October 31, 2016

By Arthur H. Gunther III

     For this writer, there is an early Tuesday morning ritual, about 3:30, when a coffee break allows brief respite from volunteer cooking duties in my childhood village of Spring Valley, N.Y. Been doing this for awhile, but now an added twist is like dessert with the java.

    Not long ago, I came across an old photo, posted on social media, of the then Dutch Reformed Church gym/gathering room. Taken in 1937, it shows Spring Valley students seated at long tables during religious instruction classes.
     There were perhaps 50 students, high school, I would guess, and they are the combined Protestant teaching pupils for religious ed. St. Joseph up the street had the Roman Catholics.
     “Release time” was a new activity in New York State, and it was secured largely through the efforts of the Rev. Dr. Alfred Wyckoff, the longtime pastor of the Dutch Reformed, now United Church. The idea was to continue religious instruction for secular students beyond Sunday School.
     The gym photo was probably taken as release time began in the village and throughout New York State.
     Back to my Tuesday morning ritual. When I grab my coffee from the commercial Bunn machine, a device so well U.S.-designed and built that it has lasted for decades, I head for the gym, but not without looking at the 1937 photo.
     I choose a student, look at her or him, and then sit exactly where the person was 79 years ago. I then have a breakfast companion of sorts, and I try to relate to the student’s world of 1937. 
It was my father’s time, and he had to know every one of these students in what was then such a small village. These were sons and daughters of shopkeepers still in business when I was growing up. And their own kids went to school with me.
     It was the Great Depression, with World War II just two years off. How many of these students served, died, were wounded? Where did their lives take them? Are any with us now?
     There is so much promise in these smiling, hopeful faces. Did that happen? In the decades since the 1937 photo, so much has changed in the world, in Spring Valley, in everything.
     But on quiet Tuesday mornings when initially I am all alone, when my childhood village is mine again, when I can hear the footsteps of my brother in Memorial Park, when I can feel the excitement of youth as the football game ended at the old high school and a spontaneous parade began on Main Street, I can also go home again by having coffee with Valleyites from 1937.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached via


October 24, 2016

By Arthur H. Gunther III
Americans are stressed by a presidential election that is removed from the vaulted experience most of us were taught to expect. Though there have been many rancorous contests and too many unqualified Oval Office candidates (and presidents), 2016 is a special disaster that has pulled us into a swamp of prejudice and misdirection and which has us mired in quicksand looking for some hero to bring us to safe land. The American people are good people, but too many are wearing ugly faces today.
So much has failed in the United States, since at least John Kennedy’s death when youthful hope in particular fell into disillusionment. The great rise of a vibrant middle class after World War II began to lose steam as Europe, Japan and full Asia repaired their economies and improved material output. American business did not sufficiently retool, trade policy was inadequate, vital investment money was lost to the tragic, needless Vietnam War, and national government became so large, so remote that whatever hope future generations had that the American Dream would continue from the Eisenhower years increasingly became clouded by special interests and, frankly, incompetence.
Advances in human caring and dignity, in neighbor helping neighbor that president Johnson that began in his Great Society programs were initially threatened by the cost of the Asian war and then by government itself, which is historically unwieldy and inefficient. Sometimes it can do nothing right because it falls over itself.
Nixon gave us more government distrust, and Reagan promised that if we delivered big business and the one percenters tax and regulatory breaks, they would build us all a reinvigorated middle class.
Did not happen.

Deregulation has not increased competition and lowered prices while offering choice; Wall Street has become even more greedy; tax write-offs are taken by big business even as they move jobs offshore; there has been little reinvestment in jobs and new technology; and special-interest power has grown astronomically, aided by a high court that believes “free speech” is the interests’ right, even if big money, hidden big money, stifles the little man’s voice.
Both parties have enabled all this in one way or another, either deliberately or by failing to compromise, by not agreeing on needed reinvestment, by not seeking common sense on government regulation, by throwing money at well-intentioned solutions that never fully result. Most of all by not representing the people.
No wonder there is distressing Election 2016. No wonder there are the disenfranchised, the distrusting. No wonder many believe our government cannot solve any problem.
A revolution is ahead, and God may it be peaceful. This nation, begun as a republic, is now an oligarchy, the Founders’ intent of equality, freedom from dictatorship and the fulfilled promise of growing prosperity sullied by greed and misdirection.
Election 2016 will not be the one we need to get back to basics. We await a Lincoln to stir us to moral goodness; a Teddy Roosevelt to remind us that Republican big business requires regulation for shared prosperity; a Franklin Roosevelt to show us anew that inherent in growing as a progressive nation is recognizing that we must care for our neighbor and that government is part of that in a country built by diversity and challenged by varied need; and we require a George Washington, who declined a second term, even a lifelong presidency, to underscore that we are all plain citizens, not special interests. There is a time to serve and a moment to leave.
It’s revolution, or we will fall as Rome did.
But that is not yet here, and we must first face this presidential contest, which will either turn the tide back to at least the semblance of hope, or it will take us deeper into the dark waters of the ignorant hateful who have been raised and enabled in shameful ugliness by both parties’ neglect and failure.

The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached via This may be reproduced.


October 17, 2016

By Arthur H. Gunther III

Bob Dylan, this deeply gifted soul, poetically defined lives and direction so far back. Fan or not, we might hear again what he had to say, especially in this world and nation nearly gone mad. He did warn.
Garnering the Nobel Prize for Literature should be no surprise despite the controversy over the award since his lyrics have usually been poetic, descriptive, emotion-tugging and prophetic. The best of our writers — on paper, in lyrics — are those who hear our rhythm before we do and then play it for us. That Dylan has also accompanied his telling lyrics with melody has not only been a bonus but emotional reinforcement. A song lingers — it can tug you toward your soul and back again when there is need.
So, there is literature here, though not everyone sees it that way, and some would have the prestigious Nobel go to traditional writers only, not songsters. That is an argument, even if Bob Dylan spoke from depth.
Those who write well, who are the poets of a time, usually have mentors, and for Dylan initially it was Woody Guthrie, the social realism singer/writer, and Hank Williams, the country music great who
played into emotion as if he were singing his lyrics in the key of humanity, which he was. Other heroes were to appear for Dylan as his own verbal maturity and ability to touch people grew while the world pushed itself in so many directions, many disturbing, many lingering still, many worse.
Bob Dylan’s time, the 1960s-on, coincided with the resurgence of folk music, but that relative innocence, however beautifully played, was quickly overwhelmed by the death of young and promising John F. Kennedy, growing youthful disillusionment and ever-deeper disconnect with the Vietnam War. It was no accident that Dylan went to acoustic guitar at the now-famous 1965 Newport Jazz Festival, leaving folk singing’s strumming ways. The world was changing, as Dylan told us in the 1964 “The Times They Are a-Changing’ “. It was now the moment for amplification.
Disillusionment, a disconnect, the Vietnam War, Nixon’s resignation, crooks in government, trickle-down economics with a closed faucet, special interests with octopus tentacles everywhere, September 11, terrorism, wars, wars and now a presidential election more like a TV reality show — all somehow seem predictive in Bob Dylan’s lyrics or in the thinking/writing/reaction he spotlighted through his work.
So few listened even for argument’s sake.
Now, no writer can be appointed chief guru, an omnipotent. But a good writer fosters discussion even if you do not like the messenger or what he or she says.
Dylan has surely done that. Consider what he lyricized in “The Times They Are a-Changing:”

“Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won’t come again
And don’t speak too soon
For the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no telling who that it’s naming
For the loser now will be later to win
Cause the times they are a-changing.
Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There’s the battle outside raging
It’ll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changing.”
Such words are literature of note.

The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached via This essay may be reproduced.



October 10, 2016

By Arthur H. Gunther III

A tall, gaunt man with the cares of the world deeply set in the lines of his craggy face walked into the big room and sat in the back as two presidential candidates “debated” in the current contest.
The man was black, though not recognizable as such. His dress was also black and old style. A few in the audience
glanced at him, but he drew no particular focus.
The candidates continued to insult each other, both ignoring the moderator, who seemingly had lost control of what was never a debate, for the traditional time rules, statements and responses were not part of the exercise. Instead, each candidate followed rehearsal to challenge the opponent on personal style or nonsensical matters rather than the weighty issues the next U.S. president would face. It was bad entertainment that should have had the country booing.
The black man in the black clothing was intent, with a puzzled look. He saw “Republican” under one candidate’s name and wondered how the party he knew as anti-slavery, human rights-centered, as a champion of individual freedom could now be represented by someone who would build a wall to block immigrants, who insulted individuals over gender and appearance, who called for restricting the right of people to walk freely without being stopped could be on the ticket.
Equally, the tall fellow, so uncomfortable in his seat, peered at the Democratic candidate and was puzzled why a key characteristic of that party had failed to disappear when it was obvious the Republicans had gone in for a new suit of clothes. The mysterious man remembered the Democrats of his time as speaking broadly and with great flair about social and other “progress” but hardly ever acting on it. He added, though, that he always found the Democrats willing to compromise, and that great and beneficial change was possible working with the party.
By now, readers must know that the tall, gaunt fellow in the black suit was our first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln.
* Why was he attending the 2016 presidential “debate?” Well, he’s been in the room at every one, going back to the 1960 Richard Nixon/John Kennedy exercise.
* Why was he black? Abe Lincoln said there is every color in Heaven, and he chooses who he is, even who she is, even his religious beliefs, for that is the real Heaven.
* Why did the Great Emancipator comment on the Trump/Clinton debate? He said that a history lesson was in order, that we citizenry have forgotten too much, or that we never learned.

The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached via This essay may be reproduced.


October 2, 2016

By Arthur H. Gunther III

I once knew of — I didn’t get to know — a witty, young woman of strong intelligence, humming work ethic, high standards and deep lust for living. By all accounts, she has gone on to the exact life she sought from early on, perhaps with a bit of luck and surely in part because of the people she deliberately chose to be in her journey.
There was an exactness that set all her ducks in a row, though she claimed never to do that or to reason things out logically. The destination was there, admitted or not, but better for her to let wind take her on an unplanned ride.
And there were those rides and whatever fulfillment or happiness or achieved experimentation that they enabled. When the train pulled into the last station, though, waiting on the platform was an individual and then people who helped her build an intentioned life.
As I said, I didn’t get to know this woman, but I knew of her and was witness to the earlier scene, not what came later. Almost like reading a novel and spending time with a character who then goes on to other living in a sequel.
So, an unfinished story because I didn’t read more chapters. Yet even the preface can tell you something. You may not get to know the writer or her book, but even a snippet of literature can add to interest and revelation.

The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached via