Friday, June 29, 2012

     Health-care ruling: Will the people be served?
By Arthur H. Gunther III
     Where is U.S. health care headed now that the Supreme Court has ruled valid most of President Obama’s legislation? Will we see real reform, or will the special interests -- insurance companies, some, not all, providers, Medicare and Medicaid mills -- influence the law to take profit over service? Will the promise of a healthier nation -- medically, mentally, economically and socially -- come to pass? The high court ruled 5-4, but the jury is still out on the future of health care.
     Republicans will try, through repeal, to make moot the SCOTUS decision affirming President Obama’s insistence that nearly all Americans obtain health insurance or pay a penalty. Yet even if that should somehow happen, you can bet the same special interests are already crafting ways to manipulate the process to their advantage.
     Forgive the cynicism, but if this endless debate about insuring Americans were really about keeping and making people healthier, there would have been no need to take expensive lawering to the courts or to posture so long in Democratic, Republican, Conservative and Tea Party wings.
     From day one, soon after Obama took office, and even before that considering the outrageous rise in health care costs and premiums and the systematic reduction, even termination, of health insurance by big business, the decision could have been made under one premise.
     Premise: (1) proper care, fully available to all regardless of pre-existing condition, as securely guaranteed as are the freedoms of speech and religion; (2) costs regulated by government so as to derail the profit/greed factor; (3) with provision 2 in effect, private companies, not the government, would be best at providing insurance in a country where government growth and decision-making are of great concern. 
     Under this premise, our nation, conceived and bathed in the rights of humankind, would declare health care as a given right, as vital to the national defense as is a prepared military. Surely anyone of any political persuasion could agree to this.
     But what did America get in the debate? An Obama plan and a Republican plan, both lobbied by insurance companies, physicians, Medicare and Medicaid providers, all of who have livelihoods and investors waiting on the federal and state dime. 
     While the SCOTUS decision allows “Obamacare” to proceed, hopefully staving  off soaring medical costs that threaten to  make us insolvent and impotent as a world power, the players on the U.S. medical scene will not easily acquiesce if profit is threatened, if prestige is lost, if bailiwick is confined. All these interests have some legitimate concerns -- for example, malpractice insurance costs -- but ever since premiums began to rise exponentially in the 1980s, the focus has moved from the patient and gone to the wallet. The "Decade of Greed" has extended.
     President Obama says the decision “was a victory for people all over this country whose lives are more secure because of this law.” But I wonder if the “people” will indeed be served as the plan plays out, or will other interests win in a country that seems to have forgotten its citizens.
     There is opportunity to secure better health for all, to promote preventive care, to increase the nation’s well-being and productivity, even creativity, through affordable health care, but as we have seen following the banking fiasco, the spoils, even in "reform," do not go to the people, only to the greedy.

Monday, June 25, 2012


By Arthur H. Gunther III
While very few Rocklanders of the 1940s and ‘50s -- in a rural county north of New York City -- used the word “stoop,” we understood what it was like to sit on porch steps. As in Gotham, where such was a major past time as well as educational and social opportunity, more than a neighborly nod was to be had.
My grandfather met his wife in 1920, sitting on his steps, across from the lady who would become my grandmother. In Spring Valley, where I largely grew up, the same couple had a house at 14 Ternure Ave. that included a small side porch, and every grandchild sat for a photograph. It was one of the places where I could day-dream.
In Hillcrest, my mother had conversation with her neighbor Irene almost every day in good weather, choosing the front steps to pass an hour or two. Irene was from Manhattan, and she told us how on hot summer nights the entire neighborhood would be out on their “stoops” to get some air but also to connect. A few feet away, their children would be bouncing a ball or jumping rope, and every parent was also the parent of each child in the take-care-of-each-other-neighborhood.
Some of that passed to the suburbs, too, as Gothamites moved out, though not every house had front steps, nor were the homes as close together, and neighborhoods were more anonymous. Eventually, any front step-sitting gave way to the backyard patios of the later 1950s and then the decks of the 1970s and now the outside “rooms” of 2012, with huge barbecues, fire pits, hard and soft landscaping and water features, almost oases apart from the world. 
In an earlier Rockland, most homes had front porches, and swings on them. That was where grandmothers knitted, couples dated and everyone waited for the mailman. Those porches and their steps became observation posts for the passing scene, and as with the stoops of the cities, places to think things through or to share confidences over worries and fears, joys and dreams.  Both past times provided emotional and social reinforcement and learning experiences.
In a world that seems more isolated and which since 2001 appears on edge, perhaps we could do with a few more porches, steps and stoops and some neighborly visits.

Monday, June 18, 2012


     POMONA, N.Y. -- Family farms in what just 60 years ago was still a rural area were long the staple of living pre-suburbs, their cyclical planting, nurturing and harvesting a metaphor for life: hardscrabble at times, then bountiful, with heartaches, sorrows, joys and the constantly re-earned belief that sustenance can come from fierce independence and stubborness. That is the American ethic as well.
In my parts, the original Nicholas Concklin family, now descended into such principal farmers as Linda, Richard and Scott, has been farming acreage in Pomona since about 1712, making for a 300th anniversary. In a New York county -- Rockland -- where mid-last century some 500 farms existed, this is a record. The lure of housing and strip shopping money, the drain of ever higher taxes and operating costs plus the hope of an easier life saw almost all these farms plowed under. Concklin’s now operates under a land-purchase (open space) agreement with the county, and there remains the Davies farm a few miles away in Congers and some wonderful community farms and cooperatives, but by and large, suburbia -- or “progress,” a double-edged sword -- has done the deed.
The goddess of fruit is Pomona, and was the name chosen by a Concklin descendant for the Ramapo hamlet where the family so long dominated that you could not think of Pomona without conjuring up a Concklin apple or peach.
And there there is “the road” -- beautiuful, mysterious, twisting South Mountain Road, where artists, actors, musicians and writers have long planted their own crops and culled harvests, too. Maxwell Anderson wrote his plays here, including “High Tor,” the 1936 Broadway production about saving a traprock mountain down the road, Hudson River way, itself a metaphor for “progress.” He had a small hut in his woods to do his craft, taking a break then and now to run to Nyack for groceries or to get a jug of hand-pressed cider from Gordon or Raymond Concklin. Who can tell what nurtured creativity -- the apples, the woods, the same land that hosted both Concklins, creative in soil, and artists, creative from life itself?
As a younger fellow with a driver’s license and the abandon of that age, I took to South Mountain in the night, and in the fog, and in rising and  setting sun as a refuge from the quickening pace of life. If soul were to be held a bit longer before the rush of growing up and all its responsibilities, then “the road” would be companion.
I know not a farmer’s life or how Linda, Richard and Scott feel toiling soil held in Concklin hands for 300 years, touching rocks turned before the Revolution, but I understand how soul is cradled in that Heaven-sent spot of the universe.

Monday, June 11, 2012


By Arthur H. Gunther III
I am finally my grandfather, and I have long aspired at that. Here was a man, and I am looking back almost six decades, who could use Yankee ingenuity to fix almost anything, and he was smart enough to call a friend more experienced when needed, rather than be a renovation un-realist.
He had many tricks up his sleeves, some, no doubt, learned from his father, a textile industry machinist. For example, if a door was swinging shut by itself, he would take out the hinge pins and bend them a bit with a hammer and reinsert. Problem gone. My grandfather, who lived in a country village during the Great Depression, also made do, using scraps of lumber and accumulated nails and screws to fashion thingamajigs that were just that -- jigs for catching chipmunks or for filtering the juice from squeezed apples.
He cut his lawn by hand and trimmed the moss from sidewalk slabs with his wife’s old paring knife, always rehung on the same hooked nail in his garage. This was a patient fellow, and though he was not a talker and certainly not an explainer, he could teach much if you watched. Though I was and remain a day-dreamer, apparently I observed enough to, years later, become my grandfather, in a way.
I realized this yesterday, a lazy Sunday not unlike those I recall visiting my grandfather at his house just a few miles away from where I wasyesterday. And that was at my son’s house, built, fittingly enough when my grandfather was still a young man. In fact, he passed this home, in Upper Nyack, N.Y., every time he went to picnic at Hook Mountain on the Hudson River, hardly realizing that his namesake, the fourth Arthur Henry, would live there.
I was at my son’s home because his lawnmower -- not the push kind my grandfather kept so well-sharpened -- would not start. A look at the carburetor and the fuel tank disclosed a clogged line, which we cleaned and then reassembled all the works. It took just 20 minutes, and the satisfaction of successful repair that didn’t require hours and which had no complication added to an already good day.
It was while walking back to my car that I realized this was the sort of fix my grandfather would take in stride, that his “tool box” of can-do held many solutions. My own is hardly as full, and I will never have the man’s patience and thoroughness, but somehow the genetics have grabbed hold, the observations have become education and the apprenticeship is over. I am now a journeyman just because things are meant to be that way for me, just as you are who you are. I will probably never achieve master craftsman, but I wouldn’t want to take my grandfather’s place anyway.
Since life is meant to be passed on among the living from our forebears, it warms the heart.

Monday, June 4, 2012


By Arthur H. Gunther III
We all have windows on the past, even those who are not nostalgic. Suddenly someone’s face from decades ago appears clear as a bell, and you are there in that long-ago moment; you walk past an old garage on a warmish day, and the wood/oil smell is from your grandfather’s time, once shared; you hear the crickets and remember when you did so trying to fall asleep as a child.
It is on purpose, opening any such window or at least its possibility, for we do not live by the present alone, trudging happily or maybe not so much,  or by living in the future, always focusing on what’s around the corner. The past is instructive, it is foundation, even if there are moments that you cannot dwell upon without pain or regret, which is pain anyway. If grief also means love, then the past equals growth, or at the very least, survival. 
Long before psychoanalysis, the mind offered its own instructive, even healing moments, in part by opening a window on the past.
And it need not be your own window. You can research your grandmother’s upbringing, or look at how your ethnic puzzle was put together. Or study your country’s DNA, its origins. All history is opening windows.
Moving forward in life, whether it’s merely to exist or to soar in feelings and accomplishment,  also means leaving those windows open a bit, so that the informational and emotional synapses, once electrified, can be crossed more quickly when need be. It is like learning to walk, then walking.
It is said that no person is an island, even a hermit. There is human bridging to others, even if  deep water seemingly makes that impassable. But impossibility never is, since a window or two, or many, can be opened.