Monday, April 14, 2014

'ALL QUIET, STILL...'


By Arthur H. Gunther III
ahgunther@yahoo.com

     Why does war often begin with a parade and end with one? At the first, youthful excitement, naivete, innocence, natural inclination and lack of experience and judgment as to horror fuel the adrenalin of patriotism as the quick steps of those who would save the world or avenge a wrong rush to enlistment. On the return march, the wounded, the hardened, the ones now in the know, step forward arm in arm with with the ghosts of the fallen, accepting the gratitude of a citizenry that can never grasp the horror of conflict. In each parade, organized first by fever and then on return by politicians, there is the constant cadence of background music for “All Quiet on the Western Front,” the 1930 American film based on a book the previous year by Erich Maria Remarque, a German veteran of the First World War.
     The novel, the film, describe the extreme mental and physical stress of the battleground and how civilian life is never the same for many, if not most veterans. The book and movie may be about an older war, the frightening technology of which is far surpassed today, but a young, as they now say “warrior,” mind was then as now a heartbeat from the mother’s womb and embrace. It is easily and perhaps irreparably damaged.  Read or see “All Quiet ...” and you know today’s story for post-Iraq and Afghanistan U.S. vets.
     The genuine reaction to the Sept. 11, 2001, events brought a surge of young people who enlisted for the cause in a parade of honest patriotism for conflicts now recognized as both debatable and mismanaged, war that has put us into debt when we need investment for a shrinking middle class, infrastructure and quality of life. And for veterans' care, too.
     Now, a parade, the inevitable returning one, is proposed in New York City as the Afghanistan moment winds down, at least America’s part in it. Who can deny these vets their  march down Gotham’s Canyon of Heroes? Who would not feel pride and a moment of gratefulness for the men and women who went off so willingly and quickly?
     But when the parade is over, as it also inevitably is, when our veterans are home alone with their nightmares, thinking of lost comrades; when so many are unable to get or hold a job; when a major national newspaper reports that one U.S. veteran commits suicide almost every hour; when brain-damaged or emotionally disturbed warriors barely exist  with seizures and drugs as long waits for woefully underfunded and bureaucracy-laden care never seem to end; when we forget our veterans except to give them a parade, how “quiet”  are we the American people?

The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgungther@yahoo.com This essay may be reproduced.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

DECLARE WAR AGAINST SPECIAL INTERESTS




By Arthur H. Gunther III
ahgunther@hotmail.com

      We the people must declare war. Our nation has been attacked, this time not by overseas terrorists but by special interests who buy our officials and who cunningly direct growing populist rage against big government and its spending, playing on the fear foaming out of the stirred pot of a prolonged economic crisis. 
     Taxes are up, people’s confidence waning. The rich are richer, and no cash is trickling down. Manufacturing, once the bedrock of our economy, is silent, its machines now spinning in China. The American middle class, created by the Industrial Age, Progressivism, immigration, two world wars, suburbia and manifest destiny, is disappearing. A third world-like underclass is forming, one that permanently will be out of work.
     At stake is much more than loss of buying power, a stalled economy and the threat of entrenched recession. No democracy long sustains without a healthy middle class and the hopes therein. (Recall the fall of Rome?) Those parts of cities not gentrified by the uber-wealthy and the ever-costlier suburbs will decay, and crime and social problems will increase. Education will not progress in such limited optimism and weak investment. Children’s dreams will be lost as we regress, choking our nation’s future. 
     Today, greed is the name of the game, aided and abetted by ever-more powerful special-interest groups, through 501C (4) political action committees and, now, two Supreme Court decisions that essentially allow big money to shout over opponents, especially the hoarse whisper of the ordinary citizen. Big money rules elections, rules what was once a serving Congress. All this is an attack on America. 
    Special interests – some of polarized political bent but most commerce-driven (banks, other financial houses,  military suppliers, etc.) – also influence our state legislatures, our executive branches, too. 
     Special interests, hiding behind a warped sense of
“free speech,” use money to polarize politics, their paid-for words delivered in quick sound bites and e-bits meant to inflame, not inform, playing off slogans, playing off fear, based not a whit on facts. The downsizing and less-profitable media devotes too little in investigative reporting and explanatory writing to properly structure the debate and thus forge the choices that a democracy must make. Instead, we have sloganeering, innuendo, deliberate distorting of facts, pushed rumors – all to forge a simplistic agenda, such as “take government back” or “change,” behind which the real operation – greed – can operate. It’s now the bottom line, and profit is king.
   We the people must declare war against the special interests that are greed’s lobbyists. No more fat wallets for any candidate or office holder. Instead, every campaign must be fully funded by the people. No other money allowed, period, set by law throughout the land. Special interests would still have voices, but they would be heard via public hearings, a true free speech tradition.  No one running for office or serving the people or retired from government would be allowed to take one penny from any special interest. 
     If we do this, even if it requires a constitutional amendment,  the national focus could turn to a new “Marshall Plan” for economic recovery, this time not for Europe but for America. An industrial/scientific age would begin that creates innovative work (jobs), and so another frontier that can guarantee a vibrant middle class, and with it, the wealth of the upper, yes,  and also the sustenance and dreams of the lower. But most of all it would ensure the future hopes of this nation by rebuilding the vital middle class.
     Declare war, people. Tell your president, tell your Congress.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@hotmail.com This essay may be reproduced.


Monday, March 24, 2014

PRINTER'S LESSON


By Arthur H. Gunther III
ahgunther@yahoo.com

     The first rule of old newspapering, when there were composing rooms where pages of metal type were assembled for the press, was to make a friend of a printer. Otherwise, he could do you and your career harm.
    “Printers” was a general term for anyone working on the production or mechanical side of pre-computerized newspapers, including the typesetters who used large machines to cast type lines of type from lead and compositors who assembled those and other metal pieces such as artwork into a page. The printers were men took years to learn and hone their exacting craft, and they worked in composing rooms that often hit over 100 degrees because of the lead-melting machines.
     If you toiled in the newsroom as a page layout fellow, or if you were an editor of any sort, you had to make a printer your friend. They not only produced the type you needed to get pages completed before deadline, a finish line by which your career was daily gauged, but they helped you read the backward type where all your errors lie. Being a friend was not always easy.
     As in any profession, there are cheerful and grumpy sorts, competent and more competent, natural “teachers” and not. And, no matter our disposition, we all have good days and bad and in between, so each new session with the individual known as “printer” was yet another challenge in  helping give birth to news delivery every day.
     Among the printers at my wonderful old stand, the original Journal-News of 53 Hudson Avenue in Nyack, N.Y., was “Big John” DeSevo, whose cigar was a permanent facial feature, lit or not. He was 20 years on the job when I met him, having started as a composing room gofer, then typesetter, then compositor.
    I was dummying or laying-out the Local page in those days, which was the second front page, this one highlighting major local stories that did not make page 1 or go inside. It had to have a neat look, this presentation cover, with strong-enough headlines to grab readers and photographs that also caught your attention. John was my main man, the printer who did my page and saved my rear end numerous times.
     He could not be bought by false praise or chitchat. If he liked you, and that usually was related to your competence, you did OK with him. If he thought you were a newsroom idiot who hadn’t so far bothered to learn reading type backward, then on John’s bad day, you could be lost. Or worse, harmed.
      One morning, near the 10:15 deadline  after my own pages were put to bed -- sent off to the pressroom where forms would be made and fitted to the rotary printing presses -- John was called to the other side of the composing room and asked to work with Tom on an inside page, the one with obits and last-minute news. Tom was a snarly fellow, full of himself and not practiced in the news business. Whatever job he had moving up was too short to learn much, but he had risen to city editor nonetheless, or maybe because that is often how it’s done.
    Well, Tom was in a rush. He simply wanted the page finished, and he told John to hurry. John did not hurry. His name was on the page, and he wasn’t going to see mistakes on 35,000 copies. So, he took his time, even with deadline a minute away.
     Tom didn’t like that and elbowed Big John, who for once lost his cigar, turned a mighty red, took a deep breath into his 250- pound frame and  “pied” the page’s type, all 200 pounds, onto the floor and Tom’s shoes.
    “Pied,” you ask? Well, in the great and honorable world of old composing rooms, pied type is jumbled or mixed up. That it was, sitting on the floor and enough on Tom’s shoes and now sore feet.
     Tom missed deadline. And not a person in the newsroom, not one in composing ever blamed Big John, who remained with the paper until retirement decades later. Tom? He was soon gone.

The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@yahoo.com. This may be reproduced.
     

Thursday, March 20, 2014

A GRANDSON’S ‘IRISH’ PRESENT




By Arthur H. Gunther III

     On an expectedly festive St. Patrick’s weekend that began in low spirits with three favorite draft beers out of stock at a village pub in my outer New York area, a mortal sin, my namesake hiked spirits when he ran 13th out of 3,500 in the Shamrock Marathon on Sunday. That was worth drinking to.
   So is my mother, an Irish lass born on St. Patrick’s Day, the daughter of Mary Bonner and John Lyons, a longshoreman on the Brooklyn docks. Six years later Patricia would lose her mom, waking one morning to her lifeless being, a grandmother I never knew, gone at age 32. 
     Those days in the first quarter of the last century were not easy for many, and Mary and John had their troubles. They lost 10 of their 13 children, some to the worldwide flu pandemic, others to the raw dangers of at-home birth. Patricia survived and so did John, the first born, and William, the last. With their mother gone and a father unable or unwilling to care for them, all three were sent to orphanages.
     None ever complained nor overly judged. My mother was as Irish as tea in her acceptance of misery and fate, of the dirge that is every Irish person’s accompaniment. Yet she never sang that song for her own two children, working hard for family and home and not looking back at the ghosts always chasing her. Her wit was inherited, to be sure, and she recalled enough of the old stories to pass on.
     My own childhood was made festive enough on St. Patrick’s Day by the stories, the wearin’ o’ the green and the grand family birthday my father always arranged for Patricia. She had many more than Mary, until Alzheimer’s eased her from the ghosts but also from we, the living. A long, sad goodbye, that.
     But this is St. Patrick’s Day, or it will soon be after this column’s posting, and so my mother’s birthday. Grand it was that her grandson Arthur 4th, in a run called the Shamrock no less, gave her a present in his fine win. 

     The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@yahoo.com. This essay may be reproduced.

Monday, February 24, 2014

HUDSON BRIDGE? YES, JUST NOT IN MY VIEW


Preferred view off Nyack, N.Y. (AHGUNTHER PHOTO)

By Arthur H. Gunther III
ahgunther@yahoo.com
  Nyack, N.Y. -- There’s a new bridge a-building across the Hudson River just 20 miles from New York City, though the original is nearing a really short but stressed 59 years. Some in these parts, a village in Rockland County, N.Y., never wanted the first crossing.
You see, growth came rapidly post-1955, so quickly that profit rather than wise planning ruled the day, then the months and years. Natural drainage areas were filled in, downtowns abandoned, endless strip shopping appeared and municipal services expanded so much that now they are cost-prohibitive, especially with no relief from the state on mandated costs such as health care and pensions.
These days the suburbs, surely this one, are graying, and seniors, so many of them, live in houses too large and few smaller properties to be had, if enough sales could be made anyway. School taxes, also with federal and state mandates, are reaching breaking point, and it is clear that income must also be a factor in the levy rather than just property wealth, often just a paper figure.
Many of our young prefer living not in suburban development with its anonymity and sameness but in walkable areas such as the once-abandoned villages. So, it’s back to the future a bit, a theme that could have been kept in place and beautifully expanded when the first post-World War II housing was constructed. Houses could have and should have risen around existing villages and hamlets, renewing the downtowns and keeping car travel down.
This time around, the new Tappan Zee Bridge will not add much to suburban development, which in this area is maxed out save for over-density building, a new worry. No, the crossing, which will continue to be fed by an under-maintained Thruway on both sides of the Hudson, will simply be a safer bridge, with walking and biking provision, but existing principally as an interstate, quite unsuitably for trucks, the freight of which would proceed more efficiently on railroads. Gotham-bound commuters and other travelers  should have that option as well. But money, big money, long ago went to the highway lobby, with drastic effect for suburban hurly-burly growth at the expense of community strengthening.
Ah, progress, which can be another way of saying, “Ouch, who pinched me and told me it was for my own good?”
As one who wished the first Tappan Zee had never been built where it was, who as native son will forever rail against bad area planning, who hopes against hope that whatever growth lies ahead will be better, I prefer to drive down Memorial Park way, in  Nyack, and stare out not at the bridge but toward a very old barge, now moored for marine life, and view even that in the abstract, as the accompanying photo shows.
Reality denial? You bet.
The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@yahoo.com This essay may be reproduced.

Monday, February 17, 2014

AN ART REVOLUTION and ...



By Arthur H. Gunther III

MANHATTAN -- On a snowy Saturday that did not seem to bother hardened Gothamites and assorted visitors, a trip to the New-York Historical Society Museum & Library to see the near end of “The Armory Show at 100”  was art in itself.
     The original 1913 installation at the 69th Regiment Armory on Lexington Avenue offered about 1,250 paintings, sculptures and decorative works by more than 300 European and American artists. The new installation, “The Armory Show at 100: Modern Art and Revolution,” features approximately 100 masterworks from the first exhibition, which was a watershed art event, introducing American and European paintings and sculpture that swung to the avant-garde and which shook up American audiences, critics and the art establishment. 
     1913 Armory provided the path for  baby steps toward the abstractionism that would increasingly rule into the 1970s and so affect every other art form, continuing through today. 
     Since the Historical Society is about, well, history, the new exhibition revisits the original from an art-historical point of view, spotlighting artists, audiences, the political and economic themes, music and literature. 
     Radical for its time, on the doorstep of the cataclysmic Great War, the unregulated greed of the 1920s and the subsequent Great Depression, 1913 Armory offered a look at the early works of such painters as Picasso, Renoir, Duchamp, Cezanne, Bellows, Henri, Hopper, Degas, Van Gogh, Seurat, Matisse, many others and that of the 1913 co-organizer Arthur B. Davies. The theme was that times were a-changin.’ The installation of living American and foreign artists, favoring works ignored or rejected by past exhibitions, however shocking in 1913,  would embolden American artists and give them voice, independence and “artistic language”of their own. The logo for the International Exhibition of Modern Art was “The New Spirit,” and that it was.
   The present armory show, which closes Feb. 23 and is a tribute to such Historical Society officials as Brian Allen, director of the Museum Division, and
Marilyn Satin Kushner, PhD,
curator and head, Department of Prints, Photographs andArchitectural Collections, is set in intimate rooms reminiscent of the paneled sections of the original installation. You see up close what the fuss was all about as you look at this challenging art.
     When visitors left the Historical Society Saturday, they faced even more history, literally, as snow pushed against face and a carriage could be seen in the old Central Park, not unlike that of a Saturday in 1913 or long before. That there has been both continuity in human affairs, in ordinary living, in the daily goings-on of a metropolis such as New York City while culture constantly changes and evolves gives proof that you can grow, as the 1913 Armory Show implored, but also stray grounded, as Central Park and the Historical Society prove every day.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman. He can be contacted at ahgunther@hotmail.com. This essay may be reproduced.



Sunday, February 9, 2014

ON A SNOW DAY ...


By Arthur H. Gunther III

     Snow -- pristine, fresh, covering all the warts of ordinary land -- is a childhood delight that we don’t give away to growing older, though the demands of getting to work and to the store and to the shovel and to utter humanity and the inhumanity of that, too, make us think twice.
     Yet we must fight against that tide, for in the end the child grown very old, it is hoped, again becomes the child, as if by natural cleansing there is preparation for the innocence of eternity.
     When a youngster finds there is no school, that a snow day has been declared, though his/her parents may fret over child care, the youngster knows that the point isn’t escaping class, for education may well be fascinating. No, this snow day is a treat, a sudden gift, a ticket to explore. 
     Time to build a snowman, throw snow balls, walk to the hot chocolate shop, stay in pajamas all day, hearing the furnace turn on, adding to the warmth of a blanket on the couch.
     It is a moment to daydream, to use unscheduled time for whatever, even nothing, for out of nothing often comes something.
     Maybe adult-dom ought to have its snow days, too, releasing the minions from the treadmill, from encapsulated thinking, from the usual choices.
     Just as long as the child and the adult never share the same day “off,” for the twain should rarely meet.

    The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be contacted via ahgunther@hotmail.com. This essay may be reproduced.