Tuesday, December 27, 2011

"Life Is Just A Bowl Of Cherries"

There's an old country tune that could have been written with me in mind.

"In The Corner Of My Mind There Stands A Jukebox". And it's like there really is a jukebox there, because most anything that happens reminds me of a song.

Like everyone, I occasionally see a bumpy stretch coming up in the road ahead. But before I can dwell on any of those bumps in the road, my Guardian Angel comes to the rescue--slipping some coins into that juke box, and punching in an appropriate song to allay any fears, and lighten my load.

Quite often, the song that comes front and center is, "Life Is Just A Bowl Of Cherries". Seconds later I'm my usual upbeat self.

And as 2011 makes way for 2012, it's a perfect song for these troubled, difficult times. Its history is a reminder that today's worries and woes are not the worst ever. It was written in 1931--buoying the spirits of folks at the start of the Great Depression.

As to the words in the title, the dictionaries tell us they mean, "Life is carefree". My favorite part of the lyrics is about loss--be it wealth, health, or love.

"The best things in life to you are just loaned;
So how can you lose, what you never owned."

Next time you feel a need for some inner comfort, and a little pep in your step, go to Google, type the title, and sing along with "Life Is Just A Bowl Of Cherries". Bet you'll feel just a little bit better.

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Day After Christmas

'Tis the day after Christmas, and all through the land,
Folks have differing thoughts 'bout the season at hand.

Some sigh with relief that it soon will be past,
While the thought that its over leaves others aghast.

However you feel, you should be of good cheer,
For more special times so soon will be here.

Holidays, events, and birthdays galore.
Fun times with family and friends by the score.

Then as surely as the seasons will all come and go,
Once again we'll have Christmas -- most welcome I know.

While there may be some, who that last line will hate,
Your old cuz'n Bill says, "I hardly can wait!".

Saturday, December 24, 2011

What Was It Really Like -- That "Silent Night"?

This time of year, nativity scenes depict a beautiful setting on a night of peace and tranquility--when "all is calm, all is bright".

But the mental image we have of the birth of the Christ child brings us so much joy, that we seldom pause to consider what it must have really been like that night of nights.

Consider that it was winter and that it was cold. How uncomfortable it must have been for a young woman who had just given birth. How difficult and frightening it must have been while trying to keep warm a newborn baby--to keep the chilly night air from infant lungs.

And the shelter? A stable. A place for keeping farm animals. And if there was no room in the inn, then that stable must surely have been full of foul-smelling stock. And there could have been little in the way of privacy.

It all doesn't add up to a situation conducive to sleep or rest for mother or child. It must surely have been a very long night.

Just imagine, too, the stress that must have been present on that journey to Bethlehem, and then beyond--traveling crowded roads with a newborn child. It took strong people to get through that night and that journey.

Did the Good Lord select a man, and a young woman, who were already strong of body and spirit; or did the Good Lord take two very ordinary people, and give them the strength and guidance that was needed?

There will always be many unanswered questions about that very special event that occurred some 2,000 years ago; and there are those who will always remind us that we do not know with any certainty the details of the night Christ was born. And that is true.

But whether we take every detail as provided by the Bible as fact, or not, it is a wonderful feeling to believe that there was a night, O Holy Night, that changed the world and gave us hope.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Home For The Holidays

There's no place like home for the holidays.

But again this year, there will be millions of Americans who can't make it home, or have no home to go to.

For many of our military men and women, it's Christmas far from home. All too many of them will be putting themselves in harm's way so that the rest of us can enjoy the holiday in relative peace and tranquility.

Then, there are the countless homeless Americans who will spend Christmas on the street, or in the woods, or wandering aimlessly about.

I don't believe that folks who have never experienced being away from a "homey" atmosphere at holiday time can ever fully appreciate the longing in those who can't be home, or have no home.

I've experienced that longing, and I'm glad I did. It makes me appreciate all the more the happy home I now enjoy.

And it gives added pleasure to finding another coin or two for the Christmas kettle.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Going Through The Christmas Season

Most of the time, going through the Christmas season makes for a wonderful time of year. For most of us, it's the favorite time of year.

But for some of us, Christmas is fraught with sad memories of Christmases past, or worries about Christmas present. It can be the loss of a loved one, an illness, financial concerns, or estrangement from family or friends.

Then--"going through" the holidays becomes "getting through" the holidays. It all depends upon life experiences and the situation at hand.

And how we view Christmastime can change in a heartbeat. A time of year that has long held beautiful memories, can suddenly become a time of pain.

There was a Christmas Eve when I witnessed such a change. It was years ago, when I was working in Washington, and was on my way home to be with family.. I had flown to Pittsburgh en route to West Virginia.

On arrival at the Pittsburgh airport, there was time to spare before meeting up with the ground transportation that would complete the trip home for the holidays. I stopped by the airport lounge, and full of the Christmas spirit, I plopped happily onto a stool, and immediately said "Merry Christmas" to the gentleman next to me.

He managed a faint smile and replied, "Thank you, but I lost my wife last year at this time. It won't be much of a Christmas".

Over the years, I've enjoyed "going through" more than my fair share of happy holiday seasons. There have been, however, times when it was emotionally difficult just "getting through" Christmas.

But this I know. There will always be happy memories of Christmases past, that I can conjure up to more than offset any future Christmas that might in some way be painful.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

"The Thrill Of Hope"

Most everyone has a favorite Christmas carol. Mine is "O Holy Night".

It's been that way since childhood, and the music and the lyrics excite me as much in 2011 as they did more than 60 years ago, when first I heard it sung.

It was at a Christmastime school assembly. I was 10 or 11 at the time, and Shannon Haugh was a couple of years older. I have no recall of Shannon before that afternoon, and I never saw, or heard from, or about her, after that day.

But in just three or four minutes, she gave me an indelible memory with her breathtaking rendition of "O Holy Night". While she was singing, and for a few seconds after the last note, the silence was deafening. And then the audience erupted in applause--in appreciation for what they had heard.

I've thoroughly enjoyed other versions of this classic carol, but none as much as Shannon's. I can still see the face, and hear the voice, and feel the emotion.

There must be countless other people worldwide for whom "O Holy Night" is very special. And I wonder if some of them think, as I do, about four words in the song--"The thrill of hope".

For that is the true meaning of Christmas--hope.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

"Ring Those Christmas Bells!"

On my way into the super market yesterday, the sight and sound of a Salvation Army Christmas kettle took me back to another Christmas season--long ago and far away.

Way back in the fifties, in West Virginia, our HI-Y Club, a high school offshoot of the YMCA, was called upon to man a Salvation Army kettle during the holiday season.

We were given the busiest location in downtown Wheeling, and we were provided with a covered booth and a p.a. system, and what was then called a "record player".

What a time we had--ringing those bells and greeting folks and thanking donors and playing Christmas carols that could be heard for blocks up and down Market Street.

And when the day was over, how satisfying to be invited into the bank to watch as coins were sorted and the money was counted. We were given the opportunity, albeit in a very small way, to help folks we did not know.

Those bright red Salvation Army kettles, that now raise money worldwide, are the result of a modest beginning; as the very first kettle was simply a crab pot that was placed on a dock in San Francisco in 1891.

Then, as now, the money raised was used to provide holiday meals, and make Christmas a little brighter for needy families, as well as to provide other services year round.

As I left the market yesterday, and passed again that bright red kettle, I exchanged Christmas greetings with a young lady who was enthusiastically ringing a bell.

On the way home, I found myself wondering if some day, years from now, that young lady would remember her Salvation Army Christmas time with the fondness that I do.

(Editor's note: This story contains excerpts from a blog that appeared on December 16, 2010.)

Monday, December 19, 2011

Term Limits -- Yes Or No?

Once again, term limits is a subject of interest--and controversy.

The advisability of term limits for Congress is an issue that has been brought up by two Republican Presidential candidates in recent debates.

Texas Governor Rick Perry is proposing a part-time Congress, which would get part-time pay. The state of Texas now operates with a part-time legislature.

Former Ambassador to China, and two-term Utah Governor Jon Huntsman is urging an immediate change to term limits for Congress.

Both candidates offer convincing arguments for their point of view, and the two-term limit for America's President has worked well. But Congress is a different animal.

The biggest complaint about the way Congress is currently elected and serves, is that entrenched, long-serving Representatives and Senators accrue too many perks and too much power.

This is all-too-often true, but possibly correctable. It is the committee chairmanships that seniority dictates be given to the longest-serving lawmakers that provides most of the power and much of the perks.

Rotating chairmanships without regard to time in office would help preclude the power and prevent the perks. Congress would then retain the wisdom, and benefit from the experience of its Congressional senior citizens.

Christmas Gifts That Keep On Giving

Santa Claus has always been good to me. Perhaps it's because he knows that I have always believed in him.

Yep, I'm one of those fortunate folks who believes in what I can not see, and I find that idea both comforting, and completely rational. I can't see God or Heaven either, but, like most people, I still believe. It's a feeling that's hard to explain.

So, yes, I do believe in Santa Claus, and I am so grateful that in recent years he has been coming early with fantastic presents. Santa didn't have these gifts in his bag, and they aren't gifts he could wrap, and they didn't come from his workshop.

Last year at this time, Santa arranged with one of his helpers to bring me the gift of better vision. Dr. Hazem Samy, Director of Neuro Opthamology at the University of Florida, brightened my Christmas through surgery that others wouldn't, or couldn't do.

This year, Santa again came early--a few weeks ago--when he dropped off two helpers to make my Christmas merrier, and to provide continuing joy long after the holidays are past.

Carol and Heidi brought with them the gift of laughter. While marvelously full of fun, Carol is also good for interesting conversation. Heidi not so much. She just tilts her head a bit and sort of smiles. Heidi is a schnauser.

How wonderful are the gifts that keep on giving.

(Editor's Note: This article is a revised version of a blog originally published December 15, 2010.)

Sunday, December 18, 2011

It's Beginning To Feel A Lot Like Christmas

For most of us, Christmas week brings mixed emotions.

The holiday comes on so fast, and there never seems to be enough time in the day. Then all-too-often there isn't enough money to match our means with our Christmas wishes.

But there is such a wonderful upside to Christmas that lack of time or money doesn't have to matter. There's lights and there's music. There's family and friends. There's that special feeling we call the Christmas spirit.

Again this holiday season, stories about Christmas will appear in this space each day through December 25. It is a fervent Christmas wish of mine that you might enjoy reading them as much as I have enjoyed writing them.

Following is a personal favorite Christmas story from a year ago--about a little girl named Virginia.

Yes, There Really Was A Virginia!

Years after the now-defunct New York Sun newspaper published an editorial titled, "Yes Virginia, There Is A Santa Claus"--doubts emerged about the journalistic masterpiece.

The editorial, written by Francis Church, appeared September 21, 1897, in response to a question from a little girl. Eight-year old Virginia O'Hanlon wanted to know if there really is a Santa Claus.

The doubts that emerged about the editorial had nothing to do with whether there is a Santa Claus, or not. The questions that arose were whether there really was a Virginia, and if so, did she really write the letter.

Many people found it hard to believe that an eight-year old girl could have composed something so beautiful; so well-worded.

That there really was a Virginia O'Hanlon was eventually proven beyond a shadow of a doubt, through records that confirm her birth, in 1889, and her death, in 1971.
Further research revealed that Virginia O'Hanlon graduated from Hunter College, and received a Master's degree from Columbia University, and obtained a doctorate from Fordham University. Records also indicate that she became a teacher, and then a principal, before retiring in 1959.

But even after it was proven that there really was a Virginia, doubts remained about the veracity of the letter. Did this eight-year old child really write it?

The fact that Virginia was, indeed, the author, was finally authenticated by an appraiser in 1998, and the letter has been valued at $20,000. to $30,000.

So, ye of little faith, know that there really was a Virginia, just as surely as there really is a Santa Claus.

by William Laney, December 13, 2010

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Disappointment With The Democrats

Disappointment isn't a strong enough word to describe how I'm feeling today about Congressional Democrats. The better word--one I seldom use--is disgust.

Word leaking out from Capitol Hill overnight tells us that Democrats are about to cave on their rightfully strong insistence that the payroll tax cut extension be paid for by applying a surcharge on income over a million dollars.

Perhaps there is a reasonable explanation, or political strategy that the public is unaware of.. If so, let's hear it.

Otherwise, caving in--again--to Republican refusal to have the wealthiest of Americans pay their fair share is almost unforgivable.

The vast majority of Americans want to see a tax increase on income over a million dollars. That majority includes many of the millionaires and billionaires who would be affected.

Are the Democrats actually joining Republicans in thumbing their noses at the will of the people?

If so, then the Democrats, like the Republicans, could find themselves paying a steep price come next November.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Checking Out Those Chain Emails

Chain emails are a fact of life these days, and I get my share. Most of them contain information that I am urged to pass along. The request to keep it going usually comes with the assurance that the contents of the email are nothing short of "the gospel truth".

Most of the chain emails, however, have statements that are exaggerations, at best, or downright lies, at worst. A bad experience long ago taught me the importance of checking out facts, figures, and claims before giving any thought to sharing info with others.

A chain email that hit my inbox a few days ago is a good example of a request to pass along misinformation. Incidentally, it's the third time in two years I've received a chain email about Planned Parenthood.

This chain email stresses the need to make all Americans aware of the "fact" that Planned Parenthood is responsible for most of the abortions performed each year.

The truth is that only three percent of Planned Parenthood's services involve abortions, and only ten percent of Planned Parenthood's clients are assisted with abortions. No federal taxpayer money is used for abortions.

Actually, most of Planned Parenthood's work is in the areas of cancer screenings and the prevention of unwanted pregnancies.

There are a number of ways to check out chain emails. I usually go online to FactCheck.org, which is a non-partisan, nonprofit website. I type in my question, and in most cases, I get a prompt answer--which in all cases, is the correct answer.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Still Thinking About Pearl Harbor

It all seems so different now. I remember growing up at a time when December 7 meant a lot more than it did this week.

Way back when, Pearl Harbor was on the minds and the lips of just about everyone on that solemn day of remembrance. But this year, there seemed to be little discussion of Pearl Harbor beyond the token media coverage.

It's not that America will ever forget about what happened that day. No, that day will, indeed, live in infamy. It's just that the attention given to such a day changes with time. That's the way of things.

One of the changes is the near-necessary disbanding of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association. The membership has been dwindling drastically as survivors of the Pearl Harbor attack pass on.

This year, little more than 100 survivors were able to make it to Hawaii for the 70th anniversary. Nationwide there are only an estimated seven to eight thousand Pearl Harbor survivors.

Back in the 70s, I had occasion to be in Hawaii several times, and during each visit there, I visited the USS Arizona and Punchbowl Cemetery.

In thinking about those still entombed in the Arizona, and those buried in Punchbowl crater, I always wondered, and still do wonder, what they might have done with their lives had they survived the morning of December 7, 1941.

Like many Americans my age, I still think a lot about Pearl Harbor.

A Trump Question For Political Pollsters

Back in early spring, provocative sound bites and outrageous claims amazingly catapulted Donald Trump to front runner status among the Republican Presidential hopefuls. His contemplated candidacy turned out to be a farce, however, and "the Donald" saw his popularity take a plunge.

Pollsters still give us a reading from time to time on how Americans view Trump, and the latest surveys indicate that a Donald Trump endorsement of a Presidential candidate could actually be a liability.

Many of the big wigs in the GOP were openly critical of a proposed Presidential debate where Donald Trump was to be the moderator, and that uproar scared off all but two contenders from the field of seven.

Still, "the Donald" continues on undaunted--threatening now to become a third-party Presidential candidate if the GOP nominee isn't someone to his liking. That possibility has gotten him extensive exposure all over the television landscape.

I was in shock (but definitely not in awe) when I saw Trump this week on CNN for an hour with Piers Morgan, and what seemed like an hour with Wolf Blitzer.

I have a suggestion for a Trump question that pollsters might want to put before the public. "Do you think that there is too much unwarranted coverage of Donald Trump on TV?"

Then, if "the Donald" gets a thumbs down, as I believe he will, the TV networks should tell him to call for coverage only when he has done something worthy of coverage.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

It's Strange Company I'm Keeping

Rare, indeed, is the occasion when I agree with something Karl Rove says. But today, I find myself agreeing with the Republican strategist.

And although I have great respect for him, I don't always agree with Conservative columnist George Will. But I do today.

Then there's Ari Fleischer, one-time press secretary to George W. Bush, and now a political pundit. He's been irritating me for years--but not today.

These gentlemen are just three 0f the GOP voices to rightfully decry the acceptance by Republican Presidential candidates of an invitation to participate in a debate that will be moderated by Donald Trump.

I am somewhat relieved that these gentlemen, and other prominent Republicans, are speaking out. It reassures me that the entire Republican party has not gone bonkers.

It boggles the mind to think that Trump could have the unmitigated gall to insert himself back into Presidential politics after playing games with the American electorate last spring.

And it is equally stunning to learn that Presidential candidates would participate in a debate where the moderator was to endorse one of the hopefuls after the debate.

Add in the fact that a poll shows that 37 percent of New Hampshire Republicans and Independents would not vote for a candidate endorsed by Donald Trump.

Try to find some logic in all this, and when you can't, stop and think about an awful truth.

One of these Republican candidates could wind up being President.

Finally -- An "Occupy Congress"

The Occupy Wall Street movement has made an entire nation more aware of, and more angry over, the economic inequality that exists in America today.

In targeting corporate greed, however, the protesters have not--until now--focused on those most responsible. That would be members of Congress.

Today, in Washington, protesters from the Occupy movement and other groups will take their complaints to Capitol Hill. There will be some meetings with individual members of Congress, and there will be some relatively minor demonstrations.

What happens today is not likely to have much impact on lawmakers, but it's a start. Just the fact that there is something going on called Occupy Congress is encouraging.

Occupy Wall Stret also started out small.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

"Beneath the office of the Presidency"

While acknowledging that Donald Trump's role of moderator may well increase ratings for the December 27 Republican Presidential debate, Congressman Ron Paul correctly views the showboating Trump's participation as adding to the circus-like atmosphere that has enveloped the race for the GOP nomination.

I don't agree with a lot of what Ron Paul is selling these days, but I do have increased respect for him as a Presidential candidate--because he has had the courage to give up publicity in favor of principle.

Ron Paul has said no to the debate because he thinks it will be "beneath the office of the Presidency". He believes that the inherent "dignity" of the Presidency should extend to those seeking the office.

Jon Huntsman will also be a no-show December 27. He echoes the sentiment of Ron Paul--saying that giving the important role of moderator to a reality show personality detracts from the event.

Like Ron Paul, Jon Huntsman can use all the exposure he can get as we approach the January caucuses and debates. But like Ron Paul, Jon Huntsman's decision may resonate well with serious voters

Thursday, December 1, 2011

"Send In The Clowns"

More and more, the title of a favorite song comes to mind when I think about the Republican Presidential race. "Send In The Clowns" seems oh, so appropriate.

Every day brings us a new outlandish remark or proposal. Today it's Michelle Bachman's turn.

While trailing badly in the polls, the Congresswoman remains confidant, and has even gone so far as to consider--and announce--her short list for a running mate.

Fellow contender, and former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum is a compatible and competent choice. Senators Marco Rubio and Jim Demint are also logical picks.

But "the Donald"--Donald Trump? The fourth and final name on the short list just doesn't figure--or does it?

No way Donald Trump takes second billing on anything. And he isn't the most popular politico in America right now.

Could it be, though, that Michelle is thinking about the possibility of a badly needed campaign donation when she flatters the narcissistic Trump?

"Send In The Clowns"? Like the song says, "Don't bother, they're here".