Are We Thinking Three Moves Out?



Years ago, decades now, in every season, I helped my father on the farm. Chores, feeding the cattle, replacing the straw for their bedding, planting, cultivating, harvesting. The gamut of all that goes into 320 acres and running 200 or so cattle, sometimes 300. Two hundred head of cattle take a lot of bedding.

We spent countless hours repairing this and that. I didn’t realize it fully, it didn’t sink in with me, until the auction after he’d died, but most of our equipment wasn’t just old, it was decades old. For him, it was perfectly serviceable. Anyway, every tractor, chopper, planter and whatnot had a schedule, which Dad kept in his head, of what was to be greased or oiled and when, when tires were last acquired (and from where, and what they cost), and so on. We spent some quality time on broken feed wagons, chains and belts for the forage chopper, and innumerable batteries. I think they must be of better quality today.

I was reminded of that this past weekend, when our son was up to help build a couple of PCs for the office. My contribution had been to buy the parts, but he drove the assembly. I was, I will admit, astounded at times. ‘That’s a terabyte?’ I said, about a drive the size of a credit card. Building a computer had been a project of his as a teenager; he told us over the weekend he’d been surprised we’d let him do it. It was good to see him, and we needed the additional computing power to drive the Adobe programs that power so much of publishing today. But it also reminded me of making repairs with my father, and hearing how the nation stumbled from one mishap to another. My father had a long-held belief that politicians were stupid about the military, and the follow-on effects that come from, alternately, talking big or talking small on the world stage. Like not including South Korea as part of our defense perimeter, and soon we had the Korean War.

Which, not for nothing, my father volunteered for the Army, and was in training with one of the last Army units to use mules, at a base in the South. Arkansas, maybe, I’m not sure. He would have almost certainly shipped out to the Korean mountains, something mules were well-suited for, but the war ended first. He believed politicians “stumbled into war.” That they didn’t understand what they unleashed when threatening war, or starting war, and certainly didn’t understand the cost and toll on those we expected to fight it. This, I think, was a searing experience; it stayed with him. He regarded voting for Harry Truman as the worst mistake he’d ever made, and it was surely tied to my Dad’s views on Korea and war, and the mules and the prospect of heading up mountain trails with those pack animals in the midst of winter.

Anyway, our son’s visit, in this deeply uncertain time, reminded me of that. I think the lessons still hold. Do we understand the terrible power of what we’re unleashing now? Do we know all the scenarios of how it might end? And this: Are we prepared to bear the cost in treasure and lives, and lost limbs and money and opportunity cost, that war with an enemy like Iran would bring? My father, whose fingers were permanently bent and almost severed in a fan blade from one of those old tractors, understood those costs, of farming and of war. Do our current politicians? Some, yes. Not enough, methinks, not enough.

I was at a number of swearingin ceremonies over the past week, including Carmel’s on Thursday evening. I will tell you it was refreshing to see so many people at this meeting, supporting two new police officers, a new police lieutenant, and two new councilmen, among others. And the supervisor, but he was supervisor before — his seventh term, a rarity indeed. The highway superintendent, too. We should be grateful to those who run for office, at any level, and put up with the grief of politics today. It’s not all gravy.

One councilman was absent, Mike Barile. Not back yet from vacation. OK. I have written before, his escapades with the sewer district — and by extension the town and the New York City Department of Environmental Protection — will have longlasting follow-on effects. Important areas of cooperation will be delayed or perhaps set aside permanently. Carmel and Mahopac are ‘on the radar,’ and that’s not good when dealing with an environmental bureaucracy like New York City’s. Not good at all. I hope the town presses ahead, gets to the bottom of this pit of trouble, and sorts it out. Messy and odorous as that will be.


I was in Mahopac Friday, past Lake Mahopac, in the downtown section where parking is strangled. And I thought of the opportunity cost this Barile fiasco will impose on the town. The money that went to investigate this — $120,000 so far, and it could be more. The time and attention of town officials, focused on this when they could be focused on parking, on the water troubles in the Carmel area, on economic development, on any of several pretty urgent issues.

Gov.Andrew Cuomo gives his State of the State address on Wednesday. He’s spent a number of days rolling out popular ideas, positive programs. More state land preserved, high-speed rail, and so on. The thing to watch, friends, is how that $6.1 billion deficit will be addressed. Doing so will consume Albany this spring.

Until next week.

Douglas Cunningham is editor of the Courier and the Putnam County News and Recorder, in Cold Spring. Reach him at 845-265-2468, or at

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