crime".  The FBI describes a hate (or bias) crime as follows:
"a criminal offense committed against a person, property or society which is motivated, in whole or in part, by the offender's bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or ethnicity/national origin."
Yes, Tyler Clementi was gay.  But there is no evidence whatsoever that Ravi's actions were motivated by a pathological bias against gays.  It would be just as valid to suggest that Ravi was biased against Italians because the name "Clementi" sounded Italian!

Since there was no body of evidence to support a "hate crime" conviction, I was absolutely convinced that a jury of his peers would acquit Ravi of that particular charge.  I was wrong.  As it turns out, under NJ law, the jury had to convict Ravi of a hate crime if they believed that:
  1. A crime was committed
  2. Clementi had been "intimidated" as a result of the crime
  3. Clementi reasonably believed that he was targeted because he was gay.  
It did not matter if Ravi's entire life's history showed no bias against gays.  As long as the jury concluded that Clementi believed Ravi was biased, that was sufficient to convict Ravi of a hate crime.  Clearly, the NJ anti-bias legislation needs to be updated or, better yet, eliminated.  I'm confident that there are already enough laws on the books to cover crimes against humanity.

There's one final bizarre twist to this story.  Technically, NJ doesn't have a law against "hate crimes".  Our statute is officially known as an "anti bias" law, although this distinction is lost on almost everyone, including most legal scholars.  However, the judge overseeing this case, Judge Berman, seized upon this nuance to  proclaim:
"This individual was not convicted of a hate crime. He was convicted of a bias crime and there's a difference. I do not believe he hated Tyler Clementi. He had no reason to. But I do believe that he acted out of colossal insensitivity."  
This gave Judge Berman the opportunity to sentence Ravi to only 30 days in the county jail rather than the 10 years expected for a true "hate crime".  The end result was predictable:  no one was happy.  

  • Bruce Kaplan, the prosecutor, will appeal the sentence because it does not reflect the seriousness of the conviction.
  • Steven Altman, Ravi's lawyer, will appeal the conviction itself, stating that the jury was wrong in convicting Ravi on the more serious counts.
  • And Steven Goldstein, chairman of the Garden State Equality group concluded: "Dharun Ravi today got one third the jail time that some shoplifters in our state get.  Stunning."

This one is far from over . 

Tuesday, March 27, 2012


Yep. Effective March 30, 2012, I will no longer be a member of the working class. Technically, I'll be earning a tiny bit of money on the side (more on that later) but I will no longer have a full-time job. Mentioning this to anyone immediately elicits one or more of the following questions:

Aren't you too young to retire?

I'll be 57 in June. By many standards, that is still young. But my mother died at 60, my father died at 64, and my older brother died at 39. That doesn't mean that I'll die young, but it's not a good family track record. I'm in good health, but I have an erratic heartbeat, a pacemaker, and a body loaded with arthritis. I'm old enough, believe me. Also, after 15 years at McGraw-Hill and 17 years at Bristol-Myers Squibb, I was technically eligible to retire at age 55. I held off as long as I could.

Why are you retiring?

I'm retiring for two reasons. First and foremost, because I can! Marilynn did an incredible job of managing our money over the years. Up until a couple of years ago, I couldn't have told you the difference between a 401(k) plan and a pension. Come to find out, I have two of each! And a bunch of IRA's to boot! Marilynn was pretty sure we were financially set, but we took it to a professional financial guy just to make sure. After looking at our books and discovering that the kids were grown and gone, the house was paid off and that we had zero debt, he told me to retire whenever I felt like it.

The second (and far more important) reason that I'm retiring is because my job stopped being meaningful quite some time ago. It all started with the decision by BMS to outsource their IT function to EDS (now HP). Whether that was a good decision for BMS and its stockholders is irrelevant and not worth arguing about in this blog. But it left me with a job which, over time, I began to detest. The better I did my job, the more pain and suffering I caused to former co-workers who had been outsourced. After four years of dealing with that, it is in the best interest of everyone concerned that I move on.

Aren't you going to miss the challenge?

I will miss the challenge that I had four years ago, managing a staff of IT professionals, but not my current job. I will miss the group of BMS people that I worked with and all of the ex-BMS people who were outsourced, but I won't miss a single member of the HP management team. Not one of them.

What are you ever going to do with all of your free time?

Here's a preliminary list that I put together. I'm sure it will change as I settle into retirement:
  • Exercise: Basketball (probably only 2 more years left at most), teaching Spinning class at BMS, weightlifting, and recovering from all of this exercise will absorb a lot of my time.

  • Writing: I wrote and published a small book a few years ago and enjoyed the experience. I'm eager to give it another shot with a slightly more complex topic. I'm also going to spend a lot of time with this Blog, revising it slightly to focus on current events.

  • Genealogy: I'm the keeper of the Mullen Family Tree. Many of the links on that tree are in dire need of authentication.

  • Web Programming: I've done a little Javascript programming, but I'm thinking that programs like this need to be updated, probably using this programming environment.
  • House Projects: With the kids all gone, there must be a thousand projects that need to be done, starting with painting the picket fence.

  • Environmental Commission: I'm currently the absolute least effective member of the Cranbury Environmental Commission. I'm going to try and change that, possibly even taking a few courses related to Environmental Science.
  • Reading: I'm going to shoot for two books a month. After all, I am married to a librarian!

Plus, there's always a family function going on: Mulleniums, Mullen Christmases, weddings, graduations, births and, yes, the occasional funerals. And then there are the grandchildren. I only have one now, but I'm expecting more. I can't imagine getting bored!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

If Dr. Seuss had owned an iPhone ...

You've heard of texting, possibly even sexting, but have you ever heard of Seussting? I'm pretty sure that Marilynn and I invented it back on January 13, 2012. No idea what I'm talking about? Well, click on the image below. It's an iPhone text exchange initiated by Marilynn when she realized that she had sent me to work without a spoon in my lunchbox. Marilynn's texts are in white; mine are in green:

So, the key point of this blog entry -- the very reason for it's existence -- is not to document the fact that I have been spoiled by Marilynn. That's already a well-known fact. She's actually packed me a lunch almost every day of my 34-year business career. Nor is it to draw attention to the fact that I have zero attention span at work. I freely admit that composing these text messages was the highlight of that particular day. No, the entire purpose of this blog entry is to document for posterity that I invented Seussting!

Ciara Leary: Another Leaf on the Tree!

First official photo!

Avril and Tony Leary are the proud parents of yet another beautiful girl, Ciara Angela Leary. She was born slightly before 5am on Wednesday, February 1, in the Royal London Hospital. Coincidentally, little Ciara was born on Avril's birthday! Below are a few pictures of Ciara and the entire Leary family. In case you're wondering (I'm sure you are!) Ciara is my newest third cousin once removed! Congratulations Tony and Avril!

Tony, Ciara, and Charlotte

Avril bringing Ciara home

In her own bed

Marie Notarfrancesco: February 9, 2012

Obituary for Marie Notarfrancesco

It is with great sadness that I report of the death of Marie Notarfrancesco of an apparent heart attack at approximately 6:15am on February 9, 2012, at Frankford Hospital in Philadelphia. Marie was a fixture at almost every Mullen Family event and always had a smile on her face. She will certainly be missed by the entire extended family. Below are a few of the testimonials written about Marie by her family, providing a glimpse of the kind of person that Marie truly was:

From Marian Notarfrancesco, Daughter-in-Law:
Our Marie was the best Grammie ever to Willie and Kenshin. Our Grammie was the most kind, patient, loving, generous, funny and accepting person we knew. Grammie was just such a wonderful person and we were truly blessed to have her in our lives. We will miss your many hugs, kisses, words of wisdom and most of all your bright smile. We will miss you at Christmas morning, school events, our cool vacations, karate, soccer games and in our every day lives. Grammie you were always on the go with us and no matter what, even if you were tired, you went to everything we asked. Grammie you made our days brighter each day and anytime we needed you, you were always there for us! We love you so much and will always have you in hearts and thoughts. Miss you terribly! We are sending you a huge hug to heaven every time we look up!

From Marylouise Pezza, Niece:
For someone’s life that was cut so short, Aunt Marie added value to each and every day of it. She was kind and generous to everyone she met and was always ready to jump right in and lend a helping hand or offer some practical advice. She left a very positive and lasting impression to all. Aunt Marie enjoyed hosting parties and helping others’ parties be successful. She liked to be organized and plan the next big adventure. She was like a second mother or very dear friend to so many. She enjoyed all different kinds of sporting events from Philadelphia Eagles and Phillies, to Temple Owls, to Valley Soccer, to Action Karate. She was a proud supporter of all family activities including competitions, moving days near and far, and designing marathon apparel.

Aunt Marie enjoyed eating out especially Bella’s for a cheese steak hoagie or a delicious chicken parmesan. She always enjoyed a slice of Mack and Manco’s pizza along the boardwalk of Ocean City. She was a volunteer for so many things. She was a St. Clements teaching assistant, a St. Charles lunch mother, and most recently, a counter at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. She helped so many people keep up their daily routines like Aunt Dolly, Gram, Mrs. Notar, and many others. She liked celebrating each holiday season either with a few simple decorations or a full ensemble like at Christmas time. Aunt Marie was a somewhat simple person and you could usually find her on Saturday nights at 5:00 Mass followed by dinner out with family members. She will be sorely missed but certainly remembered for all of her fine qualities that have left a mark on us all. Aunt Marie was the fun aunt.

From Patricia Sears, Aunt:
Marie was still in high school when we first met at a family gathering. Meeting the combined Notarfrancesco-Mullen family was quite an ordeal for a teenager but she came through it with her usual grace. We liked Marie immediately. How thrilled we were when their engagement was announced. On meeting the McCarthy's we saw that Peter had obviously chosen a wonderful girl from a fine Irish family. The first grandchild's wedding was a major event. How we danced and sang at their wedding! The birth of their son, the first great-grandchild, was a time of jubilation.

The Navy gave the newlyweds some private months away from family but eventually they moved back to o Philly with little Paul. The threesome became fixtures at family gatherings. They rarely missed an event. In 1975 when my mother was at Nazareth and then Holy Redeemer, Marie was there with us. She was a strong presence at Mom's funeral that summer as well as all family funerals that followed.

Mary & Nick began the family reunions after Mom's death. Marie always worked along with Mary. We could always count on Pete and Marie coming to parties on time or even a little early.They immediately joined in helping with any of the last minute preparations. Marie and Pete were present in January when we celebrated "Mullen Christmas" and Joe's 80th.

Peter & Marie took excellent care of Mary in the years following the deaths of Michael and Nick. As so often happens, they were often taken for granted. They were just always there for her. While awaiting her apartment at Gloria Dei she lived in their home. Mary moved two more times and they took charge of each move. They brought her to their home for holidays and took her to extended family events.

Marian was welcomed as part of their family when Paul brought her home and she became his wife. Being a grandmother was Marie's delight and she and Peter enjoyed Paul & Marian's sons.

Marie and I had many long phone conversations over the past ten years. These were often precipitated by the health crisis of a family member, Mary in particular. We met in hospital rooms, elevators, etc. Marie was always very thoughtful and generous. When Peter invited me to lunch at Holy Redeemer he made it clear that he did not think of this on his own; Marie had told him to "treat Aunt Pat." On the night Mary died, I walked Marie downstairs She paid my parking fee before I realized what she was doing. That is Marie!! She thought of others in little ways as well as major areas. Her concern & compassion was evident in allowing me to be part of the preparations for Mary's funeral. She also made sure Nancy, Winnie & I all had mementos of our big sister which we treasure.

Heaven is richer for your presence, Marie. So many people must have been there to joyfully greet you and lead you to OUR FATHER. What a celestial traffic jam there must have been with your mother, dad, aunt, niece, and other McCarthy's; Peter's parents, and so many of the Notarfrancesco's and Mullen's you met so long ago..

Marie, how proud I am to be your Aunt Pat as well Pete's. How privileged we are to have been a part of your life. I know without asking that you will continue to pray for us. One more thing, Marie, please give each of the family in Heaven a hug for us.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Presenting Mr. and Mrs. Patrick Mills

Per an announcement earlier in this blog, Patrick Mills (my fourth cousin) and Lisa Gerrard were married in Cuba on January 3rd. Below is an email from Patrick and Lisa to the entire family:

Dear all,

Apologies for the delay in sending this out: it took us quite a while to recover from the return journey. Jetlag, colds, and a general sense of disbelief that we were no longer on a Caribbean island, but were in fact back in Colchester, all delayed our ability to 'get on with everything' again!

First of all, thank you so much for all your best wishes, lovely cards and general support. We attach one photo as a teaser, and if you'd like to see more (be warned, there are quite a few!), click this link.

Just to make sense of the photos: as you may know we got married in Havana, Cuba, on 3rd January. All the important things went well, and many unimportant things did not go so well - which was amusing - at least we can laugh about them now!

Eg a mini hurricane on the big day meant we couldn't marry on the roof terrace of the hotel as planned, so the ceremony took place in a rather small room inside the hotel. And although we asked for a band with the style of the Buena Vista Social Club, we in fact ended up with the Mala Vista Social Club...The music was more suited to a sombre memorial service, and the band was rather visually challenged, as is hinted at in the album photos. But we can laugh now....

Everything else was brilliant! Havana has got to be the cooolest city on earth, without even trying. The people are fantastic and whatever you may read in the media - their brand of socialism has produced a better standard of living compared with most of Latin America. The latino jazz bands in the bars were sublime, the ex-mafia hotels were straight out of the Godfather II, and haven't changed since 1959. Neither had the cars, which we both drooled over. Witness, for example, the photo of the 1959 pink cadillac taxi that we casually hailed in the street, for around £7, including a prolonged photo session.

Needless to say, the cocktails were refreshing, and lethal - while the cigars were just lethal - naturally, we had to include some shots of all of us with them to make this 'Our Big Fat Cuban Cigar Wedding'.

We're desperate to return to Cuba - a truly fascinating, funky, romantic country with a big heart!

Best wishes
Lisa & Patrick
Congratulations Patrick and Lisa, and best of luck to both of you from the entire extended Mullen Family!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Thomas Ruane: January 16, 2012

Tom with his sister, Evelyn: 2005

It is with sadness that I report the passing of Thomas Ruane, who died peacefully in the Mayo General Hospital on January 16, 2012. I had the good fortune to meet and talk with Tom on my visits to Ireland in the last decade. When I last saw Tom in 2008, he was too ill to attend the Mullen Family Reunion in Ballina. Marilynn and I visited him in the hospital, though, and he was in great spirits and eager to be released. We had an excellent visit with him and his sons. He will be missed by all who knew him.

Click on the image below to read his obituary:

Below are a few additional photographs of Tom surrounded by various members of his extended family:

Standing: Martin Ruane, Gerald Ruane, Daniel Ruane, Patrick RuaneSeated: Mary Coleman, Thomas Ruane, John Ruane, Evelyn Moyles

Standing: Tom Ruane, Gerald Ruane, Dimi Catechis, Martin Ruane;
Seated: Patricia Ruane, Mary Coleman, Mary Ruane Catechis, Evelyn Moyles

1992: Tom Ruane, Joe Mullen,
Tom Ruane (son), Bridie Ruane (wife)