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

OF TWO SEASONS

April 9, 2018

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

Spring has not yet sprung in this part of the Northeast, a bit north geographically of New York City but with a history and flavor set distinctly apart. There may be daffodils in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, especially in the wonderful Botanical Gardens, but they do not compare to those once grown in the Burns greenhouses off Second Avenue, Spring Valley.

That was a long time ago, so many springs past but even a long winter of discontent, of snow and cold, cannot remove the scent of its moment.

Schoolchildren in that area back in the day attended either the North Main Street School or St. Joseph’s parochial. I was at the former, and come spring the walk home was sometimes changed from a straight run up Main to Hillcrest to a longer, leisurely hike up Ewing Avenue then down toward Pascack Road. This took me to the back of Slinn Avenue and the woods there, filled in early spring with daffodils, presumably from the large commercial Burns holdings.

By my time, so much of that was gone, and the “Hill” area of Spring Valley in Rockland County, N.Y., was soon to see explosive housing growth, part of the post-World War II boom. My moment with the daffodils was just two short seasons.

Appropriate, actually, as I was growing up and soon any flowers for a mom would naturally move to flowers for a girl or two. 

Yet in those two spring moments, with the beautiful emergence of seasonal renewal tempting enough to take a longer walk home, a few daffodils were picked and given to a mother who truly deserved so much more.

 

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

KETCHUP ‘PASSED MUSTARD’

By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com

It may seem hilarious and even back-woodsy, but there was a moment, a long one, when at 2 a.m. in a diner, say Hogan’s in West Nyack, N.Y., when you instinctively pulled up your feet as the floor guy came by, splashing Clorox and water at the terrazzo floor. Hey, if he hit your shoes, they were washed too — for free.
Hogan’s, the old one, the place that looked like Edward Hopper’s image of a diner, was not fancy, although the food, short order mostly, was so well practiced a craft there that it could have been cordon bleu. Hogan’s would not be fancy — it’s clientele would not have that. It was just a down-to-earth comfortable joint, and joint was OK. It connected the dots in your life.
I’d sometimes hit the place after my photographer shift at the also old, original Rockland Journal-News in nearby Nyack. I might sit at the counter, where stools were placed on a bulkhead, so you didn’t worry about the floor guy. Other times I was too tired for that and needed a rest at my back, so I took to one of the 8 or 10 booths along the defining front windows of the railway car-like diner.
Also at about 2 a.m., the waitress would come by and swing a fresh bottle of ketchup across the table, and you hardly noticed that either, reflexively reaching for it with left hand while grabbing the near-empty with the right and then swinging that back to her in a return shot. You did this with the sugar, too.
It was life in an old diner, and if you were a regular like me, you were family, so you helped out. You may not have known the cook, the waitress, the floor guy by name, but a wink or nod was all you needed to keep in touch anyway. Diners weren’t much about talking.
Ketchup was a quality marker in the old diners. Hogan’s used fresh stock to refill, but some others watered the mix. Aficionados, and they went to old diners, too, understood that ketchup, a freshly filled bottle, had to be slapped at the bottom to get the flow going. Or you could use the old slide-in-the-table-knife trick. If a full bottle poured easily, it wasn’t choice.
Like everything else at Hogan’s, the ketchup passed mustard. In that, and in the place itself, the new day’s anchor was set at its mooring for night newspaper stiffs like me.

The writer is a retired newspaperman. Contact him at ahgunther@hotmail.com. This essay is adapted from an earlier version.