Between you and me

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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.

Dr. Laura Lindenfeld will be the guest speaker at the 2nd annual Cooks, Books & Corks

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

You are invited on a date. The night is Tuesday, Sept. 24, the time is 6 to 8 p.m., and the place is the Bates House opposite the Emma Clark Library on Main Street in Setauket. On behalf of Times Beacon Record News Media — that’s us! — I am inviting you and your loved ones and friends to a fun community event. This one, the 2nd annual Cooks, Books & Corks, will feed both your body and mind.

Here’s the deal.

Some 18 fine restaurants and caterers are coming together to offer you delicious specialties from their menus, washing it all down with a selection of wines, and a dozen-and-a-half local authors are bringing their latest books for you to peruse and perhaps buy that evening. It’s Dutch treat at $50 a ticket, and the proceeds will go to a summer fellowship for a journalism student. In this way, you can help a young person take a paid step toward his or her ultimate career even as you help yourself to a scrumptious dinner and a literary treat that encourages local authors. And you will be helping us, the hometown news source, staff up a bit at a time when our regular team members tend to take vacations.

Here are some of the details.

The food will be supplied by these generous eateries: The Fifth Season, Old Fields, Pentimento, Elegant Eating, Sweet Mama’s, Zorba the Greek, Fratelli’s Bagel Express, Prohibition Port Jefferson, Toast Coffeehouse, Villa Sorrento, Lauren’s Culinary Creations, Sunrise of East Setauket Senior Living, Southward Ho Country Club, Sunflower Catering & Event Planning. Fishers Island Lemonade and Luneau USA will supply drinks. Desserts will be sweetly taken care of by, among others, Kilwins and Leanne’s Specialty Cakes. I’m salivating just typing the list. Start fasting. Come hungry.

Local authors include Jeannie Moon, Marcia Grace, Jeannine Henvey, Susan Van Scoy, Angela Reich, Ty Gamble, Dina Santorelli, Elizabeth Correll, Suzanne Johnson, Joanne S. Grasso, Rabbi Stephen Karol, Kerriann Flanagan Brosky, Michael Mihaley, Carl Safina, Mark Torres, Michael Hoffner and Linda Springer. People will be able to meet and greet with the authors and request book signings. Why would anyone want to write a book? How does one go about the process? Getting it published? Having it distributed? Would they recommend doing so to would-be authors? This is an awesome assortment of local talent to have in one room at one time.

A few remarks will be shared by Laura Lindenfeld, the interim dean of SBU School of Journalism and executive director of the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science. Gentle background music will be handled by the talented Three Village Chamber Players. And there will be the usual basket raffles.

A special and huge thank you to Laura Mastriano of L.A. Productions Events.

Now we need you!

To purchase tickets, please visit our website tbrnewsmedia.com or our TBR News Media Facebook page to pay with PayPal.

We also need sponsors who would like to support and be associated with this “high tone” event — as one of the vendors put it last year — to please contact us. Sponsorships may be had starting at $125 and will feature your name and logo in our newspapers, social media and our website, including a major “thank you” ad after the event. First one just in is Andy Polan, talented optician and owner at Stony Brook Vision World. And a big thank you to Camelot Party Rentals for their in kind donation. We would welcome your call at the newspaper office at 631-751-7744 or email events@tbrnewsmedia.com.

So come share in a delightful and satisfying event with lots of good food, good drink and good conversation. We hope you will follow up with visits to the participating eateries and caterers who have given of their time and specialties, and that you will enjoy reading your new books. We think when you leave the beautiful Bates House, you will be proud that you live in the area. And it certainly beats cooking dinner on a Tuesday night.

A scene from 'The Farewell'

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Three-day weekends are wonderful. When you go to sleep Sunday night, you know you have an extra day of weekend on Monday, and you feel so rich. What did you do on Labor Day? I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.

First I met some old friends at the bagel store and we had breakfast and caught up on summer activities and the latest news. Then I did some work, so I should feel a little bit virtuous. And as a climax to the free time, I went to see a movie with a good friend. Just imagine! Going to the movies on a rainy Monday afternoon. What a treat.

We saw “The Farewell,” and we both loved it. I checked it out first, and it is probably the only movie I have ever seen with a 99 percent rating from Rotten Tomatoes. In spite of having such high expectations, we were not disappointed.

The movie is an independent Chinese film, largely autobiographical from Lulu Wang, with subtitles and speaks to several themes all centered around one peg. I won’t be revealing anything that would spoil the experience for you by saying that the plot revolves around a lie. In fact, at the beginning of the film, we are told that what we are about to see is based on “an actual lie.” The deception is as follows. Grandma Nai Nai is terminally ill, and everyone wants to see her one final time. But the problem is that she has not been told that she has malignant spots on her lungs. Her X-rays reportedly show “benign shadows,” or so she is made to believe. The immediate family do not want her to know the truth about her condition.

Her granddaughter Billi, who grew up in New York City and is thoroughly Americanized, doesn’t agree with that decision. The rest of the family tries to leave Billi behind as they go back to mainland China to visit the grandmother, but she follows anyway and asks the expected questions: “What about her individual rights? Isn’t it illegal to withhold such information? What if she has some last details she would want to take care of if she knew she were dying?”

But no. The rest of the family agrees to enter into a charade in which they act as if the reason they are all coming back to China is to celebrate the marriage of the grandson, who has in fact been seriously dating a Japanese girl for only three months.

The grandmother, of course, is overjoyed at the prospect of seeing her scattered family return home and of hosting a wedding celebration, although she is not so sure about this Japanese addition to the family. And despite their sad faces and behind-her-back anguish, grandma is persuaded that the return is as presented. She goes about arranging for a bountiful reception for family and many friends.

The Chinese explanation for the deception serves as stark contrast in the film between the cultures: Chinese people aren’t regarded as individuals to the extent that they are so clearly in America, but rather as a member of a family structure and a social community. One’s life is part of a whole, and no one wants to tell grandma that she will soon be leaving this world and bring her sadness in her last days. In China, a diagnosis of cancer means certain death, we are told.

Yet despite the depression felt by the family, their love for their matriarch shines through, and there are the universal family interactions of anger, laughter, grief, memories and regrets. The film is both deeply personal and can be universally appreciated for its sweetness and familiarity.

China has modernized physically. Billi finds that her old neighborhood has been replaced by a forest of high rise apartment buildings, none quite completed yet, and modern highways link the city. That is a measure of how long she has been separated from her roots. But can there be a “good” lie? Billi will effortlessly lie on her phone to her grandma about whether she is wearing a hat to ward off the cold in Brooklyn, but she is deeply troubled trying to bridge the cultural big lie that is at the heart of this film.

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

This week there was a mini-reunion at my house of college classmates who happened to be in the area. One actually came in from Arizona, but she was making her annual New York visit anyway and included a trip to my house from the city. It was great fun to see the nine women who arrived for lunch and chatter. As classmates we do share a lifetime bond and, as contemporaries, we share a lot of history and culture. We don’t have to stop mid-sentence and explain our obscure references to younger listeners because everyone gets the point.

Each of us is curious to see how the others have aged. We mentally compare wrinkles, double chins, weight gains. We talk about our children, our grandchildren, our husbands and, in a couple of cases, ex-husbands. We tell each other about good plays we have seen, worthwhile books we have read, interesting trips we have taken. But these are superficialities. What we really want from each other is to share wisdom. After all, we have been around the block a few times by now and hopefully have learned a few things in the process.

So we ask the question of the group: At this stage of life, what is a most important insight you have had?

One answers, “To be appreciative.” I can certainly relate to that. To wake up in the morning and know you have the gift of a new day, and if you are lucky, to do with that time as you wish. Some who came still work, others are retired. Most people who come to reunions, I think, are basically happy with their lives. So since the miserable ones don’t come, those who do make it find common currency in appreciation. “I have had a good life so far, I’ve been very lucky,” is a frequent refrain.

“To be in the moment,” posits another. Yes, it’s a cliché, but one with significance. To be fully aware at any given point of where we are and what is happening around us is to enjoy a full existence. Feeling the sand give way underfoot during a walk on the beach, hearing the calls of seagulls over the water as they search for dinner, feeling the soft wind coming up from the southwest as it blows against one’s cheek, smelling the salt in the air as the waves break against the shore — all of those experiences enhance the present moment.

“Let it go,” offers another. Now we are getting into deeper discussion. We carry guilt to some degree, all humans do. We also carry anger, or fear, perhaps. We may struggle with resentment, envy, an affront, disappointment, hurt, traumatic memories and any number of other negative emotions. Have we learned after all this time to let them go? Or at least have we learned how to work through them so they lessen in our hearts and minds?

“I have learned how much it pleases me to make connections,” was another response. “If I am somewhere and meet a stranger who is striving for a goal, and I know something or someone else who could perhaps help that person to realize his or her ambition, I enjoy connecting them.”

That comment made me think of one of my favorite analogies, that of comparing life to a game of billiards. We glance off each other as we move along, perhaps exchanging a few words in just a few moments that have meaning.

I remember one day waiting for the light at Ninth Avenue in Manhattan on my way to the Lincoln Tunnel and New Jersey. How many times I had made that trip, and always the same way. But this one time I noticed that the pick-up truck waiting next to me was turning in the opposite direction despite having New Jersey plates. So I rolled down my window and called out to the driver, asking where to turn. He yelled back his answer, the light changed and we both drove away. But his way shortened my trip by several minutes. In that brief exchange, he changed my life positively. How meaningful even the briefest connection can be.

As you might tell, we had a good time at our mini-reunion.

Leah Dunaief

By Leah S. Dunaief

If you want to see what your kids really think of you and have some fun in the process, ask them to come up with a profile for you if you are single to use on an internet dating app. My children and a couple of grandchildren were here for a visit this past weekend, and that was one bit of interaction we enjoyed. I have never filled out such a profile before, and I turned to them — the generation that started using apps to find partners — for help. Here are some words they threw out.

Beautiful: Well listen, if your sons don’t think you are good looking, what was the point of all that maternal sacrifice? This one is just a given.

Energetic: Of course. You have to have some measurable degree of energy in order to put yourself out there. It’s certainly easier to lay back and watch endless television or read a novel every night. And I am leaving off the comments they threw out about double chins and still having my original teeth.

Good conversation: Yes, OK, but it takes two to tango. Willing to offer opinions on just about everything. And listening is at least as important.

Loves to travel: That probably narrows the field to about 90 percent of the female population.

Enjoys theater: Ditto.

Sense of humor: If you have to brag, not much hope. I would hate to be asked to say something funny. Probably more of a way of looking at life.

Likes sailing: Although I no longer ski or play tennis, because of knees that are given to protest. That’s probably in a league with long walks on the beach. Not much personalization there. Come now, let’s find something unique.

Opera subscription: Only unique for the younger generation of Dunaiefs because they can’t imagine thousands of people gathering to hear some fat women screech. Little do they know that the women are no longer fat, and the human voice can be one of the most exquisite instruments delivering some of the most beautiful melodies ever written. Plus operas often have profound themes dealing with universal questions. What we have here is theater, concert and choir all in one offering. They are young yet, they may come upon the bargain that is opera one fine day.

Well read: That’s correct if measured by the amount of newspaper articles I feel it necessary to ingest every day. Books mostly have to wait for vacations.

Loves learning: Now we are getting somewhere. They say that journalists know things a mile wide but only an inch deep. That is true. From one day to the next, we have to leap from subject to subject, spending only enough time on each one to be able to write about its newsworthiness correctly before moving on to the next. And that suits me fine. Where I become more interested, I can always go back and dig deeper. Meanwhile there are endless facts to absorb as I move along.

Still working: Yes, that’s how one continues to learn.

Independent: You bet. That is definitely a truth about yours truly, and those children of mine are probably glad that I am. Being independent, not having to live up to anyone else’s expectations, including one’s own from long ago, is hard won and to be cherished. Not having to lean on anyone for support, unless by choice, is the ultimate liberation.

Loves raspberries and blueberries: Now we are getting to the heart of the matter. Yummy!

Adores flowers and nature in all its magnificence: Yes, yes, yes.

Good friends: You have to be one to have one. I certainly try.

Love my family: And I am close to them. A most important part of my life.

Optimistic and positive to a fault: I have always told my children that all things are possible. They just have to work hard to succeed. They are the CEOs of their lives.

Romance: Ah, yes. What is life without an adoring someone? Worth searching for, I think.

Award winning author and conservationist Carl Safina was the guest speaker at last year's event. Photo by Rita J. Egan
Leah Dunaief

By Leah S. Dunaief

The world has changed for all of us since we entered the 21st century. While our computers didn’t blow up as the millennium turned, the horrific attacks on 9/11 forever, it seems, altered our sense of safety in our country and elsewhere on the globe. The arrival of the internet on desktop computers, the proliferation of cellphones, the rise of social media — they have upended the architecture of our lives.

Change has been no less dramatic in our work lives. For those of us in the news business, the basic business model is disappearing. Once upon a time the publisher brought together talented reporters and editors with an articulate sales staff, and together editorial and advertising were presented to the reader in an attractive format that informed and enriched the community. In the process, the news organization was also enriched, and there were newspapers everywhere. The biggest challenge was beating competitors to the “scoop” and gaining the greater market share of advertisers.

Today that simple business plan seems like a fairy tale. According to data in a special section of The New York Times on Sunday, “Over the last 15 years, about 2100 local newspapers — or roughly a quarter of all local newsrooms — have either merged with a competitor or ceased printing …About 6800 local newspapers continue to operate across the country, but many are shells of their former selves, with pared down staffs and coverage areas. About half of the remaining local papers are in small and rural communities, and the vast majority distribute fewer than 15,000 copies of each edition.” 

I could go on with the statistics, but here’s the point: If we don’t embrace change, we get left behind.

Chef Guy Reuge speaks about his latest book, ‘A Chef’s Odyssey,’ at last year’s Cooks, Books & Corks. Photo by Rita J. Egan

So it is that we at Times Beacon Record Newspapers have become TBR News Media, with the addition of a website, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube platforms to accommodate the various demands for news and advertising. After all, we work for our customers and we must offer them what they want and need. By the same token, while maintaining those platforms has increased our costs, the revenue they generate is minimal. Further worsening the newspaper situation is the demise of the traditional mom-and-pop retail stores, the previous backbone of so many communities and community newspapers.

So we have changed, as the surviving retailers have changed. We, and they, are now building events into our offerings, much as we used to publish supplements to target specific subjects and advertising niches for our papers. Retailing now includes some aspect of entertainment with their event planning, and publishing companies, whether in print or digital, must also provide entertaining events.

Fortunately for us at TBR, we can make this fit with our mission statement to give back to the community, and indeed to endeavor to strengthen the sense of community where we publish. Since our first year in existence, over 43 years ago, we have held the Man and Woman of the Year event at the Three Village Inn, with the financial help of Stony Brook University and the Lessings, at which we have saluted those who go the extra mile offering their products, services or time to their neighbors in their hometowns.

For the last two years, we have produced and directed films with authentic Revolutionary War narrative at Stony Brook’s Staller Center to share pride in our Long Island history, explaining who we were at the dawn of our country and how we got here.

Coming next on the events list is Cooks, Books and Corks, a community-enriching program that features scrumptious food from some of our local restaurants at stations around the perimeter of a room at the Bates House filled with local authors and their books. We started this last year, and it was such a success that both restaurateurs and authors offered themselves on the spot for the next such gathering. They said they liked “the high tone.”

Therefore, the Second Annual Cooks, Books and Corks will take place in the same bucolic location, in Setauket, on Tuesday evening, Sept. 24, from 6 to 8 p.m. The charge is $50 per person, and the money raised will go toward subsidizing the pay of a journalism intern next summer.

Please mark your calendars and join neighbors and friends at this event to share food for both body and mind. 

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By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Amid the talk of a quarter-point rate cut by the Federal Reserve is the worry that the economy, doing well the past few years, may be heading into recession. Typically, the Fed cuts the rate, making money easier to come by, when recession looms. This makes it easier for business people to take loans to expand their businesses and encourages would-be homeowners to take out mortgages.

But we are not living through a typical scenario. Rates are already low. Business is already humming along, the GDP or gross domestic product is expanding although more slowly than last year, and doesn’t appear to need a stimulus. Unemployment is remarkably low, which usually triggers higher wages, which in turn can trigger inflation, which then prompts a rate hike, not a cut. But that also isn’t the case. 

So what does the Fed know that we don’t?

Perhaps it’s just time for a recession to begin. After all, it’s been 10 years since the end of the Great Recession, which makes this the longest expansion in America’s history. Recessions do come. If we knew when, we could sell our stocks at their high and wait to buy our real estate at their low. The thing is, no one knows how to time the economy.

But this past Monday, in The New York Times Business section, there were four indicators listed that could sound the alarm. And lest you think not a lot of people care, just know that this was the best read article in the newspaper that day. So if you missed the indicators, I will share them with you now.

First tip-off could be from the unemployment rate. Even a tiny increase can be a telltale. When this rate rises quickly a recession is near or has already begun. But even a 0.3 percent increase in the rate over the low of the past 12 months is significant, and a 0.5 percent jump probably means we are already in recession. Now, however, the rate is not only low, it is trending downward. Historically that means a less than a one-in-10 chance of recession within a year.

The second indicator is the yield curve, about which I have written earlier in the year. When the interest rate on a 10-year Treasury bond is lower than the rate on a three-month bond, the yield is considered inverted. Just think about it. Wouldn’t the risk of tying up your money for a longer period be greater than for a short term? And if the risk for a longer period is greater, shouldn’t you be compensated with a higher interest rate? But no. That’s not the case. Longer term Treasuries have been offering the lower rates. In the past, however, “it has taken as long as two years for a recession to follow a yield-curve inversion,” according to The Times.

The third marker is the Institute for Supply Management Manufacturing Index, which is a survey of purchasing managers about their orders, inventories, hiring and other operating activities. When that index reads above 50, the manufacturing sector of the economy is growing; below it is contracting. This is a report that comes out the first of every month and is a leading indicator. But remember, manufacturing no longer drives the American economy. And with the global economic slowdown we are seeing and the trade tariff battles, the index may start to descend.

Last but certainly not least is consumer sentiment, which makes up some two-thirds of the economy. If we are not spending, the economy is not growing. A decline of 15 percent or more in the consumer confidence index would be worrisome. In that regard, so far so good. The index is pretty much the same as a year ago, although it has fallen since late last year.

So where are we? Your guess is as good as mine. Good luck to us.