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Between You and Me

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By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

You’ve heard of ChatGPT, yes? So had a lawyer in Brooklyn from his college-aged children. While the lawyer has been in practice for 30 years, he had no prior experience with the Open AI chatbot. But when he was hired in a lawsuit against the airline Avianca and went into Federal District Court with his legal brief filled with judicial opinions and citations, poor guy, he made history.

All the evidence he was bringing to the case was generated by ChatGPT. All of it was false: creative writing generated by the bot.

Here is the story, as told in The New York Times Business Section on June 9. A passenger, who had sued the airline for injury to his knee by a metal serving cart as it was rolled down the aisle in 2019 on a flight from El Salvador to New York, was advised that the lawsuit should be dismissed because the statute of limitations had expired. His lawyer, however, responded with the infamous 10-page brief offering more than half a dozen court decisions supporting their argument that the case should be allowed to proceed. There was only one problem: None of the cases cited in the brief could be found.

The decisions, although they named previous lawsuits against Delta Airlines, Korean Airlines and China Southern Airlines, and offered realistic names of supposedly injured passengers, were not real.

“I heard about this new site, which I falsely assumed was, like, a super search engine,” lamely offered the embarrassed attorney.

“Programs like ChatGPT and other large language models in fact produce realistic responses by analyzing which fragments of text should follow other sequences, based on a statistical model that has ingested billions of examples pulled from all over the internet,” explained The NYT.

Now the lawyer stands in peril of being sanctioned by the court. He declared that he had asked questions of the bot and had gotten in response genuine case citations, which he had included in his brief. He also printed out and included his dialogue with ChatGPT, which ultimately at the end, offered him the words, “I hope that helps.”

But the lawyer had done nothing further to ensure that those cases existed. They seemed professional enough to fool the professional.

Now the tech world, lawyers and judges are fixated on this threat to their profession. And warnings exist of that threat being carried over to all of humanity with erroneous generative AI.

But this is not an entirely ominous story.

Researchers at Open AI and the University of Pennsylvania have concluded that 80% of the U.S. workforce could see an effect on at least 10% of their tasks, according to The NYT. That means that some 300 million full-time jobs could be affected by AI. But is that all bad? Could AI become a helpful tool?

By using AI as an assistant, humans can focus on the judgment aspect of data-driven decision-making, checking and interpreting the information provided by the bot. Humans provide judgment over what is provided by a bot.

Ironically, the lawyer’s children probably passed their ChatGPT-fueled courses with good grades. Part of that is the way we teach students, offering them tons of details to memorize and regurgitate on tests or in term papers. The lawyer should have judged his ChatGPT-supplied data. Future lawyers now know they must. 

As for education, emphasis should go beyond “what” and even “so what” to “what’s next.”  Learning should be about once having facts or history, then how to think, to analyze, how to interpret and take the next steps. Can chatbots do that? Perhaps in an elementary way they now can. Someday they will in a larger context. And that poses a threat to the survival of humanity, because machines will no longer need us.

Pixabay photo

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Had he lived, my brother would have been 95 this week. As it happened, he barely made it to 64 before dying of heart problems. I barely knew him, there being such an age gap and with no siblings between us, and he still disquiets me, like an unfinished story. Perhaps that’s because, by the time I could have gotten to know him, he was gone, gone from the house by the time I was six and from my life when I could have started to pay attention.

I have a number of memories about him, of course. In his 20s, he was quite good-looking, with thick, wavy blond hair and big dark brown eyes, a straight nose and strong chin. I was with him one day when a young woman my family knew gave him a piece of paper with her phone number on it and asked him to call, so I knew he wasn’t just good-looking to me.

My brother also personified great adventure. He rode a motorcycle, flew a twin-engine airplane in the days when plane flight was somehow romantic but becoming commonplace, and he owned a car, a 1948 Plymouth, which was unusual for someone who lived in the midst of New York City. He would drive the family back and forth to my grandfather’s farm in the Catskills and also to get some air along the outer borough highways on hot, sticky summer days. I always sat in the front seat because otherwise, I would throw up from the motion of the car. 

He loved cars and could fix whatever was malfunctioning under the hood. In fact, he loved anything mechanical and might frequently be found tinkering with motors. He also would talk endlessly about the physics of propulsion, telling my friends and me more than we wanted to know. 

I don’t remember his job title, but he had a major role in developing Checker cabs.

For those who are too young to remember them, Checker cabs were big, yellow automobiles with jump seats in the back floor that could unfold and transport a party of five plus one passenger in the front anywhere in the City. 

The real genius of the cab was its modular construction. Until then, if a taxi was in a fender-bender, not an uncommon occurrence in urban heavy traffic, it was off the road being repaired for at least two days. After all, no one wanted to hail a crumpled taxi, and so there was substantial lost revenue. But my brother’s work on the idea of manufacturing fenders that could pop off the body of the cab and be replaced with another in half an hour was considered a major breakthrough for the industry. I believe he collected a small royalty for many years.

There is a photograph of my brother pushing me on a swing. I look to be about three years old. I have no memory of that, but I do well remember his teaching me to shoot a .22 rifle in a country field near my grandfather’s farm and his enthusiasm when I was able to hit the can and knock it off the fence. In my excitement, I turned back to look at him, continuing to point the rifle straight ahead, only now it pointed at him. I guess the incident remains with me for his look of distress and panicked directive to turn back around.

My brother attended my graduation from college, and I was puzzled by his show of pride. I never knew that I was anything growing up but a great distraction as I required our parents’ attention and contaminated the chemicals in his photography dark room. But I do remember that a couple of my classmates asked me how old he was.

We lived in Yorkville, a German section of NYC, and he loved wiener schnitzel with spaetzle and red cabbage. Many years later, I traveled into the City one day to meet him for dinner, and it was at just such a meal that we had one of our first meaningful conversations in a restaurant on East 86th Street and Third Avenue just before he died.

METRO photo

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Suddenly it’s June. Didn’t we recently put our holiday decorations away? Wasn’t it mid-winter break just a couple of weeks ago? Time warps, especially if we have busy lives. We look up and five months of the year have already passed. 

But of course, June is most welcome. It is the month of high school graduations, of weddings, of the official turning to summer with the summertime solstice and the most daylight hours of the year. For those readers interested in random data, June is the second of four months to have a length of 30 days and the third of five months to have fewer than 31 days. Take that to “Jeopardy!”

June is also the month when all the trees are dressed in their finest, lushest leaves, when the weather beckons us outdoors because it is neither too cold or too hot quite yet. June is when the swimming pools in the neighborhood shed their covers and offer to the eye patches of refreshing blue as we drive along the local roads. June is when allergy season begins to recede with the gradual lessening of tree and grass pollens.

Early June is when I like to travel because each day is longer, and I feel I am really getting my money’s worth on a tour. That’s also when most families are still home, their young ones not yet finished with school, and therefore all services, from palaces to restaurants are less crowded. Unless I am in the southern hemisphere, where it is technically the start of winter, the weather in June tends to be perfect, not much rain, the temperature ideal.

June was probably named after the Roman goddess Juno, the goddess of marriage and the wife of the supreme deity, Jupiter, There are also other suggestions for how the month got its name, but we really don’t have to list them all because no one I know is actually preparing to appear on “Jeopardy!”

That said, you still might like to know a few of the month-long observances for June. There is: 

African American Music Appreciation Month 

ALS Awareness Month in Canada 

Caribbean American Heritage Month 

LGBTQ+ Awareness and Pride Month 

National Oceans Month 

PTSD Awareness Month 

Great Outdoors Month 

And my personal favorite, National Smile Month, which is celebrated in the United Kingdom and should migrate across the globe.

There is also: 

International Children’s Day on the first Tuesday 

World Bicycle Day on the first Wednesday 

National Donut Day on the first Friday 

Father’s Day on the third Sunday 

Here is one to ponder: Seersucker Day on the second Thursday 

And on the third Friday, National Flip Flop Day. 

Hmmm. Maybe with all that said, we should give a second thought to “Jeopardy!”

When our children were in elementary school, I always welcomed June with enthusiasm. It meant that July and the end of the academic year were not far away, which in turn meant sleeping in and not having to prepare for the early bus to school, long, lazy days at the beach, family baseball games on the empty school fields on weekends and frequent outdoor barbecues. This year, June means, among more hedonistic pursuits, a month with five Thursdays, and therefore five issues of the papers and website to fill with local news that we will report to you. 

Happy reading!

METRO photo

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

This past weekend was both fabulous and exhausting. We drove nine hours down to Virginia to celebrate with my granddaughter as she graduated from college, and with my son and daughter-in-law, her parents, who helped make it happen. Both sides of the family were represented, and we were all in, cheering, laughing, eating, strolling and talking, talking, talking for two days straight, not counting our travel days.

We were certainly not alone enjoying this milestone. I never saw so much traffic on the roads between here and Virginia, both going and coming, and we theorized it was all those families and all those graduates driving the highways on this college graduation weekend in May.

The joy of a graduation from college spans generations. Those who seemed to feel the accomplishment most, perhaps, were the families of first-generation graduates, whose members would often boast to anyone listening, “She’s the first to graduate.” We all cheered, clapped, and if we could, whistled during those 30 seconds when our loved one crossed the stage, was handed the diploma, smiled for the camera, then returned to his or her seat.

Predictably, we heard lots of speeches. Those who received honorary doctorates, the president of the college, the chancellor, the student representative, the keynote speaker, all addressed the graduating class and their guests with words of wisdom that, as I recall from my graduation, were promptly ignored. For us then, the tone, however, was hopeful and positive.

This time, though, there were two differences that I heard. The first was a recognition that the world for these young people had changed, both physically and societally. The country was sadly divided, and climate change was altering the globe. People were not listening to each other. That they might enjoy better lives than their parents because their future was bright was never mentioned.  

These graduates had their lives and their studies interrupted by the pandemic and were captive of their computers for part of their  learning. The message was that they had lost out in their four years, lost the easy camaraderie of uninterrupted campus life and the person-to-person contact with their classmates and professors. There was some reference to overcoming challenges and resilience, but on the whole, there was none of the usual comments as to how this next generation was going to make the world a better place. It seemed the goal was just to cope.

The other difference from the educators was, to me, defensive. Stressed was the need and importance of education. Of course, they were preaching to the choir. But still, the comment rang out, “When you have forgotten all [the facts] that you have learned, what you will have left is education.” More than once, the reference was to having learned how to think analytically as being the major benefit of their college years.

I did get a kick out of one dean, who referred in her talk to the various world events that had occurred during the past four years. We listened attentively because we all experienced them. And when she was concluding, she confessed that almost the whole speech had been written by ChatGPT. We laughed but not without a tinge of concern for future college students.

As always, at graduations, it is a happy and also a sad time for the graduates. There is a lot of “goodbye.” They are leaving behind those they had come to know and places that had become as familiar to them as their dorm rooms: where they shopped for food, where they retreated to study, where they played volleyball, where they enjoyed their “midnight snacks” that were probably well beyond midnight.

Our granddaughter keenly felt the yin and yang of moving on. She tried to spend time with us even as she was drawn to the gatherings and parties on campus of her friends and roommates. I wanted to tell her that this time was a beginning, more than an end, and that she would be taking the best with her into the next chapter. 

But I didn’t. She had already heard enough speeches.

Facebook photo

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

“When are you going to retire?” is a question that makes me smile. Of course, it is closely related to another word: age. Put the two words together, and I start to become defiant, which is probably why Martha Stewart decided to pose in a swimsuit for the cover of Sports Illustrated’s annual issue.

Now I know about Martha Stewart, who was not called by that name when she was a year behind me at Barnard College. That means she is only one year younger than I, and she, too, was feeling defiant. She wanted to show the world that she was not invisible just because she is older. And indeed, she is showing the whole world because she is an international personality, a businesswoman, writer and television personality, who has written books, publishes a magazine, hosted two syndicated television programs and personifies contemporary graceful living with her Martha Stewart Living ventures.

My guess is that many women in the latter years of their lives are cheering Martha Stewart’s swimsuit photos and her defiance.

Ageism is definitely an unwelcome bigoted “ism” in this century, when people are often living into their 80s, 90s and beyond. One of my personal heroes is Warren Buffett, American business investor and philanthropist. Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, known as the “Oracle of Omaha” and worth over 100 billion dollars, making him the fifth richest person in the world, he will be celebrating his 93rd birthday in August. Even more impressive is his business partner, Charlie Munger, who is 99. Together they still run the fabulously successful company.

Another such story is about Milton Esterow, 94, profiled in The New York Times last Sunday. A publisher at the age of 10 in Brooklyn where he grew up, he made 18 copies of his first publication, each consisting of one handwritten page, and sold them to friends for 2 cents apiece. You can see why he has already stolen my heart. Today he still writes articles for The New York Times about culture and art. In between, he has traveled around the world, met famous artists, owned the country’s oldest art magazine, ARTimes, and won many distinguished prizes. His culture stories had an edge. In 1964 he wrote a front page story for The NYT on treasures stolen by the Nazis during WWII, one of rare culture stories to run on page one. 

His investigative approach made his stories and magazine successes. In the early 1980s, as a result of a rumor he had heard, he and his wife flew to Vienna and visited a monastery that might house thousands of works looted by Nazi soldiers. He met with head of the Federal Monuments Office in Austria and sensed that the man was defensive. He assigned a reporter to dig around and by 1984, the article appeared attesting to the hidden collection. At that point, “All hell broke loose,“ according to Esterow.

“In 1985, the Austrian government announced a plan to return stolen works to their owners or heirs,” according to The NYT. “In 2016, the general consul of Austria presented Mr. Esterow with a Cross of Honor for Science and Art, saying that his work helped to make Austria ‘a better country.’”

Esterow continues to follow the trail of Nazi looting. He does not plan to retire. I particularly like what he had to say about that.

“Work is more fun than fun.”

For all these people and so many more octogenarians and older — Martha Stewart, Warren Buffett, Milton Esterow — retirement is a strange idea. Old age is another.

My sentiments, too.

Photo by Chris Boland/Unsplash: www.chrisboland.com/cambridge-wedding-videographer

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

A dear friend is British and sent us an invitation to a coronation party a couple of months ago. It was more like a “save the date” at that point, but we could already feel his excitement. It was to be held at his and his wife’s home. We would not be expected to arrive in time to see the real thing in the middle of the night on May 6, the time difference being what it is, but rather we would catch a recording of the historic event starting at 12:30 p.m., a much more civilized hour.

We were instructed to wear clothes that would be appropriate for a visit to Ascot. For those who might not know, Ascot is a racecourse that was founded by Queen Anne in 1711, when the American colonies were still in their cradles. Described on the internet as being a “pillar of British sporting and social culture,” it is a snooty place. 

We got the idea. We were to dress up. And especially, we were to wear our finest jewelry, with much bling, which in my case consists only of a string of pearls. On the day, I forgot to adorn myself. But for some reason, probably because I must have seen pictures in my checkered past, I associate Ascot with large, elegant, saucer-shaped hats. 

Now I don’t own a hat, if you exempt my ski cap. So I begged a young and chic friend to loan me one of hers, which she did. It was a broad-brimmed brown straw job with a black netting, and it coordinated perfectly with the rest of my outfit, which consisted of a black silk blouse and brown patterned cotton pants. 

Last Saturday, Coronation Day, I sailed into the party as if I were joining the crowd at Ascot, hoping the hat would not in turn sail off from its rakish angle on the side of my head. Happily, it obeyed.

The party was a total delight. The hosts had decorated their home with every possible bit of Britannica, from posters to red, white and blue Union Jacks that were hung from the rafters on the back deck and emblazoned on the napkins and paper plates. By the way, since I didn’t know this and was interested to learn so I am sharing with you, the Union Jack (from Jacobus, the Latin version of James)  represents a combination of the flags of England, Scotland and Ireland. Sadly, Wales is not represented due to historic mis-timing, but was given a “supporter” role in the royal coat of arms of England, used by the Tudors from 1485. The Welsh don’t seem to mind.

The food was symbolic and simply scrumptious. There was beef and kidney pie, pork rolls, two different kinds of quiche, salad, chopped veggies in what seemed like a vinegar drizzle, slices of fresh ham with mustard, croissants filled with lunch meat, and an overflowing bread basket. I’m sure I am forgetting half the delicacies. And then there were the desserts lined up on a groaning dining room table. As you can imagine, all of this was washed down nicely with red and white wines and glasses of champagne. Charles would have been impressed.

The weather cooperated wonderfully, the day bright with sunshine and the perfect temperature for all humans in the 70s. As if all the above were not enough, the hosts created a Royalty Coronation Quiz. With prizes for the winners. (“Stuff I’ve wanted to get rid of for years,” according to the Master of Ceremonies.) There were 20 questions, such as “Name the three children of Prince William of Wales,” and “Explain President Biden’s snub to the British by just sending his wife to attend the Coronation.”

Some 25 guests were at the festivities, four with UK accents, the rest of us Americans, I’m guessing. We acquitted ourselves reasonably well. I came home with four flamingo long stemmed stirrers and a tiny bottle of gin.

Bel Powley stars as Miep Gies in 'A Small Light' now streaming on Hulu and Disney +

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

A limited series, “A Small Light,” now streaming on Hulu and on Disney+, tells of Miep Gies and her husband, Jan, the Dutch couple who risked their lives hiding the family of Otto Frank from the murderous Nazis during WWII. We know of them from his younger daughter, Anne Frank’s diary that she kept while in their “annex” above the Frank’s business in Amsterdam. This film marks what would have been Miep’s 114 birthday and relates the familiar story from a different perspective, that of Otto Frank’s courageous secretary and would-be savior.

While I have read “The Diary of Anne Frank,” and seen the play, I was riveted by an email I received from a friend, Steve North, who is both a broadcast journalist with CBS and a member by marriage of my extended family. He contacted me to urge that I watch the film, which I will as soon as I can figure out how to get onto Hulu. Meanwhile, I would like to reproduce an abridged version of what he wrote.

In the first half of 1929, two baby girls were born to Jewish families living in and near Frankfurt, Germany. One, sweet and dark-haired, had an older sister; the other, a smiling redhead, was an only child. As they turned 4 years old, the safe worlds their parents had created for them began to crumble. Hitler had come to power, and life for every German Jew was rife with danger. The dark-haired girl’s father decided to flee the country with his wife and children to Amsterdam. Some time later, the red-haired child’s parents made the same decision, eventually making their way to New York.

The dark-haired girl was Anne Frank, whose extraordinary diary, written in the years before her death at age 15 in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, has made her the single most recognizable victim of the Holocaust.

The red-haired girl is my mother, Brunhilde Bachenheimer, and when I climbed the narrow stairs to Anne Frank’s hiding place 35 years ago, I was overcome with the realization that my own family had so narrowly escaped a similar fate.

On a return trip to Amsterdam in 1998, I felt an intense need to connect with Anne’s life and story on a deeper level. I wrote a note to Miep Gies, who had become an employee and friend of Anne’s father, Otto, in 1933. Back then, Miep took an immediate liking to the vivacious and intelligent Anne, thinking, “This is the kind of child I’d like to have someday.”

In 1942, the brutal oppression of Dutch Jews by the Nazi occupiers of Holland escalated, with an increase in deportations. After Anne’s sister was ordered sent to Germany, Otto Frank approached his loyal bookkeeper and asked if she and her husband, Jan, would be willing to risk their lives by hiding the Franks and four other Jews. Miep’s immediate reply: “Of course.”

The rest of the overall story is well-known. Miep found and hid the diary until she could give it to Anne’s grieving father, the only survivor of the eight hidden Jews. Steve connected with Miep some 50 years after the war and, delighted to have met her, wrote his interview shortly before she died.  

While I have yet to see the drama, which has received excellent reviews, it surely poses the question to the viewers: What would you have done? 


By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

In the middle of the last century, which is when I was growing up, no one I knew had ever heard of tofu. In fact, restaurants where we might have encountered tofu were few and limited to university campus neighborhoods like the sole Japanese restaurant near Columbia University on the City’s upper west side.

But of course, in addition to all the other revolutions in the intervening years, we have eateries offering unending ethnic foods. Dining out has become a gastronomic visit to every corner of the globe. And I, and my family, have discovered tofu.

I love tofu.

Now for a long while, tofu got a bad rap. Tofu is, of course, soy, and soy has relatively high levels of isoflavones, which are similar to the hormone estrogen. This hormone has been linked to cancer, and further there was the concern that soy might affect fertility and even cause men to develop feminine characteristics.

In fact, after many years of trials and study, soy has not only been declared safe but also to be of possible benefit to good heart and metabolic health. Tofu offers considerable protein and all nine essential amino acids, B vitamins, healthy unsaturated fatty acids and assorted minerals, including calcium, magnesium, zinc and iron. And according to a recent article in The New York Times, while isoflavones can “weakly mimic estrogens, they also seem to have anticancer, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.”

Not only does soy seem not to promote breast cancer, studies have shown it may even lower such risk for women compared to those who ate little or no soy. It may even protect against prostate and lung cancers. Further studies have largely disproven any association of soy with diminished fertility or sperm count. And in a more than 30-year study of nearly 120,000 health care professionals in the United States, “those who consumed at least one serving of tofu or soy milk per week were 15 to 16% less likely to die than those who ate less than one serving per month.” There you have it, encouragement to eat tofu for our health.

What about taste?

Tofu is definitely more than a blob in a square package. It can be smoked, made into noodles, baked, shredded and flavored in unlimited ways. Tofu was invented some 2000 years ago in China and consumed throughout Asia. So now that 9% of United States households use tofu in multiple ways, we can helpfully categorize it as presented in three types: basic, chewy and intensely flavored. Like eggs and chicken, basic tofu’s flavor is neutral, which allows it to incorporate profitably any additional ingredients. It can serve in stir-fries or even crisped in an air fryer and presented with a dipping sauce, for example.

To prepare tofu, “high-protein food grade soybeans are soaked, made into soy milk and coagulated with a salt or edible organic acid or both. The resulting semisolid curds and clear whey are manipulated for different kinds of tofu,” according to The New York Times.”Texture is determined by whether and how the curds are pressed. Basic tofu options include silken, medium, medium-firm, firm, extra-firm and superfirm. Many dishes involve slicing, cubing and mashing tofu, but depending on its density, it can be scooped, crumbled and even grated.” 

You may have to visit Chinese or Vietnamese markets  to go beyond silken and firm. Pressed (baked) tofu, tofu sheets and fried tofu are all made with chewy tofu. They can look like pasta if cut up into thin strips for a salad. White and red fermented  tofu are deeply flavored and sold in jars at Asian markets in the condiments section. They can be fragrant, rich from sesame oil or spicy from chile.

Tofu can be used in place of animal protein, as a substitute for ricotta in lasagna or mozzarella in a caprese, or as a replacement for high carbs. Since it is already cooked, tofu can go anywhere without fuss.

See why I like it?

Pixabay photo

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

As I drive along the local roads, the sight of the bright yellow forsythia, the symphony of pink cherry blossoms, dogwood and magnolia and the yellow daffodils waving” hello” uplift my spirits and bring me joy. Yes, it’s spring, glorious spring! And the weather could not be more cooperative. We have been able to shed our heavy jackets, sweaters and such, and even give our air conditioners a brief trial run when the temperature hit the high 80s and stayed there for a couple of days. Best of all, we know this splendor is early, and the beautiful season, when Nature festoons the earth, is just beginning.

At one and the same time, the news about human activities blackens the world. Every day, yes every day, we wake up to the news of more mass shootings, more homicides. Because a teenage boy rings the bell of the wrong house on his errand to pick up his younger siblings, he is then shot to death. Because a car full of teenage girls pulls into the wrong driveway, shots are fired at the vehicle as it is trying to back out and one young woman is killed. Because yet another unarmed young man tries to run away from the police at a traffic stop, he deserves to be murdered.

What is happening to our country?

These horrors are occurring because people are afraid. Unless he has cognitive issues, why would an 84-year-old man answer his door with a gun? Why would someone inside a house shoot at a car that just entered the driveway unless they were terrified for themselves. This is more than a mental health issue, which might be blamed for shooting up employees in a bank. This is about cold, petrifying fear.

Thank heavens that Nature goes about her business transforming the earth into a paradise because we humans need something to offset the hell we are creating. People are asked if they are afraid for their children to go to school. To school, which was always the safest place to get children off the streets. Now more than three quarters of the parents say, “Yes.” And so do more than half of the children in elementary school and middle school. Never mind COVID-19 and inflation. They are passing, or will eventually. But the violence that we are living with? That just seems to be getting worse.

What can we do? We know that bad things happen when good people do nothing. But how can we improve our society?

One answer, I believe, is to turn to family and community. Strong family support and a tight-knit community offer security that is close at hand. Parents who let their children feel the love, who set standards and limits, who teach values by example and talk to their children about fears, who are there when most needed — these actions go a long way toward offering meaningful response to a frightening world.

For us adults, meeting the neighbors and creating a Neighborhood Watch for mutual protection is both a safety and social advantage. Participating in one of the many local non-profits, from Rotary to the civic associations and PTAs in the schools to the historical societies to actually running for office can strengthen a sense of belonging and empowerment.

And then there is kindness. I’m not sure how one goes about teaching kindness except by practicing it. Kindness offsets bullying, it makes both the giver and receiver feel noticed and valued. Who has time to visit a sick neighbor? But then, we all have time to hold the door open for the person behind us, and for that person to thank the door holder, or to let the car waiting to join the line of traffic enter in front of us and in return see a thank-you wave.

And there is always Nature for respite. A walk in the park or along a beach can be restorative. Nature, too, can be violent, but storms pass. With effort and focus, perhaps human storms can, too.

Pixabay photo

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

This is a shout-out to all would-be entrepreneurs. Saturday marks the 47th birthday of The Village Times and hence the beginning of Times Beacon Record News Media. So, if you are thinking of starting your own business or organization, stop thinking.

Just do it.

We know whereof we speak. I mention our start to prove what can be done with energy, commitment, good helpers and a dream.

And a little bit of luck. While we started in 1976, during a depression in the economy, women were beginning to enter the workplace. We had some of the brightest members of the community looking for work just when we needed help the most.

To start something new, unless it is philanthropic in nature, you will need money. Obtaining start-up funds will measure how good a salesperson you are. You will have to communicate your idea and your passion to those from whom you are asking for funds.

We sold shares in a closed corporation to gather our initial underwriting.

Whom should you approach?

The answer to that depends on finding people who might share your passion for what you are starting or who love you enough to support your getting it off the ground. Unless you have tangible assets to offer as collateral, don’t bother going to most banks.

Since we were proposing starting a community newspaper, we went to members of the community and asked for their participation. At the time, the type of corporation we used limited us to 10 stockholders. I believe that is no longer the case.

How much to ask?

We had no idea how much it would cost to get started, so we picked a number that we thought would not seriously affect any investor if it were lost. We also tried to estimate how much the market of investors would be willing to spend.

The result: We were woefully undercapitalized and have always run from behind. That’s exciting but not smart business strategy. Ask others in your field who might be sympathetic to your efforts to estimate one year’s expenses, at the very least, and set that as your minimum goal.

When we ran out of money at a key moment, we were able to include one extra stockholder who brought us fresh cash. This was not necessarily appreciated by the other shareholders because it diluted their equity a bit. But we persevered.

It is vital that you know yourself. Being the founder is not for everyone. Most people would rather work for a company and receive a predictable paycheck rather than take chances every week with not meeting the payroll or being able to pay the bills. The boss has to deal with problems routinely that may seem far removed from the original goal of the company. Personnel matters are an example.

Don’t try to learn everything there is to know about your prospective business before you start, first because you can’t really know what lies ahead and also because you will learn more as you go forward. I believe we fell into every unimaginable briar patch that we could, including a move on us to become unionized, despite the fact that no community newspaper in the state had a union, and a lengthy audit for proper classification of our staff.

That can happen to you. We learned from every thorny experience.

Also, we were protected by our ignorance and just plowed ahead. Not considering failure kept it from entering our thinking.

Surround yourself with good workers. You may not be able to afford experienced people in your field, but more importantly, find bright helpers who totally share your dream. They, and you, will learn as you go. And attribute the successes to them because none of us can go it alone. It is the staff of our newspapers and media company that earned us 11 prizes in this past week’s annual Better Newspaper Contest for New York State publishers. Yay for each one and for the whole team together.

We have been lucky in being accepted and patronized by our customers: readers and advertisers. I believe that if you offer your best work and respond to their needs, all while maintaining a brand known for integrity, your customers will make you a success.

Go for it. And best of luck!