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Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas 2013

Here is a post made two years ago after Christmas.  I've made some slight changes and additions, however the message remains the same as when I wrote the post.  Merry Christmas to all and now off to wrap some presents (yes, I procrastinate too much!). 

Christmas Day has come and gone. (In another 24 hours)  The commercial onslaught by retailers both brick and mortar and online which began after Halloween (and on Thanksgiving Day) has subsided somewhat.  Now the push (will be) towards those after-Christmas and New Year's sales.  (Today, I spent some time running to get a few errands done and tonight my wife), Aimee made a delicious dinner after spending much of her day in the kitchen.  (Now, I'm happy all the children are secure in their bed and they are so excited to open their presents tomorrow from Santa Claus).

As they fell asleep with visions of sugarplums dancing in their head, I took the opportunity to clean the kitchen.  While cleaning, I tuned into New York's WQXR looking to listen to some holiday classical music.  Instead I was treated to an old fashioned radio play:  Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol.  The radio play starred F Murray Abraham as Scrooge. (I've included the 2013 version starring actor Tony Roberts as Scrooge, enjoy)

I listened to the performance and enjoyed it very much.   The conversion of Scrooge, with the help of Marley and the three spirits, from being an individual who is cold, closed off to others and lacking in spirit to being one that is kind towards others, generous with his wealth and grateful is worth examining within ourselves during this holiday season. 

Like Scrooge, there have been many occasions which I've felt Christmas is a humbug, an excuse to spend money for things not really needed but then I realize that the greatest gifts during this season aren't those my children (will be unwrapping) on Christmas morning.  No the best gifts this season include the time spent with family and friends, the generosity I can display to those in need, and the ability to keep that spirit up throughout the year ahead, which I will be the most challenging to maintain.
Like the changes in the character of Scrooge in Dickens' work, this year has shown great changes in the Catholic Church with the election of Pope Francis who almost immediately after his election has shunned the magisterial trappings of his predecessor and has maintained an accessibility and understanding of the plight of the poor, sick, and marginalized.  He is leading by example and an openness that is refreshing.  He was named Time magazine's Person of the Year for 2013.
Have a very Merry Christmas with your families.  May the beauty of the season live in you throughout the year.   




Thursday, November 21, 2013


Tomorrow, November 22, 2013, marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy as he was touring Dallas, Texas.  This would be a crucial state to win in the 1964 election and JFK and the First Lady were met there with supportive crowds. 
Most of us have lived to have been a witness to the tragedy which unfolded that day in Dallas or have lived to commemorate the many milestones: 5, 10,15,20,25, and now 50 years later.

Despite the Warren Commission's report, many Americans were not persuaded by its findings so in the 1970s the House of Representatives revisited the assassination and found support that Kennedy was very likely assassinated as a result of a conspiracy.  Since then there have been hundreds of books and films depicting various conspiracy theories.  I will not describe them here because, in my opinion, they detract from what should be the focus of any memorial to JFK: his efforts as President in tumultuous times.

JFK's predecessor, President Eisenhower warned that "we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex."  Kennedy was given an invasion plan for Cuba immediately after taking office.  The failure at the Bay of Pigs taught Kennedy a lesson.  I believe he didn't want any aggressive action which would spark a larger, more destructive war.  This helped with his decision making during the Cuban missile crisis. 

I believe Kennedy was a warrior for peace.  As he once said:

The world knows that America will never start a war. This generation of Americans has had enough of war and hate... we want to build a world of peace where the weak are secure and the strong are just.

Unfortunately, he didn't get the opportunity to implement those efforts towards a world of peace as he was cut down before any second term.

So tomorrow, I will say a prayer for JFK and his family.  I thank God that he was President when he was as he the right man at the right time and I thank his sacrifice for his country. Also, I am happy our country had a moment in time when Camelot was real.


Monday, October 14, 2013

Just give me something to write about...

Hey now!!  It has been several weeks since my last post and I could attribute it to several reasons.  Things have been busy here at home with my children starting school and beginning weekend activities which has me shuttling them to their various scheduled events.  This has left me with less time for my occasional blogpost. 

I have also not been motivated to write a post.  Why make another comment about our dysfunctional government in Washington?  Currently the federal government is shutdown.  Negotiations to fund the government to meet its debt obligations have not produced a solution so we'll see what this week will bring.  Perhaps it is time to vote all of these clowns out of office.  The public really needs to make their voice heard.

Another news topic I have been following relates to the Common Core State Standards in Education and Testing.  Just last week, the New York State Commissioner of Education, John King had an open forum, the first of several, in Poughkeepsie.  The attendees were quite vocal with their criticism of the Common Core and the emphasis on assessment.  Following this contentious meeting, it was announced that the remaining open forums would be cancelled.  I guess the heat in the kitchen was too hot for Commissioner King.

I have seen how this new Common Core has affected my daughters who are in first grade.  Their teachers in their first weeks of schools, have given them test after test to get some benchmark which will be compared later in the school year to show that progress has been made and therefore the teachers are doing their job and will receive a favorable evaluation.

Well, what should have been an exciting time for my twin girls, at least for the first month, quickly turned into a nightmare as they have had trouble getting to sleep, they are clearly stressed and quick to anger at home. 

I always thought that the elementary level, at least in the early grade, was a foundational level where children learned thru hands on and stimulating work.  The emphasis on testing does not afford teachers to structure their class and lessons in this engaging way. 

Where is the data that supports this wholesale change in our state's education system?  It's a Race for Money, not a Race to the Top.  New York always had a strong education system.  The New York State Regents exams were always the standard, at least when I was in High School.  Now, we have given up so much to for profit companies like Pearson, inBloom and non-profits like The Gates Foundation.

I have always maintained that the jobs and industries that will be created in this century will only come from creative thinkers.  These thinkers will not be created from following a mind numbing series of standardized tests.  Schools need to light the spark that will one day grow into a flame for life long learning and critical analysis. 

Once again the call is made for the citizenry to get more informed at what's going on.  Turn off the TV and attend Board of Education meetings with like minded neighbors.  Write to your local politicos and ask them to define their positions on the Common Core and testing.  Only when we resolve to take control of these decisions locally and not from outside special interests will we finally see a positive change.

My children are my special interest. 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Sunday Arts - Evidence of Autumn

Today, in recognition of the 1st day of Fall, I present one of my favorite songs from the 3 man era line up of Genesis:  Evidence of Autumn.  By the way, I will be seeing former Genesis guitarist, Steve Hackett in concert this upcoming Friday.  After seeing Peter Gabriel last year, I suppose that's about as close as I'll get to a Genesis reunion. 

I love the sound of the keyboards on this  song.

Enjoy and have a great Season ahead.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Sunday Arts

Hello all,

For my Sunday Arts feature, I would like to provide a link to a friend, Roy Mitchell's  blog: MANDALA/ART/MEDITATION

His latest work is the latest in his series of Dream Paintings.  Roy describes the paintings:

In our dreams the faces, and the situations we encounter seem to be "real."  Yet the DREAM WORLD has a logic of its own.
Enjoy his works found on his blog. 

Mr. In-Between

Here we are, the 15th of September, smack dab in the center of the month.  Officially, the calendar still reads that we are still in Summer season.  Fall will be here soon as the autumnal equinox, that equal day of sun and darkness falls on Sunday, September 22.

Already, the inevitable signs of the Fall season are clearly apparent: the shortening of the daylight hours, the subtle change of color on the leaves of some of the trees in the neighborhood and the return of children to school.  I am a father to 3 school age children.  One of my children started 2nd grade and my other 2 kids, twins, began 1st grade. 

This "In-Between" season lends itself for reflection.  I think of how fast my children have grown and all that they have yet to accomplish.  Additionally, I reflect on my own hopes and dreams.  I look back on the professional changes I have made since 2006 and I'm pleased at the resiliency and strength it took for me to accomplish my goals.  I have to thank my wife, Aimee, whose encouragement and support, before and since our marriage, gave me the incentive to try and ultimately achieve my goals.

For a Cliff's notes version, In 2005, before our first child was born, I decided to return to school with the goal of changing careers.  A year later, due to certain circumstances, I left a job which provided zero in terms of personal satisfaction.  I completed my degree in 2010 and am in a field where I can hold my head up high and witness, daily, the impact I have on others as a teacher. 

For a long time, I was "In Between," seeking which path was right for me.  It took the impending birth of my first child to put aside all the excuses I've used before to forego any movement and to not stay the safe unchallenging course.  It wasn't easy leaving a comfort zone, I suppose it never is, but I did it and that's what counts.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Music Video Wednesday - 9-11

Here's a song that I remember replaying in my head during the events of 9-11, twelve years ago.  It was eerily prophetic, written four to five years before the event. 

Let's never forget those that perished on that horrific day.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Music Video Wednesday - 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington.

Fifty years ago today Doctor Martin Luther King gave his famous "I have a dream" speech in Washington D.C.  His oratory gifts were clearly on display that day as he appealed to the nation and announced to the world the need for America to live up to its ideals as expressed in The Declaration of Independence:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
The 1950's era was clearly over and the 60's was here.  This would be a turbulent decade which a few months later saw another warrior for peace, John F. Kennedy assassinated.  Followed five years later with the murders of Dr. King and Robert F. Kennedy. (I often wonder how different things would have been if any of those three men or all of them had lived)
 America is a great country and we are at our best when we aspire to live up to the great ideals mapped out by our founding fathers with a nod towards remembering the lessons of history.
For my musical selection today I am offering a two-fer, Bob Dylan with one of his famous songs from the early 60's - The Times They Are a Changin' and  U2's - Pride (In the name of Love).  The first as Dylan was a herald to the change that was about to take hold over the nation.  U2 because this was their tribute to Dr. King as well as a powerful song.
Let Freedom Ring.


Monday, August 12, 2013

D I Y Repair by Google

There really is no question about the influence of the internet upon most facets of our daily lives.  I remember living in Arizona around 1993 and a a roommate introduced me to Prodigy, an early use of the internet with games and news provided thru a  dial up service.

Fast forward to today with the proliferation of mobile devices and an infinity staggering number web based apps and pages.  Industries, trades and services have been impacted, some in positive ways with increased revenue and another tool to reach customers and others in negative ways.  My post relates to an industry which has probably seen a negative impact due to the web: the appliance repair business.

About two years ago, the area I live in was going to experience a severe storm.  In the run up to the storm, my wife washed a significant amount of laundry.  While drying the clothing, the dryer just stopped working.  As a result of the storm, we lost power for a few days but when  it returned we needed to decide what to do about the dryer.  I wasn't prepared to purchase a new one since it was working well up until that point.  However, this was an appliance we had here when we moved into the home and I wasn't sure how old it was.  I also was not in a hurry to bring someone in to repair it and spend money on something until I was certain I knew what was wrong with it.

I ran a Google search and came across a website run by a guy called British James.  He had a series of videos on YouTube which diagnosed and fixed just about any problem with a dryer that was similar to my own.  This was great,  I had an opportunity to take apart my machine, clean it and work through what was wrong with it.  I pinpointed it to one of two electrical issues.  I purchased the replacement parts online and once I received them, I completed the job and the Dryer has been fine ever since. 

Last week, my wife was again doing the laundry and the washing machine was making a lot of noise and shaking.  Once again, I Googled the symptoms and found an amazing amount of information about washing machines.  Once again, I was directed to British James' website and in his video series on washing machines, I was able to determine that I had an issue with the agitator.  Specifically, the upper agitator was not working as it should.  This explained how my clothes, trousers and jeans, have worn and been damaged from using the machine. 

I watched the videos several times and ordered online the agit dogs that kept the upper agitator moving in the correct direction.  The replacements came to my home in 4 days and cost $3.95 with no cost for shipping.

 (I got the top and side off, plastic ring clean and drying off, very dirty)

 (the ugly view from upper agitator)

 (Worn out agit dog next to new ones)

It was an easy repair and after I finished I did a load of laundry.  I knew it worked when I saw no clothes tangled around the lower agitator. 

My hats off to British James and his helpful website.

He even promotes the repair and sale of reconditioned machines as way for those unemployed to earn some income.  Well done, Sir.

I came away happy with my DIY skills and also an appreciation with the depth and breadth of relevant information out there on the World Wide Web. Why have someone else do these things when you can do it yourself. 

Monday, July 29, 2013

Weiner Island

Much has been written and reported locally and nationally over the past week regarding politician Anthony Weiner who resigned from his Congressional seat in 2011 after revelations that he sent via Twitter naked pictures of himself to several women.  Weiner is seeking the Democratic party nomination for Mayor of New York City and the recent news of him sending a new crop of naked pictures, via social media, of himself to other women as well as conversing in a highly sexual online conversation were revealed last week.

Weiner's attempts to deflect the latest news has put his wife, Huma Abedin, in the harsh glare of the public.  Ms. Abedin's relationship as a political aide to former Secretary of State and potential Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton surely came in handy as she stood by his side (cue Tammy Wynette music) at the initial press conference when Weiner was attempting to downplay the recent news. 

At present time, Weiner remains in the hunt for the nomination defiant as ever, despite having his campaign manager resign, his poll numbers heading to the South Pole and his wife now retreating from the harsh glare of the spotlight.  Tabloids here in NY report that Bill and Hillary are none to pleased with the linkage and comparison of "Slick Willie's" dalliances with Monica L back when he was known as President Bill Clinton.

My take on these matters is that Weiner should have seriously taken the time off and got the real help he needed to satisfy his urges and addictions back in 2011.  His recent actions occurred just last year and now he seeks to brush it aside and downplay his behavior as he campaigns.  In my opinion, he is a sleaze and his wife is a political opportunist.  It's unfortunate that this sideshow detracts from the other candidates, from all political parties, who are talking about the real issues facing New Yorkers. 

I am glad I don't live on Manhattan Island or any of the other boroughs of NYC, so I really have no vote.  This blogpost is my only forum for me to cast my vote: It's high time for Weiner to drop out of the race and let this circus end. 

Watch this video below from the past weekend.  Weiner was asked a question from a former NYC School Teacher about his conduct.  Watch him evade an attempt at answering her directly.

The tribe has spoken (apologies to Survivor), extinguish your Tiki torch Anthony.



Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Music Video Wednesday - Heat Wave

Well it's official, here in New York we are officially experiencing a heat wave with the last several days reaching temperatures in the high 90 degrees. 

Here's 2 versions of the classic Heat Wave.  The first is the original by Martha and the Vandellas and the second is from Linda Ronstadt.



Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Music Video Wednesday - Fourth of July Edition

This week's videos comes from the film 1776.  This film adaptation of the late 60's historical musical stars many of the actors who performed these roles on Broadway.  There are several catchy songs in the movie. 

The film depicts the Continental Congress, meeting in Philadelphia in the late spring and early summer of 1776, as they debate the need for a formal airing of grievances (The Declaration of Independence) indicating their split from England.


If only our Congress today were as brave and courageous as the Continental Congress.

Happy 237 Birthday America.    

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Music Video Wednesday - Track 7

Here's a gem of a Beatles song (as though there's only one!).  Hey Bulldog, comes from the Yellow Submarine movie soundtrack.  I love this video as it shows the band at its best: a tight cohesive unit.

You can talk to me...

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Music Video Wednesday - Track 5 & 6

With School closing this Friday, I've decided to post a double shot of music videos today with a learning/teaching theme:  The first is from Eagle, Don Henley's first solo album and the second is a classic from Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.  Enjoy


Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Music Video Wednesday - Track 4

Welcome back to another track in my weekly music video series.  Today I have a track from the band XTC from their album Oranges and Lemons: King for a Day. 

The video is taken from a Late Night with David Letterman appearance in 1989 while the band was promoting the album.


Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Music Video Wednesday - Track 3

Welcome back to the latest installment of my Music Video Wednesday series.

The inspiration for this song comes from being reminded by a high school classmate that 25 years ago, yesterday, we graduated from good old St. Dominic High School in the beautiful town of Oyster Bay.

During my last year of school, 1987-88, the song Here I Go Again by Whitesnake was huge.  It was played very loud in many car rides to and from school. 

Yes, this song has been parodied on several shows and movies, most notably in Old School, but really who can't resist, even today, cranking it up and singing along with it as your driving down the road (with your kids).

Here I go again...

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Music Video Wednesday

Presenting today this video from the early 1980's.  I remember this video receiving lots of play on MTV and I rather liked this song more than this band's other hit, What I Like About You. 

The Romantics - Talking in Your Sleep.

Do you remember this song?

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Inspiration Tuesday - Memorial Day Edition

In honor of those selfless men and women, past and present, who gave their all to ensure our future: Happy Memorial Day.  Sorry it's a day late, you are never forgotten. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

I want my MTV!

Remember when MTV played music?  I do.  Recognizing that legacy, I am adding a new theme to my blog:  Music video Wednesday.

To kick things off today:  One - U2

Hope you liked my selection

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Chewbacca in Action

I was testing out the video capabilities of my camera and took a short clip of my Dog, Chewbacca.  Enjoy

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Center Cannot Hold.

The inspiration for my post today comes after some reflection upon recent events in the news.  Last week federal prosecutor, Preet Bharara, charged New York Assemblyman Eric Stevenson of accepting bribes for lucrative business contracts involving adult day care centers in the city.  Charges against Stevenson came less than 72 hours after authorities accused state Sen. Malcolm Smith of trying to rig New York City's mayoral race by buying a place on the Republican ticket. In the Smith case, five other politicians -- three Republicans and two Democrats were also arrested and charged with bribery.

Read more:

Not wanting to waste a crisis and to "strike while the iron is hot", NY Governor Andrew Cuomo, today, proposed three new laws aimed at stopping corruption by elected officials.

It remains to be seen how these proposals will fly with the motley crew that leads the state assembly and senate.  New York's Corruption Risk Report Card, a partnership of the Center for Public Integrity, Global Integrity and Public Radio International, has given New York State a grade of D and a ranking of 37 out of 50 states.  The State Integrity Investigation is a data-driven analysis of each state’s laws and practices that deter corruption and promote accountability and openness.           

In my humble opinion, this is a pretty poor ranking here in the Empire State.  While the corruption itself is often subtle and others might say it doesn't affect me in my assembly district, the trickle down effects are apparent.  New York, despite an on-time budget for the 2013-14 year, has cut funding for the most vulnerable of our society  Small Businesses don't seem to be opening as the sight of many empty strip stores indicate.  Large scale employers, like the defense contractor Grumman who used to employ tens of thousands in my area, no longer look to this region to hire large numbers of people.

I had spent a number of years out in the Phoenix, Arizona area in the early 1990's.  At that time much revenue was spent to build up the infrastructure of that area (i.e., freeways, downtown attractions, light-rail).  New York continues to spend valuable money servicing crumbling infrastructure.  Can anyone name an important infrastructure project that's opened in downstate NY in the last 30 years?

It seems that we waste money in NY on projects that provide people with something they really don't need.  For example, the 4.45 billion dollar construction of the Second Avenue subway has caused a lot of problems for residents and businesses operating on the east side of Manhattan.  People living there have always used the Lexington Ave subway line or buses and certainly weren't clamoring for a major change.  Also, the LIRR East Side access project which will allow LIRR riders access to Grand Central Station has cost 8.2 billion dollars when access to Manhattan via Penn Station is functional.

Combined these two projects approach 15 billion dollars while our roads are falling apart, schools are crumbling and business won't open which in turn erode our tax base.  Here on Long Island, it seems they always use the same talking points to describe our economy: lack of affordable housing, a greying population, trending toward service oriented (i.e., low paying) economy.  While it's true housing costs are high here, what have our leaders done to improve that situation?  What have they proposed to improve our infrastructure?  Why can't there be a direct link (bridge of tunnel) from Long Island to Connecticut?  Why couldn't a sensible "downtown" plan been worked out for the concrete jungle called the Nassau Coliseum?  Now we're going to lose the Islanders, and while I'm not much of a hockey fan, it's terrible for the service workers who earned some bucks working the events there.

Every citizen needs to become informed and know what their local leaders, state assembly/senate representatives, and governor support.  Become informed, ask questions, write letters, follow on Twitter and most importantly, since we have no term limits, if you aren't satisfied with what they are doing vote them out on election day. 

Finally, in honor of National Poetry Month this April, here's a poem from William Butler Yeats whose verse provided a title for my reflections on the body politic:

    Turning and turning in the widening gyre
    The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.
    Surely some revelation is at hand;
    Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
    The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
    When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
    Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
    A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
    A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
    Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
    Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.
    The darkness drops again but now I know
    That twenty centuries of stony sleep
    Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
    And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
    Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

P.S. Here's two excellent articles on another topic our politicians need to clean up: the abuse of our disability insurance by those who do not need it.  Warning, you will get angry when you read about this problem.


Saturday, March 30, 2013

Spring Reboot

Here it is March 29, 2013, with only 3 days left in the month, finally the lamb has arrived.  Much of the weather here in the New York "tri-state" this month has been a lion like mash up of unseasonably cold temperatures joined by an occasional mix of wet and wintry precipitation.

Today, the sun is shining bright and the temps are approaching their seasonal norms.  There is a noticeable change in that the sun is much higher in the sky during the day.  Almost on cue, the birds are returning and singing their tunes throughout the day.

There is much to do in the weeks and months ahead.  I have many projects to complete as I still have to repair several home items from damage caused by the Hurricane Sandy in October. 

Spring is a great time to get active and move as the winter typically finds me shut-in and being quite the couch potato.  That is a situation that can get routine if you allow it to and the results of that lifestyle are disturbing. 

I recently watched a cool documentary on Netflix called Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead.  In the film, Australian Joe Cross comes to the USA and for 60 days he undertakes a supervised juice fast.  He travels the country preaching the gospel of juicing to others that they "reboot" their lives with a juice fast. 

Joe Cross loses quite a bit of weight and an auto-immune disorder he has gets under control which allows him to eliminate the host of prescription medicines he takes.  Also, Joe meets a trucker during his journey who later seeks him out for help to save his life.

While, I have juiced fruits and vegetables in the past, I have never committed to fruit and vegetable juices as being my only source of calories for a defined period of time.  Seeing the results of others on the film and at Joe's website:, I plan to try some sort of juice fast sometime this spring.

My goal with the juice fast would be to reboot my system, lose a few pounds and attempt to carryover this wellness approach after the juice fast (i.e. avoiding the sweets and other pitfalls). 

Have you ever tried something like this?  Did it work?

In closing, have a Happy Easter or Passover and get out there and reboot your life this spring.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Happy St. Patrick's Day - Éire go Brách

Happy St. Patrick's Day.  Yes tomorrow is a day for all of us of Irish heritage to celebrate the patron saint of Ireland and also reflect on the important contributions the Irish have made and continue to make in  the United States of America.

The Irish in America have come a long way since the large scale waves of Irish entered "the new world" in the 1850's and 60's.  These poor people, fleeing their homeland due to the
potato famine and hoping for a new start in a growing country in need of their labor.   It's easy a century plus to romanticize the experiences of the Irish emigrating to a new country, however it surely was difficult and at times dangerous for them.

The Irish-Americans have contributed to most military campaigns in our history.  Here in New York, the Irish helped build the railways, tunnels, and bridges that form our region's vital circulatory system.  The Irish have made important contributions in politics and on of our own achieved the highest office, the Presidency in 1960. (Note to self: JFK a future post!)

The Irish-American immigration experience was probably no different than those people coming from non-English speaking countries today.  Certainly they share many commonalities:  hard work, love of family and to their church. 

I have always wanted to complete a genealogy for both my mother and father's side of the family.  The internet has been helpful with online census records in addition to other records.  I've been lucky having found census records showing my grandfather on my mother's side listed close to 100 years ago.  I've also was fortunate to have found a great blog:  I marveled that Mr. Tierney researched and found a picture of his great-grandfather, who was a New York City police officer at the turn of the last century.  I found that so cool, since both my grandfathers were NYC officers too.  Follow him on Twitter @JJT and check out his blog.

He's since offered me tips towards my own family history and he also gave me a link to an Irish Soda Break recipe:

Well whatever your background is, this weekend your Irish.  Let this St. Patrick's Day put you in a festive mood and thankful for the contributions your ancestors have made and be sure to toast one to them.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Sunday Arts: An Island in the Darkness

I remember "discovering" this song, An Island in the Darkness back in the peer-to-peer Napster days.  Although it was first released in 1995 by the band Strictly Inc, this 17 minute song really had little reception among audiences that who were weaned on 2-3 min pop songs. 

Well one of the members of Strictly Inc was Tony Banks, of Genesis fame, who used the guise of a band to continue his solo work.  He was no stranger to the longer works of music as Island echos some of his Prog-rock works with Genesis .  Joining Banks on this song as vocalist is Jack Hues of the 80's band Wang Chung. 

I enjoy this song first because of the strong imagery presented lyrically and second due to the musical virtuosity on display throughout the song.  From the opening introduction by piano-synth until its final note, this song rewards the patient listener.  I even like the Daryl Stuermer guitar solo (Hackett would have been better!).

Well sit back and enjoy:

Like a fuse to the end will burn
Like a wave when the tide has turned
You keep on coming regardless
You won't accept defeat

And in the light of a cold grey dawn
When all seemed lost and you felt so forlorn
You sensed a warmth surround you
And now you find you're
No longer on your own

It's impossible unbelievable news
It's impossible but it's true

You never thought you would ever be here
You never even dared to hope you would ever be here
In a world you used to dream of
And watch from afar

After all of the time gone by
Searching fruitlessly asking why
It's hard to stop the trying
To truly realize

That all the pain all that's gone before
Lies behind and you can close the door
In the past forever
No need to worry
No need to fear at all

It's impossible unbelievable news
It's impossible but it's true

You never thought you would ever be here
You never even dared to hope you would ever be here
In a world you used to dream of
And watch from afar

In every minute of every hour so many dreams die
Do you believe it will be any different this time
This dream will last forever
This day will never end

Now the fog surrounds you
Swirling all around you
Confusing all your senses
All you see are phantoms
Always just out of reach
They tantalize and beckon
Seduce but without promise
You don't want to be here anymore
You don't want to be here to take it anymore
Now the water rises
It takes you where it will
You cannot choose direction
Or control the motion
And in the end you're thrown up
On an island in the darkness
Nothing is familiar
Tell me are you frightened on your own
Do you have the will to carry on?

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Sunday Arts- 2013 Oscar Awards Edition

Tonight, in Hollywood California, the 85th annual Academy Awards will take place.  It's a celebration of the best in America and International cinema.  I must confess, I have only seen one of the nominated films, Steven Speilberg's Lincoln, which I thought was excellent and I was mesmerized by Daniel Day Lewis portrayal of our 16th President. 

Without further ado, here are my Academy Awards predictions for tonight's Oscar winners in seven categories.  Enjoy the show....

Best Picture:  While I support Lincoln, I think Argo will win with its compelling real life story of the rescue of Americans in Iran in 1979.
Best Actor:     Daniel Day Lewis, Lincoln.  He was Lincoln, amazing performance and a good Irishman

Best Actress:   Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook.  SLP has received late buzz and I wouldn't be surprised to see it as a sleeper winner for Best Picture.  Jennifer Lawrence represents a young emerging talent the Academy loves to recognize. 
Best Supporting ActorRobert DeNiro, Silver Linings Playbook.  DeNiro plays a father to a son who's had a breakdown.  DeNiro is on of our great actors.  The late buzz for SLP applies to this selection too.
Best Supporting Actress:  Anne Hathaway - Les Miserables.  She sang and underwent some physical changes in the movie.  Plus she's hosted the show before, remember.. oh yes, you purged that abomination from your memory. 

Best Director:   David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook.  With no Ben Affleck here to award my choice for best picture, Argo, Russell wins for Silver Linings Playbook and I'll need to Redbox it when it becomes available to see what the fuss was all about.  Sleeper pick is Ang Li for Life of Pi

Best Animated Feature FilmBrave.  Boy would I love to work for Pixar.  They create wonderful stories for all ages and Brave joins their best. 

Finally, last night I had the pleasure to watch a true American Film Classic:  On the Waterfront.  The Turner Classic Movie Channel has been playing Oscar winning movies all weekend.  Last night this Marlon Brando classic was on.  Brando won an Academy Award for Best Actor for this movie.  I have always enjoyed Brando's work and in this movie he was so good as Terry Malloy.  I think I'll let this scene below speak for itself.  See this movie if you haven't.

What film is one of your favorite(s)?  Did you enjoy any of this year's nominated films?  I'd love to hear back from you.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Big Blue Marble

By now, if you don't live under a rock, you have heard and seen reports of the meteor streaking through South-central Russia yesterday and striking near the city of Chelyabinsk.  Reports indicate that over 900 people were injured due to glass and other debris falling as a result of the large sonic booms generated by the fast moving visitor from space.

A few years ago, I took an Astronomy course.  The one aspect of Astronomy and the study of planets, stars, and other celestial bodies that made a large impression on me is the relative size of it all.  The universe is HUGE!!!!

Meteors striking Earth have happened frequently and some have theorized that the Dinosaurs were made extinct from a large scale strike which disrupted the Dinosaurs food supply.  Satellite photos have pinpointed evidence of past meteor strikes with high resolution photos of craters. 

As our big blue marble turns and circles the sun, we realize that there is so much space junk out there.  One interesting note about yesterday's strike in Chelyabinsk was that astronomers were watching the closest pass (within the orbit of some satellites) of Asteroid -DA14.  Astronomers, as well as the population of South-central Russia were UNAWARE of the bus sized meteor racing towards them. 

Here is an interesting article about the events yesterday with photos and video:

What else is out there?

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Sunday Arts: The Return

Well here in the New York area we've experienced and survived a nasty winter storm named Nemo.  For several hours yesterday, I shoveled  out the driveway and cleaned off our cars so Monday everyone can get back to routine.  Today, with the sun is shining bright, I wanted to add a post featuring the return of my Sunday Arts feature.

I wanted to use this post to offer my tribute to the caricaturist Al Hirshfeld.  Most of Hirshfeld's work I would see at a young age in the Sunday edition of The New York Times, Arts and Leisure section, usually in the Theatre section.  Hirshfeld's caricatures would often accompany a story about some upcoming play, a profile of a performer or The Tony Awards preview. 

As I entered High School, I had several opportunities to attend Broadway shows.  I remember seeing Neil Simon's Brighton Beach Memoirs and Broadway Bound as well as Shakespeare's  MacBeth with my classmates. 

In my college years and beyond, I have seen many other shows and  I would continue to read the Sunday Times to keep aware of what shows were coming or going.  Hirshfeld's works were always an essential part of my enjoyment of the theatre as his caricatures would provide some glimpse into a show's presentation.

Hirshfeld also liked to make use of the lines in his pictures to embed the name of his daughter, I think, her name is Nina.  So an illustration might have a tag of Nina3, meaning there were 3 Nina's found in the picture.

Also, as a budding charicaturist, I attempted to emulate his style as I swiped a picture of Magnum PI actor Tom Selleck and I gave it to my sister, who was Selleck fan (she still has the picture after 25+ years). 

Hirshfeld died in 2003 and later that year a theatre, The Martin Beck theatre was renamed in his honor.  I had seen the revival of Guys and Dolls there in 2003.

Hirshfeld was the quintessential New Yorker who, thru his art, adored and promoted the perfoming arts in the greatest city of the world.

Official Hirshfeld webpage

Sunday, February 3, 2013

80 Years Young

This post is a tribute to my father Leo, who on February 4th will turn 80 years of age.  Notice I didn't use the term old.  No, I have never thought of my father as old but rather he was always the "Big Daddy" of his large brood of 12 children.  As his 10th child and 3rd son, I have been very lucky that I have such a fantastic Dad. 

My father has always provided guidance and direction for all of his children in his quiet, calm and measured manner.  He has been there for all of us during times of crisis and has instilled in all of us the values of fair play, modesty, and service to others that remain with  us to this day.  This call to service is reflected in many of the occupations and volunteer activities we are all involved with as adults.  There is no doubt that as a father myself, his lessons and example will be used often as I raise my three children.

Over the years, I have done some genealolgy research on both sides of my family and I hope to continue this research this year.  Also, as someone who loves history, I note that my Dad is a child of the Great Depression.  He faced tragedy at an early age as his father died and his Grandfather moved in with his mother to help her.  The relationship he had with his Grandfather was no doubt crucial in shaping my Dad into the man he became.  Some would call it "old school," I call it "common sense."  My father is a man of faith who has placed his trust in God and has given many hours in service to his parish as an Eucharistic minister and as a CYO Basketball coach.     

My father is part of what historians Neil Howe and William Strausst note in their book The Fourth Turning as the "Silent" generation.  These were the individuals who were two young to fight in WW II and too old to participate in Vietnam.  My father's generation were the technocrats that led American businesses during its boom years of the 50's and 60's before the fabric of our American society began to change.  Interestingly, no member of my father's generation ever became President as we've gone from WWII vets as Presidents to Baby Boomer Presidents. 

My father has enjoyed a fantastic retirement for the last 18 years with travel to distant locations.  I had the pleasure of joining him and my mother on a trip to Paris, France in 1999 and again in 2001.  My father made all the arrangements and the trips were a lot of fun.  Due to these trips, France will forever hold a special place for me and my wife. My father has also enjoyed the exponential growth in the number of his grandchildren which numbered only 15 at the end of 2005 and has now doubled in size to number 30 some seven years later. 

Yesterday, my family was joined by friends to celebrate my Father's birthday.  It was a very enjoyable afternoon filled with good food, drinks and laughter.  My Dad had a very nice time and it was a fitting tribute to our patriarch.  In closing, I found an Irish Birthday Blessing I offer to my Dad:

For each petal on the shamrock this brings a wish your way.
Good health, good luck, and happiness for today and every day.

Happy 80 years young Dad,

Stephen, Aimee
Joseph, Caroline and Samantha

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Film Study - Welles in the Classroom

Hello there.  Many years ago, while in college, I took a Film Study course.  In addition to the lectures there was a weekly Monday night film to view.  It was not a bad way to spend a  Monday night.  At these showings, I was exposed to many different genres of film (i.e., westerns, horror, foreign, sci-fi).  One of the first films I watched and have enjoyed since was Citizen Kane, listed as one of the top films of all time, directed by Orson Welles.  This was Welles' first film and he was given total creative freedom to film a movie by RKO Pictures after making a name in New York City with his Mercury Theatre of the Air performing radio plays.  While making radio shows, in 1938 during an adaptation of H.G. Wells War of the Worlds, Welles convinced many listeners that Martians were actually invading New Jersey.  The hysteria caused by this incident showed the influence and power this new medium had over its users. 

Citizen Kane was notable for its camera techniques (deep focus and unique angles), creative use of light and shadow, its use of sound as well as its unusual story structure.  The movie begins at the death of its title character and works backwards through various points in the life of Charles Foster Kane.  The film was not an inital success when it was released.  Some felt the story was similar to the life of media mogul William Randolph Hearst and there were rumours that Hearst put out all the stops to ensure that Citizen Kane was not a success. 

Welles was given another opportunity to direct another feature film and he chose to make an adaptation of the novel by Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness.  For whatever reason, the plans to film this story would have to wait and Welles set out to find another story to film.  Thirty-five years later, Francis Ford Coppola would adapt Heart of Darkness in his work Apocalypse Now.

Welles decided to film an adaptation of Booth Tarkington's Pulitzer Prize winning book, The Magnificent Ambersons.  It was only a few years after I was out of college when I first saw this movie on television.  In the movie, Welles used many of the camera tricks he displayed during Citizen Kane.  The movie is set at the end of the 19th century during a time of great changes (automobiles, paved roads, electricity, pace of life, etc.) occuring in the town, soon to be city of the film.  Each member of the Amberson family has to deal with these assorted changes and how it affects their lives is central to the drama in the film.  There is also a bit of a love story going on in the film between several characters. 

Welles used many of the performers he used in Citizen Kane and Joseph Cotten in particular really shines as Inventor, Eugene Morgan.  Morgan is an early pioneer in the horseless buggy, automobile, and in one scene he must defend his invention against one who thinks they're a nuisance.  

During the filming of this movie, World War II broke out.  Orson Welles was asked by our government to film a pro-American film in conjunction with our nation's Good Neighbor Policy of keeping the nations in Latin and South America on our side during the war.  As a result, Welles missed a lot of the editing of this film since he was not in the United States.  After the film tested in front of audiences, the studio requested over 1 hour of film be cut and a new ending was filmed.  The missing footage has never been found and remains lost to the ages. 

In 2000, A&E cable network filmed a complete version of The Magnificent Ambersons using the Welles script and included the missing parts from his film. 

The Magnificent Ambersons marked the end of Orson Welles having total control over his films.  This is kind of sad that at age 26 he had everything and lost it all.  Yes, he would continue directing, acting, and as he grew older he made commercials but the creativity he displayed in these two films would only show again in brief flashes. 

I recommend this film from a historical perspective.  As a teacher, I would show this to a class studying the Industrial Revolution with the changes brought on by the development of the automobile.  Compare and contrast the changes depicted in The Magnificent Ambersons with the changes at the end of the 20th Century (i.e. Internet, Cell Phones, Skype, Flat World).

I would use Citizen Kane, to illustrate the assorted points of view each character has about Kane and explore the influence of the media.  In additon to these 2 great films, the assorted radio plays made by Welles' Mercury Theatre can be used in the classroom to creatively explore the themes presented in a work of literature or as a model for students to create their own radio play which today could be called a Pod-play. 

How would you incorporate Welles in your classroom?  Do you enjoy these films?  Are there any other Welles films or non-Welles film you like? 

Would love to hear back from you.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Beatles

What more can be said about the 4 young lads from Liverpool, England who took the world by storm "all those years ago".  My first exposure to the music of the Beatles came several years after their break up.  Capital records produced complilation albums, the famous Red and Blue Albums. 

 These two albums were my introduction to the Beatles and looking back on it today, I marvel at the changes in each of the members of the band through those years 1962-1970 (look at the two covers!).  In the late 1970's, Capital released Beatles Love Songs (I believe it's out of print) and all of the Beatle ballads and slower songs were given their rightful spotlight.  I remember an older sister who had that album and I liked many of the songs on that compilation.

As I got older, I clearly remember when John Lennon was assassinated, miles away from my home, on December 8, 1980.  That was quite sad as he was only 40 years old and just coming out of a five year break where he was raising his son Sean having released Double Fantasy with his wife Yoko Ono that October.

I was only 10 years old when John Lennon was killed but at that young age, I began to discover more about the history of the Beatles and the solo careers of each member.  I also set out to own their music.  This was during the late 80s with the release of their music on CD.  Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was an essential and first addition to my Beatles discography.  Even today, I can play it and find some subtle nuance I may have missed in previous playings.  I enjoy all of the songs on it and admire the guts they took to retreat from touring completely and making this record.

 In the 1990's, the survivng members of the Beatles worked together and the Anthology series of albums were released.  For Anthology 1 and 2, John Lennon demos were completed by Paul, George and Ringo and produced by George's fellow Travelling Wilbury - Jeff Lynn.   Free as a Bird and Real Love were the two songs completed.  The Anthology albums also included alternate tracks and demos of familiar songs.

In 2000, The Beatles "1" was released and it showcased 27 Beatle number 1 songs that hit the US and/or UK charts.  This compilation was released on the 30th anniversary of the bands breakup. The compilation is a great introduction to the band much like I was introduced to them via the Red/Blue albums.

Flash forward to the present and the Beatles continue to remain relevant.  All of their music is now found on I-Tunes.  Paul and Ringo continue to make new music and perform.  George's son Dani Harrison has a band of his own and is following in his Father's footsteps.  Sean Lennon also is a muscian and social activist like his Dad.  He is currently protesting against the process of Fracking in upstate New York. 

I recently came across an Italian musician who has a number of YouTube videos where he dissects the vocal harmonies of Beatle songs.  Galeazzo Frudua truely enjoys what he's doing and it's a fitting tribute to a great band.  His videos are also fun to watch. 

I think the Beatles could be summed up with one word: LOVE.  As in "All You Need is Love".  Sometimes a simple message, such as this, can have a profound effect on the world.  The Beatles were harbingers of the social and consciousness change that occurred in 1960's.  Yes, our world has changed since then, for good, for bad, that's a point to debate, but how we treat others remains relevant today as it did during the Beatles heyday.  I still believe the Beatles will be discussed and studied hundreds of years from now and I'm happy their music remains to inspire and influence the world. 

What's your favorite Beatles song or album?  Do you like their solo efforts?  I'd love to hear back from you so be sure to leave a comment.