Value Content Over Style

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Heed those who see the big picture

By Bette Dewing

Hey, journalists Jeff Greenfield and Mark Barabak, don't call yourself "old fogies" because you think that televised debate audiences shouldn't react verbally, and chuck that ageist label. It implies that decorous behavior in an era of loud mouths is somehow regressive.

This comment was made in reference to Newt Gingrich benefiting from strong audience reaction in one debate but not in another where the audience was told to hush up. Gingrich is a never-at-a-loss-for-words facile speaker, and we fallible humans often value style over content.

Although I have countless ideas, words often fail me, especially when speaking in public. My Norwegian-dominant ancestry and being born left-handed likely account for my nonverbal right brain dominance. Ah, but right-brainers are very intuitive. They also see the big picture more clearly than left-brainers-and don't we need that!

Well, I surely see the big picture on safety. Although my traffic safety "trailblazing" was officially recognized in 2006 by Upper East Side federal, state and city elected officials, I'm never consulted. Nope, the bicycling group Transportation Alternatives is the chief adviser for the city, even on planning safe streets for seniors.

No matter that TA members don't know the elder experience or worry that bicyclists' strong aversion to the laws of the road is what scares these vulnerable walkers the most. And why isn't the most deadly traffic crime, motorists' failing to yield when turning into a crosswalk, a TA priority? And if it's true, why doesn't TA protest how the Daily News, with its new British editor, seems to be slighting local traffic tragedy news.

Ah, but I don't have a big mouth, charisma or chutzpah. And my anti-ageism work hasn't yet reduced the bias against my being old. Anyway, my generation was taught that hogging the talk was selfish and boorish. Now it's de rigeur if you want your ideas to be heeded-or even heard!

But please, you who agree with me, never call yourselves "old fogies" or "old-fashioned," but rather recount how countless civil, common-sense and democratic ways of life were tossed out with the bathwater of ill-advised change-mostly by those without big-picture vision.

Remember my inaugural column's quote from Ogden Nash's New York magazine piece: "Progress was all right once, but in my lifetime, too much seems headed in the wrong direction. I think it started in Kitty Hawk when two Wrights made a wrong."

Consider how that "wrong" sure did uproot us and ripped up the train tracks that safely connected every city and town. Traffic tragedies soared as private wheels became the land travel norm. So here's to ordering our leaders to lower the speed limit pronto and giving all-out support for the infinitely safer and more democratic mass transit.

And while I mostly assail terrorist wheeling, kamikaze walking has got to go; thus this respectful reproach to Lorraine Duffy Merkl:

Your last column told how happy you were that your favorite wallet was eventually returned (albeit without any money) after it had slipped from your purse as you crossed a busy intersection wearing earphones. Dear Ms. Merkl, you have a mother, a daughter and a husband who need you. You also influence readers. The next time you go walking, unplug those ears. Need music? Then whistle or sing, and join my safe traveling brigade!

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