THE GREAT INDECENCY

June 18, 2018

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     This imperfect experiment called America, conceived in great, precipice-style argument by the Framers, not fully realized as to intent and potential, nevertheless has endured. Winston Churchill, the half-American: “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”

     Therefore, citizens, accept the imperfection while eying the winter of our discontent, that the present time of unhappiness can and must pass. In particular, reject the great indecency of this moment because it is not American, not that of most of the republic anyway, but a re-emerging of our demonstrated racism by some, hatred by some, prejudice by some, violence by some, evil act by some. All such horror has been repudiated by those of decency.

     Slavery was part of the great indecency. “Irish Need Not Apply” was, too. So was jailing women urging suffrage. And the internment of Americans of Japanese ancestry. And, now, the caging of very young children, torn from the love and protection of their illegal immigrant mothers.

     That the United States is currently “led” by a person who tweets falsehood, who encourages discord, who uses the bully pulpit as a Mussolini balcony, is the greatest indecency.

     This man does not deserve to champion Republican Party views, to be successor to presidents who have led the nation in war and peace. Were he the local school principal, the town attorney, CEO of a corporation or on the school board, his resignation or ouster would already have occurred.

     Those who support him, in the name of Republican or conservative or Tea Party or nationalistic “values,” prostitute those tenets. They close their eyes and kiss the derriere, hoping for a ride on the victory wagon while not realizing what a large piece of their soul they have sullied.

     Until we in this imperfect America strongly insist on the end of this present indecency, when, according to our history we should know better, until we again walk on the rut-filled path to progress toward the Framers’ goals, we are complicit. 

Those caged children’s tears are staining our decency.

     

     

     The writer is a retired newspaperman. Contact him via ahgunther@yahoo.com

NEVER CAST A STONE …

June 11, 2018

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@yahoo.com

 

     There is, in depression, a numbness, the nerve endings dulled by a sinisterly administered anesthetic. There is a cloud about you, as if you are in a daze. Little excites you, and if you have the energy to get up, it is the tasks of the day — brushing teeth, getting dressed, doing this and that until nightfall — that babies you along, pushes one foot in front of another. You truly “exist” not in this world or any other, but in a world of detachment. You seem without hope.

I know, I was there in my mid-40s, for two solid years and steps back for some years after. Job success (as a newspaperman), two wonderful sons, a loving and giving wife, family, friends — all kept me from falling away though they never knew it. 

     I was fortunate in that my depression was milder than most, and I could at times see rays of light toward the end of my tunnel.

As an individual, I am too self-sufficient, and I do not advertise my hurt. That locks people — loved ones — out. But it is also protective. I figure that I will mend myself so I can give to them. I prefer to give than take, which, oddly enough, is sometimes selfish. But it is me.

     “Me” was difficult to find in my depression. What had excited me about living was kept at bay by the cloud, and it was only the structure of work, with my writing coming easily, and my continuing ability to get basic tasks done at home, for the family, for my aging parents, that got me from one day to the next.

     That and a belief that there was a helper, an angel next to me. In those several moments when I thought I might be leaving, I reached out and squeezed air, though it was not that at all. Kept me alive.

     Slowly, as the months progressed, the cloud dispelled, a smile came at times, a re-invigoration developed, and living resumed. Though there were occasional pulls to darkness, I never again felt listless in a breathing body. 

     Though depression passed for me without seeing a doctor, without medication, without any consultation beyond squeezing that angel’s hand, that was my circumstance. Others similarly affected might do well seeking professional care. In fact, maybe most should.

     Having survived depression, which came as a ship in enveloping fog, not because I lost a job, or money or family, my thought is that some loss or addition in brain chemistry brought it about.

     We know so little about depression, about the brain’s chemical make-up. There is not enough research. Drugs, which make pharmaceutical companies obscenely rich, are not the answer, given the side effects. There has to be an understanding of nature, of how the body works and why it is assaulted.

     Society must also understand that suicide is not the coward’s way out but an act in a feeling of utter hopelessness. Hopelessness that somehow we must see and address. Never cast a stone here. We must note our fellow human’s pain and be that angel who offers a squeezing hand. It will save lives that can then thrive.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman. Contact: ahgunther@yahoo.com 

‘MY KIND OF JOINT’

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

BETHESDA, Md. — Sometimes you have to leave home to go home again. That was the case on my last day, four days later, in this ever-expanding D.C. suburb. Government must water even the weeds here, so rapidly rise the office buildings, homes and retail space.

A bit too much for a homegrown fellow blessed with a semi-rural upbringing in Rockland County, N.Y., itself now in fast-track growth.

I was in Bethesda because No. 2 son, Andrew Edward, is relocating with Army physician wife Patricia and their two daughters from a posting in San Antonio. The replacement house requires a new kitchen, and your author has made enough home-improvement mistakes to qualify as installation/repairman. So, I spent four days doing electrical, plumbing, carpentry after a 259-mile trip that challenged my aging driving skills. Alone in the car at 3:30 a.m., God was my co-pilot.

Andrew and I managed well enough, and a considerable sum was saved. He is nearing the new kitchen.

Since we were in effect two bachelors, and there are no cooking facilities, we ate out, in places ranging from way too expensive to poor-quality offering to “home again.”

I will focus on the Tastee Diner, a 24-hour joint proud to call itself that, in downtown Bethesda.

Just wonderful. The grill guy cooks your order in front of you. It gets to the table pronto, with no stop under heat lamps until it can travel.

Old-fashioned, solid breakfast food, with coffee refilled by a “Hi, Hon” waitress. She knew the locals, of course. In fact, she probably has a degree in human psychology, earned on the job.

I thought I was back at Tiny’s Diner in the Spring Valley of my 1950’s youth, or at Billy Hogan’s or Sparky’s.

Nothing fancy. Everything reassuring. I was home again. Taxpayer-supported government, expanding outward from D.C., may be in the menu nationally, but the Tastee, serving Americana since 1935, has never gotten too big for its britches.

My kind of joint.

The writer is a retired newspaperman. ahgunther@Yahoo.com

 

NEARING THE BARRICADES …

May 28, 2018

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

There’s an analogy between “English” muffins and the present government of the United States, once known as “of, by and for the people’ and now an oligarchy.

In Englishman Samuel Bath Thomas’ later 1800s’ days and for most of the 20th century, the yeast-derived muffin was large, about the four-inch size of a classic donut before a leading donut chain took to profit/greed-circumcising, down to about three inches. English muffins, simply called muffins in the Queen’s realm, also used to be fork-split, because when you do not slice, you do not smoosh the yeast- or quick-bread, and those crannies capture the melting butter. But I suspect more preservatives have made that more difficult, at least in some brands.

Move on from the English muffins and you can complain about shrinking Oreos and other cookies, smaller candy bars, “one-pound” coffee tins now holding 11 ounces, not 16. Initially, years back now, the weight reduction in your tin was attributed to “vacuum-packed for freshness.”

We Americans bought that snake-oil claim and have simply numbed ourselves to shrinking products everywhere. So, we eat two English muffins or four cookies rather than one and two. We buy the smaller donut at the ubiquitous chain because it is convenient, even if it cost almost twice as much as in the supermarket next door.

Our lives, it seems, are just too busy to think about it, or we simply do not care.

So, what is the analogy between reduced-in-size English muffins, smaller anything and our disappearing republic, the once-democracy? 

In the Founders’ eyes, the thought was to build a republic that was a democracy, build it on the rights of man, in equality, away from the abuse of power. While equality and the “rights of man” did not include African-Americans or women or some others, this America, in the deliberate maturing envisioned by the Founders, had, before the corruption of power since at least John F. kennedy, ended slavery, achieved the right to right to vote for women, had recognized unions and enacted laws to protect the people. There was progress in this great American experiment. But in the past decades, both major political parties have willingly reduced the pie, cut the muffin size, by allowing our once-democracy to be dominated by corporate power, other special interest and greed. There is now lynching by Twitter of minorities, immigrants and anyone in disagreement with the powers that be. Neither party sees  the economic suffering that is eating, depression-like, at half the country. Neither fights the pharmaceutical and health insurance mega-industries. Neither addresses the voracious appetite of the military in futile, costly wars that send veterans’ minds to  PTSD nightmares while enriching the military/industrial complex.

Civil liberties are threatened by the loss of privacy, surveillance and withered due process, with the power structure counting on citizen ignorance of their basic rights.

Hidden money fuels this deepened march toward government of the few. It imprisons rather than deal with an opioid epidemic caused by pharmaceutical greed. It militarizes police,  basically selfless individuals enabled into bullying. The military motto has always been “kill or be killed,” the civilian police, “do the least harm in protecting and serving.” That is lost in militarization, and it insults both the citizens and the ordinary police.

The present paucity of U.S. leadership is the direct result of our deliberate withering, our greed-driven downsizing of the grand “muffin” that once was to be offered to all.

We clearly await a revolution, bloodless I pray. Without civil disobedience from decent people, this nation is doomed, the sacrifices of so many buried by lust for power and money.

The writer is a retired newspaperman. ahgunther@yahoo.com  

A RESETTING

May 20, 2018

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

One snowy evening a long time ago, with the temperature not so low that a walker would freeze and not so high that there would be rainy ice, and with the flakes delicate and inviting, I took a lengthy walk in Hillcrest, N.Y., just to chill — not to be cold but to find a bit of calm, like the purring a contended cat might seek curled up on the couch. (I do think that’s when cats recharge.)

The walk took about two hours, and in those days not one car was met. I made the only tracks down Karnell Street to State to Hillcrest Avenue to Route 45 to Williams Avenue to Hempstead Road to Brick Church to Route 306 to Viola Road to Eckerson to State and back to 25 Karnell.

No high blood pressure in those days, but if there had been, the walk in that magnificent, fresh, descending-from-the-heavens beauty would have dropped me to 100/60. Even the pulse rate would have been low, because in the unmeasured cadence of a leisurely walk I anticipated no surprise, just a real oneness with nature, a private journey that made living worth while. 

Whatever war, poverty, horror, tragedy there was in the world, whatever personal troubles existed for anyone, including me, all would be there when I reached home and the ordinary motor of life again kicked in. There would also be the exhilaration of living, too, the highs, the good works of humankind.

For the moment, though, in those two hours of calm walking in gently falling snow, there was a reset, at least for one person.

I found that just one street into the walk but the true embrace, the needed hug, came as I passed the barn at the Brown orchard near Viola Road. It had stood a long time, it was simplistically beautiful. It especially made the walk a reaffirmation.

The writer is a retired newspaperman. ahgunther@yahoo.com 

TAKING TO THE ROAD

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     Blauvelt to West Nyack, N.Y. — Along the Western Highway, simply named centuries ago because so few roads existed that there was no need to use developers’ favored children’s monikers, a three-mile walk to the great hullabaloo of suburban growth that is a major shopping center brought quiet that you can never get in a car here, even an effortless, whisper-like electric model.
I had an errand to run and someone to meet at a mall, and I drive enough locally to hit 16,000 miles yearly, so, on a decent day, with sun out and the humidity not yet oppressive even in the 70s, I combined exercise with contemplation. It was a trip of nostalgia, history, appreciation and relief. It was also hairy at times since Western Highway is a major road that has endless traffic, no sidewalks in my area and motorists who think they are racing for a pot of gold, so fast they drive.
Western Highway is as famous as many others in roads in this nation. Washington and  Lafayette went down it in wagons. It led to the major Northeast supply depot for the Continental Army. President Martin Van Buren, dining at the Clarksville Inn, came along. Long before that, of course, the original Native Americans forged the trail, and the Dutch built sandstones along it. One such house, the old Leiper manse, was a stopover for U.S. Army personnel and family during World War II, as it was near Camp Shanks, the largest Army embarkation port in the world. The Order of Battle for the D-day invasion was set at Shanks.
When I was a child of the 1940s-’50s, my father would take us to look at Shanks’ remains, then called Shanks Village as it became housing for returning GIs studying under the GI Bill at Columbia University. Situated along  Western Highway, Shanks Village was visited by university President Dwight Eisenhower, who called it “the best damn place to live in the world.”
Also along the road, the Hackensack River wanders in and out of a marsh, or what remains of one after suburban development. Species of the same birds and critters, including long-living turtles, call the marsh home. It offers the greatest peace on Western Highway, for looking at it is the reverse of studying “progress.”
It took just about 40 minutes of my Western Highway walk to get to the hullabaloo of noise, commerce and people that is the area shopping mall, but by then I was fortified enough by the appreciation of what has happened over the centuries along my old road. You see so much more on a walk than a drive.

  The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@yahoo.com. This essay includes earlier writing.

DEDICATED TO GINNY

May 7, 2018

 

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     In the tucked-away room, in the original attic, was a very tall radiator and a very small rocking chair where the ghost, quite friendly, dwelled much of the time, looking out the long window or seeing through herself in the mirror high above the radiator.

     No one saw the ghost except Ginny’s grandchildren, who, not yet educated away from imagination, knew no boundaries in flight and fancy. In playtime, in alone-time, one or two or three would run up the stairs and into the tucked-away room and exist with the ghost.

     It wasn’t that conversation was exchanged with the ghost, not back and forth-like, but that things, thoughts, feelings were understood. It was like Winnie the Pooh and Christopher Robin, the imaginary world in which a fortifying foundation for the coming rigors of adulthood can be built. 

      The ghost, this friendly non-being, not in the world but also not out of it, was as real to the youngster(s) playing in the tucked-away room as were apple juice and brownies. The children were not afraid, for they had not yet been taught that, and the young are simply accepting.

     Ginny, though well-grown and having lived a long life of responsibility, had come to a time when the rhythm was slower and she could again hear the music of her own childhood. And, so, she put together the tucked-away room in the attic of her Clinton Avenue  home, with a very tall radiator and a very small rocking chair.

     She knew, as surely as she saw the curtain drawing, that her own reality would become something else, perhaps akin to that of unfettered childhood. Ginny herself might enter the tucked-away room and know the ghost, too.

     Her grandchildren were never in doubt there, though the door would beckon as adulthood neared, and Ginny would enter as they departed.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman. ahgunther@yahoo.com

WHY SOME PAINT

“1956, Pink and Gray”

May 1, 2018

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumrule.com

Art — painting — is like life: abstract, realistic or symbolic, captured fragments of what could be a full conversation or perhaps just the wisps of one. Sometimes you want the dialog, and sometimes the mystery.

Why someone morphs his/her own earthly moment into painting is probably best, maybe only, answered by a bigger force. But it is not the reason why that counts; it is the fact that the artist is there, that there  is compulsion to paint, that hands and fingers move to the rhythm of creating.

It may be — it often is — that the creation itself is not noteworthy to others, even to the artist. Yet, surely as we speak and write and draw and make facial expressions and do anything else human, painting needs no justification for its being.

In other times, perhaps ages beyond, what was dismissed may be seen in different light, and its language is then understood. So, work produced and thrown in a drawer in one era may, after decades of dust, prove worth another look. Or it may be summarily dismissed.

Artwork has its relative place anywhere, any time because it is the voice of someone, whether we want to listen, to tolerate, to ignore. But it is still there, as is every sentence uttered, every expression made.

We all creative for we are human. Some speak eloquently. Some draw. Some make things. Some hold others’ hands when necessary. Some create by a nod of approval, for that is engendering affirmation and so creating a path forward. And as with a painting, it may be years later that the gift is recognized.

The writer is a retired newspaperman. ahgunther@yahoo.com

THE ‘INDECENT’ REPUBLIC

April 23, 2018

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

The decency that was Barbara Bush, the late first lady, is in sharp contrast to the White House norm these days. That has to be said whether you are the tearful liberal Democrat or the Tea Party fellow or gal swallowing an ultra-conservative energy drink. This republic, in 1776 intended to be a democracy but stumbling more than ever, needs no bad manners.

Let the political philosophies hang out. Have debate. Show each other up on the ‘facts,’ fake news, prejudice and also what is so very true and fine about elements of liberalism, conservatism and the great moderation in between where most of America would like to hum.

This country was born in controversy, in argument, in voice that was spoken by a nation ever moving toward uncharted frontier, away from the forced tradition and heavy thumb of English royalty. But this America was also conceived in decency at least the pursuit of it.

Yes, insults along the way, deliberate falsehood, by candidate and by government, but by and large there have been corrections on hatred, according to time period.

The hatred of slavery was given blessing by government. Immigration prejudice against the Chinese continued for decades. Yet the error of our collective ways was finally discovered, and actions taken toward ending discrimination.

This republic of ours, though faulted because we are living creatures of both good and bad, even evil, has made great progress in seeking decency for all.

Now, there seems a deliberate indecency, a rabble-rousing call to summon our worst fears, our deepest prejudices, our uneducated ways that have us believe gossip, fake news, so quickly.

No matter what your political philosophy, no matter what you sincerely believe will make this nation greater, we should all reject a voice that, in translation, tells us to round up and lynch certain of our fellow humans.

The nation’s founders would have us continue the debate they began on the purpose of the republic — these days on taxes, employment, social programs, immigration, foreign conflict. They would have each of us have our say, from the poorest to the richest. They would not have us mired in an indecent land of deliberate hate meant to turn one against the other, meant to dismantle the republic.

The writer is a retired newspaperman. ahgunther@yahoo.com

SEEK INFORMATION AND LIVE FREE

Reading History in the Fog

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

If true readers were the only people newspapers and Internet information providers had to be concerned about, there would be little reason for this essay. They are hooked on the news, educated and brought up and matured to understand the value of a free press in a free society, warts and all. An imperfect world, but what would be the alternative? Therein lies a great danger, because such readers are becoming rare, especially among younger people.

Since printing began and the first sheets of paper brought news to individuals, private companies could count on people to buy enough dailies and weeklies to keep the print profession going; to support advertisers; to hold circulation stable. Now there are too few of these readers.

The Computer Age and the Internet, the IPhone, video games, the many morphings of television and especially social media with gossipy, often misleading or fake word bites all snatch concentration time away from people, who seem busier than ever with seemingly endless schedules. There are fewer lunches spent with a newspaper; fewer evenings after dinner in an easy chair with the editorial page or columnists; fewer open pages of The Daily This or That spread across the kitchen table.

Now it’s the constantly-on smart phone. In milliseconds, much information appears —  too much, too quickly. “News” is read in headlines and short paragraphs, barely digested. Photographs and other images steal viewer time, reducing the brain’s word count.

This means fewer print readers and fewer newspapers sold, putting some out of business. What were once cash-cow operations that left the newsroom to do its job without interference are stockholder-driven companies that enact cuts everywhere and which call their papers “products” requiring front-office managing by non-newspapermen so as to guarantee the bottom line. Once the city room was a church of sorts, an information sanctuary, left unsullied by businessmen who could never understand news people anyway. But the ink-stained wretches made money for the bosses. Now they don’t make enough for the greed coffers.

More than ever, newspapers are decided by profit, and that affects what to cover; how deep reporting goes; how thorough the editing, if any, is; and whether the traditional “who, what, when, where, how and why” of journalism will continue as necessary creed or whether one or two of the pillars of fact-gathering fall to cost-cutting, thereby weakening the story and journalism itself. And democracy.

The Computer Age, with its great but flawed ability to offer “facts” and commentary so quickly; to spread such information around the globe; and to keep it in reference form that eventually can out the wrong-doers presents an opportunity to add to individual knowledge and so empower him or her to self-educate. And since education leads to questioning, the hope is that the Internet’s ever more vast store of words, data and images will make our younger people more like the newspaper readers of other years — those who think.

The challenge for newspapers is to present Internet information in such a way as to make the reader interactive, to want more details, to then ask questions in e-mail letters, in Internet forums and blogs.

There will always be a thirst for information. Humans have craved news since the first of us scrawled something on a rock wall. And businessmen will always want to make a profit. If they can do that in the information-delivery business, fine. Might even make some of them feel a lofty goal is being met.

What we all must do, whether we are the kind who grew up with three newspapers a day in the house seven days a week or if we are online perusers of news, is to support information delivery. Buy newspapers. Read them. Turn on the Internet but truly seek information and understand it, and then question. The “who, what, when, where, why and how”  still must be satisfied.  We must read, in print or online, then  react. And most of all, if there is no “why” or “how,” if any key word in the pursuit of a free and open press is missing, we must let the bean counters in the media know.

Otherwise, the free press will lose the ammunition it needs to keep us safe from individuals and groups seeking to control the information flow for their own anti-democratic, greedy purposes. They would rather not have the media watching them as they dismantle democracy.

 

The writer is a retired newspaperman. Reach him at ahgunther@hotmail.com  ahgunther@yahoo.com