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Perspective

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Writer Stefanie Werner, right, and her mother, Diane. Photo from Stefanie Werner

By Stefanie Werner

My mother, Diane Werner, was by far the most influential person in my life. She was a teacher for more than 30 years, most of which was spent in the social studies wing of Ward Melville High School and was the inspiration behind my career choices. During her tenure in Three Village she was a highly respected educator and mentor with a passionate nature that empowered even the most resistant student to not only show up for class, but more importantly, achieve to the best of his or her abilities. Her sudden death only five years into her retirement produced an immense outpouring of love and compassion that exemplified how much she meant to her students and the community at large.

Fast forward 14 years and we find ourselves at a crossroads in the Three Village community. In these unprecedented times, my mother’s voice echoes in my head a trillion times a day. I hear her telling me to fight for what I believe in, to advocate for my child and to use my voice to defend that which I believe to be just. As we debate the guidelines for our return to school in September, I wish that my mother was here to add her two cents —more like twenty — to the on-going deliberations. She would be confounded by the dissension that has arisen in the community regarding the safety protocols required for our school reopening plan. Her mind would be awhirl with thoughts of how parents, teachers and community members should be united in this cause, creating a universal practice, not drowning in a “you do you, I’ll do me” mindset. Mrs. Werner would be feverishly scribbling lesson plans in her college-ruled spiral notebook, all the while remaining vigilant in her pursuit to educate her students despite the nonsensical squabbling of parents over mask mandates and plastic shields. Social distancing and face shields would be no match for the force that was Diane Werner at the head of a classroom, and no one would be more determined to keep kids safe and learning.

Although most of the old guard is gone from the halls of Ward Melville High School, many of my mom’s former students are now parents in this district. A handful of her former colleagues are now administrators making the most important decisions that have ever confronted Three Village Central School District. Nineteen years may have passed since Diane Werner blissfully strolled into the sweet land of retirement, but she left behind a legacy of strength and determination the likes of which this district needs to channel right now. The students of this community, including the grandchild my mother never met, deserve a comprehensive, rock-solid plan that exemplifies the need for a safe and secure learning environment during this global pandemic. In her day there would have been no flip-flopping on mask enforcement, and no questions left dangling at board of education or district meetings. Of course, she would have appreciated the debate, she did teach You and the Law and Mock Trials after all, but in the end, the result would be the same. Mrs. Werner would pull on her orange mask (her favorite color), walk into room 239 (her footsteps were distinct), make sure that every desk was 6 feet apart and students were masked, sign-in to Google Classroom (although she preferred chalk) and rock this place like nobody’s business. I am my mother’s daughter, and I will accept nothing less than 100% for mine. And mom would have given nothing less for yours. Miss you mommy!

Stefanie Werner is a mother, teacher and social worker. She is a lifelong resident of the Three Village community and a graduate of SUNY Oneonta, Long Island University and Stony Brook University.

By 2020, the courts at the Port Jefferson Country Club are nearly at the edge of the bluff. Photo by Royce Perera

I have spent my lifetime fighting to protect our land, water and the air we breathe in every few seconds of our lives. So, it was especially meaningful to meet Sapphire Perera, a young person in our community whose deep caring for and connection with our environment has propelled her to play a role in its protection.  

One of Sapphire’s talents is writing, and she uses this skill to spread awareness and inspire others to action. Our local newspaper, TBR News Media, has given Sapphire Perera an opportunity to use the platform of a column in the paper to inform us about environmental issues. This is a good thing because young people can introduce fresh ideas and outlook to environment-related issues and breathe new life into our motivation to protect and improve the environment that sustains us.

— State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket)

By Sapphire Perera

The beauty of the Port Jeff shoreline should not blind us to the growing problem of land erosion. Similar to the fact that the majestic stone figures of Easter Island should not hide the ecological disaster that overcame their island. All over the shores of Port Jeff and Long Island, there are eroding bluffs. While people just see these eroding bluffs as being steep cliffs of sand that can be climbed on, they pose a much greater threat to our environment and to the buildings that line the top of the land. 

In 2012, satellite images show much more room left between the Port Jefferson Country Club’s tennis courts and the bluff.

Ever since 2012, the residents of Port Jeff have been trying to solve the issue of the eroding bluffs. The lack of vegetation and increasing deforestation have only made the erosion worse. To combat this problem, the village has planned on constructing seawalls and barriers and are still waiting for permits from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. They also hope for Suffolk County to dredge the area surrounding Mount Sinai harbor and return sand to the beaches. Currently, the Town of Brookhaven is in the midst of reconstruction of the jetties at the mouth of Mount Sinai Harbor. The jetties had been worn down over time, leaving them not as effective as they used to be, with holes and submerged rocks allowing sand to run over and through. Previous Port Times Record editor Alex Petroski wrote about the eroding bluffs in Port Jeff [“Eroding Port Jeff beach causing concern for village,” June 1, 2017], and his article included pictures of the bluffs of Port Jeff and Belle Terre. In February, my brother Royce Perera captured the image of these bluffs from a similar angle with his drone. If you compare the two pictures and examine the bluffs near the country club, the worsening erosion of the bluffs is clear. Bluff erosion has only gotten worse and without any deterrents or solutions, more land continues to end up on our sandy beaches.

Most recognize the problem but are ignorant of how the erosion of these bluffs has continually gotten worse and how human interaction can increase the rate at which erosion occurs. Many factors contribute to erosion but in recent years, there have been intense storms, strong winds and frequent human interference. While erosion is a natural process, coastal erosion on Long Island’s North Shore has been designated “critical” by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. As sand is continually sliding down the bluff to the beach, it is taking away land from the Island. Currently, the Port Jefferson Country Club tennis court is facing this problem because erosion of the bluff has come dangerously close to it. As more and more land disappears from the bluff, there is more of a chance for erosion to occur less stability. 

Sapphire Perera

Personally, when I have visited the beach, I have witnessed young kids and young adults walking up and down the bluffs. While this is perceived as a harmless act, these people are actually acting as catalysts to the process of erosion. The weight of that person pushes down more sand and destroys plants that hold the sand together. Sometimes there is garbage thrown down onto these bluffs which ends up destroying vegetation. Vegetation is one thing that helps maintain the structure of the bluff since it is holding particles together through the roots.

In order to protect the land and preserve the tennis courts at the country club, the Town is inching closer to finalizing reconstructing the jetties with hopes that it will be a barrier against erosion from tides, currents and waves. Other ways that would prevent erosion include the diversion of surface runoff away from the bluff, minimized paved areas that increase runoff and a decrease in additional weight on the bluff edge, such as pools, buildings or storage sheds.

Anthropologists now say that the grandeur of the Easter Island statues exists at a huge cost, namely the permanent destruction of the Island. We in Port Jefferson must learn from others’ mistakes and curb human activity in order to conserve Port Jeff’s beaches, water and land. 

Sapphire Perera is a junior at Port Jefferson high school. This is the first of a planned column series by her called “Turtle Island,” which refers to the Native American mythology about North America existing on the back of a great turtle that bears every living being on its spine.

A Brit Reviews the UK’s Eventual Withdrawal from Europe

Stock photo

Part 3 of 3

By John Broven

When I started this series in March 2019, I wanted to give U.S. readers a Brit’s inside view on Brexit. The term has now become such common currency over here, rather like the Latin phrase “quid pro quo,” that all I need explain is that Brexit refers to Britain exiting the European Union, which it duly did Jan. 31 of this year. On the same date the U.S. Senate rejected further witnesses in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump (R). It was hardly a red-letter day for western politics.

John Broven Photo by Diane Wattecamps

After publication of the first two articles, I was approached by residents of all age groups at the Stony Brook railroad station, in a deli, at a mall, in a coffee shop, at a party, even at an outdoor art show. Everyone expressed an intrigued interest in Brexit and, it’s fair to say, concern for my English home country. What on earth was going on? Why indulge in such potential self-harm?

When I left you with my June article, the United Kingdom and EU had agreed on another revised exit date, Oct. 31, but with no parliamentary majority the way forward was still far from clear. “Will there be a general election, second referendum, another EU extension or a hard no deal?” I asked.

It came to pass there was a general election Dec. 12 and a further EU extension to Jan. 31, with no second referendum or precipitous hard deal (to date). With the U.K.’s withdrawal from the EU, what happened in the interim?

A third prime minister in three years

For a start, on July 24, Boris Johnson achieved the prize he had wanted from his days as a privileged aristocratic youth at Eton College and Oxford University: the prime ministership of the U.K. After being elected as leader of the Conservative Party (also known as the Tories), he took over from the hapless Theresa May (C) who was unable to deliver on her promise to leave the EU after three years in the hot seat.

Brexit had thus claimed another victim, making Johnson the third prime minster since David Cameron (C) fell on his sword after a dismal and inept Vote Remain campaign during the June 2016 referendum.

Without a working majority, Johnson was confronted by a parliament determined to ensure that if Brexit happened there would be no hard deal. The new prime minister even tried, unsuccessfully, to suspend parliament for five weeks in an effort to stifle debate and ram through the withdrawal agreement by Oct. 31. Queen Elizabeth II was inadvertently embroiled when she dutifully signed the prorogation request of Johnson, who made the flimsy pretense of needing time to prepare for the Queen’s Speech, but the U.K. Supreme Court ruled otherwise. I suspect Her Majesty was not amused. 

There was clearly a power battle being fought between parliament and the prime minister, reminiscent of the current war of attrition between Congress and Trump. 

The generally pro-Brexit Tory Party, with its band of rabid hardliners, was armed with the 52-48 percent Voter Leave victory of the 2016 referendum. Amid calls from the Brexiters for “democracy” to be respected and with a definite all-round war weariness in the nation, it was clearly going to be difficult for the main opposition parties — Labour, Liberal Democrats, Scottish National Party and the Greens — to overturn “the will of the people.” 

At one time, the charismatic speaker of the House of Commons, John Burcow, even invoked an arcane 1604 parliamentary principle to stifle a government motion. (Think about it, that’s 16 years before the Mayflower landed on our shores.) However, the opposition could not find agreement among themselves for a unified approach, even with voting support from 21 Tory rebels. This rump included former Chancellor of Exchequer Philip Hammond, Father of the House Ken Clarke and Sir Winston Churchill’s grandson, Nicholas Soames. Incredibly these respected establishment figures were thrown out of the Tory Party in petulant retribution. You see what I mean about parliamentary drama.  

With time running out, the EU begrudgingly extended the Oct. 31 deadline to Jan. 31 after a last-minute fudged agreement with Johnson over the vexatious Irish border backstop question.

December general election

Parliament was still in deadlock, but eventually a general election was called for Dec. 12. Campaigning on a resonating “Get Brexit done” ticket, Johnson won a huge working majority of 80 seats to break the parliamentary impasse. His Conservative Party brushed aside the Labour Party and Liberal Democrats, also Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party. Labour, in its worst general election result since 1935, ignominiously saw the demolition of its “red wall” in the industrial north of England, the traditional home of socialism. The Lib-Dems, under Jo Swinson, went all out with a remain message. Yet this bright young leader couldn’t articulate on the stump the benefits of staying in Europe and she even lost her own parliamentary seat. 

The main opposition winners were the Scottish Nationalist Party, under Nicola Sturgeon, which swept Scotland. Watch out for a possible future referendum for Scotland to leave the U.K. and become a member of the EU. 

Richard Tapp, of Burgess Hill, West Sussex, added in an email, “Besides the Scottish Nationalists, the pro-EU parties in Northern Ireland also did well, at the expense of the pro-Brexit Democratic Unionist Party whose leader in Westminster lost his seat to the nationalists of Sinn Fein who campaign for a united Ireland — and so remain in the EU.” 

Johnson had targeted the disaffected, forgotten part of the nation — the provincial middle class as well as the working class — with a Trump-like populist message, just as the new prime minister had done beforehand with the referendum. The general election was a damning indictment of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party, both for his far-left policies and his “sit on the fence” approach to Brexit. 

Interestingly, there are concerns in the U.S. about the Democratic Party following the Labour/Corbyn route to self-destruction in the next election with a progressive socialist agenda. James Carville, President Bill Clinton’s (D) 1992 election-winning strategist, was particularly animated on the subject in the Financial Times and on “Morning Joe,” referring to the unelectable Corbyn by name.

Brexit is done

And so, with no obstacles in his way, Johnson “got it done” by signing a withdrawal agreement with the EU, meaning Britain officially left the union at the end of January after almost a half-century of membership. Brexit is now fully owned and controlled by the prime minister and his Conservative Party, with the background help of Dominic Cummings, the architect of the Vote Leave campaign’s victory in 2016. 

The coverage on BBC World News in Brussels revealed genuine European regret at the loss of Britain as a vital contributing member to the EU, including politicians from Poland and Sweden. Yet the expected party atmosphere in the U.K. didn’t materialize because the country was still split right down the middle — and it was raining on Farage’s celebration parade outside the Houses of Parliament. Financial Times columnist Simon Kuper had a perverse explanation for the low-keyed reaction: “On Jan. 31, many Brexiters spent their ultimate moment of triumph attacking elitist traitors instead of celebrating.” This revenge, he said, “is so much of the point of populism.” 

Those Brexit voters expecting a brand-new dawn, with a return to the glory days of the British Empire free of the EU yoke, will have to wait until at least Dec. 31 this year for all kinds of trade, security and legal negotiations to be agreed before the cord is cut. 

During this transition period the U.K. will continue in the EU’s custom union and single market, while still complying with EU rules (but without any more say in the lawmaking process in the European Parliament). Johnson has indicated there will be no extension, leading to the nightmare scenario of a possible no deal commencing Jan. 1, 2021. It will not be an easy negotiating ride.

I’m still of the view that a people’s referendum should never have been considered by Cameron on such a critical and complex matter, which will affect generations to come. His irresponsible bet was compounded by the Brexiters never explaining the downsides — and dangers — of leaving Europe, including diminished influence on the world stage. Already China is waiting in the wings.

Michael Hanna, of Hassocks, West Sussex, echoed my thoughts in an email on the night of Jan. 31: “In about two hours time Boris and his Gang will tear us out of the European Union on the say so of just 17.4 million, a mere 37 percent of the electorate. This is politically the saddest day of my life. For the last 47 years we have been members of the great European family of nations to which we should naturally belong. This has given us huge benefits which the Tory government is knowingly throwing away.”

With thanks for their on-the-spot observations to my British friends Roger Armstrong, Chris Bentley, Mike Hanna, Martin Hawkins, John Ridley and Richard Tapp. 

John Broven, a member of the TBR News Media editorial team, is an English-born resident of East Setauket, who immigrated to the United States in 1995. He has written three award-winning (American) music history books and is currently editing the first book on New York blues.

Thomas Cassidy with his father Hugh

By Thomas Cassidy

New York State government should not cut funding for America’s heroes residing at the Long Island State Veterans Home at Stony Brook University. The veterans home has, and does, provide first-class health services for veterans and their spouses who receive rehabilitation and long-term care in their time of need. Providing topnotch nursing home care for our veterans, many of whom put their own lives on the line to keep us safe, is a patriotic action that truly expresses “thank you for your service.”

At the age of 17 my father, Hugh “Joe” Cassidy, enlisted in the United States Coast Guard to serve his country during World War II. Before he reached his 19th birthday he participated in five shore invasions with the Marines and Army as frogman. 

He was frequently shot at while he stood on coral reefs in the Philippine Islands acting as a human buoy to help keep the landing boats from crashing into reefs and sinking. He was almost thrown overboard when his ship, the USS Cavalier, was torpedoed in the still of a Pacific Ocean night. But my Dad always said he was not a hero. His heroes were all the soldiers and sailors who put their lives in harm’s way, were wounded or died in battle.  

When the LISVH first opened, he again served his fellow veterans for many years as a volunteer. He visited the nursing home almost every day because it was his way of supporting his “band of brothers and sisters.” When my Dad fractured his hip at age 83, many doctors at the hospital thought he would never walk again. 

It took a year of rehabilitation with the skilled and compassionate staff at the veterans home, but my Dad walked out of the nursing home and spent the last year of his life with my mother in their own home.

In the 74 years since the end of World War II, military men and women have been on the front line of battles in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and many other locations around the world. Sadly, the physical, emotional and psychological wounds never heal for many of the warriors who fulfill their oath to protect America. I learned that firsthand more than 20 years ago when my father had emergency surgery for a ruptured appendix.

I visited him the morning after his operation. He was laying his bed shivering and shaking uncontrollably. He whispered he had the worst nightmare ever. He was back in a foxhole in the Philippines, guns were blasting and bombs were dropping all around him. Then he looked at his fellow combat veteran in the bed next to him and said, “Sal got me through it. Thank God he was here for me.”

Today we might say that my father had post-traumatic stress disorder or a flashback. But whatever you call it, his fellow veteran pulled him through just like the veterans do for each other every day at the Long Island State Veterans Home. 

New York State is facing a budget crunch, that much is true. But exempting the state veterans’ nursing homes from the budget cuts would be a meaningful way for New Yorkers to say “thank you for your service.”

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When I was in college, I wrote an essay in a seminar. In such a small class, we read everyone else’s writings each week and needed to be prepared to share our observations or else face the ignominy of our teacher either excusing us from the room or glaring at us until we cracked.

One of the other writers had written this spectacular story about four people at a dinner party. She had moved the reader through the thoughts of each of the characters, until she got to the fourth person, whose social anxiety receded when he started choking. His inability to control noises that interrupted her stories irritated his wife, who glared at him until he read her vexed expression and retreated to the kitchen. Separated from the group, he choked to death. The ending was so powerful that I was sure my prose was inferior.

When my turn came, I waited through the usual polite beginning, as my classmates shared what they thought worked. Great, I thought, it won’t take long before we transition to the unnerving category of “what could he have done better.”

It took some time before people starting quibbling with my choice of words. Certainly, I could maneuver through the minor discomfort of a new word here or a different turn of phrase there.

Professor Brilliance sat in his green corduroy pants, with his oversized left foot rising and falling diagonally above his right knee to his rhythm, tilting his head to the side, awaiting a worthy insight.

“Well,” he said, scanning the room slowly, “has anyone spotted clichés?”

Oh no! Clichés? Clichés! I thought I had scrubbed out the clichés. I quickly scanned words that floated unevenly above the page, hoping to find any and expose them before anyone else did.

His foot stopped, and so did my breathing.

“No,” he nodded slowly, “I didn’t see any, either.”

This had to be only a temporary respite before the scissors started slicing.

“Now, let’s go over the introduction to this fine piece,” he said.

Was that sarcasm? Did he mean that it was fine, or was he acknowledging its shortcomings?

As we went line by line through the piece, my writing held up to the scrutiny. Some of my classmates even defended a few phrases, suggesting that they found them perfectly fine just as they were.

The professor saved his lone arrow for his final remark.

“This is a solid piece of writing,” he said, before adding, “for someone your age.”

And there it was, ladies and gentlemen. The backhanded compliment that sent me back to the children’s table, wondering what the adults might be discussing.

Now that I’m older than Professor Brilliance was when he shared that line, I have considered whether he had a point and the answer is, yes and no.

My experiences have changed my perspective. I recognize the value of history, even if I despised memorizing dates and names for a test. I also understand the Chinese devotion to their elders, not because I’m older, but because I have an increasing appreciation for all the decisions my parents and their generation made.

At the same time, when I hear the ideas my children share, I don’t minimize them in the context of their shorter lives. Instead, I recognize the wisdom that comes from their experiences in a handheld techno world they maneuver through more deftly than I.

All these years later, I guess I’d have a comeback to my professor’s observation. “Maybe you’re right,” I’d say, “or, maybe, I’m young enough to know better.”