Long Story Short: Bullies, historic and contemporary

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illustration by JP Thimot

 

A tale of two statues

Two noteworthy Buffalo statues are inspiring very different public reactions. 

 

The details:

Christopher Columbus explored the Americas, and from this came the first ongoing European contact with the New World.  Everybody knows that. Almost as many know that—even by the norms of his time—Columbus was a world-class miscreant. And by today’s relatively enlightened standards, there’s almost nothing good you can say about him, except, you know, he got us a day off school. Some colleges are now calling his holiday “fall break,” and many cities are renaming it Indigenous Peoples Day.

 

Last Tuesday, the Buffalo Common Council held a hearing on a petition from the Buffalo Anti-Racism Coalition calling for the removal of the statue of the Italian explorer and colonizer from Columbus Park, and to rename the park. This is the statue that vandals splashed with red paint in August.

 

Humans tend to resist change, so some people are not going to let Columbus go without a fight. At the meeting, a lively debate ensued.  But even Coalition speakers seemed confused, focusing on the question of “who got here first.”  Lesley Haynes is quoted as saying, “Some will say it was the Vikings, Irish monks, or Leif Erickson.” Really? What about the people we call Native Americans? They had populated most of the Western Hemisphere long before Columbus floated into town. Columbus kidnapped, enslaved, and murdered these people. Later, as Viceroy and Governor of the Indies, he was such a sadistic tyrant to his fellow colonizers that he was arrested and imprisoned in Spain. Today’s Columbus defenders fall back on the “it’s our history” and the “what will be ban next?” arguments used to defend Robert E, Lee statues. No decision yet.

 

Meanwhile:

In another part of town, twenty-four stories up, Liberty is getting a makeover to keep her skin youthful and watertight. A boxlike arrangement of scaffolding has been erected around the ninety-two-year-old west-facing statue on top of the historic Liberty Building, Downtown. Oddly, the east-facing statue does not need any work—at least for the moment—which goes to show you that identical twins age differently.

 

You might wonder just how tall those statues are. So do I. The Buffalo News says twenty-eight feet, Buffalo Rising puts them at thirty feet, and Wikipedia goes with thirty-six. There’s a bit of history to the statues that everyone agrees on though. Originally, the institution was called the German American Bank, but after World War I that was changed to Liberty, for obvious reasons. Just to make it really clear where the bank stood politically, the two statues by self-taught artist Leo Lentelli were added. The official story was that one faced the harbor and the other faced the railroads, to signify Buffalo’s importance as a center for trade, but the real message was “we’re not German anymore.”  When the bank changed hands, and was no longer called Liberty, it was determined that the twin statues were too beloved to remove.

 

The takeaway:

Politics change over time, but Liberty never goes out of fashion.

 

 

Citizen Weinstein

If you’re old enough—say over fifty—you may still recall the company that brought so many great rock concerts to Buffalo throughout the seventies: Harvey and Corky Productions. The Harvey in the title is Harvey Weinstein, and he used to be someone Buffalo was proud of. Now…not so much. His rise and fall from grace makes Charles Foster Kane’s look like a minor misstep.

 

The details:

Weinstein went to the University of Buffalo from 1969 to 1973. In 2000, the University awarded him an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters, mainly for being the founder of Miramax film studio, the company that revolutionized independent cinema. The list of movies he and his brother Bob were responsible for producing is breathtaking—some of the best of the late twentieth century. The New Yorker had this to say, “His movies have earned more than three hundred Oscar nominations, and, at the annual awards ceremonies, he has been thanked more than almost anyone else in movie history, just after Steven Spielberg and right before God.”

 

Miramax was bought by Disney in 2005, and Weinstein got the boot. Some would say the mouse kicked out the rat, because over the past couple weeks, Weinstein has been accused of numerous instances of sexual harassment, assault, and even rape, spanning over three decades. While the public was largely unaware of this behavior, it was an open secret in Hollywood. Many women—including famous stars—have now come forward with sexual harassment claims. The New York Times dug up allegations, interviews, legal records, emails, and business documents, including payoffs to accusers. There’s even a chillingly disturbing audio recording of him in which he admits groping a woman’s breast. The Weinstein Company, which he founded after leaving Miramax, has fired him. UB is moving to have his honorary degree revoked. And he is encountering daily public humiliation.

 

He says he’s in therapy for his behavior, but denies all charges.

 

The takeaway:

A wealthy and powerful man in the entertainment industry, who women have accused of sexual assault, who admits it on tape? Maybe Weinstein should run for President.

 

 

Collins watch

"There is a substantial reason to believe that Representative Collins shared material nonpublic information in the purchase of Innate stock, in violation of House rules, standards of conduct, and federal law."

 

The details:

This is according to the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), in a report released Thursday on Congressman Chris Collins.

 

Collins is the only House member who sits on a board of a publicly traded company, one he said he would divest his interest in by the time it was at the Food and Drug Administration test stage (he didn’t). Collins is the chairman of two companies and  belongs to eleven small real estate partnerships; Most House members don’t belong to any.  Audubon Machinery, a medical device company Collins founded, would have gained millions had Trumpcare (which Collins supported) become law. Collins is the director of ZeptoMetrix, which would benefit from lower taxes (which he supports), and the repeal of Obamacare (which he supported, though it failed).  Questions have been raised on how much time he spends on the people’s work, and how much he spends on his private business interests.

 

The takeaway:

While Collins denies any wrongdoing, ethics experts are baffled by his apparent conflicts of interest. The OCE continues its probe.

 

 

Don’t be a bully

North Tonawanda (NT) has enacted a law that would send parents of bullies to jail for up to fifteen days, with a fine up to $250 dollars. No word yet as to whether they must go straight to jail without dinner.

 

The details:

The City Council voted unanimously to amend an existing bullying law, which also covers general harassment, underage drinking, and curfew violations. The idea is to end bullying by holding parents accountable for their children’s actions. Authorities say they hope never to have to use the law.

 

It all started when Victoria Crago’s son was sucker-punched by an eighth-grade classmate in public, while his mother was with him. The brazen act led Crago to create a Facebook page called North Tonawanda Coalition for Safe Schools & Streets.  Things developed from there.

 

Some parents, of course, are irresponsible. Children can’t be jailed, and they know it. But the law would likely not stand up to a challenge in court. Problem is, it costs more to fight the case than pay the fine and maybe spend some quality time in the hoosegow.

 

Meanwhile, State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli says the Dignity For All Students Act (DASA), which addresses bullying and harassment, is not being followed by schools. The act requires districts to track and report incidents of discrimination, harassment and bullying, including online bullying. In a story in Rochester’s Democrat and Chronicle, Amanda Nickerson, director of the Alberti Center for Bullying Abuse Prevention at the University of Buffalo, is quoted as saying, “From what we know from multiple studies, bullying and harassment are common and it is nearly impossible for a school to have no incidents in an entire school year.”

 

2016 DASA report for NT:

Senior High: 16 (7 reported as “other”)
Middle School: 0

Cyber bullying

Senior High: 2
Middle School: 0

 

The takeaway:

North Tonawanda is engaging with the time-honored discipline tactic known as bluffing. What next, arresting parents when their kids shoplift? Requiring parents to eat the school lunch their kids wasted? And NT is among many schools that do not appear to be consistently following DASA.

 

 

Worthwhile event of the week:

On Saturday, October 21, Squeaky Wheel's Peepshow: Scary-oke is ringing some more-funny-than-scary changes on karaoke with its biannual fundraising festivities at the DNIPRO Ukrainian Cultural Center. Included are immersive karoke rooms, Silent Disco, a Thriller dance-off, and way more. Here’s the link.

 

 

Artist, writer, and educator Bruce Adams is a longtime contributor to Buffalo Spree.

 

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