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.