Between you and me

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Here are a couple of things to think about in this new year. First, it is the Chinese Year of the Dog. Each year is related to a zodiac animal within a 12-year cycle, and the Dog is in the 11th position, after the Rooster and before the Pig. Other Dog years include births in 1934, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994 and so on. You get the pattern. If you are a Dog, you are undoubtedly loyal, honest, kind, amiable and sincere, although you’re probably not all that good at communications. As a result, sometimes you are perceived as stubborn. However, you make up for that by always being ready to help others.

Enough of that and on to the latest law for Suffolk County. As you have probably experienced by now, wherever you might be shopping and inclined to make a purchase, you will have to add 5 cents to the total if you want a bag. Two bags: 10 cents. Again, you get the pattern. That means if you are shopping in a supermarket or a hardware store or Macy’s, you will need to pay for each bag. We have, however, been trained for such a situation by Costco. For years, those who shop in their warehouse-like stores have carried purchases out to their cars in shopping carts and then loaded the contents into their trunks, one item at a time. Costco has never provided bags, although it has been known to offer boxes when available. The smart ones among us carry cloth bags into the store in advance so we can load cars more efficiently at the end, and I suppose that is what the rest of us will learn to do if we don’t buy the bags. Although the charge is only a nickel, it is irksome because the nickels don’t go toward funding an environmental cause but revert to the store.

So expect to see people crossing parking lots with the items they have just purchased in their hands. While the perennially curious among us will be fascinated to check out what people buy, the instinct to bag a purchase to prove it was paid for rather than whipped off the shelf and out the door will make some of us uneasy. Best to invest in some large and solid cloth bags, which are what they bring to stores in Europe and elsewhere. And by the way, this should be a great help for our local waterways and wildlife since so many plastic bags have caused harm. So BYOB, or “bring your own bag,” and know that you are helping a fish.

On to another topic to consider in 2018. Private schools and universities are going to take a beating from the loss of international students. Total tuition from those students, who generally pay more, will decline as a result of more restrictive immigration policies for those wishing to come to study here. Visa applications are being more carefully scrutinized and foreign students are finding it harder to stay in the United States after graduation. There had been a huge increase in foreign students here, supplying $39 billion in revenue to the U.S. economy last year, but now schools in Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom and other English-speaking countries are attracting some of those dollars. The decline in new students nationwide was some 7 percent just this past fall.

That means colleges will have to cut offerings and American-educated grad students who may want to settle here will be lost to the nation. It also means colleges will not be able to help low-income students as much with tuition aid. Diversity is also affected. Enrollment is already falling from China and India, the two biggest sources of students from abroad. Of course this is not only a national issue but also a local one: Stony Brook University is here. Long Island has numerous schools, and with fewer students less money will be spent locally.

Meanwhile enjoy the weather. Let’s celebrate the thaw.

Feels odd to write 2018, doesn’t it? No more Christmas celebrations, no more vacation days, no more New Year’s parties, we’re back to the real world. And what a real world it is. The North Koreans have a button. We have a bigger button that works. Meanwhile both leaders have strange haircuts. Primarily young people are rioting throughout Iran as the rulers threaten a violent crackdown. The Palestinians don’t want to hear from the president of the United States as a result of his stand on Jerusalem, yet even as they protest they are willing to continue receiving U.S. aid dollars. The war in Afghanistan, our longest war, slogs on, with no end in sight. Brutality, death, starvation and proxy wars rage throughout the Middle East and northern Africa.

By contrast, here in America, more people line up to sue Harvey Weinstein for sexual harassment or worse each day. Icons fall, Democrats and Republicans squabble, Republicans and Republicans squabble, governors and accountants strategize how to navigate the new tax laws, and we in Suffolk County are warned to hunker down in the face of a fierce and imminent nor’easter bringing tons of snow.

Enough already! Here’s what I say to all of that. Let’s focus on the things we have some hope of controlling and stand by to help with the rest. What do we actually control? We can start with ourselves.

On the threshold of this new year, we can pay more attention to our health. Everyone quite rightly wishes friends and family “a healthy and happy New Year.” Good things start with good health. Wishing won’t make it happen. Action will.

Most important, to me, along with lots of health professionals, is enough sleep of good quality. This strengthens the immune system, cognitive function and minimizes wrinkles — well, the first two anyway. Yet despite the research and repeated urgings in the media, data reveals that most Americans are sleep deprived. With so much to do each day, it is too easy to cut down sleep time. That might work for a day or two, but research shows that it is not possible to make up for lost hours in the long term. So don’t use your computer just before you go to bed, don’t even watch TV. Something about the light from those home essentials interferes with the urge to sleep.

Try to go to bed more or less the same time each night and wake up the same time each morning. Habit is a great helper. And if you tend to wake up in the middle of the night with the many chores you have for the next day ping-ponging around inside your head, put the bedside light on, make a to-do list with a pencil on a pad you have ready next to your bed, then turn off the light, and having discharged your memory, you can fall back to sleep until morning.

Another good thing to do is to eat foods with lots of fiber. “A diet of fiber-rich foods, such as fruits and vegetables, reduces the risk of developing diabetes, heart disease and arthritis. Indeed, the evidence for fiber’s benefits extends beyond any particular ailment,” according to a recent science article by Carl Zimmer in The New York Times. 

People who eat more fiber simply have lower odds of dying. Somehow fiber is able to reduce inflammation in the body. Long-term inflammation can cause harm, although short-term inflammation does fight infection. How fiber works is a bit of a mystery because it is not directly digestible. There is a connection between fiber and the billions of bacteria that live in our guts. In essence, we feed our microbes fiber to enable them to strengthen our immune systems. Take it on faith and don’t ask me more.

One issue that is, of course, most distressing to me is that of fake news. Be assured, please, that whatever you might read in out hometown papers and on our well-read website, is fact and as true as we know it to be. If we err, we will correct.

Let’s keep in mind the old Chinese curse: May you live in interesting times. It may be a negative for some, but for journalists, it provides jobs.

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As 2017 comes to a close, it is not an overstatement to say that this year we have lived through a revolution. And it is a revolution that is just beginning. Millions of women, drawn by the hashtag #MeToo, have come forth to put their experiences with sexual harassment, assault and rape on the record. Some men also have revealed similar heartbreaking stories of sexual predators that altered their lives. It is as if an enormous dam has broken with the gut-wrenching descriptions pouring out unendingly, toppling icons of power like bowling pins. Just as Betty Friedan started the revolution we call the women’s liberation movement, so this avalanche of sordid encounters that began with revelations about Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein has touched off a revolution but of a much faster pace than the one 50 years or so ago. Social media has helped connect these victims and carry the torch of outrage.

I suppose from the earliest times when men and women have walked the earth, there have been sexual predators. Mostly the predators have been men who were able to exact what they wanted from vulnerable women who needed their protection and support, perhaps for such basics as food, clothing and shelter for themselves and their children. Once women entered the workplace in large numbers, they were often assigned to male supervisors who could advance or block their careers or even take away their jobs.

Those jobs could be in Hollywood, in TV journalism, in large and small offices, in hotels, in politics, in academia, in short anywhere that there might be an imbalance of power leaving one employee vulnerable. What’s different now? The whisper network that warned has become a social network that shames.

Time magazine named the Silence Breakers as 2017 Person of the Year. The hashtag, #MeToo, will go down in history although the movement’s founder, Tarana Burke, was not featured on the cover. Instead the group photo comprised actress Ashley Judd, former Uber engineer Susan Fowler, Visa lobbyist Adama Iwu, songstress Taylor Swift and Isabel Pascual, a Mexican strawberry picker who asked to use a pseudonym to protect her family, according to Time. They might have been anyone on the cover, although the famous attract more attention, from the doctoral candidate at a prestigious university who refused her professor’s advances and consequently was denied her degree, to the housekeeper in a hotel who goes about cleaning the bathtubs but never knows when she might be cornered by a guest or supervisor demanding sexual favors.

The first time I personally knew anyone who had been a sexual victim was in college. A close friend was talking about her affair with a professor and was overheard by another student who was having the same experience. The unlikely encounter and some quick conversation revealed the same professor was bedding both women. In a rage, my friend confronted her lover with the words, “You are sick!”

But was he sick? Or was he just acting out the culture in which he had been raised? As Time magazine wrote, “It wasn’t so long ago that the boss chasing his secretary around the desk was a comic trope, a staple from vaudeville to prime-time sitcoms.” Cultures are all pervasive, and where they are not confronted by conscience or mob outrage, they continue.

On the eve of the holidays, let’s focus on a short but delightful segment from the “PBS News Hour” Tuesday night. Women confide to sometimes feeling taken advantage of financially when bringing cars to be repaired, knowing so little about the way cars work. One woman felt tired of feeling a victim, quit her job as an engineer, went to auto-mechanic school and opened up what appears to be the nation’s first all-female auto-repair shop in California. It seems to be a great success. Best of all, she no longer feels a victim. There is a moral here.

Happy and healthy holidays to you and yours!

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Strange as it may seem amid the frenetic shopping, the seasonal music and the rounds of holiday parties, there are some who are deeply lonely. They may or may not seem so, they may be among the elderly or adolescents, they may appear depressed or not, but they are indeed lonely. And lonely can be bad for one’s health.

Loneliness has lots of causes. For a widow or widower, the approach of the holidays makes more grievous the loss of a spouse. Holidays are typically family time, and one member is gone. Or perhaps a close friend has died and is sorely missed. For those who have outlived their contemporaries, the gaiety and excitement of the holidays are a sad contrast with their lives. Or with children and grandchildren scattered over three continents, it may not be possible to be together for the celebrations. Perhaps worst of all are those in unsatisfying relationships who are perceived to be coupled but are in reality painfully lonely.

Loneliness, health studies have shown, can cause increased risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, arthritis, depression, accelerated cognitive decline and even trigger suicide. And in this world of electronic devices operating on the internet, even a phone call with the sound of a warm voice is now often replaced by a tidy and sanitized email or text message.

How are we to respond to such feelings of loneliness?

First is to be aware that those around us may not be so caught up in the spirit of the season. For those who have plenty, whether in worldly goods or in simple joy, this is the time for sharing. Sometimes it is not so obvious when others are hurting. If a neighbor is a shut-in, it is easy to guess that the person would like a visit, even a short one, or an errand run on their behalf. These are immediate solutions. But social isolation and loneliness are not necessarily the same. That neighbor may have few social connections but enjoy an existence rich with books, music or hobbies. On the other hand, loneliness is a subjective condition in which a person feels isolated, even if surrounded by people most of the time. That person is just as needy, or more so, for human interaction but that need may be harder to discern. Research at the University of California, San Francisco, reveals that “most lonely people are married, live with others and are not clinically depressed,” according to a recent article by Jane Brody in The New York Times.

Some more obvious remedies for those who are lonely or socially isolated to help themselves might be volunteering at a hospital or assisted living center, a soup kitchen or a nursery school. Giving to others in need brings its own rewards. Joining a group with shared interests — anything from quilting to trivial pursuit — can help. A book club or a class is a way to keep the mind engaged while perhaps finding others with whom to socialize. And the fail-safe solution for those who desire interaction with others is to get a dog. It is not possible to take a dog for its walk three times a day, day after day, and not get into conversation with someone along the way unless the walk is in the woods.

But back to how we can help others who cannot help themselves. It seems to me that one of the greatest compliments one human can give to another is the willingness to listen. This may sound easier than it really is. Many people practice mindfulness, being in the moment, meditation and so forth for their own enrichment. In order to listen to another person, to really hear them, one has to practice that skill too, until it becomes almost an art. We who live in our small villages, where people have more opportunity to connect with neighbors in the supermarket or at concerts or school baseball games, we are lucky enough, if we are so interested, to be available to listen to each other.

We can learn when we listen. And for the lonely, genuinely being heard is a balm.

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Here is an interesting bit of research about our friendly computers, one which some of us had already intuited. I will quote from an article in the Nov. 26 edition of The New York Times Sunday Business section: “[A] growing body of evidence shows that overall, college students learn less when they use computers or tablets during lectures. They also tend to earn worse grades. The research is unequivocal: Laptops distract from learning, both for users and for those around them.”

Wow! That means a victory for pen and paper. That means classrooms filled with students busily typing notes as the lecturer speaks are doing themselves a disservice. Ditto for those paying big bucks to attend seminars, workshops and the like, who are shortchanging themselves.

“In a series of experiments at Princeton and the University of California, Los Angeles, students were randomly assigned either laptops or pen and paper for note-taking at a lecture,” The Times reported. “Those who had used laptops had substantially worse understanding of the lecture, as measured by a standardized test, than those who did not.” Also those students who routinely used laptops in class did significantly less well at the end of the semester.

Because the notes taken on laptops more closely resembled transcripts than lecture summaries, the theory goes that the lecturer’s words go straight to the students fingers, which are typing faster than they can write, without going through their brains first for processing. To take notes by hand, the listener has to abridge the lecturer’s words in order to keep up and so must consider the essence of what is being said. Enter the brain.

Honestly, I am not a Luddite, looking to smash modern inventions and disavow progress. On the contrary, I marvel many times at what the computer and the internet can do. For example, it is so much easier for me to write my column, rearranging words and whole paragraphs with just the click of the mouse and a couple of keys. Before computers, I practically drank whiteout. And as I am writing, if there is something to check or research, I can engage the internet, get the facts and continue the column with only that brief interruption. So much for the encyclopedias of my youth.

But I still believe there will always be a place for pen and paper. There are instances where jotting something down quickly is easier and time saving compared to pulling out the computer, turning it on, finding the right file and typing in the info.

And then there is my real problem with computers and the internet: addiction. Most people, especially parents with teens, would agree that electronic devices are addicting. It is difficult to get kids to put down their cellphones in favor of conversation. Researchers in Utah are even studying a spike in teen suicides there in the last five years to see if there is a connection. Some 14 percent of the teens had recently lost privileges to use their electronics. Further there has been an increase in teen suicides from 2010 to 2015 across the nation, at the same time as social media use has surged. Teen suicides had declined in the two previous decades, according to data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Much more research is required before deciding cause and affect here, but anonymous bullying, made possible by Facebook or Twitter and other social networking services, in addition to relationship problems thought to result from diminishing face-to-face interaction, need to be evaluated.

It is not just kids who are so attached to their electronics. I chuckle when I see couples or whole families in restaurants, awaiting their food orders, completely absorbed in their cellphones. Then I feel sad for them. Conversation with people I enjoy is such a major part of life’s pleasures for me, and these phone addicts are missing that opportunity. I can only hope they are texting each other.

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Thanksgiving Day has passed but the thankfulness lingers on. It’s a wonderful feeling, to be appreciative and to give thanks for the richness of life. I understand that there are even clinical studies showing that such feelings promote health. So on such a crusade, here’s what I suggest we can all be thankful for at this time.

For starters, let’s consider the weather. Amid the chaotic political climate, our weather has been serene right up to the end of November. When my family visited, we could walk the beach, stroll on the roads, play touch football — they did, not me — and just bask on the front porch in the sun. It was so warm, we could have been in Florida. And there was nary a raindrop in sight.

The warm temperatures have delayed the falling leaves, and many trees and bushes still offer bursts of glorious color. Even a drive on Northern State Parkway in traffic can actually be a pleasure, at least aesthetically. We know that the trees will soon be bare so this late autumnal show is particularly to be appreciated. The birds are still in fine chorus, the rabbits are bopping around in plain sight and the squirrels are playing between tree limbs even as they are busy gathering their acorns.

The satisfactions that come along with a visit from one’s family are grand. Despite any high-spirited political discussions, the sight and success stories of children and grandchildren fill one’s heart. My four grandchildren are at an age now when mighty accomplishments seem within reach and future possibilities appear limitless. Two are in college, each pursuing their respective dream of filmmaking and music composition; the third is visiting colleges between her volleyball tournaments; and the youngest is a star baseball player in high school, which is exactly where he wants to be on his hoped-for career in the majors. They are not frivolous in going about realizing their goals. They understand that academic excellence is required, and they work tirelessly at that task. During their visit, they could be found doing physics homework, prepping for the SATs and, to my great delight, practicing on their musical instruments. They, and we, have reached the stage where their music soars, even during practice. Gone are the squeaks and sour notes of yesteryear.

My children and their spouses are doing what they want to be doing and finding satisfaction in their particular successes, which gives me untold pleasure. They have also reached the stage in their parenting where they can appreciate their own parents. Three of my grandchildren are still teenagers, and I know of no harder job than the raising of teens. My children can look back now and sometimes marvel at how their parents handled those years. They might even ask for a bit of advice. That, of course, gives us grandparents further pleasure because our children have now become our friends. And for our part, we can ask their advice in turn. It’s a wonderful stage of life for us oldies. We can enjoy the capital gains of our investments in our children and the dividends with our grandchildren.

Ultimately what is it that really makes us thankful? I don’t know anyone who gives thanks for their Mercedes or diamond tiara, much as it may be fun to have those symbols of accomplishment. To be really thankful is to have what will outlive us — those we love.

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Joe Biden has written a book called, “Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship, and Purpose,” about one year in his life. A memoir, it deals in part with the illness and death of his elder son, Beau, from brain cancer at the age of 46. I have not read the book. It just came out this past Tuesday, Nov. 14. But the coincidence of the book’s release on the day my husband died at a similarly young age exactly 30 years ago from cancer has connected me to Biden. I know what he went through — the shock, the pain, the hope, the heartbreak, the grief and the end that ultimately comes crashing down into silence. Then he faced the absolute necessity of having to pick up and function because life moves on with every passing day. And we must move on with it because there is no respite for the living.

Biden also writes about his difficult decision not to run for president in the 2016 election and about the foreign crises in Iraq, the Ukraine and Central America as part of his workload during that one year.

“I wanted to write precisely about the crises and dilemmas I faced as they intersected in the moment,” Biden told Philip Galanes in an interview with The New York Times. “I wanted to show that in the ebb and flow of life, nothing is totally separable.”

I know that Biden was lucky to have those other facets to deal with, just as I was lucky to have a huge challenge almost immediately after my husband’s death.

Two of my sons were away in college, the third was a high school senior and the newspaper was being challenged by the Communications Workers of America to unionize. A reporter on my staff, who had already made his mark by unionizing the teaching assistants at Stony Brook University, brought the union to my door. He turned his attention to our hometown newspaper, despite the fact that there wasn’t a community newspaper in all of New York state that had a union. Shoestring budgets and multitask jobs preclude coordinated decision making with a union. The CWA was attracted, I guess, because it represented new territory to conquer. The only problem was that community newspapers are not flush with profits and do not have large staffs to join a union. Nonetheless, we had to fight them off for six months, as they handed out pamphlets with all sorts of painful charges to get our staff worked up against the company. The climax came with an appearance before the National Labor Relations Board in a room without air conditioning in Brooklyn on a hot June day. The pickings were turning out to be pretty lean for the CWA, and they backed off.

Throughout the ordeal, I was wildly angry. I wasn’t getting a chance to grieve. Each day I had to rush to the parapets to defend the honor and integrity of the newspaper against what was to me a ridiculously unequal battle. I barely gave any attention to my grieving son who was still at home, nor did I have a chance to pour out my own grief somewhere in a quiet corner. But I did realize how fortunate I was in those who came to my defense. We had absolutely no money to hire a labor lawyer, and we had no idea how to respond. But the newly retired union leader of the Long Island Rail Road came into my office and offered his help.

Harold Pryor was the man who had terrified Gov. Nelson Rockefeller (R) during contract talks by calling wildcat strikes from his totally loyal followers, directing them to abandon the trains at the nearest station during rush hour. Pryor was living in the area and teaching at Stony Brook University. When he found out what was happening to our newspaper, he thought it was not only unfair but also idiotic. He came to advise me through the thicket of union maneuverings, and he brought with him an experienced lawyer to defend us during the hearing.

It was a script worthy of a movie. Here was this feared union leader facing off against one of the largest unions for the sake of a peanut of a newspaper. Jimmy Stewart would have played his part in the spirit of “It’s a Wonderful Life.” And thanks to his aid, we emerged unscathed.

Only after it was all over did I realize that life had thrown me a life preserver, much as it had for Biden, and therefore we hadn’t drowned in our grief.

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Do we need tax cuts?

Lots of people agree that our current tax rules are outdated, cumbersome and unfair. On the other hand, there will never be total unanimity on how the tax code should read because one person’s tax cut is another’s tax increase, and for sure no one wants to lose whatever benefits they already have. So the prospect of changes is only palatable as a campaign promise if there would be an overall greater good that everyone recognizes. Such a benefit was proposed during the 2016 campaign as a way to recharge the slow economy. And the conversation has continued from there.

But hold on. The circumstances have changed. Our economy is no longer sluggish. In fact, it seems to have taken off. And, unusually, the economies around the globe appear to have also done so, almost in unison. This rare good news bodes well for the United States and others around the world.

So, back to my original question: Why do we need a tax cut?

If the answer is, for political reasons, that stinks. Just because politicians promised to cut taxes, a regular pledge to get votes, is not good enough to shake the ground on which we live. If the answer is to reallocate wealth, that has never been the role of our capitalist democracy. If the answer is to make more equal the lives of the haves and the have-nots going forward, then simply raise the taxes on the haves in proportion to how much they have benefited from our same capitalist society. And finally, if the answer is to raise revenue in order to reduce our unprecedented national debt, then raise taxes across the board proportionately on everyone who enjoys the services provided by life in these United States.

Sometimes one can get too close to a problem and not see the bigger picture. There is a saying that goes: Are we doing things right—or are we doing the right things? To check on whether we are doing things right, we have to engage in the details, the nitty-gritty of the process. In the case of tax reform, we have to hammer out every line to the greater satisfaction of all concerned. But to decide if we are on the right track, that is, if we are doing the right things, we have to stand back and examine the whole picture. Has the situation changed, perhaps rectified itself, or do we still have to help matters along?

I suggest the latter and I’ll explain why.

Businesses, which will reap three-quarters of the tax proposals over the next 10 years as currently presented, are already, for the most part, doing just fine. That is why the stock market keeps hitting new highs. The prices of the stocks are earnings driven, and the companies we can publicly track via the markets are showing record profits. Why do they need more stimulus? To expand and create more jobs, which is a political mantra? More likely companies will reinvest the additional profits in job-saving equipment, which is the way trends are already leaning. If the government wants to create more jobs, it should help create more businesses, which it could do by offering tax breaks to start-up companies. But that doesn’t require broad tax overhaul. That would just take one change. Mr. President, pick up the pen. Furthermore, to encourage companies to add more workers, offer incentives specifically pegged toward those additional salaries, not tax breaks that can simply result in higher profits in the misguided hope of higher tax revenues.

The initial tax proposals include eliminating deductions for large medical expenses; student loan interest; alimony; tax preparation costs; moving to a new job expenses; casualty, disaster and theft losses; and qualified adoption fees, according to CNBC. Are those the changes we want for our society?

What ultimate goal can we all get behind, and do we get there with tax cuts?

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The issue of the newspaper that you now hold in your hands or are reading on an electronic device is an annual superstar. Only once in each year do we publish a comprehensive preelection section that speaks to the upcoming races. We invite the opponents together to our offices for each local race and pepper them with questions until we feel we have a good handle on them. This section is the distillation of many hours of interviews with the candidates and follow-up research, putting together the information that we are privileged to learn. Then we share that information with you.

We go even further. After careful consideration, sometimes over a period of many days, we will come to a conclusion as to whom to vote for and tell you what we think and why. These are our endorsements and may be found on the editorial pages in the back of the paper. We also include a sample ballot so you can walk into your polling place and know the layout on which you will mark your choices.

We are the only community newspapers that span three towns in Suffolk: Brookhaven, Smithtown and Huntington. So as you can imagine, there are a good number of races in which we need to be involved. In two of these towns, there will be a new day for there are open seats at the top of the ticket for the first time in more than a score of years. In Huntington, longtime Supervisor Frank Petrone decided not to run again, and so Edwards is giving up her seat on the town board, as she and state Assemblyman Lupinacci compete to lead the town. Candidates for the two town board seats are incumbent Cuthbertson and challengers Smyth, Leonick and Rogan. Berland, too, is leaving her seat on the board and trying for a Suffolk County legislative seat, running against Gavilla. Kennedy is challenged by Hyms for her seat in the legislature.

Smithtown Township has the same open top position since Vecchio lost the Republican primary and will not be running for supervisor for the first time in 40 years. Instead the residents will have Holst, Wehrheim or Slevin as their new leader. The voters will also choose two board members among Fortunato, Doyle, McCarthy, Nowick, Lohmann and Stoddard.

Brookhaven, in contrast, has no open seats but plenty of competition. Incumbent Romaine is facing a challenge from Harrington for supervisor. In our coverage district, incumbent Councilwoman Cartright is running against challenger Canale, and incumbent Bonner is being opposed by Goodman. For the county Legislature in our Brookhaven area, we have incumbent Anker versus Pollakusky and incumbent Hahn challenged by Flood. Also in play is the Brookhaven Town superintendent of highways position, as incumbent Dan Losquadro is challenged by Portesy.

Two of the most closely watched contests in Suffolk County are for district attorney and sheriff. Both of those positions are open seats. Police Commissioner Sini is running against Perini for DA and Stony Brook University Deputy Police Chief Zacarese is opposed by Toulon in the race for sheriff.

On top of our usual duties at TBR News Media, we interviewed them all. It was exhausting but exhilarating, as we learned more than we already knew from the incumbents and a great deal about the challengers. We heard about the issues that are on the minds of the North Shore community. The electorate is concerned about the escalating opioid epidemic that is killing hundreds, particularly of our younger people. Residents also continue to be frustrated about high property taxes, public safety — especially as it relates to the insidious growth of gangs, the traffic in Smithtown, the homeless in Brookhaven and the brain drain that is the result of not enough high-paying jobs and affordable housing.

We also tell you our opinion of a constitutional convention. We oppose it, fearing a Pandora’s box containing many evils.

We are always impressed that residents will come forward to run for public office. Campaigns are a lot of work, and being a public servant has its tribulations. This year, more than most others, we are further impressed by the high quality of candidates. We urge you to do one of the two things you are allowed only if you are an American citizen. Please be sure to VOTE.

P.S. The other is to serve on a jury.

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At some point along my ancestral chain, I must have been Italian. Or Chinese. How do I know? I have an unbelievable passion for pasta. That’s not a carbohydrate lust. While I have never met a carb I don’t like, I can take or leave rice or bread and the many other forms in which carbohydrates can be found. But my soul soars for pasta.

It was World Pasta Day Oct. 25, and that got me to thinking about my love affair with pasta. I suppose it started in my early childhood, as almost everything does. SpaghettiOs came in a can, and my mother occasionally served it to us as part of a meal. However, the story is not that straightforward. She felt the sauce was a bit sharp, and so she sprinkled the spaghetti with a little sugar. Now this is enough to make any self-respecting Italian restaurateur gag. Many did, as I would ask, “Can I have some sugar please?” of my waiter as I was served a bowl of steaming pasta. “Sugar? You mean Parmesan cheese?” he would ask. “No sugar, thank you, granulated sugar,” I would patiently explain. Then he would watch in fascination as I topped off my dish accordingly.

It wasn’t until I visited Italy for the first time that I understood the miracle of pasta. The secret is in the sauce, which decidedly is not improved with the addition of sugar. Somehow the pasta itself tastes different there too, the same way water does depending on where it comes from. I remember that first trip very well, as I fell in love with the beauty of the country, the kindness of the people, the richness of its art. But what I remember best is the pasta, which I will tell you that I came to eat there three times a day. And it never tasted the same way twice because all chefs proudly make their own secret sauces. The high point occurred in Amalfi, in a small restaurant on the side of a mountain overlooking the sea. We were with a tour but unscheduled for lunch, and we wandered around the town looking for a likely eatery. They are all charming, you know, but one in particular attracted us and we went in to find that the luncheon special consisted of six different kinds of pasta.

Six! I thought I had died and gone to heaven. The chef, who spoke no English and needed none, came out to explain that we should start with the mildest pasta on the huge plate, then work our way around much as an artist does with his paint palette, to the one with the strongest flavored sauce. The six pastas were each different and the experience was, as you can tell, exquisitely memorable.

Although some think pasta was invented in Italy, others believe Marco Polo brought it back from his travels to China, where he supposedly tasted it at the court of Kublai Khan. There is record of the Chinese eating noodles as early as 5000 B.C. and, in fact, the Etruscans from western Italy seem to have made pasta in 400 B.C. There are bas-relief carvings in a cave 30 miles north of Rome depicting instruments for making pasta: a rolling-out table, pastry wheel and flour bin, according to the National Pasta Association. Anyway in the 13th century, the pope set quality standards for pasta. Thomas Jefferson fell in love with a macaroni dish he tasted in Naples while serving as ambassador to France and promptly ordered crates of the pasta, along with the pasta-making machine, sent back to the United States. Indeed, he may have been the one to introduce macaroni to this country. Cortez brought tomatoes back from Mexico in 1519, but it took two centuries before the marriage with pasta was consummated.

There have been many imitation pastas, meaning not made from wheat, that have come along, but only one makes the grade with me, and I give it a shameless plug here for those who can’t or won’t eat the real thing. Manufactured by Tolerant, it is made of beans and called Organic Red Lentil Pasta.

Buon appetito!

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