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

22 January, 2017

HILLYBILLY WRITER'S BOOK INFLUENCED U.S. PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION

"I don’t know if J. D. Vance attended Friday’s Inauguration (in Washington). I don’t even know if this best-selling author even voted for the 45th American President. I do know his recent book, Hillbilly Elegy (HarperCollins, 2016) is purported to explain one major reason why Donald Trump is now making himself at home this weekend in the White House," writes Bob Johnston in the Saugeen Times.

Rev. Bob always impresses me with the amount of reading and research that he does and I found his reference to Vance and Trump to be particularly fascinating.

You can justifiably say a lot of negative things about Donald Trump, but he is no dummy.  He secured unexpectedly strong Presidential support among the so-called forgotten Americans, those most affected by the loss of well-paying factory jobs right across the “Rust Belt” states of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Ohio. He shoots from the hip; he’s not constantly afraid of offending someone; he’ll get angry; he’ll call someone a liar or a fraud. This is how a lot of people in the white working class actually talk about politics and politicians. Trump set himself up as a champion of the underdog, got their attention and eventually their vote.
J.D. Vance is the man of the hour,
maybe the year. His memoir 

Hillbilly Elegy  is a New York
Times bestseller, acclaimed for
its colorful and at times moving
account of life in a dysfunctional
clan of eastern Kentucky natives.
It has received positive reviews
across the board, with The Times
calling it “a compassionate and
discerning sociological analysis
of the white underclass.” In the
rise of Donald Trump, it has
become a kind of Rosetta Stone
for blue America to interpret that
most mysterious of species: the
economically precarious white
voter.

To her peril, in taking the high road, Hillary Clinton did not listen, or chose to ignore, this under-estimated and forgotten segment of the American population.

It should be explained that J.D. Vance is a self-described “hillbilly” whose grandparents migrated from Kentucky Appalachia country to Middletown, Ohio. Their goal was to secure a better economic future for children and grandchildren. These were the descendants of the millions of Scots-Irish immigrants who came to the United States in the eighteenth century and, finding the seaboard already occupied by earlier immigrants, pushed on to the vast backwoods, that mountainous hinterland from Georgia and Alabama and northward to New York State and Ohio.

Vance defines this sub-culture as fiercely loyal to family, faith and country. They are the “poor whites,” lacking a college degree and mostly left behind by massive manufacturing job losses in today’s American economy.

Vance’s grandparents, his beloved Papaw and Mamaw, escaped the poverty of Jackson, Kentucky, in 1946 to find better-paying work in the industrial town of Middletown, Ohio. Papaw was 16 and his new bride was 13 and pregnant.

Hill people like the Vance family were actively recruited by Ohio factories and the young father quickly found work at Armco, a thriving steel company, one of four major local factory employers. Gaining employment proved easier than finding social acceptance among the urban, more educated, already established white population. These reluctant 'now-neighbours' looked askance at the unsophisticated thousands of newcomers descending into their cities and towns.

Two generations later, the transplanted 'hillbillies' have fallen on hard times. Drug use is rampant. (The exciting new reality show, Southern Justice, documents this widespread use of meth, heroin and other illegal chemicals. On camera, the local police spend most of their shifts chasing drug dealers.) Family life has become fractured. Those good jobs in Middletown have moved off shore. The “blue collar economy” has never recovered following the recent Great recession, leaving Vance’s sub-culture pessimistic but also angry.

Vance outlines two options for America’s forgotten Appalachian workers: education or government-dependent welfare. He chose the former path, encouraged by his indomitable Mamaw who pushed school success as the ticket out of poverty and despair. After a stint in the Marines, Vance went on to study law at Yale. He has little sympathy for those able-bodied employables who have chosen the welfare route rather than work, describing how many have learned to scam the food stamp handouts.

One seeming purpose of Hillbilly Elegy is to provide a cathartic journal for Vance to publicly ventilate a mix of love, resentment, fears, sense of loss, anger and other deeply-held, troubling emotions. Emanating from his dysfunctional culture and disrupted family life---five “father figures,” Vance had carried these memories into adulthood.

A second thesis of Hillbilly Elegy is to explain how these “forgotten working class white Americans” gradually shifted their political allegiance, beginning with Ronald Reagan’s presidency, from Democrat to Republican. The Scots-Irish have always been fiercely independent, patriotic, pro-military and anti-establishment—a natural voting base harvest for Trump as it turned out.

Vance as an author is far more successful in achieving his former goal of catharsis than the latter one of socio-political interpretation. In Bob Johnston's view, a far better depiction of the Scots-Irish influence on the shaping of American culture is Born To Fight (Broadway Publisher, 2004), written by the former Virginia senator, Jim Webb. He illustrates how such diverse characters as Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, Teddy Roosevelt and general George Patton were each from Scots-Irish stock.

With Trump’s presidency comes the revived hopes of those “hillbillies” whom Vance has described in his poignant and informative bestseller. In his inaugural address, the new president once again decried those closed American “factories scattered like tombstones across the land.” To the millions of forgotten ones, he thundered: “You will never be ignored again.”

Time will determine whether Donald Trump’s promises will be kept. He may not listen but his advisors will surely and gently remind him that many of those disappeared jobs were lost, not to China or Mexico, but to robots and better industrial technology. The Kentucky coal miner’s “enemy” was not Obama or the EPA. If and when off-shore jobs do return to the United States, it may happen not as a frightened response to Trumpian threats, but as a reaction to Chinese pollution, endemic corruption and frustrating red tape in many off-shore countries, rising wage demands by off-shore workers and escalating transportation costs to ship finished manufactured goods back to the USA.

In the interim, along with J. D. Vance’s transplanted Appalachians, the world anxiously awaits the dawning of this unprecedented new chapter in American history.

What my friend Rev. Bob did not realize when he wrote his piece for the Saugeen Times is that, surprise of all surprises, Vance did not vote for Trump (he voted for Evan McMullin, an independent candidate supported by anti-Trump conservatives) and he has a couple of reasons why..."He (Trump) used rhetoric that's not in the best interest of the party or country. I happen to think that conservatism, when properly applied to the 21st Century, could actually help everybody. And the message of Trump's campaign was obviously not super-appealing to Latino Americans, black Americans and so forth. That really bothered me," he explained in a recent interview. "In some ways even more importantly than that, while I think Trump had clearly diagnosed very real problems, I didn't see any real evidence that he had much in the way of positive solutions that would address a lot of these concerns...I'm sort of taking a wait-and-see approach, but if he doesn't [provide solutions], that's going to leave people in an even worse position than they were four years ago," he added.

I could not agree more, but isn't it ionic that a writer who undoubtedly strongly influenced Donald Trump's controversial election victory, is not convinced about the new president's ability to deliver on out-spoken election campaign rhetoric and chose not to vote for him?

Indeed a crazy time in American politics.  It will undoubtedly get crazier in the next four years and that is a frightening prospect even for those of us watching from a vantage point ever so close to the Canada-U.S. border.

I'm not sure I'm up for it!  Are you?

17 January, 2017

AN INTERESTING HISTORY BEHIND MY VINTAGE PIGGY-BANK

I have an old friend that I have been neglecting for a good 70 years and I recently thought that I should dust him off and feed him something just for old times sake.  I'm talking, of course, about my childhood piggy-bank that has held its age remarkably well considering the passage of time.  In fact the eight-inch tall, hand-painted, molded clay figure it is now considered "vintage" in the antique collector's world.
My 76-year-old piggy-bank.


To tell the truth, I do not recall when I first opened a bank savings account but I do remember saving quite a bit of money in my "piggy", a penny and nickel at a time starting from about three or four years of age. Regretfully, the savings habit of those formative years seemed to fall by the wayside as I grew older.

These days the piggy bank is taken for granted. Kids still love them, but where did they really come from? Why do people around the world stuff loose change into small plastic pigs? Research has revealed some interesting history.

The origin of piggy banks dates back nearly 600 years, in a time before real banks even existed. Before the creation of modern-style banking institutions, people commonly stored their money at home -- not under the mattress (or hay rack), but in common kitchen jars. During The Middle Ages, metal was expensive and seldom used for household wares. Instead, dishes and pots were made of an economical orange-colored clay called pygg. Whenever folks could save an extra coin or two, they dropped it into one of their clay jars -- a pygg pot.

Vowels in early English had different sounds than they do today, so during the time of the Saxons the word pygg would have been pronounced “pug.” But as the pronunciation of “y” changed from a “u” to an “i,” pygg eventually came to be pronounced about like “pig.” Perhaps coincidentally, the Old English word for pigs (the farm animal) was “picga,” with the Middle English word evolving into “pigge,” possibly because of the fact that the animals rolled around in pygg mud and dirt.

Over the next two hundred to three hundred years, as the English language evolved, the clay (pygg) and the animal (pigge) came to be pronounced the same, and Europeans slowly forgot that pygg once referred to the earthenware pots, jars and cups of yesteryear. So in the 19th century when English potters received requests for pygg banks, they started producing banks shaped like pigs. This clever -- albeit accidental -- visual pun appealed to customers and delighted children.

Early models had no hole in the bottom, so the pig had to be broken to get money out. Some people say that’s where we get the expression “breaking the bank,” but serious academics disagree. The idiom “break the bank” means to ruin one financially, or to exhaust one’s resources. The term is believed to originate in gambling, where it means that a player has won more than the banker (the house) can pay.

So that explains where the “pig” part came from, but how about the word “bank.” Way back when, the word “bank” originally meant the same thing as “bench.” You see, when money first started changing hands in Northern Italy, lenders did business in open markets, working over a table. These Medieval Venetian banks were set up in main squares by men who both changed and lent money. Their benches would be laden with currencies from the different trading countries. The Italian word for bench or counter is “banco” from which the English word “bank” is derived. (Some argue this is where the term “broke the bank” comes from. The Italian expression “banca rotta” means “broken bench,” with a broken bench possibly symbolizing that a money lender was out of business.)

I readily admit that this is probably much more than you ever wanted to know about piggy-banks. Like every other tradition, there are those today that maintain that piggy banks are not an effective tool in teaching children wise money-handling habits.

This is where I bow out...I was never a good money handler, but I can't blame it on my vintage piggy-bank who served me well.  I just never earned enough folding money to handle properly after piggy retired!

06 January, 2017

UNDERSTANDING ECCENTRICS AND TODAY'S POLITICAL HOSTILITY

Even the most pragmatic and boringly practical among us, in moments of nostalgia, must confess to having done crazy things on a whim. Ironically, the realistic kind of people often romanticize about those moments in their lives where they followed their hearts and did things in the name of a craze, love or passion which they wouldn’t dream of doing now.

But an eccentric person, in the true sense of the word, is not one who follows his heart and does unusual stuff once in a while. Definition of the word is someone who deviates from an established or usual pattern or style and from conventional or accepted usage or conduct especially in odd or whimsical ways. Edith Sitwell says that geniuses and aristocrats are called eccentric because "they are entirely unafraid of and uninfluenced by the opinions and vagaries of the crowd."

Many of us wish we had courage and originality to be able to live life on our own terms. We may have creativity, but responsibilities and the fear of the consequences of non-conformity make us suppress that fantasy.

Psychological studies point towards certain signs of eccentricity. Some of these could be: a non-conforming attitude, idealistic, intense curiosity, happy obsession with hobbies, knowing very early in his or her childhood they are different from others, highly intelligent, opinionated and outspoken, unusual living or eating habits, not interested in the opinions or company of others, naughty sense of humour and being usually the eldest, or an only child.

Eccentricity is often associated with being unusually gifted. This could mean genius, intellectual giftedness, or creativity. The unusual behaviour could be an outward reflection of extraordinary intelligence, talent or passion. The minds of eccentrics are so original that they cannot conform to societal norms. Eccentricity is also believed to be associated with great wealth. Stories of wealthy business tycoons or celebrities with peculiar idiosyncrasies are legendary.

In this regard, U.S. president-elect Donald Trump, with his outrageous pronouncements, penchant for mistruths, disrespect and illusions of grandeur,  fits the "eccentric" bill perfectly.  Americans voted for The Donald because, down deep they saw a little of themselves in him.  In protest to the status quo in Washington, they made a statement by voting for change -- perhaps the most controversial and potentially dangerous change in political history, bringing with it a general increase in public aggression.  In was not as much a vote for Trump as it was a vote against Obama and his time in the Oval Office.

Closer to home, a still wet-behind-the-ears Justin Trudeau swept to an upset victory in last year's Canadian federal election because he represented a new direction and breath of fresh air.  Several months after the fact, Trudeau bashers are proving to be alive and well. The novelty is wearing off and hostile criticism of "the Trudeau government" is mounting, however warranted or unwarranted.

It is now clear to me that in North America we are increasingly stuck in a cycle of political hostility bordering on outright hatred. Political parties encourage citizens to “take a side,” and taking a side too often entails becoming irrationally defensive over that side, while ruthlessly bashing the other.

This aggression has ultimately resulted in a range of violence, from citizens being assaulted at political conventions for supporting a candidate of their choice, to students being ostracized in classrooms if they dare to share a political view that opposes the majority. Day after day, Facebook and Twitter newsfeeds are filled with one-sided political messages which fuel anger and polarization, while leaving no trace of collaborative solutions to pertinent issues.

How will defending a political party, mainly because it’s “your side,” and hating on the other side, make our country a better place to live? Bashing others, whether it be a person or a political party, does not lead to solutions.

This vicious cycle of aggression is serving as a barrier to collaborative solutions and rational compromise.  So what can you do?

The answer: Stop being a hater! Every citizen has the power to break this cycle of aggression, and to fuel a new cycle of collaboration. Here is how to start:

1) Recognize Defensiveness

We are all guilty. If we have chosen a political party, we have unfortunately become accustomed to being defensive of that party, even before we know the facts (not to mention that the “facts” are often difficult to come by). The first step to ending the cycle of aggression is to recognize our own defensiveness. Ask yourself these questions:

• Do I understand the wants and needs of both sides?
• Do I have all of the facts?
• Can I be sure that my “facts” are viable?
• Will being defensive of “my side” make this country a better place to live?

2) Stop Reacting, Start Listening

Once we recognize that we are being defensive, it is essential that we stop defending and start listening to what others have to say. Ask yourself these questions:

• What is the underlying want or need that is being argued for?
• Do I understand the want or need of all parties?
• Is that want or need a human right?
• Will that want or need cause harm?
• What might be a logical and fair compromise?

3) Recognize Flaws of political parties

Every political party is flawed, including our own. Every political party is guilty of repeatedly committing acts of hate and aggression. And every political party is failing at collaborating with one another in order to reach compromises and create positive change. It is essential that we choose to see and acknowledge these flaws, so that positive progression can be achieved.

Ask yourself these questions:
• Is my political party collaborating across the political spectrum to reach rational compromise and create positive change?
• Is my political party causing harm to anyone or anything?
• Is my political party discriminating against anyone or anything?
• Is my political party respecting human rights of all people?

4) Post Mindfully

What are you posting on social media? We are responsible for fueling the cycle of aggression. One-sided political posts often fuel anger and hate without providing opportunities for collaborative solutions. Instead of posting or sharing one-sided comments, problems or solutions, focus on the need and eliminate the bashing on others.

Before posting something to social media, ask yourself these questions:
• Will this post fuel anger, hate or defensiveness?  Will it offend (even some of my friends)?
• Will this post provide or deter an opportunity for collaborative solutions or rational compromise?
• Does this post bash anyone (a political party or a person)?
• Does this post focus on the need, or focus on the hate?

5) Choose Collaboration

The paradigm of “us versus them” serves as the greatest barrier to progress and solutions. Instead of focusing on the best interest of our political party, we need to focus on the best interest of all citizens, and the nation as a whole. We all have the power to choose collaboration by working to understand all sides of the want or need at hand, and by exploring and inviting compromises and solutions.

Political leaders, regardless of party affiliation, are failing to work together to understand all angles of issues in order to produce progressive solutions. Instead of commending the bashing between political leaders or candidates, ask for collaboration. Recognize that every time a political leader bashes another, they are perpetuating the cycle of aggression, and creating a barrier to collaboration.

Personally I am not impressed, yay I'm offended, by exposure to unsolicited opposition or criticism unaccompanied by the suggestion of a reasoned solution and note of conciliation.  Otherwise, please spare me!  I do not need the aggravation...I already have enough uninvited and unwelcomed negativity to last a lifetime.

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!

01 December, 2016

Learn to discern. Don’t take things at face value.

I've always believed that there are three sides to every story -- the two opposing sides...and the truth. The Greek word discern is anakrino meaning “to distinguish, or separate out so as to investigate by looking throughout.” Discerning isn’t just knowing the difference between good and bad. Discernment is the ability to distinguish good from the truth. Both sides of a story may present compelling views, but if you are really concerned, take time to research the issue.

View with wisdom and compassion all sides to the story. Chances are both sides contain truth behind their intentions. Opposing opinions don’t need to be enemies.  Chances are God is on both sides...Did you ever stop to think of that?

23 October, 2016

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THOSE EMAIL ATTACHMENTS

Internet fraud is not something that only happens to other people...If own own a computer for any purpose, there is no doubt that you have been victimized -- many times.

I found the following information released by the Ontario Provincial Police, to be most informative.

Reading the contents of an email should be safe if you have the latest security patches, but email attachments can be harmful. Email phishing scams can trick you into opening attachments or giving up personal information. They appear to be emails from people, organizations or companies you know or trust, but they're often the gateway to identity theft by automatically installing malware, viruses, worms, and trojans.

In some instances, email attachments are disguised as letters of reference, resumes or information requests and can infiltrate and affect businesses that are involved in legitimate hiring processes. Also known as “spearphishing campaigns”, high-value corporate and governments have been targeted through email attachments to take advantage of previously-unknown security vulnerabilities.

Many email servers will perform virus scanning and remove potentially dangerous attachments, but you can’t rely on this. The easiest way to identify whether a file is dangerous is by its file extension, which tells you the type of file it is. For example, a file with the “.exe” file extension is a Windows program and should NOT be opened. Many email services will block such attachments.

Other file extensions that can run potentially harmful code include “.msi”, “.bat”, “.com”, “.cmd”, “.hta”, “.scr”, “.pif”, “.reg”, “.js”, “.vbs”, “.wsf”, “.cpl”, “.jar” and more. In general, you should only open files with commonly-used attachments that you know are safe.

For example, “.jpg” and “.png” are image files and should be safe. Document file extensions such as “.pdf”, “.docx”, “.xlsx”, and “.pptx” should also be safe — although it’s important to have the latest security patches so malicious types of these files can’t infect systems via security holes in Adobe Reader or Microsoft Office.

If you or a business suspects they’ve been a victim of ‘spearfishing’, contact your local police service, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, report it to the OPP online at http://www.opp.ca/index.php?id=132 or through Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477 (TIPS) athttps://www.tipsubmit.com/start.htm.

For helpful tips and links during Cyber Security Awareness Month, follow the OPP on Twitter (@OPP_News), Facebook and Instagram and using the hashtags #CyberSecurity, #CyberAware and #OPPTips.

Insecure, infected or unencrypted email attachments can risk injecting a number of information and data security threats to your home or workplace environments. Your personal information and business systems need to be safeguarded and it starts right at your inbox.

"When it comes to email attachments, even those from innocent friends and family members, you should exercise extreme caution and assume the worst. Do NOT actually download or run an attachment unless you have a good reason to do so. If you’re not expecting an attachment, treat it with healthy suspicion,” says Superintendent Paul Beesley, Director of OPP Behavioural, Forensic and Electronic Services.

08 October, 2016

A "FULL GLASS" ON THANKSGIVING

Thanksgiving is an opportune time to consider whether we see our glass being half full or half empty. Why do we tend to focus on what is going wrong in our lives but ignore what is going right? Why do I take for granted the faithful rhythm of my heart or the continued function of my limbs, as painful and slow as they may be most of the time? Do I remember with gratitude that I had the good fortune to be born in Canada and not hurricane-battered Haiti, that I have a roof over my head and food on the table or that my wife, while now invalided, still thinks that I am the greatest guy in the world despite the fact that I am often frustrated and feel that we have been deprived by the way our life has "unfairly" unfolded in recent years? 

In spite of trials and tribulations, my “glass” is far more than half-full, when I just take time to rationally assess it.

Each of us can always find some ailment or problem to complain about. Yet, even in these late-life years, chances are that we have much more for which to be thankful. On this weekend of Thanksgiving, let us raise that overflowing glass of blessings and propose a toast, giving thanks for our good fortune.


Here's to your full glass, dear reader!

Can you smell the turkey in the oven?

22 September, 2016

CHRISTIANITY IN THE CONTEXT OF TODAY'S CHANGING WORLD

I believe: “The writing of the Bible was conditioned by the language, thought and setting of its time. The Bible must be read in its historical context.”

We cannot hold on to the past. We know that traditional structures disappear; however, these disappearances have cost dearly. We have responses in ourselves to which we must attend, if we want to appropriately encounter the new world that is bearing us into rapidly changing times.

As a reforming Christian who has withdrawn (temporarily?) from active church participation, I do not believe in scripture as the literal and inerrant word of God. I have come to understand that scripture was inspired by God, but written by human beings who were, just as much as we all are, limited by psychological, sociological, cultural and historical circumstances.

I was recently taken with the words of old friend Wes Denyer: "Scripture is the best ‘word’ we have in trying to understand the will of God for us, but it is not inerrant, and we should not limit God to the words of scripture."

In other words, is it possible, as we gain knowledge and insight, as our vision of humanity is expanded and as the circumstances of the world change, that we may be able to see more clearly the nature of the God who called us into existence?

I believe God is the same yesterday, today and forever, but is it possible our ability to understand who God is, and what God requires of us, may change, develop and grow? For example, in the sixth chapter of the Book of Joshua, after the fall of the city of Jericho, by order of the Lord (the will of God) “they devoted to destruction by the sword all in the city, both men and women, young and old.”

I do not believe for one minute that God ever commanded the slaughter of babies and old people! However, what I can understand is that people who lived in a time of continual fear and danger of violent death, and where life was “poor, nasty, brutish, and short” – would would be consistent with the nature of their own lives. They could imagine a God who called upon them to kill every man, woman and child, because that was the kind of world in which they lived.

To say that our understanding of who God was in the darkness of those times should continue to be the God we worship in 2016 is to limit God. We cannot continue to impose those cultural, historical and physical circumstances of the past on our understanding of God today.


As a for-instance and as society has advanced, in the past century our North American churches (to their credit) have moved away from gender bias and male-only leadership, racial bigotry and anti-gay positioning. Apologies have been made and reconciliation, in a number of instances, is ongoing.  

So, still staying within the Old Testament, we find the same Hebrew people who believed God told them to commit genocide, developing and growing into a new understanding of God.  We read things like:

• “They will beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, neither will they learn war any more” (Micah 4:3).

• “What does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)

• When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. Love him as yourself (Leviticus 19:34).

We learn and we grow, albeit slowly and often reluctantly.  We have a way to go...We should all attempt to understand our world and its people in new ways, allowing us to live with greater compassion and justice, with more freedom and opportunities for all. In so doing, we set God free from our old and limited (religious) prejudices, narrow-minded thinking, intolerance, racism and hatred.

God doesn’t change…but we can!  So must our churches, if they wish to remain relevant.


Sadly, however, I have to concede that we'll never completely catch up to the speed of change in our brief lifetimes.  We're only human, limited by circumstances that are not necessarily of our own making.

We tend to blindly cling to, even fight for, centuries-old traditions and belief systems because we think that archaic biblical scriptures still apply to us in the 21st Century.

Give the God of today more credit than that!  Look at the reality of the world freely and without prejudice.  The wise individual is the one who sees reality as it really is and who looks into the depths of things. We are not taken out of the world but thrust into the midst of the fray for that is the place that, in Christ, God has made his own.

Dream the impossible dream...We need to continually pray individually and corporately for an understanding that has universal acceptance.  

08 September, 2016

A SWAN SONG: INTUITION TELLING ME IT'S TIME TO MOVE AWAY AND BEYOND

I find it difficult to have anything resembling a real conversation with younger people today...Two or three-word utterances at best.  Equally unsettling is the reality that, for the most part, anything I write is taken with a grain of salt as coming from an old man who espouses old-fashioned ideas and values and is, at best, tolerated and given quick dismissal.

This morning I happened to eaves-drop on a conversation between a couple of folks in my age category. They mutually agreed in lamenting that "minding their own business" had become a reality in their lives and besides, "no one really listens anymore."  I could not help but think "Welcome to the club!"

For some time now I have struggled with the thought, or intuition, that I am wasting my time (countless hours of mind-rendering preparation) in writing pieces that in reality go absolutely nowhere.  The gratification in pride of authorship wanes in the isolation of advanced age and the realization that more and more as life progresses, one tends to talk primarily to oneself.

Is it healthy to listen to, and act upon, intuition?  I truly think so!

I read recently that "Intuition tells us intimate and important things nobody else will—and it will also tell you things your own mind will argue with." As a culture, we have learned to believe that being rational is what should prevail when making decisions. But what about our “inner voice,” our gut feeling -- that “little something” instinctual from within, which tells us how we feel beneath those layers of logic?

Intuition can be either a moment where you instinctively know if something IS right—or isn’t right. It’s our inner voice that “that just knows,” and it does understand what uniquely, sometimes seemingly illogically, will make you happy. It bridges the gap between between instinct and reason, between the conscious and unconscious mind.

Science tells us that only 20 percent of the brain’s gray matter is used for conscious thoughts, while 80 percent is dedicated to non-conscious thoughts.

What is Intuition?  Albert Einstein once said that it is our most valuable asset, and one of our most unused senses. He described it as “a feeling for the order lying behind the appearance of something.” Sometimes it is referred to as gut feeling, sixth sense, innate wisdom, inner sense, instinct, inner voice, or spiritual guide.

Many people will have an intuitive flash as they’re falling asleep or just waking up. It’s often described as a flash of understanding that can cut through our defense systems and allow a deep truth to be revealed.

Commonly, one's real life experience is that we walk into a house for rent or sale, and instantly know it’s the right place to live. For some married couples, it took just one look to recognize their partner in life. Dogs are known to howl at the moment of their master’s death, even if they’re separated by thousands of miles. And time after time, women will say that they had ‘a funny feeling’ about something or someone dangerous. Throughout history and in every culture, the communication of our intuition happens repeatedly in ways that current science can’t explain.

When you talk in depth to people about how they made their important life choices, the story often includes plot twists due to unplanned serendipitous coincidences, magic happening, and “going with their gut.” At some point in life, the journey gets kind of loose, and it is at that moment that the intuition is the right navigating tool -- it is alert to signs of change and opportunity.

We read the signs and omens of what life is saying to us through our intuition. Just as a movie director hints early in a film about a future plot development, hooking us into the story with a glimpse of how things might turn out—the intuition hooks us into our own journey in life. It’s a point at which we understand something new, or know something to be true.

Usually, the intuition comes and goes, informing abruptly, but it can also be called up at will. Whether out-of-the-blue or consciously conjured, it can be instantly there for you once you begin to exercise it.

The intuition’s most important role is that it alerts us to the path, people, and circumstances that we will uniquely find fulfilling. Using intuition or sixth sense is just like working a muscle. It will get stronger the more you use it. We often hesitate to follow our intuition out of fear. Usually, we are afraid of the changes in our own life that our actions will bring.

Let's face it...The inescapable realities of aging are no laughing matter. Even worse, there are a host of environmental and lifestyle factors that are constantly preying on the youth of every cell of our body. Things that turned my crank even five, 10 or 15 years ago ultimately lose their appeal and take effort to sustain, particularly in regards to relationships and communications.  The all-too-noble impulse to motivate and impart reasoned thinking on the outside chance that at least "someone out there will relate" suddenly becomes an idealistic expectation that cannot be justified.

Don't get me wrong, however.  Writing has been a passion for me...It filled a need.  For the most part, it was a labor of love that allowed me to express otherwise suppressed emotions and to share bits of human interest that held special meaning for me.  Every one of the now more than 800 posts on Wrights Lane in the past nine years was a sincere expression of myself. I am grateful for the modest following of readers that stayed with me and, I think, understood where I was coming from most of the time.

This is all by way of saying that my intuition is telling me that, while there is certain gratification in written pontification, a price is being paid -- a price that I can no longer afford.  I have no reason to fear necessary change because it is in my best interest.  It is now time for me to, as much as possible, eliminate stress-inflicted physical and mental clutter and part of the solution is to cease trying to influence the thinking of others who I barely know (or do not know at all) and to stop worrying about resultant perceptions.

I have very little left to offer these days and when I do, the over-riding impression is that no one listens anyway and very few really genuinely care about the message(s) I try to impart.

Why waste time that is better expended closer to home...Like keeping sane at a time in life when new focus is required, when personal needs and responsibilities increase in concert with diminishing coping mechanisms.  Sought-after gratification is better derived from kindly and thoughtful first-person intercourse with those I encounter on a daily basis, fully prepared still to win some and to occasionally lose some.

Intuition can be life-preserving, if only we listen to it and ultimately accept change when warranted.

If my posts on Wrights Lane are increasingly few and far between in the future, you will now know the reason why.

I am bowing to age-acquired intuition and the associated reality that comes along with it!

05 September, 2016

DRESDEN BLOG SITE SPRUCE UP

Anyone who has followed my "Dresden: Father and Son Turn Back the Clock" musings may be interested in checking out recent changes I have made to the web site.  Just click http://dicktheblogster3.blogspot.ca/
The downtown Dresden that I remember.

30 August, 2016

ON BUILDING A TRUST BRIDGE TO INTIMACY

She lived on an island which, over time, had been formed between two rivers. This island was named “Safety” because it provided sanctuary for those seeking its shelter. One river was called “Hurt” because its bubbling rock-laden rapids and swirling whirlpools had inflicted long-lasting injury on anyone whose boat had capsized during a past voyage. The second river, a wider one, was known as “Fear” because its deep, uncharted waters evoked anxiety in any would-be traveler thinking of crossing it to reach the unexplored far shore.

She had systematically built a strong buttress, a stone block wall around her island to prevent the river waters from touching her. Unintentionally, but unfortunately, this defense also resulted in keeping herself isolated from the outside world. Daily life on her island passed uneventfully as she kept busy fulfilling her responsibilities and duties.

Yet, despite her security and hours-filling activities, she yearned for something more, something intimate, a deeper closeness to another human being with whom she could finally be real and transparent. This dream could only be realized on the mainland. There was certainly nothing to be gained by seeking to cross the River Hurt. That would only take her back in a wrong direction and reawaken old pain.

She resolved to attempt a crossing of the River Fear. Several times she approached its shores, only to turn back in understandable panic. What if I drown? What if I get injured in my voyage? I have no map to guide me around any hidden shoals. Several times she convinced herself to stay put, to continue to live on Safety Island. In doing so, she would never have to risk disappointment or worse, if the crossing failed.

Half asleep, but on her knees in prayer, in the middle of a cloudless, moon-brightened night, she at last found the answer. Rather than attempt a dangerous crossing alone by boat, she would build a bridge across the Fear River. But what materials could she find to construct this span?

All the while, an answer had literally been all around her; she would take down the protective stone wall, block by block and use those sturdy rocks to build her bridge. She would name it “Trust Bridge” because she would need to rely on its strength to carry her across to the far shore. This new challenge would now have to be given its rightful priority. She resolved to set aside some routine daily tasks and hurried through other distracting demands on her time. The real work could then begin, albeit not without residual anxiety and doubt.

Meanwhile, on the mainland, another human being, admiring her effort and feeling compassion, began to work on the far end of that bridge, resolving to help by meeting her half-way. In time and with much expended energy and emotion, their work was nearly completed.

As she began to set the last stone in place to close the span, she looked down at the River Fear rushing by far below. She hesitated and might have turned around to regain that familiar sanctuary now behind. But the helper reached out a hand which she grasped and held tightly. Together they carefully laid the last rock in place and rested side by side, being present for each other.

Once the Trust Bridge had been completed, she returned to Safety Island, not to stay, but to retrieve her belongings. In one suitcase she carried her negative baggage: her anger, her fears, her guilt and her sadness, emotions which she had kept locked away on the island. Crossing the Trust Bridge, she now opened her suitcase and unpacked these feelings in the presence of her friend. The friend quietly listened, tried to understand and then accepted these difficult emotions without judgment, condemnation nor rejection.

In her other suitcase, a lighter one, she brought her unmet needs for affirmation, recognition, companionship and love. Her friend again listened, then responded with empathy, reassurance and unconditional love. Together they had discovered intimacy.

As their eyes were drawn to Safety Island, they saw the river waters slowly encroaching on the now-defenseless land until, at last, it disappeared beneath the waves. She watched without concern. She no longer needed its protection. The Catholic theologian, Henri Nouwen, would have understood this allegory: He stated:

"If fear is the great enemy of intimacy, love is its greatest friend."

The “She” in this story is any of us who hides behind protective walls of a self-constructed sanctuary to avoid the pain of past and future hurt. In doing so we also deny ourselves the hope of future love and intimacy.

“Other person” is the helper: maybe a spouse, a friend, a therapist or for some religious others, the Christ figure. To risk intimacy -- to risk being real in relationship, to become transparent -- we must first build that bridge we call trust. We always need someone at the other end, someone who will invite us into intimacy. To walk across that bridge can be scary but almost always well worth the risk.

We are about to move into a new Fall season. May we also, as opportunities arise, be able and willing to enter a new season in our life journey -- a period of time in the calendar year that offers hope and potential for the intimacy we all crave, if only we have trust in building a bridge that will enable us to reach out and grasp a receptive hand...A hand that may well have been there all along.

28 August, 2016

WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO GOOD OLD LETTER WRITING?

Letter writing is truly a lost art -- a vintage skill, if you will. The flow of the pen gracefully etching out your thoughts to someone…

The mere idea of letter writing gives me cause to pause. I fully acknowledge how crazy it is today to think about letter writing in this text-crazed society where attention spans are about five minutes long and where we can’t be bothered typing full words, using proper grammar or punctuation.

Letters used to be a staple of communication. Sending news, keeping war-separated lovers connected, sharing a tasty bit of gossip or a way to make a friend half way around the world. Letters record our thoughts, our history. Letters, in the day, helped maintain life-long friendships and nurture family connections.

There is nothing quite like the personal touch of a handwritten letter -- the paper filled with the ink of someone’s pen; and the handwriting that is unmistakably their own. Handwriting takes effort and a degree of practice (or lack of it).  It is not a font downloaded from a computer program. There is simply nothing quite as personal as someone’s handwriting.

A text or an e-mail is not usually well thought out. It is merely a convenient way to send a hasty greeting, a few thoughts or a list of details of some kind in a business sense. But letter writing takes time, effort and reflection to convey thoughts, emotions, expressions of love and news of importance.

Long after we are gone, no one will care about the million electronic texts we may have generated. But a letter will last like a saved treasure. It can even be passed down to future generations. Can you think of a single email that would be worth printing out and storing away for posterity? Letters are legacy!

I have several letters written almost 100 years ago by a grandparent and an aunt and uncle, all of whom passed away before I was born, but I cherish them as a link to the past and an otherwise missed family connection.  I know them through their written words.
Gladys (left) and Jeannie, life-time pen pals.

I came across a story earlier this week that exemplifies the impact that letters can have in people's lives.

There was a time when people became what was known as 'pen pals' and wrote letters back and forth. In the back of magazines, there were classified ads that also had a category 'Pen Pal Wanted'. You could have the magazine post your name and age and a postal box to which replies could be made.

When Gladys Diacur placed an ad in 1943, little did she know that it would result in a life-long friendship.  "I must have had 100 responses," says Diacur, "and I met approximately 11 of them but we never hit it off. Then I met Jeannie O'Reilly and 73 years later we are still the best of friends."

For 73 years, from the time they were 12 and 13, the two women corresponded almost weekly, although one lived in Hamilton and the other in nearby St. Catherines.

O'Reilly now lives in a Southampton home for seniors and, when she had her own home, Diacur drove from the city almost every summer to visit. A stroke resulted in her not being able to drive her car any longer but, on Tuesday, August 23rd, she was driven by a friend and the two pen pals got together once again to reminisce over old times.

They laughed and talked about all the boys they had written about in their teens ... things that only teenage girls share with each other.  They kept all their letters over the years but, unfortunately, a fire destroyed O'Reilly's copies some time ago.

For Jeannie O'Reilly and Gladys Diacur, now both in their eighties, those good-time days are gone but they remember writing the letters as though it were yesterday and, for them, they've had a friendship to treasure and one that very few people today will ever know.  Good for them!...Too bad for most others who live in today's cold world of electronic technology and abbreviated, impersonal communications.

21 August, 2016

AUGUST 16, 1977: THE DAY THE MUSIC DIED

August is a significant month for fans of Elvis Presley. In August, 1953, a young man nervously entered the office of Sun Records in Memphis. His only ambition was to record a song for his mother. In August 1977, at age 42, that same man died, but far too soon.

Born on January 8, 1935, in Tupelo, Mississippi, Elvis Aaron Presley came from very humble beginnings and grew up to become one of the biggest names in the history of rock 'n' roll.  His early years have been widely documented -- his family’s financial struggles, his unpopularity at high school where he was considered to be “strange”, his belonging to a Pentecostal Church where he was first exposed to lively Gospel music. Like many of us in the 1950s, he slicked back his thick black hair with Vaseline. He loved playing his child-sized guitar.
An original photograph of Elvis Presley autographed
 and inscribed to songwriter and composer Irving
Berlin on auction in 2012 in New York City. 

I can easily recall that hot, afternoon in July, 1954, when I was in my bedroom listening to CJBC Radio 1010 in Toronto on my Northern Electric box radio. Around 4:30, the deep-voiced announcer introduced a recording by some new singer who was beginning to make a name for himself south of the border. "I think we’re going to be hearing a lot more from this new artist,” he advised his audience.

The song was "Blue Moon Of Kentucky", a bluegrass standard which Elvis sang with his own unique styling. (Wikipedia notes an earlier encounter where the youthful, would-be singer was confronted by a receptionist during his initial foray into Sun Studios. She asked him who he sounded like. His laconic reply? “I don’t sound like nobody.”)

My next vivid memory of  hearing an Elvis song comes from the summer of 1956 when "Blue Suede Shoes" was a popular juke box selection in a restaurant I frequented in St.Thomas, ON. I remember thinking how different the lyrics and music were, not to mention the then unconventional, warbling voice of the young man singing it.   Blue Suede Shoes remains one of my favorites to this day.

"Well
it's, one for the money Two
for the show Three
to get ready Now
go cat, go, But

don't you step on My
blue suede shoes You
can do anything But
lay off of my blue suede shoes..."



Blue Suede Shoes was written by Carl Perkins in late 1955. There are two versions of how Perkins came to write the song. Perkins had said that he played for a high school dance in Jackson, Tennessee, on December 4, 1955. During the dance, he spotted a boy with blue suede shoes dancing with a gorgeous girl. The boy told her, "Uh-uh! Don't step on my blue suede shoes!" Perkins couldn't get the image out of his mind. He awoke at three o'clock the next morning with the lyrics to Blue Suede Shoes and wrote them down on a brown paper potato sack. Originally, the first line was "One for the money, two for the show, three get ready, and go, man, go". But while recording the song at Sun Records, Perkins substituted the word cat for man. That opening phrase was borrowed from Bill Haley's 1953 recording What 'Cha Gonna Do (Essex 321).

Interestingly, Johnny Cash told a different story about the origin of Blue Suede Shoes. While Perkins, Elvis, and Cash were performing in Amory, Mississippi, one night in 1955, Cash told Perkins about a black sergeant he had in the Air Force by the name of C.V. White. Sgt. White would frequently step into Cash's room and ask him how he (White) looked and then say, "Just don't step on my blue suede shoes!" (Never mind that Sgt. White was wearing regulation Air Force shoes). Perkins thought that Cash's story was a good idea for a song. While Elvis was performing on stage one night Perkins, his close pal and frequent member of the Presley band, is said to have written Blue Suede Shoes.

Whatever the true story, Perkins's Blue Suede Shoes (Sun 234) was released on January 1, 1956. By March it was #4 on Billboard's Top 100 chart, #2 on the country chart (Heartbreak Hotel kept it from being number one), and #2 on the rhythm and blues chart, the first song in music history to reach all three charts. Needless to say, the first true rock-a-billy hit, Blue Suede Shoes was a million-seller.

I followed The Pelvis' early TV appearances on then-popular programs the Dorsey Brothers, Steve Allen and Milton Berle. Yet, it was his infamous performance during the Ed Sullivan Show on September 9, 1956, which provoked a controversy which has now become a legend of pop culture. Naturally, I am referring to his “obscene” gyrations which Sullivan insisted not be shown to the watching audience. To my deep disappointment, I saw only Elvis’s top half! On that historic night, an unheard-of 82 per cent of all American television sets were tuned in to that show.

One of my few regrets in life was missing Elvis’s only Toronto appearance when he performed in Maple Leaf Gardens on April 2, 1957. Local conservative music critics and church leaders were appalled by the adulation he received from hysterically-screaming and crying young female fans.

Elvis’s army induction, his movie career and turbulent marriage are too well-known to need any review here. I would sooner focus on his tragic final years. My memory this time is that of a morbidly overweight, sequined, drugged, sweating, tragic figure performing in a gospel concert. As he sang the old Thomas Dorsey hymn “Precious Lord, Take My Hand,” I had the distinctly-sad impression that he had at that moment returned to his childhood faith. He was asking God, through this song, to deliver him from the pain and emptiness of his life.

Precious Lord, take my hand, lead me on, let me stand,
I am tired, I am weak, I am worn; through the storm, through the night,
Lead me on to the light: take my hand, precious Lord, lead me home.


Elvis Presley died on August 16, 1977. A candlelight vigil was held at his Graceland home earlier this month. If he were still living, The King would be 81 years old.  It hardly seems possible.

With his innovative and flamboyant piano playing style, the unforgettable Jerry Lee Lewis (left) also emerged as one of rock music’s early showmen in the 1950s, along with Elvis Presley. Lewis eventually ended up in Memphis, Tennessee, where he found work as a studio musician for Sun Studios. In 1956, he recorded his first single, a cover of Ray Price’s “Crazy Arms”. Lewis also worked on some recording sessions with Carl Perkins at the time. While at Sun Studios, he and Perkins jammed with Elvis and Johnny Cash, as seen in this historic, collector's-item photo. The impromptu session by the “Million Dollar Quartet” was recorded at the time, but it was not released until much later. Lewis is the only member of the famous chance collaboration still living. He too remains one of my all-time favorite and controversial raw-talent music personalities...To me "The Killer" represents the epitome of rollicking, infectious, toe-tapping fun music. He still maintains that there was no rock n' roll before he came on the scene and that Elvis was just a country boy by comparison.  Far be it from me to enter that debate.

15 August, 2016

THERE'S A "DASH" IN EVERYONE'S LIFE SPAN

I frequently incorporate a "dash" in things that I write...While dashes are almost never required by the laws of grammar and punctuation, the use of a "--" has become part of my writing style and a convenient way of placing emphasis and combining follow-up thoughts.

However, after reading Robert (Uncle Bob)  William Caster's self-composed obituary in The Toronto Star last week, I will never think of a dash in the same way again.  In fact, I will hereafter remember the late Bob Caster every time I type a dash in any of my text.

In his unusual obituary which took up more than 16 double-column inches in The Star (must have cost a small fortune), Bob talked about the uncomfortable reality of the subject of death.  He recalled listening to a minister speaking at the funeral of his aunt and referring to the dates appearing in her obituary and no doubt eventually on her grave marker.

The minister noted that first came the date of the aunt's birth followed by a "dash" and the date of the her death. Bob went on to elaborate: "The dates told us how many years she lived on earth, but what mattered most of all was the dash between those years because it represented the passing of time she spent on this earth and only those who knew and loved her know what that little dash contained."

This all started our Bob thinking about his own dash -- who he was and what were the highlights of his life -- so he decided to write a brief summary to fill his dash and to represent the passing of time he spent on earth.  That carefully crafted summary, "The Dash in my life", formed the basis of the obituary that stood out so prominently from all the stereotypical others published in the newspaper that day.

Strongly resembling TV producer and host Elwy Yost, Bob's was a simple but busy life, outliving two wives, always surrounded by loving family and good friends.  A committed Christian, he was very active in his church and community.  He received "an average education" and worked by his admission at many different and interesting jobs.

"I never became President or CEO but I experience(d) and enjoy(ed) great wealth -- not in a monetary sense but in the sense that I was able to see, feel, hear, talk, walk and taste.  I never went naked, cold, hungry or without love.  I never experienced war or hatred.  I had freedom of speech, expression, religion and travel, the opportunity to make a living and to enjoy my 20-year retirement," he empathized.

I can totally relate to Bob Caster's "dash."  He lived life to the fullest.  He lived and let live.  He was fair, honest and accepted others as he wanted others to accept him. I never met Bob but he sure sounded like my kind of guy!

At his request, cremation took place before his obituary actually ran for two days in The Star.  He insisted on no floral or monetary tributes.  "If for some reason you wish to remember me, please do it with a kind smile, deed, word, a simple phone call or by a visit to someone who needs you..." were the heartfelt, concluding words in Bob's obituary.

A Memorial Service and Celebration of Bob Caster's Life, more correctly his "dash" (June 4, 1937 - July 27, 2016), was held on Thursday evening, August 11, 2016, at the Stephen Leacock Museum in Orillia.

As I put together this item for Wrights Lane, I realized that while all dashes are identical in appearance, everyone ends up with one that is completely unique.  I wondered too what my own dash would eventually look like...Quite frankly, I have a feeling that it would not be worth a dash, but that's another story and we won't go there!

I hope that you derive a degree of satisfaction from your own dash, dear reader...After all, it will someday represent your life -- start to finish.  It is never too late to add a small legacy to it!