Astoria to celebrate diversity with multicultural event
by Benjamin Fang
Jan 19, 2017 | 205 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Elected officials in Astoria are hosting a diversity celebration day at the Variety Boys and Girls Club of Queens on Sunday, January 22, at noon. The hour-long event will feature performances from Variety’s dance team and other student acts, panel discussions and local community organizations. The event is free and open to the public. “Astoria has been welcoming to different immigrant groups for decades,” said Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas. “Astoria is a place where differences do not divide us, rather they bring life to our community. We all live together, work together and educate our children together, and we are better for it.” Simotas added that she hopes Astoria serves as a peaceful example for the rest of the country to see how cultural, religious and ethnic differences can co-exist. “Come to Astoria and see how we do it,” she said. Councilman Costa Constantinides said diversity is the community’s strength. “At a time when we have seen a marked increase in hate crimes citywide, seeing our neighborhood come together to celebrate one another is in the spirit of what makes us great,” Constantinides said. Matthew Troy, executive director of Variety Boys and Girls Club, said “it’s no secret” that Astoria embraces its diversity. “With so much going on in the world and in the news, we still see diversity as a strength,” he said. “There’s no better place to see how that diversity comes together and creates a better world and community than our club.” In addition to the entertainment and discussions, two dozen organizations will also be represented. “It’s a great opportunity for someone interested in getting involved with an organization to talk to the leadership, find out what they do, and find out what opportunities there are,” Troy said. With the event just a week after Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, Troy said there was “definitely some crossover” to celebrate the civil right icon’s vision as well. “This is what Martin Luther King stands for, just thinking back to his famous speech on the Washington Mall, the benefit that comes when people of diverse backgrounds come together,” Troy said. “That was his dream and that is what our community is living. This event is a celebration of that.”
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concern neighbor
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January 18, 2017
City Councilman Dromm who represents the Elmhurst area now wants to close Rikers. He claims it's because Rikers is inhuman. So where does he plan to put the prisoners? He has no plan. So where will they end up? At shelters like the Pan Am. It is dangerous for the homeless residents and the residents of Elmhurst. Dromm does not have a homeless shelter where he lives, so he does not care. It is reckless for him to make this proposal. It is a land grab, because developers are interested in Rikers...an new mini manhatttan. Don't let him fool you.
Queens students create comic book to raise awareness about rare animal
by Benjamin Fang
Jan 18, 2017 | 194 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
From left to right: Eileen Kuo, Mark Caleca, Michael Mastrangelo and Nathan Kuo.
From left to right: Eileen Kuo, Mark Caleca, Michael Mastrangelo and Nathan Kuo.
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Not many Americans know anything about or have even heard about the pangolin. A group of Queens students is trying to change that. The Hyperscales is a team of eight elementary and middle school students who are members of the Forest Hills First Lego League (FLL). FLL is an international youth program that teaches students to solve real world problems through research, design and technology. The Forest Hills FLL meets once a week on Saturdays for two hours. Each year, the club members take on a robotics project, where they build and program a fully functioning robot out of Legos, and a research project, where they’re tasked with solving an important issue. Since September, the eight members of the club, ages nine to 14, have been working on a comic book to raise awareness about the pangolin, a scaly mammal that resembles an anteater or armadillo. They chose the mammal because it’s slowly becoming extinct. “I think the pangolin is a very rare species,” said 11-year-old Michael Mastrangelo of Flushing. “We’re trying to raise awareness so people will care and actually fund to save the pangolin, and save us by extension.” The comic book, which was conceived, written, illustrated and completed completely by the teens, warns against the possible extinction of the pangolin. After humans eat the very last one, they find that they cannot replicate it in a lab. As a result of a broken link in the food chain, insects begin to take over the world, preying on humans and spreading diseases. The pangolin’s extinction eventually leads to a decaying planet and the end of human civilization. “They eat 70 million bugs each year,” explained Mark Caleca, a 13-year-old from Maspeth. “They also help fertilize the ground, which is good for plant growth and farming.” The students wrote the book as a precautionary tale of the dangers of eating and hunting rare mammals like the pangolin. The animal is native of the forests of Asia and deserts of Africa and they are not found in the United States, so not many Americans know about them. But they’re considered a delicacy in the parts of the world where they live, said 12-year-old Nathan Kuo of Glendale, so many people will pay a high price to eat them. Caleca, one of the oldest in the group, said in order to prevent the pangolin’s extinction, humans should stray away from eating them, or using them for medicine, wine, jewelry or even leather, which other countries have done. In the comic book, the Hyperscales lists hotline numbers of international groups that have already worked to preserve the scaly mammal. Mastrangelo, currently a student at IS 237 in Flushing, said through their research, the group found other efforts, like the World Wildlife Fund, that have tried to save the pangolin, but the awareness efforts have not worked so well. “Some people already have solutions, but they’re not being spread,” he said. “Not many people are being convinced.” The group hopes that through the comic book, more young people will learn about the need to protect the pangolin. In addition to their research project, the FLL members are competing in a robotics competition on February 4. Run by the FLL organization, each team will have two minutes and 30 seconds to show off the robot they’ve been programming since September. Caleca explained that they create a software and program the robot to do simple acts, such as carry items or walk along a line and turn. The students don’t control the robot with a remote – it runs on its own. “We don’t control the robots, it’s autonomous,” Mastrangelo said. “For example, if you have it going forward too much, it can go into a corner and crash into a wall.” “Then you have to take the software, take the memory box that makes it turn and lessen the force so it makes a clean cut and continue with the rest of its journey,” he added. “This can be tedious, but it’s good because this is actually the programming part of it. Our goal is to make it move a little bit without running over the object or going too far.” “It can be a little complicated,” said Eileen Kuo, who is Nathan’s younger sister. “Instead of using a remote, you have to see how the robot moves. You have to be in a robot’s perspective so you know where it’s going.” As the qualifying competition nears, Nathan Kuo said they’re putting the “finishing touches” on the programs. Team members said they feel good about their prospects. “We’re feeling pretty confident about our team. Both our project and our robot have been worked on so hard since September,” Mastrangelo said. “Last year was quite difficult, but we were able to succeed from our mistakes. I think we’re going to be able to dominate the league.” The FLL members all spoke “getting hooked” on working with robots and learning about programming. Mastrangelo said he’s currently using “cookie-cutter software” on his computer, but wants to learn more about technology. “I’m very interested in the computer so I’m planning to take a lot of technology classes when I’m older,” he said. The elder Kuo said he was “hooked like a fish” when he joined FLL. After he programs the robots for FLL, he goes home to make and test out his own programs. “What I like about it is you can make the robot make funny sounds, do a dance or drive in circles,” Kuo said. His sister, Eileen, is still in elementary school. She’s the youngest of the group. She learned about FLL from her brother. “I got interested in it and he taught me how to program a little,” she said, “and I learned some myself.” Caleca said he joined the organization because he wasn’t involved in many clubs at school. When his mother began researching local clubs, they found First Lego League, and were interested. “I’ve just always loved technology, from Legos to EV3 technology to making some games or working with software in general,” he said. “They’ve always intrigued me for how they work.” The students also receive adult supervision by their parents, who also act as coaches. But the teens said the coaches are there to instill a sense of teamwork, cooperation and respect, which are some of their core values. “Our coaches aren’t babysitters. They’re actual people that inspire us to keep going,” Mastrangelo said. “They’re not actual teachers, they can’t help us. We have to learn from each other and we have to do all the work.”
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The lobbying behind plastic bags
by Emily Gallagher
Jan 18, 2017 | 450 views | 1 1 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Last year, the City Council approved a bill that would add a five-cent charge to use a plastic bag when shopping in local stores. Because of the state government, it was postponed, and now there is a last-minute attempt to preempt the bill, with the concern that it will negatively impact low-income New Yorkers. Last week, I received an email about this issue, imploring me to take a closer look at the social justice impacts. As you know, I am very concerned about institutional racism and oppression, so of course I was interested. However, I did take pause, as I had never heard of the sender. I assumed it was a symptom of my over-subscribed inbox that receives so many, “You Won't Believe What’s About To Happen!” emails. Spam, in other words. I ignored it. But then I began to receive personal responses to it, and decided to write back. The person sending the email was from a company I had never heard of, and they were begging me to contact an organization that, while powerful, has been mostly in the news of late for receiving buyouts from environmental bad actors to oppose environmental initiatives. Sure enough, the email’s listed company was a well-known lobbying group. All I needed to do was buzz over to New York City lobbying disclosures website to find an easy answer. This lobbying firm was paid by the American Progressive Bag Alliance, who works to protect the interests of plastics manufacturers. A Politico article confirmed that the “grassroots organization” the lobbyist was attempting to connect me to was receiving payments from this same group since 2014. I had originally thought I would give the “grassroots organization” a call to hear them out. But after a bit of light research, I saw their payout and decided against it. The reality is, I've long been concerned with bad-acting industry impacts on low-income communities, and I became interested in this because of the myriad of health impacts on this very neighborhood. Greenpoint, a longtime home of plastic bag manufacturing, as well as former vinyl factories, has a long list of cancers, autoimmune disorders and other problems that can be traced to the fumes and chemicals used in plastic manufacturing. I remember, just a few years ago, the entire neighborhood would fill with an unreal stench that I learned comes from a plastics manufacturer on Kent Avenue. It’s not expensive nor difficult to carry a reusable bag. If the concern is truly that it will negatively impact low-income New Yorkers, why are plastic manufacturers paying for it? I think the answer is the latter. Besides, the five cents will go to the local store owner each time, which will support small businesses each time one forgets. I think the bag charge is a good idea. Outside of scooping up dog poop, plastic bags serve us very little purpose. I have no patience to hear out lobbyists or their paid players. I asked the lobbyist why he wrote to me. He said he was aware of my column in the Greenpoint Star. In other words, he wanted me to write a “grassroots” article that was wholly influenced by paid performers for plastics manufacturers. No. I want to make clear, right here in this space, that I will never blast out a phony perspective. I am also urging you to be suspicious – it turns out that lobbyists have succeeded in buying out some grassroots organizations to go against their own interests. I will not be one of those people.
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Downtown mom
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January 18, 2017
Good for you to suss out the truth. Getting rid of plastic bags will only help all of us in the long run. There is no reason to oppose the plastic bag tax and no reason we all can't start by carrying reusable bags of our own. We are too many people in NYC to use single use plastic bags (or bottles or straw etc).