Monday, December 31, 2012

Wishes for a New Year

As I write this, a good many of my friends have already seen the new year arrive. Many of us still have more than 12 hours to go.

What kind of year has it been for you?

It has been a year of major change here. It was my daughter and son-in-law's first full year as a married couple. My son and daughter-in-law have moved to another state. My grandsons have definitely become little boys - and all that goes with it.

My wife retired and now we have the time to do all the things that we always had planned on doing - including traveling at times when every family with school age children were also traveling.

We have literally weathered a storm - the strongest one in the history of the Northeast US. We made it through without too much inconvenience ... many can not say that. Many are still homeless.

New Years are a time to look ahead with hope. There is much I would like to see changed on many levels ... perhaps this will be the year some of that happens.

To all my friends, online or in real life - and the ones who have overlapped - let me take this time to wish you a very happy and healthy new year to you and your family and friends. I hope it will bring you all you want and more.

See you in 2013!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas In My House

It's Christmas morning here - which really doesn't mean terribly much, but I can't really say it's just another day even though, being Jewish, we don't celebrate it.

It's always an unusual time of year for those of us who don't celebrate Christmas. Even as a little kid I knew that it wasn't our holiday - and never experienced any jealousy ... we had our own holidays and I always embraced our Jewish culture. I believe my own children grew up like that as well.

But there still is a feeling of being on the outside looking in, and it is mostly felt on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day when the TV is taken over with Christmas music and Christmas specials. Ironically, I happen to truly love Christmas music - and even stranger, the more religious of the music is the most beautiful. And as for the Christmas specials - I have to admit that my wife and myself were quite excited to see Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol back on the air for the first time since the 1980's!

The feeling of being on the outside looking in is strongest in the years that we are at home for the holidays. Often - and for the past few years - we spend the holiday in Walt Disney World in Florida. Christmas is just as prevalent there - in fact even more so, but ... well, we are in Disney World where we are not an outsider at all!

If you like seeing the Christmas displays all lit up, how can you beat the Osborne Spectacle of Dancing Lights in Disney's Hollywood Studios - especially when you remember that these were at one time a private collection of the Osborne Family of Arkansas.

I certainly don't feel like an outsider here ... there is even a small nod to Chanukah which is part of the display.

Perhaps the most religious event happens in EPCOT, The Candlelight Processional. And while it is a celebrity narrator reading the story of Christmas, we love hearing the full orchestra and choir performing Christmas music.

I will admit however, that while I totally enjoy this performance and whenever we are here for the holidays this is a must attend performance, the usual feeling of being an outsider is quite present here.

However, we are home this year - the first year both my wife and I are retired ... we no longer have to be in Disney World during school vacations ... the busiest times of the year. (We will be watching the parade from The Magic Kingdom in a little while though.)

There is not much for Jewish families (and other families who do not celebrate Christmas) to do today, so the tradition of going to the movies has developed. (And yes, many Chinese restaurants are open today as well giving rise to the other tradition.) This year there are quite a few good movies to see. (Our choice, having seen the others, is Les Misérables.)

If you walk through my neighborhood, my house is rather easy to spot as it is one of the few that isn't decorated. Chanukah is over and by tomorrow, Christmas will be as well. New Year's Eve is just a week away and then the Christmas trees start showing up at the curb for the Sanitation Department to pick up ... the lights will come down and we will no longer be outsiders - at least until Easter.

When I wish my online friends a Merry Christmas and they respond in kind, rather than correcting them I accept the greeting as is and in the spirit in which it was intended.

So before today passes, let me wish EVERYONE who celebrates Christmas a Merry Christmas and everyone else Seasons Greetings. New Year's wishes to come under separate cover.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

So You Think You Know the Second Amendment?

These words, written into our Constitution via the Bill of Rights in December of 1791, have been the stuff of debate in the centuries that have followed their adoption.
"None but an armed nation can dispense with a standing army. To keep ours armed and disciplined is therefore at all times important." --Thomas Jefferson, 1803 
"It is more a subject of joy [than of regret] that we have so few of the desperate characters which compose modern regular armies. " --Thomas Jefferson to James Monroe, 1813
In the times that the Bill of RIghts were written, regular national armies were looked at with some large amount of mistrust. It was not unusual to see a country's legitimate ruler overthrown by an army under the command of a particularly ambitious general. And soldiers as a whole were not the most reputable of people, so in the world of the late 18th Century, in a country with no more than a fledgling regular army, it was the local militias that were the country's primary protection.

For the first two hundred years of our county's existence, the courts, both the Supreme Court and lower courts, broke the amendment into two clauses ... the "militia clause" and the "bear arms" clause. For most of our country's history, it was the "militia clause" that was deemed the operational of the two. According to the Supreme Court, the amendment conferred on state militias a right to bear arms - but did not give individuals a right to own or carry a weapon.

Then came 1977. Prior to then, the National Rifle Association (NRA) had been a non-political organization whose main focus was to educate gun owners and promote gun safety. But that changed at the 1977 board meeting of the NRA.
A coup d’état at the group’s annual convention in 1977 brought a group of committed political conservatives to power. … The new group pushed for a novel interpretation of the Second Amendment, one that gave individuals, not just militias, the right to bear arms. It was an uphill battle. (From The Nine by Jeffrey Toobin)
It was then that the US gun culture was born. This was also a time in which the conservatives in the Republican Party were starting to gain strength as well as electing a president from their ranks, Ronald Reagan in 1980. With his appointments to the Supreme Court, it too had become conservative. In 2010, Justice Scalia wrote his opinion in the majority ruling on a Second Amendment case; "Nowhere else in the Constitution does a 'right' attributed to 'the people' refer to anything other than an individual right."

Today, while fully automatic firearms are banned for the general population, a ban on semi-automatic weapons was allowed to expire in 2004. Today, President Obama created a commission to be chaired by Vice-president Biden to recommend actions to take to prevent tragedies such as occurred at Newtown, Connecticut from happening in the future. The re-instatement of the semi-automatic ban will probably be among the suggestions.

Whatever is reported out of that commission, it is certain that it will need to be a combination of many things including gun control and mental health issues.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Hate - in the Guise of Religion

I usually don't write about religion, not because I don't like talking about it, I do. I love to discuss religion and learn about all religions. However, I usually don't write about it for fear that what I might say could possibly and inadvertently hurt people about whom I care.  I actually respect anyone's religious beliefs as long as it isn't used for purposes of hurting others. Religion should be about good, not evil - love, not hate.

But this group deserves all the indignation and insult that can be brought against it.
Less than 48 hours after the Connecticut school shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, which took place on Dec. 14, the Westboro Baptist Church is already making plans to picket. The Westboro Baptist Church is known for picketing and protesting at funerals across the country.“Westboro will picket Sandy Hook Elementary School to sing praise to God for the glory of his work in executing his judgment,” Shirley Phelps-Roper tweeted on Dec. 15.“They need to come back to Oklahoma,” Bryan Weathers, from Moore, said. “We know how to take care of them here.”“Westboro 'God hates Fags' Baptist Church is planning to pciket at Sandy Hook, to praise 'God's judgment,'” Margie Phelps tweeted as well on Dec. 15.The Supreme Court ruled that it is legal for the Westboro Baptist Church to picket funerals. Despite that ruling, many cities and towns have passed laws that force the Westboro Baptist Church to stay a specific distance away from funerals.Westoboro Baptist Church is known for carrying signs that read “Thank God for dead babies” and the like. It is unknown what kind of signs will be seen, if the Westboro Baptist Church actually pickets in Newtown, CT.
This group's purpose, it seems, is to cause more pain, where pain is already intolerable. They first came to light by picketing and spewing their brand of hate at funerals of soldiers killed overseas. And what makes it worse, is that our Supreme Court has ruled that they have the right of free speech to do this terrible thing.

I am not saying that they don't have the right to believe whatever they want, but I am saying that they shouldn't have the right to infringe on other's rights. They should keep it among their own congregation and their own people. They should not have the right to inflict pain on parents, relatives, neighbors and a town (if not a country) who are already suffering the worst possible kind of grief. I have always believed that the rights granted us by our Constitution were only ours until they started interfering with the rights of others.

We need to start focussing less on the letter of the law and more on the intent of the law. Once again I am embarrassed that the highest court in the country has condoned this evil act.

Friday, December 14, 2012

I Am Angry!

I am very angry ... and sad ... and devastated! I, like the rest of the world right now, am watching the ongoing coverage of the horrific elementary school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. Information is just starting to come in but at the moment it appears that 27 people were killed ... 18 of them elementary school children! It also appear that the shooter's Kindergarten teacher mother was killed as well. The assumption at the moment is that the shooter - a 24 year old - killed his mother AND the children in her Kindergarten class.

I am a father who has put 2 children through school, and today has 2 grandsons who are in preschool. Even more than that, one of my children is currently a teacher, as was my wife, and many others in my family.

Just last July, after another horrific shooting, I wrote this, which takes on even another reason to be relevant again.


This is pure sacrilege, but maybe it is time that we consider repealing the second amendment to the US Constitution.

With all of the senseless killings that seem to be happening more frequently, perhaps it is time to look at the second amendment and how it relates to us today.

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

When this was written in 1789, our country was still brand new and very weak. We didn't have the strongest military in the world as we do now to protect ourselves. The most recent memory of this country was that it had to fight for its independence and that fight began with a militia of farmers from Massachusetts being our only line of defense. In the war that followed, much of our fighting was done by volunteer militia as opposed to (what passed for) professional soldiers.

Ironically it was Barry Farber, a conservative talk show host, from whom I first heard the statement that you cannot cure 20th century (this was in the 1980's) ills with 18th century medicine. He was referring to laws and procedures that were created in the 1700's for conditions that existed at that time. The issue then was "cruel and inhuman punishment" and how the framers of our Constitution were referring to tossing a prisoner in a cold, damp and dark dungeon and possibly questioning him using a form of torture. He didn't believe that they would see revoking a modern day prisoner's television rights as "cruel and inhuman."

Does anyone actually believe that we have (or even need) a "well regulated Militia" (as comprised in the 18th century) for the security of the United States of America? What possible purpose could personal ownership of an automatic assault weapon serve in today's world? Just mention the names of Columbine or (now) Aurora, Colorado. What images do those names now bring to mind?

Yes, I have heard the argument that if these firearms are illegal then only the criminals will have them, but if they are unavailable through simple means as is now the case in the state of Colorado, most criminals would not be able to obtain them. Stronger background checks? The strongest background check would not have prevented James Holmes from obtaining his weapons under current Colorado law.

We Americans are proud of our Bill of Rights, and rightly so. It was the first time that any government had ever codified these basic rights in this manner. Religious freedom, freedom of speech and of the press, protection against unreasonable search and seizure, due process of law and the right not to be forced to self-incriminate, the right to a speedy and public trial by a jury of one's peers, and the protection against cruel and inhuman punishment are very high ideals that we as Americans live by and are still relevant to us and our times. But the second amendment is dangerously outdated. The authors of the Constitution gave us a mechanism to change it when necessary. Shouldn't we bring ourselves into the 21st century?


Last night Michigan passed a law which makes it legal to carry weapons in places such as schools, bars, churches, day care centers and stadiums. While this is a Republican legislature in Michigan, this goes way beyond party politics ... both parties have a responsibility to take action in this matter. It's time to change our laws to reflect the reality of today's world.

Yet, no politician seems to have the conviction to do what needs to be done. As I stated in the above article, Americans are proud of our Constitution and our Bill of Rights, but even our founding fathers knew that times change and laws and the Constitution need to change to meet changing needs. They put into place a way to not only pass needed laws but to change our Constitution when (not if) needed. Yet we Americans are overly proud of our traditions even to the point of harming ourselves.

I urge all who have a voice - from our President to the average citizen - to speak up and add your voice to the discussion. We need a change.

I know that most of you who do read what I write usually do not say anything in the comment section below, but I ask you now ... whether you are a US citizen or simply a citizen of the world ... to add your voice below to this discussion.

The War on Christmas

Political correctness (PC) has absolutely gotten out of hand. Because of it I have seen the most ridiculous things happen. For example ... the tale of a classic attraction in Disneyland and Walt Disney World. Pirates of the Caribbean used to contain a set with scenes of pirates chasing women (albeit around in a circle and they never caught them), but the final scene in that set showed a pirate being chased in a circle by a woman. This was not sexism, but a joke (based on historical truth by the way). About a decade ago someone in the Disney hierarchy decided that this was politically incorrect and the scene was changed ... the joke was gone. All in the name of Political Correctness ... was it worth it? Had someone complained and did management overreact? Were people really offended by this light hearted attraction?

These days I hear the phrase "The War on Christmas" at lot, but when you look at it, it is simply another case of PC gone wild.

Perhaps it is a reaction to recent lawsuits over religious displays on public property. We have a doctrine of separation of church and state here in the United States, and in many cases Christmas displays - often of a religious nature - were erected in publicly owned spaces. Lawsuits were brought and as required by our Constitution they were ordered removed. While I feel that in most cases the reaction was extreme, I do support the concept that prohibits 1) the establishment of a national religion by Congress, or 2) the preference by the U.S. or State government of one religion over another ... sometimes it is just silly. As long as no religion is excluded from such a display I personally have no problem with any of these displays on publicly owned property. We are a country of many religions.

I have heard some state that we were founded on Christian principals or that we are a Christian country. That, I would argue is simply untrue. We were founded by men who were Christian (some, simply nominally so), but I think they would be shocked to hear that they founded this country based upon any religions basis. I have heard people say that we are the largest Christian country in the world. Perhaps we have more Christians in the country than any other ... but we also have more Jews than any other country. That doesn't make us the largest Jewish country in the world, does it?

But the silliest thing that people are using to point to a War on Christmas is simply a phrase. Ironically, being Jewish, I have always been very aware of this. It first happened years ago with retailers ... the use of the phrase, "Happy Holidays!" Since they are catering to a broad customer base - especially in cities like I live in, NYC - Merry Christmas does not apply to everyone. Soon, people started picking up on this and starting wishing everyone a Happy Holidays. Soon, PC was taking over and rather than simply being a retail strategy, it started to become the PC thing to do. But does this really indicate a "War on Christmas?"

As I said, being Jewish has made me very sensitive to this issue, and unless I know that the person I am speaking to is indeed Christian, I will usually wish them a Happy Holiday. If I know they are Christian I will not hesitate to wish them a Merry Christmas, just as I will wish my Jewish friends (and family) a Happy Chanukah.

But as for me, you will not upset me if you wish me a Merry Christmas. If you do it because you do not know that I am Jewish and do not celebrate Christmas, I simply take it in the manner in which it was meant, and wish you the same. That is also true if you wish me a Happy Holiday. I don't see it as a War on Chanukah. Nor is it important for me to educate you on my religious status, especially if you are simply someone who wishes me good things in passing - such as a store clerk etc. If you are a friend I might correct you but most of my friends already know I am Jewish.

So at this time let me just wish you a Happy Holiday, or a Merry Christmas, or a Happy Chanukah, or even a Happy Kwaanza.

New Year's wishes will come under separate cover.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Taking Stock

Back in January, 2011, I started this blog because I was constantly having thoughts rolling around in my head that I wanted to share. Well, at least put into writing and make it available to anyone who was interested in hearing the things I might have to say. They wouldn't be earth shattering, just my thoughts.

Along the way there have been times that I have had so much going on in my head that the posts came fast and furious, and there have been times when I have really had very little to say. I have shared the grandparent experience on occasion, but there have also been areas of my life that have not been shared here - and often it has been those times which have accounted for the periods of inactivity.

While I never meant this to be deliberately controversial, it has been in the past, and I suspect it will again at times in the future. As always, talking about the events of September 11, 2001 brings about a response, and I will continue my yearly tributes to that dreadful day.

Recently I have been getting back into serious photography as many of you know, and having spent the last 2 decades of my professional career in a rather creative role, I have been filling my retirement with the creativity that my photography affords me. Some of that photography can be seen at my photo blog, Gathered Images. In addition to that, I have been enjoying taking part in group creativity with such blog hops as A Snap, A Set and A Song, Friday Favorites, and Wordless Wednesday (the last occurring on my Disney blog, Reporting From Disney World). However, as much fun as it has been, I am now feeling that they have taken over Thoughts From the Dark Side and have diverted it from what I originally intended to do with it, so you will now find those posts over at The Missing Link and I can get back to basics over here.

Have I accomplished what I wanted when I first sat down at the keyboard and typed the very first post on this site? Yes and no. For two years I have been sharing but it has not always been my thoughts and opinions. In the coming year I intend to remedy that. There is certainly enough going on at all levels and I always have something to say about that. I will continue to share on the creative level, but more in the way of the written word. In the end I am writing for myself and if anyone reads it, it is simply a bonus, but I still would like to hear your thoughts on the things I say. In other words, use the comments section - I really do enjoy hearing from you. It doesn't matter if you agree with me ... disagree with me ... or aren't even sure ... use the comments section below to let me know what it is your head.

Thank you to all who have stuck around and to those who have recently discovered Thoughts From the Dark Side.

In the meantime, let me take this moment to wish you a Happy Chanukah, Merry Christmas, Happy Kwaanza, or simply a Happy Holiday.

Introducing ... The Missing Link

For a while now I have been having fun linking up with other sites either on a regular weekly basis or an occasional post. I have started to feel that they were taking away from the original purpose of Thoughts From the Dark Side  so in the future, all of those posts will appear on a new site ... The Missing Link. I hope you will continue to enjoy these fun posts. (Note: My Disney links will remain where they are.)

Thoughts From the Darkside will return to its original intent and new material will generally be posted at least once a week.

I invite you to visit my other blog sites as well.

Reporting From Disney World - All things relating to Disney and Disney World including trip reports

Gathered Images - my photography blog with photos and "how to" posts

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A Snap, A Set and A Song - Gold

Time once again to link with Thea at A Snap, A Set and A Song for this week's theme of Gold. Stop by her site to see her take - and possibly join us with your own post.

A Snap

At first I didn't know what direction to go in for this theme, as I have set myself a rule that the SNAP will only be a photo that I myself have taken, and I was about to go away for a few days so I didn't have the time to take one specifically for this theme. Then I realized that the hotel I was heading to is quite gold itself.

I did not take this photo.
However, when I arrived (actually I am at this hotel at the moment), the fog was so thick that I couldn't even see the hotel, let alone photograph it. I am on the 35th floor and can't see an inch out of my window either!

So, what to do? Then as I was downstairs, getting my coffee, I had a look at the holiday decorations that are down there and found this ... a gold ornament!

The Set

In 1962 I went to the movies to see a little spy movie which appeared to be becoming quite popular ... Dr. No. The James Bond series continues until today, but perhaps the best (and best known) of all of the movies fits this week's theme.

The Song

And perhaps the best known song in the series, performed by Dame Shirley Bassey ...

Friday, December 7, 2012

Friday Favorite - Look Out!!

Once again we join with with Thea at The Happy Shutterbug - for a Friday Favorite.

You think giving my nephew a broomstick and then telling him to swing it is a good idea - even if he is swinging at a piñata? Does my son's expression give you any clue?. (From my grandsons' birthday/Halloween party.)

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

A Snap, A Set and A Song - December

Time once again to link with Thea at A Snap, A Set and A Song for this week's theme of December. Stop by her site to see her take - and possibly join us with your own post.

So many directions I could have gone with this theme - the first one which came to mind was snow - but that's really for later - after winter actually arrives at the very end of December. Generally December is not a very snowy month.

But while many people think of December and its association with a certain holiday that brings a jolly man in a red suit, my mind goes to the holiday we celebrate. With that in mind, here is ...

A Snap (or three)

Even in Walt Disney World we bring and light the menorah. Here is our daughter lighting the candle for the first night of Chanukah at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge (December, 2005).

And in the American Adventure in EPCOT, one of the storytellers tells the story of Chanukah against a proper background of menorahs and dreidels.

A Set

For those who ask how the festival is spelled (it's not a holiday, but simply a rather insignificant commemoration that has gained stature simply because it falls near that other holiday), at the top of the set is the only proper way to spell it ...

A Song

I had a decision to make here as well. Should I go with a traditional Chanukah song, or something perhaps a bit more contemporary - as if  there were a lot of contemporary Chanukah songs. Aw heck ... here's Adam Sandler ...

Saturday night is the first night of Chanukah and to all who celebrate ...

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Tell Me Tuesdays

Winter is cold here in the northeast and I don’t get out as often as I would like to take photos. However, I am introducing a new weekly feature on my photo blog - Gathered ImagesTell Me Tuesday will feature one of my photos with information on how it came to be. How and where it was taken, technical information, and if any post-processing was done will all be shared. Sometimes before and after shots will be shown.

Then it becomes your turn to critique the photo (don’t worry, I have a thick skin) which can be anything from “I like/don’t like it” to a discussion of how you might have handled the same shot and/or done something differently. Since this is art, anything you like or don’t like is valid.

And finally, you will be given the opportunity to join in with your own Tell Me Tuesday post. Just add your link at the bottom of each post.

It all starts on Tuesday, December 4, 2012 ... hope to see you there!