Between you and me

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Leah Dunaief

By Leah S. Dunaief

It may have been the start of a new year last week, but life certainly hasn’t calmed down much. We are witnessing history in the making. Demonstrators who had traveled from all over the United States to Washington, D.C. last Wednesday turned from listening to President Trump rage to marching on the Capitol. Once there, many broke into the building and caused vandalism, chaos and death. Thanks to instantaneous news flashes, we heard it and saw it happen, and now we are living through the consequences.

One of the consequences is bans of certain accounts by social media, led by Twitter and Facebook. Is that censorship? Is that an assault on our Freedom of Speech enshrined in the First Amendment to our Constitution?

A simple way to offer an answer is to take you into the world in which community newspapers and media operate. As you know, we are the ones who report on the news closest to our daily lives, the events and issues that concern us here in the villages and towns where we live, send our children to school and most of us work. We report comprehensively on local people, local politicians and local businesses that would otherwise be overlooked by the bigger dailies and networks. We are the watchdogs on behalf of the local citizenry.

Here are the rules by which we must publish:

While we print opinions as well as facts, opinions must be clearly labelled as such and are usually confined to two or three pages specifically designated for Letters to the Editor and Editorials. We also publish pieces called “Your Turn,” or “Our Turn,” again as opinion or analysis. Everyone has a right to their opinion, and the publisher has a right to its policies about those articles and letters. Our policy is to publish opinions in as balanced a way as we are sent submissions, subject to libel and good taste.

Libel rules are more straightforward than good taste, which is, of course, subjective. But here is the bottom line: publishers have the final say in what they publish because they are private, not governmental enterprises. Freedom of Speech, which specifically prohibits censorship by the government, does not apply to us. Decisions made by private businesses on what to publish are not First Amendment issues. And those decisions may reflect any number of concerns that may affect the company: financial considerations, the environment in which the publisher operates and whether the publication is an avowed partisan or an independent one.

We, for example, are an independent news media company, supporting neither major party unilaterally but rather our own sense of merit.

We are responsible for the accuracy of the facts in our stories. Do we sometimes err? Of course. When we make a mistake, our policy is to print a correction in the same place that we ran the error, even if that’s on the front page. When we run ads, by the way, we are also responsible for the facts in them — although not the advertiser’s opinions, which still are subject to considerations of libel and good taste. And when we run political ads, we must print who paid for the ad in the ad itself. When it is a group under a generic name rather than an individual, we must have on file the names of the executive officers of that group and those must be subject to review by any member of the public.

Do we have the legal right to refuse an ad or an opinion or a misstatement of facts? As a private company, we do. Further, just as it is against the law to yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater when there is none because that is not protected free speech, we have the civic responsibility to vet misstatements and untruths. And while we consider our papers safety valves for community members to let off steam with their strongly held opinions, we do not publish just to add fuel to a fire.

Twitter and Facebook and the rest who consider themselves publishers of news and not just telephone companies also have a responsibility to the public.

That, of course, raises another issue. Do we want so much power in the hands of a few high tech moguls, whose messages instantly circle the world? Or should they, like us, be subject to regulatory control?

Photo from Pixabay

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

One of my favorite days occurred this week. It is the winter solstice, usually considered to be Dec. 21 or 22. Why do I like that day, you might wonder? Some people think of it negatively as the shortest day of the year. In New York, the night was 14 hours and 45 minutes, shorter than in Minnesota at 15 hours and 50 minutes but longer than Miami at 13 hours and 28 minutes. For me it marks the turning point of the seasons, when each subsequent day then begins to have more light. Darkness will be lifting over the next six months, gradually but definitively. And for COVID-19, the pandemic of the century, it is a perfect metaphor. The vaccine is arriving at winter solstice with the promise that the disease, like the days, will lighten.

The vaccine is the match that will eventually banish the darkness. People all over the world, since the beginning of recorded history, have lit fires to ward off the night. It is not a coincidence that the birth of Jesus is celebrated at this time. Houses and trees are brightly decorated with all manner of lights. Hanukkah candles burn brightly at this same time, and in an 8-day sequence, as if prophesying the gradual lighting up of the days. Diwali is a five-day festival of Hindus, Sikhs and others, pushing back the night and celebrating the coming of more light. 

So will the vaccine, perfectly timed, gradually vanquish the pandemic over the same next few months.

Just as a point of information, I looked up the meaning of winter solstice and found the definition as the time during the earth’s orbit around the sun at which the sun is at its greatest distance from the celestial equator. So the other part of the shortest day is the winter season that we have to get through with its long days before we can enjoy more brightness and warmth. And we will also have to endure more illness and death from the novel coronavirus before we can recapture the world as we have known it. We will have to hold on, using our various strategies for survival, until what has been described as the unending “snow days” of lockdown yield to recovery.

Winter can be thought of as a time of intense cold, of scarcity, of starkness and even of death of the earth. But the earth has not died. It is merely resting, and all who live on it are forced to slow down until light and warmth bring growth. For us humans, it can be when we nest with our families, play games, watch movies, tell stories about our ancestors and fill the house with the smells of stick-to-the-rib cooking. Unfortunately, we have been doing just that, unwillingly, for the past 10 months. But the warmth and the light inside the home are especially welcome now that the wind is howling and the snow is sticking. 

When we were in Alaska some years ago, many of the residents we met said that winter was their favorite season, when members of the community come together indoors to socialize and look after each other as the elements rage in the darkness outdoors.

This winter, we will be coming together via zoom and the other miracles of modern technology. As the earth lies fallow, we can just rest. Or we can evaluate our lives and priorities, learn things that, like planted seeds, will flower in the warmth and light of the spring. We can certainly straighten out our closets and desk drawers, if we haven’t already. All the while, we can follow the guidelines of the scientists and physicians and keep ourselves safe for the spring.

This is my last column of the year. The next issue, of 12/31, will be entirely filled with stories about those heroic and tireless residents who kept life going in 2020 and richly deserve to be honored as People of the Year.

We here at TBR News Media wish you and your loved ones holidays that are happy and safe.

We look forward to rejoining you next year.

METRO photo

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

The days of 2020 are running down now, with only half of December still remaining, but the BIG news stories certainly aren’t letting up. Just this past Monday, two historic events were reported. One was the first vaccinations in the United States against the novel coronavirus. The other was the ratification by the Electoral College of the vote for our next president. Both were climaxes to enormous efforts,  but they were not ends in themselves.

Many people will continue to be angry with the election result and keep protesting. And many will still become ill and some will even die before universal vaccination, victims of the worst pandemic since the flu of 1918.

We watched both memorable occurrences happening in real time on television this week, and we know they are turning points for us in the new year. Probably like you, I have had enough of the political scene, but I would like to dwell on getting tested for the virus until we are able to be vaccinated, perhaps a matter of some months. There is a lot of fresh and interesting information to share. The following comes from The New York Times:

There are four reasons to get tested. The most obvious one is if you feel sick. Symptoms of the virus include fever, dry cough, fatigue, headache or loss of smell and taste. Many tests are most reliable during the first week of symptoms.

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Another reason is if you think you may have been exposed to an infected person or if you were in a risky situation like an indoor gathering or on an airplane. If so, quarantine and get tested five or six days after the possible exposure to give the virus a chance to be detectable. Quarantining should be for at least seven days.

Some people are tested simply as a precaution, especially if you are going for dental work or another medical procedure. Colleges and boarding schools test students before they leave campus and again when they return. They have largely had good outcomes following this procedure. And finally, some people will choose to be tested if there is a high level of infection in the community.

There are different types of tests, but they all use a sample from the nose, throat or mouth. Most widely used is the PCR test that looks for pieces of the virus’ genetic material. This is the most accurate but takes the longest — three to ten days — for the results to come back from the lab.

The antigen test detects coronavirus proteins and is among the cheapest and speediest with results in about 15-30 minutes. This is recommended as often as several times a week, since the results, both negative and positive, are less accurate. In one study, this rapid test missed 20 percent of the infections.

Then there is the rapid molecular test, which combines the reliability of molecular testing with the speedy results of an antigen test. Abbott’s ID Now and Cepheid Xpert Xpress use portable devices that process the sample right in front of you. This test is highly sensitive and can detect the virus a day sooner than the antigen, but it is not quite as reliable as the lab test, and while rapid, may take a little longer. Again a negative result is not foolproof, and you should continue to wear a mask and practice social distancing.

If you test positive, you should stay home and isolate. Tell others you have been with so that they may get tested. You should wait 10 days after symptoms started and 24 hours after a fever ends before going out. If results are negative, you might still be infected. Test again. False negatives happen.

Home testing kits are starting to be available, and Dr. Anthony Fauci likes the idea. New Jersey is one state that is offering them. Results are delivered in a day or two after being sent in, and one company that has received the FDA green light for at-home testing is Lucira.

There are walk-in testing sites in the area, although they usually have long lines. Appointments can be made on Stony Brook University campus by calling 888-364-3065.

Photo from Pixabay

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

First is the problem, then comes a solution.

When I was in the supermarket this past weekend, in addition to the bok choy and grapefruit in my basket, I threw in a bag of pretzels and one of sour-cream-and-chives potato chips.

At the checkout aisle, I was surprised to find them there since I don’t tend to buy such snack foods, although I will eat them if offered a handful by a generous soul. I hesitated but I did not put them back.

Somehow, after all the lockdown and stress caused by COVID-19, I felt entitled to them. Besides, they were small bags. I took them home and scarfed them down over the next couple of days with only the tiniest twinge of guilt.

Sound familiar?

An article in Tuesday’s The New York Times spoke directly to me. “Pandemic Begets Weight Gain and Stress,” by Anahad O’Connor, informed me that I was not alone in my aberrant behavior. “The coronavirus pandemic and resulting lockdowns led to big changes in health behaviors, prompting people to cut back on physical activity and eat more junk foods,” the article said, confirming that I was just one of the crowd.

A global study, published in the scientific journal Obesity and carried out by members of the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Louisiana, surveyed some 8,000 adults from 50 countries and every state in the U.S. The researchers found that, “the decline in healthy behaviors during the pandemic and widespread lockdowns was fairly common regardless of geography.”

Even if everyone is well in our family, our eating habits have worsened, our exercise routines have largely declined, our social contacts have diminished as we have become cut off from friends and family, and for some, there has been a frightening economic crisis as jobs have been lost or diminished. All of that has been as a result of the huge disruption in our daily lives by the virus. About 27% of those surveyed said they had gained weight.

And there is more. Anxiety levels have risen dramatically, logically out of fear of contagion or job loss. Even TUMS, and other common remedies for heartburn, are scarce in drugstores. Because people are anxious, they may have trouble sleeping, which in turn can result is less energy to exercise and more urge to eat junk food and then gain weight in an ongoing downward cycle. About 44% or almost half of the people in the survey said they had trouble sleeping.

There is a thin silver lining, it should be said. Probably those who managed to increase their activity level, 17% of those surveyed reported weight loss. With home cooking and focus on healthier foods, like fruits and less fried dishes, many did show an increase in their “healthy eating scores,” according to the article. Others are discovering new ingredients and are looking for ways to make healthier food, according to The Times. So what to do?

Recognizing the problem is always the first step toward correction. Dr. Emily Flanagan, the author of the study, “hoped the findings might inspire people to take steps to be more proactive about their health, such as seeking out mental health specialists, prioritizing sleep and finding ways to exercise at home and cook more, in the event of future lockdowns.”

Conveniently, at the top of the same page of the newspaper, there was an article headed, “Exercise 11 Minutes a Day for a Longer Life.” Again based on a study, its data offered the conclusion that such a daily regimen may ease the effects of sitting for prolonged periods of time, something we are forced by colder weather, and especially the virus, into doing. “Multiple past epidemiological studies show links between sitting and mortality. In general, in these studies, couch bound people are far more likely to die prematurely than active people are.”

So there you are. Whenever the urge to eat some junk food presents itself, instead let’s get up and move it, move it.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Thanksgiving Day would have been my sister’s 78th birthday. But my parents were told at her birth that she would not live long because she had Down syndrome, a genetic disorder. In fact, one of the physicians at the hospital commented, “Best to just throw her in the garbage.” My mother, who was deeply religious, advised the doctor that he was not God, told him in no uncertain terms where he could go, and together with my father, brought my sister Maxine to our loving and supportive home.

That was 1942, when no one ever saw a Down syndrome child, with the characteristic physical markings of a round face, almond-shaped and up-slanting eyes and short stature, on the streets of New York. As a result, she was the object of stares when we were in public. Fortunately, she was a happy and social child, and when she saw people staring, she would wave at them, smile and say, “Hello.” If they stopped, she would continue with, “How are you?” and even, “How old are you?” She would then advise them that they looked much older and thus make them laugh.

Even as late as 1960, the life expectancy of people with Down syndrome was considered to be 10. But by 2007, on average and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, persons born with Down would live to be about 47 years old. My sister made it to 65.

Why the dramatic difference within one lifetime? The easiest answer is the change in attitudes about children with Down syndrome. When Maxine was born, such children were routinely institutionalized, where they received notoriously poor treatment and lived in horrible conditions. Journalist and lawyer Geraldo Rivera, in 1972, exposed the neglect and abuse in Staten Island’s Willowbrook State School. It broke people’s hearts and was a change agent, and such facilities began to disappear.

Since the 1970s, a Down syndrome child is to be given a free and appropriate education like any other child in the United States by law. When my sister was six, my mother brought her to the neighborhood elementary school to register her for first grade. That was the first of many times she and Maxine were turned away. With great patience, my mother taught Maxine how to read “Dick, Jane and Baby,” to write her name and address between the lines, and to do arithmetic on a second-grade level. Ultimately Maxine attended a Catholic school in Brooklyn for children with special needs. My sister also had a natural gift for music, often spending many minutes playing familiar melodies by ear on the household piano.

I was reminded of all this by December’s Atlantic monthly magazine’s cover story, “The Last Children of Down Syndrome.” The article, by Sarah Zhang, focuses on prenatal genetic testing, the impact it’s having on the number of children born with special needs, and its effects on world-wide population as it becomes easier and more widespread. Her report is centered in Denmark, which in 2004 became one of the first countries to offer free genetic Down syndrome screening to every pregnant woman. She writes that since universal screening was offered, the number of parents who chose to continue a pregnancy after a Down diagnosis, in 2019 for example, was seven. What does the universal introduction of choice indicate about the future of humanity as genetic testing gets more sophisticated? she asks.

What is the value of a human life? The article poses the question, as well as dealing with the terrible pressures of choice. My mother was 36 when she gave birth to my sister. Age 35 and older is considered higher risk for the birthing of a Down syndrome child. There wasn’t the choice of amniocentesis then, certainly not other genetic testing, but had there been, I know how my parents would have reacted. They would have carried on in the same way.

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By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Thanksgiving 2020 will surely be remembered by all. Other Thanksgivings blend into each other on the impressionist edges of memory, in a sepia-colored haze. But this one will stand out like a gargoyle, in bas-relief at the center. Never before have we disinvited our children from our homes during this holiday. Never have we set the table for so few. Never have we been urged not to travel to reconnect with our families. Never have we been drilled on the three Ws: wash your hands, watch your social distancing, wear your mask. COVID-19 overhangs our lives.

Nonetheless, for most of us, there is so much to be thankful for, even as we have to push past the anxiety and the upending of our lives the pandemic has caused to remind ourselves of the many ways we can be thankful.

First is for the good health most of us are lucky enough to enjoy: for our own and that of our loved ones. Perhaps, never has good health been viewed as such a blessing as now, as hundreds of thousands fall ill. Even without the coming vaccine, we can work to keep the virus at bay by diligently following the three Ws.

Next is the love we have in our lives that has become so manifestly important to acknowledge and declare. It is that love: for our spouses, our parents, our children, our dearest relatives and friends that is our safety net during these challenging days. We have always been aware of that love but perhaps not so appreciatively as now. The need to connect with them has not been so vital as now. And if we have a warm home and people who live in it with us, and enough to eat each day, how thankful we can be.

We can be thankful for our jobs, if we have them, and if we don’t, for the country we live in that supports us at least partially during our temporary unemployment. And if we are holding on ourselves, we can help others around us through our churches, soup kitchens and donations to our neighbors in need. To help others is a great privilege.

Though I never particularly embraced the computer when it appeared in our daily lives in the 1970s and 1980s, I am thankful for technology. Because of my computer, I can see my children and grandchildren regularly. I even have a place in the house nicknamed the Zoom Room. I can also see my friends, attend meetings, albeit virtually, and learn new subjects if I choose.

I escape from the news and the responsibilities of daily life with movies on Netflix and other streaming services. I still cannot stop marveling at Siri and the ability to find the answers to all sorts of questions by just pushing a button on my cellphone.

I sometimes think of my husband, whose poor sense of direction was legendary in the family, and how he would have loved the GPS. The ability to call someone from this marvelous invention I hold in my hand and tell them I am on my way but will be 15 minutes late or that I need help because I have a flat tire is a commonplace miracle of the 21st century. How lucky we are to be alive in these times, when a vaccine to overcome our version of the black plague can be developed in a matter of months.

Difficult times force us to turn inward and find the resilience to cope. And we can cope, we all can. If we believe in ourselves and have faith that this pandemic will end, which it surely will, we can then build back our lives and our world again. We can give thanks for that inner strength. Governments must help, charities and philanthropies do help, and we can help ourselves and each other. We can take inspiration from the natural world, which goes on in all its seasons of beauty despite periodic upheavals, and thankfully we will too.

Thanksgiving 2021 we will all together sit around the dinner table and profoundly give thanks.

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By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Crazy time.”

That was the message a friend in California texted me yesterday. And she certainly summed up perfectly these days of our lives. Let us together count the ways we have gone off the rails. For starters, can you imagine a time when you had to decline a visit from your children at Thanksgiving in order to ensure your health and theirs?

I suspect the same for you; gathering around the table at Thanksgiving and appreciating our lives with our family and close friends has been a tradition for us as long as I can remember. After my children married and joined their wives’ families with ours, we have even traded off other holidays for Thanksgiving at our home every year. I guess we can include thanks this time for and via Zoom.

Could you imagine a political stalemate over the election at the presidential level like the one playing out in the courts in different states across the country? Yes, the 2000 vote was a handwringer, but it pales in drama when compared with this election. Back then, the decision hung on 537 votes. This time, with vital information withheld and with a pandemic raging, more is at stake than the outcome of the election. We are vulnerable to attack as a nation.

And as for that pandemic, as direly predicted this past spring, it is rearing its ugly head now that the weather has cooled and we are living more indoors and closer together. We have learned some things since the affliction started. Masks make a difference in protecting others and also ourselves from the spread of the virus. Fresh air, social distancing and hand washing continue to be vital. HEPA filters are powerful allies. And broad scale testing, followed by tracing, matter. Still, people are hospitalized, emergency rooms and ICU beds fill up and even some patients die, as we wait to be rescued by science. Incredible progress has been made developing a vaccine, and by more than one laboratory, but distribution to and acceptance by the general public of the vaccines will not happen during this imminent winter.

Weather has also been a villain. Violent storms and hurricanes, the ferocity of which has been unleashed, we are told, by climate change, have disrupted life for many in the United States and across the globe, even in the midst of desperate efforts to fight the pandemic. And further complicating rescue are the unprecedented fires burning in California and the far west. Then throw in assorted mudslides and tornados for good measure. Tragic!

The economy continues to worsen for many as it excels for the few businesses that benefit from the consequences of the virus. Restaurants, hotels, travel, transportation, formal entertainment, cultural events, retail, health care, child care, education — all have suffered huge financial blows. And the effects are not, curiously, shared equally among men and women. Most of the jobs in those industries are filled by women, who now have no jobs because of shutdowns, or have jobs they cannot get to because of child care responsibilities. This one issue is being viewed as a significant setback for women in the workplace, and for society as a whole, for years to come. Meanwhile construction, renovation, manufacturing and high tech, that makes Zoom and countless other products now deemed a necessity possible, are mushrooming.

The tenor of watershed events in people’s lives is tarnished. Weddings, graduations, significant and not-so-significant birthday parties, reunions, baptisms, funerals — all are put on hold or otherwise unwillingly altered in timing and attendance. Even an entitlement as innocent as looking forward to a thrilling freshman year in college has now morphed into a two-dimensional, remote experience. And returning college students are considered risks for households and communities.

There is no point in complaining. It will not alter this bizarre year and the troubles it has brought. The one thought I could offer my friend on a return text: “We will be able to say, as we someday will tell the tale, that we lived through it.”

From left, Geraldine Ferraro, Ivan and Leah Dunaief

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

The road to the election of a woman vice president of the United States is a long one, and with our newspapers, we have traveled it from the first nomination of a woman by a major party to today.

Geraldine Ferraro was the running mate of Walter Mondale in the 1984 presidential election and was supported after she was nominated by a majority of women, according to a Newsweek poll, 49% to 41%.  Men supported the Reagan-Bush ticket 58% to 36%.

In the end, despite a lively campaign that had Ferraro traveling 55,000 miles around the country and speaking in 85 cities, the Democratic ticket lost in a landslide, carrying only the underdog, Walter Mondale and his home state of Minnesota and the District of Columbia.

When I was president of the New York Press Association, it was my responsibility to arrange for the keynote speaker at our 1985, 500-member state convention. I mailed an invitation to Ferraro, and despite collegial assurances that she would not even read the letter herself, much less come, she delighted us by accepting. Indeed, she came to the hotel in Colonie, north of Albany center, for the entire weekend and was most generous with her time, including a productive shopping trip during break to the local mall on Saturday afternoon. She also gave my oldest son a private interview for his college newspaper.

Why did she agree to come? She felt poorly treated by the press throughout her campaign, and I had suggested that she might want to offer her impressions of how badly she was covered to us. Indeed, she did, in direct and no uncertain terms.

Ferraro, as you might guess, was a remarkable woman and politician. She was known for her breezy style and saucy manner, and when she felt patronized by Reagan’s vice presidential candidate, George H. W. Bush during the campaign, she memorably scolded him publicly. She was endearing in many ways. When introduced at public gatherings, if she liked the introduction music, she would break into a little dance behind the speaker’s platform before beginning her talk. She wore silk dresses and pearls but never flowers. When my husband, who was with me at the convention, brought both of us corsages to wear on stage, she declined most apologetically. “I’m not allowed to wear flowers,” she explained to our astonishment. “They are too feminine.”

As The New York Times described in her obituary in 2011, she was ideal for television. Down to earth, streaked blond hair, a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich-making mother of three, she was appealing, I guess in the way of Doris Day. She was brought up by a single mother, who over the years, it was told, sewed beads on wedding dresses to pay for her daughter to attend good schools. And while Ferraro graduated from Fordham Law School, it was not until her own children were of school age that she started working in the Queens District Attorney’s office.

From 1979-1985, after serving as a criminal prosecutor, she was elected to the House of Representatives. Less combative than Representative Bella Abzug before her, she proved to be comfortable and well liked “by the boys,” especially House Speaker Tip O’Neill, Jr. And while she was more familiar with urban ward politics than foreign policy, for example, she was a quick study and learned what she needed to know at any given time.

Unfortunately, Ferraro was forced to hold a marathon news conference in the middle of the election, when her husband, John Zaccaro, was accused of financial misdealings, an event that certainly hurt the ticket.

Born in Newburgh, New York, in 1935, Ferraro was, to me, a phenomenon in a crowded room. She would stop and shake hands with every person as she walked along, look each one in the eye and within 30 seconds establish some common connection that brought a smile to each face. She was not only the first woman candidate for vice president of a major party but also the first Italian-American nominee. Kamala Harris stands on Geraldine Ferraro’s shoulders finally with her win.

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By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

However devoutly to be wished, the election results concerning the next President of the United States of America are not yet known. Nor will they be for a good while, it would seem, as the avalanche of mailed ballots needs to be counted and recounted for accuracy. The suspense and anxiety remain.

What can any one of us do?

For starters, we do the obvious. We wait. As adults, we know we don’t always get what we want when we want it, and that goes for the political world as well.

This year, 2020, will be known as the year we all waited. We are waiting for a vaccine to save us from COVID-19 too. But while we are waiting, there is a lot we can do.

First, we can calm ourselves down. It does no good to hurl accusations and invectives at each other for believing differently. We are, for better or worse, all Americans, and we will be moving forward from here. As to how we can calm down, I suggest (and it may seem ironic) that we watch and listen to less news. One or two good and brief news reports a day should do nicely. My own preference is CBS News at the top of the hour on my clock radio first thing in the morning and PBS News Hour or the BBC in the early evening. I stress “early” because I don’t want the news to be the last thing I hear before going to bed.

As for the rest of the day, besides the daily efforts to keep life going — from brushing one’s teeth to doing our best job at work and at home — we can use our energies productively instead of shouting into a void. We can make a big difference on a local level economically and socially. We can donate food, and perhaps even time, if done safely, to local soup kitchens and food banks.

We can also donate unused clothing and even furniture through the offices of local houses of worship. We can spend a little time on the phone, calling those we love who live elsewhere in this large country, and those who live nearby but are elderly and don’t get out much, to keep relationships vibrant and perhaps share a laugh or two. Sometimes people just need to talk with someone who will listen in order to feel better. It is a merciful thing just to be willing to actively listen.

We can shop locally, especially at this holiday time when store owners depend on revenue gained during the last quarter of the year to keep them in business. By and large, those store owners and their employees are also local residents and the first ones to underwrite educational and sporting events for our children and funds for community betterment. If we don’t want to go indoors because of the risk of contagion, we can call in to the store or restaurant and the merchandise or orders will be brought to the curb. Or we can call and ask what precautions are being taken to ensure safety within a store: masks, social distancing, hand sanitizing and so forth to help us decide if we feel safe there. Together we form a tight community and look out for each other.

These are all pretty obvious, but we need to be reminded, especially when there is so much noise abroad. And I will further share with you my personal ways to escape the tumult of our times. Thanks to the marvels of technology, I think of my children and grandchildren as being in the computer room, in a way, where we Zoom with each other regularly.

And I regard my smart TV as a temporary replacement for the plays, musical performances and other cultural events that have of necessity been put on hold.

Netflix and other services allow talented actors to hang out in my family room, available with their performances at the mere flick of a switch. At the moment, I’m watching “Outlander,” a love story couched in time travel. Being transported to a different time can remind us that people have had their challenges whenever they have lived, and by and large survived them.

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By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Finally, we are in the home stretch, with Election Day soon upon us. Of course this has been no ordinary election experience for Americans. In addition to the usual barrage of electioneering from local and national candidates, we are forced to work around COVID-19 in deciding how to vote.

Some residents, in record numbers, have chosen to mail in their ballots, some have decided to vote early in-person, a novel situation forced into existence by the virus to spread out the voting population and avoid crowds. And some will just show up at their normal polling places at their usual time and do what they always do to cast their ballots.

Whatever you may think of our president, Donald Trump has certainly supercharged the electorate. Voters are out in record numbers, whether to vote for or against him. Joe Biden has not pulled any punches. His main goal in running is to keep President Trump from a second term. And that also seems to be the goal of the voters: either for the man or against him.

I have to confess that I would feel a little envious when I would see pictures of residents, in countries newly emerging from dictatorships, who lined up for hours and miles to cast their votes in their first exercise of democracy. Many in the United States were generally uninspired to vote, often letting the minority who came to the polls decide who would govern us. We were often apathetic about voting and about politics in general. But not this year. So that’s a good thing.

A not so good thing is that we stand in red vs. blue partisan formation, aggressively shouting our views and often disparaging the other side’s beliefs. Dialogue is one matter, screaming matches are something else, something totally unproductive and ultimately injurious to those others with whom we are otherwise proudly united into one country.

In an attempt to simplify the positions of the local candidates, we are dedicating much of this issue to their views. We as journalists are in the unique and privileged position of having access to them. We invite them, individually for each race with their opponent(s), to a Zoom meeting to answer questions put to them by our editorial board. This typically takes about an hour and a half. We then write up their answers as informational articles, passing on what we have learned. Those stories can be found in a separate section elsewhere in this paper.

In our usual end pages for opinion, we offer our endorsements of the candidates. These can be found on the page opposite this column and are based on the interviews and whatever else we might know about them after following them as we covered the news. Of course, these are only our opinions, and we urge you to learn about the candidates and make your own decisions as to whom you will give your vote. We merely share our impressions with you, feeling it our duty since we have personally interviewed them.

The following is a list of local races for which we have held interviews with the candidates:

1st Congressional District

Nancy S. Goroff (D) & Lee M. Zeldin (R)

3rd Congressional District

Thomas R. Suozzi (D) & George A.D. Santos (R)

State Senator 1st Senatorial District

Laura A. Ahearn (D) & Anthony H. Palumbo (R)

State Senator 2nd Senatorial District

Mike Siderakis (D) & Mario R. Mattera (R)

State Senator 5th Senatorial District

James F. Gaughran (D) & Edmund J. Smyth (R)

2nd Assembly District

Laura Jens-Smith (D) & Jodi Giglio (R)

4th Assembly District

Steven Englebright (D) & Michael S. Ross (R)

8th Assembly District

Dylan G. Rice (D) & Michael J. Fitzpatrick (R)

10th Assembly District

Steve Stern (D) & Jamie R. Silvestri (R)

12th Assembly District

Keith Brown (R) & Michael Marcantonio (D)

We hope we have helped. Whatever you decide, please vote.