April 27, 2020

By Arthur H. Gunther III

     Greed is the virus that never goes away, in good times, in bad ones. It is exploitive, growing exponentially with pandemic illness, for example, its handlers quickly looking to seize any opportunity to rake in more cash. It has no soul, this devil.

     An example: In a recent direct conference call to the White House (a misnomer of a name for this present dark place of non-leadership), top executives of key large restaurant chains pressed Trump on a $145 billion “aid” package . According to a N.Y. Times story April 25, these companies, though “highly profitable in recent years,” believe they need a buffer against major losses in the pandemic.

     Not explained to the White House, of course, was that these chains have not spent their high profits on setting aside a  rainy-day nest egg, nor assuring staff, many at minimum wage with little or no benefits, that they would have their back, for a time anyway, in any big crisis.

     Instead, the companies followed what banks and other large corporations did in the U.S. government bailout after the near-depression of 2008, itself caused by the constant river of greed. The banks, etc., used taxpayer money, borrowed against what will be your now-young grandchildren’s massive debt, to buy back their own stock, thus increasing share price. More yachts, vacation homes, private aircraft. The restaurant chains lobbying Trump took not a bailout but profits to buy stock, accumulating debt that now has them in a pickle during the crisis.

     They were irresponsible. Companies are invested by shareholders who deserve a decent return, but the buck does not stop there. Their products are assembled and offered by the minions who receive comparatively small paychecks in one hand while their wallets are raided by the future instability of the firms’ focus on immediate profit and not on solidifying the companies’ foundation. Future jobs lost. Future taxpayer bailouts ahead. Greed.

     This pandemic has brought sea change — sudden, terrible passing of loved ones, closed schools and shops, greater affliction on the poor and poorer and worries by the ton as to what future life will look like. But it has also boosted profiteers in their fixated run for the money.

If anything needs remedying in this crisis and post-crisis, it is the sinister-driven greed machine. Jam the gears so our society can be rebuilt with economic fairness.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman.



‘SOCIAL DISTANCING’/photograph/gunther

By Arthur H. Gunther III

     “Social distancing” is not new. As kids, we were forced to go to such lengths if we had older siblings who walked faster and who ignored us anyway. Couples always have had bouts of deliberately setting themselves apart. Go to a social affair and see who discreetly moves to the other side of the room.

     In fact, sometimes social distancing is healthy. Obviously now in this most serious of times. But it can also be reaffirmation of the space we all need for ourselves. We can’t always be cozying-up or hovering or being hovered upon. 

     There’s a certain peace that comes with a bit of distance. Time to be quiet, to relish silence, to talk inwardly to yourself, to remember that you are just fine being you without someone else having to tell you.

     Perhaps the absence, even just a few feet for a short time, makes for a fonder reunion.

     My old Regents exams had social distancing. New York State required that our desks be about five feet apart so we couldn’t cheat. You would have needed Superman’s x-ray vision to read the valedictorian’s blue exam book.

     And most teachers enforced social distancing by sending Joey to the office after he threw spitballs at Marge.

     So, maybe in this moment, a bit of humor and observation about what is temporarily a serious rule will actually close the physical gap and bring us together in spirit.

    Stay safe.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman.


April 13, 2020

By Arthur H. Gunther III

     In this staying-at-home time, simplicity seems to have re-appeared, just as cleaner air nationwide is reported, that due to decreased vehicle movement. Not using the car as much, not running off to appointments, visits, stores, brings us back inside the house where we might usually just sleep, to the memory of youthful summers where the school clock gave way to a different, simpler day schedule. Despite the horrors of this gone-viral time, the slower pace perhaps reminds us that we don’t always have to run to the finish line, or at least not to the next hill to climb.

     For me, it has taken a few weeks to realize my pulse can be slower, and the niceness of that moment came in a bowl of cereal, not my usual breakfast these days but in staying-home, it’s been back-to-childhood things. 

     When you eat cereal, which you don’t really eat but spoon it in, crunch and swallow, you must have something to read. It’s required. At my grandfather’s house, it was the Daily News. In my childhood, the cereal box, which sometimes had little stories or drawings on them. Otherwise, you read the ingredients. You had to read something.

     I read the ingredients as I had my 2020 cereal. But then the raisin bran was soon out of the bowl, and I could see a circular pattern, like the rings of Saturn.

     Instantly, I thought of my mother’s old crockery and the patterns I stared at eating cereal. I then thought of my late Mom, heard her voice and got a whiff of the old house smell.

     Such simple but vital memories, all from a cereal bowl during a worldwide crisis. The gods can be good to us.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman.



April 6, 2020

By Arthur H. Gunther III

     There is understatement in almost everything British, and that may be because life’s storms are, indeed, best met by “Keep Calm and Carry On.” The Blitz, almost 15 years of war rationing, great economic and social change and now both the challenges of Brexit, and, more important the coronavirus, have demanded, demand again, a people’s resolve.

     John Lyons of Hartlepool, off the North Sea, my grandfather, set such a tone. When we visited his town, attacked during the First World War by offshore Germans who could have included some of my other European relatives, there was residual reminder of the loss of lives more than 100 years ago now. A museum dedicated to that history stands by the rail line bound north to Scotland.

     The British, especially the older lot, do not forget hardship, however stiff the upper lip. On certain Sundays in London, on war memorial days, you still see chaps with sport coats and suit jackets that have commendation medals affixed. These men, and women, proudly and with upright posture, stroll, whether in Lambeth Walk or elsewhere.

     Endurance, survival are the unseen medals on those chests, and the civilians who lost kin and home in the Blitz and later V2 rocket attacks wear them too.

     The British tradition of tea drinking also is a badge of courage and survival. Any tense moment has its cup of tea, and even a glance at the cozy or the kettle can lower the blood pressure.     My late mother, daughter of an Englishman and an Irish mom, all too soon an orphan at age 8 and with a tough life in the Great Depression, would not be without her tea in the proper Irish way, with a dash of milk (substituted by condensed, canned milk during the American war rations time).

     In this long moment of the spreading coronavirus, with the sad passing of some and the hardships, each of us has a reference to those who came before and endured. It is at least comfort to think back and nod in respect and remember that others have stayed calm and carried on.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman.