Times of Huntington-Northport

By Mallie Jane Kim

[email protected]

Permanent protections for New York horseshoe crabs cleared a major hurdle during the last days of the 2024 state legislative session, passing both the state Senate and Assembly on June 7.

“It’s extremely exciting,” said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Farmingdale-based Citizens Campaign for the Environment, which advocated for the bill. “The horseshoe crab has ambled around the earth for more than 350 million years — we think they have a right to continue to do so.”

The bill, which still needs the signature of Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) before becoming law, would prevent the taking of horseshoe crabs for commercial or biomedical purposes from state waters. The animals are used as bait for commercial whelk and eel fishing operations, and their blue blood is used to improve vaccine safety and aid in biomedical research, though a synthetic alternative is already in the works for that purpose.

The species has faced a steady decline in the last few decades, which in turn impacts birds like red knots, who feed on horseshoe crab eggs during their migration.

Not everyone is happy with the bill as it is currently written.

“The commercial fishing industry here on Long Island is going to be severely impacted by the passage of this bill,” said Rob Carpenter, director of the Long Island Farm Bureau, which advocates on behalf of commercial fishermen. “Their needs are not addressed in the bill.”

Carpenter, who indicated he hopes for the bill to be amended or vetoed, said horseshoe crab is the only usable bait for commercial fishermen catching whelk. 

“If they are not allowed to utilize it, that means the state has just shut down an entire industry of fishing for an entire species,” he said.

The state Senate passed the bill 53-7 and the Assembly sent it through 102-39. Five North Shore legislators voted against the measure, namely Assemblymembers Jake Blumencranz (R-Oyster Bay), Mike Fitzpatrick (R-Smithtown), Jodi Giglio (R-Riverhead) and Fred Thiele (D-Sag Harbor); and state Sen. Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk).

Esposito, who previously said she hoped new protections would incentivize commercial fishing operations to find alternative baits, said she knows from her recent time lobbying for the bill in Albany that the farm bureau and biomedical industry representatives are lobbying against it.

Biomedical companies do not currently harvest from Long Island waters, according to Esposito, though she is concerned stricter rules in neighboring states like Connecticut and Massachusetts could bring New York’s horseshoe crabs to their attention. 

“The fact that they are lobbying against this bill is absurd,” she said. “We’re not inhibiting the medical industry — they have alternatives and they’re using alternatives. They’re just crying wolf.”

According to state governmental procedures, since the Legislature is now out of session, the governor will have 30 days to sign the bill once it is delivered to her, but there is no indication of when that delivery will happen. If the bill is not delivered to the governor before the end of the year, or if she does not act within 30 days of delivery, the bill is effectively vetoed. 

“Our job’s not done yet,” Esposito said. “Now we’re going to begin our campaign to request the governor sign it.”

By Julianne Mosher

The colorful pages of Dr. Seuss’ stories come to life on the John W. Engeman’s stage for their latest children’s theater production, and their rendition of Seussical the Musical is one for the books. 

Directed by Danny Meglio, the story follows the plot of “Horton Hears a Who,” with Horton (Patrick McCowen), the elephant, speaking to Jojo (Sophie Achee and Finn Brown) — the smallest Who in Whoville. Jojo and his community live on a speck of dust on a clover that Horton lovingly carries throughout the show.

The elephant’s big ears allow him to hear the chitter chatter of the people on the clover, while the rest of the jungle thinks poor Horton is crazy, constantly ridiculing him. On top of that, Horton gets tricked into egg-sitting for the sassy, popular Mayzie (Jillian Sharpe), who abandons her egg to go party in Florida. But luckily, he has the support of his friend Gertrude (Natalie Sues), especially when he gets bullied by the Wickersham Brothers (Daniel Bishop, Terrence Sheldon and Will Logan) and Sour Kangaroo (Christina Cotignola). The Bird Girls (Michelle Shapiro, Nicki Winzelberg and Ally Clancy) are a three-piece ensemble who help tell the story through song and great harmonies throughout each number.

Written by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, the show is narrated by the Cat in the Hat (the incredibly talented Jae Hughes) whose mischievous ways will make the entire audience laugh. 

Acting as Jojo’s guide, the Cat helps the young dreamer maneuver through all the different scenes he imagines with special mention to the big dance number, “It’s Possible (McElligot’s Pool).” And that’s just the tip of the iceberg in terms of a synopsis — you’ll have to see the rest for yourself.

Meant to appeal to young children, with many families in attendance, this musical is really made for all. Grandparents, parents and babysitters alike smiled along as each scene presented a new musical score sung by this professional cast. They effortlessly danced along with choreography by Jillian Sharpe in the most colorful costumes and wigs led by Laura McGauley. 

Anyone who has read Dr. Seuss’ other childhood tales (like “Green Eggs and Ham,” “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” or “There’s a Wocket in My Pocket”) knows that the famous author’s art is truly out of this world and the team at the Engeman Theater and scenic designer Orion Forte did a great job portraying that with funky Seuss-like trees in the jungle of Nool. 

Seussical the Musical is a fun play that explores themes of identity, individuality, creativity, loyalty and community. Kids will leave the energetic production knowing the importance of being unique, standing up for one’s beliefs and that “a person’s a person, no matter how small.” 

So, get your tickets now, fill up on some green eggs and ham and head over to the Engeman Theater for a fun trip into the creative mind of Dr. Seuss. Meet the cast after the show for photos and autographs.

The John W, Engeman Theater, 250 Main St. Northport presents Seussical the Musical on Saturdays at 10 a.m. and Sundays at 10:30 a.m. through June 30. All seats are $20. To order, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

File photo by Raymond Janis

Skyler Johnson, a progressive vision for New York State Assembly

The November 2024 election is one that will determine the direction our country is headed in, whether we will value environmental protection, reproductive rights and a New York state where everyone can thrive. This doesn’t only apply to the top of the ticket, but down ballot as well. State and local government is where policies are enacted that deeply impact our day to day lives. It is for that reason that I am so excited to support Skyler Johnson for Assembly.

Skyler is exactly the kind of candidate I want to see in office — he stands unequivocally for economic, environmental and social progress in New York state. I know this because I have seen him show up time and again on the issues that impact New Yorkers. Skyler has joined striking autoworkers in picket lines at South Shore Kia in Copiague and striking health care workers at Cold Spring Hills rehabilitation facility in Woodbury. His advocacy has earned him the endorsement of the local 1199SEIU. He has stood with the North Bellport community calling for the closure and remediation of the Brookhaven landfill. He serves as a board member at Planned Parenthood Hudson Peconic and is endorsed by Planned Parenthood Empire State Votes. Skyler has also been endorsed by the LGBTQ+ Victory Fund and Equality NY. I know that when Skyler goes to Albany, he will protect our workforce, our environment, LGBTQ+ rights and our reproductive freedom.

On a deeply personal note, Skyler and I are both congregation members at Temple Beth Emeth in Mount Sinai, where Skyler serves on the board. In a time where antisemitism is on the rise, I deeply appreciate his leadership in our local Jewish community, and am grateful to share this space with Skyler and his family.

Skyler’s record stands in stark contrast with our current Assemblyman Ed Flood [R-Port Jefferson], who has voted against the Equal Rights Amendment ballot initiative, against fully funding our public schools and against environmental legislation. After being represented by former Assemblyman Steve Englebright [D-Setauket] for decades, I look forward to this seat returning to a community champion like Skyler.

Actions speak louder than words. And I have seen Skyler in action, on the moral side of the issues that matter, time and again. I look forward to sending Skyler to Albany, and to being represented by him.

Shoshana Hershkowitz

South Setauket

Three Village Meals on Wheels celebrates 40 years 

On Aug. 22, 1983, 13 clients received meals for the first time from Three Village Meals on Wheels using eight volunteers. Forty years later, more than 65 clients are receiving meals and 50-plus volunteers are delivering the meals. 

Meals on Wheels began when some local community members saw a need for a meal program in the Three Village area. They hoped to get the program government sponsored. That provision came with specific age requirements for our clients so the idea for a privately sponsored program was discussed.

A meeting in Setauket was held with 40 people in attendance. Spearheading this plan was Adelaide Silkworth who was the director of the Suffolk County Office for the Aging. After an overview of the Town of Huntington’s privately sponsored, home delivery meal program was presented, several organizations volunteered their services for fundraising, seed money, printing and public relations.

Next a steering committee was established and the first meeting took place at the Stony Brook Community Church where the office continues to reside. 

Soon the organization had a chair, secretary, dietary coordinator, screening nurses and a coordinator of volunteers. The group soon became known as Three Village Meals on Wheels. 

A state grant sponsored by Sen. James Lack [R-District 2] got the program off the ground and a month later, the staff of the Office for the Aging met with administrators from St. Charles Hospital and John T. Mather Hospital in Port Jefferson. Both hospitals were on board to provide meals for 20 to 25 people. 

The program today fluctuates in number of clients but continues delivering meals to an ever-growing population of homebound frail, elderly, convalescent and handicapped people who need support to retain their independence. A great organization was born 40 years ago and continues to thrive today with the help of a once-a-year fund drive, generous donations and varying grants to enable this program to remain independent. If you know someone who would benefit from this service, would like to donate or volunteer, call the office 631-689-7070. 

Diane Melidosian 

Stony Brook 

Three Village MOW Board Member

Vote for Ugrinsky’s proven leadership

Our village needs a proven leader, someone who will work tirelessly to protect and enhance our community. Xena Ugrinsky is that person. Xena and I work together on the village’s Budget & Finance Committee and I have been impressed with both her financial expertise and her work ethic. She will bring the best thinking from the private sector to ensure our scarce tax dollars are spent judiciously.

Xena’s resume is also impressive, with over 30 years of corporate and financial management experience. She has the know-how to help craft workable solutions to some of our most pressing issues, including the bluff erosion, the occasional flooding of our downtown and the potential loss of significant revenue from the power plant. Xena will champion making the plant a state-of-the art energy facility that will preserve not only the village’s tax base but the school district, too.

Her proficiency in project management will be invaluable for our public works infrastructure and enable her to keep a close eye on capital expenditures, so we don’t overpay or end up with excessive change-order requests. Port Jefferson needs someone with Xena’s experience on the board. That’s why I’m voting for Xena Ugrinsky for village trustee on June 18. 

William Gatta 

Port Jefferson

 Member of Budget & Finance Committee

Looking forward with Ugrinsky and Parziale

As mayor, I’d like to first express my gratitude, on behalf of the Village of Port Jefferson, to outgoing trustees Drew Biondo and Rebecca Kassay for all their hard work over the past year. We had a very successful year and while we didn’t always agree and tough questions were brought forward, ultimately this board was effective and efficient making unanimous decisions on all but one or two issues.

Now we have to look toward the future, and who best to step up and into these two open trustee seats. I commend the three candidates who have stepped up and put themselves out there for public scrutiny and mudslinging.

That said, my votes are going to Xena Ugrinsky and Marie Parziale (Johs).

Why? Because they are the two most qualified candidates. Their respective resumes are diverse and jam-packed with relevant experience. Each has worked directly in the areas in which they are committed to contribute as village trustees. Xena brings her project management skills, years of work in the finance and energy sectors, and more recently her entrepreneurial activity in alternative energy generation. She currently chairs the village Power Plant Working Group and is a member of the village Budget & Finance Committee, and she chaired the Port Jefferson election review committee to its conclusion.

Marie has been rolling up her sleeves as a volunteer in Port Jefferson for years at Harborfront Park, the Village Center and the Children’s Maritime Museum (now the Explorium) while her children were young and going through Port Jefferson schools. She then pursued an advanced degree in social work and now, as senior alumni career coach at Stony Brook University, she is connecting students and alumni to careers with businesses locally, throughout Long Island and beyond, forging relationships that she can build upon further to benefit our community as a village trustee.

They are both fully engaged and ingrained in our community and both will hit the ground running. It would be my honor to work with each of them on this new board because while I did become mayor with the help of a rubber stamp, we do not need that trait in a board. This administration respects diversity of thought, intellect, and encourages debate and dialogue to get to the right decisions for village residents, and I’m confident that’s what Xena and Marie will bring to the table. 

Lauren Sheprow

Mayor of Port Jefferson Village

Social media is not a reliable source

Has the Port Times Record now resorted to regurgitating Facebook posts under the guise of “reporting”?

In the June 6 edition, the article “Incident in Port Jefferson Village exposes communication failures” is almost entirely composed of one such Facebook post. 

Were there no other sides to the story? The article states, “Seeking clarity and answers, an email was sent to village officials on May 31.” Was this request sent by the newspaper? Did the reporter attempt to contact the police department for the details of the stabbing and learn their view of whether this event constituted a threat to the community warranting an alert? Did the reporter attempt to call the mayor or trustees to get clarification and advise them that a story was being prepared for publication? 

I don’t view social media posts as a reliable source of news events and expect more from the Port Times Record.

Robert J. Nicols

Port Jefferson

The art of deception

In the chessboard of political strategy, concern is often a pawn masquerading as a queen. It’s a Trojan horse, cloaked in the guise of public interest, yet filled with the soldiers of self-serving agendas. This duplicity is the essence of a political dirty trick, where genuine worry is feigned to serve a darker purpose.

These maneuvers are designed to deceive, to cast a shadow of doubt or to rally support through manufactured sincerity. The public, often unaware of the machinations behind the scenes, may be swayed by these displays of false concern.

Yet, in the long run, such tactics can backfire. When the veil is lifted, and the true intentions are revealed, the architects of these deceptions may find themselves facing the very scrutiny they sought to avoid.

Trust, once broken, is not easily mended.

Authenticity is the currency of real change, and without it, political gambits are but empty gestures.

Drew Biondo

Trustee

Port Jefferson Village

Editor’s note: As per TBR policy, we do not publish endorsements the week immediately before elections as it does not allow time for rebuttals. Letters of endorsement can be found on our website, tbrnewsmedia.com, under “Letters”, which is available 24/7. Thank you for your continued readership.

Trustee candidates Kyle Hill, Marie Parziale, and Xena Ugrinsky sit before the audience at the Meet the Candidates event on Tuesday, June 11. Photo by Aidan Johnson

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief,
Publisher

This Tuesday, I went to a Meet the Candidates night in Port Jefferson Village. I left, some two hours later, feeling proud — proud of being an American and proud of my neighbors. 

The Village will hold its election for trustees next week, and this was an attempt by those residents who are running for office to inform the voting public about their positions and qualifications. It was jointly sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce and the Civic Association in the Village Center. 

There are a number of villages along the North Shore, where our newspapers service the communities, that hold local elections, and I would like to think my experience was typical of all of them. The occasion was an example of representative democracy, in which a candidates who best reflects one’s beliefs earns that person’s vote. The winner in a subsequent free and supervised election then becomes the elected official. 

That’s America.

I was also proud because the audience, of some 75 people I would guess, listened politely, applauded spontaneously if a candidate’s words touched a nerve, then broke into small groups to chat with each other at the end. In this case, there are two trustee vacancies with three residents running. And while there was mention throughout the speeches of clearly different positions with acknowledgement of much passion throughout the village, information at this forum was the order of the day. There were no invectives thrown, no voices raised or denigrating asides. The candidates smiled and shook hands at the end.

That does not mean there are no serious problems for Port Jefferson and that residents here are less caring. Quite the contrary. Problems like erosion, development, environmental sustainability, flooding, government transparency, municipal services, parking, and safety are common to villages and hamlets throughout the North Shore and Long Island. And not surprisingly, they excite passionate response, but the response does not have to be insulting or threatening if we see each other as neighbors, not colors.

We, of course, care deeply about the places in which we live. It’s not only a matter of economics, where development could impact property values, for example, but also our pride of place that comes into play during meetings. But insults and put downs are not necessary and would even be a hindrance during attempts to work together toward solutions.

And that is the key: working together. The candidates all got that.

I have great respect for neighbors who are willing to put themselves out there to run for office. Perhaps they are interested in the glory of office, but it takes an enormous amount of time and energy to stump for election. And in this day, candidates not only open themselves up for scrutiny, they bring their families to the forefront also to be evaluated. Privacy vanishes, and often, so does respect. They are fair game as targets for everyone’s freedom of speech. Libel law does not much protect candidates who become public figures.

The format of the Port Jefferson meeting was somewhat restrictive. Candidates were each given short intervals to speak—one to three minutes per question or summation. And the questions from the audience were written on 3×5 cards and passed along to a three-person panel before asked by the moderator, with an eye toward relevance and civility.

Candidates were prepped in advance, not given the actual question but with a heads up as to the likely issues to be covered. The two women and a man who were running probably knew what some of those issues were, but a little planning can help keep things calm and on track.

Did the informational meeting sway voters in any way? My guess is that most came already knowing whom they would vote for, but perhaps some were undecided. Even for those who knew, confirmation was helpful. It’s nice to see who will be the faces of the Village and how they comport themselves.

I hope, during this election season for villages and primaries, you, too, feel proud. 

Pixabay photo

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

It’s so easy to take each other for granted. Of course mom is going to drop everything at work, where she has an incredibly important job, and race to watch you play clarinet with your dad during a day-time concert because that’s what she does and that’s who she is.

And, of course, grandma is going to bring the entire family together for various holidays, welcoming us with hugs and kisses and ensuring that the house has the specific foods each of us needs for the days we share.

But these moments are not a given, any more than sunshine during a picnic or a last minute, life-saving reaction that avoids a traffic accident is.

Recently, my wife and I attended a service for my late mother-in-law. In a small ceremony at the cemetery, almost the entire extended family came.

My wife and I, our children and father-in-law arrived together over 90 minutes early. We sat in the car, waiting for everyone else to arrive and for the ceremony to begin. Other cars slowly glided past us, as other families and friends came to pay respects and to honor those whom they were fortunate enough to know but had lost.

Our children and I climbed out of the car and walked up and down the road, looking at the significant life-defining dates — when someone was born and when they died. We calculated how old each person was. A child died at the age of two in 1931, while a grandmother lived well into her 90’s.

Small raindrops started to fall, sending us scampering back into the car just before a sudden and surprisingly strong downpour.

My wife checked the forecast, which suggested that the rain would stop before the ceremony. Sure enough, 20 minutes before we had to get out of the car, the rain eased up and the sun peaked through the clouds, as the mixed weather served as a backdrop for moments of appreciation and an awareness of the keen loss.

We greeted other family members, who hugged us, shook our hands, or, in some cases, ignored us, carrying grudges or standing on principle for slights real or imagined long ago.

We saw an extended relative and her fiancée whom we hadn’t seen in person since their engagement. We congratulated them on their upcoming wedding, asked about the planning for the big day, and enjoyed the reality of a multi-year relationship transitioning into an upcoming marriage.

The officiant called everyone over, causing almost every other conversation to stop. After some somber words, he urged us to reflect on the person we were so fortunate to know and on the valuable time we shared.

After he expressed awe at the incredible long-term marriage between my father-in-law and mother-in-law, he asked if anyone wanted to speak. In a soft voice, my father-in-law celebrated the relationship he had with his wife, recalling the first time he met her and the bond they formed over 66 years of marriage.

When the officiant asked if anyone else wanted to speak, he turned to the grandchildren. Our son, who is the youngest grandchild and who gravitated towards his mother to offer his support, nodded.

He remembered the way his grandmother called him over whenever we arrived, smiling broadly and signaling with her index finger for him to come kiss her, which he and all the next generation readily did.

He also remembered how grandma, who was among the smallest people in any room, was always the cake cutter for birthdays. He described how her tiny arms worked their way through each cake, even frozen ice cream cakes, as she made sure everyone got a piece.

With each word, he reflected the love she gave to all her grandchildren back out into the world. In that moment, when he so eloquently captured his grandmother’s dedication to family, he made it clear that he didn’t take her for granted, any more than my wife and I took him for granted.

Without any preparation, he rose to the occasion, helping us see her through his grateful eyes.

There was no “of course” that day for grandma or for her grandchildren, just gratitude.

As summer arrives so too does the inevitable surge in tick activity. Our beautiful region, with its lush landscapes and thriving wildlife, provides the perfect habitat for these tiny, yet potentially dangerous, parasites. It’s crucial for residents to stay informed and vigilant to protect themselves, their families and their pets from tick-borne diseases.

Ticks, particularly the black-legged or deer tick, are more than just a nuisance. They are vectors for several diseases, including Lyme disease, babesiosis, anaplasmosis, ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, hard tick relapsing fever and Powassan encephalitis. Each year, numerous cases of these illnesses are reported, with Lyme disease being the most common. Early symptoms can range from a rash and flu-like symptoms to more severe complications if left untreated.

Prevention is key

To minimize the risk of tick bites you can dress for the occasion, when venturing into wooded or grassy areas, wear long sleeves, long pants tucked into socks and closed-toe shoes. Light-colored clothing makes it easier to spot ticks. 

Tick and bug repellents are also another way to minimize risk, a repellent that contains picaridin or permethrin is most effective. Avoiding tick habitats, staying on marked trails and avoiding tall grasses and leaf litter where ticks are likely to be found are good practices. Be cautious around areas where deer are common, as they often carry ticks.

After spending time outdoors, be sure to conduct thorough tick checks on yourself, your children and even your pets. Pay special attention to areas where ticks like to hide, like under the arms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, behind the knees, in the hair and around the waist.

For pets, particularly dogs, check around the ears, neck and between the toes, as ticks usually like to hide somewhere warm on the body. Regular grooming and the use of veterinarian-recommended tick prevention products can greatly reduce the risk for your furry friends.

What to do if you find a tick

If you find a tick attached to your skin, don’t panic. You can use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible and then pull upward applying even pressure without twisting or jerking, as this can cause the mouth-parts to break off and remain in the skin.

After removing the tick, be sure to clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub or soap and water and to dispose of the tick properly — submerge the tick in alcohol, place it in a sealed bag/container, wrap it tightly in tape or flush it down the toilet. Never crush a tick with your fingers.

Monitor the bite site for any signs of a rash or flu-like symptoms. If you experience these symptoms, contact your health care provider promptly.

Preventing tick-borne diseases requires community-wide efforts. Local authorities and health organizations should continue to educate residents about tick prevention and control. Programs to manage deer populations and reduce tick habitats are essential in controlling the spread of ticks. 

Since 2015, Stony Brook Southampton Hospital’s Regional Tick-Borne Disease Resource Center has been operating a free tick helpline at 631-726-TICK (8425). Also, Renaissance School of Medicine, Stony Brook University, has a tick-borne clinic at Lake Grove. 

A little precaution goes a long way in protecting against the dangers of ticks.

Benjamin Cowley. Photo courtesy of CSHL Communications

By Daniel Dunaief

Most behaviors involve a combination of cues and reactions. That’s as true for humans awaiting a response to a gesture like buying flowers as it is for a male fruit fly watching for visual cues from a female during courtship. 

The process is often a combination of behaviors and signals, which the visual system often processes as a way of determining the next move in a courtship ritual.

At Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Assistant Professor Benjamin Cowley recently published research in the prestigious journal Nature in which he used a so-called deep neural network to mirror the neurons involved in a male fly’s vision as it interacts with a potential female mate.

Working with a deep neural network that reflects the fly’s nerve cells, Cowley created a knockout training process, in which he altered one set of neurons in the model at a time and determined their effect on the model and, with partners who conduct experiments with flies, on the flies themselves.

Cowley’s lab group, which includes from left to right, Rabia Gondur, computational research assistant, Filip Vercuysse, postdoctoral researcher, Benjamin Cowley, and Yaman Thapa, graduate student. Photo by Sue Weil-Kazzaz, CSHl Commnications.

Cowley worked closely with his former colleagues at the Princeton Neuroscience Institute, including Professor Jonathan Pillow and Professor Mala Murthy. His collaborators genetically silenced a fruit fly’s neuron type, observing the changes in behavior. Cowley, meanwhile, trained his deep neural network on this silenced behavior while also “knocking out” model neurons, teaching the model by perturbing it in a similar way to the changes in the fruit fly circuitry.

This approach proved effective, enhancing the ability of these models not only to understand the wiring involved in processing visual information and translating that into behavior, but also to provide potential clues in future experiments about similar cellular dysfunction that could be involved in visual problems for humans.

What researchers can infer about the human visual system is limited because it has hundreds of millions of neurons. The field has taken decades to build artificial visual systems that recognize objects in images. The systems are complex, containing millions of parameters that make them as difficult to explain as the brain itself.

The fly visual system, which is the dominant focus of the fly’s brain, occupying about 70 percent of its 130,000 neurons, provides a model system that could reveal details about how these systems work. By comparison, the human retina has 100 million neurons.

“To build a better artificial visual system, we need to know the underlying mechanisms,” which could start with the fly, Cowley said. “That’s why the fruit fly is so amenable.”

Researchers need to know the step-by-step computations going from an image to neural response and, eventually, behavior. They can use these same computations in the artificial visual system.

‘A suite of tools’

The fly’s visual system is still robust and capable, contributing to a range of behaviors from courtship to aggression to foraging for food and navigating on a surface or through the air as it flies.

The fly “gives us a whole suite of tools we can use to dissect these circuits,” Cowley said.

The fly visual system looks similar to what the human eye has, albeit through fewer neurons and circuits. The fruit fly visual system has strong similarities to the early processing of the human visual system, from the human eye to the thalamus, before it reaches the visual cortex in the occipital lobe.

Interpreting the visual system for the fly will “help us in understanding disorders and diseases in human visual systems,” Cowley said. “Blindness, for the most part, occurs in the retina.”

Blindness may have many causes; a large part of them affect the retina and optic nerve. This could include macular degeneration, cataracts, diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma.

In its own right, understanding the way the visual processing system works in the fly could also prove beneficial in reacting to the threat of invasive species like mosquitoes, which pass along diseases such as malaria to humans.

Visual channels

Anatomists had mapped the fly’s 50 visual channels, called optical glomeruli. In the past decade, researchers have started to record from them. Except in limited cases, such as for escape reflex behaviors, it was unknown what each channel encoded.

Cowley started the research while a postdoctoral researcher at Princeton Neuroscience Institute in Jonathan Pillow’s lab and finished the work while he was starting his own lab at CSHL. Mala Murthy’s lab, who is also at Princeton, performed the silencing experiments on fruit flies, while Cowley modeled the data.

Through hundreds of interactions between the flies in which some part of the fly’s visual system was silenced, Cowley created a model that predicted neuronal response and the behavior of the fly.

The deep neural network model he used deploys a new, flexible algorithm that can learn its rules based on data. This approach can be particularly helpful in situations when researchers have the tools to perturb the system, but they can’t recover or observe every working part.

In some of the experiments, the males became super courters, continuing to engage in courtship activities for 30 minutes, which, given that the fly lives only three weeks, is akin to a date that lasts 25 days.

It is unclear why these flies become super courters. The scientists speculate that silencing a neuron type may keep the male from being distracted by other visual features.

In the experimental part of the experiments, the researchers, including Dr. Adam Calhoun and Nivedita Rangarajan, who both work in Murthy’s lab, tried to control for as many variables as possible, keeping the temperature at 72 degrees throughout the experiment.

“These flies live in nature, they are encountering so much more” than another fly for potential courtship, said Cowley, including the search for food and water.

This research addressed one small part of a behavioral repertoire that reveals details about the way the fly’s visual system works.

A resident of Huntington, Cowley grew up in West Virginia and completed his undergraduate work and PhD at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh.

An avid chess player, which is a field that has included artificial intelligence, Cowley, who spent much of his life in a city, appreciates having a backyard. He has learned to do some landscaping and gardening.

Cowley had been interested in robotics in college, until he listened to some lectures about neuroscience.

As for the next steps in his work, Cowley hopes to add more complex information to his computational system, suppressing combinations of cells to gather a more complete understanding of a complex system in action.

File photo by Raymond Janis

Child care is a necessity

I was delighted to read TBR’s article [“Early learning educators participate in National Day Without Child Care,” May 30] covering the National Day Without Child Care, a nationwide annual event bringing parents and early childhood educators together to advocate for a child care system that works for every family and pays early childhood educators the thriving wages they deserve. 

As the campaign manager for the Empire State Campaign for Child Care, we are advocating for universal child care in New York state, moving to make early childhood education a public good rather than the private burden it currently is for families. A fully-funded early childhood education system would provide children with the opportunities needed to develop and learn. It would give parents the ability to be a part of the workforce knowing that their children are cared for and safe, and it would fairly compensate early childhood educators, who currently earn less than 96% of the workforce in our state.

For many families across the country, child care is the second highest expense in their budget, right behind housing. Most New Yorkers live in what is known as “child care deserts,” where there is a wait list for every available child care slot, due to a lack of staffing. We cannot address the lack of child care availability without first improving recruiting and retaining child care educators with higher wages.

Child care is an educational and economic issue that requires bold and robust public investment. The data shows that this investment yields excellent educational and economic returns. It is why we have advocated for and will continue to call for New York state to enact universal child care, and support legislation that removes the barriers to access for families and compensates the child care workforce with the wages they deserve.

Shoshana Hershkowitz

Empire State Campaign for Child Care

Stony Brook’s Maurie McInnis

Very disappointing to note President Maurie McInnis’ bailing on Stony Brook University for Yale two weeks after Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie [D] advised Stony Brook’s graduating class that the university was “just as good as those Ivy schools like Princeton and Yale.” Best to select next time around a more committed administrator who doesn’t have designs on leading one of those “Ivy schools.” 

No matter how the spin her leaving after only four years — on 30 days’ notice no less — is not a positive for the university. Lesson learned for Stony Brook!

Kevin Seaman 

Stony Brook

Memorial Day note

Just before Memorial Day, I sent a “Thank you for your service” email to an old friend of mine. He served in Vietnam and shared point on patrol.

Sadly, like so many other vets who returned during that time, Kevin wasn’t shown the proper appreciation for his sacrifices. It got so bad some servicemen felt compelled to remove their uniforms on flights home, lest they be accosted or harassed upon arrival. He had simply joined tens of thousands of other young men drafted into military service to fight in what became an unpopular war. 

It was a “call to duty” and they answered. Kev continued answering that call stateside by being part of the solemn, oft-times heartbreaking “folded flag” ceremony.

Given that and so much more left unmentioned here, Kevin’s humbling, uplifting response to my note was, “Thank you. I served proudly for this great country.”

We’re blessed as a nation that he, along with millions of other patriots, have done the same. God bless them all.

Jim Soviero

East Setauke

Xena for village trustee

In the June 18 Village of Port Jefferson election, I am voting for Xena Ugrinsky for trustee. Xena has the expertise we need to solve one of our most complex problems: How to modernize the power plant and prevent a catastrophic loss of tax revenue for the village and our schools. She has extensive experience in the energy, finance and information technology sectors. 

As a trustee she can utilize her connections with National Grid and LIPA, also state and federal regulators, to make our voices heard before decisions are made. She will fight to bring clean energy to the power plant and preserve our tax base. We will be well served to have someone of Xena’s caliber as our next trustee. Vote for Xena on June 18.

Bruce Miller

Former Port Jefferson Village Trustee 

Former Port Jefferson Village School Board President

Public meeting on the bluff was neither proper nor truly ‘transparent’

When, as required by law, village Clerk Sylvia Pirillo failed to publicly notice the Town Hall meeting at Port Jefferson Country Club May 28 about the bluff, Mayor Lauren Sheprow first told some of the trustees they could not attend, notifying those with differing opinions to stay home. When that didn’t work, she told them they could attend but couldn’t speak, essentially gagging our elected officials. 

All elected trustees attended and sat at the dais, along with the village clerk and treasurer, constituting a quorum.

In a failed attempt to circumvent NYS Open Meetings Law, the trustees were told not to talk. Not a single trustee was allowed to give an opinion, ask a question or speak in any capacity.

 I know for a fact that at least two of the three trustees have contradictory opinions from the mayor, as they have publicly spoken about them during board meetings.

The community was told the purpose of this meeting was to hear all options. The mayor gave her opinions about the benefits of building the upper wall. She gave examples of private property walls that were built and “worked.” We heard why she wants to build the wall. She brought in two speakers, both of whom supported her opinion.

We heard from many residents in attendance. Most, regardless of being for or against the wall, were for a referendum on the project. But without balanced information, residents were left to create their own analysis.

We didn’t hear from experts. We didn’t hear alternatives or options, nor about a retreat plan nor costs associated with such. We didn’t hear from experts with opposing opinions. I know that at least one trustee had some of these alternative ideas and plans to discuss but was not “allowed” to.

Let’s hope the trustees, those we elected to represent us, get to speak and give us their opinions and thoughts on this project at some point.

There are two very concerning issues here. The first is that the NYS Open Meetings Law was blatantly violated. A quorum present and conducting business on the bluff violates that law. Second, the mayor’s dog and pony show displaying only her opinion and side of things under the guise of transparency and communication was in no way fair or balanced and was certainly anything but transparent. 

This meeting was a sham. Don’t be fooled by the mayor’s attempt to frame this as an open forum while controlling the entire discussion. We deserve better.

Kathianne Snaden

Port Jefferson

 

 

Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta. Photo courtesy Leg. Trotta

By Sabrina Artusa

The Suffolk County Economic Development, Planning & Housing Committee met May 29 to consider, among other business, a resolution designed to increase home ownership. 

Resolution 1355, proposed by county Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) in early April, would obligate owners of developments with more than 20 units to designate at least half of them as owner-only units, either through condominiums or cooperatives. 

In an area with notoriously high property taxes some of the highest in the country many native Long Islanders are forced to rent due to lack of alternative affordable housing. Trotta hoped that this bill would help people build equity.

The lack of ownership opportunities “is killing the middle class,” Trotta said. Without the option to expand their economic standing through investment, people are forced “to pay $3,000 a month and get nothing in return.”

“Let the people own something, give them pride in ownership,” Trotta added. 

The bill further stipulated that a development with more than 20 rentable units will not receive workforce housing funding or be allowed to connect to a Suffolk County sewer district unless half of the units are owner only. 

Passage of Bill 1355 would allow Long Islanders to remain without the continuous financial stress of renting, Trotta said. 

“This Legislature finds and further determines that there has been a dramatic increase in the construction of multifamily rental units in Suffolk County,” the resolution read. 

At the May 29 meeting, the planning and housing committee voted against the bill.

“It is outside of the purview of what we should be doing here in the county and I believe that this is a free capital system. If people want to build apartments to rent, they should be able to do it. If they want to build them for sale, they should be able to do it,” said Presiding Officer Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst).

“I don’t think this is very American, what we just did. I think some people should really think about switching parties who just voted to kill home ownership in Suffolk County,” Trotta said. 

This is not perhaps a perfect initiative but it is part of an ongoing effort, I believe, of how to keep our elders here … and to provide an opportunity through apartment housing to stay in our communities,” said Legislator Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), the only other proponent of the bill.

 

John Perkins and Mike Gugliotti, chief navigation officer and his ‘water Sherpa.’ Photo courtesy Maggie Fischer Memorial Swim

By Daniel Dunaief

What are you planning to do this Saturday?

John Perkins, Community Outreach Manager at St. Charles Hospital and St. Catherine of Siena Hospital and Islip Terrace resident, is planning to swim 12.5 miles around Key West. The swim isn’t just an exercise in rugged outdoor activities or a test of his endurance, but is a way to raise money to support St. Charles Hospital’s stroke support group and promote stroke awareness and prevention.

As of Tuesday morning Perkins, who is 56 years old, has raised $4,900 out of his goal of collecting $5,000.

“Stroke survivors can have challenges for the rest of their lives,” said Perkins. “My hundreds of hours of training and hundreds of miles I’ve swam over the last year is nothing in comparison to someone who has a stroke” and then has a gate impairment, a speech impediment or is visually impaired.

Perkins added that about 80 percent of the estimated 800,000 strokes in the United States are preventable, through efforts like managing high blood pressure and/or diabetes, increasing physical activity and eating a healthier diet.

Perkins hopes the money he raises can add a new piece of equipment in the emergency room or help with the stroke survivor and support group.

Challenging conditions, with help

Getting ready for this swim took considerable work, especially given that Perkins didn’t even know how to swim until he was 50.

That’s when a group of childhood friends called him up in 2017 and suggested he join them for a two mile swim in the Straight of Messina, between Sicily and Calabria.

He rose to the challenge and raised $1,200.

To prepare for this much longer swim, which he estimates could take eight hours of more, he has been getting up at 4 am and is in the pool by 5 a.m.

Three days during the week, he swims two miles before work, often surrounded by people who are training for grueling races like triathlons and ironman competitions. On weekends, he does longer swims. He has been increasing the distances he swims in the pool, recently covering 10 miles in six and a half hours.

When he’s doing these longer swims, he gets out of the pool every two miles to take a 30-second break, which could involve hydrating and a quick restroom stop.

“You can not be a marathon swimmer without considering the nutrition aspect,” he said.

When he’s swimming around Key West, he plans to bring a special blend of carbohydrates, with calcium and magnesium and some protein, making sure he consumes about 300 calories per hour.

In expending over 6,000 calories for the swim itself, he wants to ensure he doesn’t tire or get cramps.

When he swims around Key West, Perkins said his wife Pamela, who is a registered nurse and whom he calls his chief nutritionist, will be in a two-person kayak. She will signal to him every 20 minutes or so to take a break for some liquid nutrition.

Meanwhile, his chief navigation officer, Michael Gugliotti, whom he also refers to as his “water Sherpa,” will ensure that he stays the course, not straying from the checkpoints so that he doesn’t wind up adding any distance to the long swim.

When he’s swimming, Perkins tends to think about the struggles stroke survivors have that they have to deal with for the rest of their lives.

“Strokes impact your life, your community’s life, your family’s life,” he said.

People interested in donating can do so through the following link: St. Charles Host Your Own Fundraiser