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The New York Times

Nancy Pelosi

By Leah Dunaief

This new year may come to be known as the Year of the Older Woman. That was my thought as I read The New York Times article by Jessica Bennett, “I am (an older) woman. Hear me roar.” The story goes on to cite Nancy Pelosi, Glenn Close and Susan Zirinsky, the newly named head of CBS News, among others, as examples of powerful women over 60 in the spotlight.

IT’S ABOUT TIME.

Pelosi survived a serious challenge to her leadership from the energetic freshmen Democratic members, to once again become speaker of the House of Representatives. That makes her the most powerful elected woman in the United States. Pelosi is 78. Long-serving Representative Maxine Waters (D-California), is the first woman, and incidentally the first African-American, to chair the Financial Services Committee. Waters is 80. Donna Shalala (D-Florida) is the oldest freshman in the House. Shalala is almost 78. 

Zirinsky, who worked at CBS in almost every conceivable news position for 40 years, is not being shunted into retirement. Instead she is now the first woman to head the prestigious news division. She is also the oldest person to hold that position. Zirinsky is 66. Glenn Close, regarded as an underdog in the best actress in a motion picture, drama category of the Golden Globes, beat out four younger women. Close, long a favorite actress of mine, is 71.

How much of this has been as a result of the #MeToo tsunami? Older men have long held power into their 70s and 80s. But some of them have been spectacularly toppled: Charlie Rose is 77 and Les Moonves, newly ousted from CBS Corporation, is 69. So age, of in itself, has not been seen as a barrier to power, but gender has. Those fallen men have vacated positions at the top that now can be filled by equally qualified women. Christiane Amanpour, who will be 61 this week, has replaced Rose on PBS. 

Gender coupled with age was always toxic for female advancement, but not in every culture. Native Americans, I believe I recall, would admit only post-menopausal women to the highest circles of power within their tribes. Slowly the rest of our country seems to be realizing the value of older, and presumably wiser, women for positions of leadership. This is most encouraging for the women over 50, of whom there are more than at any time in our U.S. history. And why shouldn’t they have the same opportunities at leadership and power as men? They are healthier, working longer and earning more than ever.

Well, in fact, it seems like they are advancing. In the words of Susan Douglas, a professor of communications at the University of Michigan, according to The Times, “a demographic revolution” is occurring. 

More women are working into their 60s and beyond, and are being appreciated for their talents and experience. In the late 1980s, some 15 percent were still working. Today it is nearly one-third of those 65-69. Those 70-74 and working have jumped from 8 percent to 18 percent. The Times article goes on to point out that working longer is more common among women with higher education and savings. Presumably some are in the workforce by choice and are valued there.

This all reminds me of an exchange that occurred shortly after we started The Village Times, our first newspaper, in 1976. I was 35-years-old, with more gray hairs than now, and hiring staff, when a man came to interview for one of the positions. 

After a positive conversation in my office, I was about to hire him when he paused, then asked, “Are you the boss?” When I told him that I supposed I was, he looked confused, then explained, “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize. I couldn’t work for a woman boss.” With that he stood, picked up his coat and hurried away. I didn’t even know enough then to be flabbergasted.

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Call me ghoulish, but I like to read obituaries. Of course they have to be well-written obits, like the ones in The New York Times. I almost never know the people who have died. If I’ve heard of them, their stories are usually on the front page. These obits that I refer to are usually found in the back pages. The dead are famous enough to warrant a significant write-up, and I always like to hear tales of people’s lives. That’s one reason I find them interesting. Another, perhaps more important attraction for me, is the random information to be gleaned on diverse subjects.

Let me give you some recent examples.

On an entirely random day, Thursday, Oct. 25, I read about Wanda Ferragamo, clever wife of the famous shoemaker, Salvatore Ferragamo, who had built a shoe shop in Florence, Italy, into a shoe design and manufacturing concern. Upon his death in 1960 — he was 24 years older than his wife — Wanda, who had never worked in her life until then, built the company into an international powerhouse with annual revenues most recently of more than $1 billion. Now I happen to like Ferragamo shoes, although I mostly don’t buy them. But the obit was something of a business case study for me, as well as the story of a remarkable woman who had just died at her hilltop villa in Fiesole, a beautiful village above Florence, at age 96.

Then there was Osamu Shimomura, who died in Nagasaki, Japan, at age 90. He shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2008 for finding a glowing jellyfish protein that is now a major element of biological research. Shimomura, working in Washington state for a Princeton marine biologist in 1961, scooped up thousands of jellyfish from Puget Sound in an attempt to discover how they glowed green when agitated. They were able to extract a luminescent material, a protein, which they named aequorin. He also found trace amounts of another protein, green fluorescent protein or GFP that would glow green whenever ultraviolet light was shined on it. Ultimately the GFP gene was stitched into the DNA of other organisms, enabling researchers to track those organisms the way naturalists can track tagged cougars in the wild. This revolutionized contemporary biological discovery. Of great further interest, he lived with grandparents near Nagasaki and saw the American B-29 airplane that dropped its devastating atomic bomb on the city. He described what he saw in graphic detail in his Nobel autobiography.

Dorcas Reilly, who died in Camden, New Jersey, at age 92, might particularly be remembered at the Thanksgiving table. It was she who invented the classic American dish of green bean casserole when she worked in the Campbell Soup Company test kitchen. Containing a mere six ingredients, the recipe was printed on the label of Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup and called for cooked green beans, a little milk, soy sauce, pepper and some crunchy fried onions on top. Reilly helped create simple recipes to promote the sale of company products. Originally called the Green Bean Bake in 1955, Campbell’s estimates some 20 million American homes will serve the dish in two weeks time.

The Indian musician and teacher, Annapurna Devi, 91, died in Mumbai, formerly Bombay. Called by The Times “a poignant inspiration for women artists,” Devi masterfully played the surbahar, described as a bass sitar. This is “a difficult instrument that few if any women of her era played.” She and her first husband, the famous sitarist Ravi Shankar, sometimes played together, but when she seemed to get most of the notice she stopped performing. A 1973 movie, “Abhimaan,” is said to have been inspired by their marriage and the tensions within it. She then limited herself to teaching and “turned out musicians of the highest caliber.”

There was also Tony Hoagland, who died at his home in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He was 64 and “a widely admired poet who could be both humorous and heartfelt.” He found insights and imagery in the everyday, like a pool in an Austin, Texas, park; a spaghetti strap on a woman’s dress that wouldn’t stay put; and, according to The Times, an old man dying awash in paranoia from too much Fox News.

Never heard of any of them? Now you have and learned something too, I’ll bet. I did.

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What would happen if it rained on our intransigent politicians in Washington?

Well, for starters, the Democrats would all vote “no.” They’re voting “no” on everything anyway, so the rain probably wouldn’t affect them.

While some Republicans like Sen. John McCain would immediately acknowledge the rain, others would call it a nonstory. When the GOP couldn’t discount the reality that people were getting wet, they would decide it was President Obama’s fault because he didn’t stop the rains when he had a chance. The Republicans would find some regulation, which they suggested Obama enacted, that allowed or encouraged the rain, and would immediately set about doing the important work of undoing that regulation.

Sure, Obama knew about rain in Washington when he was president, but he didn’t enact a single policy or procedure that could have prevented the wet stuff from ruining barbecues and costing people money. He ignored an important proposal many years ago to put a retractable dome over Washington that would have created jobs and saved people from getting wet.

The New York Times would blame President Trump, his administration, his family and the Russians, especially President Putin, because all are at fault for everything. They probably planned during their meetings last year to distract everyone from their collusion to cause it to rain just when everyone was getting ready for a picnic. The Times would find some damning email in which someone joked about the rain, or in which the word “rain” might have been a code word, and would remind everyone that rain is synonymous with “pain,” which the paper is feeling from this new administration.

Competing polls would begin as soon as the first drops fell. One poll, which the current administration and Republicans would ignore and discredit, would suggest that even Trump voters are frustrated by the rain and feel that Trump promised them it would never rain again, except at night when they were sleeping. They would be upset that the billionaire Man of the People didn’t protect them when they wanted to attend their daughter’s softball game or when they wanted to go on a company picnic to a site that had previously been off-limits during the Obama administration because it was a protected area where young birds and fish were breeding.

At the same time, another poll that the Democrats would ignore would indicate that Trump voters were thrilled that they didn’t have to spend money watering lawns that, thanks to the new and limited Environmental Protection Agency, they could spray with a wide range of cheaper, job-creating pesticides that may or may not harm some people and a few turtles. This poll would suggest that these voters would be thrilled if the rain continued strategically through 2020, when they would be even happier to vote again for Trump.

Trump might tweet about how sad the rain was for Democrats and might suggest that it would be raining even harder if Hillary Clinton was president. Trump might engage in a twitter war with Chelsea Clinton or Rosie O’Donnell.

CNN would cover the twitter war extensively and would then claim that the entire discussion was a distraction from the real issues, which they would cover in a small box in the corner of their webpage.

Stocks would continue to rise as investors bet that people would need to spend more money on umbrellas in the short term, and on new food for other picnics some time in the near future when the rain stopped.

When the skies cleared, everyone would take credit before heading to the beach, unless they lived in New Jersey and were thwarted by an
unpopular governor.

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was making a supermarket list the other day. It had the usual items: eggs, milk, cereal and yogurt. Then it occurred to me that we could use a box of low-fat, high-fiber humor.

Yes, I know Nestlé, Keebler and Procter & Gamble don’t make boxes of such guffaw and giggle-inducing goods. Sure, they have cute animals who endorse their products, offering us a pleasant image while we shovel the latest sugar-filled calorie bomb into our mouths, feeding addictions that satisfy our taste buds even if they push out our stomachs.

But what we need these days, particularly as we confront our differences regularly, is a shared laugh.

Americans may be innovators, we may have significant military might and we may be a beacon of democracy, most of the time, but we also have a long and comforting history of humor.

Back when my father was terminally ill many years ago, I recall sitting with him in a living room with dark wallpaper, watching “The Court Jester” with Danny Kaye. As Kaye was struggling to remember where the pellet with the poison was, my father broke into a smile, laughing through a scene he’d watched dozens of times.

Laughter, as the saying goes, is the best medicine. After all, actor Tom Hanks was in the TV show “Bosom Buddies” and the game show “Make Me Laugh.” He took serious roles later and has become the go-to guy for dramas like “Bridge of Spies,” but he attracted attention in his early years by dressing as a woman to live in a cheaper apartment building. He was even the star of the forgettable comedy “Bachelor Party.”

Sure, these days “Saturday Night Live” is making some people laugh. Even White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer appreciated Melissa McCarthy’s anger-ridden impersonation of him.

Now, President Trump doesn’t seem to be doing much laughing.

I suppose it’s tough to laugh on Twitter, unless you’re fond of the LOL or that emoji with the hands on the face. How much coverage would a presidential tweet about an intentional act from Kellyanne Conway get?

Remember back in the 1980s when, in the midst of the Cold War, Ronald Reagan would assure us that we could sleep well at night because he clearly did. If he wasn’t especially worried, and he wasn’t looking harried the way his predecessor did, surely we could sleep well? After all, resting and relaxing were a part of life, even during the Cold War. He smiled, he waved and he had everything under control, offering an easy laugh during tough times.

Trump has reason to smile. No matter what The New York Times, CNN or other news organizations he hates write about him, the stock market loves his laissez-faire policies toward business and regulations.

But Trump doesn’t seem pleased or to be riding a wave of good feelings and good humor. He needs to laugh with us as much as we need to laugh with each other. Of course, he needs to do his job, take his responsibilities seriously and do what he can to deliver on his promises. After all, even the world-is-coming-to-an-end New York Times would have to write about more jobs and greater prosperity for America.

Maybe, along the way, though, we could all use a good group giggle. The TV programmers understood the value of a guffaw long ago. They put talk show hosts on late at night because that’s when we need to chuckle the most, before we go to bed. Seinfeld, the cast of “Friends,” and many of our former acquaintances from sitcoms offer a comforting shield against the worries, anxieties and frowns that pester us during the day.

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Fake news is in the spotlight. Websites, blogs and social media are populated with it and even print can be. The goal of its perpetrators is to misinform and to destroy readers’ trust in what they read. This calls into question the real work of traditional journalists doing their jobs.  Disinformation campaigns make all news suspect: What’s real and what’s fake? How can a free press properly be the watchdog of the people, the fourth estate of our democracy, if readers can’t believe what they read?

In an effort to sort out the real from the fake, especially in advance of key European elections in Germany, Holland and France, the European Union had created an 10-member team called East StratCom. These overworked diplomats, journalists and bureaucrats pore through hundreds of stories a day on Facebook and Twitter, according to The New York Times, attempting to sort out truth from fiction. Of course, they are only partially successful. The load is overwhelming. But perhaps they do serve to make readers pause for a moment to consider and check if they read something surprising.

The subject of fake news is deeply concerning to those of us in the news business. Please be assured, as I have noted in this column before, that our papers have no fake news. Mistakes? Of course. Corrections as soon as we know?  You bet. We at Times Beacon Record News Media have no hidden agenda and no dark side. Our only mission is to communicate with you the unbiased news in our communities.

Because a little humor leavens the task, I am including some sly old saws culled from the internet and sent me by a friend. I hope they give you a chuckle amid the serious business of reporting the news.

You Are What You Read (or, perhaps, it should be We Read What We Are).

1. The Wall Street Journal is read by the people who run the country.

2. The Washington Post is read by people who think they run the country.

3. The New York Times is read by people who think they should run the country, and who are very good at crossword puzzles.

4. USA Today is read by people who think they ought to run the country but don’t really understand The New York Times. They do, however, like their statistics shown in pie charts.

5. The Los Angeles Times is read by people who wouldn’t mind running the country, if they could find the time — and if they didn’t have to leave Southern California to do it.

6. The Boston Globe is read by people whose parents and grandparents used to run the country.

7. The New York Daily News is read by people who aren’t too sure who’s running the country and don’t really care as long as they can get a seat on the train.

8. The New York Post is read by people who don’t care who is running the country as long as they do something really scandalous, preferably while intoxicated and in the wrong bedroom.

9. The Miami Herald is read by people who used to run another country and need the U.S. baseball scores.

10. The San Francisco Chronicle is read by people who aren’t sure if there is a country or that anyone is running it; but if so, they oppose all that they stand for. There are occasional exceptions if the leaders are handicapped, minority, feminist or atheist dwarfs who have a sexual identity problem and perhaps also happen to be illegal aliens from any other country or galaxy, provided, of course, that they are not Republicans.

11. The National Enquirer is read by people trapped in line at Walmart and who think that envelopes are for sending voice mail.

12. The Key West Citizen is read by people who have recently caught a fish and need something to wrap it in.

13. The Appalachia Chronicle is read by people who later on make it a standard feature in their bathrooms.

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Friends help make our lives special. They are fun to be with, we like the person we are when we are with them, they share activities with us, they offer an ear when we need to talk over important matters, they cheer us up when we are down, they lend a hand when we need help, they broaden our horizons with their intelligence, knowledge and experience — and, most critically, they are there for us in times of crisis. Those are typical answers when we ask people, “What is a friend?”

But what if our friend doesn’t like us as much as we like him or her?

According to an article in The New York Times and other media, recent research on the subject of friends would suggest that only about half of our friendships are mutual. Whoa! That means someone you think is a close friend might not feel the same way about you. Now that is a thought to make you feel instantly abandoned. And, according to the Times, through experts interviewed, “the authenticity of one’s relationships has an enormous impact on one’s health and well-being.”

Who are our friends? Where do they come from? How many real friends can we have? How do we judge whether they are true friends? And are we a true friend in return?

Certainly a true friend is more than someone on Facebook. Alexander Nehamas, a professor of philosophy at Princeton, told The Times that friendship is more like beauty or art, which kindles something deep within us and is “appreciated for its own sake.” It’s a lovely thought.

Ronald Sharp, a professor of English at Vassar College, edited a book, “The Norton Book of Friendship,” with his friend, Eudora Welty in 1991. Sharp is quoted in The Times as saying, “The notion of doing nothing but spending time in each other’s company has, in a way, become a lost art,” to be replaced by volleys of texts and tweets.

To have a friendship with someone has several requirements. First is time. It takes time to understand the other person and to trust that person enough to let him or her understand you. So trust is another requirement. Lucky are those who have friends from elementary school or college, for those have withstood the test of time. Additionally those friends are witnesses to our lives as we are to theirs. That is a relationship to be treasured and not replaced, and it may be resumed even after years have gone by with no contact. Honesty is another. You have to be able to respond honestly to a friend, even if it is not what he or she wants to hear, and to receive the same in return.

But there is more. A close friend is one with whom you interact almost daily because you would otherwise miss the contact. That person is one whose sentences you could reliably finish because, to some extent, you live within each other’s heads. That person is someone who, you absolutely know from prior evidence, has your back. And that is a person who knows and accepts your shortcomings even as you accept theirs because you protect each other’s vulnerabilities. I have only experienced that kind of friendship with one or two people because there isn’t enough time really to get to know that many people, however interesting they may seem.

Then there are perhaps four or six others with whom I maintain ongoing friendships. These are good friends whom I enjoy common ground with, and feel concern and affection for. These friends provide a support system and a social circle to which we all contribute. Others are more casual friends, dependent on circumstances, and they may move in and out of my world at any given time.

Friends and friendships are tested by crises. I have had my share, as have my friends, and we have been there for each other. We will be there again because we are best friends.

  

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