Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Tour de Cure 2013

Just happy to see the sun!
After a year's hiatus, Marilynn and I returned on Sunday, June 9th, to ride with Team BMS in the Princeton Tour de Cure, a fund-raising event that benefits the American Diabetes Association.  In 2011, Team BMS was somewhat of a fledgling group.  That year, our team photo consisted of only 13 riders, but we still managed to raise about $18,000.  Not bad at all, but what a difference a couple of years makes!  Under the guidance of Laura Shemanski, Team BMS has grown to over 100 riders.  At last count, we raised almost $64,000 for the ADA this weekend!   Quite a testament to Laura's organizational and managerial skills and the generosity of the BMS family!

All revved up with 64 miles to go
I've participated in this event since the mid-90's and, as I've said many a time, there are five key elements to a successful ride (in order of importance):
  1. No one falls and no one gets hurt (other than sore muscles)
  2. No flats, broken spokes or other bike problems
  3. Good riding weather ... not brutally hot and no rain!
  4. No one "bonks"
  5. No one gets lost
For the most part, we batted 5-for-5 on this Tour.  Well, Marilynn jammed her chain twice on two particularly nasty hills (causing her to topple over once), and my back tire somehow released itself and damn near fell off at around mile 60, but those were extremely minor difficulties. 

The weather was absolutely perfect -- a major miracle considering the monsoon-like conditions that New Jersey experienced before and after the ride.  It couldn't have been a more pleasant day:  the sun was shining, the roads were dry, and the temperature was in the low 80's for most of the ride. What more could a biker ask for?

Bonking wasn't a problem either, thanks to four well-stocked rest stops.  The photo below gives you an idea of what each of these stops looked like: 

Everything except an ice cold beer
The first rest stop also featured an emergency bicycle repair tent manned by Hart's Cyclery of Pennington, a very nice touch.  And at the last rest stop, we had a chance to meet "Buddy" (see below).  I'm not sure what kind of dog Buddy was (Terrier?), but I heard his owner say that he was 13 years old and had diabetes!  Whether or not that was true, there's no lying that Buddy was very cute and friendly.  And I was also told how to properly pronounce his name.

"Hey Buuuddy"
Marilynn and I stopped at every rest stop, even if we weren't particularly tired or hungry.  To ride by one without stopping would have been bad karma.  You never pass up a port-a-john opportunity.  Never.  By the way, unlike prior Tours, there were 2 port-a-johns at every rest stop, even at the first one (which all bikers know is crucial). 

Always a sight for sore eyes ...
The route was publicized well ahead of time and made available electronically via MapMyRide.  Below is a screen capture of our ride:

At least we didn't have to climb Poor Farm Road!
There are a couple of things worth noting about the route. 
  1. Mile 42:  At this point, we hit one of the best downhills of the entire ride.  Me and two other guys flew down it, braking only minimally.  As we hit our peak speed at the bottom I heard one guy yell, "We just missed a turn!"  Yep.  It was at that point (and at only that point) that the designers of the tour decided that directional guidance was not needed.  There was no painted red arrow on the road or orange traffic cone at the corner telling us to take a left onto Garboski Road.  Thankfully, one of the guys I was riding with was also on the route committee, but he had no explanation for the lack of signage.  In retrospect, though, it was just as well.  It was a hell of a lot of fun blasting down that hill!
  2. Mile 50:  It was at this point, after almost 4 hours on the bike, that the Tour headed into the Sourland Mountains. Yep.  I kid you not.  Check out the change in elevation on that map.  Marilynn knew it was coming though, and dug deep.  A real trooper. 
Other than the Garboski Glitch, the route was exceptionally well-marked.  And even if we had gotten lost, each of us had a cue sheet and an emergency phone number to call for help.   

By the time we returned to ETS, both Marilynn and I were more than happy to get off of our bikes.  Five hours on a bike is a long, long time.  Our legs were stiff, but other parts of our anatomy were in much worse shape.  It was tons of fun though, and we're looking forward to doing it again next year!

Happy to be off the bike!

A small subset of Team BMS!

RPM has arrived!!

Reece Patrick Mullen was born on Friday, April 12, 2013, at 4:04am to Jonathan and Lacee Mullen.  Little Reece was 5 pounds and 18" long at birth but, as you can see from the photos below, he has grown fast!

Congratulations to Jonathan and Lacee and welcome, Reece, to the Mullen Family!

Friday, March 8, 2013

Tom Mullen: Athlete

February 3, 1954 – March 8, 1993
There are so many things that I could say about my brother, Tom, to mark the 20th anniversary of his tragic death at the hands of a drunken driver.  He was a brother, a father, a husband, a friend, a co-worker, and the undisputed leader of the family.  He had a tremendous intellect, a winning smile, and was respected and loved by all that knew him.   But you all know that.  What many of you might not know (or might not clearly remember) is that Tom was, in my opinion, the best athlete in the family. I know my sisters, Annie and Chris, might dispute this claim based on their participation in multiple varsity sports at Our Lady of Lourdes High School, but I’m sticking with Tom. Here’s why:

Speed: My memory is a bit hazy on this point, but I seem to recall that Tom was on the high school track team for a year or two. He couldn’t run for distance to save his life, but he had excellent 100-yard dash speed. I don't believe he ever clocked under 10 seconds, but he was damn fast. No way Dad could ever have caught him! 

Agility: Tom was the only family member with less flexibility than me, but he had very quick reflexes, great agility, and extraordinary hand-eye coordination. He and I played an unofficial “game” over the years where I’d throw something at him just as he was turning around – a spoon, a ball, an empty cup – whatever was handy. More often than not, Tom would catch whatever I threw without even thinking about it. To this day, whenever I drop something but manage to reach down and catch it before it hits the ground, I think of Tom.

Overall Body Strength: Inspired by his cousin, Steve Lucas, Tom started lifting weights at a fairly early age, possibly as early as 8th grade and definitely by the time he was a freshman in high school. Showing an early astuteness for Finance, he somehow got me to contribute to the purchase of a Joe Weider Weightlifting Set consisting of a bench, a barbell, a couple of dumbbells, and 110 pounds of weights. Lord knows why I contributed to this scam ... I hadn’t even hit puberty yet!  I rarely used it.  Tom did though, and rapidly outgrew it.  A couple of years later he was lifting at the Poughkeepsie YMCA and, eventually, at AllSport, a nearby fitness facility. For about 4 or 5 years, Tom was a dedicated bodybuilder, reading magazines like "Muscle & Fitness" and "Iron Man", and drinking “power shakes” laced with Crash Weight protein powder. He ended up with a strong, chiseled body which he used to great advantage in all of the sports that he played. 

Baseball:  In Little League, your best and most athletic players are pitchers, catchers, or first basemen.  Your worst players are right fielders.  That's just the way it is.  Tom and I both played in Little League for a team called Western Printing.  The coach (Sam Forman) took one look at Tom and made him a pitcher.  I was told to grab my mitt and head out to right field.  For the first year or so, Tom was a great pitcher.  He could throw the ball with decent speed and was very accurate.  He hardly walked anyone.  And that was great, until the kids started getting a little bit bigger and a little bit better.  And so, on one sunny day at Spratt Park in Poughkeepsie, it became clear that Tom's pitching days were at an end.  He threw one of his trademark belt-high, plate-splitting fastballs to Scottie Coleman, who promptly hit it over the fence and across Wilbur Boulevard, pound for pound the longest home run I have ever seen.  Tom's career didn't end that day, but I don't remember him playing baseball again after Little League.

Football: Tom’s athletic skills were best showcased on the football field as a running back. In grade school he played halfback for the Cardinals, a team in the Poughkeepsie Pop Warner Football League. I don’t remember Tom's statistics, but I do remember that his picture and name were in the Poughkeepsie Journal sports section almost every week! He ended up winning the league’s Most Valuable Player when he was in 8th grade. When I came along a year later, the coaches of the Cardinals chose me to play for their team.  I think they expected Tom's brother to have the same level of athleticism that he did. Sorry guys ... at 4’10” and 90 pounds, I was no Tom Mullen!  Tom continued to excel in football at the high school level.  By this time, he was 5’11” and close to 200 pounds of muscle, so he was moved to fullback. Lourdes won the Dutchess County Scholastic League championship his senior year, and Tom had a very good season as the starting fullback. Tom was proud of both his team and his own abilities. During that senior season, I remember him telling me, half joking, but half serious as well, “Nobody stops me inside the 5!” That remark would come back to haunt him in the Sectional playoffs that year when they lost a very close game to an undefeated team from Yorktown. Near the end of the game, Tom was stopped at the goal line on a 4th down run up the middle . Years later, when the two of us were having a few beers together, I casually worked his quote and that play into the conversation.  We had a good laugh.

After high school, I seem to recall Tom thinking about playing on the Marist College club football team but hurting his knee before the school year actually began. There’s no record of Tom being on the Marist roster back then and no one else in the family recalls Tom spending even part of a semester at Marist, so I could be wrong. At any rate, other than the occasional Turkey Bowl on Thanksgiving, Tom never played organized football of any kind after high school.

Basketball: Tom was not a natural basketball player. His primary sport was football, so he had to bulk himself up so that he could absorb the pounding that his body would be taking. By doing this, though, he turned himself into what would now be called a small “power forward”.  He wasn’t a great ball handler and we laughed about his inability to make a driving layup, but he had a deadly medium range jump shot. Even more important, he was a force underneath. He rebounded extremely well and enjoyed nothing better than tipping in a teammate’s missed shot. To this day, whenever I manage to get a tip-in, I think of Tom. Tom probably would have started on the high school varsity basketball team when I was a senior, but he had no chance of even playing on the team when he was a senior. His class had one of the best basketball teams in Lourdes history. Instead, Tom played in the CYO and Church basketball leagues. One of the best decisions I ever made in my life was to play with him on those teams during my Junior year rather than play on the high school team.  It was the most fun I’ve ever had playing basketball to this day. Tom was our team leader that year – scoring, rebounding, setting picks, and doing whatever was necessary to win. Surprisingly, though, my clearest memory of Tom that year involves a game that we lost. In the Church League championship game, we found ourselves down by two points with only seconds to play. I was at the line shooting a foul shot and was instructed by the coach to intentionally miss so that we could try and tie the game on the rebound. I did my part (I was good at missing foul shots) and, after a scramble, the ball bounced right to Gabe Welch (a teammate) about two feet from the basket. Somehow, Gabe missed the shot and we lost.  While the other team ran off the floor hooting and hollering, Gabe just stood there with his head down, the picture of abject despair. I felt bad for Gabe but had no idea what to say to him. Tom did. Well aware of Gabe’s penchant for theatrics, he walked by him and casually muttered, “Cut the crap, Gabe”. Gabe looked up with a big smile and said, “OK!

Tom and I played basketball together all the time at the Poughkeepsie YMCA and had a very high winning percentage against the “hatchet men” as we called them. We made a good team. I took care of the dribbling and the outside game, and Tom handled everything underneath. And we were both fast! I only wish I could remember more details about those games. 

Tom remained in good shape throughout college. He and I would lift or play basketball together whenever we could during the summer months. In the mid-80’s though, he cut back on his exercising and became stiffer and stiffer. After a while, it seemed like he pulled a muscle whenever we tried to play basketball. He finally stopped playing basketball altogether in his early thirties.  However, a few weeks before his death, Tom told me that he was going to embark on one of his famous “Programs”. He was going to concentrate on nothing but stretching and flexibility. “You watch … I’m going to become a rubber man!” I believed him. He was 39 and I was 37, and I couldn't wait to play basketball with him again. 

Tom Mullen, age 17

Monday, January 21, 2013

Repeal the Second Amendment

I never considered myself a flaming liberal with, as the NRA likes to say, a “gun grabbing agenda”.  I'm not a hunter and I don't own a gun, but I've always supported those that did want to own a gun for hunting, target practice, or simple self defense.  After all, this is America, land of the free!  The right of a citizen to own a gun is as American as Mom and apple pie, right?

After the Newtown tragedy, I decided to take a long and careful look at this "God-given right" and came to a surprising but unavoidable conclusion:  the Second Amendment must be repealed. See if you agree.

A Brief History:

The Second Amendment consists of only 27 words, yet millions of words have been spoken and written about it.  Here it is in all of its majesty:
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
Most constitutional scholars agree that the Second Amendment was added to the Bill of Rights to reassure the States that their militias would not be eliminated.  At the time, the States viewed militias as being “checks” on the standing army should the central government turn tyrannical.  There is also evidence that slave States feared the elimination of their “slave patrol” militias which helped to regulate and enforce the slave trade.

Slavery was abolished in 1865, never to return.  The ability of State militias to act as “checks” on the combined power of the U.S. Military ended well over a century ago.  State militias no longer exist!  As such, the Second Amendment should be regarded as nothing more than a quaint anachronism, similar to the Third Amendment which prohibits the quartering of soldiers in private homes without the owner’s consent. Unfortunately, that isn't the case. 

Many historians consider the Second Amendment, authored by James Madison, to be one of the poorest written sentences in the entire Constitution.  Yale law professor Sanford Levinson refers to it as “The Embarrassing Second Amendment”.   Constitutional scholars debate over the meaning of almost every one of its 27 words.  The pivotal debate, though, is whether this amendment applies unconditionally to all citizens at all times or only to those citizens serving in “a well regulated Militia”?  

In the past, the Legislative Branch of the government tap-danced around this debate, enacting firearm legislation that blithely violated the “shall not be infringed” clause, relying on the Judicial Branch to rule (when needed) that the Second Amendment applies only to activities involving “a well regulated Militia”.   

This proved to be a successful strategy in the case of The National Firearms Act of 1934, which defined various categories of firearms and severely restricted the purchase and ownership of Title II weapons (machine guns, short-barreled shotguns, bombs, grenades, missiles, poison gas, etc.).  In United States v. Miller (1939), the Supreme Court rejected a claim that this act violated the Second Amendment right to own a short-barrel shotgun, stating:
"In the absence of any evidence tending to show that possession or use of a [short-barrel shotgun] at this time has some reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia, we cannot say that the Second Amendment guarantees the right to keep and bear such an instrument."
The Gun Control Act of 1968 built on that court decision by regulating the firearms industry even more, prohibiting interstate firearms transfers except among licensed manufacturers, dealers and importers.

However, the government's gun control strategy disintegrated in 2008 by a challenge to the District of Columbia’s Firearms Control Regulation Act of 1975 which banned residents from owning handguns, automatic firearms, or high-capacity semi-automatic firearms.  In District of Columbia v. Heller, the Supreme Court ruled, by a margin of 5-4, that:
The Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home.”

The Amendment’s prefatory clause announces a purpose, but does not limit or expand the scope of the second part.”

The District’s total ban on handgun possession in the home amounts to a prohibition on an entire class of ‘arms’ that Americans overwhelmingly choose for the lawful purpose of self-defense.”
Game over.

Under this interpretation, all hope of enacting meaningful gun control legislation in the United States vanished.  Effectively, the Second Amendment now reads:
The right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.”

Moving Forward:  Step 1

President Obama recently announced a series of initiatives designed to reduce gun violence in the United States.  They include

  -  Requiring criminal background checks for all gun sales
  -  Banning assault weapons
  -  Limiting magazine capacity to 10 rounds
  -  Banning armor piercing bullets

Although a majority of Americans support these initiatives, turning them into actual legislation will be an enormous challenge, one that is probably beyond the ability of our current Congress.  But even if  Democrats and Republicans set aside their differences and enacted a truly elegant piece of gun control legislation, it would be a total waste of time.  A single U.S. citizen could negate their effort by simply challenging the new legislation in court.  Based on the legal precedent set in District of Columbia v. Heller, the new legislation would have to be declared unconstitutional.

As such, the absolute first step in the herculean task of meaningful gun control must be the repeal of the Second Amendment.  Otherwise, all other initiatives will only be exercises in futility.

Moving Forward:  Step 2

Once the Second Amendment has been repealed, what would be the next logical step to effectively reduce gun violence in the United States?  Would it be to implement the Obama initiatives outlined above?  Almost certainly not.

Improved criminal and mental background checks would not have prevented the Newtown tragedy since the guns used in the shooting were stolen.  A ban on assault weapons will not apply to many semi-automatic firearms that can easily inflict the level of damage done at Newtown.  Limiting magazine capacity to 10 rounds is unlikely to meaningfully reduce future casualties either.  As shown in this video, it takes an experienced gunman about one second to change a magazine.  The bottom line is that none of the Obama initiatives address the central issue surrounding gun-related homicides in the United States: easy access to simple handguns.  

As such, the next logical step forward is to educate the public on the impact that individual handgun ownership has on safety in the United States.  In that vein, here are some sobering statistics.

Ironically, this chart (created by data provided by the FBI) is currently being used by the NRA and other opponents of an assault weapons ban to show that simple handguns, not AR-15 assault rifles, are responsible for most murders in the U.S.  In this rare case, the NRA is absolutely correct.  Assault weapons should be banned, but they are only a small subset of a much larger problem.  What this chart clearly shows is that guns of all kinds (and handguns in particular) were responsible for 67.5% of all homicides in the U.S. in 2010.

A separate world-wide analysis, conducted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, is in line with the FBI data.  It reports that, in 2009, the U.S. had 15,399 homicides, 66.9% of which (10,300) were due to firearms.  This results in a firearm homicide rate per 100,000 people of 3.3.  In comparison, the United Kingdom had only 722 homicides with only 6.6% (46) due to firearms.  The U.K. firearm homicide rate per 100,000 people was a mere 0.07.  That's right.  After adjusting for population differences, the U.K. firearm homicide rate in 2009 was 47 times smaller than the U.S.firearm homicide rate!   If the U.S. had matched the U.K. results, the number of U.S. homicides in 2009 caused by firearms would have been only 232.  Over 10,000 lives would have been saved. 

But that's not all.  According to the Center for Disease Control, guns are the cause of over half of all suicides in the U.S.  According to GunPolicy.org, in 2009 there were 18,735 gun-related suicides in the U.S., a rate of 6.11 deaths per 100,000 people.  In the U.K. there were 101 gun-related suicides, a rate of 0.16 deaths per 100,000 people. If the U.S. had matched the U.K. results, the number of U.S. gun-related suicides in 2009 would have been only 490 17,884 lives would have been saved. 

I think it's safe to say that the opportunity of saving almost 28,000 lives a year is a worthwhile goal.

Moving Forward:  Step 3

Tragically, it seems to take an incredibly horrific event like the massacre of innocent children before the magnitude of the gun violence problem is brought home to the public.  And in this case I'm not referring to the shooting in Newtown;  I'm referring to what happened in the United Kingdom almost 17 years ago.

On March 13, 1996, a 43-year old gunman entered a primary school in Dunblane, Scotland, armed with 4 handguns.  He shot and killed 16 children and 1 adult before committing suicide.  It was one of the deadliest criminal acts involving firearms in the history of the United Kingdom.  The ensuing public outcry resulted in the Firearms Act of 1997, which almost completely banned the private possession of handguns.   As a result of this and other Firearms legislation, the general public throughout the U.K. is now prohibited from owning:
  • An automatic weapon
  • A semi-automatic weapon greater than .22 caliber 
  • A "small firearm" (barrel length of less than 30 cm or an overall length of less than 60 cm)
  • Armor piercing ammunition
  • A firearm disguised as another item (e.g., a cane)
  • Rockets, mortars, and similar explosives
All other rifles and ammunition are permitted with "good reason", but that reason cannot be simply self-defense. 

Enacting gun control legislation such as this in the United States will not be easy;   indeed, it will be a long and arduous task.  But it must be attempted.  Otherwise, tens of thousands of Americans will continue to die each year from gun violence and the likelihood of another Newtown-like massacre will remain strong.

Wrapping It Up

For 217 years the Supreme Court held that the Second Amendment granted the right to bear arms only to  members of a "well regulated Militia".  However, 5 years ago, the Court (by a narrow 5-4 margin)  extended the scope of this amendment to include private citizens as well.  Until this travesty is corrected, the enactment of meaningful gun control legislation is impossible.

It is not acceptable to simply wait and hope that a future Supreme Court decision overrules the catastrophic decision reached in District of Columbia v. Heller.  The Second Amendment must be repealed.  It cannot be left to linger in the Constitution like a loaded musket, waiting to misfire in the wrong hands.