All American Hamburger Drive in Chosen Best Burger on Long Island

The All American Hamburger Drive-In was chosen one burger on Long Island by The Best of Long Island for the seventh year in a row on February 9th.

The Massapequa based burger shack has been open since 1963 and hasn’t experienced a major menu change since then.

“They are decently priced, it’s cheap enough where you can still get another burger,” Bryan Antonoff, a senior from Saint Joseph’s college and a customer at the All American Burger said.

Burgers from the restaurant look a little flat in their wrapping but that doesn’t take away from the taste. “I didn’t really look at it much I just ate it,” Antonoff said.

“It actually tasted like real meat. It had more consistency,” Antonoff said.  It didn’t taste like it was that processed.”

The All American Hamburger Drive-in is a family owned business currently managed by the grandson of the founder, Rich Vultaggio; his father managed the restaurant before him.

“Since the beginning everything has been the same. We haven’t changed many things since 1963,” Vultaggio said. The restaurant is still housed in its original building. Even the types of condiments offered have remained consistent

The menu includes only 11 items. Hamburgers go for $1.40 and cheeseburgers cost 20 cents extra.

“Everything we have here is fresh. Our beef is delivered six days a week. The produce comes in three days a week,” Vultaggio said. “We are able to keep the prices low and it keeps the people coming in.”

The Massapequa location is the only All American Burger in existence. “If there was one out by me I’d go to them over normal fast food,” Antonoff, who lives in Shoreham said.

The Bethpage Credit union sponsors the Best ff Long Island program to promote local businesses. This year over 50,000 businesses were nominated and 2,000,000 votes were cast according to the Best of Long Island Press website.

There are 480 categories in which winners are chosen. In each category only first place wins. The winning business is announced early each year and is featured on the Bethpage Best of Long Island Press website.

A Bigger and Better Lightsource

The year was 1982. Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) in Upton, New York was celebrating a milestone at its newest facility: the National Synchrotron Light Source (NSLS) had achieved its first light. It might sound insignificant, like a baby’s first sneeze or the first time a pair of newlyweds ate a donut together. But this was a moment that scientists had been building toward for over four years. Batches of electrons rushed through the accelerator at almost the speed of light. Gigantic magnets bent the path of these electrons into a circle, forcing them to lose energy in the form of x-rays. Beamlines directed these x-rays into a detector, towards a brighter future with more science and stuff. Bottles popped, confetti rippled, crowds roared.

It was a whole different world back then,” said Richard Greene, a technician who helped to build some of the first beam lines at the NSLS. “We always cracked a bottle of champagne for every beam line.”

But in 2013, BNL entered into a new era of synchrotron radiation. The lab began phasing out the NSLS, which until then had attracted researchers from all around the world, for a bigger and brighter facility: the NSLS-II. The NSLS-II, which celebrated its own first light in 2014, is currently considered one of the world’s most advanced synchrotrons, producing x-rays up to 10,000 times brighter than the NSLS. The new facility is almost half a mile in circumference—nearly five times the circumference of the NSLS. And while the concept of synchrotrons—bunches of electrons propelled by magnets travelling around and around in giant circles—might seem abstract, the consequences of the research done at these sorts of facilities is monumental, affecting everything from technology to human health.

Before the development of synchrotron light sources in the 60s, synchrotron radiation was seen as a nuisance in the scientific community. At that time, particle accelerators were primarily used to study collision between certain particles and synchrotron radiation caused an undesired loss of energy. When scientists realized that they could use this radiation to do different experiments, they began extracting the radiation, running synchrotron experiments parasitic to these big colliders. The NSLS was one of the first particle accelerators dedicated solely to creating synchrotron light for experimentation purposes. Currently there are seven operational synchrotron facilities in the United States, all running at different energies and used for different experiments.

Click here for a map of the seven synchrotrons in the US

“The principle of a synchrotron is that when electrons go around a bend, they lose energy in the form of synchrotron light, which is basically high powered x rays,” said Robert Rainer, one of the lead operators at the NSLS-II. “Those are the x rays that people come here to use.”

Rainer explained that in the light source, everything begins with the electron gun, which generates electron beams and feeds them into the linear accelerator (LINAC). The electrons must travel in a vacuum so they don’t encounter any resistance. Electromagnets and microwave radio frequency fields are used to accelerate the electrons—the electrons ride the radio frequency field like surfers riding a wave in the ocean. The electrons then enter the booster ring, where they are accelerated to approximately 99.9 percent the speed of light, before they are injected into the storage ring. In the storage ring, they’re steered using an array of magnets. In the photos below, the blue magnets are dipole magnets, which bend the motion of the electrons. The yellow magnets are quadrupoles, which focus and defocus the path of the electrons, and the red and orange magnets are sextupoles, which take outlying electrons and bring them into a closer path. The smaller magnets, which are also dipoles, are corrector magnets.  These magnets keep the beam in line. As the electrons go around turns in the storage ring and lose energy in the form of synchrotron radiation, they are given more energy in the form of radio frequency cavities. The synchrotron radiation lost in this process is directed down a beamline and used for experiments.

According to Timur Shaftan, an accelerator physicist at NSLS-II, in the early 2000s scientists came to the realization that the NSLS was becoming too old—other machines were providing brighter and more intense x-rays to enable more exciting experiments. So scientists decided to construct a new light source, the NSLS-II, which would support more beamlines equipped in a much better way.

“It’s a different level of science now,” Shaftan said. “Once you have a better source of light you can see much clearer, you can see many more details and have a look at those phenomena that nature hid for us.”

The NSLS-II is considered the first optimized third-generation synchrotron in the United States. Third-generation light sources are lightsources which  can support insertion devices like wiggler magnets and undulators. These insertion devices are magnetic structures that produce extremely bright and focused synchrotron radiation by forcing the electron beam in the storage ring to perform wiggles, or undulations, as they pass through the device. One of the most exciting details of the NSLS-II is its small source size, also known as its small emittance, bright x-rays. The x-rays produced by the NSLS-II are coherent, similar to the light in a laser. Unlike a regular lightbulb, which produces many waves and spreads light everywhere, lasers produce a very small spot of light with just one wave. Yong Chu, who is the lead physicist at the X-ray Nanoprobe Beamline at the NSLS-II, explained that because the x-rays are so much brighter, you can do work that couldn’t be done at other places.

“Because our source size is so small we can jam pack much more photons in a small area so we can get much better sensitivity when making measurements,” Chu said.

Peter Siddons had been working at the NSLS since 1985. He is now the head of the detector development group at the NSLS-II. Siddons explained that the new synchrotron makes a lot of new things possible. One of these things is the spacial resolution of measurements done. At the NSLS, scientists could focus the x-ray beam into a 10 micrometer spot. At the NSLS-II, scientists are hoping to focus it down to one nanometer.

“The job of this group is to come up with bigger and better detectors to suit the increased capability of the NSLS-II,” he said. This will allow scientists to study a broad range of samples like minerals, rocks, machinery, biological samples and disease tissue.

There are four main types of experiments that are done at synchrotron light sources: diffraction, scattering, microscopy and spectroscopy. Topics ranging from the proteins in your body, to the soil you walk on, to the batteries in your phone and the chips in your computer are being explored at these facilities.

Microscopy, or imaging, was the first area of application since the discovery of x-rays. One thing that microscopy can look at is drug transport within the human body. Rather than swallowing or injecting a drug, scientists can allocate the drug to a nanoparticle which will travel around until it finds the spot the drug needs to be released. By using synchrotron radiation to explore this method, scientists could significantly improve the aim or focus of drug treatments.

Spectroscopy, which is often associated with microscopy, is another major area of work being done at synchrotrons. Juergen Thieme, the lead physicist at the Submicron Resolution X-ray Spectrocopy Beamline at NSLS-II, explained that spectroscopy, which excites the atoms in a material, is about understanding the chemistry of a sample. An example he gave was clay particles.

“Clay particles are everywhere in the environment,” Thieme said. “Using spectroscopy you can understand better how toxicants are confined and cannot be transported into ground water and how nutrients are spread out when you put them on the soil in your home garden.”

Scattering looks at how amorphous materials scatter x-rays to determine its structure, how it’s made and how it changes based on certain conditions such as high pressure or high temperature. Chu explained that x-ray scattering can be used to test out materials that might be used in airplanes or spaceships to determine how they’ll hold up. This allows scientists to understand how certain materials fail and how to design better materials.

Diffraction uses x-rays to determine the structure of atoms within a crystal by determining how the atoms interact with incoming light. One major use of diffraction is in protein crystallography, where scientists study the structure of proteins to understand what they look like and how they perform.

Vivian Stojanoff is a protein crystallographer who was hired by BNL in 2000 to manage and direct one of the protein crystallography beamlines at the NSLS. When the NSLS closed, she became in charge of coordinating the user program during the construction of the protein crystallography beamlines. Stojanoff explained that the fact that scientists have now identified the genes for ovarian cancer and breast cancer, the progress being made in the research for Alzheimer’s and the development of medicines for osteoporosis were all made possible with the use of synchrotron radiation.

“One of thing we have been seeing since the late 90s is an explosion in the new molecular structures of proteins and enzymes. All the new medicines we see, new vaccines, new treatments for many diseases, are a result of all the structural work that has been done at synchrotrons,” she said.

Having a coherent light source, like the one at NSLS-II, is important when doing experiments in diffraction and scattering because it allows scientists to know that the patterns they are picking up in their detectors are all coming from their samples, and not from the light source. But one downside, Stojanoff explained, is that even though it will allow scientists to look at many more samples and to study the dynamics of the molecules, the source size is so brilliant and strong that it will destroy samples. Scientists will have to learn how to do the data collection with the new light source.

“It’s opening whole new areas of study that we have not had before,” Stojanoff said.

Jean Jordan-Sweet is an IBM researcher who had worked at the NSLS for 34 years. Jordan-Sweet uses diffraction to enable newer generations of computer chips to get made. Jordan-Sweet said that she thinks that the new technologies offered at the NSLS-II will be very useful and she is interested in learning to use coherent light to do measurements.

“There’s a lot of opportunity for us to really investigate what other kinds of measurements we can use to understand chips and the materials that go into making them,” she added.

Scientists and technicians who feel sad about the passing of BNL’s first light source can feel comforted knowing that its successor is considered the newest and most advanced light source in the world. For now. Though the NSLS-II is only running six project beamlines at the moment, BNL is expecting both the number of beamlines and the user base for these beamlines to grow exponentially. When asked their favorite aspects about working at Brookhaven, everyone agreed that it’s the mixture of different people and ideas from around the world and the sense of community that working at such a facility fosters.

“People from different very different fields are constantly helping each other out with their research,” Rainer said. “Being on the forefront of science and being involved in such a collaborative effort are my favorite things about working here.”

NSLS from Ali Sundermier on Vimeo.

Urban 4-H: Changing Minds, Changing Lives

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A high-tech agricultural lab. Produce grown without soil. High school students in white lab coats running experiments—four floors above the metal detectors that greet them each morning. All in the middle of New York City’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood.

One thing’s for sure: this isn’t your parent’s 4-H.

The 4-H club program started in rural America, through the United States Department of Agriculture, at the turn of the 20th century.

It was originally conceived as a way to bring public education to country life while introducing new agricultural farming methods. The underlying concept was that positively engaging the under-served youth of America’s rural areas could have long-term impact on improving lives in these areas.

“When 4-H started in the early 1900s, we were pretty much a rural country, with pockets of urban centers. As the communities grew and transitioned and changed, so has 4-H,” said Lisa Lauxman, Director, Division Youth & 4-H, Institute for Youth, Family and Community, U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Over a hundred years after 4-H—the 4”H’s” are “head, heart, hands & health”—got its start in rural America, the organization continues to expand upon its mission to change lives by positively engaging under-served youth.

Although federally-funded, all 4-H programs are administered on a state-level through each state’s designated land-grant university. In New York State, Cornell University is the land grant institution that administers 4-H, chiefly through the Cornell Cooperative Extension.

The Extension’s Hydroponic and Aquaponic Lab, founded in 2005, at New York City’s Food and Finance High School, located in Hell’s Kitchen, is just one example of how 4-H continues to expand in its quest to provide America’s youth with positive development experience.

At this lab, students work with Dr. Philson Warner, a Cornell applied scientist and learn how to apply new technology to solve problems, such as sustainable farming.

These students, and 4-Hrs, aren’t sitting around listening to Warner lecture. They are there to get their hands dirty and learn.

After donning their lab coats, a select group of six students gather around a medium-sized table to receive their assignments for the afternoon. Some are tasked to collect water samples, while others run analyses on water quality. When they step into the lab, they are transformed from high school students into young professionals.

“The best part of working in the lab was the science behind the plants and how they grow,” said Kheeda Cruickshank, 23, a former Food & Finance High Schooler, 4-H member and Lab participant said, via email.

Warner expects that his students will go on to college and aim high in that expectation.

Warner said that in the early days of the program, many students did not apply to Cornell University, because they could not see themselves attending Cornell. However, over the past few college application cycles, he has noted an increase in students applying to the Ivy League university.

The Hydroponics Lab is more than just a lab.

It was a part of a curriculum, developed in part by Dr. Warner that provides experiential activities to teach both science and its application to the real world. Within this program, as known as the Grow with the Flow curriculum, students learn how to design and build a hydroponics system; how to harvest and sell produce to New York City markets.

The best part about the program, however, may be that much of the produce grown there is also used in the school.

“Those basil, and lettuce that we planted was cooked in the kitchen and incorporated into our recipes during our culinary classes,” Cruickshank said, via email.

The Extension’s program may be high-tech, yet it remains true to a 4-H’s core: youth.

“The focus has always been about youth.” Lauxman said. “More than anything, youth want a sense of belonging. They want to feel like they can be engaged and make a difference.”

Indeed, it is this focus—what many inside 4-H call “positive youth development” that drives 4-H’s adaptability in urban communities.

Brandon Mathurin, 16, a Midwood High School junior and founder of can attest to its focus. Mathurin started with 4-H in elementary school.

Brandon Mathurin and Midwood's High School's 4-H club on a beautification project
Brandon Mathurin and Midwood’s High School’s 4-H club on a beautification project

“A goal of 4-H back then was to basically engage the children in learning about healthy living, geospatial sciences, whatever the topic was,” Mathurin said.

Midwood High School's 4-H club.
Midwood High School’s 4-H club.

Although urban communities are distinctly different from rural ones, youth can still derive the same benefits.

“Getting back to the 4-H’s—that’s what 4-H is about. And you can have these varied experiences and still experience the same benefits,” said Jessica Pierson Russo, the Director of Urban Youth Development Office, University of Minnesota Extension. “If you’re showing a pig or if you’re developing a video about racism in your community, you’re still getting the same things out of 4-H.”

E-Cigarettes: Avoiding the Risks

Amidst all the legal arguments and political rhetoric surrounding e-cigarettes and the regulations on where you can use and buy them, lawmakers and e-cig advocates seem to have forgotten that both parties want the same thing: a safer, quality product for a healthier society.

While still new, the e-cigarette industry is no longer in its infancy. The attitude currently surrounding e-cigs might better be described as its teenage years; rebellious, young companies and consumers, fighting with mama-and-papa government over where and when they can go out. All while friends and relatives chime in on social media, and the cool uncle, science, tries to calm everyone down with a little reason and understanding.

“Cool uncle,” and e-cigarette researcher, Dr. Konstantinos Farsalinos, has done one of the largest e-cigarette studies to date, in which he tested 159 different e-liquids for two harmful chemicals commonly used in food and e-cig flavorings called, diacetyl and acetyl propanol.

“We must be sensible, we must be realistic and we must provide some minimal level of regulation, “ Farsalinos said. “But that regulation does not mean restriction. It means making a good quality product.”

Currently, the quality of these products, or what ingredients can be used in them, is completely unregulated.

“We compare it to the Wild West, there are no rules,” said Michael Seilbeck, spokesman for the American Lung Association (ALA). “What is being sold in this store is not necessarily the same as that store.”

Up to now, all proposed e-cigarette legislation has focused on where and when it is acceptable to use them in public, as well as banning sales to minors. There are only three states with statewide restrictions on e-cigs, similar to those on traditional cigarettes; New Jersey, Utah and North Dakota, while 45 states have laws prohibiting sales to minors, with Maine, Texas, New Mexico, Montana and Oregon yet to do so. Additionally, over 300 municipalities across the country have passed their own legislation, restricting e-cig use in public spaces to varying degrees. (For a complete breakdown of state laws, here is an interactive map)

Greg Conley, president of the American Vaping Association (AVA), talked about the e-cig community’s mixed feelings on current and impending regulations.

“Many vapers have supported regulations for banning sales to minors and child resistant packaging, but they want appropriate regulations that don’t impact their ability as adults to access these products,” Conley said. “We have a public health crisis where 450,000 people are dying every year due to smoking related diseases. We have known for 40+ years that smokers smoke for the nicotine but they die from the tar and other toxins. So we need innovative products and the current FDA approved methods are not working for people as well as e-liquids.”

While traditional cigarettes were banned in public places well after science had established the devastating health risks associated with smoking them, e-cigs are not being given the same room to breathe. Instead, lawmakers and tobacco control groups have been lobbying for, and enacting bans on vaping in public spaces well before science has established a firm understanding of all the risks involved.

“If you can smell something, that means the particle is big enough to trigger an asthma attack,” explained Seilbeck. “So should we be exposing the public to something that, not only do we not know what’s in it, but is something that might trigger their asthma? I am not saying it is causing asthma, but that was one of the main reasons the initial laws were passed; for those who are not partaking, why should they be exposed?”

However, sweeping generalizations can be inaccurate.

“I do not want to say they are safe, but e-cigs are much less harmful than traditional cigarettes,” said Farsalinos. “There is nothing that we consume that is entirely safe. Even water has impurities; it contains microbes and bacteria… but that does not mean water is inherently dangerous.”

While, according to the ALA, traditional cigarettes contain about 600 ingredients, 69 of which are known to cause cancer or be poisonous, e-cigs contain a fraction of that. The three primary ingredients in e-cigs, propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin and nicotine, are all well -known and relatively safe chemicals to inhale by ALA standards. However, the chemical flavorings in e-cigs, often designed for ingestion, pose a potential risk when inhaled. Diacetyl and a derivative, acetyl propanol, used in buttery and custard flavors, are the best -known of these potentially harmful chemicals.

Popcorn lung, or to use its real, and much scarier name, Bronchiolitus Obliterans, is an untreatable disease that can result from prolonged inhalation of diacetyl or acetyl propanol. It is a condition in which the tiny air sacs, called alveoli, become scarred and stop working.

Most e-cig advocates are wary of government-imposed regulations of any kind, but none can argue against quality control. Russ Wishtart, an outspoken e-cig advocate who has sued New York City in an attempt to get e-cigarettes removed from the Clean Indoor Air Act, personifies this.

“I am not saying that it [quality control and ingredient disclosure] should be required,” said Wishtart, who also hosts a podcast that devotes a lot of time to e-cigs. “I am not for any kind of restrictions, laws or requirements, but that is something that I would choose to spend my money on.”

But can companies be trusted to regulate themselves without government intervention when profits are at stake?

According to Seilbeck, “In many instances, profit is being put before public health, certainly. It is much easier from a profit perspective, to not look at the health questions.“

But that doesn’t mean they should not be asked.

After seeing Farsalinos’ diacetyl study, Wishtart spent some of his own money to ask his own questions and independently test a popular e-liquid flavor; Mother’s Milk, whose producer, Suicide Bunny, claimed to be diacetyl free. The results came back showing low amounts of Diacetyl and high levels of Acetyl Propanol. In short, the company did not regulate themselves.

“Companies know about these chemicals but customers and users of e-cigs don’t know what they are,” Wishtart said. “Diacetyl exists in traditional cigarettes but the FDA prohibits them from adding more of it. If you think they are going to allow it in E-Cigs, I got a bridge to sell you.”

Cigs Vs. E-cigs
Cigs Vs. E-cigs: A Chemical Comparison

According to Farsalinos, this is an important factor in the e-cig, vape debate.

“That diacetyl [in traditional cigarettes] is produced as a bi-product of combustion and is therefore an unavoidable risk,” he said. “But in e-cigarettes, it is an added ingredient, and is an avoidable risk.“

Isn’t avoiding risks what e-cigarettes are all about in the first place? If smoking cigarettes is a risky behavior, choosing to pick up e-cigarettes is an example of risk- avoiding behavior. Should governing bodies that are tasked with finding public health risks and then mitigating them, take a more proactive role within this nationwide exercise in risk avoidance?

The FDA has proposed a rule that, if approved, would give them authority to regulate e-cigarettes just as it does traditional tobacco products. However, that rule does not include a provision for regulation of the chemical components of e-liquid.

“Finding diacetyl in e-liquids doesn’t mean that, suddenly, vaping is worse than smoking. On the other hand, it also doesn’t mean there is nothing wrong,” Farsalinos said. “The key issue [diacetyl and flavorings] is an avoidable risk and there is no excuse to continually expose people to a risk that can be avoided, especially if it can be avoided for a small cost. It is something every manufacturer should do, regardless of regulations.“

The Suddenly Popular Practice of Archery

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On the subject of most popular sports archery isn’t typically the first thing that comes to mind. But thanks to pop culture icons and fictional characters like Katniss Everdeen from the Hunger Games or Oliver Queen from CW’s The Arrow, archery is enjoying a new surge in popularity.

Film viewers who see characters like The Avenger’s Hawk Eye or the Hobbit’s Legolas become inspired to visit archery ranges and are encouraged by trainers to improve their accuracy and skill by practicing daily.

Although the popular media that created the fascination with archery might fall out of the lime light as early as next fall, the interest in archery has a good chance of surviving for many years. That’s because it’s not just adults taking up bows and arrows. Spend a few hours at an archery range and you’re likely to see more kids practicing than anyone else.  A strong youth presence is a vital life line for any sport or activity.

Imagine an elementary school age kid with a bow and arrow. Better yet imagine 20 of them; that might sound like the beginning of a disaster waiting to happen but for Smith Point Archery in Bayshore that is a typical weekend. The range and store hosts birthday parties at which all the guests are given a lesson in safe and fun archery practice.

“They can shoot as long as they can hold a bow and follow instructions” said a volunteer working at Smith Point Archery. The birthday party guests are given recurve bows and aluminum tipped arrows (that’s right, real arrows). They typically host 2 parties a month, but the range is open and visited by enthusiasts young and old daily.

Craig Wagner who has worked at Smith Point Archery for 13 years marked the change in the public’s attitude to archery. “On average 50 people come to the store, some to buy, some to shoot. There are days when we get more and other days when we get less.”

“It’s gone up lot in the last couple of years. Various movies like hunger games have brought in a lot of kids and women. We used to be mostly men and hunters.”

The only downside of having Hollywood inspire archers is that they might take up the hobby with Hollywood degrees of expectations, but Wagner didn’t seem too worried about that.

“The girl who played Katniss [Jennifer Lawrence] took professional lessons. How she shot the bow is very realistic” said Wagner.  “The scene where she puts a rock on a string and shoots it to make the deer move is totally Hollywood, that doesn’t really work.”

The jump from film archery to the actual practice means that fans will have to decide on their preferred equipment. With the exception of CW’s the Arrow most fictional archers popular today sport a simple more traditional recurve bow.

“There are a lot of people getting into archery with a recurve. But the compound bow, because of the hunting population is more popular” said Wagner.

“I was a rifle hunter, then I wanted to hunt Long island, you have to be a bow hunter to hunt long island for deer so I took up archery and then fell in love with it’ Said Wagner. “No longer do I hunt with a rifle.”

“It’s more challenging; it requires a discipline that’s not required with rifle hunting” said Wagner about hunting with a bow. “You have to be very stealthy about when you move and how you take a shot, there is a certain amount of precision required to get that clean kill. It’s a lot more intense than rifle shooting, that’s what I like about it.”

Spoken Word: A Platform for the Oppressed


Spoken Word Poets and Performers–

Shira Erlichman

Shira Erlichman (Photo credit: Nivea Castro)
Shira Erlichman (Photo credit: Nivea Castro)

“I’m Queer. I’ll always be vocal. I think the LGBTQ community is pushing society to be more compassionate, thoughtful, honest, and vibrant – sometimes in ways that have nothing to do with sexuality, but just have to do with coming fully into one’s self, whoever that self is, and poking holes into too-easily-accepted ‘norm.'”

Shira, born in Israel, now lives in Brooklyn. She is a songwriter, producer, visual artist, and poet. Shira said she started attending the Cantab Lounge in Boston when she was 16, just to watch; she performed for the first time when she was 18-years-old. Shira joined the slam team at Hampshire College, and made her way onto the Boston team in 2007, which she said was a powerful experience.

Miles Walser

(Photo credit: Bridget Badore)
Miles Walser (Photo credit: Bridget Badore)

“Performing poetry absolutely made me more confident in my voice and made me believe that what I have to say matters. When I started college I wasn’t sure that I wanted to ever talk about being trans and my experiences as a queer person. As I started writing and performing more, I had a few close friends and fellow poets encourage me to write more about my experiences as a trans person—that validation that my stories were worth sharing pushed me to write more and more about things I’d been too afraid to share with others. That growth and confidence has seeped into every area of my life and made me a stronger person.”

Miles first got into spoken word poetry in high school. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota with a Bachelor’s in Individualized Studies in English, Social Justice and Youth Studies. In 2010, Miles represented the U of M at the College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational; he placed 3rd in the nation and was named Best Male Poet. In 2012, Miles won the award for Best Poem by a Male Poet at the Wade-Lewis Poetry Slam Invitational.

Megan Falley

(Photo credit: Megan Falley)
Megan Falley (Photo credit: Megan Falley)

“As a mostly femme presenting woman, it is important for me to write and perform poems about my queerness and relationships because I am often ‘read as straight.’ I hope that being outspoken about being a big queer will banish the phrase ‘but she doesn’t look gay’ from everyone’s vocabulary in the world, encourage people not to make assumptions on anyone’s gender or sexuality based on their appearance, and dismantle femme invisibility as much as I can.”

Megan says she has been a writer and performer for as long as she can remember but got into spoken word during her freshman year of college. Megan teaches an online poetry, writing and editing course called “Poems That Don’t Suck.” In 2012, she toured the United States and Canada for 100 days delivering electric readings of her poetry and signing books. Megan lives in Brooklyn with her dog, Taco.

Liz Thaler 

(Photo credit: Julianne Cuba)
Liz Thaler (Photo credit: Julianne Cuba)

“Visibility is the most important tool to fighting homophobia…and the arts is one of the best ways to show people other experiences…your life would be so much less rich without all these different experiences, and because LGBT people are themselves so diverse, we have so much to learn from each other. So showing these stories, giving people a platform, where there’s no fear, that’s a really important step to bringing acceptance and actual harmony to the arts and beyond.”

Liz is the artistic director for All out Arts, Fresh Fruit Festival— New York’s celebration of LGBTQ arts and culture. Liz is a director, playwright and producer.  In 2008 she founded In Extremis Theater Company. Liz is a native New Yorker and lives in the West Village.

Chauvet Bishop

Chauvet Bishop (Photo credit: Julianne Cuba)

“Art is for the oppressed….We have so much that we feel we can’t say, that we can’t get out; and the more oppressed you are, the more artistic you are. Because it’s either you make art, you laugh, you love or you die…that’s it. So this is just the way that we live, this is the only way that we can live happily; how many places can we be free, can we be ourselves, can we be applauded for being that?”

Chauvet, who is also a licensed massage therapist, moved from North Carolina to New York City to escape the oppression of living in the South as a gay and multi-racial woman.

Jack Trinco

(Photo credit: Julianne Cuba)
Jack Trinco (Photo credit: Julianne Cuba)

“It’s a nice forum to express yourself in a poetic way and to be able to play with ideas…words in a way that you can’t in a traditional play…Society has changed so much—you no longer have to wonder who is a gay person, you can go online and see 50,000 of them with one click. It’s fascinating to watch the culture progress and so quickly and I feel so pleased to be a little tiny part of that.”

Jack, now 39, moved to New York when he was 22-years-old. He is a member of the Fresh Fruits Festival and a poet. Jack lives in Astoria.

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Discrimination against Arab-Americans and South Asians continues to rise

Discrimination and bigotry are as American as apple pie. A cursory glance through a history book will confirm this simple fact.

What’s new on the continuum of collective bigotry in America are its intended targets and the collateral damage inflicted upon other groups.

“Most people are not aware that Arabs and Muslims have been vilified in American culture for more than a century,” said Dr. Jack Shaheen, author of “Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People.”

Although negative stereotypes have, as Shaheen says, been around for over a century, anti-Arab bigotry reached a zenith in the weeks following 9/11, with the FBI reporting a 1,600% increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes in 2001.

The intense virulence and concomitant rhetoric produced a fear that compelled some Arab-Americans to hide their heritage and ancestry.

Catherine Joseph, 21, a Stony Brook University senior, was in second grade when the attacks of 9/11 occurred. She was too young to fully grasp the significance of the events, but she was yet aware that something terrible had happened.

“I remember so vividly being out to dinner shortly after 9/11 with my family when I began nagging my father about visiting Lebanon,” Joseph said, via email. “Being both Italian-American and Lebanese-American, I was always compelled by both of these cultures. He looked at me and replied: ‘From now on when people ask, you are strictly Italian-American.’ For years following the attacks, I did exactly as my father said.”

“I had no idea that he was shielding me from the harsh stereotypes and discrimination associated with being Arab-American.”

In the almost-14 years since 9/11, discrimination against Arabs, Arab-Americans and those perceived as belonging to those groups continues to rise.

South Asians, Sikhs, Hindus and some non-Arab Middle Easterners are often targeted because they are mistaken for being Arab.

Amir Razani, 20, is well-acquainted with this mis-perception.

“I identify as Iranian-American or just simply Persian,” said Razani, via email. “I do sometimes get mistaken for being Arab-American simply because most people don’t really know what Persian is or where Persians are from. Even when I say I am from Iran, some people still think that Iranians are Arab, which isn’t true.”

According to the United States Department of Justice, hate crimes against these communities has remained high since 9/11. During that time, the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice has investigated over 800 hate-related incidents against these groups.

Sumeet Singh, a 20-year-old Stony Brook junior and practicing Sikh can relate.

In her community, many are reluctant to express their faith through wearing a turban (men) or long hair (women), both of which are symbolic of the Sikh faith.

“Because of this backlash against people of Indian descent,” Singh said, “people who cut their hair felt that they needed to in order to survive in this society.”

“I think a lot of Sikhs lost confidence in being able to show proudly that they are Sikhs with their turbans, because that’s a main way to identify Sikhs,” Sing continued.

Although there are no easy solutions to ameliorate this trend, groups such as the Arab American Association of New York, the Sikh Coalition and South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) have been formed to protect the rights of these groups and to advocate in the face of rising discrimination.

Draw My Story Line: Dancing

Country music and line dancing are typically categorized under things you experience in old western movies or thriving bars in modern day Tennessee, but believe it or not one could find that country atmosphere here on Long Island, on Tuesdays and Wednesdays no less.

Colleen Mcree is a regular at the Nutty Irishman in Farmingdale. The Irish pub has an unusually diverse schedule of weekly events; Ladies night Thursdays, Friday Night Party (The DJ plays party music the whole night), and every Tuesday the pub plays host to local country bands, a line dancing instructor and an entire crowd of line dancers cutting a rug on the modest Nutty Irishman dance floor.

For the 22-year-old country music fan line dancing is a form of escape. Dancing and being around the people is where she feels comfortable. “You’re just there to dance and nothing else matters” said Colleen. “It’s a place to go and you just forget everything for a little bit… It boosts your confidence.”

“Everybody ends up in a huge group of people, because there is not that much room on the dance floor,” said Colleen. The Country night crowd fills the entire bar as well making getting anywhere difficult without getting to know some stranger fairly well. Luckily the point of Line dancing is to move in unison so there is minimal shoving on the dance floor.

Line dances are all about timing and the choreography. For someone who doesn’t know the moves that go with the song it can be a little bit difficult. That doesn’t stop first-timers and novices from joining in with the experts.

Edward Martinez, a 23-year-old who has been line dancing for only a year prefers line dancing because of the comfort that planned choreography offers. “You can follow whoever knows what they’re doing and you’re dancing,” said Martinez. “A few people that go to every country night know a majority of the dances. You’ll see them at the beginning thinking of each song and what dance goes best with it.”

“I’m a die-hard country fan and this is actually my first time [line dancing]” said Joshua Beiling, a tag-along friend of Martinez. “It was a little tricky at first but I caught right on and I was able to get into it.”

“It’s definitely more fun doing it with people who like this music and know what they are doing” said Bieling.

Unfortunately for Bieling the nearby Nutty Irishman in Bay Shore is temporarily closing for renovations next week. That doesn’t mean there will be any shortage of bars featuring a country night on Long Island.

Boot Scootin’ at Who-Ville bar and grille, Country Tuesdays at Revolution, Hump day Hoedown at Dublin Deck. Bars on Long Island can’t seem to help designating Tuesday or Wednesday to a country themed catch phrase and a night of Line Dancing.

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