Sunday, December 27, 2015

THE MOLECULES WITHIN

 December 28, 2015
By Arthur H. Gunther III
     I am increasingly asked why I stay in my hometown, actually the county where I have lived my life, and my father before me, and my grandfather a bit and now one of our two sons and his family. My simple answer is this Rockland, the geographically smallest county in New York State, though almost over-populated, is where my roots are. To leave, even though it would bring greater economic comfort and a landscape horizon more like that I enjoyed in youth, would give me a deep ache when I awoke the next morning in a different world.
     It is silly, I know, but even as a younger fellow, I did not like to travel, to take a atmosphere break. Now, nearing the year 2016, there is every reason to move on, save the nearness of family and the memories of so many places, even more so, individuals. But you can have family visit when you go, and you can take your memories of people, places, moments with you, for that’s where they reside — with you, anyway. How often do we see the old places, family, teachers, friends and those we connected with in special ways? Most are gone, times have changed, and the stage sets no longer exist. You cannot go home again, yet leaving, for me, would be unplugging. I cannot do that. 
     But there is reason, logical reason, to move on. The rural quiet is gone, and you still cannot get used to the rudeness of some who brought hustle, bustle and cacophony with “progress.”  The outer library you once lived it had the rule observed: “Please Be Quiet.” There is no funding for that place today, yet there is constant, even greedy and self-centered investment in unplanned growth.      
     You are still angry with the Thruway builders for bulldozing your wooded hut in 1951 (rudely so — they didn’t tell the third grader), and that un-acceptance mushroomed and was reinforced when development after development was built, strip shopping, too, and both helped shove aside downtown community life and fostered suburban isolation. Taxes rose, and still rise.
     Perhaps another place would be more affordable; maybe there would be better land-use planning; the diversity must  continue, if you sought such a new place, and that would be necessary since you grew up with a mixture of people. Rockland has always been proudly diverse.
     So many people you know have left for warmer climate, or cheaper areas or lifestyles easier to take as life marches on. If peace could somehow be made with myself — with the leave-taking — would I go? On an afternoon, having survived the busy roads, after having paid my tax bill and having opened the utility charges, I seem fortified to look at real estate ads. But then comes the evening, and I am comfortable in a house where long we have lived. Then comes a peaceful enough sleep with memories as a warm comforter —those people are with me — and in the morning, so very early, I drive to buy three newspapers, also my life’s blood, and the roads are nearly empty. Old Rockland is back, in a way, for a short time.
     I realize the bills will get paid. And I will have new chance to complain about “progress,” as is my want. I will see everywhere the progression of life — that of my family, some gone, some here,  that of my friends, those I knew in a certain way, or who taught me, who showed me this land and why it cannot be separate from me or I from it or them.
     My resolve is reinforced after the morning ride and I purr anew — until the afternoon, anyway.
     The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached via ahgunther@hotmail.com

Sunday, December 13, 2015

THE PASSING SCENE

December 14, 2015
By Arthur H. Gunther III
There is comparison to be made to the fellow or gal standing in the corner of the dining room surfing a smartphone and a man/woman the same age sitting in a quite comfortable reclining chair in 1956. Both seeking information about local events, city, state, national, the world. Both thirsty for news. And each getting their fill.
The 1956 individual, home from all-day labor or still at home after duties there, dinner and chores finished, then finds time for relaxation with a newspaper. Perhaps he/she had several to choose from  — the unfinished morning tabloids (two) and the afternoon dailies (three) plus the weekly local paper. Much to read.
Not all is read. Too much news to take in, so there is headline scanning and exploring some stories just three paragraphs in, more than enough to learn the “who, what, where, when, how and why,” written in what we old newspapermen learned was “pyramid style” — put the key facts first and fill out later. Don’t bury the substance of the story in the middle-to-last grafs. Almost a lost art now, though.
The 1956 fellow/gal might also move on to favorite columnists — sports, society, financial, commentary — and have “conversations” with them as these were well-invited guests each day to his/her home.
All in all, the man/woman back then, blue collar or professional or housewife, could rise from an evening easy chair well-read. Great for the individual. Excellent for an informed democracy.
Now to the 2015 fellow/gal standing with smartphone. No time to sit, as in 1956, or at least no effort to do so. On the run. Smartphone scanned for the latest e-mail in a constant stream, or text; or for “news” stories that actually are headlines and quick, but often incomplete summary grafs; or the latest Tweet from a public figure, a personality, a fellow Tweeter; or a Facebook posting; or the most recent (1 minute ago) picture of something or another.
So much information, and that is just from the short time spent scanning the phone screen while standing in the corner of a dining room. In 15 minutes, another scan, perhaps in the supermarket line. Then one in the bathroom. Or as a recent, funny cartoon proposed: a couple on a date, each scaling up the smartphone, not looking at each other, no conversation. But, hey, one can always text the other, then and there.
Though my heart and mind are with newspapers -- I cannot get through a day without them -- this piece is not to declare on my own that the 1956 man/woman absorbing information so very deeply in an easy chair was a better deal than the 2015 flood of “news,” etc., that is obtained in constant looks at the smartphone, or vice-versa. It is merely to comment that such were the scenes then and now. It is life morphing, as it always has. Will it be better for an "informed democracy?" We shall see.
  The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@yahoo.com

Sunday, December 6, 2015

RE-ASSERT THE 'FOUR FREEDOMS'

By Arthur H. Gunther III
     POSTED on Dec. 6 for Dec. 7 — No American can go through this day without recalling Pearl Harbor, because it is etched on our timeline. Most modern-day citizens have no recollection  of the “Day of Infamy,” as President Franklin Roosevelt put it in asking for a declaration of war against Japan on Dec. 8, 1941, and not all know their history, but the sudden, devastating attack is common knowledge. That was deliberate action against one nation by another. Today’s Pearl Harbors, like the dreadful San Bernadino killings, are cults against people, and the battle lines are much more difficult to draw.
     President Roosevelt properly addressed a joint session of Congress in the constitutional way — the only way we should operate in a democracy — asking for a declaration of war. Subsequent presidents fudged thinking on Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan and bypassed the voice of the people, their Congress. Doing so ill-defined the battle lines and even the order of battle, brought death and destruction that need not have occurred and fueled the growth of the military/industrial complex that Gen. Eisenhower warned us about. The argument can be made that while all this was happening, America — and the world — ignored the growth of terrorism, which is our enemy today.
     It is time, then, for the president to appear before Congress in the  constitutional way to ask for a declaration of  war on terrorism. Armed with that mandate from the people, America would (1) work with other democratic nations in an allied fight; (2) seek to address worldwide conditions of poverty and neglect — a direct consequence of once-colonial powers abandoning their territories without preparing for democracy — that fuel ISIS and other cults; and (3) deliberately hail and support the “Four Freedoms” that FDR reminded the nation and the world about in a State of the Nation speech to Congress on Jan. 6, 1941: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, freedom from fear. 
     I repeat here what FDR told us:
       “In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms. The first is freedom of speech and expression – everywhere in the world.  The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way – everywhere in the world. The third is freedom from want – which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants-everywhere in the world. The fourth is freedom from fear – which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor – anywhere in the world.”
     Why is it necessary for Congress to declare war on terrorism? Why must the voice of the people and the president repeat the “Four Freedoms?” Simple: to avoid those special interests who make money on war, who would see us in lockdown and security checks “for our own sake,” who would even deny free speech “for the duration” so as to better fight a “war,” who  would clamp down on all Muslims, denying freedom of speech, who in greed would continue to neglect the backbone of the American economy and its progress, its opportunity, by withering the middle class (“freedom from want”). 
     Terrorism thrives when these four freedoms are denied, anywhere, in any age.
     The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@yahoo.com This essay may be reproduced.

Monday, November 30, 2015

THE POWER OF SCENT

November 30, 2015
By Arthur H. Gunther III
     Coffee under brew can define your day, or at least open the door. Universally, whether you enjoy java or not, a whiff reminds you of mornings as a child, or the early trip to an old diner where the urns were behind the counter puffing away. I use the memory association in a local food program, and it is rewarding to see how people smile when there is such welcoming aroma. Add a sacrificial pancake or two grilled a bit to the dark side — another compelling whiff — and whatever is baking in the oven, and the cold of a long night on the streets fades a bit. A parent is in the house, as it were. At least a friend.
     Such bouquets are not class-conscious, of course, and welcome the rich as well as the poor. There were many wealthy children who hung around mansion kitchens with the great cooks. Perhaps they even learned a thing or two to the good from such wise folk.
     An old Army friend of mine, pinned down in the hell of the Battle of the Bulge during World War II, told me about the packet of coffee he carried and opened from time to time just for the memory (and so, comfort) it evoked.
     It is said the sexes are attracted to one another through biochemical perfume known as pheromones, perhaps a deliberate part of nature’s mate selection that may be tied to genetics and the push to procreate. Yet beyond the science, if it is so, is the undeniable fact that we all like certain scents in one other, and we like them in some people more than others. Add association to those old flavors, and even a 90-year-old can recall great love long shelved when she (he) thinks of a certain scent.
     The opposite is true, too, whether it be people or food. Some whiffs can drive you away from unpleasant memory of someone or association with what you did not want to eat. For example, I don’t like asparagus, and the tang of it reminds me of a cold night in 1947 Sloatsburg, N.Y.,  when my mother put the dish in front of this almost five year old. My brother ate it, as he did most everything, but I shuffled in the snowy driveway a bit, where I went for a breather. Not sure if I got anything else to eat that night. Would not have blamed my poor mother.
     So, the power of scent is enough to boost or reject a mood, a person, a time, a memory. I’d rather choose the “boost” side, though. 
     Off to make that morning coffee. …
     The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@yahoo.com

Sunday, November 22, 2015

'DO NOT LET FEAR WIN'

November 23, 2015
By Arthur H. Gunther III
     The perch that I sit on — and most of my readers, too — is in the lower part of New York State, in the geographically smallest county — Rockland — but it is close to New York City and has since its beginning as a section of Orange County included diverse peoples. So, its views have long been mixed, for long periods conservative, even rightist, then liberal but now largely in-between.  It is a go-to-work, take-care-of-the lawn, keep-it-peaceful perch that is as much Americana as the down-home folk in North Carolina or the casual men, women and children in California, or the stand-up-straight people in Vermont. Or anyone, anywhere in this beautiful, mixed  USA. Long live the diverse nation.
     The one thing we don’t have on our perch is fear, and that is not the case anywhere else in America. It isn't us. There aren’t many who would agree with trampling on constitutional rights because of terrorism, for to do so is to bring obvious victory to those idiots. Be careful, be prudent, but follow the principles of this democracy. Otherwise, there is no democracy. 
     In the end, terrorism will be defeated by what it is not: tolerance, equality of opportunity, caring for others, not by lockdown, reading of mail, suspending of civil rights, suspicion of your neighbors and foreigners. That was Hitler’s way, not ours.
     I can think of no better response to fear, which seems the menu of the day following the dreadful attacks in Paris, and that is the masterful speech given in the depths of the Great Depression by newly inaugurated President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
     As he said on March 4, 1933:  “ … This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days. …”
     While the president was referring to the economic crisis, the implication was that the very government put forth by the Founders, obtained by the sacrifices of the Revolutionary War, reaffirmed by the Civil War and earned by settlers of all persuasions in the cities and in the countryside since 1776, was on the rocks and that fear could shipwreck the ship of state. There were sinister forces that wished that, even then.
     Today’s terrorism is so sophisticated that a single line of battle cannot be drawn, and it will require an international effort -- not one nation -- to marshal many forms of combat. All must carry the flag of battle, together. The banner must proclaim: “DO NOT LET FEAR WIN.”
     The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached via ahgunther@yahoo.com    

Sunday, November 15, 2015

DEJA-VU AT THE EDWARD HOPPER HOUSE

November 16, 2015
By Arthur H. Gunther III
    
 It had to be pre-World War I when the Edward Hopper House in Nyack, N.Y., still had no hot water, relying instead on a rubber tube connected from a gas jet in the bathroom wall to a small bunsen burner. Water for shaving, washing-up was heated in that way. As the late Yogi Berra said, deja-vu happens “all over again,”  and that was my experience yesterday at the birthplace of the foremost American realist painter.
     Serving among the many volunteers over the decades since the house was rescued from tear-down by concerned Nyackers and others, I was working in the 1894 bath on small electrical repair. When the original home was built by Hopper’s grandfather in 1858, bathroom facilities were non-existent, as was the norm. In the early 1880s, just after Hopper’s birth in 1882, a series of renovations brought a first- and second-floor addition, and that included the first bath. 
     The original clawfoot tub and marble sink are still there. Most likely there was no true hot water in 1894 unless the just-added kitchen had a small boiler and hot water heater attached in a Rube Goldberg-like piping setup from the wood stove. 
     Nyack was just getting its gas piping then, from a coal gasification plant on Gedney Street near the Hudson River. Gas was delivered a few hours daily for lighting and cooking. Hopper House was fitted with gas connections, and that included one for a bunsen burner in the bath (pictured above this essay.) Edward’s father, and then the artist himself, who lived in the house until his late 20s, surely heated shaving water with the burner.
     The deja-vu part comes with the work I was doing yesterday. There is an original electrical fixture (the home was converted from gas lighting to electrical about 1920), and the wiring needed repair. That included soldering. I ended up plugging in the iron next to the gas jet, and as I worked over the old sink where the bunsen burner was used, I realized I was again introducing heat into that area, first time in a century. The soldering completed, I finished the electrical work and was soon on my way.
     Deja-vu aside, it’s cool enough if you can spend time in the same space where a famous person washed-up and did the ordinary things ordinary people do.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached via ahgunther@yahoo.com

Sunday, November 8, 2015

A 'SECRETARY OF THE PEOPLE'

By Arthur H. Gunther III 
ahgunther@yahoo.com

  By Arthur H. Gunther III
ahgunther@yahoo.com
Increasingly, special interests can buy an election, influencing sitting officeholders and deeply directing U.S. domestic and foreign policy. Investigative media that once would have looked at such a growing web of influence has shrunk in corporate downsizing and in declining readership of a citizenry that ought to ask more questions. Attempts to bring light to deeply rooted, hydra-like interests, including the military/industrial complex, Wall Street-managed health care and lobbies of so many sorts, are met with planted news pieces, talking heads and the blitzkrieg of misleading advertising and loud din that seeks to give lie to truth. Mr./Mrs. Smith are simply shouted down, those who still ask questions.
Yet this nation has not arrived in the 21st century – after war, division and economic and social calamity – without a moderating factor, an accurate description since it has been the moderates in both major parties who have always represented basic common sense in America, the dream that is this nation, that is the ordinary person. Moderates have kept the extremes — they are more so today — from getting us into too much trouble, and they have provided much-needed course correction in various elections. They have done this, this middle-way steering of the American experience, by being so vast in number.
But in 2015, moderates are in danger of extinction. The power of special interests to wither away moderation is frightening as they seek high, sustaining corporate profit that forces downsizing, not new jobs; as they lobby for a banking and financial industry which grows profit but not re-investment in Main Street; as they boost a moneyed health-care industry in which Hippocrates’ model of serving the ill is too often shamelessly missing; and as they support a military/industrial complex where expensive, long-term wars are the only way to maintain blood profit.
The complexity is so great that the simple voice of Mr./Mrs. Smith, or a clergyman’s call to help your neighbor, or a fledgling candidate’s eloquence in defining how civility and the other givens of humanity require a boost in our nation are all increasingly drowned out by the orchestration of influence  and money. The few, powerful voices against the many.
It is time, then, for the country to have a spokesperson for the populace, a “Secretary of the People,” a Cabinet-level post as powerful as the Secretary of State. It would be filled by someone who advises the president, who can bring to that person’s ears the drowned-out voice of all the citizenry, surely, but especially that of moderates, who speak the words of common sense, of everyday concerns.
If there were such a secretary sitting with other counselors of government, perhaps the White House cocoon that is inaccessible these days to ordinary people would at long last have an inside man to get to the man.
To prevent special-interest wooing of the Secretary of the People, the post would be held for just one year, with the president appointing each successor from somewhere in ordinary America. The chief executive would not select the individual himself, but rather an independent, volunteer group would search the nation far and wide and make a recommendation. Senate ratification would be almost a given, in the spirit of cooperation and to avoid lobbying by groups sure to be hurt by “common sense.”
Special interests already have their counselors, appointed and otherwise. Why not the people?
The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@yahoo.com These words were part of a 2011 essay still appropriate, I think.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

TRUE NATIONAL BIRTHDAY


November 2, 2015
By Arthur H. Gunther III
     Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 3, not a birthday “present” this year, but it has been often enough. In earlier times at a newspaper, I worked most birthday/election events. No complaints. Liked the job. 
     Not sure, though, if this year’s stable of candidates, and that might be an apt word given the field though it insults noble horses, will have us finding much to celebrate. For example, while the nation has had some awful presidents and national leaders, there also have been Heaven-given ones who led us through conflict, depressions and the national identity crisis that was the Civil War. That the debate for such high office, the highest one for us, could come to the mundane talking heads, outright falsehoods and race- and ethnic-baiting that we see in current primary lead-ups, means election time is not the holiday it ought to be.
     July 4 may be our natal day, but our true birthday is Election Day or Primary Day, for that’s when optimism renews, thanks are given to time well served by those retiring good leaders, and hope is ready to leap come the day after the big vote. 
     This year does not include the presidential election, but the race to the primaries has been so drawn out and the rhetoric so banal and the substance so threadbare that the fear is even local/state contests on Nov. 3 won’t be well-attended. And that’s bad form. You should show up for the biggest birthday the U.S. has. So many countries don’t offer the privilege.
     In my pea patch, local contests are mirrors of the national, with most renewing candidates hawking inflated records and challengers claiming they can make gold from dirt. Behind almost every contest in Rockland County, N.Y., is the shadow of excessive growth in a suburb just 20 miles north of New York City, expansion that today is geared to a religious bloc focused on its “needs.” It is an imbalance that threatens quality of life, the local treasuries and the costly infrastructure, and which fosters prejudice because this county, though it has a 200-year-plus history of diversity and tolerance, is not getting as good as it has given. Whatever blueprint there was for orderly development has been washed away in a grab for group expansion. Very few local candidates want to grasp this or seem to care. Many will win, serve a short time and probably move elsewhere with pensions. Not so for we locals who have our roots here, who want all to live  in balance, with mutual respect.
     That’s in Rockland. But everywhere, of course, there are local issues, some complex, which may drive voters away from the polls. 
     In state contests, the electorate fears that special interests will negate their voice, so why come light a candle on the birthday cake? And with the middle class in continuing decline as greed makes a few — just a powerful few — bulge their pockets, who can afford a candle anyway?
     Back when Nov. 4 was the occasional Election Day, I felt I had some of the biggest birthdays ever. I was photographing on the election, or editing copy about it or commenting on the results. It was so party-like, the atmosphere. It mattered not that no one knew it was an individual’s birthday. For me, I had a lot of people in the room, and it seemed like there was a really big cake with the heat of so many candles.
     Hope our nation doesn’t forget its birthday this time, however depressing the voices. It’s the sort of day that begins a year ahead, with the hope, at least, of exceptional candidates for exceptional times. Might be a stale cake with a withered candle this 2015, though.
     The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached via ahgunther@yahoo.com

Sunday, October 25, 2015

WHO WILL TELL US?

October 26, 2015

By Arthur H. Gunther III

     The brotherhood is losing its working members, and that will make orphans of all who depend on information delivery as a public trust. Newspapers are dying, shot by a lessened public appetite for reading anything longer than a Tweet and the high cost of putting out a daily sheet when there isn’t enough advertising. Sad day, and ink-stained wretches might be excused for wanting to seek liquid solace at the high mass of the old Hi-Ho bar in Nyack, N.Y., but it ain’t there any more, either.
     Nor is the village newspaper in its old home at 53 Hudson where daily the presses shook foundations. In that simple building, for some 52 years and since 1850 in three other village fortresses of irreverence and truth came fourth an enlightenment of sorts. 
Sure, it was a local rag, that old Journal-News, the 1932 merger of the Nyack Evening Journal and the Nyack Daily News, and its always limited and sometimes green staff offered typos and other industry faux pas, but over the decades there were enough truly inspired scribes and photogs and layout people and city editors and composing room guys and pressmen and circulation people that every day, six times a week, attempt was made to give local government news, crime reports, high school and Little League sports results, PTA notices and commentary on the pulse off the veins of the ordinary man, woman and child in the Rockland County community. And the readers bought us, at 10 cents a copy.
     Along the way, things got costly and newspaper families could not own the sheets any longer. The big national publishing outfits rescued many a community newspaper, but in the long run made profit and the bottom line the gold standard, not the who, what, when, where, why and how of whatever was happening.
     Now the digital world and its immediacy and its thousands of attention-grabbing, distracting screen flashes off smart phones, tablets and computers is making newspaper profit slide. With it goes major information delivery.
     The danger in all this is that what passes for news will not be worthy of trust, sitting on innuendo and hearsay without fact checking. Not to say that there haven’t always been axes to grind and editorializing in newspapering, but by and large, accurate news got out. Since any reader any time must always take things with a grain of salt, must always think things through in the God-given brain, the public has been well-served.
     Who will watch government in the new age? Who will investigate anything?
     High mass at the Hi-Ho was the usual end-of-shift in Nyack, when both the bar and the newspaper were there. Just a short walk up Broadway to the Marsilios, who gave the fraternity more drinks than bought. Celebration was had for putting another daily sheet to bed, sometimes a rough birth. Journal-Newsers weren’t paid that well and weren’t N.Y. Times, but each helped get the news out, and that can be an indescribable feeling. Yeah, public trust, for sure, no matter how flawed.


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

Monday, October 12, 2015

THE TRUE HOLIDAY

By Arthur H Gunther III
The date on this piece tells it all — it is Columbus Day, a national holiday in the good, old US of A, but not for everyone. As I write this shortly after 7:30 a.m. in the Northeast, the storm troops that are the landscapers everyone seems to have are already revving leaf blowers, following 36-inch deck lawnmowers and whacking weeds. No respite for these men, who make little to begin with and so, a “holiday” is another opportunity to put a few dollars in the wallet, however short a time it remains there.
When I was a newspaperman, we published every day of the year, so there were Columbus Days, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah and whatever other “holidays” when we stiffs took turns at the helm or wherever we were needed. That was usually OK, once we were able to wrench ourselves from family and get through the work door, for the newsroom, the composing room, the pressroom and circulation all had captive workers for the day, and in that we shared time. Besides, giving birth is what a daily newspaper does, and while I would or could never compare the effort to a woman’s magical trip through pain and delivery, bringing information to print was often exhilarating.
Many work tColumbus Day  and other "holidays" — police, firefighters (paid and volunteer), those in industry and commerce that cannot shut down for a day. And that isn’t just in the US. Many countries in the New World and elsewhere officially celebrate  the anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the Americas, Oct. 12, 1492. In the US, Columbus day is a federal holiday, so it becomes part of a three-day weekend as the second Monday in October. This year it just happens to be Oct. 12. The long weekend probably lessens the importance to Americans, though.
There is even controversy within the day since Americans of Italian descent link it to a native son, a reasonable idea, but some others of any ethnic background are offended because, as happened after most exploration in the New World, indigenous peoples were enslaved, abused, pushed off their land and introduced to European disease.
Some communities prefer “Indigenous People's Day,” honoring Native Americans as an  alternative. South Dakota renamed Columbus Day Native American Day in 1990.
The argument continues that “progress,” the very growth that has provided opportunity for so many others “enslaved” by old societies, lack of opportunity, pogroms, prejudice, etc., would not have been possible without Columbus or Verrazzano or any of the other explorers.
Surely no progress moves forth in this faulted world of ours without grief to someone. But the day is long past due when America must recognize Native Americans and learn from their culture, which respected the ecology and which often offered wisdom and fairness unseen in the “progressive” world. The sin of land-grabbing, the bulldozer push to siub-standard reservations, the deliberate late-1800s attempts to “re-educate” Indians as whites must have atonement.
If karma is a force, some day the debt will be addressed, the wrongs, too, and as part of that, a workman’s holiday called Columbus Day will be recognized for the achievement of all -- European, Asian, the Americas and most certainly Native Americans. Until then there will be no holiday for all, whether you have to work on it or not.
The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@yahoo.com This essay may be reproduced.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

KEY TO A MEMORY



By Arthur H. Gunther III
“Less is More” is often a clever marketing move to make you believe the downsized product you pay dearly for actually delivers as promised. The real truth may be that the deal is a three-card Monty ploy.
For example, the coffee bags I pull apart in a local food program are marked 11.5 ounces, not the 16 ounces on the tins I would open for my mother some — quite a few — years ago. Yet the TV ad blitz would have you believe that though there is less coffee, the “vacuum packing,” or the “flavor roasting” or perhaps the deep search on foot into the Andes for the “just-right” beans means that you don’t need  a pound of coffee. About 28 percent less is OK. Just buy four-ounce cups.
Well, it’s buyer beware anyway,  and in this ever-more-jaundiced age of un-stellar politicos, we don’t believe much anyway.
The coffee I take out of the plastic bags is missing more than product. There’s no strong coffee fragrance, that intoxicating aroma released when you used a special key to open the old tins. The key was soldered to the bottom of the can. You pried it loose and pulled up the sealing tag on the lid of the coffee tin, inserted it into the key and twisted — and twisted — until you had the top off. When you first began the twist, not only did the aroma erupt, but it came forth with a big “swoosh!”
You may have been just 10 or 12 and not yet a coffee drinker, but it was like having that morning java,  the best shot of the day.
The argument would be made that most of us are now too busy  to pull off a key and slowly release a tin lid. There is no cellphone “app” for that on our smartphones, and maybe all that scrolled-up metal is  a sharp hazard for the recyclers.
But back when a parent came home from the weekly shopping, and a somewhat bored youngster looked forward to not only the weekly ration of lemon cookies but the finding of a tin key and the opening of a hefty one-pound can of Maxwell House coffee, complete with a whoosh! and aroma, there was on need for an app for anything.
The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached via ahgunther@yahoo.com.

Monday, September 21, 2015

AGE OF LETTERS

By Arthur H. Gunther III
Envelopes — legal sized or not — may be an anachronism in the digital world, in this morphing time of Tweets, Facebook posts and cell phone text shorthand, but using them can prompt memories that probably will not happen if you hit the smartphone in 20 years.
For example, I cannot fold a letter, a piece of paper, to place in a legal-sized envelope without recalling a near magical trick by someone I was in touch with years ago. She was one of the responsible “Distributive Education” students when high schools once actually had Business Departments and prepared legions of secretaries, bookkeepers and office managers for commercial work. (Imagine that most useful approach to post-high school life?)
Part of the course of instruction was to write various types of business letters, and I am certain that went just fine, for this classmate was quite good at whatever she turned her hand to. But she offered an added twist, one which I cannot duplicate no matter how many times I try.
Magically, as noted, the lady could fold a letter, a single or multi-layered effort, exactly along two lines so that the top and bottom of the paper(s) met exactly. Then it could be put in the envelope, as neatly presented as was the final, flawless typing, with proper grammar and spelling. It was all part of the package, this precision.
Once, writing letters was a social grace, a courting effort, a vacation must, a keep-in-touch activity that linked people across town, the nation, the world. Can you imagine the emotions at play if we could read any sampling? Actually, we have, when PBS or someone finds letters sent home from soldiers in the Civil War, or Woodrow Wilson’s love notes (he was quite a writer) or various other missives from the famous, from ordinary people.
No one is saving the Tweets, though.
The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached via ahgunther@yahoo.com

Monday, September 14, 2015

A GIFT FROM TWO

By Arthur H. Gunther III
ahgunther@yahoo.com

     When I was 21 and had not yet set the sail of life’s direction, perhaps even adrift for a time in calm waters but in a dinghy with rapids in view, I took a part-time job as a “flyboy,” the person who catches newspapers as they come off the fly or end point of the press. It wasn’t a difficult thing, but you had to pay attention, and that was just right for the young fellow I was.
    There were two flyboys, one on either side of the conveyor, and “Chet” would grab 25 or 50 papers, and then I would get the next batch. On most days, the count was 50 for The Journal-News, a daily in Rockland County, N.Y., light enough for one person to lift and then swing around and deposit on a handcart. On the heavier advertising days of Wednesday, maybe Thursday, too, the count was 25 because of the thicker papers. After the handcarts were filled, others would take the papers to be bundled at wrapping stations. The bundles would go to carriers for delivery to newsboys.
      Eventually, early on in what would become my 42-year newspaper career, and just before I became a copy boy and spent the rest of my time in the newsroom, I also ran the bundling machine, delivered papers to the boys and girls who were our afternoon team and even hand-delivered to homes and business.
     (One day, when I was a copy boy and had managed to get a story and photograph printed as an enterprise effort — which is how you then rose in the news business — I wrote the story, engraved the photo, delivered my copy to Composing to be set in type, went to Circulation, bundled papers, took the bundles and delivered them, a great experience. In a small way, I handled the “baby” — the story and photo, the publication, the delivery — from beginning to end, a privilege.)
     As a flyboy, and more important as someone trying to find himself, which we all must do, the gods paired me with Chet, who had been installation manager for the New York Telephone Co. in Rockland but who, according to old company rules, had to retire at 65. Yet he felt young, had a family in Nyack and wanted to work. So he took a humbling, part-time job, this man of great experience who directed so many. The contrast between him and me could not have been greater.
     Chet was a kindly sort, a gifted asset for his co-worker, and he offered life encouragement as well as a work ethic and both modesty and confidence. There could have been no better schooling for me at that point. Together with “Art,” another Telephone company retiree from Nyack who worked various jobs in Circulation, these two gave me a chance at aspiration.
     A gift for which I am continually grateful.

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

Monday, September 7, 2015

NO 'LABOR' FROM 'LEADERS'

By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com
EVERYWHERE, USA -- How is labor supposed to rest on this noted day when there are so few middle-class jobs? The many unemployed already have nothing but downtime. How did a rich, progressive, innovative, democratic, promising nation, always one with a frontier to conquer, become stuck in high joblessness and its growing disease, low expectation? Where will our children’s children be on Labor Day 2055? Where are many Americans today?
This nation, conceived in liberty, should not by the odds presented have won its war against the well-trained and equipped British; it came close to returning to the king in 1812; it could have been destroyed by our worst conflict -- brother against brother in the Civil War; it could have collapsed economically in the later-1800s depressions; it could have lost its identity in the great immigrations, if Old World prejudices had lingered; it could have withered and collapsed in the Great Depression; and it could have been permanently misdirected in the civil rights crisis, the Vietnam War, Watergate and Sept. 11.
But our citizens' bearings remained set. We continued our optimism, inventiveness, innovation, charity and move toward equality.
Not so government, which has lost its way. Today, the presidency and the Congress are isolated from we the people, reacting largely to the monied interests required for re-election, encumbered by procedure and lobbies that keep the executive and legislative branches apart from the American mainstream -- its pain and suffering, its hopes and desires.
On this Labor Day 2015, the sweat of many millions of our men and women, our forebears, are now the tears in the eyes of the jobless, in the eyes of parents who fear for their children’s future. Yet we retain our great energy and patriotism and native can-do American spirit ready to tackle the next frontier, if only, if only, if only that would be set by our leaders.
Where are they?

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


Monday, August 31, 2015

IN THE GARDEN OF EVIL, FLOWERS FROM GOD

By Arthur H. Gunther III
     Heroes of the Holocaust are not only those who died in that great inhumanity. Survivors who have gone on to endure  thousands of nights in recalled nightmare have articulated against the dark side and championed what is good in humankind. In their selflessness, they have shown that the cancer that was Adolf Hitler and his followers was, like all malignancy, a speck that overwhelmed the much greater good health of the body that is the world, the person.
     In this part of the earth, in the northeastern section of the United States, one such Holocaust survivor who offered continuing smiles and hope for children in particular, has just passed, at age 90 after 10 years of yet another undeserved confinement as a victim of Alzheimer’s.
     Georgine Hyde was an Auschwitz internee, who upon leaving the death camps where her parents and sister were murdered, spent a lifetime of compassion and direct energy in educating children and adults against evil and emphasizing what is good in humankind. She was on the East Ramapo School Board for 36 years, serving as president most of that time and also as chief of the New York Stare School Boards Association. In 2005, Mrs. Hyde was specifically targeted for defeat when district control was assumed by bloc vote in the growing ultra-Orthodox Hasidic community. That this Holocaust survivor, this woman of peace and advocacy for all people, regardless of religion or background, should be pushed aside by one persuasion was ironic. Most unsettling, most insulting was that she was termed anti-Semitic because she opposed the loss of mixed views on a public school board. (The district has fired many teachers and other staff,  cut programs and has been criticized for improving transportation and special education placements for the private school community.)
      Imagine terming a Holocaust survivor anti-Semitic.
     Even after her defeat, Mrs. Hyde continued to turn the degradation of her camp confinement into hope for the future, speaking to children  and adults about her life, the Holocaust and other mass murders in the world.
    Survivors of the Nazis fanned out all over the world, and many communities were blessed to have Georgina Hydes among them, “gute mentsh” (good people) who kept memorial candles lit for those killed by underscoring what is truly uplifting and promising in humankind. In the garden of evil, flowers from God.
     The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached via ahgunther@yahoo.com.

Monday, August 24, 2015

A MOMENT RENEACTED

By Arthur H. Gunther III
     A day or so before my brother Craig and I recently closed on our late parents’ house, I said goodbye to a place that was never my childhood home, never one of infant, toddler, pre-teen and teen yin/yang that moves one toward the whole. No, all that happened — with failure and success — in six other locations, all within a few miles of one another practically from birth into young adulthood. The house that I gave a last tip of the hat to was instead a short-lived way-stop before the adult growth and development that you hopefully progress into and succeed.
     When my parents bought their second home (the rest were rentals) in 1964 in Pearl River, N.Y., having lived in nearby Hillcrest since 1953, my brother and I came along because we were not yet established in work and life — income, marriage, etc. Craig was there the shortest time, less than a year, and me a bit longer. So this new house was not the “home” of parental authority, of fifth-grade friends playing card games in the backyard, of eighth graders studying for the first state Regents tests, of many Thanksgivings, Christmases, birthday parties, of visits by grandparents, of thoughts of young love, of getting a driver’s license, of growing up. All that happened elsewhere, and the 1964 house was for a time lodging, and my brother and I were thankful for that.
     In summer 1964, 51 years ago now, as a young-enough man, my father gave me the address of the new house, and I went over by myself, finding it set off the road a bit within a driveway yet to be paved. I parked my red VW and, with no house key, walked about the property and peered into the back patio door, taking note of how the “basement” was finished, unlike the Hillcrest house. I stared at a wall and thought this house was well constructed and that my parents had made a good choice for themselves. 
     Yet I also realized this would not be a home of growing-up memories, that I had to move myself on soon enough. What part of the yin/yang this place would play out there I did not know, and I would rather have let all that finish in Hillcrest. I saw no reason to move, not then anyway (my father had always liked Pearl River, had long wanted to live there.) But that was selfish, for my parents had already given us so much. 
     My mother would live happily in the new house for about 32 years, until Alzheimers and then her passing a few years later. My father would be there for 51 seasons, living independently quite well until just days before his own death. In those decades when our  parents shared the house, it was a place for grandchildren to visit, for the yin/yang that continues even as sons/mother and dad all grow older.
     After my father died in April and the house was listed but before the sale went through, the house was cleaned of furniture, etc., and I kept occasional watch, not able to stay for long periods out of sadness but there long enough to be as responsible as I had to be in the situation. When all was said and done, just a day or so before the closing, I looked in every room and paused for every memory I could recall. I saw my relatively young parents and a much younger me. I also saw the hallway where my father and I laughed in March as I literally dragged him into his bedroom after he fell, after he stood for the last time in his house of five decades.
     Moving downstairs on that last visit, I locked the patio door that I had stared into in 1964 and went into the backyard. I peered against the glass and looked at the same wall I had first noticed 51years before. I walked over to my present car, also red, left the property and drove the old route back to Hillcrest, pausing there with a tip of the hat to the old homestead, the one where so much had happened in the relative shortness of childhood.
     The journey was complete, that one anyway. Some affairs are now in order as the yin/yang of each life, including my own, my brother’s, too, continue toward equilibrium.
     The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@yahoo.com 

Sunday, August 16, 2015

CHICLETS AND THE TREE

By Arthur H. Gunther III
     In the youth that was mine and so many others in 1950s not-yet-suburbia in Rockland County, N.Y., there would be occasional trips to New York City, about 24 miles southeast. That could be an experience.
     In those days, many Rocklanders had never been to Gotham and quite a few cared not to go, the urban-rural divide that is this nation's history still strong. The usual rationale, fed by a bit of prejudice but also a growing need for survival against “progress,” was that city folk were brash, noisy, nosy and rough. Well, yes, in generalization. How can you survive in  on the streets without armor? True is, was, still is, that such lumping of all fades when you meet the individual, and quite a few fine city people have helped improve Rockland. 
     Yet more than enough new residents have also required bulldozing farms, apple orchards and green space; necessitated numerous  highway shopping strips that are often neglected; brought traffic, noise and astronomically higher taxes; and built a vast suburbia that is now graying as more age into seniors and not enough young people choose or can afford to buy into what was the “American Dream.” How suburbia, which today is more urban that not, will morph is anyone’s guess. It was all built too quickly without regard for the old -- too much of the new -- and yet the new also lost its identity.
     The  loss of countryside and spouting of suburbia also changed old Gotham, all the gothams in the United States. Once, despite some poverty and challenge, they were clearly defined, cherished ethnic neighborhoods where apartment house residents were parents to all the kids on the block; where mom & pop stores went from generation to generation and built reputations of fine food, goods, service. Now the challenges of gentrification and of society itself mean redefinition, often without roots, so often without support. If suburbia is constantly trying to define itself, so is Gotham.
     For a long time, though, which included the youth of my father and me as well as my grandfather, there was a certainty in the rhythm of New York City.
     So, when we took the rare trip there in the 1950s and went on the subway, it was an amazing experience for rural kids who that morning had climbed a 200-year-old oak in the middle of an apple orchard and could see nothing but land in any direction. The underground train, with its noise, rattan seats, slow-moving ceiling fans, blinking incandescent lights and screeching as the cars made tight turns — it all made your head spin.
     On the subway platform, hand in grandfather’s so as not to be swallowed into the ever-present crowd, relief was to be had: Chiclets, in four or five flavors, dispensed for one cent per two-gum package from a shiny vending machine attached to each post on the subway platform, sometimes alternating with peanut machines. What taste this gum offered, if only for a moment. 
Once back on the “farm” as it were, you could take a few packs of Chiclets from your pocket, and if you were prescient enough, which no one was, you could understand that you, too, were bringing “progress” to the countryside.
The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@yayoo.com

Sunday, August 9, 2015

PROGRESS RIDES IN A SUV

   Spring Valley, N.Y.  --  Over on Alturas Road, between Cole and Summit avenues, on the hill once called Red Brick, many deep inches of asphalt are the burial cover of a long-gone era, one that saw much less traffic on the original  Nyack Turnpike, on the Alturas Road section in this once summer resort village north of New York City. The Turnpike is now part of Route 59, a state highway that runs from the old Nyack port on the Hudson River to Suffern and the foot of the Ramapo Mountains.
Once, it was the main route for overland goods and people on their way upstate, until the Erie Railroad came through in the late 1840s. The Midwest and the West fueled their building via the Erie and its railroad and canal, helping forge an ever-expanding American frontier with people and goods  that put in foundations and roots everywhere.
For a long time, from the later 1800s  until about 1968, the  Nyack Turnpike was a busy enough local road, usually called Alturas or simply the Turnpike and not by a route number provided by the state. Now few recall the original name, and the highway is a ribbon of the suburbs, flashing with neon and lined with one shopping strip after another. Though the state, in a bit of welcome wisdom, provided a median of beautiful trees in its widening of Route 59 in nearby Nanuet, most of the highway today is what you would expect of one anywhere. Check into a motel off this road, and you could wake up thinking you were in many parts of the United States, so similar the look and the growth.
But once, until the later 1960s, Route 59 had its quiet passages, especially the Red Brick Hill between Cole and Summit. It was classic Rockland County, once the nation’s brick-making capital, with its many Hudson River yards providing the building block for 90 percent of New York City’s tenements.
Some of that brick, a longer-fired variety, found its way to the steep hill at Alturas and was hand laid against wide cement gutters on each side, a very efficient drainage system that worked for decades. Decades, too, would the red brick lie in its clay sister earth, offering the sleepy toddler on his way to Gramps' house a reassuring bump-bump sound off the tires, a welcome to a bed soon warm.
Red Brick Hill, covered with packed snow and light in traffic, was a popular sledding route when adjacent Dunlop’s Hill was crowded with youth who took delight in activity that cost nothing and which brought laughter and memories.
In the march of progress and the ever-thickening book of rules for standardized highway surfacing, Red Brick Hill was paved over by Albany. And then paved again. And again,   until the red bricks are hardly recalled today.
Today most “natives” of the Alturas Road area of Spring Valley are perhaps 10 years there, certainly the elders of ever-newer people, but without a whit of a clue that the hill they now speed along was made of brick. Once, you had to slow down for the ascent and the descent, maybe not enough to smell the flowers -- the black-eyed Susans -- on Dunlop’s Hill, but with sufficiently lessened pace to feel the history of a road once trod by horses and wagons. Now progress rides in a SUV.


The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached via ahgunther@yahoo.com

Sunday, July 26, 2015

WHAT'S IN A FACE?


By Arthur H. Gunther III
ahgunther@yahoo.com

     There comes a day when you see a certain face on a relative, friend or former acquaintance, and you realize time has passed, that age has added lines, that days of happiness, difficulty, excitement, boredom and the sometime ordinariness of living have left telltale trails on a visage unique to that person. 
     Maybe it is because we don’t really look at each other all the time, or at least notice how someone appears on a regular basis, that we don’t see the individual as he/she collects the years. Nor, perhaps, do we see our own aging. Every once in a while, though, we seem to leave close proximity and step back to suddenly notice the person or ourselves in a detached way, almost as an unbiased observer. 
     It is in that moment that a relative or friend or acquaintance appears to us changed, and that is usually for the better. For we all age, we all have our ups and downs, we all move on, whether it is on the treadmill of life or making the heady climb to whatever is our summit. We are then, at the end, the sum of our experiences, and at any point before that the total of all that has happened so far. 
     Except for the most hard luck-driven individual, or the person who seems unable or unwilling to obtain some good days, people move toward that summit on relatively clear trails, even if some are unmarked, the many experiences etching the face like so many notches on a Bowie knife. Your childhood. School. Romance. Work. Marriage. Hobbies. Hard times. Good times. They all make their mark on our faces.
     Yet nature or your god provides those detached moments when you suddenly get an update on the individual or yourself. One day you spot this person and note the changes, or you get up in the morning and acutely see yourself in the mirror. 
     Such moments seem so true in their depth of insight, in their perspective that time has gone by, that things have happened, that you or he or she is still there, that the journey continues. There can be grand glory in all this, a small smile at noting how well someone is doing, or even that the individual has simply survived his or her travails. 
     It is a reaffirmation of life, surely of our own, that we see such change, note it and store the information in the computer that is the mind and add to the mass of feelings that is the spirit. This brings a reality check which shows we all live sometimes challenging lives, that we are all climbing a mountain of some sort.
     Imagine if we were not able to step back and take that detached look at ourselves or someone else? We might all live in the past, in a time when we were 16 and the face was without wrinkles, just the oiled blemishes of puberty and all the wonder of that promising but quick moment. No, even as we write the chapters in our lives, or have some lines written for us, we are given a chance to sit down and read the proofs of what so far is written. In that, we might still alter the ending, and in that, too, we can appreciate, even savor, what’s been put down so far. 

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