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Long Story Short: Holiday edition


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Nice try

One hundred billion plastic bags a year. That’s how many we Americans use, and it takes twelve million barrels of oil to make them. If you belong to an average American family, you take home 1,500 of those plastic bags yourself per year. What happens to them? Most go to landfills, and up to eighty percent of those later enter the ocean. It’s not just the bags you use to haul your groceries home; this includes produce bags as well. Fun fact: each plastic bag gets used for about twelve minutes.


That’s why New York State is banning single use plastic bags. Wegmans—everybody’s favorite grocery store—is getting a jump on the law, which doesn’t go into effect until March. In at least some of its stores, produce bags are now printed with a statement that reads: “This bag is made from 100% plant-based renewable material, NOT fossil fuels.” In manufacturing these bags, less CO2 is emitted, and they can still be recycled like the old ones. The chain also uses a variety of strategies to reduce plastic in the meat, café, and other departments. You can learn about its many efforts to improve packaging here.


This is good, right?  

Are we saving the world one bag at a time? Maybe not. The fact is, there are just too damn many humans schlepping food home in bags, no matter what they’re made of. Not only that, a recent study by Denmark’s Ministry of Environment and Food found that single-use plastic bags have a lower overall environmental impact than their replacements! Yikes. Worst of all are the pretentious organic cotton reusable totes, which allow self-righteous shoppers to believe they are doing the right thing for the environment. They’re not. Not even close.


You have to use those “save-the-earth” bags 20,000 times before their environmental impact is lower than good old single-use low-density polyethylene bags. The study takes into consideration the cumulative environmental impact of manufacturing the alternative bags, including water and energy use. If you use a recycled bag, you need to use it twice, or it’s worse on the environment than a single-use bag. And you have to get forty-five uses out of those woven polypropylene bags before they’re better for the planet than single-use bags. It takes eighty-four uses for recycled polyethylene terephthalate bags to have any effect.


What should we do instead?

If you already invested in reusable bags, be sure to reuse them! If they are made of organic cotton, and you shop once a week, you’ll need to use them for the next 384.6 years before they will be better for the environment than the single-use bags you would get otherwise. Better get started. You can check out how many times you need to reuse alternatives to beat single-use plastic here. It’s not clear where the new Wegmans bags fall on the chart, but no matter what, it’s much better if you reuse them, or bring them back for recycling.



I suppose you feel bad now. So, here’s the silver lining you were hoping for. This reuse analysis only takes into consideration the resources needed to make different kinds of bags. It doesn’t consider how you use them, and where they go afterward, or the impact they have on animal species.


There, feel better?



Teachers and parents launch lawsuit for arts

Start with a basic fact: the arts are a vital part of a child’s education. Scads of research supports this, and the New York State Education Department (NYSED) agrees. From the NYSED website: “The intrinsic nature of the arts leads to and promotes a civilized, sustainable society. Artistically literate graduates are career and college ready, capable of understanding and addressing the needs of society, and participating in a global economy.”


The state requires schools to offer three- and five-unit sequences in the arts in high school. That means schools must provide at least five courses in the arts, to provide that sequence over four high school years.


What’s happening in Buffalo

Buffalo Public School teachers and parents are filing separate lawsuits against the district, claiming that a music sequence is only being provided in two city schools—Bennett and Buffalo Academy for Visual and Performing Arts (AVPA). Hutch Tech High School was spotlighted in a recent WBFO story on the state requirements, and the district’s failure to meet them. According to the story, the Buffalo Teachers Federation (BTF) has already filed its lawsuit, and parents are filing one sometime this week.


It’s complicated

The NYSED website used to have a “frequently asked questions” page about high school arts requirements, but that page recently disappeared. However, you can still find the information here. Scroll down to the bottom of page ten to see what schools are required to offer.


The state has clearly defined standards for what constitutes a unit of study in the arts. For example, band class would only count if it addressed all four state music standards, which is more than just performing. To complicate things even more, there are four recognized fields of art in which students may take three- or four-unit sequences: visual art, music, dance, and theater. Across the state, very few schools offer all four. In Buffalo, only the AVPA does.


How low can you go?

If schools aren’t required to offer five-unit sequences in all four arts, can they get away with just one? The answer isn’t clear.  The Summary of the Arts (Dance, Music, Theatre, and Visual Arts) Provisions in the Part 100 of the Regulations of the Commissioner of Education gives detailed requirements for music and visual arts, but fewer details about dance and theater. Most schools—at least in the suburbs—offer both music and art, but even then, some of them don’t adhere strictly to the requirements. For instance, in many schools, band counts as a course for the music sequence, but it usually only addresses the performing standard, without covering the creating, responding, and connecting standards required by the state.


Schools sometimes also perform scheduling gymnastics to fulfill state demands. Several exceptions to state mandates provide “loopholes” that schools slip through. For instance, students may be pushed into accelerated “high school” arts courses in eighth grade, which are intended for gifted students. Outside experience can also sometimes be counted for credit. But when schools stretch the intent of these exceptions to “fulfill” state requirements, students may be forced into educationally unsound situations. The fundamental question is, do schools have to offer five units in both art and music? Furthermore, do some Buffalo schools fail to offer five units in any of the arts?


A matter of equity  

Is it fair that some students are provided the opportunity to choose between art or music, while others are not? While many schools focus on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), enlightened districts are adding the arts as a fundamental area of learning, changing the acronym to STEAM.


Districts are under tremendous pressure to improve test scores in select subjects. As a result, the arts are often marginalized. But the NYSED requirements and standards remain the law. With these lawsuits, we’ll see how serious the state is about enforcing them.



Politicizing plowing 

Cheektowaga highway worker, Robert Hupkowicz, says it was just a joke when he painted “Trump 2020” on both sides of one of the town’s snowplows. Cheektowaga police are not laughing. They charged Hupkowicz with criminal mischief and making graffiti. Then he was suspended from his job as a town highway worker.


Now let’s be clear; Hupkowicz only allegedly did these things. However, WGRZ’s 2 On Your Side newsroom reports that he contacted them to say, “I never would’ve taken that truck out on the street. In fact, the wooden side boards that were on top of truck to hold the salt in, and which I painted the signs on, were being replaced and thrown out. Again, I was just goofing around, and I never expected my boss to call the police and have me thrown in jail."


And then there’s the GoFundMe legal defense fundraiser that states, “Robert Hupkowicz had some fun and painted 'Trump 2020' on the wooden plank across the salt hopper of a town plow truck. Rather than just discipline him internally and remove or simply replace the $20 piece of wood, he was arrested and suspended 30 days without pay.” The donation request forgot to say, “allegedly” painted Trump 2020, but then Hupkowicz—who once posted an image on Facebook of a female political opponent’s face in a urinal—is known as a prankster.  


“We are obviously disappointed by the alleged actions of this town worker,” says Town Highway Superintendent Mark Wegner, remembering to use the magic word. He goes on to say that luckily someone noticed the signs before the truck went out into the streets. Hupkowicz was supposed to be scraping rust and doing touch-up painting, when the political message was painted. Allegedly.



Roger’s sad Christmas 

Roger Stone was convicted of seven felony charges for attempting to interfere with House Intelligence Committee and FBI investigations. But perhaps his biggest offence is having a big mouth. In fact, he was so unwilling to keep his trap shut during his trial, Judge Amy Berman Jackson slapped a gag order on him. He appealed the order and lost.


Now that the trial is over, and Stone apparently abided by the gag order, he was hoping it would be lifted. But US District Court Judge Reggie Walton noted that the convicted felon hasn’t been sentenced yet and will likely appeal. And, of course, he could win the appeal. So the judge refused to lift the gag order that Jackson imposed.


Here’s the sad part

East Aurora political consultant, and longtime Stoner (our nickname for friends and fans of Stone), Michael Caputo, wrote to Judge Jackson in a plea to persuade her to lift the order. It seems the former lord of mischief and professional trickster’s  attorney told Caputo that Stone is “no longer permitted to communicate with” him. It’s been a year now since Caputo and Stone have talked, and their families would like to spend Christmas together. “But it’s Christmas, Judge,” pleads Caputo in the letter, “and our family wants to spend time with his.” The touching dispatch ends with, “During this season of giving, I hope you see fit to give our families this gift.”



You can see how touched wnymedia.net was by the letter. They produced this heartfelt video.



I’m ready for my long shot

In case you hadn’t heard, or maybe just forgot, they’re looking for extras to appear in Nightmare Alley, a film to be directed by Guillermo Del Toro in Buffalo. Extras are people who stand around or walk through the background of scenes. You might be asked to do such things as “walking, crossing camera, sitting down with a friend, engaging in pretend conversation, doing a specific task or activity.”


You don’t have to be a professional actor, and all ages and ethnicities are welcome. No wigs, weaves, or other hair pieces are allowed, however, and you might have to get a period-specific haircut, because the movie is set in the 1940s. Oh, and men might have to shave off their hipster beards. (That’ll make some moms happy.)


Tattoos are another concern. The producers don’t want KISS likenesses to show up in one of those movie gaffe lists. Extras also need to give the producers all their sizes, so they can be outfitted in period-appropriate clothes. If selected, you can expect to spend twelve or more hours per day on the set. You will be paid, but they don’t say how much. Needless to say, it will be less than Bradley Cooper gets.


Advance word is that the noir film is going to be dark, with a “Big R, double R” rating. And the film won’t cover the whole William Lindsay Gresham novel, just the “underbelly of society” stuff. It revolves around a spiritualist who takes advantage of people—which pretty much describes all psychics, as far as I’m concerned. (I’m going to hear from the Lily Dale crowd now.)


After all this, if you still want in, click here.


Long Story Short is an opinion column by artist and educator Bruce Adams, a longtime contributor to Buffalo Spree.


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