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