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Opinion

One of the best parts of our job is providing an outlet for readers to express their beliefs and passions on the Letters to the Editor page. Knowing what is on the minds of community members is always valuable to us and to the rest of our readers. This is a platform for releasing passions.

That’s why we’re hoping a few readers who called us last week will take pen to paper — or fingers to keyboard — and write us a letter. After the Jan. 10 editorial criticizing the extended government shutdown over a proposed wall on the U.S. and Mexican border, we received a few calls from readers who were unhappy with our opinion. Some went as far as to say they would no longer read our papers. Even though they want to end their relationships with us, we appreciate their calls. We wish they would have taken the time to write a Letter to the Editor, because that’s one of the purposes of the page — for a reader to let the newspaper staff and readers know that they don’t agree with an editorial or even an article.

We encourage and appreciate letters from all our readers no matter where they stand, even when it comes to politics. Also, we would love to see more letters from those who voted for and support President Donald Trump (R) as well as those who don’t. We want readers to tell us what they like and don’t like about the president — we appreciate hearing from all sides. We think our readers do too.

Speaking of Trump and national issues, many have asked why they don’t see more letters about local topics. When we receive them, we gladly publish them. We would love to hear more about what our readership thinks of political decisions on the town and village levels as well as our local elected officials. 

These letters to the editor can create much-needed conversations, but a few readers have commented there’s too much back and forth between some individuals in some of our papers. We always do our best to give people an equal opportunity to respond to each other, but some of that back and forth would stop if we received more letters about a wider variety of topics.

So, if you’re reading this editorial right now, don’t be shy. We accept letters with opinions about local, state, national and international issues. Whatever is on your mind, we want to hear from you. Take action. Keep in mind that letters are edited for length, libel, style and good taste — the letters page is not a place for foul language or personal battles. Letters should be no longer than 400 words, and we don’t publish anonymous letters. All submissions must include an address and phone number for confirmation.

On a side note, here at TBR News Media we go by “The Associated Press Stylebook” to edit our articles, letters and editorials. One reader pointed out in last week’s edition we didn’t refer to Trump as president. But we did. In the first reference we wrote “President Donald Trump (R),” but following AP style, on subsequent references used only his last name. 

We hope this editorial gets you to write or email, leading to more diverse and productive conversations in the future —  waiting to hear from you at rita@tbrnewsmedia.com (Village Times Herald/Times of Middle Country), kyle@tbrnewsmedia.com (Port Times Record/Village Beacon Record), sara@tbrnewsmedia.com (Times of Huntington and Northport, Times of Smithtown). 

Stock photo

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

From birth, hair has been a signal. I had hair when I was born, which probably doesn’t come as too much of a surprise to people who have known me for years.

When I was young, my haircutter used to imagine becoming wealthy by figuring out what made my hair grow so rapidly.

For those without hair, this isn’t a boast; it’s a part of a genetic heritage that cuts both ways. My hair, as it turns out, is also thick and fast growing on my eyebrows or, as people have preferred to say, eyebrow. The space between my eyebrows is just as eager to grow hair as the area just above my eyes.

In college, I tried to grow my hair longer to see how I’d look with shoulder-length hair. That was a failed experiment as my hair grew out instead of down, turning it into a heavy tangle of thick hair.

When I met my wife, I convinced her that I couldn’t disconnect the hair between my eyebrows, or I would be like Sampson and loose my strength. Amused as she was by the story, she let it slide. The afternoon of our wedding, she was stunned to see me with two eyebrows. She wanted to know what had happened and, more importantly, how I was still standing?

I told her that I went for a professional shave so that my usual facial shadow wouldn’t appear during the wedding. While I had my eyes closed, the barber removed the hair above my nose with a quick wrist flick.

Fortunately, my wife didn’t ask for ongoing removal of that hair when it returned.

As I’ve gotten older, hair has emerged from unwelcome places, making appearances from my ears and nose. Who needs hair there — and how could Charles Darwin possibly explain the presence of such unwelcome hair? Does the ear hair announce my advancing age and lower social value?

That brings us to today. As I was maneuvering through the usual deep thoughts, resolutions and promises for the start of the new year, an errant and unwanted fellow emerged from my nose. He was clearly long enough to attract attention, but what was especially surprising about “Jedediah” wasn’t just that he was long or that he seemed to rappel out of my nose. It was his color that offered such an unwelcome but realistic signal — Jedediah was gray.

Ugh! Who wants or needs a gray nose hair, not only offering the world a clue that my hair growth was out of control, but that I’m also so much older that even my nose hairs have started to show signs of aging? Do people dye their nose hairs?

Should I pluck him, trim him or wear him with pride, hoping that he distracts people from the progressively bushier pile of hair pouring out of my ears?

Wouldn’t a rugged individualist defy convention and wear the years and the hair growth with pride, despite the lack of magazine covers with contemporary studs like Hugh Jackman with hair coming out of their noses? If Hugh made gray nose hair fashionable, would I feel less self-conscious about Jedediah?

Poor Jedediah, who worked so hard to emerge from the nose cave, suffered the same fate as the errant hairs that grew out of my ears. He reluctantly left the warm comfort of my nose and was discarded into the trash.

While hair may tell a story about each person, Jedidiah will no longer be sharing mine, except for readers of this column.

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We, the taxpayers of Suffolk County, believe that as a whole we’ve been pretty good in 2018. Many of us have been busy working long hours, sometimes in multiple jobs, to make ends meet and provide for our families given the high cost of living on the Island. Suffolk police report violent crime and hate crimes are down — we’ve been doing our best to behave. 

This holiday season we’re asking you, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), to double, no, triple check the list we know you’ve been diligently drafting up in Albany as to who’s been naughty or nice. We understand that you have nearly 20 million residents to look out for, but we have a holiday wish list we’d like you to consider before announcing your budget for the 2020 fiscal year: 

● Increase state aid to our public schools. School taxes make up the largest portion of our property tax bills. President Donald Trump’s (R) Tax Cuts and Jobs Act is about to hit this April, which limits homeowners to a $10,000 deduction of their state and local property, income and sales taxes. By increasing school funding, it will hopefully help keep future school budget increases low. 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo. File photo by Erika Karp

● Consider proposals to reconfigure Long Island Power
Authority. Long Islanders pay among the highest rates in the Northeast for their electricity; and any reorganizational measures or changes that could bring relief would bring financial relief. 

● In the alternative, push through legislation that would
allow municipalities and school districts who lose a tax base from utilities, such as LIPA, to access reserved state funds to
offset the impact on Suffolk taxpayers. 

● Provide more state funding and grants for alternative
energy. Our environment is sensitive from being on an island, and increasing our renewable energy resources would help
ensure clean water to drink, safe land to live on and, hopefully, lower costs of producing electricity. 

● Lay out state funding for sewers on Long Island. Many of our downtown areas are hurting financially, as business districts are struggling to consider growth without sewers. In addition, providing grants to help homeowners with the costs of transitioning from old-fashioned cesspools to modern systems should improve the area’s water quality.

● Set aside more money to repave and reconfigure our heavily traveled state roadways, such as Route 25 and 25A. Driving along these congested roadways brings several perils, including large potholes, inadequate street lighting and sections that flood in heavy rainstorms. Funds could be used to re-engineer troublesome spots that repeatedly cause accidents and repave sections that are in disrepair. 

In addition, we understand that you have plenty of elves, your fellow elected officials, who can help enact changes and allocate funds to help make the rest of our holiday wishes come true: 

● Start construction on the Rails to Trails project from Wading River through Mount Sinai. The project is much anticipated, but some funding and consideration must be made for neighboring property owners who want privacy of their homes and yards. 

Sure, we have quite the holiday wish list this year. But we hope you can see the gifts we’re asking for will benefit all.

Photo by Alex Petroski 2018

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

It’s time for the media to look elsewhere. The lowest hanging fruit has been extensively covered. Washington journalists and, indeed, state and community journalists have a responsibility to cover the entire landscape. Everything doesn’t run through one office, one branch of the federal government or one person.

It’s time to highlight human interest stories. Flawed though it may be in parts, the movie “Instant Family,” starring Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne makes people laugh. However, it also addresses a significant issue about foster children “in the system.” No, I didn’t run out to adopt a foster child as the final credits were rolling, but I heard some personal details that were as moving to me as they were to the people in the movie.

We the press should run off and cover the local versions of Karen, played by Octavia Spencer, and Sharon, acted by Tig Notaro, who work tirelessly at an adoption agency. Spencer is a remarkable combination of serious and slapstick, offering the kind of range typically only reserved for a main character. She draws the audience, and the other characters, to her, offering perspectives on fostering children and adoption that aren’t often discussed.

Undoubtedly, on Long Island, in New York and in the United States, people like Karen and Sharon give children hope and seek to connect parents looking to adopt with children, while maintaining level heads through the high-stakes process.

Every year, papers print out lists of high school graduates, sometimes including the names of colleges these newly minted graduates plan to attend. These students, many of whom have spent their lives in one place, are preparing to take their next steps on literal and figurative terrain they haven’t yet covered, except perhaps to pay a quick visit to a college.

Maybe, in addition to listing all the high school graduates, we should interview several college graduates 10 years after they graduated from high school, asking them what they learned, what mistakes they made and what paths they took to get them from their youthful hope to their current state.

And, yes, there are local and national politicians who have become subsumed in the Washington wave. Some of them also have worthy ideas such as our local state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) with his work on the environment. We owe it to ourselves to hear them, to give them a platform and to give our readers a chance to
respond to their visions and ideas.

In an era when people voted in impressive numbers in the recent midterm elections, we need to know what everyone in Albany or Washington is doing. Voting is just the start. We should keep tabs on them, encourage them to follow through on their campaign promises, and lend our support when they turn to their constituents for help.

We should also hear more from police chiefs, who can offer insights into what it’s like on the front lines of the drug crisis. Many of these people are working feverishly to prevent family tragedies that resonate for years, hoping to redirect people away from self-destructive paths.

Every day, incredible people with tales of trials and tribulations live among us, pursuing their goals while trying to ensure that they follow their moral and civil compasses.

In this incredible country, merely being famous or even powerful isn’t enough of a reason to write about what we like or don’t like about someone everyone sees every day. We need to shine the spotlight in the corners of rooms, not waiting for YouTube, reality TV or a heroic sports moment to catapult someone to public attention. Some people deserve that attention because they typically remain in the shadows, supporting others, saying the right things when there isn’t a camera in sight, and inspiring others to believe in themselves.

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

This sounds like a fairy tale, but the latest weapon in the battle against mental illness is a bench. Yes, a brightly colored, sometimes plastic, sometimes wooden magic bench. In this particular instance, a bench can do wonders. It all started as a brainchild of psychiatrist Dixon Chibanda in the far-off country of Zimbabwe, which is just north of the Republic of South Africa.

In Harare, the capital city of Zimbabwe, he was treating a young woman for depression who traveled some 160 miles from her rural home each time to see him. At one point, when she couldn’t get to him, he discovered that she had taken her life. That tragedy changed his life.

Zimbabwe is a dirt poor country of some 17 million people with 12 trained psychiatrists, and they are only in Harare. Almost every person suffering with depression does not have access to evidence-based talking therapies or modern anti-depressants. There is not even a word in the Shona language for depression. The closest is “kufungisisa,” which means “thinking too much,” and is akin to “rumination” or negative thought patterns that often lie at the core of depression and anxiety. Long-term social stress, such as that brought on by unemployment, chronic disease in loved ones and abusive
relationships, is associated with depression.

In the early 1990s, nearly one quarter of adults in Zimbabwe had HIV with no meds to save them. In 2005, strongman President Robert Mugabe’s forced slum-clearance program to “drive out the rubbish,” known as Operation Murambatsvina, caused the dislocation of hundreds of thousands of homes and jobs. The consequence of such events was widespread depression.

For Chibanda, the challenge was enormous. He felt strongly that had his patient been able to see him regularly, he could have saved her. But how to get mental health care to those who cannot easily access the help? Certainly not in the private clinics that he had planned to start in the city.

As he cast around in vain for government resources, he realized that grandmothers were already functioning since the 1980s as community health workers, supporting people with HIV, TB, cholera and offering health education. They were trained by the government, lived where they worked and were trusted and highly respected. In 2006, they were asked to add depression to their list of treatable ailments.

Chibanda took on a group of 14 elderly women, taught them to ask patients 14 questions, eventually called the Shona Symptom Questionnaire, and if the answers to eight or more were “yes,” then psychological help was deemed necessary. Questions included, “Do you feel you are thinking too much?” or “Do you ever have thoughts of killing yourself?” The patients put their answers in writing, and after the first interview, the grandmothers gathered in a circle to discuss each patient and decide how to proceed. Professional help might be sought for the extreme patients, but for the most part, the service provided by these grandmothers of listening and offering wisdom acquired over their years to guide patients to their own solutions to the problems at hand proved remarkably effective.

Where to sit and listen to these patients? Rather than in overcrowded clinics, the answer was on a bench under the shade of an old tree. The benches were placed outside the clinics, in plain sight, and by sitting down on one, a patient could indicate the need for intervention. In 2007, an initial pilot was begun in a suburb of Harare, and by October 2011 the first study was published. By then, there were 24 health clinics and more than 300 grandmothers trained in an updated form of problem-solving therapy. And by 2016, a decade after the program began, the results showed a significant decrease in depressive symptoms.

The Friendship Bench project, as it is known, has spread, with evidence-based approaches, to Malawi, Zanzibar, Tanzania, Canada and the United States; Australia and New Zealand are on the wait list. There is also a program in New York City. Chibanda gave a TED talk in 2016 that has further popularized the Friendship Bench project

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Where people live, conflicts thrive.

It’s inevitable. Get two people in a room for long enough and, eventually, they will find elements about the other person that irritate them. It’s what drives people to watch some reality TV shows. Participants can’t stand each other, they call each other names and, before you know it, someone is screaming at someone else and the viewing audience at home is rubbernecking through the drama.

When it happens to other people, it’s entertainment. When it happens to us, it can hurt.

Why do we care what other people think? We know that some people will find fault with everyone — their mothers, siblings and bosses — making criticism inevitable and, ultimately, meaningless.

If someone stood on the side of the road and yelled “Duck!” often enough, pretty soon people would stop ducking, would stop looking for ducks, and, like so many other noises around them, wouldn’t hear the warning anymore.

And yet, when someone we know or even someone we’ve recently met indicates a disdain for us, scowls at our presence, or undermines our abilities, intelligence or effort, we feel cut to the quick. That person might just be repeating the same criticisms to us that he or she levies at everyone all the time.

It’s like a fortune cookie. We read something that says, “You need to think twice before taking advice.” Wow, we think, how incredibly insightful, even as we ignore the irony that we are taking advice from a small slip of paper crushed into a Pac-Man shaped cookie. Someone recently gave me advice that seems valuable, like quitting a job I hate, but maybe that person just wants to take my job or doesn’t want to hear me complaining. Maybe that advice doesn’t really apply to me after all.

The same holds true for insults, criticism and nastiness. It could apply to us or it could just be fortune cookie nastiness, conjured up by someone who may not enjoy the life he or she leads, trying to make everyone as miserable as them.

Insults are ubiquitous. Much of the time, however, the insult is an opinion, not a fact. There are times when an admonishment such as “You weren’t driving well” is accurate, particularly if you were driving the wrong way on a one-way street.

We don’t immediately imagine the person doing the insulting might be sharing an opinion about us that we would almost instantly dismiss if it were about our spouse, our children, our parents or our close friends. We think, “Maybe I am terrible at this,” or “Maybe I should be embarrassed.”

People make puppets, write stories about fictional characters, draw cartoons and imaginary figures because they want to control something.

But just because they want control doesn’t mean you have to give it to them. Even assuming someone doesn’t like you, your appearance or your ideas, so what? Our preferences are so subjective that we can’t or shouldn’t try to please everyone.

We don’t have to play those reindeer games. We can disagree and express our opinions without attacking someone else. We follow whatever rules we set for ourselves and don’t need to fight fire with fire, hit back 10 times harder or show that we mean business. We can be more graceful than our detractors.

When someone attacks us, we don’t have to act as if we’re wearing a target. We can look at that person, put a slow smile on our face and say, “It’s too bad you feel that way. Maybe a good fortune cookie would cheer you up?”

Participants at the 2017 Women’s March in Port Jeff Station. File photo by Alex Petroski

Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben once said, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

Over the course of the last several months, we’ve seen the dominance of men in power being stripped down. The day-to-day climate regarding sexual harassment and misconduct have surely changed, but we need to keep this #MeToo dialogue open.

TBR News Media hosted female local government officials, lawyers and activists at our Setauket office to speak about their feelings regarding the behavior of men, and we thank them for their openness and raw stories, sometimes relating to men of high status.

While high-profile allegations and apologies mount, it’s not the actors, politicians and TV stars with whom we should be most concerned. It’s the people around us. We’ve found most often that it’s just when we share our stories, big or small, that we’re really getting somewhere. Getting people together — especially women in power — we can come up with strategies to enact change. We hope that what’s lasting from this remarkable moment in history is not just the list of famous men left in the rubble, but rather the idea that leveraging power to diminish someone else’s self-worth is a thing of the past.

Hearing the wide array of stories from women who have been elected to lead communities, from being grabbed during a middle-school class to being asked inappropriate questions by a boss, the truth is that these things can happen to anyone. And it’s clearly time for a cultural overhaul.

We hope that a byproduct of this moment is also prevention, which can come in the form of education to ensure our boys don’t grow up to become the sexual abusers of tomorrow. To guarantee that this happens, we would like to see school districts and colleges create stricter rules and hold kids accountable for their actions, whether they’re the star lacrosse player heading to the championship or the valedictorian of their class.

In the process of this shift, we don’t want to run out of steam. An issue so long ingrained in society needs a multipronged approach. With that, women shouldn’t fear sticking up for themselves — think about it not as your job being on the line but your principles on the verge of breaking. While the bad behavior of powerful men is what has created this movement, raising confident girls and creating an environment for them to flourish into strong women is another antidote.

Women are, at last, being heard. But we want to make sure that every woman is heard. The focus should be on the prey and not the predator. Just because your abuser wasn’t famous doesn’t mean your story doesn’t need to be heard. To keep steering the #MeToo ship in the right direction, we will continue to run stories on the development of the issue. If anyone, male or female, would like to share a story, anonymous or not, call 631-751-7744 or email desiree@tbrnewsmedia.com. The only way to get to a better tomorrow is to share the stories of yesterday and today, to heal, to learn from our actions and to create stronger reactions in the hopes of continuing to rip down the abuse of power that has landed us in this mess.

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