Moscow City Ballet performs “Don Quixote” at the Staller Center

According to the ballet’s website, the Moscow City Ballet has had its greatest success in the United Kingdom. It has given over 800 performances there since 1991. Photo courtesy of World Touring.

A 21st-century Stony Brook stage was transformed into 17th-century Spain when the Moscow City Ballet performed “Don Quixote” on the Staller Center Main Stage on Saturday, March 14 at 8 p.m..

The ballet is loosely based on the 1605 novel of the same name by Miguel de Cervantes, which also served as the inspiration for the musical “Man of La Mancha.” The ballet tells the tale of the pretend knight-errant Don Quixote (Alexander Gavrilov), who embarks on a chivalrous quest to find his imaginary love, Dulcinea.

While Don Quixote’s character is the comedic heart of the story, the true stars of the ballet are the lovers Kitri and Basil, whom the knight meets on his quest. Don Quixote becomes determined to unite the two when they are kept apart by Kitri’s father, who wants her to marry the rich but vain Gamash.

The Moscow City Ballet took the audience to many locations, including a lively town square, a forest with glittering tree nymphs in tutus and a raucous tavern. The play ended with a romantic and daring pas de deux, a duet by a male and female dancer.

The production starred Yulia Zhuravleva as the flirtatious Kitri and Talgat Kozhabaev as the charming Basil. The audience cheered as Zhuravleva performed the famous fouetté en tournant, turning on one leg 32 times without stopping. Kozhabaev showed his own technical prowess when he performed two swan dives, lifting Zhuravleva up without using his arms—only his waist and his hip.

“They are simply superb,” the company’s director Ilina Dubovskaya said, with tour manager Nadia Fleishaker serving as a translator. “They are very emotional, and they are highly professional. The stars sometimes perform with this company and sometimes perform as stars in Bolshoi and Mariinsky and all different leading companies.”

Don Quixote’s “squire” Sancho Panza (Valerii Kravtsov), Kitri’s father Lorenzo (Yaroslav Alkhnovich) and Gamash (Dmitriy Trukhachev) kept the audience laughing with over-the-top pantomime. Rounding out the cast were Liliya Orekhova as the Queen of the Dryads, Maria Khrapova as Cupid, and Anna Ivanova and Kateryna Tokareva as Kitri’s friends.

The corps de ballet, or the supporting dance ensemble, dazzled in colorful period costumes, such as red-blooded matadors with sweeping capes and seductive street dancers with hand-held fans. Although the ensemble performed to pre-recorded tracks, they added some live music by playing tambourines and castanets on stage.

“The company comes before each performance at least for 7, 8 hours before,” Dubovskaya said. “They do the whole class which takes almost two hours, and they do rehearse the performance.”

The Moscow City Ballet was founded in 1988 by Victor Smirnov-Golovanov as the first private Russian ballet company in the Soviet Union.

The choreography for “Don Quixote,” which was created by Marius Petipa for its 1869 premiere, was updated by Smirnov-Golovanov for his own company. Ludmila Nerubachtchenko took over as artistic director of the Moscow City Ballet after Smirnov-Golovanov, her husband, died in 2013.

Dubovskaya said the dancers keep to Smirnov-Golovanov’s choreography as a tribute to him.

“Don Quixote” is a ballet combined the Russian dance style and the music of Austrian composer Ludwig Minkus, along with Spanish flair and flavor.

“[The dancers] try to keep the same traditions,” Dubovskaya said. “They never change, and they like this choreography because it’s more dynamic and more unique.”

The company tours across Europe, Asia and South America, but this year’s tour marks the first time in 15 years that company has performed in the United States, Dubovskaya said.

“This is another opportunity to be in this beautiful country and to enjoy the audience and the country,” she said.

Fleishaker said the dancers of the Moscow City Ballet particularly enjoy performing for American audiences.

“A lot of company members told me that American audiences were the best because it’s a little bit different,” Fleishaker said. “It’s warmer and more exciting. They love American audiences.”

Read this story on The Statesman’s website here.

SBU faces lawsuit for “deliberate indifference” in allegedly mishandling sexual assault case

By Arielle Martinez, Hanaa’ Tameez and Kelly Zegers

A Stony Brook University alumna is suing the university for the manner in which the administration allegedly handled her complaint of sexual assault by another student.

The lawsuit was filed on Jan. 23, 2015 with the United States District Court, Southern District of New York, in White Plains. Judge Nelson Stephen Roman will preside over the case.

The Statesman is withholding the names of the plaintiff and her alleged assailant, who is currently a Stony Brook student and is also being sued by the plaintiff, due to the sensitive nature of the allegation. At the time of publication, neither could be reached for comment.

The plaintiff, a former social work major, alleged in the complaint she was sexually assaulted by a male student in his dorm room during the early morning hours of Jan. 26, 2014 after attending a party at West Apartments with him the night before.

She alleged that the man switched her mixed drink with straight liquor, causing her to become deeply intoxicated. After the two started kissing and the plaintiff tried to stop the encounter from going any further, the defendant allegedly “overpowered” her, according to the complaint.

The complaint also details that the defendant allegedly forced her to perform oral sex at least twice, once by pinning the plaintiff down by forcing his knees onto her shoulders and once by pushing her head down to his penis. She alleged that she blacked out several times during the attack due to a combination of trauma and intoxication and is therefore unsure as to whether the defendant forced her to engage in vaginal intercourse with him.

The plaintiff reported the incident to the University Police Department, was examined by a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner and reported the incident to the Office of University Community Standards, the complaint states.

The plaintiff states in the lawsuit that campus police “were aggressive and intimidating in their questioning of her” and failed to investigate the case fully. It also alleges that the plaintiff was told by the unnamed detective that she did not have a “viable case” because “she did not scream ‘No’ or violently fight back in order to stop the attack, and that, while she could go to the District Attorney’s office, prosecutors would probably feel the same way about her case.”

Assistant Chief of Investigations and Administration of University Police Neil Farrell was not immediately available for comment.

The plaintiff then reported the matter to the Office of University Community Standards, which scheduled the disciplinary hearing during the plaintiff’s final exams and less than a week before her graduation ceremony in the spring of 2014.

The plaintiff was allegedly informed that “she would be responsible for prosecuting her case” during the hearing.

“The process of prosecuting her own attacker, while also defending her own version of the facts, put [the plaintiff] in the impossible position of being her own surrogate lawyer while finishing her college education, attending to her job responsibilities, and suffering the trauma of the original attack,” the complaint alleged.

On May 22, 2014, the day of her first graduation ceremony, the plaintiff was informed the alleged assailant was found not responsible.

After receiving the written basis for the hearing panel’s decision, dated July 9, 2014, the plaintiff filed an appeal.

In a letter dated Aug. 28, 2014, Director of Campus Recreation Jay Souza allegedly advised her that after reviewing the case, he “found no evidence that the Hearing Board considered the definition of consent found in the University Code of Conduct and/or applied that definition to the facts of this case” and that the finding “constitutes a significant procedural error warranting the granting of your appeal.”

The lawsuit states the plaintiff was also notified she would be contacted by the Office of University Community Standards with the next steps in the process but after repeated attempts on the part of the plaintiff to establish contact, no university official provided any “substantive response” or further steps.

Souza declined to comment on the matter.

Stony Brook University is already under investigation by the Department of Education for possible violations of Title IX, the federal clause that prohibits discrimination based on sex at any federally-funded educational institution. An April 4, 2011 letter from the Department of Education Office of Civil Rights clarified that Title IX’s definition of discrimination based on sex includes sexual harassment and assault.

“Stony Brook University takes all claimed violations of Title IX very seriously and is committed to prevention of sexual assault and violence on campus,” SBU Media Relations Officer Lauren Sheprow said in an email. “We have policies and procedures in place to fully investigate every such claim that is brought to us. We are unable to comment on litigation, as Federal privacy laws prohibit us from disclosing student information, and await the court’s consideration of the full record.”

Earlier in January, Stony Brook also declined an offer from the Association of American Universities to anonymously survey the campus about the prevalence of sexual assault at SBU.

“While we appreciate the AAU effort in this process, as part of the Board of Trustees resolution on sexual violence, SUNY will be developing its own campus climate survey, in which SBU is required to participate,” Director of Title IX and Risk Management Marjolie Leonard said in an email in January.

Leonard was not immediately available for comment regarding this lawsuit.

Director of Office of University Community Standards Matty Orlich, who oversaw the plaintiff’s case at Stony Brook, was also not immediately available for comment.

Read this story on The Statesman’s website here.

Stony Brook among colleges and universities targeted for investigation regarding response to sexual violence cases

The United States Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights is investigating Stony Brook University and 75 other colleges and universities across the nation for their handling of sexual violence cases, federal officials confirmed Thursday.

The university is under investigation for its compliance with Title IX, a federal law that protects people from discrimination based on sex under any education program receiving federal funds.

“We are aware that an individual filed a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights, and because it is a pending complaint we are unable to provide any additional information,” SBU’s media relations officer Lauren Sheprow said in an email.

The investigation started on July 23, 2014, according to a document sent to The Statesman by the U.S. Department of Education. However, the department will not disclose any case-specific facts or details while the investigation is ongoing.

On June 29, The Statesman published an article on Stony Brook University’s policies on sexual assault and harassment complaints. University policies forbid parties involved in sexual assault investigations from using recording devices or having legal counsel present during proceedings.

The Office of Diversity and Affirmative Action (ODAA) collaborates with University Community Standards, which investigates Title IX complaints against students, and Employee and Labor Relations, which investigates complaints against faculty members and other university employees.

On June 5, 2014, the university announced that Raúl Sánchez, the former senior director for Title IX and Risk Management, was replaced by Marjolie Leonard, the interim director of ODAA, after Sánchez was in the position less than a year.

Stony Brook University was awarded a $270,000 grant by the Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women in 2012 for its sexual assault prevention programs. However, 17 forcible sexual offenses were reported on the Stony Brook campus in 2012—four more than in 2011 and 10 more than in 2010, according to the University Police Department’s 2013 Annual Security and Fire Report.

In the state of New York, the U.S. Department of Education is also investigating CUNY Hunter College, Elmira College, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Pace University, Saint Thomas Aquinas College and Sarah Lawrence College. The department has ended its investigation of Binghamton University after announcing the investigation in May.

In October 2013, the OCR reached an agreement with the State University of New York to ensure Title IX compliance. The investigation that led to this agreement was not based on a complaint filed by individual. However, the OCR did review 159 individual cases of alleged sexual harassment from SUNY Albany, SUNY New Paltz, SUNY Buffalo State College and Morrisville State College during the investigation.

The OCR investigates a discrimination complaint by using techniques such as “reviewing documentary evidence submitted by both parties, conducting interviews with the complainant, recipient’s personnel, and other witnesses, and/or site visits,” according to the U.S. Department of Education’s website.

If the OCR determines that a university failed to comply with the law, the office will try to get the university to reach a resolution agreement. The OCR would then monitor the university’s implementation of the terms of the agreement.

If the university refuses to negotiate an agreement, the OCR may cut off the university’s federal financial assistance or refer the case to the Department of Justice.

Both the complainant and the university can agree to a resolution negotiated by the OCR prior to the conclusion of an investigation. The complainant also has the right to appeal the OCR’s decision or sue the university in federal court.

Read this story on The Statesman’s website here.

Long Island Soldiers Featured in New Book, Bedrooms of the Fallen

Over Lance Cpl. Jordan Haerter’s bed in his childhood home in Sag Harbor hangs a signed photograph of fellow Marines whom Jordan saved before he was killed in Ramadi, Iraq on April 22, 2008—one month after he was deployed.

Jordan was standing guard at an entry control point at a security station that morning when a truck bomber barreled toward the station. He and fellow Marine Corporal Jonathan T. Yale opened fire until the truck exploded, killing them both. Jordan was 19 years old.

“These guys were not just brave warriors that dressed up in camo,” said his father, Christian Haerter. “They were once children and teenagers who enjoyed the same things.”

Jordan Haerter is one of three fallen U.S. Marines from Long Island whose bedrooms were photographed by New York City-based photographer Ashley Gilbertson for his book, Bedrooms of the Fallen, which was released last month. Since 2007, Gilbertson has taken photographs of the bedrooms of service members from around the world who died in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The bedrooms of 40 men and women—the same number of soldiers in a platoon—between the ages of 18 and 27 are featured in the book. The haunting black-and-white photos of untouched bedrooms provided windows into lives the men and women who called these rooms home.

“I made this book to act as a way of remembering the 40 service members who are included and the thousands of others who aren’t,” Gilbertson said.

Gilbertson started the Bedrooms of the Fallen project after taking photographs in Iraq from 2002 to 2008. His 2007 book, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, is a collection of photographs from the war in Iraq.

“The longer I worked in Iraq, the more often I would come home thinking that the readers were paying less and less attention,” Gilbertson said. “I started working from home, photographing memorials, Arlington National Cemetery and so on. But I felt those photographs were missing the central idea: absence, the things these soldiers left behind.”

Gilbertson said he got the idea for Bedrooms of the Fallen from his wife, who suggested taking photos of soldiers’ bedrooms after seeing photos of fallen service members inThe New York Times.

He found the families of deceased service members through Faces of the Fallen, a database created by The Washington Post of service members who have died in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.

Bedrooms of Fallen Soldiers
(Photos by: Ashley Gilbertson)

SOME GAVE ALL

Jordan’s parents, Christian Haerter and JoAnn Lyles, said that they were a little perturbed when Gilbertson contacted them about the project, but went along with it anyway.

“I thought it was a little strange, but I understood the impetus of whole thing,” Christian said. “It must be a pretty common thing for families to actually leave the bedroom as it is. It took courage to even clean the change he left lying around.”

One of the soldiers who were saved by Jordan was Marine Cpl. Nicholas Xiarhos of Yarmouth Port, Mass. Nicholas’ father came to New York to attend the ceremony in which Jordan was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross in February 2009.

After Nicholas was killed by a bomb in Afghanistan on July 23, 2009, at the age of 21, Lyles attended his funeral in Massachusetts, and Gilbertson photographed Nicholas’ bedroom as well.

The posters on Jordan Haerter’s walls show his passion for flying airplanes. He took flying lessons at East Hampton Airport while attending Pierson High School in Sag Harbor.

After Jordan flew solo for the first time at age 16—before he even got his driver’s license—the back of his shirt was cut out and signed by fellow pilots as part of a tradition. That piece of his shirt, too, hangs on his bedroom wall.

Lyles said although Jordan wanted to join the military, he did not want to be a military pilot.

“He said he wanted to keep flying as a ‘novelty,’” she said. “That was his word for it. A ‘novelty.’”

Jordan was his parents’ only child—a fact that Lyles said allows her to keep his room untouched.

“Anything that makes Jordan name known and remembered beyond me is good for me,” she said. “Everyone needs to realize who we think are heroes were regular people. I don’t think people know that.”

HARD CORPS

Across Long Island, in East Northport, is another fallen soldier’s bedroom that Gilbertson photographed. This bedroom belonged to Marine Cpl. Christopher Scherer, who was killed by a sniper on July 21, 2007, in Karmah, Iraq. He was 21 years old.

The walls of Christopher’s bedroom are still covered in posters and stickers representing local sports teams, especially those of Hofstra University and Northport High School. Christopher’s mother, Janet Scherer, said that in one of the last phone calls she got from her son, he spoke about how much his room meant to him.

“My husband was looking for work down south, so we were thinking of moving, and at the time Chris was deployed,” she recalled. “He said it was lot of hard work to get the room just the way he liked it, so we’d better tear the walls down and take them with us.”

Christopher played varsity lacrosse at Northport High School before graduating in 2004. Only five months later, in November, he officially became a Marine. He was stationed in locations all around the world during his years of service, including Japan, Guam, Singapore, Kuwait, and finally Iraq.

Timothy Scherer, Christopher’s father, recalled an incident in which Christopher’s sisters younger twin sisters, Katie and Meghan, cried over the fact that they would be older than Christopher once they turned 21.

“Something you do as a parent is take care of not only your own grief but also your spouse’s grief and your children’s grief, even on happy occasions like a 21st birthday,” Timothy said. “Even the happy times get taken away.”

Gilbertson’s photographs added a personal aspect to the stories of soldiers who fought overseas, Janet said.

“He really tapped into that emotion,” she said. “That’s my son’s bedroom. That’s who he was. That’s how he grew up.”

PENNIES FROM HEAVEN

The third soldier from LI in Bedrooms of the Fallen was Marine 1st Lt. Ronald Winchester of Rockville Centre, who was killed Sept. 3, 2004 by a roadside bomb that killed three other Marines in Qaim, Iraq. He was 25 years old and had been on his second tour in Iraq.

His mother, Marianna Winchester, recalled that many photographers and reporters came to see Ronald’s bedroom after his death.

“Everything blended together,” she said. “So many photographers were here, and so many newspaper reporters were here. I told them ‘You can use whatever you want because all I have are his memories.’”

Being a Marine ran in the family. Ronald’s maternal grandfather, Dominick Gatta, was a Marine who served in the Pacific in World War II, and his uncle, Rocco Gatta, served in the Corps during the Vietnam War.

“I suppose he wanted to carry on the legacy of what his grandfather had done, or as he said ‘what real Marines were all about,’” Marianna said.

She also said that Ronald insisted on wearing a Marine uniform costume for Halloween when he was only two years old.

“He wore the costume again when he was three and four, and I would just take out the hem,” she said. “Finally it just didn’t fit anymore, and I told him ‘You can’t wear this uniform anymore.’ I wonder if that’s something he kept in the back in his mind.”

Serving in the Corps wasn’t Ronald’s only passion. He played football as an offensive lineman during his years attending Chaminade High School in Mineola and the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., where he graduated in 2001.

Ronald always used to call tails on each football game’s opening coin toss. Marianna said that, since his death, she finds coins on the ground, always with tails facing up, and that she keeps all the coins she finds in a canister.

I’ll be walking the dog and I’ll say ‘Dear Ronnie, I haven’t heard from you in a while,’ and a few minutes later, I’ll find a nickel or dime or quarter or penny, but never on heads,” she said.

Marianna said that Ronald kept all of his belongings from the Naval Academy and the Marine Corps in his room just the way he liked them.

“I would say to him ‘You know we need to clean up some of this stuff,’” she said. “And he would say ‘Leave it alone. Someday I’m going to get married and I’m going to come back and show my son or daughter so they can see what I was all about.’ He would call it his shrine. He would say ‘Leave my shrine alone because I want them to see me as a hero.’ And he was a hero.”

 

From left: Marine Cpl Christopher Scherer, Marine Lance Cpl. Jordan Haerter and Marine 1st Lt. Ronald Winchester

PICTURES OF HOME

The reaction of soldiers’ families to Gilbertson’s request to photograph their bedrooms is usually positive, the photographer said.

“At first I thought it would be too hard to them,” Gilbertson said. “But over time, I found that these people want to talk about their kids, their lives, their memories. In the end, I’m happy about doing this project if only to have given the families a kind ear. You spend seven years side by side with soldiers in Iraq, but I’ve never felt more like a war photographer than when I’m in these bedrooms.”

Photographs from “Bedrooms of the Fallen” have been featured in the New York Times Magazine and the Nederlands Uitvaart Museum Tot Zover in Amsterdam.

Although Gilbertson said that he has stopped working on Bedrooms of the Fallen for now, he is still continuing another war-related project: photographing the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder and suicide on veterans and their loved ones.

“How disconnected we are with what these people are sacrificing and losing is unfair,” he said. “We have to take time out to remember who these people are and to empathize with their families.”

Read this story on Long Island Press’s website here.

Nassau Puppy Mill Bills Become Political Football

Two Nassau County lawmakers running against each other for higher office have proposed bills aimed at preventing the sale of dogs from abusive “puppy mills,” turning the issue into a political football.

The Republican-controlled county legislature’s rules committee voted 4-3 along party lines Monday to approve a bill that Legis. Michael Venditto (R-Massapequa) proposed last month. The bill would prohibit the sale of any cat or dog younger than eight weeks old. Hours earlier, Legis. Dave Denenberg (D-Merrick), who is running against Venditto for New York State Senate, held a news conference announcing that his version of the same bill would ban selling dogs and cats younger than 14 weeks.

“If these puppy mills are as horrendous as everyone says they are, then why would you want to keep animals there for an extra six weeks?” asked Gary Rogers, the spokesman for the Nassau County Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals(SPCA), which favors the Republican version.

Both bills are similar to one that the Suffolk County legislature unanimously passedlast month prohibiting the sale of cats and dogs under eight weeks old. The anti-puppy mill bills come after the state enacted a law that allows local governments to more strictly regulate pet dealers.

Denenberg, who called the Republicans’ bill a “watered-down version” of the Suffolk bill, argued that Nassau would be encouraging animal abuse by allowing pet breeders to sell cats and dogs as early as eight weeks after they are born.

“The reason why puppy mills get such a bad name is that they try to quickly get puppies away from their mother so they can keep breeding as fast as possible,” Denenberg said. “All the reputable breeders keep their pets for at least three months.”

Diane Madden, the president and co-founder of the Hope for Hempstead animal shelter, worked with Denenberg on creating his version of the bill.

“Fourteen weeks will allow puppies to be socialized with their litter, and their mother will have time to correct her puppies,” she said.

Rogers, on the other hand, said that the American SPCA warns that waiting until pets are 14 weeks old would make it difficult for the pets to adjust to their new owners.

Both bills would prohibit pet retailers from buying animals from breeders that have received violations on recent U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspection reports. Both bills also set regulations for the size of animal enclosures in pet stores and require that the enclosures be labeled with the breed, sex, birth date and breeder. But, the Republicans’ bill has an exception to the rule: if the animal has an implanted microchip that stores this information, then the enclosure label is not required.

The Republicans’ bill would create a $500 fine for a first violation and add $500 to the fine for each succeeding violation. The Democrats’ bill would create fines of up to $1,500 per violation.

Under both bills, the Nassau County Office of Consumer Affairs would enforce the law and the county SPCA would be able to inspect pet stores on the office’s behalf.

“The SPCA would be able to inspect these pet stores at no cost to the county,” Rogers said. “And if it doesn’t work out we can go to the legislature and say ‘Hey maybe we should tweak this law.’ But let’s get something right now.”

Venditto said in a statement that Denenberg’s bill was a political stunt, alluding to the fact that they are both running to fill the vacant seat in the state Senate’s Eighth District.

“The only difference between this legislation, other than the additional restrictions, is that Denenberg did not propose it,” Venditto said. “The same advocates who are condemning this law today supported it just weeks ago in Suffolk. It is shameful of them to put innocent animals in the middle of a political campaign.”

Madden countered that, although she did speak in support of the Suffolk law back in June, she still does not agree the eight-week standard.

“I would call the Suffolk bill not a victory but an accomplishment,” she said. “Someone had to get things started, and Suffolk County got things started.”

Barbara Dennihy, the New York director of Companion Animal Protection Society (CAPS), found another big difference in the bills. She told the rules committee during a public hearing before the vote that she is concerned about the fact that Venditto’s bill states that it would prohibit sales from breeders who “failed to cure” their USDA violations.

“That doesn’t give the breeder an incentive to do better,” she said. “It just gives them an incentive to get rid of the problem that they have now…In Suffolk, [pet stores] cannot use that breeder for a year after they have a violation.”

Venditto’s version of the bill is expected to come up for a final vote before the full legislature at their next meeting on Monday.

Read this story on Long Island Press’s website here.

New York 23rd State to Legalize Medical Marijuana

By Arielle Martinez, Timothy Bolger and Nick Crispino

New York became the 23rd state in the nation to legalize medical marijuana after clearing the final hurdle—passing the state Senate, where Republicans historically blocked bringing it up for a vote.

The Compassionate Care Act would allow health practitioners to prescribe marijuana to patients with cancer or other life-threatening conditions by the end of next year. The bill overwhelmingly passed the state Senate by a vote of 49-10 Friday afternoon following hours of debate—prompting cheers from proponents in the gallery that traveled to Albany to support the legislation.

“We should be a little flexible,” state Senate co-leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) said shortly before voting for the bill. “We should be a little bit more compassionate…even if it’s not affecting us or our families.”

The state Assembly passed the bill early Friday morning—the last day of the state legislative session before lawmakers go on summer break—less than a day after Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a deal amending the bill to ensure its passage.

“This will be a tightly regulated, tightly controlled system, perhaps the most regulated medical marijuana bill in the country,” said Bryan Clenahan, counsel to state Sen. Diane Savino (D-Staten Island), the bill’s sponsor.

After reaching a deal with the bill’s sponsors, Cuomo waived the three-day period that is usually required before bills can be brought to a state Senate vote. As a part of the deal, the law does not allow medical marijuana to be smoked, and the governor will have the power to stop the program if it is found to cause a “risk to the public health or safety.”

“Somebody said to me today, ‘How can you be passing a heroin bill yesterday and a medical marijuana bill today?’” said Cuomo at a press conference on Thursday. “Well, if this is administered properly, we’re confident that only benefits will occur.”

Among the safeguards are making it a felony for doctors to wittingly prescribe marijuana to patients that don’t medically need it, making it a misdemeanor for patients to resell their prescribed pot and requiring farmers to grow the crops indoors at secure facilities. Since medical marijuana is not federally approved, the five dispensaries statewide will be cash-only. The state also imposed a seven-percent tax on the prescriptions.

The conditions to be treated with marijuana under the bill are cancer, HIV/AIDS, Lou Gehrig’s disease, muscular dystrophy, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord damage, epilepsy, inflammatory bowel disease, neuropathy and Huntington’s disease. Insurance carriers, Medicare and Medicaid will not be required to cover prescription marijuana.

“We recognize that there may be other conditions that can benefit from medical marijuana and that will be determined by my office as the science evolves,” said Dr. Howard Zucker, the acting commissioner of the state Department of Health.

Once the bill is signed into law by Cuomo, it will go into effect in 18 months and will sunset after seven years—unless it’s reauthorized. Savino requested the lag time to allow enough time to fine-tune the regulations. The legislation also includes options allowing the governor to pull the plug if major problems with the system later arise.

The process for passing the bill had been rife with controversy. State Sen. John DeFrancisco (R-Syracuse), the chair of the Senate Finance Committee, said earlier this week that he would not move the bill out of his committee. The Rules Committee later took it up anyway before it went to the full legislature for a final vote.

Those who voted against the bill mostly did so out of concern that medical marijuana could be diverted onto the black market, although even some law-and-order types came around.

“Lead or get the hell out of the way,” state Sen. William Larkin (R-Newburgh), a retired U.S. Army colonel, boomed to applause. State Sen. Patrick Gallivan (R-Erie County), a former state Trooper, said the “benefits outweigh the negatives.” And state Sen. John Bonacic (R-Orange County), an ex-prosecutor, said he supports easing patients’ pain, but will oppose any attempts to legalize recreational marijuana.

Aside from Skelos, the other seven Long Island state Senators were split on the vote. (The third district seat representing southern Nassau County has been vacant for six months.)

“The unintended consequences are too great,” warned State Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson). State Sen. Kemp Hannon (R-Garden City), chair of the health committee, argued that there hasn’t been enough research to determine the medicinal value of marijuana. State Sen. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) voted no, but did not say why.

State Sen. Jack Martins (R-Mineola), who voted for it, said that the bill struck a balance, but Sens. Carl Marcellino (R-Syosset) and John Flanagan (R-East Northport) also did not explain their vote of support during the last round of debate.

State Sen. Phil Boyle (R-Bay Shore) noted that when he was a state Assemblyman he voted against earlier versions of the proposal that he viewed “with a jaundiced eye” before he proposed his own medical marijuana bill last month that included a key provision of the version that finally passed—no smoking. Only oils, edibles or vaporizing will be allowed. Patients would be limited to 30-day supplies.

Jeffrey Reynolds, executive director of the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, questioned whether or not state lawmakers can make medical decisions and cites that edible forms of marijuana—brownies, cookies and lollipops—still raise health concerns.

“Part of the problem is when the state does this, it’s in a patchwork kind of way,” said Reynolds. “There’s no common data being shared at a national level…I think folks like me have some concerns and will continue to watch the process, but the million-dollar question is how they’ll maintain it.”

While explaining his vote, Skelos mentioned 14-year-old Oliver Miller of Atlantic Beach, a constituent of his who suffers hundreds of seizures daily as a result of an in-utero stroke. Miller’s mother, Missy, believes that medical marijuana can cut that number to four seizures daily. Missy and Oliver had been traveling to Albany every month since January and met with Skelos in their push for the bill.

“I’m thrilled,” Missy told the Press after the vote. “That was really emotional for me to see him mention my son…That was a proud moment in my life.”

“My faith in this process has been somewhat restored,” Miller added. “In the end the right thing was done and the bottom line is they did it for the people.”

Read this story on Long Island Press’s website here.

Fall 2013 News Literacy Scholarship Contest Winning Essay

Below is the winning essay for the fall 2013 essay contest sponsored by the Center for News Literacy at Stony Brook University’s School of Journalism. It was the first winning essay in the contest’s history to be written by a student majoring in journalism. The prize was a scholarship worth one semester’s tuition. Read the press release here.

Why Journalists Should Not “Throw Out All the Old Rules”

It is clear that the debate in the story “Is Glenn Greenwald the Future of News?” is over not only the question of subjectivity in journalism but also the direction in which news reporting will go in the next several years. It is possible that Pierre Omidyar’s venture with Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, and Jeremy Scahill among others may usher in a new era of the American press (McBride). However, I am an aspiring news reporter myself, and I have realized that the era that comes after these journalists will be determined by people like me. This debate directly affects me, not only as a news consumer but as a future news reporter. Therefore, I must say that while I found some of Mr. Greenwald’s arguments quite compelling, I ultimately agree more with Mr. Keller: “impartiality is a worthwhile aspiration in journalism.”

I approve of the agreement on both sides that true objectivity in journalism can never be accomplished. As Carl Bernstein said in a lecture presented by the Center for News Literacy, “The most subjective of acts is to decide what is news.” Reporters and editors must use their opinions to determine what is important or interesting enough to be reported to the public. I also agree, to an extent, with Mr. Greenwald on his commentary on the difference between balance and fairness in journalism, particularly went he stated that what is true does not necessarily mean “here’s-what-both-sides-say.”

However, I feel as though we must distinguish between the “activist” journalism that Mr. Greenwald describes and being fair to the evidence. Journalism that is fair to the evidence can start conversations on important issues outside of partisan debates. Examples include The Boston Globe’s coverage of the Catholic priest sex abuse scandal and The Los Angeles Times’ exposure of conditions in the Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center (“Church allowed abuse by priest for years”; Weber). However, when Mr. Greenwald wrote about how journalists should be able to “disclose their…political values,” this presented the problem of advocacy based solely on political ideology. I believe that journalists should follow the code of ethics for the Society of Professional Journalists, which tells them to “distinguish between advocacy and news reporting.”

Mr. Greenwald wrote that the model of journalism that is advocated by Mr. Keller can, at times be, a “cowardly and unhelpful ‘here’s-what-both-sides-says-and-I-won’t-resolve-the-conflicts’ formulation.” As I stated before, I agree that balance is not equal to fairness in the news if one side of the story is factually incorrect. But I also say that, in stories that require balance, it is not a journalist’s job to “resolve the conflicts.” The purpose of journalism is to provide citizens with the information they need to determine how to resolve the conflicts themselves. If journalists were to “resolve the conflicts” without the say of their audiences, then they would adopting the “voice-of-god, view-from-nowhere tone” that Mr. Greenwald claimed was a feature of Mr. Keller’s model of journalism.

Speaking of which, Mr. Greenwald chose to end his argument by criticizing this “voice-of-god, view-from-nowhere tone,” but these views do not come from nowhere. They come from evidence, and journalists must be transparent about where they get their evidence. Transparency is an important and necessary feature of reliable and credible news stories. Journalists must tell to their readers and audiences why they do not know whatever answers to key questions are left out of the news stories that they produce. They must be transparent about how they know what they do know. They must explain why anonymous sources are unnamed.

But how can a journalist be transparent about biases in their stories and, as Mr. Greenwald put it, “honestly disclose their subjective assumptions and political values?” Must the journalists write a statement in each story that outlines these “subjective values” or disclose these values to their editors the same way they disclose conflicts of interest? I believe that this is one of the reasons for the existence of the opinion ‘quarantine’ of “the pages clearly identified as the home of opinion,” as Mr. Keller put it. It is in editorials and columns that journalists can use language clues like dramatic descriptions, first-person point-of-view, hyperbole and irony to be honest about “subjective perspectives” while still using the verification, independence and accountability that should be expected in any type of journalism.

Additionally, I do not think that journalists being honest about their opinions will not protect news consumers from the negative effects of confirmation bias. When faced with the discomfort of cognitive dissonance, we humans often look for information that supports our biases. Just because the journalists would be more honest about their biases, it does not mean that news consumers will be equally as honest with themselves about their own biases. The audience would have to be open-minded enough to consider new insights despite old assumptions.

Furthermore, Mr. Greenwald made generalizations that would be difficult to prove about the American press’s “allegiance to protecting the interests and policies of the U.S. government.” In fact, a study by the Pew Research Center has found that 68 percent of respondents in its media attitudes survey said that the press’ watchdog role keeps politicians from doing things that they should not be doing.

Although Mr. Greenwald mentioned two cases in which the news media might have displayed a special allegiance to the U.S. government concerning the use of the word ‘torture’ and the events leading up to the war in Iraq, the news media still acts as a ‘fourth estate’ that is independent of the government. It is as Justice Potter Stewart wrote regarding the 1971 case New York Times Co. v. United States: “In the absence of the governmental checks and balances…the only effective restraint upon executive policy and power…may lie in an enlightened citizenry…For this reason, it is perhaps here that a press that is alert, aware, and free most vitally serves the basic purpose of the First Amendment.”

In several of the messages to Mr. Keller, Mr. Greenwald seemed to be trying to call out mainstream news media on pretending to be impartial while actually advancing the agenda of the U.S. government. However, Mr. Greenwald also wrote: “But I don’t give added weight to the lives of innocent Americans as compared to the lives of innocent non-Americans, nor would I feel any special fealty to the U.S. government as opposed to other governments when deciding what to publish.” By asserting independence from the U.S. government, Greenwald is actually revealing that he is making an attempt to be impartial. We, as journalists, want to separate our preconceived notions from news stories in order to find the truth, even if we are not perfect at doing this.

This is not to say that I completely agree with all of Mr. Keller’s points. I do agree with Mr. Greenwald on his argument about the false “distinction…between Snowden and more traditional sources.” Mr. Keller himself has written about building relationships with less traditional sources regarding The New York Times’ publishing of the War Logs with the help of Julian Assange. Surely Mr. Greenwald had to work on building a relationship with Snowden for his coverage of the NSA disclosures. Whether a source is traditional or not, a journalist must use sense to determine if the source is reliable. However, if Omidyar’s news venture is going to “throw out all the old rules,” then I hope that throwing out all the rules does not mean allowing bias to alienate and mislead news consumers; that version of the future of journalism would not benefit anyone.

Works Cited

“Amid Criticism, Support for Media’s ‘Watchdog’ Role Stands Out.” Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. Pew Research Center, 8 Aug. 2013. Web. 25. Nov. 2013.

Bernstein, Carl. “My Life as…Carl Bernstein.” Center for News Literacy. Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY. 15 Oct. 2013. Lecture.

“Church allowed abuse by priest for years.” The Boston Globe. Globe Newspaper Company, 6 Jan. 2002. Web. 27 Nov. 2013.

Greenwald, Glenn, et al. “Revealed: how US and UK spy agencies defeat internet privacy and security.” Guardian Weekly. Guardian News and Media Limited, 5 Sept. 2013. Web. 26. Nov. 2013

Keller, Bill. “Dealing with Assange and the WikiLeaks Secrets.” The New York Times Magazine.  26 Jan. 2011: MM32. Print.

McBride, Sarah. “Ebay founder to launch independent mass-market news venture.”Reuters. Thomson Reuters, 16 Oct. 2013. Web. 27 Nov. 2013.

Weber, Tracy, et al. “Deadly errors and politics betray a hospital’s promise.” The Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 5 Dec. 2004. Web. 27 Nov. 2013.