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Is there divine  in all of us, or only in the people who share our religion? If your God, my God, anyone’s God, created the Earth and all the people, animals and planets on it, then does She want those who are true believers to annihilate and destroy the other people She created because they don’t believe in Her?

What? You don’t think God could be female? That’s a topic for another column. Recently, I read about a charitable act. At the end of the article, I saw that people were commenting about how that charity could only come from someone of their religion — I’m not going to indicate what religion it was.

The commentors were convinced that it couldn’t have come from someone who followed a different religious discipline. Why? If there are elements to ourselves that are a combination of destroyers and builders, lovers and haters, sinners and saints, why should something extraordinary or even inspirational be limited to one religion?

Couldn’t everyone’s God speak through or act through one person, regardless of his background or religion, to inspire others to greater heights, to do something incredibly beneficial to his or her fellow human beings without selecting only those people who go to the right building, speak the right language and follow the right religious practices? Maybe we need to close our eyes to see the divine  in everyone.

Religion has this way of bringing out the best in us and, at times, the worst. We sometimes feel that we’ve received some message from a divine being who tells us that we must right the wrongs of people who are outside our religous group. Centuries after the Crusades, humans still resort to weapons to make our point with those who have other religious beliefs.

I understand the fear, especially in an era when every politician with national aspirations describes a boogeyman (or woman). I also understand the reality that there are people bent on destroying us and that we can’t go naively into that good night, imagining we live in a utopian world where we can ignore threats. It’s real and it dominates the headlines every day.

This isn’t about the extreme cases, where we have to be vigilant against killers who, for whatever reason, feel they are doing something important in their lives by killing others before dying. That doesn’t seem like much of a way to honor anyone’s God.

This is about the way we relate to each other and the way we think of religious groups outside our own. Why should something spectacular or incredible have to originate from the mind or heart of someone from our religion?

Turning this around, do you like everyone in your church, temple or mosque? Do you routinely sit during services and feel a universal kindred spirit with everyone in that room that you don’t feel with the people in your child’s classroom at school, at your daughter’s ballet recital or at a concert where the music seems to echo around the room long after our kids have stopped strumming?

Would you randomly pick a name out of the hat at your house of worship and be equally thrilled to host any of those people in your home for a week, a night or even a long dinner?

Religion can offer us a chance to see and imagine that the best is yet to come in anyone around us. We don’t have to give up our own religion and it doesn’t lessen our religion to believe that something spectacular lies just beneath the surface of another person passing by us, even if that person doesn’t share our religion.

If we are all God’s children, wouldn’t She (or He) want us to put more effort into getting along with our siblings?

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Colorado Springs is not around the corner. But the effects of a tragic shooting there the day after Thanksgiving have trickled down and made a very real impact on Suffolk County.

We spent much of the fall season interviewing candidates running for various offices, and more than once we were reminded that our county police department was being stretched too thin.

Fast forward a few weeks to the aftermath of Friday’s shooting at a Planned Parenthood facility in Colorado that killed three and injured nine. Our county police department announced it would be increasing patrols near the five clinics in its jurisdiction as a result. The department also committed itself to training Planned Parenthood officials in crime prevention, which hopefully will provide a more lasting impact on preventing similar tragedies here.

Sometimes there is a disconnect between the national conversation and the small-town scuttlebutt, but this is an example of how one person’s actions can have a nationwide effect. In our case, it is strapping an already taxed police department.

The consequences are real, and there are things we could do on a local level that could perhaps trickle in the opposite direction — up to the national conversation.

We could strive to better care for our neighbors, both through publicly funded mental health programs that provide more access to treatment and more comprehensively deal with mental illness, and by speaking up when someone we know is behaving erratically or speaking in an alarming manner. We are seeing more and more irrationally thinking people commit acts like the shooting in Colorado Springs, in which the assailant targeted people unknown to him. And it seems impossible that none of these perpetrators displayed irrational behavior or thought beforehand.

A strongly connected community is an excellent safety net. We should work to weave ours tighter.

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During the holidays we donate coats to the homeless, buy presents for strangers and send cards to the brave soldiers representing our country far from home. In addition to those charitable efforts during this time of year, how about if we come up with ways to give to our planet?

Huh? In light, if you’ll pardon the pun, of the current United Nations climate-change meeting of world leaders in Paris, perhaps we can add a few small items to our lists. And, no, most of them don’t require spending any money. In fact, they will help save money.

For starters, and this is something my Depression-era grandparents ingrained in me from an early age, turn off the lights in rooms we don’t use. I know that’s tough, especially during this darker time of year, but it cuts our electric bill. That’s an extra few bucks in your pocket at a time when our kids absolutely, positively, have to get the latest, greatest, fastest, most-fashionable present to pass the holiday parent test.

When we drive somewhere and wait for someone, turn off those engines. Seriously, idling is something we should never do. It wastes gas and pollutes the environment. I appreciate all the effort parents make to sit outside schools, piano lessons, practices and games, waiting to pick up their children. But leaving the engine on is not only unnecessary, it fills the air with pollutants just before our children step in the car. Having sat in cars in temperatures below freezing for close to a half-hour, I assure you that the car stays warm if you don’t open your window or door. Seriously, try it. It also gives us those cherished moments of silence.

Then, there’s the thermostat. Yeah, I know we like it warm, but for the month of December, how about turning it down just 2 degrees? If that becomes unbearable, lower it just 1 degree. It might not seem like much individually, but that can and will make a huge difference collectively.

During the night we can turn off our computers and printers. These machines are much faster at booting up than the same electronics were just a decade ago. While we’re waiting for our computers to come back online, we can check our emails, send important messages about what we just realized we need to get from the store, and send instant messages to people around the world.

OK, so, we’ve got that shopping list and we know you’ll forget something because the overstimulating holiday environment of most stores has an ability to soften our brains. The bright and clever displays and constant caroling music on the radio encourage us to buy something that wasn’t on the list, turning us into consumer marionettes.

But if we were more efficient about our holiday shopping, we could buy that extra thing and still cross everything else off the list. What does that buy us? It gives us more time to write that rhyming couplet expressing our enduring love for our spouse and it reduces the amount of time we’re running back and forth to stores.

How about walking? I know it seems hard to imagine carrying everything from store to store but, let’s face it, it’s hard to find parking spots anyway. Instead of using gas to get from one place to another, by walking we could burn off that extra piece of pumpkin pie that called to us from the refrigerator.

Like so many other efforts at this time of year, giving to our planet will bring returns for us, our children and grandchildren down the road.

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If you are looking for a holiday gift that is out of the ordinary, I have a suggestion for you. In fact, this particular product has been written up recently in The New York Times in the Fashion & Style section so dramatically that it has caught people’s imagination. Perhaps that is because the giver of the gift can realize as much benefit as the receiver. Ready for the offbeat suggestion?

The Times sums it up with this headline: “The Cult of the Toto Toilet.”

What? You may say that you have had indoor plumbing all your life. You may even have a commode previously manufactured by Toto, the Japanese plumbing company. But the object of this cult, dear reader, is no ordinary bit of plumbing. If you own one, it will change your life. Let me explain.

While this Toto marvel may look the same as a regular toilet bowl as it quietly sits in the bathroom, when you lift the lid the differences become obvious. You see several buttons in a housing alongside the seat. And like many of the latest electronic luxury items, its use is intuitive. There is the on-off switch, two different buttons that regulate temperature and a couple more that control position of the flow. This seat, you see, is actually a bidet, with all the benefits brought right to your doorstep, so to speak.

Called a Toto washlet, the product has inspired unbelievable devotion. This Japanese creation boasts a heated seat, a bidet function for a thorough cleanse and, if you have one of the more recent models, “an air purifying system that deodorizes during use,” according to the Times. There is even an air dryer, virtually eliminating the need for toilet paper if you have higher tolerance for risk.

I first saw the washlet when I visited Japan seven or eight years ago. It seemed like such an upscale item, yet it was so widespread: in hotels, department stores, restaurants and airports. I was so impressed with its functionality that when I returned home I called my plumber to see if I could order one. He thought I was kidding when I described how it worked. I challenged him to call his supplier before he totally laughed me off, and then call me back with the answer. He did, 20 minutes later, and added that in addition to mine, he was going to buy one for himself.

I was not so surprised on my trip to China this past September to find such a seat in the home of a Chinese family. Though they are still a novelty here, they are more common in Asia, and they are now made by more companies than just Toto.

The installation of the washlet is a little complicated in an existing bathroom. In addition to bringing a water line to the seat, an electric outlet needs to be placed within a cord’s reach of the commode, and this is counter to the normal safety regulations for distance between electricity and water. Therefore this outlet has to be one certified for use near water, like the one near the bathroom sink used for shavers or hair dryers, and the electric line probably has to be snaked over behind the bathroom wall from the nearest source of electricity. This is not impossible, however, but it is the largest expense in making this change. I can tell you, and so can everyone who has one, that it is well worth the effort and not just as a luxury or convenience. There is a real health component.

The washlet I have is the most basic, and the entire transition cost in the three figures. But now there are many more upscale and sophisticated models. They can also be a lot more expensive. Features can include urine testing and other medical data that can then be relayed via the Internet directly to physicians.

But you can still get the stripped-down version, like the most basic model of washing machine or dishwasher, and that is quite sufficient to take you to a better place.

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When most people celebrate Thanksgiving, they say they are thankful for things like their families and friends, and similarly irreplaceable items. Your newspaper staff is equally thankful for them, but we would be remiss if we did not also mention the little things that have kept us going all year.

In our own words, the things we are grateful to have:

Victoria Espinoza, editor of The Times of Huntington & Northport — M&Ms, which have been my constant companion when I’m stressed; Fleetwood Mac, for making me feel like Esméralda; Christoph Waltz, for being alive and reminding me that love is real.

Phil Corso, editor of The Village Times Herald and the Times of Smithtown — The Shih Tzus, Betty and Buster, for carrying on Bugsy’s legacy; Taco Bell’s mobile app; my Casper mattress.

Desirée Keegan, sports editor and editor of The Village Beacon Record — Coffee, for its waking and warming qualities; music, because it’s always there to complement my mood; sports, because they are exciting, challenging and rewarding.

Giselle Barkley, reporter — My new car, which brings an end to a history of car troubles; tea, because it’s one of the few things that keep me warm; Louis C.K., because life’s nothing without some laughter.

Elana Glowatz: online editor and editor of The Port Times Record — My dog, for being a person; Dunkin’ Donuts, for opening 200 feet from my desk; peanut butter, for being my life partner since the 1980s.

A happy Thanksgiving to all our readers, both the longtime subscribers and the ones who picked up a newspaper for the first time today. We are all thankful for you too.

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In recognition of the major role small businesses play in our national economy, Saturday, the day after Black Friday and two days after Thanksgiving, has been dubbed Small Business Saturday. Small businesses play an even greater role in our local economy and quality of life, and so we urge you to shop locally this Saturday and every day for the following reasons:

This year we have partnered with the chambers of commerce to urge you to do your shopping locally.

In fact, around this time every year, I urge everyone to shop locally. This is in part self-serving, for the community newspaper benefits directly from sales in the local store. The owner or manager of that store then has the money to advertise in the newspaper, which in turn brings them more customers, which brings more money, which brings more advertising and so on.

And while the sophisticated media buyers will tell us that they need more advertising than usual because their business is off, in practical terms, for local store owners, it is hard to put out money for advertising when the dollars are not in the cash register. So, when business is good in the community, it’s good for the newspaper; the converse is also true.

The point of this, however, is that when business is good in the community, it is good for all of us. We are tied to each other inextricably, and anyone who doubts that must not be conscious. With the ending of the Cold War, small defense subcontractors here on Long Island quickly had to adjust production to serve other markets.

The idea that no man is an island has never been truer than in the economics of today’s global village, and even as we are tightly bound together on a macroeconomic level, we are much more so on a microeconomic level.

For one thing, most of the stores in our communities are managed by the owners who perhaps employ one or two local people to help them.

More often than not, the owners, too, live locally. But even if they do not, chances are they will run out during lunch to do some errands and spend their money locally.

Hence the dollars spent at home tend to stay at home, circulating and recirculating with a multiplier effect that enhances our standard of living and maintains our quality of life.

The more that dollars turn over, the more necessities, like groceries, are purchased, the more discretionary income is spent on the likes of toys and presents, the more durables, like cars and refrigerators, are bought and, finally, the more movies and concerts we attend preceded by dinner at a fine local restaurant.

There is another aspect to the charity begins at home message. Local business people have been generous toward community groups that routinely approach them for contributions.

And that, too, is in part self-serving. Many of those business people have children who play for the Little League teams asking to be sponsored. Ditto for the soccer league, the marching band, the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, and the myriad of talented groups in need of underwriting. Their first thought is always to appeal to local businesses for help, and those have responded in the finest tradition of giving something back to the communities.

When we think of “downtown” in our villages, we think of where the stores are congregated. If those stores are largely empty, there will soon be more For Rent signs in the windows, which in turn bring fewer shoppers and weaken each shopping center, which then tends to encourage litter, then vandalism and a continued downward spiral. Pride of place is eroded, and that is directly connected to pride of self.

Which brings me back to the basic message: Let’s all be self-serving, in the sense of helping ourselves. This holiday season, more than ever, shop locally.

Your reward will be service with a smile.

Earlier versions of this column were previously printed.

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Is the McDonald’s commercial bothering anyone else? I get it. The Golden Arches is serving breakfast all day long. Something about that radio advertisement is irritating, especially after I’ve heard it for the 20th time in a day.

In honor of that commercial, I thought I’d share a list of the trivial things I’m thankful for. Yes, I know there are many real things to appreciate, but, for now, I choose to focus on the mundane.

I’m thankful I’m not sitting next to someone telling me why he’s so angry at his ex-wife. Divorce is tough and coordinating activities for kids is challenging — even for parents who are happily married — but, dude, I don’t need to hear every twist and turn in your agonizing morning. I know, that sounds terrible and unsympathetic, but we don’t have to share everything with everyone.

I’m thankful that some games get canceled because of rain or snow. I know it’s our fault that we put our kids in all these sports and that some time down the road, I’ll have to get back on the road for a makeup game. But, in the moment, I can’t help enjoying the unexpected freedom to leave the keys and my chauffeur hat where they are.

I’m trivially thankful I’m not much taller. If I were much taller, I might have to duck when I entered a room or struggle to find a place to hide when someone who is about to tell me all the things about his ex-wife that bother him. Who am I kidding, right? It’d be cool to be taller and be able to dunk a basketball or even have a better view of people coming down a crowded hallway.

I’m thankful I’m not waiting behind a car that’s in the left lane and doesn’t have a blinker on. I’m not sitting at a turn when, just as the light turns green, the guy puts on his blinker, forcing me to wait while the cars in the right gleefully pass me without giving an inch to allow me to sneak into the other line. Hooray! Let’s hear it for those last minute blinker people, who give me a chance to appreciate the same traffic light another time through the green-yellow- red cycle. You never know: maybe the light will go from yellow to green this time and I will be the first one to witness it. And, maybe the traffic light will send me a Morse code signal with the winning lottery number.

I’m thankful I’m not in middle school. If you really need me to explain this one, you were probably sickeningly popular during those awful transition years and you need another rite of passage time in your life, just so you can understand the rest of us.

I’m thankful someone isn’t trying to tell me, right now, what should outrage me. I recognize that people get outraged about real and important things, like how politicians focus too much on one thing and not the thing that matters most to them in the moment. But, hey, just because I remain calm while other people are loudly outraged doesn’t mean I deserve that disgustedly frustrated look I get when I shrug in the face of your fury.

I’m thankful some of the dialogue in movies out right now is so bad that it’s added an unintended comic dimension while giving me the chance to appreciate the difference between quality entertainment and words to connect computer animated excitement. The Mockingjay Part 2 film offers several such gems. In one scene, Peeta Mellark, played by Josh Hutchinson, and Gale Hawthorne, played by Liam Hemsworth, discuss their competing interest for Katniss Everdeen, acted with considerable seriousness by Jennifer Lawrence. They conclude that they’re not sure who Katniss will choose, but it probably doesn’t matter much because all three of them are unlikely to survive anyway. Oh yes, the sweet agony of the love triangle in the middle of a life or death struggle.

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By Ryan DeVito

The application is the least of the college admission’s cycle. Demonstrated interest drives the admissions game. It is the most interested student, not necessarily the most qualified student, who is admitted to college. A simple application is never enough.

The value of demonstrated interest in college admissions has long been recognized but wholly underappreciated. Students everywhere assume that they show their interest in a college by submitting their applications. Sometimes, their efforts extend to taking a campus tour or participating in an open house event. Students who settle for these basic shows of interest, though, give themselves no advantage.

Demonstrated interest can mean many things. From campus tours to admissions interviews, being on campus is a powerful way of communicating interest. This is especially true if the campus is far from home. There are numerous other ways, though, for students to easily interact with colleges.

Beginning long before their senior year of high school, students can push themselves onto the radar of admissions counselors. Attending college fairs to meet admissions representatives is a great start. After all, there is no replacement for actual face time. Beyond impersonal college fairs, private high school visits are incredible opportunities for students to begin building relationships with admissions people.

As senior year approaches, students can continue to build their admissions relationships by keeping in touch. A phone conversation is chief when it comes to long-distance communication. Email is the most universally accessible medium. Facebook and Twitter have also become key players in the admissions communication arena.

Let admissions counselors know how interested you are in their school by maintaining an ongoing dialogue with them. The more you reach out to an admissions office, the more likely it is that you will stand out in their mind as a top candidate for admission. Having developed a relationship with counselors at your top schools may also increase their willingness to overlook blemishes on your academic record or be your advocate when it comes to admission and scholarship.

Of course, every interaction with an admissions office should be positive. Communication should also be moderate in amount. Perhaps most important — students should interact with colleges directly. In general, parent advocating negatively skews the counselor’s perception of a student’s college readiness.

My experience as an admissions counselor at a top university made it plain that demonstrated interest fills the class each year. Students who meet with me, talk with me or in some way communicate with me have a distinct advantage. So-called stealth applicants — people who apply without ever having made contact with me  — are much more likely to be overlooked in the admissions process, regardless of their qualifications.

A wise student will make a concerted effort to demonstrate his or her interest in colleges. There is no substitute for politicking and self-promotion. Fill out those inquiry cards; send some emails; attend a college meeting; take a campus tour. Make the college need you on its campus.

Gone are the days when an application was enough to ensure a college future. Students need to be their own advocates. To stand out from the crowd, showing interest and building admissions relationships are critical. What is the value of demonstrated interest? A future filled with promise.

Ryan DeVito is a graduate of Miller Place High School and SUNY Geneseo. DeVito was also a counselor at High Point University and has since created his own college admissions advising company, ScholarScope, to help Long Island students and families.

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AIMHighNY, the state’s survey for receiving public feedback on the Common Core Learning Standards, seems to be coming up short.

Board of education members from Huntington Union Free School District expressed frustration with the review system, which was felt across the North Shore this week, and said the survey did not give parents and educators enough space or time to voice their Common Core concerns.

Trustees said the review is specific and tedious, and that the section to submit opinions is “restrictive.”

Upon exploring the site, many of those claims don’t seem far-fetched.

There are more than 24 subsections of the review. At one point, the continual division of a topic into a smaller topic seems endless, and a user may need to go through more than five sections before they can write in their own comments. If a participant wanted to fill out the entire assessment, it would be no small feat — and that’s if time is on your side.

But that is not the case for AIMHighNY. The survey, which opened in October, ends in about two weeks. Schools have even said they are having multiple teachers work on one survey just to submit something.

With the amount of protesting against Common Core we’ve seen throughout New York State over the last few years, should there even be a deadline?

Perhaps like rolling admissions in college, rolling submissions in Common Core may work. Of course reviews need to be evaluated, but with the current public opinion of Common Core, it may be a good idea to continually check parents’ and educators’ suggestions and not limit their time to a four-week period.

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More police cars lined the front of Lincoln Center Plaza on Monday than I have seen anywhere else on an otherwise uneventful night in New York City, and the police officers were standing shoulder to shoulder on the sidewalk. It was three days after the horrific attack on civilians in Paris by the ISIS group, according to their own admission. More than 130 people in the French capital, who were doing little more than enjoying the beginning of a weekend at restaurants, a concert hall and a soccer stadium, were killed by at least eight suicide jihadists, and that number could still double if those hospitalized should die. Most of the victims were gathered to hear a rock band from California known for its wit, but now with the unfortunate name of Eagles of Death Metal, and a hostage scene ensued after gunmen burst into the Bataclan performance hall and fired into the crowd. “Carnage,” posted one concertgoer on Facebook, according to The New York Times.

So it was a welcome sight for our little group to see the extensive police presence as we walked toward the entrance to the Metropolitan Opera House and our evening performance of Verdi’s “Rigoletto.” The police were relaxed, and when we chatted with them, they told us that they were expecting a demonstration. They said that was what brought them. I asked several officers if they had ever been to an opera, and they laughed and said “no;” some offered that they would like to see one. One of our group asked if they were on overtime. They said that they were not, that they had just come on duty. We told them that regardless of the reason, we were glad to see them and hoped they would one day enjoy an opera.

The jihadists, through their despicable acts, have succeeded in alarming the world, even as messages have poured forth from all corners of the globe asserting solidarity with France. In one such instance, the Metropolitan Opera orchestra, under the baton of Placido Domingo, played the French national anthem, the Marseillaise, before the matinee this past Saturday. The words to the rousing song had been inserted into each program so the spectators could sing along, and they did with feeling. Other performances, sporting events and places where crowds gathered offered such support to France from all quarters throughout the weekend. And once Monday morning dawned, the French authorities were grimly examining the extent of the destruction: physical, emotional, psychological, and economic.

Those costs are not just for France, but are felt worldwide. Police and military presences have been increased everywhere crowds assemble to reassure citizens they are protected. Tourists are not so quick to roam the globe or even to get on airplanes. Families are afraid for their distant members. Performers are reluctant to perform for crowds. Parents and educators are deeply concerned about how to explain these events to children. And triggered by profound anger and fear, more death reigns down on militants in Syria and Iraq from governments pressed to retaliate, creating more militants who will be willing to die to avenge their brethren killed in those attacks. Killing begets more killing. The world remains a dangerous place, as I suppose it has always been. Mass murder of innocents has again become part of life on the planet, winning points for the causes of the
murderers. The more gruesome the deaths, the more attention paid, the more points.

What to do?

I liked what the French celebrity, Shy’m, was quoted by The Times as saying. “After much reflection, doubt and fear, but above all a powerful and profound need to respond, to respond to fear, I decided to go onstage.” (She has concerts scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday nights in Paris.) “What has happened to France and humanity is unspeakable and unbearable, but it is out of the question to hole up and stay silent.”

If past is prologue, the intensity of this latest horror will recede, and people will, in time, go on with their normal lives—until the next time.