Friday, November 30, 2012

Christmas = glut and greed ... American-style

By Mike Ullery
Chief Photographer


For many of us, December is the most magical time of the year. For others, the final month of the year is nearer the “final straw” rather than a season to celebrate.

“A season to celebrate.” That begs the question, exactly what are we celebrating?

The answer to the question, of course, is that we are celebrating the birth of Jesus. The day is among the most holy of the year.

Christmas has also become known as a season for giving. The tradition of giving gifts supposedly derives from gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh brought to Baby Jesus by three wise men.

In that sense, the giving of gifts has been around since that first Christmas in Bethlehem, more than 2000 years ago.

Tied into the birth of Jesus and the giving of gifts is the legend of Saint Nickolas, a third-century Roman Catholic bishop who helped the needy. Saint Nickolas is the basis for what (who) has become Santa Claus.

So, how could two men, Jesus, the son of Joseph and Mary — the son of God, and Saint Nickolas, a bishop so known for giving and helping others that he rose to Sainthood in the Catholic church, be so lost and forgotten in today’s world, during the season where the lives of both should be our primary focus?

Greed. Selfishness. Disrespect. All of the “above.”

There is no doubt in my mind that Americans are primarily responsible for the corporate, retail and personal greed and overindulgence that has become Christmas in America.

I think back to the 1947 film “Miracle on 34th Street.” Edmund Gwenn, who plays Kris Kringle in the classic film, talks about how he, Santa Claus, and the real message of Christmas had been lost. If George Seaton and Valentine Davies, writers of the film, could only see how much worse things have gotten since that time, they would roll over in their graves, as they say.

Christmas has developed into a make-or-break season for retailers across America and probably around the world. Money! That seems to be the only issue today. Black Friday is one of the most embarrassing "events" that has ever been created. It does nothing but showcase American's glut for material things.

The tradition of giving gifts, begun by three wise men and built upon by Saint Nickolas, has turned into a free-for-all of shopping greed and the long-practiced American tradition of having to “one-up” your friends, neighbors and relatives when it comes to the giving of gifts.

Another issue with Americans is that parents seem to have lost the ability to tell their children "no." Just how much junk, excuse me, stuff do our kids really need?

I remember when I was a kid, looking through the Sears and the JC Penney Christmas catalogs. I recall wanting a lot more stuff than Santa's sleigh could haul. I also learned that there was a big difference between wanting something and receiving something.

As difficult as it must have been, I believe that the fact that my parents grew up during the Great Depression was ultimately a good thing. My parents and those of their generation knew about what was important and what was frivolous. They knew that wanting something and needing something were two entirely different things.

This holiday season, I encourage everyone to think more about the real reason that we celebrate Christmas. Give thanks for what you already have ... family and friends.  There is nothing wrong with purchasing gifts for others, as long as the giving is done for the right reasons — and in moderation, a term most Americans have never been able to grasp.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Hostess was the Mostest!

By Mike Ullery
Chief Photographer

The sun was shining brightly on Friday morning as I woke, ready to face the coming day. As is my daily custom, I opened my computer to check for any possible news story that I might need to look into.

And, just like that, my day was ruined — possibly my entire life. One of the first things that I saw was a headline proclaiming that Hostess brands was going out of business.

What? No more HoHo's? No more Hostess Cupcakes? No more Wonder Bread? How will any of us survive?

Life can be so cruel. Okay, I survived when M*A*S*H went off the air. But, we have reruns that make life without Hawkeye, Radar and Klinger bearable.

Some of my favorite stores have closed their doors over the years, and I guess that I have managed to survive. BK Photo and Gallery, in Troy, leads the way in my mind. It was not only my place of employment (and enjoyment) for many years, I was also a customer long before I began working there.

I grew up shopping at Uhlman's and J.C. Penny in downtown Troy. I should probably say that I grew up tagging along with my mom as she shopped at those stores. (I recall standing in downtown Troy with my dad as we watched the Uhlman's store burn to the ground.)

Most of us can recall the Woolworth store at the "old" Piqua East Mall. I spent many hours there and at Mr. Wiggs across the road on East Ash Street. I never had to worry about going hungry because the venerable Ponderosa Steakhouse was directly in between those stores.

I sit here, writing this column and attempting to recall other favorite foods or products that are now just memories. The problem seems to be that I cannot recall any of them. That makes me wonder if old age is affecting my memory, potentially caused by overdosing on HoHo's, or possibly those material things were just not of enough importance for me to keep their memory stored in my head.

I am admittedly a junk food connoisseur. Okay ... a junk food junkie. There is no doubt in my mind that I will forever miss products bearing the Hostess name.

There was nothing better than opening my lunch box when I was in school — yes, a good old-fashioned metal lunch box, with Roy Rogers, James Bond 007, or Gunsmoke theme — and finding a Hostess HoHo, packed by my mom, for dessert. That made taking time out to eat before recess worthwhile.

Some of you are probably thinking by now about all the new trends toward only eating healthy foods at school. Back in "the day," our parents still cooked meals at home and eating what is today know as "junk" food was a treat, not the norm. Oh, and we also spent hours and hours outdoors playing nearly every day. We did not sit in front of a television. There were no computers or video games. We burned more calories than we took in, although, instead of calling it exercise or working out, we just called it baseball, basketball, fishing, biking ... well, you get the picture.

I'm not sure how I will ever explain to some of my younger grandchildren the pure joy of unwrapping and eating a Hostess HoHo or Cupcake. But, as with everything else, life will go on.

Now, if you will excuse me, I need to rush to a grocery and buy what could be my last box of Hostess goodies.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Presidential election does not solve government corruption

By Mike Ullery
Chief Photographer

I am not sure how much, if any, coincidence there is that this presidential election was held within  a week of Veterans Day but, at least to me, there is significance to that proximity of dates.

This election has to go down in history as one of the most divisive, turning Americans against each other, to the point violence in some cases.

That alone shows us that we have some very serious problems facing us. We were once a country that set a shining example for others, around the world. Today, we are more laughing stock, the butt of jokes to other countries.

A week ago, the issue was choosing the best man for the job of President of the United States. Since this is an opinion column, I will briefly state that — in my opinion — I don't believe that we truly had a great choice. We were forced to choose between the lesser of two evils.

Our choice of presidential candidates for this 2012 election makes me wonder if a truly presidential individual still exists in America.

I know that we are not necessarily looking for a great man. I firmly believe the words of Admiral William F. Halsey ... "There are no great men. Only great challenges that ordinary men are forced, by circumstances, to meet."

Halsey came from a different generation. Americans of his time had ambitions and values. Their values insured that, in order to achieve their goals and ambitions, they must work, pay their dues, and climb the "ladder" to be successful.

Today's generation of American's wants everything handed to them. No one wants to work for anything. Many Americans can't afford to live because the government makes it impossible to succeed.

People look at our city and county governments and complain about what they request from citizens. They need to ask for our money because the state continues to take away more and more money from our cities and counties. At the same time, both the state and Federal government are requiring more money from us. They need to pay for mandated programs. By my way of thinking, the definition of a "mandated program" is one in which the only real purpose is to give government jobs to people who don't deserve them and are too lazy to get a real job. So, politicians create a new program, steal money from local governments by "mandating" cooperation to pay for it. In other words, a mandated government program is nothing more than the 21st century version of a stage coach holdup in the 1800s.

Our political machine in Washington is as corrupt as the worst days of political corruption around Chicago from back in the days of prohibition. (Does anyone see any significance that the most corrupt area of our country is Chicago and that our president, and soon-to-be-again president has close political ties to Chicago? Al Capone would be so proud!)

Moving on, and that is what we must do now ... move on, what is needed now is to stand together as a unified country. For better or worse, the majority has spoken and we need to get on with the business of living.

We must all keep watch on our leaders, let them know that we demand a fair shake and do not care about their big-money puppeteers. Only by banding together and loudly voicing our concerns, standing beside those just and righteous politicians who cannot get anything done because of their corrupt counterparts, will we ever overcome and take back our country.

Our veterans fought and died to make us free. We owe it to them to fight the corruption in our government to keep us free.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Think! ... before commenting

By Mike Ullery
Chief Photographer

Rumors. Truth. Lies.

Ah, I'll bet that you are thinking that I am talking about political candidates and elections.

Sorry to disappoint, but in spite of the fact that rumors and lies are the "norm" from our presidential hopefuls and the truth is the last thing that you will get during a presidential election year, we are not talking politics today.

A tragic case this past week involving a series of crashes and the death of a local man is but the latest example of how rumors, misinformation and flat out made-up information can cause confusion and pain to unsuspecting and innocent citizens.

As information from the case became available, we began posting up-to-date official information on our Piqua Daily Call Facebook page.

It should be noted that the information we release has been confirmed by officials from the police department. That is one of the most serious issues that I have with this so-called "citizen journalism" that is becoming so popular with news organizations who are looking to cut costs as they lose their credibility by trusting unprofessional and untrained "reporters."

As soon as we posted the first facts regarding the incident, comments began to appear that eluded to drinking, to pedestians being struck, and a host of other rumors that were not only untrue, they had never been mentioned.

I find myself asking, where does this stuff come from? Do people just make up stuff in their head and decide to type it to see what happens?

It reminds me of a classic scene in the biographical film "Sergeant York" starring Gary Cooper. In the humorous scene, a company of World War I "doughboys" is marching down a road as news of York's incredible feat of capturing 132 German soldiers single-handed begins to surface. The guy in front turns to the guy behind him and says, "Hey, did you hear that York just captured 132 Germans, all my his lonesome." By the time the news is passed to the back of the company, Sgt. York and just captured the Kiser and effected the surrender of the whole German army.

Sadly, this is the exact type of thing that happens all too regularly. Mixed in with some of these early highly-exaggerated and wholly untrue posts were a couple that suggested the Piqua Daily Call was wrong in posting information so quickly on a breaking story.

In this age of nearly immediate information, it is true that a risk is there of a family member reading about it "in the news" before being properly notified by authorities.

I would like to believe that we are, first and foremost, doing our job, which is, as I see it, to keep the public informed as to what is happening in our community and to do so in a manner that everyone who reads a news story written by our staff, knows that the information contained in the story is as factual and as up-to-date as we can make it.

Secondarily, we have become community rumor sepulchers. After posting the initial news story about the crash and going about gathering updated information, I ended up feeling obligated to spend the next two hours on Facebook as a moderator, reading each new post and attempting to squelch rumors before they could get out of hand.

Incidents such as these are tragic enough, in themselves, without giving life to half-truths, and outright falsehoods.

As a photographer and sometimes-writer for our paper, one of the things that I love about our Piqua Daily Call News Updates Facebook page is the fact that we can keep our followers up-to-date on the latest news. I love the fact that we can get feedback and comments.

The downside of course is that all to often these comments are unsubstantiated and often turn out to be less than factual.

Thank you to all who take the time to follow us, not only in our printed newspaper but also online. Please, though, when you decide to comment or post, avoid letting your typing fingers move faster than your brain.