Authors Posts by Leah Dunaief

Leah Dunaief


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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.

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Although I never her, I was the beneficiary of Nancy Reagan’s good taste. I was invited to the White House by President Ronald Reagan’s press office, my second visit after one during President Jimmy Carter’s term. The contrast between the two visits could not be more stark.

The former first lady died this week at the age of 94, outliving her husband by nine years. In reality she had started to lose him more than 10 years earlier in what she termed “her long goodbye,” as his suffering from Alzheimer’s disease carried him into his own world. Theirs was a long marriage in which they seemed devoted to each other, and she passionately protected him and his image as he moved from president of the Screen Actors Guild to governor of California to president of the United States. She said that her “greatest ambition” was to have a “successful, happy marriage.”

She may well have yearned for that as a result of her early childhood experiences. She was born Anne Frances Robbins in 1921, the daughter of Edith Luckett and Kenneth Robbins. Her mother was an actress and her father a car dealer who abandoned them shortly after she was born. When she was 2, her mother resumed her acting career. Then, when Nancy was almost 8 years old, her mother married a Chicago neurosurgeon, Loyal Davis, and overnight her circumstances reversed. Her life was now one of stability and privilege, and she went on eventually to graduate from an elite high school and then Smith College as Nancy Davis in 1943.

She might well have endorsed Sophie Tucker’s famous maxim: “I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor. … Rich is better.”

When Reagan was elected governor and the Reagans were expected to live in the governor’s mansion, which was at that time a run-down Victorian house on a busy, one-way street in Sacramento, Calif., she convinced her husband to lease at their own expense a 12-room Tudor house in a better neighborhood. Then, when Reagan was elected president, she decided to redo the private living quarters of the White House. She raised $822,000 from private contributors to do that, but she was severely criticized by the press.

Although she had made a number of worthwhile efforts over the years, including welcoming home former prisoners of war from Vietnam at a time when those who fought in the war were sometimes spat upon, and involving herself in a Foster Grandparents Program for mentally disabled children — according to an obit in The New York Times — she was generally regarded in the press as stylish but extravagant and aloof. She was petite, slender, exercised daily and wore expensive, designer clothing at a time when the country was still hobbled with the remains of the 1970s crushing recession. Her first public relations interest was not her own image but that of her husband.

So when she raised more than $200,000 from another contributor to buy a 220-place setting of new presidential china, the first since President Lyndon Johnson’s administration, she was most unpopular as a result. That seemed to reinforce her unflattering image.

Nancy Reagan as first lady traveled widely to speak out against drug and alcohol abuse, especially among young people, and she is the one who coined the phrase, “Just say no.” She also publicly urged women to get mammograms every year after she was diagnosed with breast cancer at a time when that disease was still whispered. And, as you might expect, she was a powerful advocate for new research into Alzheimer’s.

This is how she affected me. When our press group visited with President Carter, we were given lunch in a cardboard box that we held on our laps as we sat in a circle in the Oval Office. It consisted of two halves of different sandwiches, an apple, a bag of chips and a hardboiled egg. I clearly recall watching the president shaking salt on his egg and alternately taking bites. Although I was thrilled to be there and I appreciated the effort to project an image of austerity, I thought it seemed more fitting for a picnic on the lawn than one in the nerve center of the most powerful country in the world.

At President Reagan’s lunch, we ate in the East Wing at cloth-covered tables and were served white wine with our veal scaloppine on beautiful dishes. Now I am not particularly stylish or slender and certainly not a spendthrift, but I wanted to tell Mrs. Reagan, “Right on!”

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This is the critical time, the time when those who cannot hold on any longer have fallen off their New Year’s resolutions track. That’s most of us. The best of intentions, articulated amid holiday cheers, have a way of trailing off in the cold light of January and February.

If you are among those committed few who are going strong and plowing ahead, congratulations. If, however, you are like the rest of us, weak but still wishful, I have some thoughts on the subject of resolutions. Statistics tell us that by Valentine’s Day, 80 percent of people who would like to improve their lives have given up. What we are not told is how many start again. Really, it not necessary for resolutions only to be made beneath mistletoe. If we peter out, we can pick ourselves up and begin anew. The pressure is off. And here are some tricks to sticking with it this time.

Don’t make unrealistic resolutions that are overwhelming. Want to lose 30 pounds? Losing weight is a common idea, but it is hard to break eating habits and it is a slow process. However, breaking the 30 pounds into smaller goals, like 1 pound a week, is doable. And a small success encourages endurance.

Try to find a buddy to lose weight with, even going to the gym together. Whatever your goal is, it’s easier with support from someone else and it surely is more fun. It’s harder to go it alone.

Some people might prefer to keep their resolutions private, in which case the buddy idea doesn’t work. There are some good reasons for privacy. Making public commitments can create too much pressure.

Or maybe you don’t want others to know how bad things really are and how much you need improving — if it isn’t already obvious. And then there are those who try to sabotage you, for whatever reason. It’s not pretty, but such urges exist in humans. Perhaps out of competitive motives or fear, you will be a different person and your adversaries won’t be worthy of you.

Attempt to make resolutions fun. Fix on what you will do or how you will feel once your goal is realized. The drudgery of getting there is taking you ever closer to your ideal.

Making resolutions is a little like making a to-do list. Try to limit the number to the two most important items at most. Otherwise life gets too confusing and energy is dissipated in different directions.

Finally, if you give up, start again. I have. When resolutions become habits, they will carry us to our goal. And habits are much easier to practice than that heavy, multisyllabic word, “resolutions.”

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Last Friday, exactly 53 years ago to the day, a book was published that started by asking the question, “Is this all?” The book, written by Smith College graduate Betty Friedan, is called “The Feminine Mystique” and it is generally considered to have launched a revolution that changed society in America and around the world.

Friedan based the book on a survey she did of her classmates at their 15th reunion in 1957, at which she asked her telling question. At that time women were assumed to be content with their lives if they had a husband, a home and children. The answers she received proved otherwise. For this sample of women, that was resoundingly not enough, and from those answers and her own experience she began to advocate that women be educated not to get a husband but to be an individual. To women today, this thesis seems obvious, but at the time of her book, Friedan’s message was greeted with astonishment. She was overturning the role of women in society that had existed for pretty much all of recorded history.

The same week Friedan’s book came out, my husband and I were married in a beautiful wedding that my parents made for us in New York. That night, we flew to Chicago where my husband was finishing school. I immediately got a job to support us until he graduated and we returned to New York. Were Friedan’s words ringing in my ears? Hardly, for I had recently graduated from a college whose president had repeatedly delivered that same message. These were Barnard College President Millicent McIntosh’s words:

“Don’t make your goal in life simply to find a husband. You cannot know what lies ahead for you. You may not find that special person, you may get divorced or be widowed. Prepare yourself for the future by getting a good education.”

How true! I was able to support us in those early years because of my education and was able to carry on and care for my family after my husband died at an early age because of my solid identity. All widows eventually do this. It certainly helped to be prepared.

When the youngest of my three children started first grade in 1976, I launched my own business. It was the hometown newspaper you are now reading 40 years later. Within five years after I stepped back into the workplace, women had indeed “left their kitchens,” as Republican presidential candidate John Kasich controversially said this week, to get jobs outside the home. Some started businesses of their own. Some of those women, wives and mothers, helped me immeasurably to grow my business. Women were hungry for a creative role and an individual existence outside the home in addition to their meaningful work maintaining the family.

When more women began to work and the idea of wives earning salaries became more acceptable, the two-paycheck families became the norm. This in turn brought forth all sorts of new issues: latchkey children, gender equality in the workplace, redefinition of roles within marriage, glass ceilings, higher divorce rates, balancing work and family for women and men, the child care industry. All are familiar themes to us now.

In a way, my life and those of my contemporaries span the dramatic changes Friedan’s book and McIntosh spoke of, for we are living examples of those truths.

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This past Monday was Presidents Day, and we might have been thinking of our great presidents, if we were thinking of them at all in the midst of a vacation day, as being larger than life. However, in a recent biography of George Washington, Ron Chernow tells us that for all the 8,000 acres of splendid estate and many slaves to work the property, Washington when he retired from the presidency in 1797, was hard up for cash. Financial pressure was “unrelenting.”

I don’t know about you, but to me that makes him a more human founding father, one almost every business person and resident can identify with. So what did the father of our country do? He looked around his farmland for a new profit source, one that would supply cash rather quickly, and came up with the idea of making whiskey.

It was not, The New York Times tells us in a recent article, his idea alone. His new plantation manager, James Anderson, was a Scotsman and distiller. Mount Vernon had plenty of rye and together with what Washington called “Indian corn” and a still, they were able to make ample supplies of whiskey.

Now this is not how we usually think of our first president, the guy who chopped down the cherry tree and the president who sent militiamen to quash the Whiskey Rebellion in western Pennsylvania when local distillers revolted against a federally imposed whiskey tax. Washington was aware of his image problem but, entrepreneur that he needed to be, he became something of a whiskey baron. In the first full year of operation, almost 11,000 gallons were produced and the whiskey earned a profit equivalent to some $142,000 in today’s dollars.  A distillery was built that was one of the largest of the time. Washington blamed his new success on Anderson, unwilling to take personal credit. The distillery was rebuilt after tours of Mount Vernon began and can be viewed by the many visitors to the estate each year. The old recipe is still used when samples are handed out.

Washington did enjoy alcohol, favoring “sweet wines, rum punch and whiskey,” but his reputation for alcohol in moderation was established by his stern action toward his troops when they became drunk and his reluctance to pass out drinks when he ran the first time for election to the Virginia House of Burgesses. His opponent did and duly won. A quick study, Washington did so the next time he ran, and this time he was successful.

Unfortunately for Washington, he was not able to realize a growing success from his whiskey efforts. In 1799, the second full year of production, he died at the age of 67. He willed the distillery to a granddaughter of his wife Martha, but a fire destroyed the operation in 1814.

Only relatively recently has this chapter in Washington’s life become widely known, and it adds a colorful dimension to the man and his myth.

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Chinese New Year this week made me think of the Chinese people I had visited this past September, which in turn made me think of the vegetation growing out of their heads, which then made me smile. We don’t usually think of the Chinese as being frivolous, but there they were, sporting plastic clips on their hair in the shape of vegetables, fruits and flowers.

First I thought it was my imagination. Then I guessed it was some sort of fancy head covering. Finally I just stared. People — young people, older people — were walking past us matter-of-factly with flowers and weeds growing up out of their heads. Most had one or two; some had half a dozen. That was our first morning on the street outside our hotel in Shanghai. The fad moved with us as we traveled around the country.

No one seemed to know how or where it started, although there was some speculation that it began in the southwestern city of Chengdu, known for its laid-back lifestyle. And in a country in which the people are not particularly known for their individualism, they certainly did stand out on the streets. The plastic vegetation included clover, sunflowers, chrysanthemums, lavender, mushrooms, chilies, cherries, gourds and pine trees, according to an article about the fad that appeared in The New York Times at that time.

The trend was ratcheted up when a popular Taiwanese singer, Jay Chou, and his wife were seen wearing bean sprouts in photographs on the Internet. They were “meng meng da.” meaning cute. Bean sprouts are still the most popular item, according to street vendors, who with their native entrepreneurial instincts, leapt into business on street corners and in gift shops. The rapidly growing fad speaks to the power of the Internet in China to spread trends as well as ideas.

“Some people think it’s cute, some think it’s just plain infantile,” one sales assistant was quoted by The Times as she was carefully arranging three flowers and a cherry stem on her friend’s head.

The flower clips cost 500 renminbi each, or about 75 cents, unless one is a skillful bargainer in which case one can get perhaps three or four for the same money.

Maybe the colorful plastic head gardens offer some respite from the unceasing gray pollution that covers the cities and towns in China. The greens could be seen as a wistful attempt at harmony with nature. For us, they were ready-made conversation pieces. We indicated our admiration to the wearers, and they smiled in appreciation. Quickly the ice was then broken and conversation, often in pantomime, proceeded from there.

Taobao, which is a popular Chinese retail website, lists thousands of sellers of increasingly elaborate floral displays for one’s hair, although at this time of year, such ornamentation is probably taking second place to hats. And maybe not, since it was 64 degrees in Shanghai yesterday, warm enough for a garden to grow.

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This week is bracketed on both ends by a “Super Bowl,” the real one coming up in Santa Clara, Calif., between the Denver Broncos and the Carolina Panthers and the one we just witnessed in Iowa. The NFL game is a lot easier to understand, what with there being only two opponents and a final victory.

The Iowa contest, despite tons of publicity and seemingly endless buildup, is only the first polling in what remains a nine-month marathon to elect the next president of the United States. In fact, the politicking and the campaigning have been going on for the better part of a year already. Never mind the arguments over whether baseball or football is the national pastime. Based on airtime, print and social media, the answer to the question of which is the most popular spectator sport is clearly politics. It’s the only game that goes on for two years.

Politics also has its own way of scoring that defies logic. The results for the three main GOP contenders were Ted Cruz, 28 percent; Donald Trump, 24 percent; and third-placed Marco Rubio, 23 percent. Now if four points won a football game, we would call it a close game. So Cruz is the acknowledged winner at only a quarter of the total, and Trump is only a little behind. Yet everyone talks of Trump’s poor showing — except him. And Rubio is somehow congratulated for coming in even a whisker behind Trump. This is a game where absolute numbers don’t seem to count; it’s a contest of expectations. Better the pols should set themselves up the way they do on the stock market: Put out poor expectations of future earnings and when your results rise above that lowly level, the value of the stock goes up.

But we always knew the guys on Wall Street were smarter than the presidential aspirants. That’s why the politicians hate the market makers so much.

Anyway, back to the Iowa caucus. Besides being the first in the country, how important is it in history? The answer is tepid at best. In contested caucuses, where there was no sitting president running for re-election, Iowa Dems chose the eventual presidential nominee five out of eight times, according to the Des Moines Register. And twice that winner has gone on to become president: Barack Obama and, before him, Jimmy Carter — with a miniscule number of voters who showed up at the polls. In 1992, by the way, Bill Clinton finished fourth with only 3 percent of the caucus vote, and we all know what happened after that.

Iowa Republicans in contested elections chose the eventual nominee three out of six times. Twice that winner went on to the presidency: Gerald Ford and George W. Bush. In 1980, father George H. W. Bush beat Ronald Reagan in the Iowa caucus but Reagan went on to represent the GOP and then won the national election. In 1988 Bob Dole beat George H. W. Bush in Iowa but Bush went on to triumph, no thanks to Iowa. Maybe they would be better off if candidates hoped to lose Iowa.

As to the Dems, Hillary Clinton beat out Bernie Sanders in a contest so close that different groups were flipping a coin to decide which candidate their representatives would support. Yes Clinton won, like a runner who wins a race by a fraction of a second, but her enthusiasm was nothing compared to that of Sanders, who considered his results fabulous. It’s the expectations thing again.

Better to leave this discussion of politics and talk about something noncontroversial that happened this week. In fact it probably is the biggest story of the week: the weather. Maybe we have El Niño to thank, but any time I can walk the dog in February wearing light clothes — on me, not him — I consider myself wonderfully lucky. I’m not going to go on about this because I don’t want to run the risk of hexing us, but I’ll take a winter where the temperature bounces around in the 40s and even flirts with 60s on a few days, and the blizzard comes on Saturday and Sunday. I’ll consider us in the Northeast the real winners this week.