KEEP THE WATCH

July 23, 2018

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     In the 1939 political comedy/drama, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” the naive but principled Jefferson Smith (James Stewart) is supposed to be a do-no-harm bumpkin replacement for a deceased U.S. senator from an unnamed western state who will not interfere with wheeling and dealing. Instead, he proves to be the American eagle who soars above impacted greed and graft to remind us of higher ideals.

     This classic by director Frank Capra gets the point across by involving the freshness and promise of youth (boy rangers), human kindness (the encouraging Harry Carey, Senate president) and the re-born (all-business political operative Jean Arthur). 

     War is just beginning in Europe, and its growing shadow is heading toward America, the Great Depression is still on, and democracy’s values are questioned as to practicality. 

     The film’s hero, in climax, endures a 24-hour Senate filibuster over a land grab to reaffirm the American ideals of freedom while disclosing the true motives of the greed scheme, yet none of the senators are convinced. 

     Is this the end of the American Founders’ hopes? Is the nation no longer a beacon for the world, lost in favoritism for the rich and powerful? 

     When all seems hopeless, the chief Senate wheeler-dealer, Joseph Paine (Claude Rains) realizes his guilt and affirms to all Smith’s true, unselfish nature. The bumpkin is, in his seeming naiveté, the inherent goodness of man, the hope of it anyway. 

     That was 79 years ago, in a fictional U.S. Senate. There was, as now, wrongdoing and special interest benefitting individuals and groups rather than the ordinary citizen. There were rigged votes. There were lemming-like politicians willing to be told untruths and to uphold same to stay in the club. Most of all, there were those few like Jefferson Smith, those fertile seeds in an arid wasteland of diverted moisture and nutrition, who articulated in 24 hours of growing hoarseness the values of decency to which we in America aspire even as we stumble so very greatly. It was 1939. It was fiction. 

     Or is it 2018, this time not a movie?

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

 

SILENCE, BEYOND GOLDEN

July 16, 2018

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

I talk too much, can be overly gregarious, especially when there is a seemingly captive audience. That’s rude, isn’t it? Yet most of us do not listen, at least not fully, so while doing so is defensive and protective, it can be a put-off as well.

Human nature has us repeating our idiosyncracies over and over, and that at least is a marker for the friends we do keep and for the relatives and co-workers who have little choice. It’s like driving a particular car — you know what the quirks are, what buttons to push, what to ignore.

What about silence, though? If with a stranger, it can be awkward, uncomfortable. If with a talker, relief. If with someone who might often talk and talk but with whom you also share comfortable, mutual, give-and-take conversation, silence can at times produce goose bumps, understanding that needs no words. Reassuring, perhaps even a purring moment, surely reinforcement that a mutual existence continues. 

Truly, human beings do not have to jabber on to be understood. In fact, silence can tell you more, reveal more and become a hand-holder that is reachable even when those involved are not present.

Besides, the quiet that silence lives in is a true security blanket.

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

AFFIRMATION

July 9, 2018

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

A recent painting, “Abstract on a Red Wall,” came about because what I had on the canvas was not working — there was nothing there that told a story or suggested one. The colors could not stand on their own. The form, the line, had no structure that beckoned. It wasn’t frustrating because it was just media and paint and a missing ingredient — inspiration. It wasn’t the end of the world.

I had other things to do: take a walk, watch a favorite British do-it-yourself show (amazing how the English build with older techniques and tools), maybe eat a donut or just chill.

     The eventual rescue, and rescues usually do come, was in letting go. The painting did not have to get done, not that day or week or month. I wasn’t earning a living at it; it wasn’t going to be recognized as exceptional. It wasn’t going to complete my soul. I would not have dreams about the painting.

     Letting go did the trick. Whatever mundane tasks I went off to complete, whatever time spent doing not much of anything, chilled me enough to return to that particular canvas.

     In its execution, I soon found I was painting a wall, with the hint of a hallway to the left. The work itself became largely red, much like the hue you see in a Piet Mondrian (though hardly approaching that artistry). 

     The upper righthand corner of the piece soon included part of a second painting, a painting within a painting, an abstract of various colors and angles in its own frame.

     There — the work was done. There was “color field,” predominant red but other colors, too, that stood on their own. Yet there was a story as well, suggested by the hallway, the angles in the painting, the overall look.

     It was, in its very own small way, art imitating life. The hallway was my walk-out from the original painting that was not working. The angles were the this and that which I did away from the work. And the red, so much of it, was renewed zest.

     A small thing overall, just a time in the life, affecting no one but affirming existence. We have all been there.

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

HOW TO HONOR THE CAPITAL GAZETTE FIVE

July 2, 2018

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     Of all that was so sorrowfully missing from the presidency on the line-of-duty deaths of five newspapermen and women in Maryland last week, the saddest was a moment of silence. Had the non-president, even before he again flew off to his Bedminster, N.J., golf course for another taxpayer-funded weekend, bowed his head and led us all in respect for the fallen, perhaps that would have been a nod toward humanity. At last.

But, no, Trump offered so little and soon will return to his fake “fake news” claim meant to smear the messengers of fact and truth, however imperfect we are.

I took his ice-cold feelings personally, for I am a retired newspaperman who also blessedly worked in an at-times cursed and cursing local newsroom, as did the five men and women killed in the offices of The Capital Gazette  in Annapolis Thursday by a gunman on a grudge mission.

Too many hate the messenger, and if you are crazed as well, and if you can easily buy weapons despite that, all journalists are in the gunsight, emboldened by a “president” who called media coverage of the North Korean peace talks “treasonous.” Joseph Goebbels, step forward.

 All we citizens should take Trump’s despicable behavior personally. Where was his empathy for the fallen, as much in the line of duty, and now in the line of fire, as our military? Tweeting that he offered prayers for the victims and then leaving it at that is not enough. This was a mourning weekend in Annapolis, in America, and he played golf.

     Bury your dead, loved ones of Gerald Fischman, Rob Hiaasen, John McNamara, Rebecca Smith and Wendi Winters. Those of civility mourn with you.

     Perhaps the epitaph on all these tombstones should read, in the words of Pat Ferguson, Gazette reporter: “… buy a local newspaper.” Truth begins in covering local village and school meetings, all government doings. Cover the statehouse and the Congress. And, especially today, cover a presidency that is leaning fascist, playing representative government as fools, pushing an agenda fueled by racism, fear, hatred. Oligarchy, stand up.

     Today, those of decency bow in mourning for the five journalists. On Nov. 6, we show up at the polls to forward what the Capital Gazette Five we’re accomplishing. Do not let democracy die in darkness. Do not let their deaths be in vain.

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

IN A VILLAGE …

 

June 25, 2018

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com;ahgunther@yahoo.com

     In my childhood village of Spring Valley,  not far from New York City but at the time country enough to be “upstate,” there was a protective rhythm.

     My father had grown up there. My grandfather arrived as a young man, and this was his community for decades. My brother and I went through elementary and high school with kids we knew from early childhood. They were the children of children my father played alongside.

     The stores on Main Street changed little. The 14-cent-a-ticket movie theater was my dad’s youthful hangout, too, same price. The post office on Madison where I searched through discarded junk mail pretending I had received it was dedicated in a ceremony which my dad and his mother attended. My eighth-grade history class with Miss Christina Schopper began with an admonishment that “I hope you don’t act up like your father.” My dad just laughed when I told him.

     My grandfather’s garage off Tenure and Summit had Ed White’s marriage license nailed to the wall. Ed, who had lived in the house, owned a grocery and later a hobby shop, was a village trustee, too. My brother Craig and I went to school with his sons.

     The open ground off Church Street, near the old Consolidated Laundries, was overcome annually by the circus, not a carnival, but a true three-ringer. Every kid went, and we sat as we did in the public school assemblies or the elementary school at St. Joseph’s.

     Newly built Memorial Park offered swings and a hop-on, self-propelled merry-go-round where Craig and I met George Dloughy before we both were in kindergarten, recalling our fun until his last days.

     We kids of that time, in that village, with its long-serving stores, with teachers spanning generations, with neighbors who knew neighbors who knew neighbors for decades may not have had much materially, but the five or ten cents we occasionally carried in the pockets of the two pairs of pants or dresses our parent managed to buy for each school year got us three Bachman pretzels at Roth’s or a five-cent cherry coke at Arvanite’s. 

     The walk downtown to that treat, with our minds lost in thought about school, or friends or girlfriends and boyfriends or just idled in life’s ordinary but fantastic moments was beyond monetary value.

     I hope everyone gets to live in or near a village, somewhere.

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

THE GREAT INDECENCY

June 18, 2018

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     This imperfect experiment called America, conceived in great, precipice-style argument by the Framers, not fully realized as to intent and potential, nevertheless has endured. Winston Churchill, the half-American: “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”

     Therefore, citizens, accept the imperfection while eying the winter of our discontent, that the present time of unhappiness can and must pass. In particular, reject the great indecency of this moment because it is not American, not that of most of the republic anyway, but a re-emerging of our demonstrated racism by some, hatred by some, prejudice by some, violence by some, evil act by some. All such horror has been repudiated by those of decency.

     Slavery was part of the great indecency, as was the massacre of Native-Americans. “Irish Need Not Apply” was, too. So was jailing women urging suffrage. And the internment of Americans of Japanese ancestry. And, now, the caging of very young children, torn from the love and protection of their illegal immigrant mothers.

     That the United States is currently “led” by a person who tweets falsehood, who encourages discord, who uses the bully pulpit as a Mussolini balcony, is the greatest indecency.

     This man does not deserve to champion Republican Party views, to be successor to presidents who have led the nation in war and peace. Were he the local school principal, the town attorney, CEO of a corporation or on the school board, his resignation or ouster would already have occurred.

     Those who support him, in the name of Republican or conservative or Tea Party or nationalistic “values,” prostitute those tenets. They close their eyes and kiss the derriere, hoping for a ride on the victory wagon while not realizing what a large piece of their soul they have sullied.

     Until we in this imperfect America strongly insist on the end of this present indecency, when, according to our history we should know better, until we again walk on the rut-filled path to progress toward the Framers’ goals, we are complicit. 

Those caged children’s tears are staining our decency.

     

     

     The writer is a retired newspaperman. Contact him via ahgunther@yahoo.com

NEVER CAST A STONE …

June 11, 2018

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

ahgunther@yahoo.com

 

     There is, in depression, a numbness, the nerve endings dulled by a sinisterly administered anesthetic. There is a cloud about you, as if you are in a daze. Little excites you, and if you have the energy to get up, it is the tasks of the day — brushing teeth, getting dressed, doing this and that until nightfall — that babies you along, pushes one foot in front of another. You truly “exist” not in this world or any other, but in a world of detachment. You seem without hope.

I know, I was there in my mid-40s, for two solid years and steps back for some years after. Job success (as a newspaperman), two wonderful sons, a loving and giving wife, family, friends — all kept me from falling away though they never knew it. 

     I was fortunate in that my depression was milder than most, and I could at times see rays of light toward the end of my tunnel.

As an individual, I am too self-sufficient, and I do not advertise my hurt. That locks people — loved ones — out. But it is also protective. I figure that I will mend myself so I can give to them. I prefer to give than take, which, oddly enough, is sometimes selfish. But it is me.

     “Me” was difficult to find in my depression. What had excited me about living was kept at bay by the cloud, and it was only the structure of work, with my writing coming easily, and my continuing ability to get basic tasks done at home, for the family, for my aging parents, that got me from one day to the next.

     That and a belief that there was a helper, an angel next to me. In those several moments when I thought I might be leaving, I reached out and squeezed air, though it was not that at all. Kept me alive.

     Slowly, as the months progressed, the cloud dispelled, a smile came at times, a re-invigoration developed, and living resumed. Though there were occasional pulls to darkness, I never again felt listless in a breathing body. 

     Though depression passed for me without seeing a doctor, without medication, without any consultation beyond squeezing that angel’s hand, that was my circumstance. Others similarly affected might do well seeking professional care. In fact, maybe most should.

     Having survived depression, which came as a ship in enveloping fog, not because I lost a job, or money or family, my thought is that some loss or addition in brain chemistry brought it about.

     We know so little about depression, about the brain’s chemical make-up. There is not enough research. Drugs, which make pharmaceutical companies obscenely rich, are not the answer, given the side effects. There has to be an understanding of nature, of how the body works and why it is assaulted.

     Society must also understand that suicide is not the coward’s way out but an act in a feeling of utter hopelessness. Hopelessness that somehow we must see and address. Never cast a stone here. We must note our fellow human’s pain and be that angel who offers a squeezing hand. It will save lives that can then thrive.

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

‘MY KIND OF JOINT’

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

BETHESDA, Md. — Sometimes you have to leave home to go home again. That was the case on my last day, four days later, in this ever-expanding D.C. suburb. Government must water even the weeds here, so rapidly rise the office buildings, homes and retail space.

A bit too much for a homegrown fellow blessed with a semi-rural upbringing in Rockland County, N.Y., itself now in fast-track growth.

I was in Bethesda because No. 2 son, Andrew Edward, is relocating with Army physician wife Patricia and their two daughters from a posting in San Antonio. The replacement house requires a new kitchen, and your author has made enough home-improvement mistakes to qualify as installation/repairman. So, I spent four days doing electrical, plumbing, carpentry after a 259-mile trip that challenged my aging driving skills. Alone in the car at 3:30 a.m., God was my co-pilot.

Andrew and I managed well enough, and a considerable sum was saved. He is nearing the new kitchen.

Since we were in effect two bachelors, and there are no cooking facilities, we ate out, in places ranging from way too expensive to poor-quality offering to “home again.”

I will focus on the Tastee Diner, a 24-hour joint proud to call itself that, in downtown Bethesda.

Just wonderful. The grill guy cooks your order in front of you. It gets to the table pronto, with no stop under heat lamps until it can travel.

Old-fashioned, solid breakfast food, with coffee refilled by a “Hi, Hon” waitress. She knew the locals, of course. In fact, she probably has a degree in human psychology, earned on the job.

I thought I was back at Tiny’s Diner in the Spring Valley of my 1950’s youth, or at Billy Hogan’s or Sparky’s.

Nothing fancy. Everything reassuring. I was home again. Taxpayer-supported government, expanding outward from D.C., may be in the menu nationally, but the Tastee, serving Americana since 1935, has never gotten too big for its britches.

My kind of joint.

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

 

NEARING THE BARRICADES …

May 28, 2018

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

There’s an analogy between “English” muffins and the present government of the United States, once known as “of, by and for the people’ and now an oligarchy.

In Englishman Samuel Bath Thomas’ later 1800s’ days and for most of the 20th century, the yeast-derived muffin was large, about the four-inch size of a classic donut before a leading donut chain took to profit/greed-circumcising, down to about three inches. English muffins, simply called muffins in the Queen’s realm, also used to be fork-split, because when you do not slice, you do not smoosh the yeast- or quick-bread, and those crannies capture the melting butter. But I suspect more preservatives have made that more difficult, at least in some brands.

Move on from the English muffins and you can complain about shrinking Oreos and other cookies, smaller candy bars, “one-pound” coffee tins now holding 11 ounces, not 16. Initially, years back now, the weight reduction in your tin was attributed to “vacuum-packed for freshness.”

We Americans bought that snake-oil claim and have simply numbed ourselves to shrinking products everywhere. So, we eat two English muffins or four cookies rather than one and two. We buy the smaller donut at the ubiquitous chain because it is convenient, even if it cost almost twice as much as in the supermarket next door.

Our lives, it seems, are just too busy to think about it, or we simply do not care.

So, what is the analogy between reduced-in-size English muffins, smaller anything and our disappearing republic, the once-democracy? 

In the Founders’ eyes, the thought was to build a republic that was a democracy, build it on the rights of man, in equality, away from the abuse of power. While equality and the “rights of man” did not include African-Americans or women or some others, this America, in the deliberate maturing envisioned by the Founders, had, before the corruption of power since at least John F. kennedy, ended slavery, achieved the right to right to vote for women, had recognized unions and enacted laws to protect the people. There was progress in this great American experiment. But in the past decades, both major political parties have willingly reduced the pie, cut the muffin size, by allowing our once-democracy to be dominated by corporate power, other special interest and greed. There is now lynching by Twitter of minorities, immigrants and anyone in disagreement with the powers that be. Neither party sees  the economic suffering that is eating, depression-like, at half the country. Neither fights the pharmaceutical and health insurance mega-industries. Neither addresses the voracious appetite of the military in futile, costly wars that send veterans’ minds to  PTSD nightmares while enriching the military/industrial complex.

Civil liberties are threatened by the loss of privacy, surveillance and withered due process, with the power structure counting on citizen ignorance of their basic rights.

Hidden money fuels this deepened march toward government of the few. It imprisons rather than deal with an opioid epidemic caused by pharmaceutical greed. It militarizes police,  basically selfless individuals enabled into bullying. The military motto has always been “kill or be killed,” the civilian police, “do the least harm in protecting and serving.” That is lost in militarization, and it insults both the citizens and the ordinary police.

The present paucity of U.S. leadership is the direct result of our deliberate withering, our greed-driven downsizing of the grand “muffin” that once was to be offered to all.

We clearly await a revolution, bloodless I pray. Without civil disobedience from decent people, this nation is doomed, the sacrifices of so many buried by lust for power and money.

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

A RESETTING

May 20, 2018

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

One snowy evening a long time ago, with the temperature not so low that a walker would freeze and not so high that there would be rainy ice, and with the flakes delicate and inviting, I took a lengthy walk in Hillcrest, N.Y., just to chill — not to be cold but to find a bit of calm, like the purring a contended cat might seek curled up on the couch. (I do think that’s when cats recharge.)

The walk took about two hours, and in those days not one car was met. I made the only tracks down Karnell Street to State to Hillcrest Avenue to Route 45 to Williams Avenue to Hempstead Road to Brick Church to Route 306 to Viola Road to Eckerson to State and back to 25 Karnell.

No high blood pressure in those days, but if there had been, the walk in that magnificent, fresh, descending-from-the-heavens beauty would have dropped me to 100/60. Even the pulse rate would have been low, because in the unmeasured cadence of a leisurely walk I anticipated no surprise, just a real oneness with nature, a private journey that made living worth while. 

Whatever war, poverty, horror, tragedy there was in the world, whatever personal troubles existed for anyone, including me, all would be there when I reached home and the ordinary motor of life again kicked in. There would also be the exhilaration of living, too, the highs, the good works of humankind.

For the moment, though, in those two hours of calm walking in gently falling snow, there was a reset, at least for one person.

I found that just one street into the walk but the true embrace, the needed hug, came as I passed the barn at the Brown orchard near Viola Road. It had stood a long time, it was simplistically beautiful. It especially made the walk a reaffirmation.

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