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Wednesday
Aug082018

SUFFOLK CLOSEUP - At Long Last Tesla Will Be Recognized In Suffolk 

 

SUFFOLK CLOSEUP

By Karl Grossman

“Nikola Tesla: Who Was He?” was the title of a presentation given last week at the Suffolk County Historical Society by Jane Alcorn, president of the board of the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe, about Tesla, a genius inventor who worked here in Suffolk.

Ms. Alcorn has led the drive to preserve Tesla’s only remaining laboratory, an elegant red brick building in Shoreham designed by Tesla’s friend, famed architect Stanford White. 

Alongside the laboratory was a giant tower, and Tesla’s “plan and dream was to use it to provide wireless electricity—for free—to people around the world,” explained Ms. Alcorn.

Last month, the laboratory was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

And nearly $6 million has been raised so far in the preservation effort—including a $1 million contribution from Elon Musk, the manufacturer of Tesla cars, named for the inventor.

Ms. Alcorn, long a teacher and librarian, herself from Shoreham, on Thursday evening at the Historical Society in Riverhead, spoke of Tesla being of Serbian background, born in what is now Croatia, coming to the United States in 1884 to work under Thomas Edison. 

Tesla’s father was an Eastern Orthodox priest and his mother “very inventive and creative,” said Ms. Alcorn. Tesla “followed in her footsteps” in terms of his “inventive and creative qualities.” Tesla, meanwhile, “poured over” his father’s collection of books. 

The relationship with Edison didn’t work out. In part, that involved a conflict over electric systems—Edison advocating direct current and Tesla the father of alternating current which, in fact, is the system that the world ultimately adopted.

And Tesla was responsible for a great deal more in the way of inventions. 

Guglielmo Marconi is generally credited with originating radio, but the U.S. Supreme Court, after Tesla’s death, determined that much of Marconi’s work was based on 17 Tesla patents. Tesla was involved in the development of fluorescent lighting, robotics and forms of remote control, the bladeless turbine, the AC induction motor, and on and on. In all, Tesla held 299 patents. 

He was a “visionary” with ideas that would revolutionize the world. He came to Shoreham at the turn of the last century to focus on the wireless transmission of power. 

He envisioned that not only radio signals but electricity could be sent far distances—by linking into the resonance of the Earth.

Across from the Long Island Rail Road station in Shoreham he built his laboratory, with a rail spur to it used to bring in construction material. Alongside the laboratory, with its ornate windows and graceful grillwork, he built a 187-foot high tower. Sadly, it was torn down in 1917.

I wrote and presented a TV program on Tesla’s laboratory in 2010 which aired on WVVH-TV and can now be viewed on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_H-UBvdPta 

The foundation for the tower—which is featured in the program—are granite slabs in an octagonal shape. And there are steel posts and a large mound marking its location.  Below is said to be—radiating like spokes on a wheel—copper-lined tunnels, each high enough for a person to walk through, and a shaft connecting 120 feet to the aquifer below. 

When it was put in operation, said Ms. Alcorn last week, there were sparks emanating from the tower “that could be seen as far away as Connecticut.” 

“Tesla believed in raising the masses,” said Ms. Alcorn, and if electricity could be “wirelessly” transmitted, people all over the world “would be able to tap into it.”

The tower project, however, was curtailed when financier J.P. Morgan, an initial supporter, became disinterested in it. As part of the restoration of the Tesla laboratory, Ms. Alcorn said the hope is for construction of a “replica” of the tower.

Tesla died of heart failure in 1943, in the New Yorker Hotel in Manhattan. He was 86. gHe had been living meagerly on assistance from family members and a pension from the Yugoslavian government. He is regarded as a giant in that part of the world. Indeed, double-checking on the URL on YouTube of my TV program, I see that it has been translated for people in that region.

And, at long last, Tesla will be well-recognized here in Suffolk.

The Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe will be a memorial to Tesla and his work and, also, as the website of the non-profit center—http://www.teslasciencecenter.org/—states, it will be “a place dedicated to science education and to introducing visitors to the rich scientific opportunities on Long Island. This center and museum would complement the educational efforts of the schools within this region as well as the community outreach activities of other prominent science institutions. It would also look to provide possible space for fledgling companies engaged in scientific research.”

Karl Grossman is a veteran investigative reporter and columnist, the winner of numerous awards for his work and a member of the L.I. Journalism Hall of Fame. He is a professor of journalism at SUNY/College at Old Westbury and the author of six books.  

Thursday
Aug022018

SUFFOLK CLOSEUP - The Last Straw

SUFFOLK CLOSEUP

Karl Grossman

On Independence Day week last month, Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn joined  with environmentalists and the county’s Single Use Plastic Reduction Task Force in calling for Suffolk to “declare independence” from plastic straws.

Given the name “Strawless Suffolk,” the initiative aims to “convince” restaurants in waterfront Suffolk communities “to take a pledge this summer to stop using plastic straws.”

A statement by Ms. Hahn, the environmentalists and the task force—established by the Suffolk Legislature in March by a resolution authored by Ms. Hahn—said: “Restaurants that agree to take this pledge will be provided with a decal to identify the establishments as a ‘Strawless Suffolk’ participating restaurant.”

“To be eligible for recognition, restaurants can elect to pursue one or all of three scenarios: stop using straws completely; provide biodegradable straws made from paper or bamboo upon request; and/or provide reusable straws made of stainless steel or glass.”

It went on: “In Suffolk County, which boasts some of America’s most beautiful beaches, a thousand miles of shoreline, and waterways teaming with marine life, the innocuous plastic straw has become a tangible threat to the county’s tourist-driven economy, littering our beaches with debris and threatening turtles, birds and other marine life.”

“Every day, Americans discard a half a billion plastic straws, many of which find their way into oceans and inland waterways, which to put in perspective could wrap around the Earth 2.5 times per day. What’s more, nearly 90% of all marine debris is made of plastic, including plastic straws,” it stated.

The situation calls for, indeed, the last straw.

As Ms. Hahn and the environmentalists were announcing the initiative here, Seattle became the first major U.S. city to ban plastic straws. Also prohibited in Seattle now are plastic food utensils.

There needs to be a broad attack on single-use plastic. Other than profiting the plastics industry, single-use plastics are unnecessary. 

When used in connection with food, a human health issue is involved. Beth Fiteni, a member of the county’s Single Use Plastic Reduction Task Force and executive director of the organization Green Inside and Out, points out that “plastic is made from petroleum and may potentially leach hormone-disrupting chemicals…Since there are paper alternatives and even reusable glass or metal alternatives, there really is no need for these useless bits of plastic.”

As to what is preferable—an effort to “convince” restaurants on straws or, as Seattle has done, outlaw plastic straws, I would go with the latter—considering the huge problem plastic straws have become in Suffolk along with the rest of the nation and world. 

“A video that went viral in 2015 of a sea turtle getting a bloody straw removed from its nostril helped spur some of the growing momentum to ban or limit plastic straws in many cities, states, countries, or businesses,” reported the Christian Science Monitor in an article in June. It was headlined: “Ditching straws to save sea life.”

It quoted Dianna Cohen, chief executive officer of the Plastic Pollution Coalition, as saying: “Plastic straws [can be] the gateway, the beginning to raise awareness or open your eyes about single-use plastic…We’re really hoping that we create a system shift.” 

The piece went on relating the argument that “the rate at which straws are currently ending up on beaches and in the ocean demands action.”

“During the International Coastal Cleanup, a day in September when communities around the world head out to clean up beaches, 3 million straws have been collected over the past five years,” according to Nicholas Mallos, director of the Ocean Conservancy’s Trash Free Seas program, said the piece.

Legislator Hahn, a Setauket Democrat, says: “The beauty of our beaches and natural landscape is what drives Suffolk County’s estimated $5.6 billion tourist economy. And yet, all over the county, our beaches and parks are littered with plastic straws and other plastic debris. 

What’s even more distressing is the suffering these useless bits of plastic inflict on vulnerable wildlife. Suffolk is joining the worldwide movement to save our oceans and beaches, starting right here at home.”

Working with Ms. Hahn is the Surfrider Foundation’s Eastern Long Island Chapter  which in May launched a “Strawless Summer” campaign. Colleen Henn, its clean water coordinator and also a member of the Single Use Plastic Reduction Task Force, comments that “we have been overwhelmed by the acceptance and success of our initiative. We are heartened to be working alongside Suffolk Legislator Hahn and a coalition of organizations to implement a county-wide ‘Strawless Suffolk.’ Surfrider hopes that this movement will encourage a deeper dialogue about reducing the prevalence of single-use plastics in our daily lives.”

Karl Grossman is a veteran investigative reporter and columnist, the winner of numerous awards for his work and a member of the L.I. Journalism Hall of Fame. He is a professor of journalism at SUNY/College at Old Westbury and the author of six books.  

Thursday
Jul262018

SUFFOLK CLOSEUP - Press Club Responds To Ejection Of Journalists

SUFFOLK CLOSEUP

By Karl Grossman

It was an unprecedented incident in Suffolk County history—two journalists were kicked out of a political rally. It happened last month at a “kickoff” rally for Congressman Lee Zeldin whose district includes most of Smithtown.

As Pat Biancaniello, editor of Smithtown Matters, one of the journalists kicked out of the rally, wrote in an editorial: “Last night I was ejected from the Lee Zeldin kick-off rally which I was invited to, without cause. Yes, I was invited to attend the rally by the Zeldin campaign and was credentialed by the Zeldin campaign. Upon arrival I was told to go anywhere I wanted to take photos, again by the Zeldin campaign. I stood in the same spot, with my credentials plainly in sight, for roughly an hour and a half before, out of the blue, I was told to leave without an explanation.”

Ms. Biancaniello continued: “I was forced to climb over a rope to get to the path leading to a door—(one woman sneered and said ‘bye bye’ as I walked past).  Once out the door and in a backyard area, I was mocked by a group of people. A man upset that I was taking photos smacked my camera and I was told by security to leave the Elks Club premises. All the while I was wearing the press badge supplied by the Zeldin campaign and telling everyone I was an invited press person.”

As David Ambro, managing editor of The Smithtown News, wrote in an article: “Without provocation, without just cause, and without a word of explanation, the campaign staff of Republican Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) threw me and a fellow journalist out of his campaign kickoff at the Elks Club on Edgewood Avenue in Smithtown Thursday, June 28. It was the first time in my 40-year career as a journalist that I have ever been thrown out of anything. I didn’t like it.”

“I saw a tweet that said we had been thrown out of a ‘white supremacist fest,’” Mr. Ambro went on, “a reference, I suppose, to one of the Zeldin-rally speakers, Sebastian Gorka, who Democrats charge is a ‘Nazi sympathizer.’ I’ve covered a white supremacist rally before—a cross-burning during a brief Suffolk uprising of the KKK in 1998—and that’s not what this was. I will say, though, that being thrown out was arbitrary and capricious, overbearing and intimidating.”

Mr. Ambro declared: “It put us in a precarious situation, singled out in a crowd that was revved up to a fevered pitch by the rhetoric of the speakers and at a time when the president they idolize has declared the media to be ‘an enemy of the people.’ And, in the aftermath, the response by Rep. Zeldin and his campaign was in bad taste.”

The Press Club of Long Island issued a statement last week on what happened in which its board of directors stated: “When reached by the Press Club, Zeldin said in an email: ‘As Americans, we cherish our Constitution, freedoms and liberties, and that includes our sacred First Amendment protecting freedom of the press.’”

          “The press,” said PCLI, a chapter (one of the biggest) of the national Society of Professional Journalists, “serves an important role to keep Americans informed of facts that allow us to form our own independent judgement on matters before our community, nation and world. The congressman, who was reportedly not present when the journalists were removed, said Biancaniello and Ambro were confused as protesters, and he invited them back to his events.” 

PCLI continued: “While we appreciate Zeldin’s apology and strong statement on the press, we do not believe Biancaniello and Ambro should have been removed from the event in the first place. We see this most recent incident as part of a larger pattern of mistreatment of the press. The Trump administration set the stage in February 2017 when then White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer excluded The New York Times, CNN, Politico, The Los Angeles Times and BuzzFeed from a press briefing. Around the same time, President Trump began calling the press the ‘enemy of the people.’ It was a phrase often used in the past by communist dictators to refer to dissidents, or political opponents. Mr. Trump has repeatedly employed the term to speak of hard-working journalists simply doing their jobs…As a nation, we must afford journalists the protections that we have from the time of our founding, thus allowing them to reveal important truths.”

I am proud that the Press Club of Long Island reacted quickly and strongly to what happened—and proud of the two Suffolk journalists put upon.  

I founded PCLI in 1974. I was sitting at my desk at the daily Long Island Press reading a story about a reporter jailed for not divulging a source. My recollection was that this occurred in Maryland. I arranged for a gathering of Long Island journalists to form an organization to challenge this kind of thing. At the meeting I was elected president of the club. Through the years PCLI has taken on various government officials on Long Island for not complying with the Freedom of Information Law and similar behavior—but journalists getting kicked out of a political rally here, this is new—and intolerable.  The assault on the media that is underway today in the U.S., led by Donald Trump, is an attack on the U.S. democratic process. It is not acceptable in the U.S.—and on Long Island.

Karl Grossman is a veteran investigative reporter and columnist, the winner of numerous awards for his work and a member of the L.I. Journalism Hall of Fame. He is a professor of journalism at SUNY/College at Old Westbury and the author of six books.  

Thursday
Jul192018

SUFFOLK CLOSEUP - "Space Is A War-Fighting Domain"

SUFFOLK CLOSEUP

By Karl Grossman

If President Donald Trump gets his way on formation of a Space Force, the heavens would become a war zone. And inevitably there would be military conflict in space. 

The Outer Space Treaty of 1967 designates space as a global commons to be used for peaceful purposes.  Russia and China, as well as the United States, are parties to the treaty. If a Space Force becomes a reality, the years of work facilitating the treaty will have been wasted.

 If the U.S. goes up into space with weapons, Russia and China, and then India and Pakistan and other countries, will follow. 

Moreover, space weaponry would be nuclear-powered—as President Ronald Reagan’s “Star Wars” scheme was to be with nuclear reactors and plutonium systems on orbiting battle platforms providing the power for hypervelocity guns, particle beams and laser weapons. As General James Abrahamson, director of the Strategic Defense Initiative, put it at a Symposium on Space Nuclear Power and Propulsion, “without reactors in orbit [there is] going to be a long, long light [extension] cord that goes down to the surface of the Earth” to power space weapons.

I got to writing about and presenting TV programs on space issues more than 30 years ago. It was 1985 and I was reading a U.S. Department of Energy publication, Energy Insider, which told of two space shuttles—one the Challenger—which were to loft plutonium-fueled space probes in 1986. The Challenger’s plutonium mission was to happen in May, the ill-fated shuttle’s next mission. 

From having authored “Cover Up: What You Are Not Supposed to Know About Nuclear Power,” I knew that plutonium is considered the most deadly radioactive substance. I sent requests under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act to NASA and Department of Energy asking for their data on consequences if one of the shuttles underwent a major accident on launch, in the lower or upper atmosphere, or didn’t attain orbit and fell back to Earth.

The weeks dragged on—I had hit a stone wall. I protested this apparent cover-up and, finally, 10 months later, received documents claiming that because of the “high reliability inherent in the space shuttle” the odds of a catastrophic accident on one of these nuclear space shots were one-in-100,000. (After the Challenger disaster, those odds were suddenly changed to one-in-76.)

With the Challenger accident, I broke the story of its nuclear mission ahead and began researching accidents that had happened in the use of nuclear power in space. I connected the interest in using nuclear power in space with “Star Wars” and how it was based on nuclear-powered battle platforms overhead. 

This resulted in my writing two books, “The Wrong Stuff” and “Weapons in Space,” and three TV documentaries, the first “Nukes In Space: The Nuclearization and Weaponization of the Heavens.” Considerable travel and presentations followed—including two presentations before members of the British Parliament and a series of talks at the UN in New York and Geneva. As the years have gone by I’ve continued to pursue the issue especially when there were administrations that pushed space warfare, the two Bush and now the Trump administration.

“It is not enough to merely have an American presence in space, we must have American dominance in space,” Trump said at a meeting of the National Space Council last month, announcing his intention “to establish a Space Force.”

In one of the TV documentaries, “Star Wars Returns,” on the push to revive the “Star Wars” program in the George W. Bush administration, I interviewed Craig Eisendrath who had been a U.S. State Department officer involved in the creation of the Outer Space Treaty. “We sought to de-weaponize space before it got weaponized…to keep war out of space,” he explained. It has been ratified or signed by 123 nations and provides that nations “undertake not to place in orbit around the Earth any objects carrying nuclear weapons or any other kinds of weapons of mass destruction.”

 The U.S. military has been gung-ho on space warfare. A U.S. Space Command was formed in 1982. “U.S Space Command—dominating the space dimension of military operations to protect US interests and investment. Integrating Space Forces into war-fighting capabilities across the full spectrum of conflict,” it declared in its report “Vision for 2020.”

There have been attempts to expand the Outer Space Treaty to bar all weapons from space. This is called the Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space (PAROS) treaty and leading in urging its passage have been Canada, Russia and China. There has been virtually universal backing from nations around the world. But U.S. administration after administration have refused to back the PAROS treaty preventing its passage. And now with the Trump administration, there is more than non-support of the PAROS treaty but a new drive to weaponize space. 

That could be seen coming. In a speech in March, Trump asserted: “My new national strategy for space recognizes that space is a war-fighting domain.”

 

Karl Grossman is a veteran investigative reporter and columnist, the winner of numerous awards for his work and a member of the L.I. Journalism Hall of Fame. He is a professor of journalism at SUNY/College at Old Westbury and the author of six books.  

Thursday
Jul122018

SUFFOLK CLOSEUP - Interdependence

SUFFOLK CLOSEUP

By Karl Grossman

In recent weeks there have been large demonstrations across Long Island and the nation protesting the Trump administration’s policy of separating children from families seeking asylum in the United States—and on the Fourth of July that was the scene in my little village of Sag Harbor.

Heralded as a “Walk for Interdependence: Keep Our Families Together,” it drew a remarkably high number of people—I’d estimate 400. It was sponsored by the Organizacion Latino-Americana of Eastern Long Island (OLA), area churches and synagogues and others. It started with speeches and songs at the windmill on Long Wharf and continued with protesters walking up and then down the sidewalks along Main Street.

Many carried signs such as: “Children Should Never Be Caged! This is America!,” “Compassion for Families Seeking Asylum,” “Hate Has No Home Here,” “No One Leaves Home Unless Home Is The Mouth of a Shark,” “ No Human Is Illegal,” “Families Belong Together,” “End Family Detention,” “Make America Humane Again,” “Only Monsters Put Children in Cages,” “Descendants of Immigrants—We Stand With Our Latino Brothers and Sisters,” “Trump and the White House Don’t Belong Together. Families DO,” “Mary and Joseph Fled Violence and Were Turned Away. LOVE” and “We got a call from France. They want their statue back.”

A member of the only group not immigrants to the U.S.—Native American—Nichol Dennis Banks, a former trustee of the Shinnecock Indian Nation, dressed in colorful native clothing, held a sign reading: “30,000 Native American Children Placed in ‘Boarding Schools’ Between 1880-1902. Keep Families Together. Stop the Trauma.”

“We call this interdependence because we all depend on each other,” said Minerva Perez, executive director of OLA, at the windmill. She sang a song with the lines: “You do not walk alone. I will walk with you—and sing your spirit home.” She continued singing the song at the side of the protesters as they walked along Main Street.

A young Latina girl, Isobel, at the microphone at the windmill, said: “The children need to stay with their families because they need the love to get through this hard time.”

To understand what those fleeing to the U.S. at our southern border are running from with their families, it is helpful to visit countries from which they are escaping. Years ago, I wrote a book on conflict in Central America and went to Honduras. Years before, as a student at Antioch College, I participated in its program in Guanajuato, Mexico. In Honduras, my first interview was with Ramon Custodio, president of the Committee for the Defense of Human Rights in Honduras. He was a doctor, having gone to medical school in England and receiving training in pathology in the U.S., and was founder and former president of the medical college in Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras. 

Dr. Custodio used a word I had never heard decades before from my Universidad de Guanajuato professors—desaparecidos. In English it means “disappeared persons.”

In Honduras, there’s been an increase in desaparecidos,” related Dr. Custodio. “It is a disturbing pattern.” Some bodies are found in “clandestine cemeteries.” The judicial system refuses to investigate the disappearances.  Honduran police, he said, will often keep people in custody without a trial for weeks and there have been numerous cases of torture by police.

I asked Dr. Custodio why he put himself at risk leading the 100-member human rights group. “It’s my duty to defend human rights where very few speak out,” he answered. “I know how to say it, write it, maybe I have the guts for it. I have the moral duty. I’d hate to be living in this country and be silent and be in the position of the many German people when Hitler came to power.”

Not all of Central America is in such a situation. Costa Rica and Belize are not.

But trying to survive in Honduras and El Salvador is really dangerous. And in the resulting flight-or-fight calculus, many seek to flee—and the dream is to go to the U.S., long known as a refuge for those escaping tyranny. Indeed, one speaker at the windmill last week said that with the Trump administration “zero-tolerance” program directed at these newest refugees, “The Statue of Liberty has tears in her eyes.”

The use of the word “interdependence” for the walk was meaningful. Like other immigrant groups that have sought refuge in the U.S., Latinos are vital in doing what others here usually won’t do—landscaping, hard restaurant work, etc. We are interdependent.

Perry Gershon, Democratic candidate for Congress in the lst C.D., was at the demonstration last week and told me: “What Trump is doing is not America. Our Congress has a duty to speak up loudly not only to end family separation but to accelerate family reunification.”

Karl Grossman is a veteran investigative reporter and columnist, the winner of numerous awards for his work and a member of the L.I. Journalism Hall of Fame. He is a professor of journalism at SUNY/College at Old Westbury and the author of six books.