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Long Story Short: Worry or be happy—your choice


illustration by JP Thimot


A fish story


Fish lead stressful lives. They are more or less constantly on guard for predators, and their entire existence amounts to hiding, seeking food, and spewing out offspring. All this leads to fear and anxiety; the mood swings can be a real downer. Not so for the fish of the Niagara River, though—they're dealing with stress so much better now that they are on antidepressants.


The details:

According to a recently released study, Niagara River fish not only get serious doses of the active ingredients in Zoloft, Prozac, and Sarafem, they also acquire plenty of painkillers, caffeine, and contraceptives. Two University at Buffalo scientists—biologist Alicia Pérez-Fuentetaja and chemist Diana S. Aga—coauthored the study. How do fish get medicated? It’s simple. Humans pee these things out, and our water treatment plants aren’t designed to remove them. So a pharmaceutical cocktail enters the river and lakes, and fish accumulate high concentrations in their brains. The result: happy fish.


Happy fish are not what nature had in mind however. Fish on antidepressants worry less about those little annoyances like being eaten by bigger fish. When a Prozac perch sees a hungry walleye approaching it thinks, “I’ll deal with it in the morning.” The fish also lose interest in food, and even reproduction. And of course, things like this tend to travel up the food chain, so it’s possible birds that prey on these fish are also feeling much happier these days.   


The takeaway:

The concern is that all these drugs are a risk to aquatic biodiversity, and it’s another good reason to improve water treatment plants across the country. As if smelly black discharges into popular tourist destinations wasn’t enough.


Now, if you’re wondering whether you will be affected by eating fish caught in these waters, the answer is no, unless you eat the organs and particularly the brain. So don’t.



What’s up?


On September 4, Long Story Short posted a piece about systemic bias and discrimination within local law enforcement. The very next day, Black Lives Matter of Buffalo and a coalition of Buffalo residents, announced that they have filed a federal lawsuit against the Buffalo Police Department (BPD), alleging that it “has engaged in a repeated, persistent and widespread pattern of unconstitutional policing, one which has specifically and disproportionately targeted people of color.” The coalition is also asking state attorney general Eric Schneiderman to investigate the department for alleged discriminatory practices.


The details:

The gist of the lawsuit is contained in my post Good news, with a grain of salt, only here it’s more like the whole saltshaker. At the heart of the complaint is Buffalo’’s version of the Broken Windows policy. Initiated in 2006, Buffalo's  “Zero Tolerance” program intensified, according to the lawsuit, after Cuomo dropped a billion development dollars on the city’s doorstep.


The suit is supported by a two-year study, co-authored by Anji Malhotra, and released by the University at Buffalo and Cornell Law School, based on exhaustive research into BPD practices. It’s a comprehensive study, packed with extensive data. “I documented over 160 cases of individuals who have faced unconstitutional policing through interviews, criminal suppression cases, civil rights cases, DOJ investigations, etc., since 2013,” says Malhotra, “It's a fraction, but I didn't feel that it was necessary to delve in to that because the systemic data is so strong.”


So it’s hard to fathom the widely quoted response by police and mayoral spokesman, Michael J. DeGeorge: "The city has not seen the claim, but any allegation of discrimination is completely false." What? The city unilaterally rejects the results of a detailed two-year study, sponsored by two noted law schools, without seeing it? That speaks volumes.


The takeaway:

Such lawsuits are notoriously difficult to press in court, but the comprehensive study can’t be ignored. Part of the solution is greater community policing. Now is a good time for the Buffalo Police Department to take a long, reflective look at its practices, and make changes.    



Buffalo sticks with Brown


Byron Brown has won a fourth term as Buffalo’s mayor. Okay, technically, the election hasn’t occurred yet, but Brown won it last Tuesday anyway. Beating opponents Mark Schroeder and Betty Jean Grant in the Democratic primary is the same as winning the general election in a city where Republicans are so marginal they don’t even bother to put up a candidate. Brown was so thrilled by the vote results that he broke with his customary impassive visage to briefly smile, adding a second facial expression to his repertoire.


The mayor’s reelection was inevitable. The city is widely perceived to be doing well, and Brown is backed by a fine-tuned political machine; he spent twice as much as the next nearest candidate, and every Democrat holding a significant public office across the state endorsed him. Yet he only got fifty-one percent of the one-in-four registered Democrats that voted. Even his East Side base had an anemic turnout. Of Buffalo’s 270,000 residents, 13,346 voters elected the mayor.


The takeaway:

Based on our extensive research (mainly, reading Facebook posts) it appears that voters were just not interested. Many agreed that Brown’s reelection was inevitable, which of course made it so. Many voters see progress in the city after years of stagnation and they don’t want to upset the apple cart. The list of complaints by discontented voters falls roughly into the following categories:

•Neglect of the East Side

•Economic focus on only a few parts of the city

•Demolitions passing as development

•Big developers getting whatever they want

•Anemic enforcement of the new Green Code

•Historic preservation neglected

•Ineffective city programs (i.e., home lead abatement, housing court oversight)


Most of the angry post election buzz revolves around development, or lack thereof, in some places. Is that fair? Does it really matter if only a small fraction of voters speak for everyone?



Buffalo: safe from nature’s wrath?


After watching Hurricane Harvey tear through Texas, followed by Irma’s devastating tour of the Florida Keys, did you find yourself feeling grateful that nature’s biggest weather-tantrums always happen somewhere else? It’s true; Buffalo is uniquely insulated from the big five natural disasters: hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, forest fires, and earthquakes. In fact Buffalo is the fourth safest city in the United States from natural disasters, according to a report by CBS News Money Watch.


The details:

Buffalo only experiences teeny-tiny earthquakes, we are too far inland for hurricanes, and Tornado Alley is west of us. Rising sea levels do not directly affect us, while our position between two Great Lakes and the Niagara River insulates us from wildfires and protect us from drought. Okay, so we have occasional snowstorms, sometimes bad ones, but the resulting property damage is small potatoes compared to—for instance—a town flattened by a tornado. And you won’t find a tornado’s aftermath on a Currier & Ives print.


And here’s something else: Buffalo is a lot cheaper (though not the cheapest) place to live than the most dangerous cities, because—you know—people often want to live in dangerous areas. So for instance, someone moving to Los Angeles might say, well, our house could be incinerated by wildfire, or it might drop into the abyss during an earthquake, but, hey, the weather is nice. The website Trulia has created some maps of places disasterphobes will want to avoid.


Not so fast

Yes, we are geographically blessed where it comes to the big five, but not all disasters are natural. According to a study released a couple months ago, Buffalo is the most dangerous city for online dating.  But only if you don’t want to contract an STD—or be killed. To be fair though, the Buffalo News disputes this study. So putting aside the fact that it can be dangerous to swim in Buffalo waters, and toxic landfills dot the landscape, this is a pretty safe place to live. Unless you look into crime stats.



Artist and educator Bruce Adams is a regular contributor to Spree.


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