08/23/14 10:00am
Michael and Alison Ventura outside their historic Village Lane home in Orient. The Cape Cod dates back to the 1700s. (Credit: Grant Parpan)

Michael and Alison Ventura outside their historic Village Lane home in Orient. The Cape Cod dates back to the 1700s. (Credit: Grant Parpan)

On picture-postcard-pretty Village Lane in Orient, residents worried not long ago about the fate of one of the street’s genuine treasures — a simple but handsome Cape Cod house that may date as far back as the 1700s.

Neighbors watched with dismay as the front stoop of the house at No. 1780, in the heart of the hamlet’s prized National Historic District, disintegrated — one of them repaired it gratis — and a covered porch tilted so precariously that the owner had to remove it. (more…)

05/31/14 7:00am
An ivory tower. (Credit: Creative Commons)

An actual ivory tower, courtesy of Creative Commons.

It didn’t take a rocket scientist to read between the lines of the brochure I received earlier this year from my college alma mater.

“Admissions 101: College Exploration Program for Trinity Families” read the headline on the brochure. Inside, I learned that the two-day program on the college’s campus in Hartford, Conn., was reserved for high school-aged children and grandchildren of Trinity alumni, parents, faculty and staff.

Talk about special treatment! (more…)

09/01/13 8:00am
LIRR

STEVE ROSSIN PHOTO | LIRR riders board an eastbound train out of Riverhead earlier this summer.

It’s a summer Friday afternoon and you’re stuck in traffic on the Long Island Expressway, headed from the city to the North Fork. If you’re traveling by bus for Orient, where I live, delays on the LIE could make the trip take as long as four hours.

Think this is bad? It could be a lot worse.

Suppose there were no Long Island Rail Road. Last year, the LIRR ran a great ad on its trains that imagined just such a disastrous turn of events. “Up to nine Long Island Expressway Lanes would be needed to handle the additional traffic,” declared the ad, which ended with the word “cough.”

In fact, more than 260,000 people ride the LIRR on the average weekday.

Statistics like that make me a strong supporter of the nation’s second-busiest commuter railroad, Long Island’s best hope for increasing personal mobility while decreasing congestion, consumption of fossil fuels and air pollution.

I know, I know. Frequency of service on the LIRR’s Ronkonkoma-Greenport line — the service that matters most to us — is woefully inadequate. But that could change.

As previously reported in these pages, funding is now available for the purchase of “scoot” trains on this route. While the railroad has yet to select the equipment it will buy, it’s shopping for trains that would be smaller and cheaper to operate than the current equipment on the Greenport line — a locomotive and two double-deck coaches.

A railroad spokesman recently told Times/Review reporter Tim Gannon, “As envisioned by the LIRR, scoot trains would allow for more frequent train service than currently provided.”

Hey, maybe that widely reviled payroll tax for public transit isn’t so bad after all.

Even without such improvements, there are ways right now to take advantage of the LIRR that many North Forkers may not realize.

For instance, savvy summertime travelers who’ve had it with the LIE can catch the Friday-only 3:55 p.m. train out of Penn Station, fairly confident that they’ll reach their North Fork destination on time. Arrival at Greenport is scheduled for 6:45 p.m. Moreover, on the Ronkonkoma-Greenport leg of the trip, passengers can unwind with a glass of one of the local wines sold aboard the Friday-only train.

Unfortunately, that train operates only between the Memorial Day and Columbus Day weekends. But Saturday and Sunday service, once offered year-around but scaled back in 2010 to the same operating period as the Friday-only train, has been extended and will run between April and November.

Did I mention the Ronkonkoma solution to getting to Kennedy Airport?

If you hire someone to drive you from Orient to JFK, it can cost as much as $150 each way.

I’ve got a cheaper way: Drive to the Ronkonkoma station (LIE exit 60), park your car free (for an unlimited time) in the LIRR’s huge outdoor parking lot and board one of the trains operating nearly hourly to Jamaica. Upon arriving there, take the escalator to the station’s mezzanine and walk a few hundred feet to the platform where the Port Authority’s AirTrain departs every seven to 20 minutes for JFK’s terminals.

Train fare from Ronkonkoma to Jamaica is $13.50 at peak hours and $9.75 off-peak. Add $5 for the AirTrain, and you’ve saved well over $100. I know; I’ve done it.

Some folks who’ve used the Ronkonkoma station tell me they’re worried about missing the train because of the time consumed finding a parking spot in the often crowded free lot. That worried me, too, until I began using THE TIMETABLE.

By consulting the Ronkonkoma Branch timetable, you can determine when the next train from the city is supposed to reach the station. I schedule my arrival at the station around that time so that I can pull into one of the parking spaces just vacated by disembarking passengers. (On weekdays, there’s usually a 15- to 30-minute window between trains arriving from the city and leaving for it.)

Some people also worry that their cars could be vandalized in the parking lot. Never in the 16 years we’ve left our car there (once for as long as seven weeks) has it been damaged. Our luck did run out last year, however, when two exterior accessories — a rooftop kayak rack and a rear-end bike rack — were stolen. Foolishly, neither had been locked to the car.

It seemed like a small price to pay for a service that has worked so well.

Orient resident John Henry has been commuting to Manhattan for 16 years, usually using the LIRR’s Ronkonkoma-New York City service.

07/22/12 7:00am

If ignorance is bliss, then Americans must be blissful indeed these days.

Because so many of us display an appalling (and alarming) ignorance — just confirmed by a respected nonpartisan polling organization — about last month’s landmark Supreme Court ruling upholding President Barack Obama’s health care law.

Health care accounts for nearly a fifth of our gross national product and though voters say that health care remains a top issue for them, behind only the economy and jobs, a Pew Research Center survey found that 45 percent of respondents either were unaware of the court’s ruling (30 percent) or thought most of the law’s provisions had been struck down (15 percent).

“That is staggering stuff,” as The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza noted last week.

“Let’s just make sure we are all clear,” he wrote. “Forty-five percent of people didn’t know about or were misinformed about the most highly publicized Supreme Court case since — at least — Bush v. Gore in 2000 …” And it gets worse.

Among 18- to 29-year-olds — a wellspring of our future leaders — the proportion of respondents who were unaware of the court’s decision was a depressing 43 percent, even though Pew found it was the news story that Americans followed most closely in June. Imagine how much, or little, folks in that age bracket know about less closely followed news stories. Or perhaps you’d rather not.

Ignorance on a scale this breathtaking can be immensely useful to politicians. Indeed, it’s often one of their best friends.

Many believe President George W. Bush’s job of selling the disastrous Iraq War was made easier by the fact that a large majority of Americans believed at the time that Saddam Hussein was behind the 9/11 attacks, although none of the plane hijackers involved came from his country and no link between him and the attacks was ever proven.

A Washington Post poll conducted two years after 9/11 found that seven in 10 Americans continued to think that Saddam was connected to the attacks.

To be fair, the Bush administration never said it had evidence of a link. But, as the newspaper noted in its 2003 story about its poll, the president in making the case for an invasion of Iraq frequently juxtaposed Iraq and al Qaeda in ways that hinted at a link.

If the public had been paying closer attention, an unnecessary war that eventually cost more than 4,000 American lives and led to the deaths of more than 100,000 civilians in Iraq would have been a tougher sell.

This year, as the country braces for what promises to be one of the most consequential presidential elections of all time — one that could set the nation’s direction for years to come — we owe it to ourselves and the country to do our homework on the issues, especially health care, which all of us will use at some time in our lives.

So let’s educate ourselves, for instance, about the difference between requiring people to get health insurance and requiring them to buy broccoli. Understand that and you understand why the insurance mandate is the linchpin of the Affordable Care Act, just as it was for the health care reform Mitt Romney achieved as governor of Massachusetts.

Sure, it’s hard to keep up with what’s going on with so many demands on our time. But keeping well-informed is one of the prices we pay for a living in a democracy.

What you don’t know can hurt you. Put another way, ignorance isn’t bliss.

Mr. Henry is a resident of Orient.

11/10/11 4:00am

It was, admittedly, a clever play on words.

“Occupy Wall Street animals go wild …ZOO-COTTI!” trumpeted the cover headline of last Friday’s New York Post. The headline referenced a story inside about a brawl between two men — “wackos” the paper called them — encamped at their lower Manhattan protest site.

“This is the new face of Zuccotti Park!” the story began before recounting the details of the fight and enumerating the (totally justified) complaints of nearby residents about the megaphones, incessant drumming, graffiti and public urination that have accompanied the seven-week-old protest.

But if there was anything good about this display of direct democracy — which has been emulated around the world — the Post wasn’t telling you.

What a shame.

I visited the park last week and circulated for three hours among the dozens of tents crowding the site, which covers a city block and is about three-fifths the size of a football field. There, amid the occasional whiff of human waste and the occasional sophomoric sign (“Prosecute Ben Bernanke for TREASON”), the protesters I met spoke impressively on some of the most pressing issues of our time.

Not surprisingly, at the top of the protesters’ list was the widening income inequality between the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans and the rest of us. “We are the 99 percent” was the message I kept hearing and seeing, and it couldn’t have been timelier.

Just last month, the Congressional Budget Office released a report showing that between 1979 and 2007, the after-tax income of the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans grew by 275 percent. In the same period, according to the report, the income of the three-fifths of Americans in the middle of the income scale increased by just under 40 percent.

This kind of news resonated with a 26-year-old protester named Dustin, who declined to give his last name. Dressed in a suit and tie, he displayed a poster with compelling charts on the country’s increasing concentration of wealth at the top.

“Now,” he told me, “people are actually discussing the way we’ve been robbed blind.”

“Middle America is feeling it and slowly waking up,” said Xiomara Hayes, a middle-aged teacher in the city and a daily protester.

Then she imparted this gem: “We are being forced to realize we are all one, but the 1 percent doesn’t know it yet,” because they’re still “locked in by power and money.”

Hmm. Locked in by power and money? Could this explain why the Post’s owner, Rupert Murdoch — whose net worth of $7.4 billion makes him the 37th wealthiest person in America, according to Forbes magazine — uses that paper and other properties like The Wall Street Journal and Fox News to disparage the protesters?

Indeed, dissatisfaction with press coverage of Occupy Wall Street inspired David Ippolito, 55, a self-described singer/songwriter, actor/playwright, to wield a homemade placard saying, “MEDIA please be honest about the spirit of the movement.”

News organizations, he told me, were focusing too much on “the fringes” of OWS, like a sole holder of anti-Semitic signs at Zuccotti Park, and not enough on “the thoughtful, kind, committed, informed people” who participate in the protests.

“Informed” would fit Joe, a 70-year-old New Jersey man. He sat beside his homemade sign, which asserted, “The Heart of the Problem: Corporate Financing of Political Campaigns Leads to Corporate Control of the Country.”

Alluding to last year’s disastrous 5-4 Supreme Court decision allowing corporations the same First Amendment rights as people when it comes to spending directly on political campaigns, Joe, who also declined to give his last name, joked to me, “They’ve got to get rid of personhood” for corporations “unless they want to be drafted or executed.” (He supports mandatory public campaign financing.)

Jenny Heinz, a protester sporting a tunic emblazoned with the message “Granny Peace Brigade,” said she thought Occupy Wall Street had changed the nature of the national discourse.

“It’s added words like inequality and democracy and injustice that the corporate media weren’t mentioning,” she said. “They can’t ignore it.”

And sometimes direct democracy really does make a difference. As the aforementioned David Ippolito reminded me, “Without protests, Richard Nixon would never have ended the Vietnam War.”

Yes, there are good and thoughtful people protesting with Occupy Wall Street. They deserve respect, not ridicule.

Mr. Henry is a former Times/Review copy editor and a resident of Orient.

01/17/11 11:37am

The more things change, the more they remain the same.

Reading a follow-up story last week on the tragedy in Tucson in The Other Times headlined “Sadness aside, no shift seen on gun laws,” I was drawn to a comment from Congressman Mike Pence. When questioned about the prospects for new gun restrictions, he was quoted as replying, “I maintain that firearms in the hands of law-abiding citizens makes communities safer, not less safe.”

The assertion of the Indiana lawmaker, who until this month chaired the House Republican Conference and is considering running for president, was hardly remarkable; indeed, it was the kind of knee-jerk response from defenders of gun rights to which we’ve become all too accustomed after someone commits mass murder in this country.

Isn’t it time for some fresh thinking on this matter of life-and-death importance?

America has more firearms per capita than any other leading industrial democracy. So, if widespread firearm ownership does, in fact, make a country safer, ours should be among the safest. Right?

OK, you’ve already guessed the answer. But since it warrants relentless repetition so that even politicians like Mike Pence become receptive to new approaches to reducing firearm deaths, I’ll give it to you anyway. Here goes, courtesy of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, which found that the U.S. firearm homicide rate per 100,000 people was:

• 5 times that of Canada.

•13 times that of Germany.

•19 times that of Australia.

•24 times that of Spain.

•44 times that of England and Wales.

The organization’s findings are reinforced by a study of firearm deaths from all causes, homicides, suicides and accidental deaths, that found that among 23 populous, high-income countries four in every five such deaths occurred in the United States.

“Compared with other high-income countries, homicide is a particular problem for the United States, largely due to firearm homicide,” concluded Erin G. Richardson and David Hemenway, the authors of the study published last year in the Journal of Trauma, Injury, Infection and Critical Care.

Their study showed that the U.S. had an overall homicide rate nearly seven times higher than the other nations, reflecting a firearm homicide rate that was nearly 20 times higher. And, as we know, some who commit murder with a gun in America do so with a weapon they obtained legally, as apparently happened in Tucson.

Moreover, although the non-firearm suicide rate in America was only 40 percent as great as in the other nations, the study found that the firearm suicide rate in the U.S. was nearly six times higher, more than offsetting the lower number. And the accidental firearm death rate in the U.S. was 5 1/2 times higher than the rate in these other countries.

Surely such profoundly sobering statistics should be part of a national conversation about whether there’s safety in numbers where firearms are concerned.

Let the conversation begin.

Mr. Henry resides in Orient.

07/15/10 12:00am

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO
A customer fills up at the BP gas station in Mattituck on Monday. Some customers report being reluctant to patronize the company since the April oil rig disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

You don’t have to visit the Gulf Coast to see financial fallout from the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history.

Try Mattituck.

Ali Sahin, who runs a BP gas station there on Main Road, says his sales of fuel have fallen nearly 15 percent since the oil-drilling rig explosion in April in the Gulf of Mexico, for which many people hold the company formerly known as British Petroleum primarily to blame.

He thinks independent BP station owners like himself are victims of guilt by association with the oil giant. “I didn’t do anything wrong,” he says. “I wish my customers could understand that point.” Mr. Sahin is in a bind. “People are asking us to switch [brands],” he says, “but we have a contract for five years.” And that contract has four more years to go.

So for now he, like other BP station owners on the North Fork and beyond, must wrestle with a consumer backlash against their brand of gas. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll last month found that just 6 percent of Americans rated the British company favorably; only Saddam Hussein, Fidel Castro and Yasser Arafat have scored lower.

Employees at area BP stations — none of which is company owned — say they haven’t suffered the vandalism that has afflicted dealers in other places such as New York City, where some outlets were coated with brown paint after the massive oil spill triggered by the explosion, or Mississippi, where one BP station reported gunshots fired through its windows at night.

Those working at BP stations west of Mattituck offer a much brighter picture of customer traffic at their establishments although, unlike Mr. Sahin, they have not provided statistics. Conversations with patrons there indicate the British company’s distinctive green sunflower sign may have lost some of its drawing power. The BP station in Miller Place is a case in point.

“We don’t see any change in business,” says one of the station’s managers, Arshad Ali. “We’re steady. BP is very competitive. They keep prices low, so people are still coming.” But not people like Andrew Weaver.

Last week, he was filling his Honda Pilot SUV at the Hess station down the street from Mr. Ali’s station, which he formerly patronized. Mr. Weaver says of BP, “Given the choice, I avoid it — absolutely. It’s one way to express my opinion.”

Sam Gold, a manager at the BP station in Rocky Point, said, “In the last three or four months my business has increased.” Yet some of his customers apparently are reluctant ones.

Asked if she had any qualms about fueling her Mercedes sedan at the station, Debbie Loscalzo gestured toward her daughter in the front seat and a woman in the back. “They told me not to come,” she said sheepishly, “but my gas light was on. I had no choice.”

You could find similar attitudes at the Valero filling station in Cutchogue, a four-minute drive from Mr. Sahin’s BP station. Bill Engels, who says he’s never bought gas at BP stations, confessed that he had purchased kerosene in past winters for his space heaters at the BP dealer on Route 48 in Peconic.

“I won’t do it anymore,” he vowed.

The Peconic station stopped selling gas in early May to permit installation of new gas tanks as part of a county-mandated program to protect the local aquifer. The station was set to resume fuel sales this week.

For its part, BP is trying to be supportive of its dealers. Pasted to the front door of the Rocky Point station is a company-distributed message telling patrons, “This station is owned and operated by people right here in your community.”

It goes on to say, “We support BP’s response efforts in the Gulf of Mexico” and thanks customers for their continued loyalty “during this difficult challenge.”

The “locally owned, locally operated” theme is a part of $60-million BP marketing package unveiled late last month that includes reduced credit card fees to retailers, more help with national advertising and returning to distributors in the East and Midwest a penny for every gallon of gas they buy at terminals. Distributors on the Gulf Coast receive two cents a gallon.

Such marketing support from BP may explain why the catastrophe in the gulf has apparently failed to diminish the reverence some gas station employees hold for the widely vilified company. Mr. Ali, the manager at the station in Miller Place, declares, “BP is the best company in the world. They help you out.”

Some motorists also cut the company plenty of slack.

Asked if he avoided BP stations because of the devastating oil spill, a customer at the Hess station in Mattituck who identified himself only as Brian said, “It really doesn’t make any difference to me. BP is “attempting to clean it up. It could have happened to any one of the oil companies, due to lax inspections.”

For now, though, the BP station operators’ best hope may lie in attracting customers like Steve Pubins, who was gassing up his Jeep Grand Cherokee at Mr. Sahlin’s dealership in Mattituck while his wife sat in the car.

When he pulled into the station, “My wife said, ‘BP! What, are you crazy?’ I said I need gas. In the big picture, the little guy didn’t do it.”

It’s unfair to penalize him, he says.