JOE, KAMALA ARE IN; NOW THE PEOPLE

November 10, 2020

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     Joe is in, so is Kamala. Next, it’s gotta be the people.

     Kamala Harris cannot have her office in Washington, where the K-Street lobbyists and other special interests buy elections and pull strings for clients from domestic to foreign, from the military to the industrial.

No, the first female vice president, the first person of color in that office, must establish rotating offices in the heartland, in the inner cities, in those suburbs that are decaying. She must help push the right buttons to restore dignity to those who have lost manufacturing and other jobs; she must help address the lack of job retraining and affordable health care, the scourge of substance abuse, the loss of hope. Harris must hug beyond red tape those who face despair, even suicide. Do all this from a regional vice-presidential office with direct access to the president, agencies and officials who can make progress happen.

     What must Joe Biden do? Many things, of course, since a president must lead the nation in all matters domestic and foreign. And he has an even stiffer job since such presidential action and example have not been seen for four years.

     Biden must get the people “in,” in the war room of actual change, by creating a new cabinet post, “Secretary of the People,” as powerful as the Secretary of State. It would be filled by someone who advises the president, who can bring to that person’s ears the drowned-out voices of all the diverse people.

     If there were such a secretary sitting with other counselors of government, perhaps the White House cocoon that is inaccessible these days to ordinary folk would at long last have an inside person to get to the president.

     To prevent special-interest wooing of the Secretary of the People, the post would be held for just one year, with the president appointing each successor from somewhere in ordinary America. The chief executive would not select the individual himself, but rather an independent, volunteer group would search the nation far and wide and make a recommendation. Senate ratification would be almost a given, in the spirit of cooperation and to avoid lobbying by groups sure to be hurt by “common sense.”

     Special interests already have their counselors, appointed and otherwise. Why not the people? Perhaps there is no other way to gain access to the White House for them.

     Joe and Kamala are in; now the people, too.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at ahgunther@yahoo.com 

                                  –30–

THE GATHERING OF DECENCY

      November 2, 2020

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     It should be un-American to hate, to be a bigot, to let fear and want from loss of job and community change to bully others from speaking, to let your religion tell you it is right to exclude non-believers. It should be un-American, but it is not.

     Trump has said such thought, such behavior, IS American, a not-so-subtle reaffirmation that white is good, and only white is good. And his way of boosting his ego. Trump is only about Trump.

     No matter that except for Native Americans, we are all immigrants on stolen land, paved over in the march for “progress” and white manifest destiny.

     It has been wholly convenient in our short U.S. history to deny our racism. Cities were built. Industries rose. Opportunity increased. Great advances were made in technology, medicine, the standard of living. And, admittedly, in human relations. But all at the cost of ghettos, the poor, the disenfranchised, the drug-addicted, the mentally afflicted, chased from sight so we could live the white version of “progress.”

     When, in the course of growing maturity in this American democratic experiment, the one envisioned by the founders, we saw leaders like Abraham Lincoln, John Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy trying to cast light on the neglected, telling us the debt must be paid for paving over paradise and putting in a parking lot, we shot them.

     Now in the age of Trump, who would never sit down at Mar-A-Lago with the white victims of job loss and poverty, the crowds he lies to in false promise, there must be a reckoning. We must face our sins.

     Far-right, greed-driven politicians, long-removed from the Dwight Eisenhower era of progressives and compromisers, today join special-interest lobbies ruling from K-Street offices in D.C., deliberately obstructing change that would help the middle class, the generational poor, minorities and the fully forgotten. While this influence is at work in both political parties, it is truly sinister in the hijacked GOP. The Democrats are flawed, yes, but they are currently capable of seeing the error of their ways.

     The nation’s bleeding offers perhaps the last moment to turn the tide in special-interest influence, in a Republican Party that has lost its way, in a Democratic Party that offers decency, and thus hope, in Joe Biden.

     We must, in this election, begin to reclaim government for the people, to defeat racism, to educate, train and provide jobs for forever-neglected African-Americans, Native Americans and other minorities, including poor whites.

     The money is there — in the vaults of the super-rich. The “hope” is there in articulate voices, particularly women today.  The means are there in this nation that overcame a civil war, the Great Depression and led the world 1941-’45. We can devise a plan of action, as FDR did, as the Marshall Plan did for post-war Europe.

     The timing is right. Flip the switch Tuesday. Begin the gathering of decency.

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

                 –30

HUMILITY AND SERVICE

Hugh Bonner’s funeral, St. Patrick’s Day, 1908, NYC

October 26, 2020

 

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     I am partly of Bonner heritage, Irish through my grandmother Mary and also Scot as the family was Bonnar there before some went to Donegal. This matters to me mostly, in 2020 especially,  because I am distantly related to Mary’s Great-Uncle Hugh Bonner, the first chief of department of the newly formed Fire Department of New York and later the sixth fire commissioner. It matters because this is a dramatic, pivotal election year, and this is the United States, the nation that has the “welcoming” Statue of Liberty in New York’s harbor. It matters because I want to see more Hugh Bonners — white, black, brown, red, yellow, female, transgender, gay, straight in humble service.

     And it matters because Bonner, who passed of pneumonia in March 1908, after working a job — yet another Gotham blaze — was a man of humble service who rose from immigrant roots in the Irish Great Hunger and the poverty of crime-ridden Five Points in Manhattan to help direct the heroism of the fire department and to offer lifesaving tools without claiming patent. He also authored a  treatise on fighting fires in tenements with central light shafts that acted as chimneys when there was a blaze. Those shafts were banned in future construction, saving many lives.

     The New York Times’ report of Bonner’s passing noted that he “owed his position in the department to his high sense of duty.”  A Times editorial read: “In Hugh Bonner this community has lost a man who placed its Fire Department at the head of similar organizations in the service of the world’s great cities. He ran New York’s first self-propelling fire engine and its first chemical engine; he operated the first water tower ever used; he invented the life net and various devices for reaching the heart of a fire more quickly … New York proudly mourns his death.”

     It is the accident of birth that brings this humble man of service to my lineage, but knowing his history makes me more deeply bow to the great possibilities of people rising from hunger and want who grow to serve through stacked odds. That’s my kind of nation, and I tremble that it will disappear in the current indecency of false prophets. 

     Today, so many potential Hugh Bonners  do not survive to achieve; so many are pushed aside, wounded and killed by racism, prejudice, by the greedy who send their jobs away, by the elected who don’t walk the talk of equal opportunity, by the fakers who proclaim rescue while picking the pockets of the gullible.

      Hugh Bonner is why I voted so proudly in this presidential election.

     

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

                   –30–

SYNCHRONICITY

October 19, 2020

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     In another century, it seems, there were conversations about everything yet nothing of great import. Those two were not going to solve the world’s problems nor were they going to impress each other with pontification. Even the exact words did not matter, for it was the expectation that long drives and long talks would be a Friday and Saturday evening routine that counted most. It was that and the rhythm of it all.

     And the silences between many spoken — and heard — paragraphs were welcome as well, accepted not as moments where either had nothing more to say but as a minute or two or five to savor what already was said, much like you do in a several-course dinner.

     Now all this may seem remote, unimportant and unconnected to the reader, but you have been there. Recall when you were with someone and felt more than comfortable. There was trust, reinforcing habit and a feeling of mutual worthiness. 

     I guess for some in such situations the conversations and their routine might be the stuff of romance, though in that case perhaps fewer words the better. But goose bumps can come from talk alone.

     Even if the romantic is never reached or even proves impractical, it cannot be denied that two people purred in common language for a long moment, once upon a time.

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

THE ROAD

October 12, 2020

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     There is a road on the South Mountain, a winding, hilly journey that has long defined the lives of farmers and artists. It is the plan of the gods for there is little difference between the two nurturers who plant and harvest that which is from nature.

     In life there is also such a road for us, though the actual route may simply be a metaphor. Windings, hills, downward slopes, fertile ground, seeds sown, watched over, the harvest — all are part of life in degrees. Storms, too. Drought, poor soil, inattention, that “reap what you sow” whisper from off-stage.

     Then there is what some call the divine, or at least intended, meant to be. The road comes into your life. It takes you for a ride. You leave for other byways, but you return in moments of reflection to the original route.

     There is an actual South Mountain Road near me, in New York State, descending from the Concklin Orchards at Pomona to the slopes of High Tor mountain across from Dutch Town in Haverstraw. “The Road” has been home to playwright Maxwell Anderson, artist Henry Varnum Poor, actors and others gifted as those who describe the human void. There is magic in such creation, as there is atop the hill in the 1700s Concklin farm spread.

     My father would drive us along South Mountain, my brother and I rolling side to side in a 1939 Dodge as Dad maneuvered the turns. In high school, I rode a bike there in great effort. In early romance, there were walks and talks and silence and hope and goose bumps of a summer.

     In the working years as a newspaper stiff there were the photographs I took of road celebrities, the writing, the commentary.

     In retirement there have been stylized photos and paintings.

     All in all, quite a few decades of pull from The Road at South Mountain. I thank the gods.

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

CURIOSITY

 

October 5, 2020

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

Curiosity, we are warned, killed the cat, but the naysayers never tell you about the nine lives.

Curiosity was a welcome trait for Thomas Edison and Albert Einstein, who thought out of the box, who applied independent, non-conformist learning skills to their journey.

Einstein’s son Hans Albert said that his father was “withdrawn from the world even as a boy.” Had he been the traditionalist, he might have ended up a fine professor instead of spending 10 years daydreaming about gravity and the speed of light and whether a fellow saw himself in a mirror the same way traveling through space as he would moored to earth. His E=MC squared formula might not have been written. And, so, the good, and as Einstein noted, the bad in “progress.”

Thomas Edison tinkered in his lab with a similarly inspired staff, trying this and that out of curiosity much more than straight applied science. Had he followed strict dictum, he and his people might have given up. If they had let curiosity kill the cat the first time out on light bulb filaments, there would have been no ninth life, no pushed curiosity that found carbonized thread as the winner. And then there was light, literally.

Edward Hopper, the famed American realist painter whose works of solitude are so especially defining to the crazy world right now, spent long, non-painting months in utter curiosity, going to 1930s movies, peering out his Washington Square studio window, looking away from the sea at South Truro, Mass., walking Gotham’s streets and reaching into his file cabinet of a mind for human and architectural sketches filed on so many trips of curiosity. He took what he needed, and when the time was right, he brushed in strokes of interpretation that make us shiver.

So, I say to all of you, especially the young yet unspoiled by too many limiting rules: Go for it – be curious, day dream, move to a different, unique place in your mind. Be independent, dare to “go to infinity.” This America, in particular, this nation right now in a time of virus, in this suffering moment of wrongs and inequalities, needs your innovation.

The writer is a retired newspaperman. ahgunther@yahoo.com This essay is adapted from an earlier one.

‘HARSH TRUTH’

September 28, 2020

By Arthur H. Gunther III
thecolumnrule.com

The “American Dream” has always been “just white,” and until the nation admits that, some of those who have arrived will keep people of color and immigrants from success. And some of those who do achieve the dream, no matter the ethnicity, the skin tone, become “just white” in their thinking, unconsciously or not. Until that, too, is recognized, strong areas of white superiority, with all the hatred, racism and fear, will rule — by whites and non-whites — on the “right side of the tracks.” Harsh truth.
Securing the American Dream in our earlier history was in part a horror story because it brought the displacement and genocide of Native Americans and was built on slavery as well, yet there is also the undeniable human advancement in this great experiment set by our founders, which has given the full world benefits as well. This movement was born out of old European religious persecution and non-responsive government. Its journey has assured progress, fulfilling manifest destiny in this land of always seeking a new frontier. Material and social growth, witnessed by the forging of the Civil War and after, the Progressive Era, the New Deal and the great rising of a middle class post-World War II, were possible because of the Dream. It gave us the can-do spirit of World War II. It brought us respect and leadership in the world.
But as with all such achievement, once inside the new house, the well-kept community, the land of good schools and no tenements, too many who get in close the door. You are the new white man, not even the white woman, and the kind from which you came have no seat at your table. Harsh truth.
We are not a “melting pot,” nor should we be. The “melting” reference is really saying, “become just white.” No, we absolutely must be diverse — it is the strength of humanity — but surely with the common purpose of equality, opportunity in a land of promise, a continuing experiment begun by the founders. Until that becomes the true American Dream, an inclusive one that also addresses horrible wrongs against Native Americans, we will have nightmares, as 2020 is showing us. This is the time to make the American Dream all the colors of the rainbow.

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

THE INCOMPLETE UMBRELLA

Acrylic on canvas/gunther

 

September 21, 2020

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     There is at least a single incomplete umbrella in anyone’s life, no pole leading to canopy, a metaphor for incompleteness, perhaps something unfinished or just plain out of sight to anyone but you.

     The journey taken, the one ahead, the one under way, well that’s yours, and you alone are the master of its fate. Is rain falling on the day you are going for that job interview? Is the umbrella at hand in which to disappear as you leave a love affair? 

     Is there protection in politically divisive times when those in charge would deny you the citizen an umbrella?

      You know how to “hold”  the umbrella, denied or not, for while its pole seems missing — incomplete — you know where it is. 

     Protection in life — and that’s metaphorically an umbrella — is what you make it, complete or not.

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

     

‘SLICE OF LIFE, IN A WAY’

September 14, 2020

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     Some seasons ago, quite a few really, the no. 6 red naugahyde-covered twirling diner stool at Tiny’s Spring Valley, N.Y., place offered a fine view of the glass donut and sliced cake case, which, of course, was a most tempting time, even for a 19 year old usually seated for a grilled cheese right off the facing flat-top grill with fries cooked then and there, not an hour before and then kept under a heat lamp.

     “Tiny” Lazaroff was a big man, and as they say, with a large heart to match. He was jovial, and his diner was at the comfort-level standard expected of highway stops before fast food sped up the gearing to assembly line quick-a-motion. My grandfather moseyed on west to Tiny’s for java on a Saturday morning, nursing it for a longish time with a donut “sinker” from the glass case.

     What was in the case was not impressive by today’s expectations. There were no layer cakes piled high with two inches of genetically modified “whip cream” nor no “N.Y. cheese cakes” made in Sheboygan. No, just a few plain donuts, some chocolate, and wonderful slices of vanilla-iced lemon pound cake.

     I usually sat on red naugahyde stool no. 3, right opposite the grill cook, but one day Tiny’s was too busy for the regulars — a tourist bus had actually stopped in little Spring Valley — and I ended up at no. 6. 

     Planted there, I was about to order the usual grilled cheese, but before the overly busy counter waitress got to me, the cake case’s magnetism kicked in, its fluorescent light behind the gleaming chrome and tempered sliding glass doors shining just right on a piece of that pound cake, freshly cut from a true, 16-ounce loaf, unlike today’s 12.5-ounce fakers. Like a stricken young pup in a school days’ crush, I mumbled in shyness that I just had to have that slice.

     Tiny’s coffee, in a green cup on a green saucer, came along for the ride, and my time with that wonderful iced-top lemon cake was rather long and as sensuous as could be. I used a fork to parcel out 1-inch by 1-inch squares, starting at the bottom and moving ever so slowly toward the icing, which ended the night. The “kiss” as it were.

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

PUDDLES AS ‘RESET BUTTONS’

September 7, 2020

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

     On a very hot and humid day, in the New York State that now is in summer more like Georgia, don’t avoid puddles. They instantly cool your soles and so give you reason not to give up the exercise walk that is keeping you physically fit but also sane in the restricted time of virus.

     When you are young, or when some of us were, you aim for the puddles. You might also play with mud, casting little buildings not unlike Pueblo Native Americans or early settlers daubing over chinked logs to stave off a bit of the winter cold.

     So, not avoiding the puddles, really or metaphorically, helps you accomplish something: as a kid, passing time, being creative, staying out of your mom’s way; as an adult, building shelter. Either way, don’t avoid the puddles.

     Walkers will tell you the best time to do so is in light rain. Umbrella or not, there is an insulating quality about it, your own security blanket of falling water that enables you to amble even in a crowd, your being, your thoughts protected. The puddles you jump over are accomplishment.

     It is a common photo, especially now that everyone carries a camera as smart phone, that reflections of buildings are caught in puddles, as if we can contain urban life and not be overwhelmed by its impersonal hugeness. It also makes for a pretty picture. 

     As it is with all simple things in a life that can be so complicated, with worries, with challenges, with ups and downs, an ordinary puddle (are there any other kind?) can be the reset button.

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