Authors Posts by Leah Dunaief

Leah Dunaief


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It has been more than a quarter of a century since I was married, but nonetheless I read, “Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person,” a front-page piece in the Sunday Review section of The New York Times this week, with great interest. Before my husband died, I had been married just shy of 25 years, so I figured I had a dual perspective on the issue.

I was not surprised to learn that the article had one of the highest “hits” in the entire Sunday paper, from those who read online. Marriage is a fascinating subject, both for those who are, those who never were — and those who are no longer. There is some magic in the whole process of falling in love and of deciding that this is the person one wants to spend the rest of one’s life with. By the same token, that was not always the primary criterion for marriage: financial security, international alliances, duty — these are but some of the other motivators. My grandfather, for example, was widowed at a young age when my grandmother died in a wagon accident at the turn of the last century, leaving him with three young children. The family expected him to marry his wife’s younger unmarried sister, which he obediently did, to keep the clan intact and provide loving care for the children, who were after all her nieces and nephew. There are countless instances of royals who were married off to other royals in order to cement strategic alliances — between countries, between tribes, between sects.

Marrying for love is a fairly recent and novel idea that is even today not always practiced around the globe. Marriages can be and still are “arranged.”

But this article last Sunday dealt only with a marriage that is made by mutual choice of the couple involved. So what are the problems the couple will face? Alain de Botton, the author, attempted to list them. “We seem normal only to those who don’t know us very well,” is definitely one of his better lines. He continued, “In a wiser, more self-aware society than our own, a standard question on any early dinner date would be: ‘And how are you crazy?’” He doesn’t say this, but when one buys a house or a car, one asks,”What are the problems here?” Certainly the choice of spouse is far more critical, and all liabilities and drawbacks should honorably be revealed.

Even in today’s lenient “shacking up openly” culture, something new by the way with only the past couple of generations, couples may not know all that they should about one another. “One of the privileges of being on our own is therefore the sincere impression that we are really quite easy to live with,” the author said.

“Marriage ends up as a hopeful, generous, infinitely kind gamble taken by two people who don’t know yet who they are or who the other might be, binding themselves to a future they cannot conceive of and have carefully avoided investigating,” de Botton asserted. He certainly hit the nail on the head for at least my generation. We all became engaged as casually as picking a partner with whom to go to the prom. We dated for two months, two years, whatever the case, but always on our best behavior and in settings like concerts and parks that surrounded us with beauty. Perhaps today’s greater intimacy lessens the surprises.

The author makes a key point: That what we seek in marriage is supposedly happiness but in fact is familiarity. We seek to recreate relationships we experienced or yearned for that were out of reach in our childhoods. Those are not the relationships most conducive to happiness.

Also people who feel terribly lonely, who find the thought of being alone throughout their lives terrifying, “risk loving no longer being single rather more than we love the partner who spared us that fate.”

And then there is custom. Everyone married when they finished their schooling, or shortly thereafter, it seemed to us of a certain age. Indeed, my mother told me on my wedding day that I had barely managed to avoid being “an old maid.” I had just turned 22.

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Back to business as usual now, but last Thursday night, May 19, was magical. As some 300 community members, advertisers and readers know firsthand, we had a 40th anniversary party aboard the P.T. Barnum, one of the ferries of The Bridgeport & Port Jefferson Steamboat Company. There are three vessels in its fleet that sail between the two shores of the Long Island Sound, and the reason we reserved that particular one was its wide center aisle, which we converted into a dance floor after we ate.

Speaking of eating, the food was simply delicious, if I do say so myself. Catered by Elegant Eating of Smithtown, owned by Myra Naseem and Neil Schumer, the supper was a choice of Thai chicken, orange salmon, a vegetarian and a vegan meal. Each guest was handed a shopping bag with the entrée of choice inside as he and she came aboard. It was like being given a grab bag with surprise contents to be pulled out, one at a time, once the passengers were seated. Included were a small tray of appetizers, a fun salad, a larger box with the main course and sides, and a little bag of scrumptious mouthfuls of desserts. Bars at either end of the boat provided white or red wine — or water — to accompany the meal.

All of this played out against a backdrop of quiet dinner music from our talented DJ, who was able to stop and get a bite to eat himself when he was temporarily replaced by the High C’s, a delightful a cappella act. Drawn from Stony Brook University students, the group harmonized beautifully and was widely praised throughout the evening.

We also viewed a short video of different staff members at work and a slightly longer film clip previewing seven dramatic episodes we will be releasing in two months about the Setauket-based Culper Spy Ring. The video action came to life, as actors in Revolutionary War costumes seemed to leap from the film and began dueling across the ferry’s main cabin. Unlike the AMC popular cable drama, “Turn,” ours will be authentic and will be accessible through a QR code — that is, a matrix barcode — on our Three Village map. Wait for it until July.

As soon as the formal, albeit brief program was over, we turned the floor loose for dancing. The DJ encouraged guests to rise and “cut the rug,” with his lively music. Some guests drifted outside to the stern or up to the top deck to watch Nature’s spectacular show. While we gladly take credit for the many other logistics of the party that worked, we can only give thanks for the turn the weather did that afternoon. What dawned as a gray and uninspiring day, with a damp chill and the distinct possibility of rain, became sunny and warm. The skies cleared to allow a Hollywoodesque sunset.

As the ferry slowly turned around from its “cruise to nowhere” and re-entered the harbor, we were honored to have state Assemblyman Steve Englebright and Suffolk County Comptroller John Kennedy Jr. offer some deeply appreciated kind words about our newspapers. Comptroller Kennedy brought a proclamation marking the occasion and Assemblyman Englebright, who has been in public office about as long as we have been publishing and hence knows us well, talked about our track record over the years. It was a lovely finale to what was for us a memorable evening.

Other officials have sent proclamations as well, including Town Clerk Jo-Ann Raia on behalf of Huntington, and members of the government of Brookhaven Town, led by Supervisor Ed Romaine. We will be proud to publish them over the next couple of weeks as space allows. As always, news comes first.

I want to offer heartfelt thanks to others who generously contributed to making our party a reality, including our law firm Glynn Mercep and Purcell; John Tsunis, the spark plug behind both the Holiday Inn Express Stony Brook and Gold Coast Bank; and our accountants, Covati &d Jahnsen. Fred Hall, the general manager of the ferry company, is himself celebrating his 40th anniversary with the company and deserves our admiration for his steady hand over those years.

And, finally, to you — our readers and advertisers — who have supported us over four decades, and to our dedicated staff, past and present, who make the newspapers and websites trustworthy sources of news week after week, my profound gratitude.

Thank you! Hope to see you at our 50th party.

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Does it annoy you too when the pitchman in the commercial urges negotiating with your credit card company, with the advertiser’s help of course, to pay less than you owe? It’s the same message when it comes to “settling” with the IRS. “You don’t have to pay all that you owe,” encourages the adman’s voice. “Call us and we’ll reduce your amount to a third without bankruptcy.”

What about us poor schnooks who paid every last penny of what we owed? Were we incredibly stupid when we could have gotten off with far less cost? Maybe it’s only the rich who pay everything they owe, but I know that’s not true. Men and women will work two and three jobs to be able to meet their expenses, especially those incurred for their children. They must not know that all they had to do was run up the bills — the higher, the better — then declare that they couldn’t afford them, and they would get a reduction of their debt.

What has happened to honor? Maybe it is just those of us of a certain age who still carry these old-fashioned ideas in our heads. “Pay as you go” was my parents’ adage. The idea of a credit card puzzled them. If you couldn’t afford to buy a car when you wanted one, then wait until you had the money and you could buy it. Delayed gratification was admired. They were even dubious about a mortgage, although that became the American way after World War II.

But the thought of not honoring one’s debts was anathema. In essence you gave your word when you accepted credit, and “your word was your bond.” People who walked away from their debts expected to go to prison, certainly not to call a “negotiator” who would beat down your creditor into accepting less — or nothing at all.

Donald Trump raised the possibility of our nation reducing its national debt by bargaining with our creditors, an unwelcome but nonetheless real technique in business. These creditors of American debt would include other nations, as well as widows and orphans who buy U.S. government bonds because they believe in our creditworthiness — our honor to repay. People who cannot repay, while they no longer are imprisoned in a jail, are imprisoned by their actions. They are never trusted to the same extent again, and if they have to borrow in the future they pay a significantly higher rate of interest on the borrowed money, if they can get a loan at all.

The same holds for nations. Those countries whose economies crashed have had to pay exorbitant interest on their bonds to entice new capital, and their people have been impoverished in the long run, leading to disastrous social unrest. History is rife with such examples.

So what is a person, whose intentions at the time of borrowing were honorable but whose circumstances have dramatically changed through no fault of his or her own, to do with that debt? Borrowers may lose their jobs; they or a family member may get sick and require ruinous financial support; insurance on property or health may be insufficient or nonexistent — and so forth. As the expression goes, “life happens.”

Most commonly, the terms of repayment can be changed. A longer time in which to repay the borrowed money can be arranged, allowing the borrower a chance to recover from whatever the disaster. This lowers the monthly rate of repayment although it does increase the total cost of the debt. But it does preserve creditworthiness — and reputation. That solution only works, however, if there are good prospects down the line and a willingness on the part of the debtors to assume responsibility for their actions. In circumstances where there is no hope for recovery, then bankruptcy is the only choice.

But the idea of those who know how to play the system bouncing from one loan to the next with little consequence is unacceptable and makes fools of us all. And those who make a business out of helping such individuals run off with other people’s money are worse yet.

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One of the more curious footnotes to World War II occurred 75 years ago this week. On a May evening in 1941, Rudolph Hess, deputy führer of the Third Reich and No. 3 man in line of succession after Hitler and Hermann Göring, flew solo from Germany to Scotland and parachuted into the waiting arms of the British.

So who was Hess and why did he make this bizarre wartime flight? He was born into a prosperous German merchant family living in Egypt just before the turn of the 20th century. The oldest of three children, he was by inclination a warrior and immediately after World War I broke out, he joined the infantry. He was wounded several times during the war, always returning to the front when he recovered and earning medals that included the Iron Cross in 1915. Toward the end of hostilities, he trained as an aviator.

In 1919 he continued his education at the University of Munich and attended a class taught by Karl Haushofer, a proponent of the principle of lebensraum (“living space”), which urged the need for more land. Postwar life in Bavaria at that time was chaotic, with fights erupting between right-wing groups and Communists, and Hess was drawn to battles in the streets as a member of the Thule Society, an extreme anti-Semitic gang.

In 1920, after hearing Hitler speak at a Nazi rally in Munich, Hess became totally devoted to him and joined the Nazi Party. From then on Hess was almost inseparable from Hitler, being at his side in the abortive Beer Hall Putsch of 1923 when Hitler tried to stage a coup d’état, and was in prison with him subsequently where he talked to Hitler about the lebensraum idea that became a pillar of the Nazi platform and justification for conquering lands in Eastern Europe. And while in prison, Hess helped Hitler write his “Mein Kampf” (“My Struggle”). After they were released, he was even subsequently injured protecting Hitler from a bomb planted by a Marxist group.

When Hitler and the Nazis finally did seize power in 1933, Hess became a cabinet member and was frequently the one who would introduce Hitler at rallies and speaking engagements. If Hitler could not attend, Hess would be his surrogate, addressing the crowds. Part of his cabinet responsibilities was to cosign every law decreed by Hitler, including the Nuremberg Laws, which stripped Jews of their rights as German citizens and set the stage for the Holocaust.

Meanwhile Hess regularly took lessons, becoming ever more skilled as a pilot. When war broke out in 1939, he asked Hitler if he could join the Luftwaffe but Hitler forbade it, telling him he couldn’t fly again until the end of the war but eventually limiting the ban to one year. Hess had been Hitler’s private secretary for years but was replaced by Martin Bormann, who gradually surpassed Hess in his relationship to Hitler.

About the time his flying ban was lifted, Hess confided to his son that he wanted to arrange peace negotiations between Hitler and Churchill. He talked about flying to meet with the Duke of Hamilton in Scotland, who was known to Albrecht Haushofer, the son of Hess’ professor and with whom Hess had become a good friend. They believed, mistakenly, that Hamilton was a leader of the opposition against the war. Hess began outfitting a sophisticated airplane with the necessary equipment to reach Scotland, including auxiliary fuel tanks, and after abortive tries due to weather or mechanical limitations, finally took off on May 10, 1941. That was six weeks before Hitler planned Operation Barbarossa, the surprise invasion of the Soviet Union. Hess was distressed at the prospect of two fronts and was determined to get Britain to sit out the rest of the war.

Hess was able to get to the coast of Britain before the radar picked him up, and before fighter planes sent up to intercept him could shoot him down. He flew at extremely low altitude and when he was near his destination, he parachuted out of his plane and landed within a few miles of Hamilton’s home. Churchill was not interested in his plan and the British held him as a prisoner of war. Hitler was reportedly enraged by Hess’ action and, disavowing any such knowledge on his part, stripped Hess of all his offices and decorations, fearing the response of Mussolini and the Japanese to such a unilateral move. Ultimately Hess was tried in the first round of prisoners at the Nuremberg trials and sentenced to life. He died in Spandau Prison in 1987 at age 93 by suicide.

The question will always remain for historians to argue: Did Hitler send Hess on his doomed mission?

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Would you like to know what Ava Gardner had to say about her first husband, Mickey Rooney? Stay tuned.

Despite having passed away two years ago, Mickey Rooney walks the stage at the Ward Melville Heritage Organization’s Education and Cultural Center in Stony Brook village. That bit of otherworldly magic is thanks to the artistry of St. George Productions, whose acting company members make the famous come alive again.

Rooney’s first wife was Ava Gardner, and I was interested to read Gardner’s autobiography after a brief stop at her museum in Smithfield, North Carolina recently. We were driving up Route 95, returning from a visit to Hilton Head, when one of our group suggested we see the museum. It was started near her hometown with seed money left by the actress. Now, I don’t know how many of you remember her or have seen her films, but she was right up there in stardom with the likes of Rita Hayworth, Grace Kelly, Judy Garland and Elizabeth Taylor. Some of her leading men were Clark Gable, Gregory Peck, Robert Mitchum, Richard Burton, Robert Taylor, Burt Lancaster — and Mickey.

She was a head taller than Mickey Rooney, and she met him on her first day on the MGM studio sets. He was dressed like the famous Brazilian dancer, Carmen Miranda, for his role in the movie, “Babes on Broadway,” with Judy Garland. He was two years older than Gardner and at that time, 1941, he was the most popular star in America. He had acted as Mickey McGuire, the character from the comic strip, Toonerville Trolley for seven years and then as Andy Hardy, the beloved teenager, for ten years after that. Rooney was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor in 1939, and was earning $5,000 a week, plus bonuses. He knew how to act and he also knew what he wanted. He phoned Gardner every night for the first two weeks she was in Hollywood, until he finally got her to go out with him to dinner—as long as she could bring along her older sister.

Initially stunned by his shortness, Gardner describes Rooney as “charming, romantic and great fun.” She offered, “I had to say one thing for him: He sure had energy.”

“He was the original laugh-a-minute boy, and even the second or third time around, his stories, jokes, and gags were funny. There wasn’t a minute when he wasn’t onstage. He loved an audience, and I tried to be as good a one as I knew how.” They were engaged before her 19th birthday. They were both kids without the slightest idea of what marriage should be. Mickey woke up after their wedding night and left Ava to go off with his gang of buddies and play golf.

Mickey did endear himself when they visited her ill mother, shortly after they were married. “He entertained Mama, he hugged her, he made her laugh, he brought tears to her eyes. He did his impersonations, he did his songs and dances—it was a wonderful, wonderful occasion for Mama, who we all knew was slowly dying. Although I had loved Mickey from the start, that show he put on moved me beyond words.”

His normal lifestyle, which he continued after their marriage, according to Ava, was “boozing, broads, bookmakers, golfing and hangers-on, not to mention the heavy involvement of studio work and publicity.” She was most appalled by the philandering. They divorced two years later.

They stayed friends for the rest of their lives, dating from time to time after their divorce, until they both went on to other spouses. For Mickey, that was a beauty queen that he met in Birmingham, Alabama. He was married a total of eight times.

According to Mearene Jordan, Gardner’s helper, who wrote a chapter at the end of the book, “Mickey Rooney was a funny little guy—she got a big kick out of him. She saw him last year and she said, “Reenie, he’s still the biggest liar in the world. Poor Mickey, he cannot tell the truth, he never could. But he’s cute.”

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This is in the nature of a small confession. Until this past Tuesday, I have never, to my best recollection, voted in a primary. So I guess this time offered the most exciting possibilities that drew me to the voting booth. And for that injection of enthusiasm into what has traditionally been an overlong and boring presidential election process, I guess that we ought to thank Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. They have presented us with some real options instead of the usual Tweedledum and Tweedledee candidates.

Whatever happens from this point on, New York state has uncharacteristically played a significant part in this election. Until April, by the time we here have our primaries, the dust has usually cleared and our outcomes haven’t particularly registered on the political Richter scale. This time was different.

Yes, advance polling had projected Trump and Hillary Clinton victories. But the wide margin for both was a major additional factor. With just a few precincts to report, Trump had won 60 percent of the vote in a three-way race; and Clinton won 58 percent against Sanders, holding together a wide coalition of voters more typical of the national voter profile. Some other interesting points: John Kasich came in a solid second with 25 percent; the only district Trump lost was Manhattan, his home, which went to Kasich; and Ted Cruz was a distant third which was predictable, if for no other reason than after his “New York values” comment earlier in the contest.

I have often thought that the race for president goes on far too long but I read an article recently in The New York Times that gave me a different perspective. The writer suggested that the contest could be compared to a job interview, in this case the most powerful job in the world, and that we were the employers, which as voters I guess we are.

So in this long interviewing process, we get a chance to see how the candidates react when in friendly domains, when under pressure from unfriendly spectators and when they are in an adversarial role, attacking each other. These are all simulations of the job they are after, and their reactions are revealing. We also get to judge how well they manage a complex campaign over a considerable period of time. Few would disagree that the stark contrast between the campaigns of Obama and Clinton contributed to Clinton’s loss in 2008. Besides being president and commander in chief, the winner had darn well be a good manager. Although he won the election in 1976 against Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter will go down in history as one of the U.S. presidents’ worst managers who tried in vain to micromanage throughout his four years. Ronald Reagan handily beat him in 1980 and could be known as the delegator in chief for the way he managed his administration until he became ill.

Trump and Clinton, if they wind up going head-to-head in November, also offer stark contrasts. Regardless of whom one intends to vote for, few would deny that Clinton has the most experience in government and Trump has the least. This is the great advantage for Clinton and paradoxically the great advantage for Trump. People who are dissatisfied with the direction our country is headed — or their own lives — or look at government in Washington as abdication of responsibility, see Trump as an unsullied outsider capable of shaking out the deadwood and turning things around. He continually refers to himself as a “deal maker,” capable of making the United States great again. And Russian President Putin likes him, another first for an American presidential election.

Clinton has the problem of being “old goods,” familiar as the paintings on the wall that go unappreciated with time. And for various reasons, people profess not to like her, as if that is a criterion for the highest office. Do they have to like her? In fact I have met her half-a-dozen times and unlike the public face she presents from the podium, she struck me as not only likeable but also delightful and quite human. On the other hand, do people trust her to reflect their values and do the right thing when under great stress? That is the biggest voter question, and in New York state Tuesday the answer came back a resounding “yes.”

Stay tuned.

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Saratoga Springs had snow on the ground when I arrived at dusk for the start of the New York Press Association convention a week ago Wednesday. Coming from Long Island, where daffodils are brightly nodding at passersby, forsythia are beacons of the coming spring and buds are finally on the tips of skeletal tree limbs, I had left the world of winter behind. So it was a bit of a shock to see how far we at home had advanced.

My first workshop in the morning was a valuable one dealing with good organizational management. What’s that, you might ask? To me that means working in a corporate or nonprofit group of any kind, productively, happily and successfully. It means optimizing resources and achieving a group’s lofty goals in a way that is most satisfying both to members of the group and to its clientele. It also means innovating to embrace future change even while preserving the core of the business.

What has that to do with us at the newspapers? Stay with me and I will reveal a nice surprise.

In the past, in what we now call “the old industrial age,” the manner in which organizations ran was hierarchical, meaning from the top down in a vertical fashion. You’ve undoubtedly seen such graphics depicting the CEO at the top, followed below by the next row of managers, with further rows below them. Those workers in each row reported to the manager immediately above them, with final decisions coming down from above. That was how the company managed its decision-making and workflow.

Today the model for better management has dramatically changed. Corporate flow charts have flattened and been transformed into more of a web than a ladder. The group chart is horizontal rather than vertical, perhaps influenced by the internet. Employees at all levels of a company or group are vested in the decision-making process, to the greater success and satisfaction of personnel making the product or performing the service and its quality for the end user.

That is optimal organizational management today, led by Silicon Valley high technology companies in the larger corporate world, who took away titles, reserved parking places and physical partitions, and created the sense of equal participation and valued input that constantly push toward change while still maintaining the traditional business.

So now for the nice surprise.

We at Times Beacon Record News Media, celebrating our 40th anniversary this month, have always run the business as a web rather than a ladder. Why? Because the people who have worked here, a great many of whom are still with us, have been respected for their talent and commitment and encouraged to offer their best ideas, concerns and input. We have been very lucky with the type of person who chooses to work with us, and we are most appreciative of our good fortune in that regard.

Now comes the best part. While we have had many talented men working here, and we still do, we are nonetheless an organization with a majority of women. And I learned in business school, many years ago, that webs rather than ladders are instinctively more typical of women. Along with the networking concept go ideas like job sharing in order to combine work and also manage sick children, flexible hours, working at home and being innovative in order to do more in less time. The final products, which is what our work is about, have been stellar.

In the early years, when a couple of experienced older men had joined our sales team, they were deeply puzzled by our management style. “Just tell us what you want us to do, and we’ll go out and do it,” they urged more than once at our ideas-generating meetings. They came from the old school in believing that dictatorship is the most efficient form of management, as I suppose it is.

By the time I left Saratoga Springs Sunday morning, the snow had disappeared. I could hear a bird singing through my open car window, and against the blue sky, I believe I caught sight of a few tiny buds on trees limbs. Sometimes it just takes a little extra time for different parts of the world to catch up.

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Earlier this week, there was a news report on the radio that 50 percent of hotel rooms in London and Paris were empty. Individuals, tour groups, even business travelers had canceled their reservations and were staying home. The statistics made me sad.

When I was graduating from high school in 1958, I passionately wanted to travel to some distant shores and see what life in those countries was all about. I had read about Paris in my French class, had translated Julius Caesar’s “The Gallic Wars” from the original Latin, studied the rise and growth of democracy and personal freedoms in my history class, and tried to understand political ideas like communism and socialism in political science class. Now I wanted to see these concepts in action in the real world. My mother was adamant: “You can travel to Europe with your husband. Not before!”

Sure enough, the first time I crossed the Atlantic, I sat beside my husband on an eight-day guided tour of London. How fascinating and instructional it all was. How much knowledge I amassed by the time I returned. How much more I understood. I was hooked on travel for the rest of my life.

It was said then that we were citizens of our countries, but our children and grandchildren would be citizens of the world. And that prediction has come true. My grandchildren have already been to three different continents. The impressions they brought back have made them smarter, better and more compassionate people, and they have not yet even reached their majority.

But what about today? Are the risks worth the rewards? We know there is a lot in the news these days to make us angry and fearful. Maybe those two emotions are really the same. Almost every day there are reports of carnage of innocent people across the globe triggered by terrorists who want to make a political or sectarian statement, or are looking for revenge. The death and maiming of those victims, whose only misstep was being in the wrong place at the wrong time, is a modern tragedy — a game of Russian roulette. The more gruesome the killings, the more notice their assailants get. Children killed, sure. People slaughtered as they are kneeling in prayer, yes. Aid workers risking their lives with humanitarian motives … kill them. The ultimate idea is to spread a tsunami of fear and isolation.

When people stop traveling, the terrorists know their brutal efforts are working. In a world that has become wonderfully global — with citizens of different countries interacting and coming to understand the customs and religions of each other, with economies benefiting from tourist spending that raises standards of living — travel is a natural target for those who would bomb us back into the Stone Age. And to what end? The purpose of the killers is power, the power to better control the masses, to attract followers by using corrupted ideology and perverted religious tenets, to enrich themselves with plunder — age-old strategies throughout the bloody centuries. Nothing new here.

What is new is a world interconnected by jet planes and Internet information in a way that was unimaginable in the past. Yes, there was the Silk Road and trade routes around the capes of the continents centuries ago. But they were open only to the adventurous few, and those few were more interested in commerce than in societal change. Too many people now have tasted the fruits of travel, enjoyed the wonders of seeing new treasures, tasting new foods, enjoying new dances, meeting new people, appreciating new lifestyles, applauding different forms of government, for the clock to ever be turned back. That is why the killers seek to destroy art and architecture wherever their bloodthirsty rampages take them. They don’t want people to see the different wonders of the world and equate them with new ways to live.

So, is it worth it? Is travel to return to only the most daring and adventurous who sailed the seas and trekked the land? I don’t think so. Remember that old song? “How you gonna keep ’em down on the farm after they’ve seen Paree?”

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When I was a small child and had to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, I would put the light on and one of the first things I would see were two sets of false teeth sitting in small glasses of water on the shelf above the sink. The teeth belonged to my mother and father, and I knew they took them out of their mouths before they went to bed and replaced them in the morning. So routine was this occurrence to me that I spent many minutes at a time searching my mouth with my fingers for the lever that would allow me to remove my teeth.

Finally I asked my parents, who clued me in to the eventual failings of teeth. I was, after all, the child of two sets of ancestors who had faulty choppers. Again, I just accepted this as the natural course of my life. One day I thought I would be toothless, too, except for a few lucky strays that remained in mouth.

Fast-forward more than half a century, and I still have almost all of my teeth. How did that enormous change come about? Dentistry is an area of health delivery that doesn’t get its proper due for the enormous advances from which we have benefited. The single best development that has preserved my teeth and those of the many millions of people around the world is the root canal procedure.

Now getting a root canal is a least favorite activity and deservedly so. But the journalist in me wants to tell the other side of the story, just to be fair. The patient I have been numerous times wants to salute the researchers and clinicians in dentistry. And although I am sitting at my keyboard in some pain at the moment from part one of a root canal procedure, which is what brought this subject to mind, I want to express my gratitude.

What exactly is a root canal procedure?

Although it’s not particularly difficult to understand, nonetheless it took centuries to invent. As I understand it, bacteria from a crack in the top of a tooth can get into the pulp below the naturally occurring enamel crown and cause an infection. Even if there is no infection, cold or heat or air can cause the nerves inside the tooth to register pain, which is an alarm.

The roots of the tooth have tiny canals in them in which the nerves reside. If the source of the intrusion that has stimulated the nerve cannot be repaired with a filling over the top of the tooth, then the pulpy decay below the enamel has to be cleaned out and the nerves have to be silenced to stop the pain. That is the function of the root canal procedure. After the nerves are removed, along with the site of any infection, the canals are filled with a sealer paste and rubber compound and covered with a dental cement to protect them from saliva.

All of the above is the job of the endodontist or specialist who uses the sophisticated tools high tech has invented to make this delicate procedure possible and the anesthetic to make it bearable. The patient must then go on, typically to another dentist, to have a crown or cap precisely fitted over the top of the tooth to replace the natural enamel. Crowns used to be made optimally of gold, but are now form-fitted with synthetic material that can be tinted the same color as the rest of the teeth, if necessary.

Interestingly, as a friend pointed out, there is something funny about the semantics involved. One goes to get “a root canal” even though one doesn’t receive “an appendix” but an appendectomy, nor “a tonsils” but a tonsillectomy. Perhaps the dental procedure should be called a “nerve homicide,” but that would only add more fear to an already fearful procedure. Well, that’s about the only funny aspect of this vital but still-dreaded tooth rescue.

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Here is a terrific idea for those of a certain age. Have a pajama party with close friends at a distant and beautiful location of at least three nights duration. Why three nights? Because it takes that long for normally reserved people to open up and speak freely about life as they have known it. Why pajamas? For the same reason. After a day filled with enjoyable activities, like sightseeing, shopping and dining, climbing into pajamas and meeting in the living room to chat goes a long way toward facilitating informality and frank exchange.

And why have such an experience? Because after a lot of years of living, seniors are expected to have amassed some wisdom with the answers to questions that habitually occur to us. One thing is sure: Probably no two people will have the same answers to all the questions, and hearing the different perspectives is thought-provoking and sometimes even comforting.

Now let me be clear. I am not suggesting orgies in the basement. I am saying that much has changed over the period of our lives, and those of us who have seen those changes can understand each other and even commiserate. It’s nice to be understood. It’s valuable to hear how others have dealt with the same opportunities and challenges.

What are some of the subjects that might be discussed?

Death is certainly one. We all face an end to our lives. How do we regard the inevitable? Are we afraid? Probably not so much. With age comes acceptance to a large degree. Is there an afterlife? A purgatory? Will we again be with our loved ones? In fact, do we believe there is a God? And what is the purpose of life? There are no bounds to the scope of discussions. The subjects just flow from each other.

Then there are the endless conversations about children and maybe grandchildren. How have they fared? How much should we help them? What is in store for them? What problems do they have? Have their marriages held together?

There are the huge and sometimes incomprehensible changes in sexual mores and in family values. There are still some who reserve sex for marriage but not many. The word “dating” can have a different connotation than it did when we were much younger. Living together and having children without the benefit of marriage is no longer the object of shame. Yet it may be just difficult for older people to accept, especially if members of the family are involved in such arrangements.

The relationship between men and women and hence between husbands and wives has undergone revolutionary change. And the issue of rape has become public, especially rape on campus. There was no such mention by past generations.

Health issues are a perennial topic for conversation. Trading remedies, physician and physical therapist names, healthy tips for diets and dieting, exercise and stress reduction are common themes. Discussions of the outcomes from hip and knee surgeries and even dental implants fill the airwaves and can truly offer needed information and help.

Music is another area of tremendous change. What one generation danced to, another can find boring. But there is unending admiration by seniors for the younger generation’s mastery of cellphones, laptops and the Internet. Yet there are some older folks who adamantly resist texting.

The truth is that we all need support groups and affirmation. We can also benefit from well-placed critiques that can be more easily accepted from contemporaries. And there is always lots of room for laughter, even belly laughs.

Pajama parties can provide the context for such engagement. Besides why should only kids have all the fun.