Authors Posts by Kyle Barr

Kyle Barr

Kyle Barr
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John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix in a scene from ‘The Sisters Brothers’ Photo by Magali Bragard/Annapurna Pictures

By Kyle Barr

Is there something to say about the fact that, even as so many Western genre movies have been released, covering every inch of America’s rugged past, that the genre still survives?

Though it’s one of film’s oldest and most tested settings, the entire concept of the Western has been deconstructed, reconstructed, parodied, satired, mocked and idolized so many times until today where we have different subgenres from the post-Western, the comedy Western and beyond.

So where does “The Sisters Brothers,” a film directed by French filmmaker Jacques Audiard, sit in this framework? The film was marketed as a comedy Western, and while the film is certainly funny at points, it really is so much more.

John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix in a scene from ‘The Sisters Brothers’ Photo by Magali Bragard/Annapurna Pictures

This is the jazz version of the Western, something recognizable yet off-kilter enough to be fresh in all the right ways. Adapted from a 2011 novel by the Canadian author Patrick deWitt, the story follows the brothers Eli Sisters (John C. Reilly) and Charlie Sisters (Joaquin Phoenix) as two hit-men gunslingers employed by the enigmatic figure of The Commodore (Rutger Hauer).

The Sisters brothers are tasked with finding Hermann Kermit Warm (Riz Ahmed), a gentleman and a chemist, knowing that, most likely, they will have to kill him. When they finally find him, Warm and the man who was supposed to confine him, John Morris (Jake Gyllenhaal) have a much more interesting offer to give the two murderous brothers.

The opening shot is one so cleanly reminiscent of Westerns but given a subtle twist of shot and lighting. It starts large, a black field with the hint of a purple horizon, but the silence is cut short with sparks and flashes of light as the Sisters brothers engage men fortified in a house. The film is violent without languishing in it, and, instead, Audiard likes to spend more time in finding comedic moments in the exhausting work of traveling across the West, from trying to ride when hung over or from a  random spider bite (one that crawled inside his mouth), or force a man near-comatose for several days while a bear attack nearly kills his horse. 

Westerns have long drawn their themes of the line between right and wrong, good and evil, society and the wilderness. “The Sisters Brothers” doesn’t so much run away from those themes as it does show just how deflated they are. The fact that the film ends not with so much of a bang but with a calm, pastoral scene of home and family goes to say something about the entire idea of the Western genre.

Jake Gyllenhaal in a scene from ‘Sisters Brothers’

All actors involved do a great job with their performances, and both Ahmed and Gyllenhaal are particularly interesting to watch as they develop a respect for the other over the course of the film. Phoenix is terrific in his role, playing the slightly unhinged gunslinger with just the right amount of anger while leaving room for introspection.

“You do realize that our father was stark raving mad and we got his foul blood in our veins?,” Charlie Sisters says. “That was his gift to us. That blood is why we’re good at what we do.”

While it was Reilly’s own production company that financed the film, it’s good to note that the man who is most known for his comedies, often co-starring with Will Farrell, takes a far more interesting and nuanced turn as the older Sisters brother, killing people in the name of defending his brother, who does not believe he needs saving. He comes into his own especially at the end of the film, as he tries to make up for the past by protecting his brother as they run across the West pursued by men who would kill them.

“The Sisters Brothers” is one of those films that you’ll either love or fully question what all the fuss is about. As a general fan of Westerns and all its spin-offs, this reviewer says it’s a much-needed spin on many overdone film tropes of the Western genre.

Rated R for violence, disturbing images and language, “The Sisters Brothers” is now playing in local theaters.

Law enforcement representatives from Suffolk County Police Department and local police departments discuss armed security personnel in schools at a Northport board of education meeting. Photo by Kyle Barr

The Northport-East Northport school district has been taking it slow and steady in considering hiring armed guards for its school buildings. The board of education is in the process of soliciting professional opinions from local police and security advisers to determine the path forward for its schools.

About 70 people filed into a public meeting hosted by the school board Oct. 11, which included members of the Suffolk County Police Department, Northport Police Department, Asharoken Police Department, the school district’s retained attorneys from Ingerman Smith LLP, the district’s insurance provider New York Schools Insurance Reciprocal and the district’s security adviser to answer the board and the community questions about the potential impact of hiring armed security guards.

“There is a lot of interest about this throughout the county,” said Suffolk County Police Department Inspector Michael Romagnoli, the commanding officer of the department. “All are debating this topic at similar levels.”

The board hosted a previous meeting March 1 where the community came out in droves to voice support for the district hiring armed guards, though when asked whether he would want armed guards Leonard Devlin, the district’s security consultant, said he would prefer not to.

It would be my recommendation to not have armed guards in our schools.’

— Leonard Devlin

“It would be my recommendation to not have armed guards in our schools,” Devlin said. “If we were to have armed security personnel, the officer would only respond if there was an active shooter, not if there was a physical confrontation with a student, teacher or of any nature.”

The district said it has upgraded multiple security measures since the start of the year. Devlin said the district hired 12 new unarmed guards, which now totals 30 guards who patrol campus grounds during the school day from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. The district also purchased six new security vehicles to complement an existing six, which should arrive in about a month.

Security vestibules are already installed or close to being installed for all schools except Bellerose Avenue Elementary, Ocean Avenue Elementary and Northport Middle School, which the security consultant said would be completed in the future as part of the district’s ongoing $40 million capital bond project. The district said it has installed 30 new cameras this year for a new total of 400 throughout the buildings, though these are monitored sparingly throughout the day and in the late-night hours, Devlin said.

One of the biggest questions raised surrounding the need for armed guards in schools is whether local police response time is fast enough to deal with an armed assailant. Romagnoli said their response time for local cars was four to five minutes, while Northport Police Chief William Ricca said their response time was three to four minutes. The inspector said that a school shooting comes in as a Priority 0, the highest priority, the same as if a call came in that an officer was shot. Romagnoli said since the 1999 Columbine High School massacre in Colorado cops are trained to enter an active shooter situation immediately upon arriving at the scene.

“Our involvement in the schools has increased tremendously within the last five years, our number of school incidents in the 2nd Precinct has gone up 50 percent, and the officers have more familiarity with the schools just from their daily patrols,” SCPD Deputy Inspector Matthew McCormick said.

Columbine was a long time ago, and now the police are pulled in so many different directions with what to prioritize around Long Island.”

— David Stein

Board Vice President David Stein said he was concerned it was not possible for every member of every police department to be intimate with the district’s six separate school facilities.

“Columbine was a long time ago, and now the police are pulled in so many different directions with what to prioritize around Long Island,” Stein said.

Romagnoli said the 2nd Precinct has one school resource officer assigned to cover all school districts in the area, not accounting for the other police officers who sometimes take up SRO duties part time on top of their normal police work. The SRO is responsible for being a liaison from the district to the police and for safety and crime prevention in schools.

While some members of the board questioned if guards should be on the premises for longer than regular school hours, to protect kids in after-school activities and sports, but Devlin said it came down to money. He estimated armed guards working at approximately $15 an hour for an eight-hour day would cost the district $208,200, if one guard for each of the district’s nine school campuses were allotted. Though Devlin added if the district wants total coverage for the day, including an hour break for each guard, it would have to hire another three to cover them on their breaks, adding up to just under $400,000.

Police representatives admitted armed guards and police arriving on scene of an emergency could present other problems. There is potential for a “blue on blue” situation, where two armed responders potentially confront each other. Current school security recently changed their uniform to be a bright gold color, but there is no consistency in the uniform between armed presences in other schools. Romagnoli said because of these inconsistencies it’s important the district keep a clear line of communication to the police departments and for dispatch to know of the armed presence inside the school.

We routinely drill in active shooter response and deliberately build those scenarios into our drills, and I can say we do have a discharge from one officer to another officer. We would rather that happen in training than out in the world.”

— Michael Romagnoli

“Our protocol is the uniformed officer responding is in charge,” Romagnoli said. “We routinely drill in active shooter response and deliberately build those scenarios into our drills, and I can say we do have a discharge from one officer to another officer. We would rather that happen in training than out in the world.”

Those on the panel representing the district’s liability concerns said insurance would cover the district in most cases should an armed guard be present. John Peppard, the senior vice president of NYSIR, the school’s insurance handler, said the only time the school might have a problem is if the guards, as school employees, went rogue in some way.

Local resident Denise Schwartz said despite assurances from local police departments promising prioritized response, the comments made by the panel members did not instill much optimism, especially considering the presence of just one SCPD SRO and the little time the district monitors the security cameras.

“Several things they said made me feel even less safe,” Swartz said.

For Northport resident Tammie Topel, who said she’s still on the fence about hiring armed guards, the meeting did little to eliminate the catch 22 inherent in the decision.

“I think that it opens up whether you do, or you don’t, you’re either not indemnified, or there’s going to be a lawsuit, or there might be an accidental shooting,” Topel said. “There’s 400 cameras that are not being monitored at all times, so what’s the sense of wasting that money on cameras … they should be monitored if that’s what we’re going to be using them for.”

The district will be hosting another workshop Nov. 1 where it will discuss the emotional and psychological impact of having armed guards in schools. On Nov. 8, the board will discuss whether it will put the item on the agenda for vote at a subsequent meeting.

If one asked Miller Place native and opera singer Chris Remkus what makes opera so appealing, he would say a production is more than just a costume and set, that it’s the combination of epic story and deep-throated, passionate voices that transcend the mundane of the normal world.

“I think what’s so thrilling about opera is you have these pieces in the repertoire which are just complete works of art,” the 29-year-old Remkus said. “They tell a complete story that is both musically thrilling but also sincere and authentic in its intentions.”

Remkus has long worked to perfect his voice as a tenor, and while he has loved choir and musicals, it is opera that has captured the young man’s imagination.

Chris Remkus, a tenor opera singer who graduated from Miller Place High School in 2009, is set to star in a production of ‘Candide’ at the New England Conservatory Oct. 23 and 24. Photo from Remkus

“You’re using the full range of your voice, and you’re using the full dynamic of your acting capability to create a story and create a character that is thrilling to witness and participate in,” he said.

Now Remkus is cast in the title role of Candide for the New England Conservatory’s two-night production of the late Leonard Bernstein’s English-speaking operetta “Candide.” The opera is being put on in celebration of what would have been the famous composer’s 100th birthday.

Remkus was born to the stage at a very young age when his father, Joseph Remkus, a retired chemistry teacher from Sagamore Middle School in Sachem who also acted as director for the schools theater program, would bring his children, Chris and his sister Lauren, to the school’s auditorium to watch while his students rehearsed. Eventually his kids became part of the performance.

“He seemed to like it — being on stage,” Remkus’ father said. “We did ‘Damn Yankees,’ ‘Good News,’ ‘Bye, Bye Birdy,’ and more. My music director from junior high said he had a really good voice — even back then she could hear him really clear.”

Candide is based off of the 18th-century philosopher Voltaire’s notorious 1759 satire “Candide, ou l’Optimisme,” which follows the story of Candide as he journeys across Europe while testing the very concept of overriding optimism, and that people must make sense of a world that often displays such barbarity.

“It was just a role that speaks to me — it captures the satire and comedy in the role, and it also has a deep undertone to the story,” Remkus said. “We can just see how crazy the world can be and how terrible things can happen, and were left trying to make sense of this seemingly meaningless world.”

It’s a role that Remkus’ father said his son has worked so long and so hard for. As a young man the opera singer was always involved in theater and music throughout his high school career. First, he played saxophone in the traditional high school band, big band and jazz band. Over time his classmates and friends kept telling him he had a great voice, and that he should join choir as well. In his senior year he was picked to be one of only 12 young people for the New York All-State select choir and was also the only person on the North Shore of Long Island to be selected for All-Eastern choir.

After he graduated from Miller Place in 2009 Remkus left for Hofstra University to get his bachelor’s degree in music. He took time off to develop his voice even more, taking classes at the Manhattan School of Music before heading upstate to get his master’s in music from the Bard Conservatory of Music. In 2017 the tenor headed to Boston to participate in the New England Conservatory’s pre-professional program, specifically looking to get a graduate diploma in voice. Remkus said he expects to finally end his schooling by early 2019.

Beyond Candide, the young opera singer said he wishes to one day make it to Europe to perform in the opera scene there. The life of an opera singer is much less sedentary than some might assume, Remkus said. Often opera singers are employed for the length of one or two years before having to move on to another opera hall and another company. Despite the anticipated traveling, he said he is excited to see the world.

“We’re always bouncing around exploring new avenues and new pieces which keeps it really exciting and refreshing,” Remkus said.

Remkus’ father, who will be taking the trek to Boston to watch his son perform Candide Oct. 23 and 24, said he could not be any happier for his son.

“Being a theater person myself I couldn’t be any more proud of him,” he said.

Bruce Tilden, above, owner of Tilden Lane Farm in Greenlawn, holds up a deer antler prop at the Oct. 10 Town of Huntington board meeting. Photo by Kyle Barr

Hunting season is open in Huntington, though local farmers and residents are at odds over whether the town will soon allow special permits for bowhunting on deer after the season ends.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation currently allows for people to apply for Deer Damage Permits that would allow residents to hunt deer if they can show the animals are negatively impacting agriculture, horticulture, biodiversity or are a threat to human health and safety. The Town of Huntington currently does not allow for these licenses, but some local farmers have been lobbying the town to let them apply for one.

“I’m trying to keep this business alive for my grandchildren,” said Bruce Tilden, the operator of Tilden Lane Farm in Greenlawn. “If it were a bug I could spray it, if it were a rat I could trap it, but because it’s Bambi, I can’t do anything about it.”

Tilden said that his farm, which sells Christmas trees, has had problems of deer rubbing the bark off his trees and doing damage to saplings for many years, mostly before the deer hunting season opens up Oct. 1. He said he had called the DEC but was told he could not apply for a DDP because the Huntington town code prohibits it.

A hunter waits for deer near Cindy Gavel’s house in Asharoken. Photo from Cindy Gavel

Residents living on the edge of wooded property feel giving local hunters the potential to hunt beyond the normal season could only exacerbate what they see is close-proximity hunting going on near their homes. Several Asharoken and Eaton’s Neck residents spoke in an open hearing during a town board meeting Oct. 10 about their issues with longbow hunters near their homes.

“With these permits the danger of hunting would exist all year long” Eaton’s Neck resident Christine Ballow said. “If this is all year long you have a much higher risk for the community… Instead of hunting we could neuter the bucks.”

In 2015, the Huntington town board voted to allow longbow hunting of deer on private property throughout the town during the regular longbow hunting season Oct. 1 to Jan. 31. The hunting still requires a DEC permit.

State regulations also require hunters to be 150 feet from other private property. Though for some like Asharoken resident Cindy Gavel the footage between her and hunters is not enough to provide safety for herself or for the kids in the community.

“It’s ridiculous how many tree stands are in this neighborhood,” Gavel said. “You can’t even feel safe to walk down the street.”

In 2016, Gavel watched as a buck with an arrow in its back leaped her backyard fence before moving into her yard and bleeding to death.

“If they would change the regulations to be 500 feet from private property it would not affect hunters,” she said.

Other nearby townships have enforced greater footage between property and deer hunters. In December 2017, East Quogue-based hunting advocacy group Hunters for Deer sued The Town of Smithtown over its maximum limitations of 500 feet between hunters and private property, saying it was illegal, inconsistent with DEC regulations and that it restricted deer hunting in many parts of the town. A New York State Supreme Court judge dropped the case saying the town was in their right to restrict the footage, according to court filings. The hunting group announced on their Facebook page they would appeal.

If it were a bug I could spray it, if it were a rat I could trap it, but because it’s Bambi, I can’t do anything about it.”

— Bruce Tilden

A spokesperson for the state DEC said that 135 DDPs have been issued in Suffolk County in 2018 and that any complaints about permits or hunting can be sent to the NYS Environmental Conservation Police for investigation.

Ballow asked the town council why Huntington wasn’t considering making the proposed law restricted to commercial farmers alone, but Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) said the change in town code was to bring the town into accordance with current DEC and state law, and that it should only apply to farmers who need to deal with deer outside the regular hunting season.

“It’s allowing farmers to get special waivers to take care of their property,” Lupinacci said.

Councilwoman Joan Cergol (D) said she wished the town council would spend more time reviewing any issues with the new law regarding who could apply for a DDP.

“I question what constitutes a ‘farmer,’” Cergol said. “Is it people with a backyard vegetable garden? We should tighten it to provide clarity — see what we can do to find middle ground.”

Lupinacci said that while the local law does not allow these licenses, the state DEC could issue DDP licenses despite town code. Huntington Town Attorney Nicholas Ciappetta said he believed the DEC could do that, but as far as he knew they haven’t yet.

“The state law trumps the town code in the case there are any inconsistencies, so they could disregard the town code,” Ciappetta said. “But they haven’t so far.”

The board did not give an exact date on when the code change would come to a vote.

Correction: Christine Ballow’s quote was changed to reflect more of her original argument.

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Photo from Metro

Though it goes hardly noticed, the Town of Smithtown’s curb cut program has made more than a dent in the last 20 years.

Kelly Brown, the housing rehabilitation administrator in the town’s planning department, has been supervising the creation of several hundred curb cuts throughout the town for the purposes of increasing accessibility for people who are disabled. Though she said she did not have a way to give a precise number as to how many have been created around Smithtown, she estimated the town has made more than 700 cuts in the two decades the program has been around.

“We’ve been doing the handicapped curb cuts in neighborhoods where there are sidewalks, and if the handicap ramps in an area are not up to code we redid them or where there weren’t any we put them in,” Brown said. “Some of these developments go back 40, 50, 60 years, and handicap accessibility wasn’t on the forefront like it is now.”

You need to do it, and there are handicapped people that under the Americans with Disabilities Act need to access the sidewalks properly. “

— Tom McCarthy

Current plans for curb cuts will address sidewalks between Gibbs Pond Road and Andreoli Park as well as Woodview Drive and Nichols Road. Those spaces are priorities, Brown said, so that people who use a wheelchair or are otherwise disabled can more easily access the Nesconset public park.

Town Councilman Tom McCarthy (R) is the liaison to the planning department and has overseen a lot of the cuts.

“You need to do it, and there are handicapped people that under the Americans with Disabilities Act need to access the sidewalks properly,” McCarthy said. “[Brown] does a fantastic job with it. She gets it down without any fanfare, and that’s just how [she] is.”

Though the program goes often unremarked, advocates for those with disabilities say it makes a huge difference for people who simply do not have the ability to take the step off a sidewalk. While the ADA requires all new sidewalks to be installed with disability accessible curb cuts, on older streets without them many people see their independence severely limited.

“They’re critical, they’re absolutely critical,” said Frank Krotschinsky, the director for Suffolk County’s Office for People with Disabilities. He speaks from experience, as he has used a wheelchair since he was a kid growing up in Queens. “I get annoyed if there’s no curb cut, I got to try to find a driveway to go up or risk falling out of my chair if I try to jump the curb.”

While it is a simple change to existing streets, the disabilities office director said these slopes in sidewalks do more than just help the disabled. It’s something called the “curb cut effect,” where changing things to benefit people with disabilities also helps society at large.

It’s good for not just people in wheelchairs — it’s good for people pushing baby carriages or shopping carts.” 

—  Frank Krotschinsky

“It’s good for not just people in wheelchairs — it’s good for people pushing baby carriages or shopping carts,” Krotschinsky said. “It’s all part of universal design, it’s just a good thing.”

Other curb cuts being considered for this year include Meadow Court and Whitecliff Lane; Plymouth Boulevard and Central Road; and River Road and Long Hill Drive in Smithtown. In Commack, Brown said they are considering intersections with Parnell Drive including Hollywood Drive, Concord Land and Roosevelt Drive. Whether cuts get installed depends on how much funds the planning department has before the start of the new year.

The curb cuts are funded through a Suffolk County Community Development Block Grant, the 43rd year of the program, which provides federal assistance from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Though Brown said once the planning office received $300,000 in total block grant funds, it got just $130,000 for the current year. More than half of this year’s grant money is slated to create curb cuts.

“I don’t know how long I can continue this program,” Brown said. “I know we will have funding into next year, but we go year by year.”

Krotschinsky said the number of curb cuts have increased drastically in only a few decades in Suffolk County, and local governments should continue to fund programs that install them.

“Things have improved a lot, and are they perfect yet, no, but they have improved,” Krotschinsky said.

By Kyle Barr

The Bates House in Setauket is gearing up to host a night of intrigue and mystery in order to support a local horse sanctuary in need.

The nonprofit Twin Oaks Horse Sanctuary in Manorville will hold a murder mystery event at the Setauket venue on Sunday, Nov. 11 to raise funds for repairs to a barn roof, among others. The farm shelters close to 30 horses, some of which have suffered from abuse, neglect, injury or simply the ravages of time and age. 

“We take them in and they live out their lives,” said Cynthia Steinmann, one of the two main sanctuary volunteers. “You never know their stories before you get them.”

From left, Jennifer Zalak with Maggie the horse and Cynthia Steinmann with Frankie the cat

Horses range in age, but all were saved from worse fates or were taken in when they had no other place to go. Two Friesian brothers Jan and Attilla were brought into the sanctuary after a period where they were nearly starved, kept in the same barn as a dead horse. Another horse named Journey was brought to the sanctuary after a very difficult childbirth in Pennsylvania. Dealer was brought to the sanctuary by caring riding students after becoming too old to be used for lessons.

The sanctuary, which is run by a group of just three women, is looking to get in front of a number of issues before winter season sets in. A recent storm blew the roof off of one of the barn buildings on site and there is a need for a drainage system to prevent flooding as well as to create new boards for horses to walk on if the rains soften the ground too much. 

Several of the horse shelters on site could use renovations, including one that needs to be rebuilt, and the sanctuary is always looking for new wood to reconstruct the pens that some of the larger horses can knock down with only a slight nudge of their huge frames.

“When it’s cold you want them to have a place to get out of the wind,” said Jennifer Zalak, Steinmann’s cousin and volunteer at the sanctuary. “I would just like them to have a nice dry spot to go to if the ground is muddy.”

Journey

The staff take turns alternating between the mornings and evenings, and each in turn is there close to six days a week or more depending on what work is needed. In previous years, when snow storms closed off roads and blanketed their small farm in foot after foot of muddy snow, the volunteers have also slept there to make sure the horses were alright come morning.

Most of the horses are older, around 20 to 30 years old. It means most are past their prime, and they are treated more like members of a retirement community. “With our guys being senior citizens, they really don’t care about moving around too much,” Zalak laughed.

Bates House Manager Lise Hintz said she took a road trip out to the sanctuary and was amazed at how much such a small group of people have been able to accomplish. “When I went out there I could not believe what I saw,” said Hintz “How do you not help a group like that? This sanctuary is in such need of repair and help.”

If Zalak and Steinmann had the opportunity and the funds, their dream would be to open the sanctuary to the public, not necessarily for lessons due to the age of most of the horses, but for therapy reasons, where people come to interact with the horses in quiet and peace. Steinmann said she has seen just how much of a calming effect the horses can have on individuals, especially for people experiencing depression or for those with other mental issues.

“My ultimate dream would be to do a bed and breakfast on the sanctuary with therapy programs for veterans and retired police officers, people with social disabilities, anxiety, depression and others” Steinmann said. “Some people get something spiritual out of it, some people get something relaxing out of it.”

The Nov. 11 murder mystery event, run by the nationally based Murder Mystery Company, will put local residents into a 1920s-themed scenario in which one person has committed a murder most foul. Titled “Crime and Pun-ishment,” the audience has to figure out who the murderer is before he or she gets away. Participants are encouraged to dress for the occasion in either flapper dresses, zoot suits or whatever attire one thinks is appropriate to the time. 

The Bates House is located at 1 Bates Road in Setauket. Doors will open at 5 p.m. and the show will start at 6 p.m. An assortment of Italian food will be served buffet style along with a variety of wines, soft drinks, dessert, coffee and tea. In addition, there will be a silent auction, and a raffle for local artist Dino Rinaldi to personally paint a picture of one winner’s family pet.

Tickets are $35 per person and must be purchased before Oct. 29. Tickets are sold on a first-come, first-sold basis and can be purchased at www.twinoakshorsesanctuary.org, by mail at P.O. Box 284, Lake Grove, NY 11755 or by phone at 631-874-4913. If you are mailing a check please write “Murder Mystery Ticket” in the memo. No tickets will be sold at the door.

For further information call 631-689-7054.

All photos by Kyle Barr

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Along with falling leaves, colder weather and comfy sweaters, autumn also brings the flu, and while the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said last year’s season was one of the worst on record, only time will tell how serious this season will be.

Despite the prevalence of the influenza virus and availability of vaccines, the virus still remains deadly on an annual basis. The CDC reported an estimated 80,000 people in the U.S. died from health complications related to influenza during the 2017-18 season, the highest fatality rate compared to any contemporary season on record since first published in 1976.

Of those deaths 183 were children, the most since 171 died in the 2012-13. Approximately 80 percent of those children who died did not receive a flu vaccination, according to the CDC.

The 2017-18 flu season yielded 30,453 influenza-related hospitalizations from October 2017 through April 2018. People 65 years or older accounted for the majority of those hospitalizations, according to the CDC. Overall hospitalization rates were also the highest on record.

Influenza viruses are hard to pin down, as they come in several forms which can require different vaccinations. The influenza A virus was the preeminent strand throughout the 2017-18 season, though influenza B viruses showed up in different parts of the season.

The CDC report for 2017-18 said the flu shot was only 25 percent effective against the H3N2 virus and 65 percent against H1N1, both type A viruses. Meanwhile it was 49 percent effective against B viruses. The report estimated the overall vaccine effectiveness at 40 percent, meaning it reduced a person’s overall risk of having to seek medical care for flu illness at that rate.

The CDC still strongly recommends vaccines as the best way to prevent contracting the virus, but especially for children at least 6 months old, and people aged 50 and older. Children aged 6 months through 8 years who require two doses should receive the first vaccination as soon as possible, and their next dose four weeks later, according to the CDC. For those looking to travel this season the CDC recommends a vaccination two or more weeks before departure.

The new vaccines being rolled out for the 2018-19 flu season will contain agents to specifically target the A(H1N1) and A(H3N2) viruses along with the usual B viruses.

The CDC recommends everyone 6 months or older gets a shot before the end of October. Flu shots are available at most primary care physicians, but also in CVS Pharmacy, Rite Aid and Walgreens stores free with most insurance plans. The shot is also available in pharmacies in local Stop & Shop, Walmart, Target and Kmart stores. Many colleges, such as Stony Brook University, are offering flu shots to its students. Call your doctor or local pharmacy to ask whether they currently supply flu shots.

The Wading River Shoreham Chamber of Commerce hosted its first Fall Festival Oct. 13, and while cold rain fell throughout the morning, the community still came out in costume to celebrate the arrival of autumn.

While Halloween is still weeks away, kids dressed up in costume as zombies, firefighters, superheroes and many others, to march in a short parade from St. John the Baptist’s Church to the Wading River duck pond. Though not many kids participated in the walk because of the rain, young people still got to participate in a pumpkin decorating contest, crafts and shop at booths featuring local vendors.

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Smithtown resident Aiden Eddelson, 9, in the booth with SportsNet New York’s broadcasters during the bottom of the third inning. Photo from SportsNet New York

If you asked Smithtown fourth-grader Aidan Eddelson about the New York Mets, he could tell you the batting average of most players on the team. He could tell you where most pitchers like to pitch to outfielder Brandon Nimmo and can tell you which player thinks he’s the best dancer.

“[Shortstop Amed] Rosario’s from the Dominican Republic, he bats right, and he also thinks he’s the best dancer on the Mets,” Aidan said, speaking live from SportsNet New York broadcast booth Sept. 26.

The 9-year-old fan was given the opportunity to be the SportsNet New York’s kidcaster during the bottom of the 3rd inning of the Atlanta Braves versus New York Mets game Sept. 26. The SNY Kidcaster Contest asks young Mets fans to submit a video of them broadcasting a home run made by Nimmo in a previous Mets game. Only a few days after Aidan mailed his submission, he was asked to join the station’s veteran broadcasters Gary Cohen, Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling in their booth. The professionals said they were surprised how knowledgeable young Aidan was about the team.

“I did not know that,” Hernandez said, when he heard Aidan comment on Rosario’s dancing capability.

Aidan was paying attention to the players warming up for their turn at bat.

“Aidan’s been a fan since birth, whether he’s known it or not.”

— Roie Eddelson

“I actually saw him dancing over there before, and he was dancing when he was getting ready,” the young Mets fan said.

Aidan and his father, Brian, spent several hours in the days before the broadcast researching the team so they could be prepared. While Aidan knew those at bat would be at the bottom of the lineup, he didn’t know who exactly would be standing at the plate.

“Aidan’s been a fan since birth, whether he’s known it or not,” Aidan’s mother, Roie, said. “To be 9 years old and accomplish that is just something we’ll never forget.”

Everyone in the Eddelson family is a Mets fan, especially with his parents being born in Queens and Brooklyn. That enthusiasm has bled down into Aidan and his 6-year-old brother, Jack.

Aidan, who attends Mount Pleasant Elementary school, watched his first Mets game during the 2015 World Series when the Mets faced the Cincinnati Reds. He has been a dedicated fan ever since, saying he and the rest of his family have done their best to never miss a game.

Despite the family’s lifelong commitment to the team, it will never stop them from complaining about how they perform each season.

“They always do well in the beginning 30 games in the season, and then they downfall for some reason,” Aidan said. “They were first this year and last year, and then they just went down.”

“[The Mets] always do well in the beginning 30 games in the season, and then they downfall for some reason.”

— Aidan Eddelson

Nonetheless, Aidan’s mother said she and her family will always believe in their home team. Her husband confirmed it.

“This year, they ended on a high note,” Aidan’s father said.

Aidan said he plays little league hockey, soccer and baseball, where his favorite position is catcher. If he had a choice of career, it would either be a major league sports player or sports broadcaster. Therefore, it was really heartening for Aidan to hear, at the end of the broadcast, the veteran game pundits had only encouraging words for the young superfan.

“You did a fantastic job, you were so well prepared, and you had great notes,” Cohen said. “Ronny might become the general manager, Keith might retire, so there might be a spot in the booth before we know it.”

This post has been amended to reflect the correct spelling of young Eddelson.

Mount Sinai School District's board of education during its March 8 meeting. Photo by Kyle Barr

The Mount Sinai school district swore in a new board member Sept. 26 to replace three-year trustee Michael Riggio, who vacated his position in August.

AnneMarie Henninger, a physical therapist and Mount Sinai resident, was unanimously voted in by the six remaining board members several weeks after the seat became open.

The board decided to vote internally on a new board member soon after Riggio announced he was stepping away from his position. Board President Robert Sweeney said the entire board spent two nights for four hours each in September reviewing the 10 applications submitted by district residents.

“We were looking for people who were looking to build consensus, listen, participate and learn,” Sweeney said. “In our process one of the questions we asked was ‘how have you worked for the support of the community and volunteered for the community previously?’”

Henninger did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

The board had three options in choosing a new member to fill the position vacated by Riggio. It could have either held a special election, leave the seat vacant until the scheduled trustee elections in May or request applications from interested community members and then vote on a new board member internally. Sweeney said the board did not want to miss out on having a seventh member and not have a swing vote, and that it did not think it was financially viable to hold a special election so soon after the last community board and budget vote in May.

Candidates for the position needed to be a qualified voter in the district, be a resident of the district for at least one year and could not be a current employee of the district. Mount Sinai looked for candidates to show their prior community service or volunteer work in the district as well as their ability to attend one to three meetings a month and be available at all times to communicate. Sweeney said Henninger fit all those qualities, and more.

“It was very interesting to listen to her perspective on how she has often been called into special education committee meetings,” Sweeney said. “We had 10 good community members come forward – all good people with varying degrees of participation in the community, but it was also her knowledge of the district, her participation in the district and its board meetings that made us choose her.”

Riggio was elected to trustee position during the May board elections, though he decided to officially step down Aug. 5 after receiving an offer for a new job in Florida. The job would take too much of his attention from his responsibilities that he didn’t wish to become a detriment to the work of the board, he said.

Henninger’s seat will come up for vote again in May 2019. Three at-large seats will be up for grabs at that time, and the person to receive the third most votes will take up Riggio’s seat, which will have a two-year tenure instead of the usual three years for the other seats.

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