August 26, 2013

By Arthur H. Gunther III


I do not know where you live in this world or where your mind is in it, but I will tell you about the future of this planet. It could be seen clearly, not far from my Blauvelt, N.Y., home.

Driving down Western Highway, just before Dominican College, a private, Roman Catholic four-year institution, there was a “Welcome” sign on campus as volunteers directed freshman and their parents to parking areas. Vehicles filled with luggage, bedding, lamps and electronics and also jammed with adults plus young people came in an almost endless stream. You saw the anxious, sometimes puzzled, somewhat curious look on parents’ faces and, from students,  a mix of excitement and apprehension. This was a scene repeated in almost countless locales across the United States, and with varying custom, in Europe, Asia, the world. It was the setting of another field of hope, the soil plowed, the fertilizer in place, and now new seeds were to be planted.

Yet there were storm clouds, too, and hope was mixed with worry. In these United States, where super-sized student loans are necessary to get most people through ever-more expensive colleges, the last fields were harvested just a few months ago, and the ripened fruit of four or so years of labor, following on 13 years of public or private school plus pre-school have yet to sell. There are few jobs for 2013 graduates, or 2012 graduates or 2011 graduates. …

In America, the middle class is shrinking, and with it the bulwark of democracy is weakened. Greedy special interests bent on maximizing profit without re-investment in society, in our young, in workers, in the promise of life are simply not employing enough people, firing longtime workers and hiring part-timers with little or no benefits. Pensions are disappearing.

And yet fresh college fields are plowed each summer, readied for a new crop of hopefuls who face unemployment and, if they work, a change of jobs many times in their lives.

Post-World War II America prospered  because of the G.I. Bill for returning veterans, which educated professionals who could serve industry and big business, greatly enlarging a middle class withered by the Great Depression. There was strong economic growth and enough profit for many. The world benefitted as trade and commerce grew.

Today, despite the “Welcome” sign at our college campuses, even while seeds are planted in fresh fields of hope for our precious children, the storm clouds of unemployment and income grown principally for greed are ominous.

We should all show apprehension on our faces, not just freshman and their parents.

The writer is a retired newspaperman.


August 19, 2013

By Arthur H. Gunther III

The price of “progress” is not always worth the results. Once, in my region of the world — “upstate, country” but just 20 miles from New York City — tasty, fresh, clear water came from underground wells, springs and fissures in the glacial rock that covers well-named Rockland County. Just dig a bit or drill a little, and for two centuries there was much supply to be had, cheaply. The water encouraged fruit and vegetable farming and the growth of villages and towns. Many people had their own wells. Rural life was pleasant enough, and communities prospered.
In the “progress” that is constant but not well-planned growth, industries and filling stations and strip highway shopping rose along with housing, bringing oil, gasoline, industrial chemical and pesticide pollution. Large parking lots and numerous paved streets put impermeable covers on the land, and rain water could not return as easily to the wells. Flood plains were eliminated to make room for the march of “progress.”
In Spring Valley, a village named for its natural water source and where the first public utility began in the 1800s, pollution was so great that the water could not be tapped. Still, the utility grew with other supply, absorbed first by an out-of-state company, then a French-owned worldwide conglomerate that treats water. There is money to be made in water — it is the next “oil” — and there is also cash to be had in treating water, which is an even bigger business than supply.
My region now has strongly treated water, so much so that we cannot use it as it comes from the tap. There is a strong chlorine smell and off-taste, and it must be filtered, at our expense, before use. When I was a boy, I could take a very cold draw from a neighbor’s well, which no longer exists. It was not treated water, no chlorine smell, no poor taste. It was free. But that was before “progress.”
In these parts, reservoirs have been constructed to aid development, and that was all right. They form pretty lakes, and green space is preserved. However, much of the original buffer land surrounding these reservoirs is now gone, sold off for new development, for additional “progress,” for more big company profit. Government, which has a good ear for lobbies, has signed off on this, advising, “Just treat the water more.” The buffers helped reduce pollution runoff, but in the name of “progress,” it is OK to use chemicals instead.
Now, there is super growth in some of my area, and there is an insatiable thirst for more aqua, so much so that the salt water in the famous Hudson River could soon be treated, at very high cost, to add to supply. This waterway is the second-largest Superfund target because of industrial PCB pollution.
Once, before “progress,” I could have a tin cup full of water free from a neighbor’s pump, super satisfying on a hot day in the rural summer. Now I pay dearly for a glass of water that has its taste obliterated by chemicals. And we face perhaps a doubling of expense to have salt removed from an commercial river.
Ah, “progress,” it can have a bitter taste.

The writer is a retired newspaperman.


By Arthur H. Gunther III


Not all car dealers are so lucky, but one in  Blauvelt, N.Y., offers test drives over a mountain named Clausland, with winding, country-like roads  busy enough since this is built-up suburbia. And despite the bromide view, the burbs are never sleepy, especially one less than 20 miles from New York City.

Other auto hawkers must send consumer wannabes to heavy truck routes like Routes 303, 9W, 59, 45, and that can be a testing time for someone not familiar with a new or used car. In fact, the Mercedes guy in the next town, along Route 304, almost lost a salesman and a customer when a very expensive model was slammed as it left the dealership. Maybe that’s why the Ford place across the way lets you take the car by your lonesome. Salesmen can be hard to find.

For someone who likes to observe humanity, even out of the corner of the eye when you are already concentrating on a fine tune from the radio or a beautiful woman walking along the road, the Mazda dealer’s customer jaunts over Clausland are quite interesting. You see old fellows zooming along in sports cars they could not afford in their 20s and which will no longer get them a girlfriend, as if that were ever true. You watch old ladies cautiously driving a basic sedan, going ever so slowly, whether they are old or even women. Even a fellow can be a little, old lady in a car. (This isn’t to denigrate little old ladies but merely to offer observation.)

On the trip over the mountain to and from Blauvelt to Nyack, you also see the teen-ager with nervous parent in the back seat, a son or daughter with the biggest grin ever as they anticipate freedom, dates and whatever else a car brings, even if it’s a used jalopy with 153,567 miles.

Then there are the truck try-outs — fellows or gals in ever-bigger, shiny machines with back seats and extended beds that will never see manure or tools or work. Trucks not used on the job but as recreational rides are a huge seller, perhaps the biggest, in the U.S., and my section of the Northeast is no exception.

Finally, the Clausland trip offers glances at a mix of salesman types, from well-dressed to casual; from talkative to quiet; from bored to engaged. At least they get out of the office and maybe even make a sale, albeit taking their being on a potentially dangerous ride with a stranger on curved mountain roads. The scenery is beautiful and there is a chance to get a doctorate in watching people.

The writer is a retired newspaperman.


By Arthur H. Gunther III


BETHESDA, M.D. — Rituals in our lives change, but that does not mean they are easy to get used to, even to accept. Here I was in beautiful Bethesda, a neat D.C. suburb with all modern amenities, expecting 1961 and a few decades after to remain the ruling time. But it was 2013, and I don’t get the language.

An early-morning ritual is to take a walk, have some java and read the local newspaper, in this area The Washington Post. And so I sought a paper. But there was none, at 6:30 a.m., long after morning editions have gone to bed. I asked a very polite but matter-of-fact store clerk when the newspapers might arrive, and I was told,  “When the man gets here, he gets here.” In other words, the news, the information that impacts our lives, which entertains, saddens, enlightens, exposes charlatans and connects us to the full range of human emotions, and  which once would await no man’s delay, would now “get here when it got here.”

I was a newspaperman for four decades and remain one in soul. Never missed a deadline, thank you. No bragging – the first rule of newspapering is to get the info out on time, quicker than that, if possible.

Now, with so many fewer print readers, information delivered in bites via Smart phones and iPads and TV, the morning newspaper no longer seems vital. Sad, for a much fuller report can be had in print, all the better to be informed in a democracy that you want to keep as such.

While I waited in a Bethesda strip mall parking lot for the paper delivery guy to get there, I saw descendants of folks like me, but they were not buying papers as their dads and granddads did or still do. Instead, they were in their cars, lined up at a bank, at ATM machines, to get money for the day.

Once, we carried money in our pockets from our cashed-pay checks for a week or two. We went to the bank to cash the checks. And we used some of our pocket change to buy a newspaper.

I doubt if many of the good, hardworking people on the ATM line buy a paper after they get their bank machine cash. Probably quench their thirst for information via mobile devices or computers.

The world has changed, and so has its ways. I simply forgot to get on the train.

But I’ll never read about it in a newspaper.


The writer is a retired newspaperman.