Sunday, December 30, 2012

ROCK WALLS AS METAPHOR AGAINST UNREASONABLE GROWTH



By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com

BEYOND GOTHAM -- You would not expect a county named Rockland to have mere pebbles or such small stone that you could call it a mud flat or a hayfield or desert. This glacial age area, the smallest such New York State jurisdiction geographically, is so full of rock, many of which are unmovable, that it well deserves the name.

And some cursing. If you could unbottle all the collected utterings of fruit and truck crop farmers since the 1700s and of suburban homeowners and now commercial landscapers since the end of World War II, you would have one rather deafening obscenity yell. The old joke among our once many farmers was that each early spring, cleared fields from the previous seasons would be dotted with new stones, which seemingly managed to work their way to the surface and had to be removed by muscle power and maybe a horse or oxen or mule.

For decades, the farmers would follow the Native American tradition and pile the field rock onto walls, which conveniently became boundaries for property and to divide crops. As children who scrambled along these walls, we heard that the Indians had buried their long-ago dead in these walls and that the spirits must not be disturbed by tearing them apart.

Of course, suburban “progress” has done just that -- bulldozed many of these walls, and the woods have obscured the walls that once defined  cropland. Yet if you look for them, you will find rock walls, mostly intact and held together by gravity. Since there is no mortar, the rocks move with freeze and thaw, and our native snakes find them homey.

One such wall exists in old south Spring Valley, which later in the 20th century became the Village of Chestnut Ridge, taking its name from the road and elevation  that climbs into Montvale, N.J. (In New York, the road is Route 45). This area was old Dutch and early American farmland into the last century and is now largely residential with some commercial in New York and lots of that in Montvale.  

The rock wall I cite is alongside the Talman family cemetery that began on land owned in the late 1700s by Douwe H. Talman. While the greater parcel has changed hands over the years,  eventually owned by the Edwin Gould Foundation, the graves of a number of Talmans lie in a 30 by 30-foot place, including the ashes of Wilfred Blanch Talman, the well-known Rockland Leader newspaper columnist. Descended from three centuries of Dutch and Huguenot ancestry in Rockland and northern Bergen County, he was a foremost chronicler of local history, as reporter, photographer and columnist with the Sherwood Newspapers of Spring Valley. One of his premier books is “How Things Began in Rockland County and Places Nearby” (The Historical Society of Rockland County). 

The Talman family is worried that major housing construction is surely headed for the old Gould site, which has just been sold to a Brooklyn/Monsey land development corporation and that such use would disturb the burial grounds. Not so, a media report indicates, citing a land-use attorney for the new owners as saying it would be respected.

Certainly it must be. Back in the 1980s, a similar family cemetery off Route 45 in Pomona was disturbed as office development took place. The Talman gravesite is hardly a dot on the full 145-acre grounds. Not difficult to protect. 

Yet the post-war history of Rockland is one that is much more of quicksand promise than rock guarantee. Many developers have said they would protect history, but so many old homes are now gone; floodplains were to be left as natural drain for storms, and that has not happened; growth was to be gradual, allowing time for infrastructure to be acquired and paid for without major taxes, but government has failed us there; and quality of life was to be enhanced, yet housing density and too many shopping strips have done us in.

In all that “progress,” many old rock walls have fallen in my county. I hope that as the Gould site is developed, that not only does the Talman family gravesite and its wall remain intact but that those walls in the extensive wetlands are protected as well. The potential for explosive growth, especially if there is predictable downzoning, is a thought almost as overwhelming as the rocks old Rockland farmers dug up each year. They cursed then; who among us now is willing to shout an epithet against too much development?

The writer is a retired newspaperman.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

ANGELS AMONG US




By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com

The flowering of life for 20 precious youngsters in Newtown, Conn., stopped blooming with their dreadful passing Friday, but already we feel their effect as angels for all of us:

  • A father whose 6-year-old daughter is never to be seen or heard again takes time from grieving to express sympathy for the gunman’s family.
  • A president tears in eloquence beyond his worded statement.
  • The media reports small acts of kindness worldwide. (They were always there, but not always highlighted.)
  • Queens, prime ministers, an entire world react with sympathy, political persuasion aside.
  • Even as the shooting was taking place and some youngsters were already gone, one 6 year old told his teacher: “It’s all right. I know karate,” offering proof of children’s resilience and perspective. 
  • Kaitlin Roig, a first-grade Newtown teacher, tells the media how she rushed 15 small, terrified kids into a tiny bathroom, making them all fit and pulling a bookcase in front of the door. She kept the kids calm and told them over and over “I love you,” acting as surrogate parent and remembering later that she said those words because if they were to die, she did not want gunfire to be the last worldly statement.
  • We are reminded once again, through Kaitlin Roig, through others at Newtown and in so many places, of the daily dedication and caring of our teachers, some of whom were heroes Friday.
  • Community spirit, coming at Christmas and Hanukkah, too, brings Newtown together, and that expands quickly to others in Connecticut, to all the states, to all nations. The earth is now Newtown. 

In the aftermath of the tragedy, renewed debate has already begun on gun control, school security is being readdressed, parents are hugging their children more and great eloquence will be offered in the many eulogies, including those for the heroic staff who died along with the school children. But the most enduring of this forever time after is and will be the healing by angels who just Friday were little boys and girls with worldly future. The angels will not let us forget.

The writer is  a retired newspaperman.

Monday, December 10, 2012

WHEN 'RUDOLPH' MADE ALL THINGS BRIGHT


By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com

    Suffern, N.Y. -- In a flash-by moment when suburbia was knocking but there were few housing development doors yet ready to open, my dad hustled a 1939 gray Dodge west on Route 59 in what was then rural Tallman, on the way to Good Samaritan Hospital in Suffern. I recall looking at the hamlet firehouse and not seeing many other buildings except the Polo Inn restaurant and what is now the Tallman Bible Church. Traffic perhaps included one other car on this late December 1949 day.

     I was just past age 7, in the second  grade at the Airmont School, and I was heading for a free tonsillectomy at Good Sam because my father knew the doc (Dad was, among his 26 jobs, a licensed practical nurse). I needed the procedure because I kept getting colds, the whooping cough and other respiratory infections, and in those days they yanked the natural germ filters out of your throat.

I was thinking, as the lumbering car rolled down a two-lane, deserted highway, that I would rather be in school, not exactly the normal wish, except that this moment was not normal anyway. I was scared, though so very ignorant of what was to take place that my focus was on the ice cream (vanilla) that was promised and a peacoat my grandmother was to give me. And since this was just after Christmas, well, an extra gift or two maybe were worth the tonsillectomy.

In those pre-suburban days, Good Sam was just one building, big enough, but no wings added to more wings, as the facility has since morphed. Sister Miriam Thomas was in charge, and just as tough as her assistant, Sister Joseph Rita. But both were smiling at this frightened young fellow.

I remember getting my own room and asked to take off my clothes, which was confusing since I had just put them on. But what did I know of operations? I also did not know how to tie the hospital gown, which was way too big. 

Off we went to the operating room, where everyone, including my father, were in white. They would not let me walk in, but rolled me on a cart, cool enough. So was the anesthesia, which was administered through a mask. I was asked to count to ten, and I thought, gee, I am in first grade, and I can do more than that. I got to just three and then I seemed to wake up instantly, as if nothing had happened. Confused, I tried to ask when the doctor would make his move, but I could not talk. There was some pain and much soreness. 

My father had expected to take me home after an hour’s recovery, but since the tonsils were greatly inflamed and I also had an enlarged adenoid cut out, I began to hemorrhage. I was to stay the night. Which I did, in a room by myself, in the half-dark, half-light that is a hospital, amid sounds of talking staff and scurrying people. 

I had trouble getting to full sleep, with a kindly nurse coming in every hour or so to take my temperature and sometimes give me a derriere shot. As I once again tried to sleep with a really sore throat, I heard “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” being sung by Gene Autry. The Johnny Marks tune, originated by Harry Brannon, had just hit #1 for the “Singing Cowboy.” (Gene Autry was my favorite cowboy in 1949, a year when youngsters called them heroes.) 

With “Rudolph” on, I must have quickly fallen away, for I soon was awake and getting dressed, headed home to ice cream and a peacoat. Today I can never hear Autry’s rendition of “Rudolph” without thinking of a long-ago experience made easier in country time by kind nurses.

The writer is a retired newspaperman.

Monday, December 3, 2012

ACCOUNTABILITY NEEDED IN HURRICANE SANDY NORTHEAST REBUILD



By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com

Billions are being sought for Hurricane Sandy reconstruction by the governors of New York and New Jersey and New York City’s mayor. The full dollars may not come given the federal budget deficit, the “fiscal cliff” stalemate and traditional congressional reluctance to assist the Northeast, but whatever funds do arrive, the worry is that the greedy already see cash in their big eyes.  

Gov. Andrew Cuomo says New York State needs $42 million, Gotham’s mayor wants $15 billion and Jersey Gov. Chris Christie thinks $37 billion will do. How these astounding figures are arrived at is anyone’s guess, though I suppose aides add up destroyed infrastructure, private housing, lost wages, etc., so that the politicians have “ballpark” figures to lobby the president, Congress and the federal Office of Management and Budget. Let’s hope some serious bean counters step in to reassess the billions requested. In fact, add about a million dollars for a independent clerk of the works and staff who can challenge every predicted expense. 

Anyone with a flicker of humanity knows people who lost their homes and possessions, who even today are without the comfort of ordinary routine, must be assisted, and sooner rather than later. And there are roads, tunnels, train equipment, etc., that must be repaired for the general good. All very expensive  work, though jobs will be created, and that will help the struggling economy.

What will not help the nation’s finances is to go whole hog on Hurricane Sandy cleanup and restoration without checking the figures in the beginning, during the rebuilding and after. Some concerns:

  • Will the contracts for repair/replacement be reasonable, will the opportunity to grossly inflate amounts be checked?
  • Who will check the credentials of the potential contractors, their reliability? How many will have political connections?
  • Will the costs of materials be exorbitant?
  • Should some of the shoreline homes not be rebuilt because they could again lie in harm’s way in this time of ever-worse “100-year” storms that come every few seasons?  Can some of the residents be relocated inland?
  • Similarly, should all boardwalk areas be restored if they will be damaged in future storms? Will new construction be such that it can withstand  surges?
  • Will a dollar limit be placed on assistance for wealthy residents who lost expensive shore homes? The ordinary taxpayer should not be helping the rich. Basic home reconstruction, yes, but additional expense for big-bucks homes should come from the homeowner.
•  Will priority be given to such devastated areas as the Rockaways in New York, where bungalows were destroyed? These people need assistance first.
  • Will infrastructure be replaced with better design and material, or will the same-old be rebuilt and again damaged in new storms?
  • Will there be a timetable for the money spent and to assure well-paced reconstruction?
  • Finally, will government just dole out billions and then walk away, leaving the details and ultimate cost overruns to the bureaucracy, to the greedy who see this as big opportunity?

An ombudsman is required, a National Storm Rebuilding Overseer, a clerk of the works who can filter all costs. If that person and team are not appointed, if there is no gatekeeper, the national deficit will again balloon in continued lack of accountability.  

The writer is a retired newspaperman. 

Monday, November 26, 2012

UNDERSTANDING, UNDERSTOOD



By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com
columnrule.blogspot.com

We all walk, run, race, saunter and mope our individual ways through life, journeys that for most are never just straightaway but with twists and turns, detours, cul de sacs, dead ends and, if we are fortunate, the rare casual lane. This is about that last byway, which I have tarried on just a precious few times.

If you have had a longish life, as I am into, with a fine family, successful career and a feeling that you were given an opportunity to make a very slight but real difference to the good and that you have tried to do that, you cannot have complaint. And I do not. Even my falls and flaws have somehow been positive. I am damn lucky.

Yet if I went to the finish line without having been on the casual lane, a door to what might be next might not have opened in preview. Not sure if I am headed to that -- the jury is still out -- but I have gotten a glimpse of things fantastic.

Each of us has a mojo, a core essence, the fuel that is in our engine, our raison d’etre. Mine is the quiet. It is where I drink my life water. Nothing creative, no goosebumps, no inner happiness, no true understanding comes without being there, however short that may be, however infrequent. The quiet comes when it does, and it is obvious that my god of the woods and all that is simple and decent offers it.

Once, so long ago now, in a time when the planets seemed to bring confusion and I was stalled against moving forward on every level, I found respite without looking for it on a casual lane where the goosebumps came in conversation about nothing but about everything. I was not there long, and the next road had many twists and turns, too, then the long straightaway came. It has been the highway of job (career), raising family, losing friends and family, gaining friends and family, of much change, retirement, new opportunities,

Now I am back on a casual lane from time to time, again enjoying conversation that brings insight and comfort, a general purring for the synchronization is right as it was so long ago. I refill my quiet there, bouncing the ordinary off a co-conversationalist, as once before. Different time, different people, but understanding, understood.

The writer is a retired newspaperman.

Monday, November 19, 2012

SHOWING GOOD IN A STORM



By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com

I went to Louisiana, Connecticut, Georgia and all the way to Texas during Hurricane Sandy’s recent rude visit to the Northeast, and I barely left home. It wasn’t time travel that did the trick but the goodness of humanity. And a bit of financial incentive.

Utility crews from as far away as the Lone Star State were on hand in my area north of New York City to restore service in the electrical and communication devastation. These people are the best. The ones I saw and met were as neighborly as if I sat daily on a front porch in their communities. They smiled though most were on 12-hour or more shifts handling dangerous repair and unaccustomed to the quicker ways of the north.

Ways that include heavy traffic, impatience, sometime rudeness and attitude. But I also saw - I am sure you did as well - little of that behavior on area roads while these called-in utility workers did their job. Some people brought them coffee and food, and one fellow walking by a lineman from Texas patted his back, not saying a word where none was needed. The Texan showed fatigue, but the pat, the silent thank you, gave him a burst of new energy.

One morning at 1 a.m., in blowing wind, a Louisiana crew worked by whatever light they could provide to temporarily connect main feeder lines so that 1,000 people without electricity for eight days could see light and have that all important heat in their homes. A week later the same crew returned and made permanent their work.

In such disasters as Sandy, many of us slow down a bit. We are forced to do without power and thus have time on our hands. We can’t just reconnect to the Internet and check email. We walk to the local library and sit with strangers, some of whom might could live just five houses away in suburbia, and huddle in warmth, using computers, reading the paper. We return home to cook simple meals with natural gas. We sit by candlelight. We go to sleep early, covered by quilts in houses below 50 degrees, just like our great-grandparents did.

And we see, perhaps for the first time in a long while, how little we need to keep going. And how awesome it is to observe a kind gesture, such as the neighbor who ran an extension cord from his generator to the people next door; the convenience store owner who gave out free coffee; the police officer who reported to work without asking for overtime; the volunteer firefighters, first aiders, auxiliary police and others who gave to the point of exhaustion. 

And the out-of-area utility workers who worked with their local Orange and Rockland, Con Edison, Verizon, Optimum and other utility  brothers to get the job done.  While there will be argument and investigation about utility preparedness and response, as there must be if only to be better prepared for the next storm in the “new normal,” none of those words will delete the two we use best to describe those professionals and others who helped in the disaster: good people. 

Does humanity need any more than that? 

The writer is a retired newspaperman.



Monday, November 12, 2012

THUMBS UP FOR HUMANITY



By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com

In all the disruption, sadness and worry that hit the Northeast as Hurricane Sandy walloped us, much of the human spectrum was once again revealed. There were heroes who died saving family; 90 year olds without heat, light and phone who said World War II rationing and shortages were worse; looters and the greedy who will meet their karma; volunteers who gave without complaint; linemen and government workers who went above and beyond; and that part of government and business that showed great weakness in preparation and follow-through.

In the next few months, reports will be compiled, as officialdom is wont to do; few will be read for the next time such a terrible storm comes. By the old calendar, that is abut 100 years away; by the new, perhaps in two seasons. Instead, it will fall to the ordinary person to be better prepared -- home generators, fuel stockpiled, more grit and determination, and a bigger wallet to pay for home repairs and the inevitable increase in insurance payments and, of course, to fund all that utility rebuilding. Somehow, stockholders usually fare better in a storm than the rest of us.

But that’s life, and I’ll side with the best of the human condition rather than the big guns who don’t always shoot straight or get their ammunition wet when they are supposed to be protecting us. The best are those selfless volunteers, whether firefighters and other first responders, or the neighbor who ran an extension cord from his generator to another, or who brought food to a cold shut-in. I’ll applaud the paid official or officer who gave without thought to fatigue or overtime; the churchman who made the needy citizenry his true sanctuary; the gasoline delivery man who phoned a radio station and gave the public a list of where he had just dropped off fuel; the children who had such fun not watching TV but playing by candlelight.

Yes, disaster struck, and for some the mourning will not soon leave, sadness and loss will be almost forever. Yet for many, there is reaffirmation in the good of humanity. We all need sustenance to survive, but it isn’t just food. This hurricane reminded us.

The writer is a retired newspaperman.

Monday, October 22, 2012

OFF TO FOREIGN SHORES

                            Students in Paris at 
                                      sidewalk cafe


By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com
columnrule.blogspot.com

PARIS -- It wasn’t  “Innocents Abroad,” but a just-completed trip to the City of Light and then to Amsterdam has given this country bumpkin a nice comeuppance, thank you: There is life beyond my parochial shores, and our great nation has lessons to learn from other countries.

I was on a journey with my wife Lillian, who has been owed this trip by a very much non-traveler for decades now, having been a stalwart companion, wife, mother and general fine human being. I went with half-certainty that I would not enjoy the getting to and getting from but would appreciate the sights and especially the people once I arrived. In the end, I surely liked those I met and what I saw, and I found the flights much better than I had fretted about. There were hiccups, yes -- the arranged pickup at Charles de Gaulle airport didn’t show for two hours, the Amsterdam hotel forgot to clean the room one day, and, oh, my knapsack was whisked from my side at the Gare du Nord train station in Paris, leaving me in the same clothes for several days. But Mark Twain could not have had a better experience once boosted to the great continent of Europe.

Paris is, as described --  magical, overfilling with life as it is being lived, not so much life before and after, but the very moment. So, it is exhiliarating. Food is eaten in small portions, the taste savored, the wine a matching partner. Parisians are not brusque, arrogant, indifferent. They are matter of fact, yes, civil, oh absolutely, helpful, especially if you offer a few words in their language, and polite. Most of all, they -- all French are -- proud. These are the descendants of the Bastille, the citoyen (citizens) who went to arms in the 1789 Revolution, the survivors of two world wars and the Nazi occupation. An obelisk marks the guillotine site; bullet holes from the World War II Resistance dot the limestone walls of buildings along the Champs-Élysées; frequent military parades include 90 year olds standing straight at the Arc de Triomphe. They live their history.

Paris is at peace now but seemingly always ready to react to controversial politics; to changing fashion, of which it is a master; to injustice, to threats against liberté, égalité, fraternité.

The Eiffel Tower, a “temporary” structure  set by Gustave Eiffel for the 1889 World’s Fair, looms over the city, a direction point for lost visitors, whether by geography or by emotion. A trip to its top, almost a must, gives views of Paris in the round, the arrondissements or districts and the history within so visible.

And then there is the Seine, the origin of Paris, with its two remaining islands, Ile St. Louis and Ile de le Citie.  Ile St. Louis  is where artists and other bohemians live, and now the upper classes. Ernest Hemingway wrote there, in a quiet contrasted to fast-paced Paris. Ile de le Citie is the official center, populated by many as Paris was settled and built up. Many of the famous features of the city are on it, including Notre Dame, Sainte Chapelle and the Palais de Justice.

A visit to Paris can be made for pleasure, for love, for curiosity, to relax, to see historic sights. For me, the City of Light revealed life beyond my quite-ordinary, comfortable world. The Parisians we met set aside any stereotype unfortunately gained, as any such judgment is. This non-traveler would have tarried longer, as morning coffee at a sidewalk bistro table, light off the Seine and the frequent “bonjour!” in such beautiful accent began to clothe me in a comfortable jacket and shoes that I could easily wear for quite a spell. I wasn’t just American anymore, not just a proud American, but a citizen of Paris, too.  I was an innocent abroad, a pilgrim, but I am a lot less so now.

Merci, mes amis. 

Monday, October 8, 2012

AUTUMN: A SEASONAL GIFT



October 8, 2012


   By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com


     My Colorado correspondent reports early morning temps of 28 degrees near Grand Junction, and in Blauvelt, N.Y., this morning  we were in the lower 40s. At long last, autumn seems to be beyond teasing, not welcomed by everyone but certainly more appreciated by many after a hot, even sticky, endless summer. 

I can’t speak for Grand Junction save what my friend has reported over almost seven years -- that there is awesome beauty in red rock cliffs and mesas, that there are very fine wineries, that at times she is reminded of growing up in pre-Tappan Zee Bridge Rockland County, in Congers, N.Y.

If you enjoy fall, it matters not where you live,  except that you have to have autumn, of course.  Cape Cod, with its post-season quiet and chilled salty air, walks in its dunes, sea grass at your knees is a blessing in itself. In Rockland, there are Hudson trails at Piermont, Nyack, Haverstraw, Stony Point and Tomkins Cove that are as majestic against fall’s color as must be the pearly gates.

In Vermont, well, that’s where God must have first dipped a paintbrush, and the great and rich palette is repeated season after season, though humankind and its misuse of the environment can remix and muddle the colors in a particular year.

I imagine Seattle, with its particular fall rain, or the Carolinas or the Virginias or the Midwest, in switching gears from their summers to what is their fall, bring excitement in change, too. 

If you have autumn,  you get out the heavier clothing, check the furnace, load up on firewood and check the rack of summer preserves. And that’s just the physical, the details. The bigger readiness comes from the psychological, for fall is a passage to winter, when we hunker down, when we draw from our stores. It is a proper emotional time that allows us to endure all year long, to increase our mettle.

While spring brings renewal and recharge after winter, fall leads us into the cold time by getting us snug in a favorite sweater, perhaps in a comfortable chair by a good reading lamp as dark comes earlier, rays of the setting sun filtering through autumn’s wonderously beautiful colors. It's reassurance that all can be well in the cycle of things earthly.

Fall -- it’s where you have to be. 


Thursday, October 4, 2012

NO MUSTARD CUT AT DEBATES

   
By Arthur H. Gunther III

     Neither of the presidential candidates showed us the bacon Tuesday night in the first of three national debates. Mitt Romney was more aggressive than to be expected, but he was in outer space on some of his “facts.” Barrack Obama looked like he’d rather be at dinner with his wife on their anniversary. Let’s pray the future “debates” --  these were not such -- show us the money. Re-runs of “West Wing” would have been more exciting.
     Unfortunately for an American electorate so very concerned about a dwindling middle class, poor job outlook, exponential health-care costs and expensive military involvement that sends home stricken warriors but does not end corruption nor foster democracy, Obama and Romney were talking heads. Each argued poorly, invoking the same, old unfruitful Democratic and Republican rhetoric that has little to do with reality. These were two policy wonkers, and you wanted to send each to a time-out corner for not getting to any point except endless posturing.
     Better this debate should have been held in a deserted factory in Detroit, or on a New York City street corner where the homeless gather around fire in an old oil drum, or on an Afghanistan road where bombs take out our military, or in an overcrowded classroom where textbooks are years old and too many students wait for help that will never come. Instead, the stage was well-lit, the candidates in spiffy suits, makeup applied, question-and-answer rehearsals having taken place. Where was reality?
     Reality is Main Street, USA. Reality is the ordinary American holding his head in his hands at the kitchen table. Reality is job loss. You see tears now, in the households where the unemployed sit for two years or more, from college graduates without hope, from those who bought into the American Dream only to have it dashed by an economy built on the middle class and now controlled by entrenched politicians who ignore that class in favor of lobby money. 
     The many in America today know full well that Congress and the presidency are damaged systems, and great change must come if the nation is to survive. Special interests rule the roost, and the people’s voice must rise in volume against them. Otherwise we will continue to have polished-up candidates who talk a line but do not walk it. We need a person of courage to tell it like it is.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman.

Monday, October 1, 2012

NOT THE SAME MOXIE?




By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com

     At the Hudson River -- If the British had controlled this mighty waterway above New York City, Gen. Washington would not have successfully moved troops and supplies vital to the battles west and south, the colonies would have been cut in two and we might now be crown subjects. Vital to American defense was a mighty iron chain of 65 tons forged in the Ramapo Mountains and in 1778 laid in just four days from West Point to Constitution Island, effectively blocking British movement north during our American Revolution.  That early “can-do” inventiveness and spirit saved a nation.

Now, in 2012, we see another Hudson crossing in the making, but will it prove to show the same moxie? The test this time is the coming replacement of a mighty bridge that has proven to be weak-kneed. 

The present Tappan Zee Bridge, designed on the cheap so as to get it built quickly to connect the New York State Thruway with Gotham in 1955, is said to be failing. Its main span pontoon structure is perhaps compromised by marine wood-borers and the structure is in need of constant, costly  maintenance, in part because the traffic load, particularly from trucks, is way beyond what was projected in the 1950s. No longer is there a breakdown lane, and there is no provision for adequate mass transit in a commuting region.

So, instead of unending repair, and to foster the image of a New York State that can actually solve some of its immense problems, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has arranged for relatively quick replacement, a five-year or so construction of two crossings side by side with space for possible mass transit in-between (likely bus, remote chance of light or regular rail). Design details, and as important, financing await revelation. So is the final cost, perhaps upwards of $6 billion.

But that’s future history. Back to the past: The Tappan Zee was conceived at the last moment in Thruway planning. The interstate was to end 12 miles away at Suffern and connect to New Jersey roads, which would send travelers to New York City. But since the money men realized there was no viable way to pay off Thruway bonding, the idea of a toll crossing over the Hudson -- long sought, a tunnel was planned in the 1930s -- became paramount. Thus the “cash register on the Hudson” was born, linking west and east of the Hudson to a thruway extended to the Bronx. Trouble is, the route has never been best for trucks. Much of that commerce goes to upper New England, and full interstates through Connecticut to the Atlantic shore route should have been constructed instead of the limited I-84 setup. Without the right road network, the Tappan Zee suffers undue congestion and has become old before its time. Its replacement will do little to relieve truck traffic since the combined crossings will not add significant road space, and no widening is planned where traffic funnels into the river approach. Congestion already exists there, and it will not be relieved.

Also, historically little thought has been given to mass transit for the still-developing commuter region served by the Tappan Zee. For the bridge’s first 20 years, no problems. But after that, increasing congestion. Two commuter rail lines west of the Hudson were actually abandoned in the late 1950s and mid-1960s. Today, in New York State, there is no west-of-the-Hudson one-seat train ride to a major world city just 20 miles away. So very backward, that. 

Probably, there will be no rail lines on the new Hudson crossings, because of the expected heavy cost, though I’d bet that light rail could work. The governor does promise future transit, but can he guarantee that space will be used for mass transit and not truck and car vehicular lanes? We all remember how the highway and trucking lobby commandeered the mass transit space on the George Washington Bridge in 1960,  which not only prevented development of modern commuter and freight rail west of the Hudson River but has greatly added to New York-New Jersey congestion, in a “build-it-and-they-will-come” effect. 

In the bridge rebuild, where is the solution to heavy traffic on both sides,  a workable east-west commuter system, relief from present and future air, visual and noise pollution and from local traffic runoff? The new crossings at the Tappan Zee may well prove beautiful. Surely they must be at this very scenic part of the Hudson. Indeed, give Gov. Cuomo credit for seeking to protect the river scenery in the rebuild by naming a prestigious design committee. Yet artistry cannot begin and end on the river. While the Thruway approach on the Westchester County side has been improved in the I-287 connection reconstruction, the Rockland County interstate connection looks like Fort Apache in the Bronx of the 1970s. The median barrier is beat-up and the cross-over bridges require serious work. Nice palette, but get a bigger paint brush, governor.

Where is the long-term regional planning in this bridge rebuild, big thinking that would enable Rockland, Westchester, lower upstate and the metropolitan area to move to the expanded frontier that should be the 21st century? Are we Americans no longer capable of boldness, the sort that brought us the Great Chain? 

It is not far-fetched to compare creative action that saved a nation to a better-conceived Tappan Zee Bridge replacement. History is again being written on the Hudson River, but present short-sighted government planning seems to have chained our future to mediocrity. This bridge rebuild is like putting it in the middle of a forest, reachable only by a jutted trail. Come up with plans now to improve the interstate leading to the new crossings and add an HOV bus lane from Suffern to Westchester. Start planning for either a light rail connection from the Palisades Center commuter lots to Tarrytown Station on the Hudson Line. And improve the truck routes to New England, bypassing the Tappan Zee. This is a nationally vital crossing, important to commerce and defense, so close to Gotham. Washington must provide reasonable funding for a better rebuild, as it has done for big projects elsewhere in the nation.

Will the new crossings at the Tappan Zee be a resurrection of our can-do pioneering spirit? Not as planned, but we shall see.



Sunday, September 23, 2012

DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE, Part II


September 23, 2012

DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE (Part II)
(Eliminating special-interest influence)

    When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

     We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all humanity is created equal, that all living persons are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. To secure these rights, governments are instituted among the people, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter it,  laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. 

     When a long train of abuses and usurpations evinces a design to reduce them under a perversion of power, it is their right, it is their duty to provide new guards for their future security.
  
     Such has been the patient and growing sufferance of these American people for at least 40 years; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to require change. The recent history of the United States, its Congress, its presidencies, is one of repeated injuries and usurpations, all owing to special interests and other lobbies that have perverted individual and especially middle-class opportunity, dashed hopes for a renewed economy and set aside the promise that each succeeding generation will improve upon the last. 

     We, therefore, We the People of the United States of America, in General Congress, assembled not in one place but existing as free humanity in every state of the great union, do solemnly publish and declare, that we are, and of right ought to be free and independent of all Special Interest, that such lobbies have no right to demand slavery from us, to be beholden to their thirst for greed, to give up our liberty and the pursuit of happiness, to forego any reasonable and secure future for our young, to abandon the glue of the nation, that is, its middle class. 

We therefore declare that from this date forth, We the People are absolved from special-interest allegiance in favor of publicly funded election of all in Congress and the president him(her)self, with no special-interest money allowed as influence of any sort. 

     And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our sacred honor.

(With apologies to the Founders.)

Monday, September 17, 2012

Progress and mold



By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com

Once in my parts, a section of the Northeast where even today not all the woods have been bulldozed by Progress, we measured fall’s coming by morning humidity on the side of a white clapboard garage. The glisten was subtle, almost like a fine spray of matte lacquer, not the obvious, invasive, sweating droplets of August dog days. Accompanied by brisk air and the first whiff of turning leaves, those who enjoy changes in season were pleased.
     
Today, such dew still hits “Novelty-style” siding on the fewer white garages standing, but more often the glisten must endure co-ownership with a recent summer ravage: green and black mold.

Summers in the Northeast seem much more humid (whether that be a condition of Progress or not), and the moist air particularly likes vinyl siding, which is Progress’ answer to repainting garages. Even the embossed woodgrain look provides shelter for water to tarry and invites mold to come stay a spell. Most of this mold is green, though it has gone to dangerous black on some really humid sites. And while the north side is favored, mold creeps around buildings, cheered on by tree and shrub overgrowth that come to the Progress celebration.

Now if all this seems a metaphor for what comes in the swath of growth, of Progress, it surely is. The building lot, the raw material for Progress, includes centuries of trees and other vegetation, lowlands and highlands that the bulldozer often does not respect as to intended contour for good water runoff and proper land use. A house built on it may eventually be overgrown by poorly trimmed trees and close-foundation shrubs, and mold visits. Or storms arrive and basement flooding or downed power lines result,  the collateral of the march of Progress.

Of course, Progress can go in for annual check-ups, for maintenance, so that the quality of living in a nice home can be protected for both homeowners and the neighbors affected downstream. And not every property -- in suburbia, in Gotham, in rural scape -- is visited by mold, this metaphor for the general house cleaning required as homeowner responsibility. But, still, there’s more mold out there these days, it seems.    

Monday, September 10, 2012

CHILDREN: THE FUTURE



By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com

     Anywhere, USA -- Last week in Upper Nyack, N.Y., it was the first day of school, and three new kindergarteners were posed by a mom in front of the building sign, a posterity shot, but also mom’s wish upon a star. Behind them was the door that would open to their future. Elsewhere in Anywhere, USA, you could substitute color, ethnicity, religion, place, yes, but everywhere there were kids beginning the climb to adulthood. Will passage through all the doors of the elementary, middle school and high school years be as accessible? And when the youngsters of kindergarten America 2012 graduate in 2030, what will their futures be?

If there could be one campaign poster for the Republican and Democratic presidential runs, for Congress, state legislature, the local dogcatcher, it should be that mom’s photo from Anywhere USA. All the talk about tax rates, Social Security, greed, special interests, wars of choice, political ideology, health care, college expenses and immigration are in words these new kindergarteners do not understand. The fortunate among them can write their names, and they use the words of playtime -- super heroes, “Hello Kitty,” Disneyland. Other youngsters hear harsh words of threat and fear in circumstances that should not be tolerated.

What words will these next-year first graders hear and see and write? And in the eight grade? In 12th? Will they be those of the Horatio Algers of a nation that once had an endless frontier and much opportunity to succeed? Will they be the words of war correspondent Ernie Pyle, who so deeply shared the soul of citizen soldiers gone to battle but eager to return to home and hearth becaue that was the true democracy? Will they be the words of inspiring, articulate leaders who also led? Will they be the words of national allegiance and unity but with respect for differences of opinion? Most of all, will their words be of aspiration and trust, of caring, of growing confidence that when they work hard, they will do good for nation, family, self, that their faith will not be misused, abused even, by any business or government action without ethics?

We adults see a kindergartener as simple, uncomplicated, yet it may be the most complex time in life for any. When they walk through the school door, the nurturing is more greatly assumed by the trust parents have put in the system -- school, government, society, all managed by adults who some day will step aside for these now kindergarteners.

Will the smiles on that first-day school photo in Everywhere, Anywhere, USA, remain and be reflective of national trust that assures our young they will be well-tucked-in each night? That is job one in any election, and now more so that ever.

Monday, September 3, 2012

GIFT GIVEN, GIFT USED



By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com

When I was a young newspaper photographer in the mid-1960s, on-the-job training was mostly accomplished by watching, listening, stealing ideas, experimenting and overhearing criticism of your work in a smoke-filled, newsroom already rumbling with the din of teletype machines, air tubes that carried copy to the composing room and a city editor who bellowed. It was a hectic environment and the best immersion one can have for a career that proved mutually suitable. 

I stole from fellow photog Andy Dickerman on the use of natural light and the value of tight composition; from Al Witt on shooting sports; from Ken Muise on working with the fickle public; and from the late Warren Inglese on quality, especially printing.

In my time, Warren was a god, a gifted artist who could have worked for Like Magazine, so revealing were his shots of people and so well-composed his feature pictures. He was a master printer in black and white and quite exacting in his set-up lighting so that the subsequent darkroom result would show careful planning.

That Warren could adapt to technological change over his 43-year career with Westchester County Publishers, then Gannett Suburban, including The Journal-News in Rockland County, N.Y., was another mark of his artistry. In 1948, when the then 23-year-old started in photography after distinguished and harrowing World War II service as a forward observer/scout, newspaper photos were either “spot news” -- accidents, fires, police action, etc. -- or set-up publicity shots. Cameras were large-format Speed Graphic with sheet film that measured 4 inches by five inches. Lighting was by large flashbulb. You had to have your wits about you, carrying heavy equipment like extra film in their holders and bulbs, to grab a spot-news shot. And there was little room for error, unlike today when a photog uses a digital camera with automatic focusing, multiple-shot action and exposure control. And he or she can instantly see the shot. Back in Warren's initial time, you did not know what you had until hours later, after you had developed your film. By the time Warren retired in 1991, as chief photographer for The Journal-News, he was carrying 35mm automated cameras with sophisticated lenses and motor drive. He used the improved technology well.

Yet despite the equipment revolution, one of Warren’s best published feature photographs was taken with a sheet of film in a cardboard box and a pinhole made in its cover. What counted most in that shot, as in every Inglese picture, was the right composition and lighting. Someone with $40,000 in Nikkon cameras could not have done better. And that was his point in making the shot -- that the "eye" counts most. He had an eye.

Warren W. Inglese, who passed away recently at 87, was born with the possibility of artistic talent, the son of an inventive father and later the longtime husband of Pat, an accomplished artist. That Warren was surrounded by creativity for much of his life, and that he was given the chance to express artistry as a newspaper photographer and in retirement applying images on handmade paper, reveals that he took his gift and ran with it. When someone can do that -- use natural talent well -- not only does he or she grow, but so does the universe. I can only begin to imagine what he’s photographing now.

In the mentoring that was watching, borrowing technique and listening in my own early photography career, I have Andy, Al and Ken to thank. And particularly Warren, who set a high standard as a classy artist. 

Sunday, August 26, 2012

AN ORDINARY THING, SO ILLUSIVE



By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com

   I am an ordinary fellow living an ordinary retirement  after an ordinary upbringing and an ordinary career. And that is my issue: the great gift of ordinariness that America has long offered but which now seems out of reach. Most Americans want to be ordinary, to live safe, productive lives in health and happiness, to leave the moving and shaking to others. Ordinariness is the hum of the middle class, which itself is the well-tuned, durable engine that protects democracy, that grows the economy, that offers stability. And today it is sputtering.
     When was the last time America smiled? There are tears in the households where the unemployed sit, where new college graduates cannot begin careers, where those who were taught by successful parents to buy into the American Dream see it dashed in an economy built by the 20th century middle class but now controlled by special interests in the 21st.      
     The many in America today know that Congress and the presidency are broken systems hampered by pettiness and no grand vision. Great change must come if the nation is to survive. Lobbies for greed, for power, for the extreme  left and extreme right of political ideology rule the roost, and the people’s voice must rise in volume against them. 
     So that is the issue: how to again nurture the middle class in all its ordinariness, which is also its brilliance, America’s leitmotif. It is the stability of the masses being ordinary that allows others to invent, to be pioneers, to chase the frontier.
    Could change come by requiring public financing of campaigns with no special-interest money allowed?   Maybe then the nation, free of lobby, would decide what sort of financial and educational investment, health care, pension system and social service network a progressive world leader must have and how to pay for all that without massive debt and with individual responsibility added to the wallet. 
     We must guarantee that America can be ordinary and so hum in progress once again. 

Monday, August 20, 2012

TOOLS AND 'PERSONALITY'



By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com
columnrule.blogspot.com

Each trade has its special tools, but you would think they could at least share an ordinary hammer. Observation reveals otherwise, and it’s more than about equipment.

Carpenters take a whack with various types of hammers -- used for framing, finishing, basic work (though pneumatic nail guns do most of the work today). Yet it is rare to see a joiner (fine English word for a carpenter, isn't it?) bang away at the rare piece of concrete in the way of a 2x4 with a mason’s hammer. The mason, though, will not use the carpenter’s hammer to set a brick tie to a wall but will instead grab the same masonry tool he uses for everything.

An electrician doesn’t even have a hammer. He takes out his most prized of journeyman’s possessions -- the lineman’s pliers -- and makes that his hammer, setting outlet boxes and wire staples with deft use. 

The plumber? He’ll use a hammer, but back in the day before easy plastic when plumbers were real men and they had to set heavy cast-iron pipe with hot lead-filled joinery, you’d see one coaxing a nail with a two-inch galvanized or even a one-inch black pipe meant for gas.

The finish carpenter is by nature finicky and neat, or he (she?) won’t last long. So, the tools are fairly exact. You would not see a surgeon  cutting flesh with a reciprocating saw, and the finish joiner will not employ a whacking hammer or coarse saw to do his work. Setting aside the pneumatic tools that have come to him as well, he uses well-balanced hammers and nail sets plus a guillotine-like device that removes uber-thin slices of wood off trim. All about exactness.

The roofer has his speciality hammer as does the tinsmith. The cable installer carries his coaxial cable crimpers  and the landscaper his pruners, though string trimmers seem to rule. (If all were turned on at once worldwide, the din might just throw the earth off its axis.)

Watch any of these tradespeople do their jobs, and you will see hands holding and fingers working and bodies twisting and turning to the tune of the particular craft and the special tools used. For example, it's easier for an electrician to grab his ever-used lineman’s pliers and bang in a staple than find a hammer that does not swing from his belt anyway.  He has adapted use of the tool with deft handing, unknown to any other trade that might pick up that particular plier type. Just as an electrician is not a carpenter and vice versa, their tools are distinct and fit more than the work at hand.

Personality, it seems, extends to tools.

Monday, August 13, 2012

STUCK IN TRAFFIC


By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com
columnrule.blogspot.com


Bethesda, Md. -- In 1980, Ronald Reagan came to a sister city quite near here and proclaimed that government was too big, and so in his view too costly,  and he meant to downsize. When he left two presidential terms later, Washington and its reach had grown even more. So have the D.C. surrounding communities.

In a visit last week to see a newly relocated son and his family, it was easy to declare traffic the eighth wonder of the modern world. I have not been in the D.C. region in three years, and while the roads were very busy then, it seems volume has doubled. One reason why Bethesda itself is choked is that the famous, old Walter Reed Army medical facility in D.C. has been combined into the Bethesda naval complex, and that has brought more traffic. Just from a medical center? Yes, government does nothing small. 

Before World War II, the land on which my son’s house sits was famed or used by nature for floodplains. After the blood of the Civil War battles was shed and farmers returned to crops, the slow southern lifestyle continued for generations -- until Dec. 7, 1941. Pearl Harbor brought the United States into World War II, and the war gave us a new Washington, tremendously expanded in just a few years, with huge area adjuncts like the Pentagon and thousands of homes for thousands of new government workers. The growth has never slowed, even as newly minted, naive presidents have promised downsizing.

Reagan knew not Washington, but once he arrived, officialdom quickly learned his ways. Despite whatever observations and proclamations for “change” made on the stump, the president was co-opted by the Washington system, just as every person in that office since has been swallowed in a sea of handlers, lobbyists and red tape that, like a traffic jam, clogs movement for the individual, for the public good. Good intentions have no chance, it seems, no more than a fellow can go one mile on clogged four-lane Old Georgetown Road to get a cup of joe without apoplexy.

Stuck in traffic in the good, old USA, in more ways than one. 

The writer, a retired newspaper editorialist, writes at thecolumnrule.com