May 1, 2017

By Arthur H. Gunther III

I needed a large circular template for a painting, and since neccesity is the mother of invention, I glanced across the basement and saw an old 33 rpm vinyl record, and the roughly 12-inch disc did the trick. It was a bit of irony that the record had been shelved into a dusty pile by the iPad music app I listen to at high volume when I work.
There is great convenience in using the music app since I quickly hear tunes from Buddy Holly to Johnny Cash to Glenn Miller to the Beatles, etc., but as I put the old Johnny Mathis record back into its sleeve, I felt a tinge of guilt that the voice impressed in the vinyl had long ago been silenced. Not Mathis, just the recorded version I have.
I also realized that 100 years ago, when wind-up Victrolas were playing scratchy 78 rpm records made of shellac resin, listeners would have been overjoyed to have almost unbreakable, longer-playing 33 rpm vinyl that, if cared for, offered few scratchy sounds.
Yet even that would be relative since just a few years before 1917, parlors had Edison music players with tunes recorded on even scratchier cylinders. Before that, there were player pianos with music notes delivered by perforated paper or metallic rolls. Before that, whoever was playing an instrument. And in between the iPad and the 33 rpm record were tapes and various cassettes.
Such has been the progress that guarantees we can always hear the music.
Still, as noted, a wisp of nostalgia that in the ever-faster pace of our time, the iPad app just pops on while not long ago, we carefully pulled a vinyl record out of its jacket, blew off the dust, gently placed it on the console record player and sat down to listen.
Almost more civilized.

The writer is a retired newspaperman.

Rescuing the suburbs

By Arthur H. Gunther III

I live in Rockland County, N.Y., a semi-rural land when I was young but now a New York City suburb that is graying with older housing stock, demands for more urban-like density, rising infrastructure costs and other threats to the quality of life. It is the typical U.S. suburb, sometimes a worrisome place with a future uncertain in an economy that may never again see a vibrant middle class. The middle class thirsted for the burbs, kept it going but today cannot afford it. Suggestions follow for Rockland as it faces the years ahead; perhaps they are applicable elsewhere.

Rockland municipalities must act now on joint planning issues if taxes, diversity and quality of life are to be best managed in the fast graying of suburbia. Some of the county’s post-World War II housing is among the nation’s oldest, and there should be common thought as to how to keep development stable as well as to renew it.

Towns and villages should come together, with the county leading, to devise shared standards for future growth and regrowth. What happens in one town or village affects the others, especially in infrastructure such as water supply and sewers, density, drainage, traffic and the county tax load.

Rockland’s cost of living is well above the national average, and its budget, which zoomed from about $489 million in 2001 to $674 million in 2017, is not sustainable. Those costs are directly attributable to population changes, including aging out and poorly planned density growth, as well as unfunded state mandates that should be protested jointly by all municipalities.

Economic and quality-of-life pressures will continue to push residents from the county, some taking with them a sense of history and dedicated community involvement that may not necessarily be replaced. The worry is that we will urbanize in anonymity, with 60-70-year-old housing not renewed, with some areas grossly neglected as the cost of home ownership rises.

Municipalities must prepare now to obtain the best outlook. Towns and villages, with the county in the lead, should form the “Rockland Outlook Consortium” to:

* Set common zoning standards for housing density, recognizing that much of the county developed after World War II has 1/3-acre or 1/4-acre housing plots with 1,600-1,800 square-foot homes. Redevelopment at greater density will invite a population increase that cannot be afforded by municipalities and school districts. The architecture will also overwhelm and green space will dwindle. There must be a planning balance if suburbia is to survive and redevelop with quality of living.
* Require sufficient drainage ponds and storm sewering with a look at what happens downstream. For example, irresponsible growth in Ramapo along the Pascack Brook affects homes in Orangetown, even in New Jersey. Residents elsewhere should not suffer flooding and remediation costs because Ramapo has licensed overgrowth. There must be a better look at the effect of development or regrowth in one municipality versus the quality of life in other communities.
* Seek balance in growth/regrowth. From its beginning, Rockland has been diverse, and that enriches our lives and our history. There must be housing for all incomes, but much better planned and in a mix. We must guard against decaying neighborhoods, leaning on unscrupulous landlords who take single-family homes and illegally convert them to boarding houses.
* Work with the Rockland fire coordinator and volunteer fire departments to require landlord-paid, six-month re-inspections of all multi-tenant housing for housing and fire code violations. Building inspectors must be much more pro-active, and the courts must jail repeat slumlords. Property appearance codes must be better written and enforced.
* Discourage suburban shopping, rezoning areas to prevent such  development. Instead, we must renew village downtowns and hamlet centers, with sufficient parking and walkable areas. Existing strip-shopping owners should be made to clean up their acts, with litter, poor paving and neglected storefronts rehabilitated.
* School districts should work even more fervently to support one another so that we do not have the imbalance that now exists — East Ramapo students without enough teachers and courses while just next door the Clarkstown School District offers relative educational riches. We should all be ashamed of such inequity in Rockland. Albany aid formulas, income-based school taxation and mandate relief must be the continuing agenda, and the better-off Rockland districts must help their brothers in the fight.
Rockland County will continue into this century, but with what future? Are we to face unsupportable deficits? Stressed schools and disenfranchised children? Run-down, unsafe housing? An imbalance of housing density that favors some and shuts out others? Perhaps a “Rockland Outlook Consortium” that agrees on common planning standards and even shames wayward municipalities can begin to steer our troubled ship off the rocks.

The writer is a retired newspaperman who lives in Blauvelt, N.Y. Contact him at


April 16, 2017

By Arthur H. Gunther III
When my son Arthur IV bought his small Upper Nyack, N.Y.,  house from Leroy Buckout, the owner explained that he long ago had adopted a way to deal with the lack of closets, not uncommon in a 1929 home. “When I buy a shirt, I get rid of another,” he suggested.
I figure old Norman Baker did the same thing. He was the longtime editor of the original Journal-News in Rockland County, N.Y., and his work shirt never varied. It was white, or the off-white that many washings bring, and Norm always had the sleeves rolled to just above the elbow.
That was at first practical, since newspapering in his 1920s into the later 1960s included daily time in hot-metal composing rooms filled with lead type, high heat and some grime.
But there was another reason. Norm did not wear short-sleeve shirts. Maybe he didn’t have closet room. Perhaps he didn’t like them. Or — and this is my best guess — the editor was a practical man, and he figured a long-sleeve dress shirt became seasonal when you rolled the sleeves.
Norm also used copy editing pencils to the limit, writing headlines with some that were three-inches short. He penciled those “heds” on half sheets of copy paper that the printers cut from left-over newsprint.
And as you would guess, the editor’s cigarettes were smoked to the stubs. (In my old Hudson Avenue, Nyack, office, maybe three of us, out of 50, did not smoke. The way individuals held their cigs, lit them, inhaled, stubbed them out offered study in habit, almost an encyclopedic entry.)
Norm Baker also didn’t say much. His sort of teaching was by example. A copy boy could watch and learn. For me anyway, it was the best lesson.
Maybe that is why, decades later, I still recall Norm, my hiring boss, in his white shirt, sleeves rolled.

The writer is a retired newspaperman.


April 10, 2017

By Arthur H. Gunther III

Some time ago, at a table of friends and family through marriage, the talk was of newspapers — media in general, actually — and how you “can’t believe what you read, what you hear, maybe even what you see.” One person in particular, a good man who has shared and enhanced important moments, was the most vocal, practically considering the messenger an enemy. I kept quiet — as a newspaperman I was used to disdain, some of it deserved. The relative seemed not to care that I was in the fraternity, almost as if he were excusing me. “Oh, not you, Art,” he was saying by not saying it, by the absence of directed comment.
Retired now, the unspoken oath that includes “who, what, where, when, why and how” is not forgotten though the daily deadline clock no longer ticks. I am always looking for a story, a photograph, something to comment on, if only to myself. In this era of so-called “fake news,” I wish there were a gig, just to emphasize that while bias and deliberate editorializing and misinformation have always been there, so has the real deal, the guy or gal with a nose for news gathered in competence and delivered straight up. Those people quench our thirst for information.
News-gathering is full of characters, mostly suspicious, rejecting authority, irreverent. They can be unlikable, even irritating until you understand that it takes someone out of the regular rhythm of life to describe life, to show the warts, the horror but also the beauty. Especially life that can become jingoistic, pushed by the slogans of those with an agenda, who promise the moon to folk who will in the end receive hypocrisy.
If you must, hate the journalist, the commentator, the one who delivers information you do not want to hear. Distrust all messengers, yes. Digest news with a grain of salt, yes. Those are requirements of the educated reader, listener, viewer, because even the most balanced, neutral media toiler gets things wrong and can be influenced by bias.
But also pray for the information gatherers. The best of these save the world by spotlighting greed, inhumanity and evil and also restore faith while reporting on individual heroism and goodness.
Fake news is weed. It’s always been invasive. But then there is the hardy crop that feeds humanity. Water it.

The writer is a retired newspaperman.


April 3, 2017

By Arthur H. Gunther III

In Nyack, N.Y., just a few hundred yards from the great historic river named the Hudson, the shores of which will soon be joined by two new bridges to replace one just 62 years old, stands a small barn so classic in shape and so reminiscent of who and what built the nation that it makes you purr, the world’s troubles be damned.
Those new spans across the river named for Hendrik, an explorer without GPS who by default continued New World exploration and so helped fuel the endless frontier that was once America, should not be necessary. The Brooklyn Bridge, just miles south on the East River takeoff, was earnestly erected in 1883 and remains in heavy use — people, vehicles, trains. The 1955 Tappan Zee Bridge is falling down, and millions have been spent each year to prop it up.
The crossing will be allowed to collapse later this year when the first new span opens to the exaggeration of politicoes and much fanfare, just like in 1955. But no one will speak of the first and poorly built structure and why it has withered while great-great-grandpa still stands talk with no evident arthritis.
And so, back to the Nyack barn, old school, too, maybe 1883 as well. Surely not 1955.
It stands, still.
The first Tappan Zee Bridge cost $81 million, or about $800 million today. The Brooklyn Bridge — $15.5 million in 1883, $386 million in 2017. The TZB replacements? An estimated $3.9 billion. Yes, “billion.” And that does not include inevitable renovation and widening of the Rockland County Thruway lanes, now a bottleneck that will not see relief with two wider crossings.
The barn? Not sure what it cost back when. Probably a few hundred dollars in locally harvested and milled pine plus the labor of willing neighbors in a picnic raising.
Like I said, the barn makes me purr. Not sure about the new bridges at Nyack. Or the old one.

The writer is a retired newspaperman.