Sharing with you things that are on my mind...Maybe yours too. Come back to Wrights Lane for a visit anytime!

31 December, 2016

TRUMP PATRONIZING THE NEW YORK TIMES...SUCH FUN!

I try very hard to avoid political commentary on my web sites, but I am fascinated by what is shaping up as a war of words waged against the American press by Donald Trump.

U.S. President-elect Trump’s incoming press secretary Sean Spicer is rubbing the legacy media’s nose in its irrelevance by telling them it won’t be “business as usual” once Trump takes office; that he cares more about what American workers, families and businesses think than what some elites at a dinner party say about him.
But here’s the ultimate backhanded compliment: Spicer told an American talk show host that they will maintain “some traditions” of talking to the press, because even though they’ll never get a fair shake, “we recognize that there’s, you know, a few thousand readers or so left that still look at The New York Times, and so it’s worth, probably, talking to them.”

It should be noted, however, that the New York Times has long been regarded within the industry as a national "newspaper of record".  It has been continuously published in New York City since September 18, 1851, and has won 117 Pulitzer Prizes, more than any other news organization. The paper's print version has the second-largest circulation, behind The Wall Street Journal, and the largest circulation among the metropolitan newspapers in the United States. NYT is ranked 39th in the world by circulation and has a weekday circulation of one million daily.
I don’t know which is Spicer's deepest burn: that the NY Times is “probably” worth talking to, or that that’s because they still have “a few thousand readers left.” There are going to be some awfully huffy barbs about Sean Spicer bandied about at cocktail parties during the weekend in the Hamptons!

The next four years are going to be very interesting, because we ain't seen nothin' yet. It it will be fun watching from this side of the border (wall?).  

I would not be surprised to see the Trump empire go into the newspaper business before it is all over.

26 December, 2016

UNLIKE MY LANCE, I AM BENT BUT NOT BROKEN

Unsubdued

"Poems that Have Helped Me"

                                      
I have hoped, I have planned, I have striven,
To the will I have added the deed,
The best that was in me I've given,
I have prayed, but the gods would not heed.

I have dared and reached only disaster,
I have battled and broken my lance,
I am bruised by a pitiless master
That the weak and the timid call Chance.

I am old, I am bent, I am cheated
Of all that Youth urged me to win;
But name me not with the defeated,
To-morrow again, I begin.


11 December, 2016

AN OLD SANTA'S REFLECTIONS ON CHRISTMAS PAST...AND PRESENT

Contrary to what many believe, Santa Claus as we know him today – sleigh riding, gift-giving, rotund and white bearded with his distinctive red suit trimmed with white fur – was not the creation of the Coca Cola Company. Although their Christmas advertising campaigns when I grew up in the 1930s and '40s, were key to popularising the image, Santa can be seen in his modern form decades before Coca Cola’s illustrator Haddon Sundblom got to work. Prior to settling on his famed red garb and jolly bearded countenance, throughout the latter half of the 19th century, Santa morphed through a variety of different looks. From the description given in Clement Moore’s A Visit from St Nicholas in 1822, through the vision of artist Thomas Nast, and later Norman Rockwell, Mr Claus gradually shed his various guises and became the jolly red-suited Santa we know today.

For most of my life I have enjoyed perpetuating the Santa Claus myth while integrating it with the traditional celebration of the birth of Christian Messiah, Jesus Christ of Nazareth.

As a youngster with a vivid imagination, I fully immersed myself in the idea of a workshop somewhere in the North Pole where a jolly old man employed elves to help him make toys for girls and boys which he in turn delivered in a sleigh driven by eight tiny reindeer on Christmas eve. Happy, harmless thoughts that brought joy to an impressionable young mind and helped instill the spirit of true Christmas giving.
A young Santa Me with then three-year-old
 granddaughter Alyssa.

As a father, I derived equal joy in reliving those happy Christmas memories with my children and making it become real for them.  So taken was I with all things Santa Claus that in time I became a professional "Santa's helper" in department stores and shopping malls, even making appearances at Christmas concerts, company parties, special events and community parades.  I prided myself in being as authentic and believable as possible, even going so far as to memorize the names of all Santa's reindeer just in case I was tested by an inquisitive youngster -- and I was.  A Santa's voice and trademark Ho, Ho, Ho was cultivated. When I donned that red suit, white beard and ample belly padding, I actually found myself taking on the persona of Santa Claus.  It was an exhilarating, magical experience of theatrical proportions.

Expressions of excitement and the wonder that was evident in the bright eyes of clamoring, awe-struck children made it all worthwhile for me.

I do not play the role of Santa anymore but if I did, I would not need a fake beard, wig and fat belly...I have ironically grown my own; in fact I am often called "Santa" by friends and strangers alike and I quite enjoy the recognition, especially the "you would make a good Santa" comment to which I respond "been there and done that!"  The other day a fellow took one look at me, stopped in his tracks and said: "You look like someone who might come down my grandson's chimney in a few weeks."

With a degree of remorse, however, I cannot help but think about how commercialized the concept of Santa has become today at the expense of the true reason for the celebration of Christmas.

The downside to the "stuff" of Christmas

Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, Bodhi Day, Winter Solstice, Yule, Pancha Ganapti -- you name it -- December brings with it a host of traditional holidays across the religious spectrum. Winter, for much of recorded human history, was a time for families to come together to enjoy the warmth of the hearth as they anxiously awaited the return of spring.

It seems that in recent times, however, a new holiday has arisen that has quickly supplanted all the rest, one that a fellow Universal Life Church writer calls (for lack of a better term): “Stuffmas”. Shoppers flock to retail stores during the “Stuffmas” season which has become the frenzied month-long celebration of jingle-y music, sweet pastries, and above all, stuff...lots and lots of stuff.

Throughout this season people around the globe are bombarded with advertisements to buy all of the latest, greatest, and newest pieces of plastic. Our quest to accumulate “stuff” has become so ferocious in recent years that shopping can be a deadly affair – literally. Each “Stuffmas” season kicks off with the aptly named “Black Friday”, an event where otherwise innocent people risk getting trampled to death as they rush to grab bargain-basement deals from their local superstore.

Indeed, devotees of “Stuffmas” are becoming increasingly fervent. One could easily argue that the secular celebration of giving and receiving is more than just a holiday, that instead it has become a full-hearted embrace of Earth’s true largest religion: Materialism. Has the true meaning of Christmas been lost to the worship of stuff?

Previous generations of children were taught to be on their best behavior because God was watching.
Today, the lesson remains the same – children are still encouraged to behave. However, the stakes are much different...God isn’t watching anymore, Santa is. Sins are punished not with eternal torment, but with the threat of withholding of presents. When kids are taught that their actions are monitored by a toy-bearing fairy-like man, and that good behavior is always rewarded with shiny new things, how could we expect them not to start worshiping the idea of stuff and the mythical old gent who delivers it while they are in bed sleeping at night.

Society created this new religion and, with some clever marketing (pioneered by the Coca Cola company), we indoctrinated ourselves into it. The entire course of our lives has been painstakingly engineered by economists to ensure maximum output, following this general course: We’re Born > We Work > We Buy > We Die. Too often a person’s value is determined not by the content of their character, but by the monetary value of their assets.

As mentioned earlier, winter has customarily been a time for reflection. Perhaps we should take some time to do just that this year.  As we look around at the world we created, are we happy with what we see? Regardless of what your traditional practises are, there is no doubt that “Stuffmas” is touching your life in some way. While it certainly does bring some feelings of joy (who doesn’t like receiving gifts?), there are some evils associated with it as well. Most of us have friends or loved ones that struggle with anxiety over finances, and these issues are always made worse during the holiday season when there is constant pressure to spend money on new things for ourselves and others.

Personally, I have experienced pangs of guilt as resources have gradually limited my Christmas spending. My wife and I have even agreed to not exchange gifts with each other.  Time with family (when health and circumstances permit) and a good Christmas dinner with as many traditional trimmings as possible, has come to suffice.

I truly feel that you would be hard-pressed to find anyone who did not think that perhaps it is time that we wind-down “Stuffmas”, at least by some degree. The question is: how? Actually, the question is, can we? Have we become so invested in our materialism that there is no true exit?

Sadly, it is beyond the comprehension of this old pretend Santa!

In this day and age, our entire economy depends on people continuing to buy stuff.  In many cases businesses actually depend on the month of December alone to make the difference between a good and bad year from a financial ledger standpoint.

...And the buying public takes the next 12 months to pay off their associated credit card debt so that they can put more stuff on it again next year at this time.

Somehow we have lost sight of the fact that Christmas is a "holy day" and was not intended to be the generic, free-spending, commercialized "holiday" that is now generally accepted in a politically correct world.

Oh well, Happy Holy Days everyone...and a Merry Christmas too!  I hope your particular Santa is good to you!

Enjoy your stuffing -- turkey variety that is.

07 December, 2016

THE FAKE NEWS INVASION

The line between truth and fiction has become blurry. As phony articles spread like wildfire across social media, our society seems more divided than ever.  People can say anything online and get away with it.  

In our internet age, there is a plethora of information available at the click of a button. So much so, that it’s hard to know what to believe anymore and leading me to ask "Is truth under assault?" The latest development on this issue involves reports of “fake news” circulating online. Some websites have been masquerading as legitimate news outlets and publishing outlandish articles that grab people’s attention. 

Writers create stories full of false claims from “unnamed sources”, slap on sensationalist titles, and then share them with the world. And it works! Curious readers can’t help but click on these catchy headlines. Most of the misinformation floating around on the internet is relatively harmless. However, given the contentious times we live in, fake news stories run the risk of further dividing us.  Consider too, that I am not even touching on the hate and bigotry that is frequently spewed on social media (a subject unto itself).  I am equally bothered by the malicious, mean and hurtful personal attacks levelled against individuals -- public figures or otherwise -- with gay abandon and often without deserved provocation.  But that too is another story and I digress...

Historical Context
A fake news article about Abraham Lincoln

It is worth noting that fake news is not a modern creation. In fact, news publications have been writing bombastic stories and stretching the truth for years. Known as “yellow journalism”, it became a popular strategy for selling newspapers around the turn of the century. Even today, yellow journalism continues in the form of tabloids. For example, a well-known British tabloid recently claimed that “Prince Charles has seized the British throne in a palace coup.” He didn’t, of course. The entire piece was fabricated.

Dark Side of Social Media

So, what’s the big deal? Fake news has been around forever. Why are people worried about it now?  Partly, it’s the times we live in. The newspaper industry is in the midst of a decline, and more people than ever before are relying on the internet to keep them up-to-date. However, only a minority of people choose to read online versions of the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Toronto Star or Globe & Mail --increasingly, North Americans are turning to social media for updates on current events. In fact, studies show that roughly 62 percent of adults are getting their news from Facebook.  How unfortunate!
Facebook has been accused of spreading fake news
Fake news articles are thriving in the Facebook environment, where users scroll quickly through their feeds looking for interesting stuff. People often share links based on the headline alone – without bothering to look at the authenticity of the source. This allows phony articles to spread like wildfire as they get shared over and over again.
Some fake news outlets even use legitimate-sounding names to further confuse people. For example, an article posted by “The Denver Guardian” was shared over half a million times on Facebook.  As it turns out, “The Denver Guardian” doesn’t exist. A curious news reporter decided to visit the listed address, and all they found was a tree sitting in an empty parking lot.  

Moving Forward

There’s no getting around it: a lot of nasty rhetoric has been thrown around over the past year and there is a sense that many of our brothers and sisters are feeling increasingly divided. However, the last thing we need moving forward is more finger pointing and name calling. We’ve now entered the holiday season – a time for coming together and spreading good cheer. Let us put aside any lingering animosity and make an effort to unify. There are many problems in the world, but we don’t stand a chance of solving them unless we work together.

Upholding Values
Upholding the virtue of truth

All the hubbub surrounding fake news also serves as an important reminder about staying true to one’s values and beliefs. One of the core tenets is “to do that which is right”. This means upholding a standard of truth and honesty at all times. Especially in these politically polarized times, it’s important to engage honestly with one another – even if we disagree. Starting a dialogue and listening to opposing ideas is the first step toward developing a mutual understanding.
Sure, there may be people out there seeking to make a buck off of spreading lies and misinformation – but that does not mean we have to stand for it. As individuals, we are obligated to resist these petty efforts to create divisions in our society. We cannot assume everything we read on the internet is true, nor should we allow ourselves to pass judgment without getting both sides of the story.

Do your due-diligence research before jumping to conclusions on any issue or cause.  Truth still matters...and eventually wins out in the end!