Between you and me

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By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Look for something special in the newspaper and online next week. Earlier in the year, some of you may have noted we ran a contest asking you to write in your favorite business or service on the North Shore by category. We wanted to know your favorite bank, your favorite bakery, favorite hotel, hair salon, nail salon, restaurant, accountant, lawyer and so forth. The entry form, which filled a whole page, could only be found in the newspaper, although we publicized the contest on the web and on our social media platforms as well. But you had to pick up the newspaper in order to vote for your favorites, and we of course did that on purpose to get you to read the paper, which is today an endangered species.

Well, the contest was a big success. We received over 2,500 submissions and we have winners in more than 100 categories, including those that are in ties. We tabulated the answers on our computers and were fascinated by the results. The winners and/or nominators come from as far west as Cold Spring Harbor and Huntington and as far east as Wading River, as well as from Northport, East Northport, Kings Park, Smithtown, St. James, Three Village, Port Jefferson and Port Jefferson Station, Middle Country, Mount Sinai, Miller Place, Rocky Point and Shoreham—our entire North Shore areas of news coverage and distribution. Readers took the time and made the effort to salute their business contacts in this way.

We think our readers will benefit from this information, a kind of recommended list of some of the best businesses in Suffolk County, as they do their shopping and meet their needs around town. The “Readers Choices” will be named in their categories in a pullout section next Thursday, in time for holiday shopping. And we know the various winners are proud to have been singled out in this way. 

It’s pretty special to be No. 1 in customers esteem. It means the businesses, services and professionals have some sort of differential advantage over their competitors, and it gives the winners bragging rights and the spotlight to talk about their newest products even as they thank their customers. We, of course, thank the winners who have chosen additionally to advertise all that information in our supplement — although no ad was required of them — and that is part of the reason for the several weeks of space we devoted to the contest. In so doing, we are following the traditional business model that has always supported news media: Advertisers underwriting news for the readers, even as some of that news is about their products and services.

In addition to being named in the supplement, the winners will be invited to a dinner reception at the Three Village Inn in Stony Brook on Wednesday evening, Feb. 5, 2020, from 6-8 p.m. There will be valet parking, a great help in the event of inclement weather. At the historic inn, they will walk up to the podium on a red carpet, be asked to speak for one minute about their business or profession if they wish, and videoed and photographed as they do so. The videos will then appear on our website and the photographs in our newspapers and social media after the reception. In addition, there will be a drawing for the three gift certificates of $150, $75 and $50 to be used in the winners stores or offices by those who sent in nominations.

Tickets to the event may be ordered on our website (tbrnewsmedia.com) after the first of the year, by phone with a credit card (631-751-7744) or by mail (P.O. Box 707, Setauket, NY 11733).

In addition to the winners and their guests, we will also invite the customers who nominated their first choices and the general public in what we hope will be a wonderful show of support for local businesses. They are at the core of our communities and today, as we know, they too are an endangered species.

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By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Thanksgiving 2019. Always a favorite holiday for me. What could be bad about an eating holiday? Even better, it’s a chance to see my children and grandchildren, because everyone comes to grandma’s house for Thanksgiving.

For this I have to give great thanks not only to my children, coming in from various parts of the country, but especially to my children-in-law. As one of my daughters-in-law said not too long ago, “Thanksgiving belongs to the Dunaiefs.” What she meant by that is her family hasn’t seen her at Thanksgiving since she married into our family. She automatically plans on coming here to Long Island for the holiday, as do my other two daughters-in-law. For that I am hugely grateful.

Of course, for that monopoly I have had to give up other holidays to the other sides of the family, and I have done so cheerfully. We have worked out this arrangement amicably and made it into a rich tradition. What happens at my dining room table on Turkey Day is not just the consumption of the usual Thanksgiving fare but also in turn the sharing of experiences to be thankful for over the past year. 

In this way, I get to catch up on what my offspring and their offspring have been up to, and they hear what is important to each of them. Lest it should become too ritualistic and burdensome, I suggested one year that we could skip it, but they wanted to tell their stories. And I certainly wanted to listen.

So how will this year be different from the others?

I eagerly await the individual particulars but, from my perspective, one difference is consideration of the food. There was a time when I just presented the turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes or sweet potatoes, greens and a salad, and that was dinner — to be followed by ample portions of pumpkin pie. I probably don’t have to tell you that those innocent days are gone forever.

My first clue that the Thanksgiving universe was changing came when my young children took me aside before the holiday one year and begged me to be understanding of what they were about to confess: They didn’t care for turkey. 

Wow! That was a shock to me because I prided myself on cooking the perfect turkey each year — roasted to a golden brown, yet not dried out even in the white meat. After the few minutes it took me to recover, I gamely said, “All right, I will make a couple of chickens instead.” That solution was received with enthusiasm.

But that was not the end of that story: I cooked the chickens to a yummy golden brown, but I also made half a small turkey for any of the traditionalists who might be dining with us, and because I adore leftover turkey and stuffing the next day for lunch. Comes Thanksgiving Thursday, the table is set, there is a fire in the fireplace, the fare is served, and at the end of the meal the chickens are barely touched but the only part of the turkey left is the carcass. “Is there any more turkey?” someone asks.

I learned. Now when they tell me that they don’t want to eat a lot of animal protein nor dairy because of lactose intolerance — an inherited gene from my dad — nor carbs, and that I should load up with veggies and salad and certainly barely any pie because they wish to eschew lots of sugary sweets in favor of fruit, I readily agree. There will be a cornucopia of spinach and Brussels sprouts, bok choy, broccoli, cauliflower and bottomless salad and fruit bowls. Those veggies can be delicious steamed or roasted with some nuts and spices. And … there will also be mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, turkey, stuffing and — need I say it? — ample amounts of pumpkin and apple pies. 

We shall see what is left over this time.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Mount Vesuvius

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Three active volcanoes marked our trip across the Adriatic and then up the Italian coast: Vesuvius, Etna and Stromboli. Mount Vesuvius famously erupted in 79 A.D. and buried at least a thousand people under almost 20 feet of volcanic ash in the towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Mount Vesuvius is regarded as one of the most dangerous volcanoes today because it has the potential to wipe out more than 3 million people in the nearby city of Naples and is under 24-hour surveillance. Two of the planet’s tectonic plates are crashing into each other beneath the Earth’s surface, which causes the eruptions. While there were lots of signs that the volcano was about to erupt at that ancient time, not everyone fled. Yet most of the cities’ inhabitants of some 20,000 did flee, to survive and resettle up and down the coast.

Mount Etna is on the east coast of Sicily, between the cities of Catania and Messina. Stromboli is on the small Sicilian island of the same name and is one of the most active on the planet, erupting almost continuously since 1932. We left our dinner halfway through and watched in fascination from the port side of the ship, on our way through the Strait of Messina, as its high intensity fiery plumes shot up into the night sky. Each glowing emission brought an awed chorus from the passengers. The strait’s reputed treacherous conditions may have been the inspiration for the Greek myth of the two sea monsters, Scylla and Charybdis, that gave so much trouble to Odysseus on his way home from the Trojan War. 

For us it was as calm as a lake.

We did spend an afternoon in Sicily and enjoyed the magnificent views from touristy Taormina and Castelmola, the village even higher up the mountain. Souvenir shops were crowded into the narrow, crooked streets, selling everything from ceramic artifacts and tiles to “The Godfather” T-shirts. Our fantastic luck with the weather continued. The days were sunny and in the 70s. 

The next stop, on the west side of the Italian peninsula was Sorrento, facing the Bay of Naples, with more glorious jewel-like views from the top of the cliffs. The Italian towns offered a faster pace and more tourists than those on the Dalmatian Coast. And the seafood was more expensive. We were decidedly now in Italy.

Taking a bus from the port, we rode over the mountains to the fabled Amalfi Coast, where we ate lunch. No matter how many times one might visit this 60-mile stretch of mountainous coastline, the clear blue water and pastel fishing boats, like toys in the sea way below, seductively draw one back for yet another visit. The crowds of whitewashed houses, terraced up the sides of the mountains, the hairpin turns of the coast road that I would never dream of driving on because I would fall off the mountain as I was drinking in the sights, the crooked streets and cantilevered stairways overhanging the gigantic rocks. The place is better than any postcard. We spent a couple of hours in the town of Amalfi, where we exclaimed over the size of the lemons and drank the freshly squeezed lemonade.

All too soon, we had to dash back to catch the tender that returned us to the ship, and we were off to Rome, our final destination. The city is not on the coast, and so we disembarked from the tidy cruise-and-sailing ship and rode the hour-and-a-half trip to the capital of Italy. Rome is one of the oldest cities on Earth that has been populated for about 30 centuries, and one could spend endless days viewing everything from ancient ruins to the Vatican, soaking up the history, art and architecture. But, alas, we had no more time left on our vacation, and managed to enjoy one more bowl of pasta followed by one last round of gelato before we took off from Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino Airport for home.

Ciao Bella!

Split, Croatia

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Continuing our sailboat-and-diesel cruise down the Dalmatian Coast on the Adriatic, we next stopped in Split, the second largest city in Croatia. Again, located against the backdrop of steep limestone mountains, Split is particularly known for its beaches and Diocletian’s Palace.

Built for the Roman emperor, Diocletian, at the turn of the fourth century, and built like a Roman military fortress, the palace was at one time the home of thousands of inhabitants and its 200 buildings are surrounded by white stone walls. Today, the palace is a sprawling Romanesque destination spot for tourists, and it also offers bistros, hotels, shops and a cathedral, some of which are underground.

The city, like the rest of Croatia, was variously part of several empires throughout the centuries, including that of Austria-Hungary and Venice. Its importance, because of its coastal location and proximity to both Europe and the East, was as a trading center. Now it is a picturesque stop on the Dalmatian Coast.

With the mountains along the shore getter ever steeper, we cruised on to Dubrovnik on the southern coast of Croatia. The Old Town is surrounded by massive walls, extended until the 17th century, and features fabulous examples of Baroque, Renaissance and Gothic architecture. Paved with limestone and lined with shops and restaurants, the city is built along the shore and up the sides of the mountains, a natural magnet for photographers. There is even a cable car to ascend the undeveloped upper mountainsides. We rode back down in one such car at sunset, marveling at the beauty of the city as the lights came on below us in the houses and shops, and on the many boats in the distant harbor.

Dubrovnik is particularly known for its wealth and its diplomacy. The first was much the result of the second. During the many centuries of warfare and strife among the surrounding empires, the rulers of Dubrovnik, established along the doge and city council pattern of Venice, were able to avoid invasion. They paid tribute to the sultan of the Ottoman Empire and to others throughout the years by using the wealth they accumulated from their favorable trading position along the coast and from the sale of their precious natural resource: salt. 

Further evidence of their diplomatic skill extends even to the American Revolution. They were able to provide ships that carried pelts from Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York to Marseilles, France, because they had gained the status of safe passage from the colonists and were not fired upon during hostilities. 

Slave trading was abolished in Dubrovnik, then part of the Republic of Ragusa, as early as 1418. The city, along with its neighbor to the north, Split, is on the UNESCO World Heritage Site List. And although Dubrovnik was heavily shelled in the early 1990s from Bosnia-Herzegovina, the city has been carefully rebuilt to authentically reflect its medieval and renaissance history and architecture. Visitors can see where the lower old stones of buildings remain and where the newer, careful reconstruction has replaced the demolished tops and roofs. Dubrovnik is the pearl of the Adriatic and the city that attracts the most visitors to Croatia.

Last along the coast is Montenegro, named by the Italian sailors as “black mountain” for the steepness and hence frequent cloud cover that blocked out the sun above the mountainsides. Montenegro is a republic and offers tourists some of the most rugged terrain in Europe. There is much wild greenery and most of the areas have only one lane roads. We visited an olive oil farm while there, enjoying sight of the ancient methods of making olive oil compared now with computerized processes. 

On the way, we stopped to overlook the Bay of Kotor, a strategically important site of great natural beauty. Though not a member of the European Union yet, it is the government’s goal to join by 2025. Nonetheless the country uses euros and looks to develop into an elite tourist destination. At this time, its economy is dependent on direct foreign investment, and the Chinese and Arabs are competing there for developmental control. 

Next: Back to the Italian Coast.

Rovinj

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

All vacations are wonderful in their own way. A chance to get a break from the daily routine, to rest, perhaps to view new scenery, meet new people, learn new things, even just to get a break from the news — these are hoped-for results. We’ve just returned from a trip abroad and, as I have done in past columns, I would like to share some of what we saw and did.

We boarded one of the largest sailing vessels in the world in Venice, Italy, after an eight-hour plane ride from JFK International Airport. I won’t go into raptures about Venice because it would take up the rest of my allotted space and, besides, I’ve done so before. I will just say that there were probably more visitors in Venice than there are on any given day in Walt Disney World. Large ships are not allowed inside the harbor, so our small group was ferried to the Wind Surf by small motorboats lined up waiting for passengers along the Grand Canal. 

Let the adventure begin.

We departed at 6 p.m. and set sail to cross the Adriatic Sea, an extension of the Mediterranean, to land on the Dalmatian Coast the next morning. The first city, in the north of Croatia, was Rovinj, pronounced roveen. Croatia is a country often described as being at the crossroads of Central and Southeast Europe and one that is exquisitely picturesque with seaside cities and steep limestone mountains. As you might guess, for being in the center of human history, the country has had many invasions, rulers and iterations of government. Now a republic, it has been a duchy, a kingdom, in a union with Hungary, part of the Habsburg Monarchy, part of Austria-Hungary, part of Italy, then remade after World War I into Yugoslavia until that country finally fell apart into six independent smaller countries after the 1980 death of the autocrat, Josip Tito. 

The countries surrounding Croatia geographically are Slovenia, Hungary, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro. Croatia joined the European Union in 2013. All of that abbreviated history took place over only the past 14 centuries. The area actually has been inhabited since prehistoric times.

Rovinj is a fishing port on the Istrian peninsula. Surrounded by blue-green, startling clean Adriatic water, its pastel houses crowded down to the seafront, the small city offers a tangle of pale yellow cobblestone streets, lots of inviting bistros and a beautiful Baroque hilltop church, St. Euphemia, whose tower is the highest in Istria at about 61 meters and can be climbed — not by me — for a magnificent view.

The Adriatic is only 120 miles at its widest point, separating what was known as the Balkans from Italy. The coastal towns were often under attack and thus encouraged to build fortified walls along the beachfronts. 

We walked the pebbled beach of Rovinj, bargained in the marketplace for native olive oil and truffles, and bought a couple of scarves made in Italy at cheaper than Italian prices. In fact, Croatia is known as a less expensive tourist destination, where a room in a fine hotel for the night during high season may be had for 50 euros (about $55). So far mainly Germans seem to have discovered this bargain, and they visit Rovinj in large numbers.

The eastern shore of the Adriatic is often referred to as the Dalmatian Coast and the name stems from an Illyrian tribe called the Dalmatae, (from their word “delme,” meaning sheep) who lived there during classic antiquity. Dalmatia is even referenced in the New Testament. And, yes, the hardy Dalmatian dogs come from there, whose unique black and white markings make them easily spotted on fire trucks. Dalmatia is one of the four historical regions of Croatia and for a long time was ruled by the Republic of Venice from 1420 until Napoleon of France appeared on the scene in 1797.

One of the frustrations of traveling along the coast by ship is that time spent in any port city is of necessity limited by the schedule of the cruise. After a delicious fish lunch in a sidewalk café, we returned to the ship, with its white sails billowing dramatically in the breeze, then went on to the larger city of Split. More next time.

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By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

There are people who think sleeping is a waste of time. These people go to sleep each night with great reluctance and insist they only need three or four hours of sleep to function well. Maybe they do. There are
others who walk around chronically sleep deprived, nodding off immediately when the house lights dim at a lecture or performance, because in spite of their best intentions, they just don’t get enough sleep. 

I’m here to declare that sleeping is one of the more creative pursuits, that in addition it is enjoyable, and that the end result the next day is to enable one to leap tall buildings at a single bound.

I enjoy sleeping.

Now presumably everyone knows what sleep is. But studies have shown that sleeping is a different experience from one mortal to the next. For example, I readily acknowledge that I am one of the lucky ones (good genes) who lie down in bed and almost immediately drift off to sleep. Indeed, I run out of gas and have to go to sleep, like a child, willingly or not. I understand that some people have a terrible time falling asleep. My husband was one of these. Watching me sleep, he surely had acute sleep envy.

How does that happen? I can tell you how it is for me — a statistical sample of one. As soon as I lie back and close my eyes, something akin to a story or even a movie begins in my head and leads me into sleep. If I am interrupted before I fall entirely asleep, a different story starts up when I go back to bed, even if it’s just a couple of minutes later, and I’m off. 

I have read all sorts of suggestions for people who struggle to fall asleep, hoping to help my husband. Maybe what I’ve learned can be of help to you if that is also your problem.

I do not have distractions in my bedroom. It’s rather sparsely furnished, mostly with pictures of my family and some knickknacks I have carried home from my wanderings. It is one of the best-ventilated rooms in the house, and I like it quite cool and quiet when I sleep. I have an outrageously comfortable mattress that is turned every three months. I also enjoy colorful sheets and a comforter rather than a blanket. My pillows are neither very fluffy nor flat, and they are down-filled.  

I almost never read in bed, nor watch television. I don’t have a desk there, with lots of correspondence to answer, nor a computer. Sometimes I take a bath before bedtime, sometimes a shower, sometimes neither, and I never drink hot milk. In fact, if I have alcohol, I may fall asleep even more quickly, but I am surely going to wake up around 3 a.m., when the effect has worn off. Best of all, I find, is to drink nothing after dinner so one’s bladder is skinny.

I also sleep pretty soundly, getting up sometimes once in the night. I find it tempting, after I return to bed, to pick up a book or newspaper to see what’s happening in the world — I am a news junkie — but I resist that urge and as a result usually fall back to sleep. If I don’t, I urge myself to get up and wash the kitchen floor, and that will generally do it.

There are, of course, different internal clocks for different people. Some are perfectly happy going to bed at 11 p.m. and waking up at 7 a.m. in time to get ready for work or school. Others start whipping around at 11 p.m. and are most productive when the rest of the world quiets down. My mother and father were badly mismatched in that way. My dad was used to living on a farm, where he went to bed at 8:30 p.m. and got up in time for the 4:30 a.m. milking. My mother did her work between midnight and 4 a.m. Somehow they did get together, but it wasn’t easy.

My advice: Find a job that fits your biological clock and you’ll be a happy person.

You might wonder that I find sleep creative. If I have a problem, whether mathematical or any other kind, I will often go to sleep at night with it on my mind and wake up with the solution at hand. Sleep is such a mysterious process. The brain works during sleep, and the body feels so much the better for the respite in the morning. 

Rerun for emphasis from Oct. 19, 2006.

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By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

A book I recently finished and enjoyed has topped The New York Times Best Sellers Hardcover Nonfiction list, so clearly many others appreciate it as well. It is “Talking to Strangers,” Malcolm Gladwell’s latest offering.

Reading it, in some ways, is like a summary of controversial current events, with a lot of interesting yet extraneous information thrown in because that makes for a good story. And one thing about Gladwell: He is a good storyteller. The author of previous bestsellers including “The Tipping Point,” and “Blink,” Gladwell is said to turn social science into best selling books. One of the critics said that he could probably make a riveting story about a pencil sharpener.

Initially I picked up the book because of its title. I thought it could have been written for me because I habitually and notoriously talk to strangers. I say it that way because I’m not sure the people I am with always appreciate sharing me but I can’t help myself. When I am in a theater and it is intermission, I am interested in how the people around me like the show. When I am at the opera — where a surprising number of different languages are spoken by the audience — I wonder where the people next to me come from and I ask them. Sometimes I even begin chatting with others in an elevator in conversations of obviously limited duration.

Lest you think I am an insensitive pest, I rush to assure you that if those questioned by me would seem unwilling to talk, I would immediately become silent. But I find quite the contrary. Most people seem to enjoy talking to strangers who are sharing the same environment.

‘Talking to Strangers’ by Malcolm Gladwell

So I started reading but was surprised that Gladwell’s theme was quite different from what I was expecting. From his perspective, it is difficult to evaluate a person, especially in a provocative situation, simply by talking with them and reading their body language. Why? Sometimes people lie, and lie convincingly. An example he gives is Bernie Madoff, who with his quiet and thoughtful manner, was able to convince clever and talented financial experts that he was honest. For a time, even members of Renaissance Technologies in Setauket were caught off guard. 

As Gladwell wrote, “Through a complicated set of arrangements Renaissance found itself with a stake in a fund run by [Madoff]” and “The people at Renaissance are brilliant … but couldn’t quite make the leap to believe that it was all a setup” despite personal interviews with Madoff. That is, until they became sufficiently suspicious to take out their money, but then only half that was invested with Madoff, according to Gladwell.

There are other examples in the book having to do with cultural or contextual differences between the viewer and the person being viewed, sometimes with disastrous results. One such situation involved Amanda Knox, an American student incarcerated for four years following the murder of her roommate in Perugia, Italy, largely because Italian prosecutors interpreted her youthful American goofiness as signs of guilt. She was subsequently acquitted of the murder.

Another example put forth by Gladwell is the unwillingness of witnesses to recognize the guilt of Jerry Sandusky, the former Penn State assistant college football coach who abused children. Yet another example, the one that starts and ends the book, is of Sandra Bland, the African-American woman from Chicago who was stopped by a white highway patrolman in a small town in Texas for not signaling when she changed lanes. It should have been a routine event. Instead, because of misreading, it turned into a confrontation resulting in her death three days later by hanging in a local jail that was ruled a suicide. There are also fascinating stories about Cuban spies fooling the CIA, among other tales.

Gladwell’s conclusion is that we should “accept the limits of our ability to decipher strangers.” He goes on to say, “What is required of us is restraint and humility. … There are clues to making sense of a stranger. But attending to them requires care and attention.” And knowing that we can be wrong. Anyone who has hired the wrong applicant for a job can vouch for that.

Photo by Jaap Buitendijk / Focus Features

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

It’s a time of transition. We can feel the weather changing and the seasons moving on. One day the temperature is 75 degrees, the next it might be 85 degrees, then in come the 60 degree days and the 50 degree nights. We live in a place where nature cycles through its daily gyrations to quarterly new worlds.

Those changes, if not on a daily basis, are nonetheless predictable from one year to the next. What aren’t predictable are the political gyrations we are witnessing from day to day. This makes for an uncertain outlook for the future, whether for our government, our economy or our society, and a certain ongoing anxiety for our citizenry.

Just look at the front page of any daily newspaper or listen to the top of the news on radio or television or read the blasts of news on your cellphone, and it’s enough to make for discomfort. There is undoubtedly a story about the latest bits of information seeping out from Republican President Donald Trump’s phone call to the Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky in which he asked about former vice president Joe Biden, a Democratic presidential candidate, and his son Hunter’s business dealings there. The story then quickly jumps to impeachment inquiries and who may question whom on the matter, along with polls purportedly measuring support for such action. The words “treason” and “civil war” have crept into the media reports.

There has also got to be something about North Korea’s missiles being recently launched toward Japan even though — or perhaps just because — talks between the United States officials and the North Koreans seem to be back on again. One of the latest projectiles actually landed in Japan’s exclusive economic zone, making the Japanese exceedingly nervous.

A story about the negative effects of the tariffs on the global economy is a given. Global growth is predicted to slow to half of what was expected six months ago, and the evidence of the slowdown can be seen in less production on the factory floors. This translates into fewer jobs, less pay and a reduced standard of living. That means less consumer expenditures, which causes the economy to slow further. We also know the consequences of a faltering economy can be significant social unrest.

The global picture is further complicated by Brexit, that almost comic yet deadly serious tug-of-war playing out in British politics, which threatens future commerce and trade across the English Channel and indeed the world. With uncertainty, money is flowing into the American dollar, seen as a safe haven. This in turn makes the dollar stronger, which makes exports more expensive, further depressing trade.

So is there still room on the front page and in our minds for news of Iran, Peru, Hong Kong and India with its onion crisis?

There is also immigration, possible bias in Harvard admissions, racist threats, more #MeToo, gun control and climate change to vie for space in the news roundup. And more on taxing the wealthy, the opioid crisis, breaking up big tech and, of course, the run-up to the 2020 election are regular offerings in the news.

No wonder “Downton Abbey” is proving to be so popular at the movies. What delightful escapism to a world of orderly households, elaborate dinners and table settings, gorgeous clothing, comforting etiquette, bucolic scenery and crises over whether or not to add a refrigerator in the kitchen. The biggest challenge in that world is preparing properly for a visit from the king and queen of England.

So here is the antidote to the frenzy of the news. Either take some time away, as I did this past weekend when I left town to visit family and friends. I completely shut down newscasts, even those on my cellphone. Or go to the movies and enter the polite world of 1927 and the Crawley family. Or read the local news in the hometown papers and on the web and social media. There you know that if it’s from TBR News Media it’s both trustworthy and sane.

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By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Ageism is a bias just as much as racism and religious intolerance. And just like other bigotries beget those who are fighting to correct such attitudes, there is an effort underway to counteract ageism. One arena being targeted in that regard is the advertising world, as at the Advertising Week conference which is being held in New York this week.

Now, remember, older people hold the bulk of the wealth in this and every other country and make up a growing segment of the global population. According to The New York Times, in an article by Tiffany Hsu Sept. 23, more than a third of the American population is over 50, yet that segment is portrayed “in only 15 percent of media images, according to research from AARP, the powerful advocacy organization” for older Americans.

We all know that marketing and advertising are powerful influencers in our lives. Martha Boudreau, AARP chief communications and marketing officer, is quoted as saying that “many advertising agencies had never dealt with marketing campaigns targeting older consumers. Recent ads have described being 50 years old as being ‘basically dead’ and characterized older people as selfish and out of touch.”

In fact, it is the older generation that is helping their younger family members to attend college and get a start in their careers to an unprecedented degree because the older generation is richer today than at any other time in history.

So why would that attitude persist? Here’s a likely explanation. There is rampant ageism in the offices of advertising agencies. Again, according to The Times, at advertising, public relations and related companies in the United States, “more than 81 percent of employees are younger than 55. And just for an interesting comparison, in Britain, the average age of advertising employees is “not quite 34.” In trade publications for the advertising agencies, employees have described the industry as a “Peter Pan,” Few last long enough for a retirement party and there have been lawsuits charging age discrimination.

Yes, someday those same employees will be 50 years and older, and their perspectives will change, but we are dealing with the here and now.

Here are some more details from a report involving 1,116 images reviewed by AARP. More than 53 million people older than 50 are employed in the United States, but only 13 percent of the images showed older people working. Those photographed were pictured mainly at home, with a partner or a medical professional.

The numbers get worse. Not even 5 percent of the images showed older folks handling technology, although the Pew Research Center found that 69 percent of people in the age group of 55-73, according to The Times, owned a smartphone. But more than a third of the images showed younger people with technology.

AARP’s Boudreau commented for The Times, “Marketers reflect the culture and the conversation in our country. Stereotypes about the 55-plus demographic were really limiting people’s sense of what they could do with this half of their lives.” The group collected 1,400 images for conference attendees showing older people running businesses, playing basketball and hanging out with younger generations.

“McCann, which runs a network of advertising agencies, suggested in a report last year that marketing campaigns consider perspectives of aging as ‘a journey of limitless opportunities and personal growth’ rather than ‘as a time of anxiety and uncertainty,’ according to The Times.

There has been some progress in changing perceptions. A decade ago the best-selling image from Getty, the stock media supplier of images, was of an older couple in sweaters embracing on a beach. In June with an increase of 151 percent in customer searches of “seniors” from a year earlier, the most popular image in the category shows a group of women in T-shirts practicing yoga.

For our part, here at TBR News Media, we welcome older applicants for positions just as we do those of any age. All we are interested in is the best possible talent and judgment to serve our mission each week.

Hernan Cortes

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Anniversaries sometimes bring out interesting tidbits of history. One such anniversary involves events that happened 500 years ago. In September 1519, Hernán Cortés met the ruler Montezuma II in what was the Aztec capital city of Tenochtitlán that is now Mexico City. Records tell us that Cortés was greeted cordially, in part because his arrival happened to coincide with Aztec expectations of a god returning right at that time. To the Aztecs, the Spanish — 500 strong, with their pale skins, guns, canons and horses — must indeed have seemed godlike. The indigenous people had never before seen horses, nor had they any familiarity with gunpowder. Montezuma sent out envoys to meet the newcomers and welcome them to the city.

The Spanish conquistadors, for their part, had different intentions, as we know from elementary school history. For them it was the Age of Exploration. Christopher Columbus had shown the way in 1492, and young Cortés, bored studying law in Salamanca, western Spain, was eager to follow in those footsteps.

So who was Hernán Cortés?

He was born into a noble but not wealthy family in 1485 and was smart and ambitious. The original intention of the explorers was to find a passage to the Far East, from which they could bring back nutmeg, cloves, pepper and cinnamon, the spices so desired by Europeans. But Cortés wanted to explore the New World to seize more land for Spain and ultimately convert the natives in the Americas to Catholicism even as he plundered their gold, gems and made himself rich. The landscape in the 16th century was dramatically changing, with Afro-Eurasian trade connecting a global economy. Opportunity existed for acquiring great wealth.

In 1504, Cortés set sail for Hispaniola — now Haiti and the Dominican Republic — where he became a notary and farmer. In 1511, he joined Diego Velásquez on an expedition to conquer Cuba, where he eventually became the equivalent of mayor of Santiago. Then he persuaded Velásquez to enable a voyage to Mexico, and despite an order at the last minute canceling the trip, he set sail with 11 ships, 500 men and 16 horses, and landed in the Yucatán Peninsula, on the east coast of Mexico, in 1519.

He was, by all accounts, astounded by the gruesome rituals and human sacrifices he saw there, and he replaced pagan idols with crosses and figures of the Virgin Mary. Like so many of the other conquistadors, he regarded the natives as inferior culturally, technologically and religiously. When he encountered resistance in a place called Tabasco, he overpowered the opposition and was given, among other prizes, 20 women slaves.

One was La Malinche, who became an important figure in his life and in his eventual success in conquering Montezuma, for she was able to learn languages and translated Mayan and Aztec for him after she learned Spanish. She also bore him a son, one of the first children of mixed heritage. However, when eventually his wife joined him in Mexico from Spain, Cortés appears not to have acknowledged either his mistress or son.

The rest, as we know, is history. Cortés went on to conquer the Aztecs, with the help both of some of the dissident tribes the Aztecs ruled and smallpox, against which the natives had no immunity. An estimated  3 million indigenous people fell victim to the disease. Cortés sacked the sophisticated capital city and began rebuilding Mexico City on its ruins. Although he was eventually appointed governor of New Spain, he was removed from power by Spanish King Charles I in 1526. Cortés went on to discover Baja, California, in the 1530s. His first wife had died in 1522 and he remarried, fathering several children along the way. Ultimately he returned to Spain, where he died in 1547 in his early 60s, frustrated and embittered that he had not received the recognition and rewards he felt he was owed.

Another anniversary this week, the 80th, is of when Germany marched into Poland and launched the Second World War. But that is another tale.