Posts Tagged ‘Middletown’

The Year Santa Claus Brought the Trains

Monday, December 25th, 2023

By Bob Gaydos

Trains! Trains! Trains!

Trains! Trains! Trains!

     Long ago and far away, in a bustling, friendly North Jersey place called Bayonne, a young boy (about 5) clambered out of bed in what seemed like the middle of the night to go to the bathroom.

     He opened the bedroom door and entered a world of light and laughter and clinking glasses and aunts and uncles and … trains!  Trains! And tracks. And …!

       Oh! Oh! Oh!

    It was explained to the hyper-excited boy trying not to wet his pajamas that Santa had been there and brought the train set and set it up, but was coming back with more presents so the boy had to go quickly go the bathroom and then he could play with the trains for a few minutes and go back to bed and be quiet not to wake his baby sister sleeping in her crib.

       And so he did.

       He expanded on those trains and surrounding accessories for another dozen years with the aid of Santa, parents and aunts and uncles for many more Christmas Eve visits. The layout expanded to cover a side of the living room around a Christmas tree in another, larger, home until eventually, at the “request” of his mother, it moved to the basement.

        Then the boy went off to college and life.

       Those trains, the Lionel New York Central passenger line, are still in good shape, in storage now in a big box in the basement with all the rest, after the long run in Bayonne and a revival bringing joy for that boy’s own two sons some four-plus decades later in Middletown, N.Y.

        That Christmas Eve with Santa’s two-stop visit returned vividly to that young boy’s mind as he listened to the news last night, now some seven decades later. A reminder of a simpler time. 

        A time of family, community, innocence, hope and peace. A time worth remembering and, perhaps, removing from the boxes in the basement.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

JFK: The Measure of the Man …

Wednesday, November 22nd, 2023

The following is a reprint of a column I wrote 10 years ago. I am re-posting it today on the 60th anniversary of the assassination of president John F. Kennedy because of its significance in my life and because of the times we live in. Would things have been different if Kennedy had lived to continue serving? I have no way of knowing. I’d like to think the answer is yes. Joe Biden is the oldest elected president this country has ever had. Kennedy was the youngest. They share the same dedication to protecting our democracy. I continue to celebrate Kennedy on the birth date I share with him and I honor his memory on the anniversary of the day he was taken from us. A day history was altered forever.

By Bob Gaydos

John F. Kennedy

John F. Kennedy

 The first editorial I wrote for the Times Herald-Record in Middletown, N.Y., appeared on the 20th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. I wrote the headline, too: “The measure of the man.” 
      Trying to “measure” the meaning of the life of a man who was literally loved and idolized by millions of people is no easy task, especially for a rookie editorial writer’s debut effort. But that’s what newspapers do and, in truth, I took it as a good omen that remembering JFK was my first assignment. He was a hero to me as to many young men my age when he was elected president. It was a combination of things: his youth, his wit, his easy-going style, his intelligence, his words, his sense of justice. Plus, we shared the same birthdate: May 29.
     As fate would have it, JFK would come to be remembered, not on his birthday, but on the anniversary of his death. And not so much for what Americans received for having him as president for 1,000 days, but rather for what we lost by not having him much longer.
     That first editorial said, in essence, that it would take more than 20 years to measure the meaning of the man. It acknowledged the things we had learned about JFK in the years since the shooting in Dallas — the flaws that made him human — as well as what I felt were his positive contributions. Thirty years later, no longer a rookie editorial writer — indeed, now retired after 23 years of writing editorials — with Nov. 22 approaching, I realized I had to write about JFK 50 years after his death (because that’s what old newspaper guys do). Before I started, I asked one of my reliable sounding boards, my son, Zack, what he knew about JFK. Zack is 19 and better informed than a lot of young people his age, so I figured his answer would provide me with a fair sense of what our education system had been telling kids about Kennedy.

   “He was the first Catholic president,” Zack said. Correct. “He had an affair with Marilyn Monroe.” Uh, correct. ‘There’s still some theories that there was more than one shooter.” Right. “Do you think the Kevin Costner movie (“JFK,” directed by Oliver Stone) was true?” Well, the people portrayed were real. “The Bay of Pigs didn’t go too well.” No, it didn’t. I took the opportunity to point out that Cuba was the site, not only of Kennedy’s biggest failure in global affairs, but also his biggest success.

     I was a little older than Zack is now when the world stood at the brink of a nuclear war over the presence of Soviet missile-launching sites in Cuba, aimed at the United States. I was a senior in college and knew full well, as did all my classmates, than no 2-S deferment was going to exempt me from what might happen if the Soviets did not — as Kennedy demanded — remove their missiles. Kennedy ordered the U.S. Navy to blockade Cuba to prevent the shipment of Soviet missiles and equipment. Nikita Khrushchev, Soviet president, who had initially denied the existence of the missile sites, sent a naval fleet to Cuba, loaded with supplies and armed for battle. As the world watched and waited and prayed, Kennedy and Khrushchev exchanged messages. Kennedy prevailed. The Soviet fleet stopped short of Cuba and turned around. I lived to write this remembrance. Kennedy was dead not long after.

     So here I am 50 years later, still looking to take the measure of the man and still wondering how that is possible. Kennedy had the gift of engagement. He appeared to be comfortable with whomever he was speaking. He had tremendous appeal to young people, being so different from the older, stodgier presidents who preceded him. He created the Peace Corps — a legacy that continues to this day with not enough fanfare. He made many Americans — and this is not a small thing — truly proud to be Americans. Not in an arrogant, flag-waving, we-know-better-than-you way. Just proud. And he cheated on his wife and kept his serious health problems a secret from us and sometimes needed to be prodded by his brother, Bobby (another tragic loss) to take the proper (courageous) stand on issues.

      So the question I still ask myself is, what might JFK have done, what might he have meant to America and the world, if he had lived longer? What did we lose at Dealey Plaza? Certainly, whatever innocence we still possessed. The wind was sucked from our sails as a nation and our domestic politics have slowly and steadily deteriorated into such partisanship that is virtually impossible for any president to speak to the minds and hearts of a majority of Americans the way Kennedy did. Maybe it would have happened even if Kennedy had lived a longer life and gone on to be an ambassador to the world of what America stands for. Or maybe not.

     It dawns on me in writing this that it is an ultimately frustrating task to try to take the measure of another man or woman. I know what JFK meant to me personally. I know a lot of others feel similarly and others do not. I know what history has recorded (he was also the youngest man to be elected president) and what the tabloids have told us. I have a sense of what I would like to think Kennedy would ultimately have meant had he not died so young. But it’s only speculation.

     The only man I can truly take the measure of is myself. It is 50 years since that morning when I was waiting at home to go to Fort Dix, N.J., to begin six months of active duty training. How do I measure up today? That’s a question I work on every day. It wasn’t always thus, but the years have a way of insisting on perspective. Maybe the answer will appear in some other writing. I have neither the space nor the inclination to do so here. I will say that, on balance, I’ll probably give myself a passing grade, but there’s still some stuff I’m learning. For now, I’m through trying to take the measure of JFK, as man or president. Let the historians have at it. I’m going to try to take his advice and ask not what life can do for me, but what I can contribute to life. And I’m also going to remember to honor him not on the date he died, but on the date we both were born. 

What Would Barbara Say About Today’s GOP? A Tribute to a Colleague and Straight-shooter

Wednesday, August 2nd, 2023

By Bob Gaydos

Barbara Bedell

Barbara Bedell

 A colleague with whom I spent 29 years carefully avoiding talking politics died the other day. In my sorrow at her passing, I contemplated what it would be like talking politics with her today.

    She would have hated it.

    Barbara Bedell was a prominent fixture at the Times Herald-Record in Middletown, NY, when I started working there in 1978. She was an even more prominent fixture when I retired from the newspaper 29 years later.

      She remained another 10 years, cranking out her daily column of news you can’t find in local papers today. Fund-raisers, charities, non-profits, civic organizations, the stuff that makes a community. Names, names, names. Everyone wanted their name or their group mentioned in Barbara’s column.

      I worked at a desk next to hers for about a decade. It offered handy access to the famous Bedell candy dish and was close enough to share gossip.

     Barbara knew a lot of people. But she also knew about being discreet and had learned to reconcile her somewhat conservative political views with the decidedly liberal views offered daily on the paper’s editorial page, editorials written for the most part by me.

     I knew she was a longtime, loyal registered Republican, a Ronald Reagan Republican, from her proud roots in Annapolis to stops in South Dakota and Poughkeepsie. She often donated to Republican political campaigns, but she never let her political preferences influence who was mentioned in her column. Or who was not. She played it straight.

     It was that straight-shooter trait I remembered when I ran into Barbara four years after I had retired. I was working on a column for my blog and the 2012 presidential campaign was in full swing.

   Not having talked politics in a while, I asked, in total innocence, “What do you think of the presidential candidates your party is offering?”

      She did not disappoint.

       “It is absurd, insulting. None of them is qualified. It’s embarrassing. Obama is going to win in a landslide. I couldn’t vote for any of them.”

    “Not even Romney?”

    “No.”

     “But how did this happen? How did this gang become the Republican Party’s best and brightest?”

     “They’re not. And all those (Tea Party) Republicans who got elected last time are going to lose next time. It’s a disgrace. I got phone calls from all the Republican campaign fund-raising committees. I told them not to call me. I’m not giving any of them any money.”

       “So who would you like to see run for president?” I asked Barbara.

        “Hillary Clinton. And don’t use my name.”

        “Spoken like a true Republican,” I wrote.

         It was a great kicker for the column, but how prophetic those last lines proved to be.

         A disgrace, she had called her party’s leading figures at the time. The Republican candidates for president in December of 2011, when Barbara and I had this brief conversation, were Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Ron Paul, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and the two Mormon candidates, Jon Huntsman and Mitt Romney.

       The field ate each other up. Huntsman was too smart and reasonable. Romney simply said whatever the audience of the day wanted to hear. He won. Then, as Barbara predicted, Obama beat him.

        The story at the time was that loyal Republicans kept quiet about the candidates’ obvious lack of presidential qualifications until and unless they were vying for the same nomination. Republican candidates could see their fellow candidates’ flaws all too clearly. They keep quiet about them only when it suited them to do otherwise.

    The traditional party faithful, the “moderates,” as Barbara described herself, mostly kept their opinions of the candidates to themselves. And Barbara was wrong about one thing: Some of those Tea Party candidates kept winning. As a result, the party core steadily became more and more conservative, anti-science, anti-immigrant. anti-education, anti-gay, anti-anything but white, Christian nationalist philosophy.

      Mostly, they kept this to themselves as well. Then Donald Trump came along and let them out of the closet to trumpet their ignorance, intolerance and occasional inclination to violence. Party leaders, well aware of the shortcomings of Trump and many of their fellow elected Republicans, again kept it to themselves.

      And so fear and cowardice have become the bywords of the Republican Party today. It doesn’t matter that what you know in your heart is true, just do not speak ill of the ignorant elite if you don’t want to lose your job, or worse.

    Today, having become the party of Trump — a man twice impeached, found guilty of sexual assault, charged with campaign finance fraud for paying hush money to a porn star, indicted for attempting to overturn the legitimate results of an election, a conspiracy to threaten the rights of others, a conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding before Congress and obstruction of an official proceeding, about to be indicted for a separate conspiracy to overturn the results of a legitimate election and indicted for concealing and refusing to return classified government documents  — the continued silence of most Republicans is deafening.

      So what would my departed friend and colleague, Barbara Bedell, think of the Republican Party candidates for president today?

       I don’t think she’d mind me speculating. Listening over the divider that separated our desks, I think I can hear her muttering quietly, “They’re a disgrace, Gaydos. An embarrassment to America. And you can quote me.”

rjgaydos@gmail.com

A Birthday Tribute to JFK’s Life (cont.)

Monday, May 29th, 2023

(Updated to reflect the passage of time.)

By Bob Gaydos

JFK ... at a press conference

JFK … at a press conference

 Ten years ago, I wrote a column about what I see as the synchronistic connection between myself and John Fitzgerald Kennedy, beginning with the fact we share the same birth date, May 29. The key point in the column, at least to me, was my pledge “to remember to honor him not on the date he died, but on the date we both were born.”

      It’s a pledge that’s even more important today, I think, when there is such a dearth of public figures who inspire the kind of hope and pride in America that JFK did for me and millions of others. Hope and pride are two elements in short supply in today’s political debate. They’ve been replaced by deceit and anger, which only begets more deceit and anger. A path to ruin. So today, on what would be JFK’s 106th birthday, I choose hope.

       My connection with Kennedy began to take shape in my college years. His handling of the Cuban missile crisis allowed me to graduate on time. But as I was home waiting to report to Fort Dix, N.J., for basic training, JFK was assassinated, on Nov. 22, 1963, postponing my duty for a month. And 20 years later, as fate would have it, the first editorial I was asked to write as the new editorial page editor for The Times Herald-Record in Middletown, N.Y., was to mark the 20th anniversary of Kennedy’s death. Headline: “The Measure of the Man.”

     Six years ago, I wrote: “Much of it still applies. The legend of JFK — Camelot (Jackie, John-John and Caroline), PT-109, Navy and Marine Corps Medals, the Purple Heart, “Ich bin ein Berliner,” “Ask not …”, the challenge to put a man on the moon, the Peace Corps, the New Frontier, a limited nuclear test ban treaty — still far outweighs his failings, including extramarital affairs, hiding illnesses from us, escalation of the American troop presence in Vietnam and a reluctance to take a firm stance in the growing battle over segregation in America.

    “He is regularly rated as one of this country’s greatest presidents, a testament I believe to his ability to inspire hope, faith and courage in Americans, especially young Americans like me, at a time of grave danger. Much of that owes to his youth (he was 43 when elected president, the youngest ever) and his ability to eloquently deliver the words written for him by Ted Sorensen, a synchronistic match if there ever was one. But Kennedy, a Harvard graduate, was no slouch at writing either, having won a Pulitzer Prize for biography with “Profiles in Courage.”

    “… Kennedy’s (message) was unfailingly one of hope. We can do this. We are up to the challenge. We care. His average approval rating as president was 70 percent. He also ranked third, behind Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mother Teresa, in Gallup’s List of Widely Admired People of the 20th century, according to Wikipedia.”

   The question I still ask myself is, what might JFK have done, what might he have meant to America and the world, if he had lived longer?

    In that column six years ago, to my ever-lasting embarrassment on the Internet, I also said that I shared a birthday with another great communicator, Bob Dylan. I was off by five days (May 24). Belated happy 82nd birthday to the Nobel poet laureate anyway.

     On a positive note, I subsequently discovered that May 29 is also the birthday of Harry G. Frankfurt. The professor emeritus at 2F762D3F-A272-4CCA-9C0B-DEA9C6B2D949Princeton University authored a 67-page essay entitled “On Bullshit.“ It was a New York Times best seller in 2005. And it also explained to me how a person like Donald Trump could say the things he said, flying in the face of other things he had recently said, none of which had any basis in reality, and keep doing it. It’s not lying, Frankfurt explains, it’s bullshit. The liar has to remember what he said. The bullshitter does not. He doesn’t care.

     Professor Frankfurt is apparently alive and well and celebrating his 94th birthday today. Happy birthday, to you, too, professor. A day for hope and truth

rjgaydos@gmail.com

Bob Gaydos is writer-in-residence at zestoforange.com.

    

Rupert, Don’t Call Me; I’ll Call You

Thursday, March 16th, 2023

By Bob Gaydos

Rupert Murdoch

Rupert Murdoch

  I used to work for Rupert Murdoch. Briefly. Not by choice and not directly. It was an accident of capitalism, but not the serendipitous kind I prefer.

   Fortunately for me, it was uneventful. He left me alone, and I left him alone. That is to say, he didn’t tell me what to write in editorials for The Times Herald-Record in Middletown, N.Y., and I didn’t tell him how to run his international News Corp. media empire that at the time included The Sun and The Times in the United Kingdom, the Daily Telegraph, Herald Sun, and The Australian in Australia, and, in the United States, Fox News, 20th Century. Fox, the New York Post and the Dow Jones Co., which included Barron’s, the Wall Street Journal and Ottaway Newspapers, a group of small to medium-sized community newspapers. That’s where Murdoch and I crossed paths, so to speak.

     Or rather, as I said, not to speak. The Record was a good-sized community paper (100,000 circulation on Sundays at the time), but small potatoes in Murdoch’s frame of reference for influencing the way people think and vote. Although Murdoch was well-known for his conservative views, I could write all the liberal-leaning editorials I liked, following in the tradition of David Bernstein, a partner in creating The Record, and Al Romm, a longtime editorial page editor who preceded me.

     In fact, that’s the way things were when James Ottaway Sr. swapped the Endicott Bulletin with Bernstein for The Record and when Ottaway, having created a profitable chain of community papers around the country, eventually sold them to Dow Jones Co. and retired to enjoy his Arabian horses in Campbell Hall, not far from Middletown. Murdoch eventually bought Dow Jones.

   In my experience, owners, whether down the road, or somewhere in downtown Manhattan didn’t usually mess with editorials unless, like Bernstein, they wrote them themselves.

    I’m taking this trip down memory lane because the Murdoch assault on democracy, decency and the journalistic dedication to truth once taken for granted in this country has finally cut me to the raw.

     How dare he? How dare he set up a news franchise to (1) deliberately falsify the news to advance his political views and financial interests then (2) throw his employees under the bus by acknowledging the Fox News fiction when someone with money and the facts on their side decided to sue him for damages to their reputation and (3) act as if he had nothing to do with it?

     The lawsuit filed by Dominion Voting Systems accuses Fox News of letting its “news” anchors regularly repeat as fact the Donald Trump lie that the 2020 election had been stolen from him, with Dominion’s participation, even though, as internal Fox emails showed, everyone there knew Trump had lost legitimately. That there was no fraud.

   In a deposition in the Dominion case, Murdoch said that any Fox executives who knew that anchors who reported that election fraud had cost Trump the election, while knowing otherwise, “be reprimanded, maybe got rid of.”

  This, even though Fox had gone from initially reporting the truth of the election, that Joe Biden had won, to pushing Trump’s election fraud lies, both at Murdoch’s direction. And all because many Fox viewers weren’t buying the truth and were defecting to other conservative media to hear pro-Trump propaganda.

     Money.

     In sum, Rupert Murdoch displays a cynical disregard for the truth or the gullibility of his audience except when it suits his purpose. For example, having known Trump for years and wearied of his many faults, Murdoch reportedly took an active hand in crafting an editorial in one of his other mouthpieces, the New York Post, basically urging Trump to fade off into the sunset  after losing legitimately in 2020. Murdoch felt Trump would actually read and heed the Post editorial, rather than one in the more buttoned-down Wall Street Journal.

      Didn’t happen, thanks in great extent to the cult aura that Murdoch’s empire had helped form around Trump.

       No individual, in my opinion, has been more responsible for the spread of disinformation and the spreading loss of trust in mainstream media — print and television — in America than Rupert Murdoch. Now, at 92, he’s trying to act like an innocent. It won’t wash. 

       Whether the Dominion lawsuit changes anything at Fox remains to be seen. After all, money talks in Murdoch’s world. But thus far, the apple doesn’t seem to have strayed far from the tree. Lachlan Murdoch, Rupert’s son and chief executive officer of Fox Corporation, in a defense of his organization, said: “A news organization has an obligation – and it is an obligation — to report news fulsomely, wholesomely and without fear or favor, and that’s what Fox News has always done, and that’s what Fox News will always do.”

      Forget the fear or favor baloney, Lachlan clearly doesn’t know the meaning of the word fulsome. Cambridge English Dictionary: “Fulsomely: In a way that expresses a lot of admiration or praise for someone, often too much, in a way that does not sound sincere.”

     Maybe Lachlan should forget about calling in editorial suggestions. And notice that he never said honestly and accurately.      

rjgaydos@gmail.com

 Bob Gaydos is writer-in-residence at zestoforange.com.

     

A City Boy’s Tips on Country Etiquette

Friday, January 13th, 2023

By Bob Gaydos

If you flatten it, you replace it. That oughta be the rule of the road.

If you flatten it, you replace it. That oughta be the rule of the road.

 For most of my life, I’ve lived in small cities (Bayonne, Binghamton, Annapolis, Middletown) and one large town (Wallkill), which is really a mall-dotted highway surrounded by housing complexes. Throw in a few years living on college campuses. Basically, it’s been city or community living.

    When you live with a lot of other people close by and you want to be relatively content, you learn the rules of the road, the do’s and don’ts of getting along. Mostly, it’s mind your own business and don’t make a lot of noise.

     A few years ago, I moved to the country, a bit of upstate New York between the Hudson River and the Catskills that is often protected from major weather issues by the imposing Shawangunk Ridge.

     Country living means owls, woodpeckers, coyotes and starry skies, oh my.

     It’s nice. Well, usually. It’s quiet. Usually. In any case, it most definitely has its own rules of the road. Things a transplanted city boy ought to know. Something I call country etiquette.

     The notion (see how I used the word “notion“ instead of “idea“?) that there was such a thing as country etiquette grew out of a recent conversation about a not uncommon country experience.

     A couple of years ago, our quiet summer evening at home was disrupted by a loud squealing of tires and a loud thud. Right in front of our house.

     We rushed out to find a car sitting in a culvert in front of our house, a distraught young woman sitting behind the wheel and our mailbox on the ground, post and all. I don’t recall who called 911, but state police arrived quickly, talked with the driver (who was shaken but not hurt), someone called a tow truck, we went back in the house and eventually everything was back to normal, except for the mailbox. Its career was over.

      In short order, we replaced the mailbox and occasionally wondered what happened to the young driver. I suspected alcohol may have been involved.

     A couple of weeks later, the whole scene repeated itself. Nighttime. Squeal. Thud. Car. Culvert. Young woman driver. Unhurt. Mailbox kaput.

     Deja vu all over again, as Yogi Berra once said. Same follow up. Police. Tow truck. Mailbox flattened.

      Again, we replaced it and the new one has survived ever since. But here’s the thing. Neither driver offered to pay to replace the mailbox (they both got out of their cars and talked to us) or to have it repaired. Now, it seems to me that a basic rule of country etiquette ought to be that if you wipe out someone’s mailbox (and get caught at it), the decent thing to do is to make it right again. Pay for a new one.

      And that’s what got me thinking about other rules of country etiquette. What are some things to help someone new get along with neighbors who may not live right next door? Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

— Having a handy supply of eggs is nice, but keep your chickens in your own yard as much as possible. Free range doesn’t mean the whole neighborhood, or, especially, the busy road.

— Don’t shovel your driveway snow into the road. It’s only extra work for the highway crews and it’s dangerous.

— When driving, wave at people walking along country roads. It’s neighborly.

— Walkers, please wear reflective clothing at night. It’s awfully dark out there sometimes and the roads are often winding and have no shoulder. We’d like to get to know you.

— Don’t let your dog walk on the road side. Preferably, don’t walk your dog on the road at all. Some drivers are less attentive than others. (See reference to mailboxes above.) And yes, clean up.

— Slow down for people at their mailbox. (A personal peeve of mine.) You can even wave.

— In fact, slow down in general. Posted speed limits are not merely suggestions.

— Be patient with a farm tractor on the road. He’ll be out of your way shortly, or he’ll pull over as soon as he can. He’s working.

— Be honest at roadside honor stands. Act like there are cameras in the trees.

— Free stuff at the foot of a driveway is really free. If you want it, take it. Someone always does.

— If you’re not going to back up a lot of traffic, be nice and let people back out of their driveways. It can be tricky sometimes.

    That’s what I came up with so far. If you have other suggestions, please leave them in the comment section.

    While I’m at it, I figure I might as well add another feature of country living — a potpourri of handmade road signs. Here are a few I noticed this past year:

— Corn maze, hay ride, pumpkins, pickles, sweet corn

— Beef sale

— Fresh garlic

— Sunflower patch, mums, hay for sale

— Farm fresh eggs

— U pick pumpkins

— Fresh key lime pie, 

— We buy ATVs dead or alive

     Like I said, nice.

     ‘Til next time at pet-friendly Tractor Supply.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

A Birthday Tribute to JFK’s Life (cont.)

Saturday, May 28th, 2022

(Updated to reflect the passage of time.)

By Bob Gaydos

JFK ... at a press conference

JFK … at a press conference

 Ten years ago, I wrote a column about what I see as the synchronistic connection between myself and John Fitzgerald Kennedy, beginning with the fact we share the same birth date, May 29. The key point in the column, at least to me, was my pledge “to remember to honor him not on the date he died, but on the date we both were born.”

      It’s a pledge that’s even more important today, I think, when there is such a dearth of public figures who inspire the kind of hope and pride in America that JFK did for me and millions of others. Hope and pride are two elements in short supply in today’s political debate. They’ve been replaced by deceit and anger, which only begets more deceit and anger. A path to ruin. So today, on what would be JFK’s 106th birthday, I choose hope.

       My connection with Kennedy began to take shape in my college years. His handling of the Cuban missile crisis allowed me to graduate on time. But as I was home waiting to report to Fort Dix, N.J., for basic training, JFK was assassinated, on Nov. 22, 1963, postponing my duty for a month. And 20 years later, as fate would have it, the first editorial I was asked to write as the new editorial page editor for The Times Herald-Record in Middletown, N.Y., was to mark the 20th anniversary of Kennedy’s death. Headline: “The Measure of the Man.”

     Six years ago, I wrote: “Much of it still applies. The legend of JFK — Camelot (Jackie, John-John and Caroline), PT-109, Navy and Marine Corps Medals, the Purple Heart, “Ich bin ein Berliner,” “Ask not …”, the challenge to put a man on the moon, the Peace Corps, the New Frontier, a limited nuclear test ban treaty — still far outweighs his failings, including extramarital affairs, hiding illnesses from us, escalation of the American troop presence in Vietnam and a reluctance to take a firm stance in the growing battle over segregation in America.

    “He is regularly rated as one of this country’s greatest presidents, a testament I believe to his ability to inspire hope, faith and courage in Americans, especially young Americans like me, at a time of grave danger. Much of that owes to his youth (he was 43 when elected president, the youngest ever) and his ability to eloquently deliver the words written for him by Ted Sorensen, a synchronistic match if there ever was one. But Kennedy, a Harvard graduate, was no slouch at writing either, having won a Pulitzer Prize for biography with “Profiles in Courage.”

    “… Kennedy’s (message) was unfailingly one of hope. We can do this. We are up to the challenge. We care. His average approval rating as president was 70 percent. He also ranked third, behind Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mother Teresa, in Gallup’s List of Widely Admired People of the 20th century, according to Wikipedia.”

   The question I still ask myself is, what might JFK have done, what might he have meant to America and the world, if he had lived longer?

    In that column six years ago, to my ever-lasting embarrassment on the Internet, I also said that I shared a birthday with another great communicator, Bob Dylan. I was off by five days (May 24). Belated happy 82nd birthday to the Nobel poet laureate anyway.

     On a positive note, I subsequently discovered that May 29 is also the birthday of Harry G. Frankfurt. The professor emeritus at 2F762D3F-A272-4CCA-9C0B-DEA9C6B2D949Princeton University authored a 67-page essay entitled “On Bullshit.“ It was a New York Times best seller in 2005. And it also explained to me how a person like Donald Trump could say the things he said, flying in the face of other things he had recently said, none of which had any basis in reality, and keep doing it. It’s not lying, Frankfurt explains, it’s bullshit. The liar has to remember what he said. The bullshitter does not. He doesn’t care.

     Professor Frankfurt is apparently alive and well and celebrating his 94th birthday today. Happy birthday, to you, too, professor. A day for hope and truth

rjgaydos@gmail.com

Bob Gaydos is writer-in-residence at zestoforange.com.

    

A Birthday Tribute to the Life of JFK

Saturday, May 29th, 2021

By Bob Gaydos

JFK ... at a press conference

JFK … at a press conference

 Eight years ago, I wrote a column about what I see as the synchronistic connection between myself and John Fitzgerald Kennedy, beginning with the fact we share the same birth date, May 29. The key point in the column, at least to me, was my pledge “to remember to honor him not on the date he died, but on the date we both were born.”

      It’s a pledge that’s even more important today, I think, when there is such a dearth of public figures who inspire the kind of hope and pride in America that JFK did for me and millions of others. Hope and pride are two elements in short supply in today’s political debate. They’ve been replaced by deceit and anger, which only begets more deceit and anger. A path to ruin. So today, on what would be JFK’s 104th birthday, I choose hope.

       My connection with Kennedy began to take shape in my college years. His handling of the Cuban missile crisis allowed me to graduate on time. But as I was home waiting to report to Fort Dix, N.J., for basic training, JFK was assassinated, on Nov. 22, 1963, postponing my duty for a month. And 20 years later, as fate would have it, the first editorial I was asked to write as the new editorial page editor for The Times Herald-Record in Middletown, N.Y., was to mark the 20th anniversary of Kennedy’s death. Headline: “The Measure of the Man.”

     Four years ago, I wrote: “Much of it still applies. The legend of JFK — Camelot (Jackie, John-John and Caroline), PT-109, Navy and Marine Corps Medals, the Purple Heart, “Ich bin ein Berliner,” “Ask not …”, the challenge to put a man on the moon, the Peace Corps, the New Frontier, a limited nuclear test ban treaty — still far outweighs his failings, including extramarital affairs, hiding illnesses from us, escalation of the American troop presence in Vietnam and a reluctance to take a firm stance in the growing battle over segregation in America.

    “He is regularly rated as one of this country’s greatest presidents, a testament I believe to his ability to inspire hope, faith and courage in Americans, especially young Americans like me, at a time of grave danger. Much of that owes to his youth (he was 43 when elected president, the youngest ever) and his ability to eloquently deliver the words written for him by Ted Sorensen, a synchronistic match if there ever was one. But Kennedy, a Harvard graduate, was no slouch at writing either, having won a Pulitzer Prize for biography with “Profiles in Courage.”

    “,,, Kennedy’s (message) was unfailingly one of hope. We can do this. We are up to the challenge. We care. His average approval rating as president was 70 percent. He also ranked third, behind Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mother Teresa, in Gallup’s List of Widely Admired People of the 20th century, according to Wikipedia.”

   The question I still ask myself is, what might JFK have done, what might he have meant to America and the world, if he had lived longer?

    In that column four years ago, to my ever-lasting embarrassment on the Internet, I also said that I shared a birthday with another great communicator, Bob Dylan. I was off by three days. Belated happy birthday to the Nobel poet laureate anyway.

     On a positive note, I subsequently discovered that May 29 is also the birthday of Harry G. Frankfurt. The professor emeritus at Princeton University authored a 67-page essay entitled “On Bullshit.“ It was a New York Times best seller in 2005. And it also explained to me how a person like Donald Trump could say the things he said, flying in the face of other things he had recently said, none of which had any basis in reality, and keep doing it. It’s not lying, Frankfurt explains, it’s bullshit. The liar has to remember what he said. The bullshitter does not. He doesn’t care.

     Professor Frankfurt is apparently alive and well and celebrating his 92nd birthday today. Happy birthday, to you, too, professor. A day for hope and truth

rjgaydos@gmail.com

Bob Gaydos is writer-in-residence at zestoforange.com.

 

    

Predictably Pre-conditioned Police

Tuesday, June 9th, 2020

By Bob Gaydos

The lead pre-cog in “Minority Report.”

The lead pre-cog in “Minority Report.”

     Most recent lockdown movie watched was “Minority Report,“ starring Tom Cruise. Talk about synchronicity.

     Cruise plays a police officer in the mid-21st century who is part of a special unit that arrests people for “pre-crimes.“ That is, crimes they were about to commit. Usually, the “pre-crime“ is murder.

     The “pre-crimes“ are predicted by pre-cogs — three drugged human beings floating in a pool of warm water who are wired to a computer system that allows others (the police) to monitor what is going on in the pre-cogs‘ minds. Precognition. The three, one female and two males, can see the future. They predict pre-murder victim and pre-murderer, as well as date and time. Cruise has to figure out where and get there in time to stop the crime and make an arrest, even though no crime has been committed. The pre-cogs are supposed to be infallible. It turns out they’re not. Cruise finds this out when he himself is named as a pre-murderer and has to prove his innocence before any crime is committed. 

       By now, the police in the film have become pre-conditioned to believe in precognition: This is what the precogs say, so it must be true. You did intend to kill this person. You are under arrest for the pre-crime of homicide. It’s kind of like some police today have become preconditioned to believe that if a male is black, he must be guilty of something and is dangerous to boot, so use whatever force is necessary in making an arrest. And the system says it’s justified.

        Just as the pre-cogs’ reputation for accuracy was based on a lie, so the preconditioning of some of today’s real-life police officers is based on generations of lies. George Floyd’s death in the custody of police in Minneapolis is the latest in a dismal series of similar incidents that entered my consciousness in Middletown, N.Y., in 1986. That the country and, in fact, much of the world has risen up to protest Floyd’s death is encouraging, but tragically long overdue.

       I was writing editorials for The Times Herald-Record, the local paper, when Jimmy Lee Bruce, a 20-year-old black man, died in the back of a patrol car near Middletown on Dec. 13, 1986. He and a group of friends from Ellenville, N.Y., had gone to a movie theater in a mall outside Middletown. The group became rowdy. There was drinking involved. Two white, off-duty Middletown police officers, acting as security guards, escorted the group out of the theater. A scuffle ensued. An officer applied a chokehold to Bruce and tossed him in the back of a police car, which had brought two on-duty Town of Wallkill police officers to the scene.

       The police then drove around for 7½ minutes looking for Bruce’s friends. When they returned to the theater, a state trooper, who had also arrived on the scene, shined a flashlight in the back of the patrol car and noticed the young man was not responding to the light. Police rushed him to a nearby hospital, but attempts to revive him failed.

       In my previous experience as a reporter talking to plenty of lawyers I had been told that any district attorney worth his salt could indict a ham sandwich. Apparently this was baloney. A grand jury considering the case ruled that Bruce’s death was an accident because the officers had used a technique – the chokehold (they called it a “sleeper”) — for which they had not been trained and which actually was prohibited by their department.

        There have since been too many similar stories between Bruce and Floyd, including Eric Garner, a victim of a chokehold applied by police on Staten Island in 2015. Excessive force used by a police officer resulting in the death of a black male and, most of the time, no action taken against the officer. You could almost predict it. Preconditioning.

         Following Bruce’s death, I wrote an editorial (later read into The Congressional Record on March 25, 1987 by Rep. Matthew F. McHugh) that said the grand jury that cleared the four police officers had actually indicted a system that had failed to properly train its police in handling such situations and for being slow to investigate the case, “raising suspicions of bigotry.” Would that I had the pre-cogs available to me then.

         The same factors, predictably, applied to the Eric Garner case 18 years later. Precognition? No. Preconditioning. Little had happened in the ensuing years to change the way most police departments recruit, train and discipline police officers. In fact, the situation was worsened by the giveaway of all kinds of military grade weapons to police departments. Without the proper training and handling of civil disturbances, such weapons will be used. And they were.

          So now, in the face of massive demonstrations including in front of the White House where a cowering Donald Trump fled to the bunker in the basement, politicians and police officials are finally recognizing what needed to be done more than 30 years ago: Diversify police recruiting. Weed out applicants with sketchy records. Give recruits more training on how to talk to the public, how to de-escalate tense situations and how to use force properly. Make it their duty to speak out about improper use of force. Get rid of that military hardware. Stop dressing like storm troopers. Become involved in the community. Act swiftly and surely to punish officers who abuse their position. Reestablish justice department review of police departments whose behavior is challenged by the public. Educate all officers on the First Amendment rights of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of peaceful assembly. Make the entire community part of this reconditioning process.

      It’s not impossible, not even difficult. It just needs a unified commitment to doing so. There have been moderately successful efforts in cities across the country to reform police departments in the wake of public outcry over the deaths, usually, of black males at the hands of police. Here in Middletown, police actually joined demonstrators recently in marching peacefully for reform. 

      “Black Lives Matter“ has now made this a national priority. In fact, the House of Representatives and the New York State Legislature have introduced legislation to ban the use of chokeholds by police — 34 years too late for Jimmy Lee Bruce, but perhaps just in time for future generations of black males.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

Bob Gaydos is writer-in-residence at zestoforange.com.

Country Life (and more) Midst COVID-19

Sunday, May 17th, 2020

Bob Gaydos

THE REPORT … emus, swans, secrecy and third parties

A couple of new neighbors. RJ photography

A couple of new neighbors.
RJ photography

  I’m a city boy. Bayonne, Binghamton, Annapolis, Middletown. Not big cities, but places where most stuff you need was in walking distance, there were downtowns, buses (in varying degrees), lots of kids, stickball, cats, dogs, and people you might nod and wave to. No emus.

      Today, I’m a country boy. Pine Bush. Burlingham actually. Slightly upstate New York (about 75 miles from the city), but definitely not urban or even suburban. It’s nice, except for the stuff you need not being in walking distance. The pandemic has made even that less of a nuisance since we’ve discovered that you can order anything online to be delivered to your door. It eliminates the human connection, but society has been working on that for some time now.

       Back to the emus. One of the pleasures of country living is the abundance of non-human neighbors. In the past I’ve commented on eagles, coyotes, owls, woodpeckers and the variety of visitors to our bird feeders (still just two cardinals). But that’s chicken feed compared to the menagerie we’ve seen on just one local road over the past few months.

       In the four-and-a-half miles under discussion, we have seen: Two stunning black swans, two emus, flocks of chickens, one beautiful white swan, one peacock (please get off the road)  a pig, two score of horses, herds of cows, four white, domesticated geese, Canada geese galore, a llama, several sheep (please stay off the road!), a blue heron, grazing herds of deer, a bull and one outspoken burro. A recent addition — a mare and her foal. Most of these are permanent residents we look forward to seeing regularly. Toto, we’re not in Bayonne anymore. By the way, I’ll give a shout out here to any reader who can identify this road.

       Hint: It’s in Orange County.

      — By the way … speaking of shouting out. Mitch McConnell is probably wishing he’d kept his mouth shut last week. The Senate majority leader first said that Barack Obama “should’ve kept his mouth shut” instead of criticizing the Dotard’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Classless,” McConnell suggested. He got mocked all over Twitter and Facebook for this absurd comment, given the lack of class demonstrated by the person he was defending. Then, McConnell had to eat crow by admitting that, contrary to what he and Dotard were saying, the Obama administration had indeed left a detailed playbook on how to handle future pandemics. Dotard got rid of it. That’s what happens when lying becomes so automatic you do it as naturally as breathing. McConnell is a disgrace.

       — By the way … Kentucky, the state represented by Republicans McConnell and the foolish Rand Paul, both of whom have objected to further stimulus funds for people who have lost their jobs because of COVID-19, is one of the states most economically impacted by the pandemic. This from the Lexington Herald-Leader: “Figures released Thursday show that another 103,548 Kentuckians filed for unemployment last week, bringing the total number of initial claims since the beginning of the novel coronavirus outbreak in mid-March to nearly 500,000, or 24 percent of the state’s total civilian workforce. Two analyses from financial technology companies show Kentucky is one of the most-impacted states when measuring the number of claims as a percentage of the workforce, and when measuring the percentage increase in unemployment claims from the start of the COVID-19 crisis.” But hey, Kentuckians, keep electing these yohos because, you know, they’re poking fingers in the eyes of The Man.  And you’re about to lose your old Kentucky home. 

        — By the way … A lot of state and local governments have used the pandemic as an excuse to make it difficult or impossible to get access to public records. Many are routinely denying Freedom of Information requests. Of course, at the same time, these governments are making major decisions and spending billions fighting COVID-19. Not a time when government secrecy should be encouraged. David Snyder, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition, a California-based nonprofit fighting this trend, says, “It’s just essential that the press and the public be able to dig in and see records that relate to how the government has responded to the crisis. That’s the only way really to avoid waste, fraud, abuse and to ensure that governments aren’t overstepping their bounds.” Or to find out if they even have a clue as to what they’re doing.

        — By the way … Rep. Justin Amash, an independent Michigan congressman who had the guts and good sense to quit the Republican Party, has again come to his senses and given up his foolhardy and potentially damaging bid to run for president as a Libertarian. (You didn’t know?) Amash blamed COVID-19 (it’s become a handy multi-purpose excuse) for making it so difficult to campaign. Call it a mercy killing. He didn’t mention that maybe he had no shot at winning and the effort would mostly be an exercise in ego and spreading routinely rejected Libertarian views. He was running because of his dislike for Drumpf, which is commendable, but his candidacy would also have gotten votes from Republicans and others who don’t like Drumpf, but can’t find themselves voting for Joe Biden or another Democrat. Shades of Ralph Nader and Al Gore and Hillary Clinton and Jill Stein. This is no year for symbolic votes, people.

Bob Gaydos is writer-in-residence at zestoforange.com.

rjgaydos@gmail.com