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City Service Review: Buffalo and Erie County Public Library

City Service Review: Buffalo and Erie County Public Library

It’s a pretty well-known statistic in Buffalo that the city has a high school graduation rate just north of 50 percent, and that this percentage – which only popped up in the last several years – actually marked an improvement over previous decades where the graduation rate notched under the halfway mark. Some one in every three adults in Buffalo can’t read above a third grade level. It’s tough to lay the blame for Buffalo’s literacy rate at the feet of the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library system, though. It’s not perfect, not by a long shot, but it does what it can in a place which tries to shut itself in.

The main branch of the system – which is simply referred to as the Central Library – is located in Downtown Buffalo, just a block to the east of the lightrail line at Lafayette Square. You can’t miss the building, although that’s more because of its location than by any architectural merit – the damn place looks like some kind of extra cardboard scenery out of a Star Wars movie. The current building first opened in 1963 as another one of those doomed economic redevelopment and urbanization projects that decimated Downtown Buffalo in ways which would cause wet dreams for Roland Emmerich and Michael Bay. It replaced a building by Cyrus LW Eidlitz from 1887 which fit Buffalo’s old architectural ethos like a glove and came off like a European castle/Greek-style church hybrid. Using only pictures, the old building and the current one look to be around the same size. Of course, the new building, being of that disastrous “modernist” style, floats above Ellicott Street, connecting the front entrance at Lafayette Square with a back end on the Ellicott/Broadway/William intersection. While it spans two blocks, it also covers only two floors – as opposed to three or four in the old building – and that’s only two if you include some new bathrooms and office space on the second floor. I wonder what happened to all the books that used to be up there.

Yeah, there are only books on the first floor. Fables Cafe and the fiction section are in the front half, and the back half has the nonfiction section and media room and computers… Hell, let’s just shorten everything by saying the back has most of what makes the Central Library the CENTRAL LIBRARY. The cafe is a nice little addition, but I’ve never eaten any of the food outside of a couple of snacks and cups of coffee, which were pretty good. Since a lot of people like to read and write at cafes, the library is a perfect atmosphere for one, when I’m finished with my weekly librarying, I prefer to visit Perks Cafe, a local indie joint which is right across the street.

The Central Library has some nice little special sections which make it stand out. One is The Center for Afro-American History and Research, and if you need to do research on African-American history in Buffalo, this is where you want to go to do it. Central Library has managed to beat the institutionalized racism you see everywhere in the city and provides the entire Western New York region with the largest African-American history resource center around. Books, microfilm, and records of prominent organizations – like the Urban League – are in there. Central Library also includes a collection for disabled people – large-print books, audiobooks, radio receivers, and descriptive videos are floating through circulation too. The Grosvenor Room is the home of the local genealogical society as well as a bountiful harvest of stuff regarding local history. And the Mark Twain Room is an exhibition room featuring Twain’s original handwritten manuscript for The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. If you’re wondering how Buffalo, of all places, managed to get ahold of a literary treasure of that magnitude, then you have to understand that Buffalo was once a far more important city than it is now. Twain was briefly a member of the Young Men’s Association, which was what was around just before the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library was established. Twain personally donated the manuscript himself in 1885, and was a Buffalo resident at one time when he spent a couple years with one of the local newspapers.

If you want to borrow a book, you get three weeks. CD’s and movies are weeklongs. You can order items and make reservations, but the library charges for those services for some reason. Can’t say I know why. This is a habit which only cropped up in the last few years – they used to do it for free. Now it costs a buck per item. The obvious tradeoff here, though, is the fact that there is a copy of pretty much everything you can name floating around through the system somewhere. The library has never failed to deliver something I asked for. Still, the library grants you a charge account of up to $10 before you’re not allowed to do anything anymore, and that’s between fines and requests, and if you make a lot of requests, that $10 compilation is going to arrive quickly. The requests I made were $1 each.

There are a lot of interesting and informative events that happen right in the center of the building, which isn’t some special event room of its own. It’s literally right out in the middle for everything, for all to see, making it convenient for people to just stop off for a few minutes to listen to the lecture or watch the video. A lot of clubs meet there, and there are tax classes and computer classes.

The only problem you’re likely to have with the services is that the system runs entirely on a self-checkout. The librarians will perform renewals and take returns, but they’re not allowed to check your swag out for you. The self-checkouts can be a major pain in the ass, too: You would be amazed how easily the computers make checkout errors. Sure, it’s usually no problem if you’re placing one item on the checkout pad, but any more than that and there’s a 50/50 shot of something not reading right. That means you have to keep on scanning it until it does read the right way. Once you’re trying to check out anything over four or five items, chances of an error shoot up to nearly 100 percent, and you end up having to separate everything anyway. It would be a lot less tedious to just have the librarian get it out of the way quickly.

As far as the Central Library building goes, it’s bright and quiet, but I can’t emphasize this enough: Stay the hell out of the first floor bathrooms. Use the recently-remodeled bathrooms on the second floor. Not only are they bigger and better-working, but in the first floor bathrooms, illicit things tend to happen. If you need the one stall offered, there’s likely to be someone in it shooting heroin or snorting cocaine. Sketchy characters drift in and out, and while they are most likely to leave you alone, it’s really not a scene you would want to be around in case something goes wrong.

The Buffalo and Erie County Public Library seems to have changed quite a bit in my absence – the children’s section is a lot smaller, the movie and music sections were condensed and consolidated, the computer policies changed, and the second floor is basically nonexistent – but it’s still around for people with reading habits. Or the many people who would be best off developing them.

Culture Shock: What My Buffalo-to-Chicago Move was Originally Like

Culture Shock: What My Buffalo-to-Chicago Move was Originally Like

I moved to Chicago years ago, and in many ways it became more a home to me than Buffalo ever was. Now, since I’m attempting another inter-city move in a month, here is a list of things I noticed upon moving from Buffalo to Chicago that I never quite adjusted to:

Pizza and Wings don’t go Together
It’s not fair to expect every city on the planet to weave chicken wings into the culture like Buffalo has, but growing up in Buffalo, it does seem fair to expect wings to be the tasty accompaniment to a handful of particular dishes. Namely, pizza. In Buffalo, it’s ubiquitous to pick up the phone, speed-dial your favorite pizzeria, and say you want a large pepperoni and a double hot wings. They know the request because you’re a regular customer and they’ve heard slight variations on the same order a million times in the past. We take the combination for granted so much that wherever we go, we expect our pizza with a side of wings and let our hosts know what terrible people they are if they forget the wings. When I arrived in Chicago and made friends who ordered pizza, though, it was a short flight to my realization that people there didn’t feel like the extra grease with chicken meat on the side was an essential side dish. Hell, even that’s overstating their importance – Chicagoans went about their pizza business like the pizza/wings combination didn’t exist. Fortunately, Chicago is so good at pizza that you won’t care after the initial shock wears off.

The Street Grid Makes Sense
Buffalo loves to advertise its status as America’s Best-Planned City. No less an authority than Frederick Law Olmsted said Buffalo was the best-planned city in the world, and Buffalo was planned in a radial pattern, which is extremely rare in the United States. I guess it would make sense that Olmsted and other old-school architects would think that, though; they didn’t live long enough to witness abominations like the HSBC Tower, Main Place Mall, the Buffalo Convention Center, and all those other buildings which wipe out the meticulously planned radial design. The Convention Center and Main Place Mall in particular are notorious for choking off parts of downtown which would otherwise be reached very easily from Buffalo City Hall if they weren’t sitting in the way. Compounding the architectural mistakes is a legion of one-way streets going in so many different directions that you would think the city had a deal with an oil company which would cause motorists to keep getting lost and having to buy more gas. Chicago’s layout only seemed confusing at first. Once someone explained the directional and numbering scheme to me, though, I never got truly lost again. Chicago’s blocks are blocks, and its streets mainly stick to one direction. True, some of them – like Clark Street – curve a little after awhile and slant, but generally, even with all the one-way streets – I guess some things are constant between cities – it was refreshingly easy to find my way around.

The directional system is very easy: Madison Street is the official north/south marker, while State Street marks east and west. The corner of Madison and State places you at 0/0 numerically, and numbers increase like normal in every direction. The further away from Madison and State you get, the higher the address number. Even-numbered addresses are on buildings on the north and west sides of their streets; and by a rigorous and time-consuming process of elimination, you’ve maybe concluded that south and east street sides have the odd addresses. One thing I find a little dumbfounding, though, is that State Street is the barrier between east and west. State Street gets cut off around Lincoln Park, and the east side ceases to exist.

The People Think Chicago has the Monopoly on the Word “Pop”
We get it: Using “pop” as our word for soda is a regional thing. We’re told that from birth. Chicago apparently missed the memo. If you’re from out of town, every use of “pop” as a way of referring to soda is accompanied by a wink, a smile, and the occasional elbow nudge as the Chicagoan who just used it explains to his guests that “pop” is the word they use for soda in Chicago. They seem to think they’re letting you in on the secret formula for Coca-Cola when they say it. Well, the thing about “pop” is that the region that uses it as a term for soda is fucking massive. In fact, according to The Huffington Post, a survey anyone can fill out on a site called popvssoda.com, and Discover Magazine among many other sources, “pop” is absolutely dominant along the entire northern coastline from the Pacific coast – including Alaska – to western New York, except for a small spot in Wisconsin along the Lake Michigan coast. It changes to “soda” around Rochester, New York. The point where “pop” stops being used going south varies, but it drifts as far down as Oklahoma and changes to “coke” in the deep south. “Soda” actually seems to be the minority word for soda. Back to point, though; there’s no need for Chicagoans to cling to their use of “pop” like it’s some special identifying mark or secret handshake because everybody fucking knows what it is.

Chicago is a Hate Group for Ketchup
When you move to Chicago – or, hell, even if you’re just passing through it – you’ll be forced to try one of those seven-topping hot dogs that are so popular there, possibly at gunpoint. Your first thought upon glancing the Chicago-style hot dog for the first time will probably be along the lines of “how the hell do I eat this thing?” You’re not going to shove the whole thing into your mouth to bite down, since there’s too much between the onions, relish, peppers, pickle, celery salt, mustard, and tomatoes. (And the dog itself is, of course, made of beef; not just beef, but Vienna beef, and placed on a poppy seed bun, because any other beef on any other bun will toss the universe out of whack.) Your second thought may be of ketchup, but Chicagoans will recoil in horror at that thought. Hatred of ketchup is something known to unite Cubs fans and White Sox fans. The city tries to bully people about this; some hot dog places don’t even have ketchup available. Others just have assholes at the service counter who insult you to your face for putting ketchup on hot dogs.

Ketchup is treated much the same way you would treat asbestos. The fact that these people drown their french fries in ketchup instead of eating them with salt and vinegar and that mustard is a legal form of torture never seems to bother them. Meanwhile, Buffalo introduced a type of dog called the Texas Red Hot to the planet. Unlike the dicks who vend in Chicago, no one in Buffalo cares what goes on your Texas Red Hot, and long as you’re getting the dogs themselves at a place that makes them halfway decently. There are many of them; Louie’s has its fans, but Ted’s is the consensus place to find a good hot dog in Buffalo.

The Football Fans are Idiots
You would expect to find a sizable number of mouth-breathers among a fanbase which made Mike Ditka, the NFL’s response to Donald Trump, into their patron saint. That’s a good summary of Bears fans. These are fans who bitch if their team committed to something other than outmoded run-first football and growl a lot about “Bear weather,” a make-believe home field advantage offered by Soldier Field’s location alongside Lake Michigan and the blustery winds swirling in. On one hand, you can’t blame Bears fans for looking at the team’s incredible successes on the ground: An amazing nine titles, including a Super Bowl victory in the 1985 season, and a running back roll call of transcendents like Bronko Nagurski, Red Grange, Gale Sayers, and the immortal Walter Payton as well as locally memorable runners like Neal Anderson, Matt Forte, Beattie Feathers, and Rick Casares. On the other hand, Bears fans all still seem to believe this style amounts to some insurmountable advantage. They’ll talk up Bear weather as if no other team in the NFL plays in the cold. I would remind fans that it gets pretty damn cold in Buffalo too, and Bears fans, bless their tiny dino brains, tried to argue with me about it. They’ll insist you can’t pass in a Chicago winter, even though a certain outdoor team which plays in even worse weather than Chicago has spent the past two decades showing the Bears differently. Yeah, three of those FOUR Super Bowls the Green Bay Packers have reeled in were all led by Hall of Fame quarterbacks, and that fourth title was guided by another quarterback who plays with the kind of form that leads quarterbacks to the Hall.

And about those titles: That one I mentioned from 1985 happens to be the most recent of them, and fans dwell on it like it’s the only thing that matters. Granted, from everything I’ve gathered about that 1985 team, they were quite memorable, but no other fanbase lives in its past like this. Even the Bills fans old enough to still sing shoulda coulda wouldas about those four Super Bowls set the glory years aside once the current season starts. Deadspin’s Why Your Team Sucks football previews listed Chicago’s sports loyalties a few years ago and placed the 1985 Bears over the current Bears. It was accurate.

Summer is the Real Bad Season
To paraphrase Douglas Adams, Chicagoans honk on mightily about the pleasures of summer, but if Chicagoans knew the first thing about summer, they would also be able to think of at least 3268 places to spend it, and that’s just on the same latitude. The thing about living in Buffalo is that we have the lake effect. Lake Erie might bury us on a regular basis, but come the summer, it becomes an air conditioner which prevents the heat and humidity from becoming unbearable and keeping the city relatively dry, but giving us enough rain for all kinds of gardens to sprout. The summer temperature average in Buffalo is in the low 80’s, and we get an average of three days a year where the temperature hits 90. The city just broke a streak of below-90 days in the last month which was two years long. Buffalo has never had a 100 degree day. Although Chicagoans love to play up their city’s winter weather reputation, that won’t intimidate anyone who spent a long time living in another cold weather area. The summers, though, are like saunas. If they didn’t hit the high 90’s often, it certainly felt like they did, and the humidity frequently got so high that the fish in Lake Michigan didn’t have any trouble making breaks from the lake into cleaner waters. A school of fish taking a pleasant Sunday swim along Lake Shore Drive is capable of holding up traffic and endangering bicyclists. Motorists probably don’t want to get the guts of a splattered Great Lakes trout splattered on their windshields, just because fish guts don’t seem like the kind of thing that would come out very easily if you tried to wash them out with windshield wiper fluid.

Chicago’s Toughness is a Charade
If you move from a smaller city to a major 21st-Century megalopolis like Chicago, it’s only natural to feel a little overwhelmed at first, especially if the megalopolis in question has a reputation for drawing and quartering people. After awhile, though, it will become clear that the only reason Chicago has such a hard reputation is because the local media and frat megadouchebros running around on the Near North Side of the city are the ones who are saying it. You know those guys: Every Dylan and Chad in Lincoln Park or Wrigleyville who was raised in Evanston or North Barrington and is working corporate for six figures because of Daddy’s marketing connections believing they’re suddenly hard because they’re loud, keep getting way too drunk at Cubs games, and bought every worthless piece of junk with Al Capone’s face on it.

I had lived in Chicago around a month when I figured out the city had nothing to show me on the toughness front, but one incident that happened after a few years sticks out to me: Combos – yes, the snack – had released a list of the 50 manliest cities in America, and Chicago was number 48. The only reason I know this is because the local media raised an uproar about it. Naturally, it was mentioned every other page in the following day’s Redeye, and I seem to recall something from the Sun-Times as well. I’m not sure which is worse here: The fact that Chicagoans took an innocuous list written as a promotion by a snack food corporation seriously, or that they were actually offended by it. I could only imagine the reaction if someone brought it up in Buffalo: “Hey, did you hear Buffalo was (some number) on the Combos list of manliest cities?” “The Combos what list now?”

As a close cousin, Chicago is also too under-equipped and prissy to pass itself off as a true winter city as well. It’s a city which has, more than once, run out of its snow removal budget. If there’s heavy snowfall, anyone who can’t dig themselves out will starve to death because their neighbors aren’t going to sweep in and take up the duty themselves. The highest snowfall I experienced during my residency in Chicago was around 15 inches, and it was enough to keep people off the streets for days. People barely went outside, and it was incredible to walk around days later and see how many people didn’t even shovel their front stairs.

That Infuriating Inferiority Complex with New York City
If your sole reason for moving to Chicago from anywhere in upstate New York is to escape New York City’s shadow, don’t. Every now and then there’s lip service to Chicago being the better city – which it is, except the people there don’t seem to believe that themselves. Tell a Chicago native you’re from New York City and watch them light up like they’ve noticed you’re Batman. Seeing a city which holds New York City up to the light – especially one like Chicago – is a slap in the face to someone who came from a place which was very clear about an ethos and attitude toward NYC which said “you want to live in NYC so bad, go fucking live there. Or shut the fuck up about it before we run your ass out of town on a rail.” What the inferiority complex tells everyone is that New York City – with its impossible price ranges for everything, its legions of unaccomplished intellectual nitwits who believe they’re entitled to respect only by virtue of living there, and its upper class which takes every opportunity to flaunt its wealth to the lower classes – is something to be aspired to. I have some mixed feelings about my hometown, but I do still have enough pride in it to say: Chicago, you want to live in NYC so bad, go fucking live there.

You’re not a Real Buffalonian Until…

You’re not a Real Buffalonian Until…

1 – You’ve discovered how much more you like the wing joint on your corner than Anchor Bar.

2 – You’ve mispronounced the names of every suburb.

3 – You’ve vowed to never visit a Taco Bell again.

4 – You’ve closed a bar on Chippewa and gotten stuck there because the city’s 4 AM closing time just doesn’t jibe well with the NFTA shutting down at midnight.

5 – You’ve tried beef on weck with the horseradish fixin only to realize you hate horseradish.

6 – You’ve blown up your TV while trying to sit through one of Billy Fuccillo’s ads.

7 – On that note, you’ve learned to sing the entire “we buy silver, we buy gold” ditty but can’t remember what they’re advertising for.

8 – You’ve forgotten one of the Seven Wonders of the World is 45 minutes down the street.

9 – You’ve found yourself dug out of a snow drift, but you don’t know who did it because you were too busy digging someone else out.

10 – You’ve tried taking the Scajaquada to Delaware Park but ran the length of it because you couldn’t decide where to get off.

11 – You’ve thought about moving to North Carolina.

12 – You’ve had a drive to McKinley Mall backed up because there was a Bills game that day.

13 – You complain about the snow but are repulsed by the very thought of a snow-less Christmas or the pond hockey tournament being held indoors.

14 – You regularly shop and take day trips to Toronto but claim to hate it there.

15 – You’ve learned the hard way that TITS doesn’t mean what you think it means.

16 – You’ve been suckered in by Main Place Mall advertising itself as one of the area’s premier shopping destinations.

17 – You’ve become suspicious of anyone who says they’re from New York City.

18 – Someone from South Buffalo has tried to identify you by your parish.

19 – You have trouble remembering all the country’s national anthems but know the entire playlist on 97 Rock by heart.

20 – You tell someone where you went to high school only for them to ask you when it closed.

21 – You’ve received sponge candy as a wedding favor and given out beer instead of wine as a gift.

22 – Speaking of wine, you’ve discovered an appreciation of boxed wine.

23 – You’re open about a preference for Labatt Blue or Molson over Budweiser and Miller even though they’re pretty much the same things.

24 – You forgo the common driveway basketball hoop in favor of a driveway hockey net.

Patrick Kane and Rape Culture in Buffalo

Patrick Kane and Rape Culture in Buffalo

Everyone knows that as a sports fan, I leave my heart to two teams in hockey, the sport of the gods: The Buffalo Sabres and the Chicago Blackhawks. I love them both to death equally, but they both have their strengths and weaknesses: The Blackhawks have been infinitely better as of late, winning the Stanley Cup three times in the last six years. Although the Sabres have been watchable only through sheer, morbid curiosity lately, and have finished last the last two years, they’ve been able to one-up the Blackhawks lately in one very important department: The lack of accused rapists on their roster.

Those who read my regular rantings know I’m very honest about the fact that I usually don’t care about how my favorite professional athletes conduct themselves off the field. It’s ridiculous to expect them to expect them to conduct themselves as the cool, wonderful life of the party all the damn time, slaughtering everyone during the game but reverting back to form as an aw-shucks milk-drinker once the game is over. It’s head-in-sand bullshit from the 50’s, when everyone was expected to have one color and one religion as well. Okay, if you were open-minded, you were able to accepts athletes if they were Jewish too, but the “Buddhist” thingie was WAY too out there! Anyway, I’m honest enough to admit I’ve come to terms with the fact that a lot of my favorite athletes are stupid idiots on the outside. I can also admit my line for behavior I’m willing to endure from athletes isn’t set in stone and tends to move regularly, but a few things about it are very consistent. One of them is that rape is located in the deep end of the wrong side of it.

No, Patrick Kane hasn’t been charged with the crime just yet. But frankly, I’m mortified that there is an accusation of it which is being taken seriously. That doesn’t bode well for Kane or for the Blackhawks, and let’s not even start with the poor victim. Yeah, Kane has the right to be presumed innocent until someone proves he’s guilty, but there’s also the corollary: The victim has the right to be considered honest until someone proves she made it up. And Kane isn’t going to look good in this situation no matter what because he’s a transcendent superstar whose personal history is known to everyone: Indicted for assaulting a taxi driver; photographed partying in Madison, where there’s a strong rumor that he choked a woman; dressing up in blackface at a Halloween party; constant drinking. Since Kane has constantly shown in the past that he has the behavioral capacity to do things like this, his behavior doesn’t warrant the benefit of the doubt. His accuser is reported as being a straightforward and honest person.

Yeah, as a Buffalo native and Blackhawks fan, I hope this is a moribund misunderstanding, and that Kane didn’t do anything wrong. But is anyone here thinking of the person who is accusing him of rape? As a regular, ordinary person who experienced something with Patrick Kane that was traumatizing and that she obviously thinks is important, I mean? Oh, people are certainly thinking of her, alright – they’re busy jumping on her to slut-shame her and call her a gold-digger. That’s the local rape culture kicking in. A radio station jumped onto the case, accusing the victim of just about everything except drugging the poor, innocent, privileged, rich star hockey player. The Buffalo News found a more implicit way of getting into the act as well – they had Skybar owner Mark Croce talk about what he saw at his bar, where the whole incident began. Croce famously said he was only reporting what he personally saw and that he had nothing at stake, and anyone smarter than a box of rocks knows he’s lying his ass off. Kane’s day with the Stanley Cup was to involve a big party at Skybar which, by the way, is a favorite haunt of Kane’s. Also, according to New York state law, if anything unseemly did happen between Kane and the victim, Croce stands to be sued through a civil liability law. Therefore, Croce did everything he could to portray the victim as a drunk hanger-on who was pestering Kane – whom Croce said was a sober, responsible, and chivalrous man bathed in holy light through it all – and even followed him out the door.

Soon after Croce’s uninformed yapping, another little detail emerged which threw a kink into Croce’s “viewpoint:” The victim was actually accompanying her friend to Kane’s house in Hamburg. So here’s what it comes down to so far: We have a professional athlete who is a three-time champion, a face of his league, and a transcendent superstar in his sport that even casual fans know of who’s from the Buffalo area and proud of it. There are presumably hundreds of women who would line up in order to have sex with him, and here he may have forced himself onto one of the women who managed to resist his charms.

Have we noticed a running theme so far? A lot of people – including major public sources in Buffalo – are doing everything in their power to either defend Kane at all costs or write it off and hope it blows over. Mark Croce, with his very limited knowledge of everything that happened, is walking the road that passes all the blame off onto her. The Buffalo News hasn’t gotten much information from firsthand sources from its reporters. Its sportswriters have all been silent as the grave, except for the token “we don’t know” piece from Bucky Gleason. Maybe you’re willing to count Tim Graham’s Twitter account as well, but I don’t. Somehow, Jerry Sullivan hasn’t said anything about Kane or begged the NHL to discipline him, and he’s a twit who threw a printed hissy fit about Marshawn Lynch’s behavior toward the press and suggested the NFL suspend him no matter what. Chicago is the other major city affected by this fiasco, and the reporters and columnists there have taken the opposite approach; they haven’t been able to shut up about it. Rick Telander and Rick Morrissey have both written about it for the Sun-Times; Telander, in fact, wrote about it twice. On the Trib’s end, two columns from David Haugh; one from Steve Rosenbloom. EA Sports took him off the cover of their upcoming NHL game.

I shouldn’t need to go into any detail about rape culture here, but in case you don’t know, here’s the quick summary: It’s a setting in which rape is turned into a normal thing. And we live in a society in which rape has become more normal than the people who get raped, apparently. The numbers are staggering: Some 90 percent of rapists never get caught. Some 20 percent of women get raped once in their lives. In rape cases that get reported, the investigation is invasive and the victim is shamed and told she shouldn’t have been drunk; or worn the miniskirt; or she should have just cut her assailant’s balls off. We’re about two steps up from either stoning the victims, forcing them to marry their rapists, or making rape a punishment for a crime. People don’t seem to understand what a rape really is: If the victim says no, it’s a rape. If the victim is forced into a position where they’re not able to say no, it’s a rape. If the victim is coerced into saying yes through certain forms of deception, that’s a rape too. Society turned into Cersei from Game of Thrones oh-so-casually telling Sansa that they could expect a little rape if Stannis Baratheon successfully invaded the city.

Rape culture, though, isn’t the entire problem when it comes to Buffalo’s reaction to Patrick Kane. Another significant portion of the problem is the city’s provincial culture. Everyone loves to play up the way people in Buffalo know their neighbors; one of our nicknames is The City of Good Neighbors! While it’s nice to have a neighbor dig you out for no reason when there’s two feet of snow on the ground, the good neighborliness in Buffalo also means being protective of our own to a fault. Patrick Kane is one of our own. The victim is more than likely also one of our own, but it’s Kane who turned into a national symbol of Buffalo athletic prowess. If you’re good at sports – especially football or hockey – you’re a god in Buffalo. Anything you do that’s bad is going to be glossed over and excused, no matter how flimsy the excuse pretext. The problem is that we think we know Kane because he was raised here. We’re desperate to superimpose our own values onto him and make him our brah, or our dawg, or whatever the current word for Big 10 frat megadouchebro is. Hell, we’re treating the area’s other athletic superstar – Rob Gronkowski of the NFL’s New England Patriots – much the same way we’re treating Kane. Like Kane, Gronkowski has been acting the part of a drunken, grade-A asshole since becoming one of his league’s transcendents. His behavior is not only glossed over, but actually celebrated. The big difference between Gronkowski and Kane is that so far, Gronkowski hasn’t gone out and hurt anyone other than himself. Hopefully he’ll mature before he ends up adopting Kane’s behavior.

That’s what this is all about: Hero worship gone too far. No, Kane hasn’t been charged with anything yet, but a scene like this is about as big a surprise as a two-foot winter storm given his past. He can’t be defended anymore. The Blackhawks have to take action even if he’s innocent, just to see the message gets drilled in. And if Patrick Kane is guilty, he deserves to rot properly in a jail cell and not play another game in the NHL.

How to Tell Buffalo Transplants from Buffalo Natives

How to Tell Buffalo Transplants from Buffalo Natives

Transplant: Tries the wings at Anchor Bar and thinks they’re the best ever.
Native: Acknowledges that the Anchor Bar definitely invented wings, but has a personal favorite wing spot they’re ready to go to war for.

Transplant: Is interested in seeing what kinds of cultural events happen at Niagara Falls and when.
Native: Takes out-of-town relatives to Niagara Falls State Park, but otherwise avoids the city like the plague out of a perfectly justifiable fear of being stabbed.

Transplant: Remembers the Goo Goo Dolls were that one band in the 90’s that had those three or four hits and sang that weepy song from that Nicolas Cage movie no one remembers.
Native: Has drank a beer with Robby Takac and/or George Tutuska somewhere on Chippewa.

Transplant: Nietzsche was a philosopher who ruminated on the death of God.
Native: Nietzsche’s is one of the most highly-regarded bars in the city, which hosts live music and comedy.

Transplant: Respects Ani DiFranco.
Native: Believes Ani DiFranco sold out when she moved to New Orleans.

Transplant: Can barely decipher the Indian names of the suburbs.
Native: Can tell the difference between Tonawanda and North Tonawanda easily.

Transplant: Is nominally aware of a sport called hockey; it’s basically ice boxing. Its greatest fighter is some guy called Getzky… Gits… Grits… Something with Grits…
Native: Frets over games even when the Buffalo Sabres aren’t involved.

Transplant: Gets a little freaked out upon waking up and seeing a foot of snow on the ground.
Native: Is only a little pissy about having to leave the house ten minutes early to brush the car off.

Transplant: Tries to become a savvy downtown navigator, but can’t make heads or tails of Main Place Mall or the Convention Center.
Native: Gave up that ridiculous idea years ago, and now just finds a place to park and hoofs it everywhere.

Transplant: Wonders if all the Dunkin’ Donuts went into hiding or just turned into Tim Horton’s.
Native: Timmy’s is fine, but the best donuts come from Paula’s.

Transplant: Buys a snowsuit.
Native: Snowsuits are just added bulk.

Transplant: Thinks the local college football stadium is a pain in the ass to reach.
Native: Struggles to remember there’s a Division I college football team in the area.

Transplant: Thinks it’s a good sign they shot part of the upcoming Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie here.
Native: Has encyclopedic knowledge of all the movies shot in Buffalo, and seethes over the one thing almost all of them have in common: They rarely take place in Buffalo.

Transplant: Thinks New York City should be held up as a model city.
Native: Will kill anyone who thinks that and be commended for performing a public service.

Transplant: Sees beef on weck as a rip-off of beef sandwiches from Arby’s.
Native: Will kill people for thinking that too, and make it exponentially more painful.

Transplant: Visit’s Wegman’s for the first time and is impressed.
Native: Goes out of state and never finds a decent place to buy food.

Transplant: Thinks sponge candy is something you wash with in the shower.
Native: Knows an Easter or Halloween going by without sponge candy is a ruthless abomination of everything right and just in the world.

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart: The Most Important Television Show… Ever

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart: The Most Important Television Show… Ever

It’s hard to describe my relationship with The Daily Show. This isn’t something that should have attracted me the way it did – its been a very long time since I was able to call myself a straight liberal, and let’s face it: Jon Stewart is basically a liberal pundit. He attacks his ideological enemies, preaching mainly to the people who are already converted, and I wonder if I could qualify as a person who’s already converted. I used to be converted, but I turned my back on liberalism out of pure frustration: On social issues, I find the left is adept at either burning straw men or not going nearly as far as it needs to. On fiscal issues, I find liberalism lets itself get burned too often when giving the government more money just results in either more of it going the wrong way or the creation of a bigger vacuum for the money to get sucked into. Anyone who follows me on Facebook knows that I rail against government spending on sports stadiums quite a bit; that’s because they’re case point A for everything wrong about letting the government use our money.

Still though, Jon Stewart seemed to be in touch with everything about the larger world that pissed me off. Although he was fully aware of what he was, he still made use of a finely-honed bullshit detector. It’s true the left had its pundits before Stewart took over The Daily Show from the insufferable Craig Kilborn in 1999, but all the big ones suffered major problems of their own: Alan Colmes was nothing but a piece of token resistance to a dumbass political sparring partner; Keith Olbermann is basically the left’s version of Bill O’Reilly, a raging lunatic who frequently ranted more than he spoke to his audience and used personal attacks; and Michael Moore, who liked to resort to the same kinds of fact rearrangement and omission that plagues right wing propaganda. With the exception of Rachel Maddow, the left’s pundits all have the combined charisma of an eel. Although they tried to fight the righty fire with flame attacks of their own, their volleys and streams always carried with them a sense of smugness that asked everyone “why the hell should I have to take the time to fucking explain this to the likes of you fucking morons?” This is a part of the reason why so many of them have been blanked from relevance, and why the images of the limousine liberal and the rich Ivy League know-it-all have such a firm grip on the conservative imagination.

Jon Stewart came off as a lot more affable than any of them. Although that was a part of his charm, he caught on because he was the true attack dog liberals were lacking. Instead of trying to shout sound bites at the top of his lungs in attempts to get attention, though, Stewart used his sense of humor to disarm and mock his ideological opponents. And it worked – although Fox News and its proponents would probably deny it, Stewart scared them shitless. Fox News began periodic campaigns of attacking Stewart for his “war on conservatives,” and they never seemed to be taken seriously. Even Stewart himself seemed more amused than anything by their attacks and accusations. He directly responded to them on more than one occasion, mocking them out of it with the same tenacity he used on politicians and media. The irony here is that Fox News helped draw attention to The Daily Show by trying to discredit it; they could have written it off pretty easily as the nebbishy ranting of a misguided comedian and attacked more irrelevant liberal pundits every night. By picking a fight with The Daily Show, Fox News announced to the world that Jon Stewart was a political force to be reckoned with.

It’s probably through attacks by conservative pundits and politicians that The Daily Show was able to morph from a side footnote on a somewhat obscure basic cable network into the mini-hydra. A lot of talent streamed off The Daily Show, but the the three most notable gifts it left to people fed up with the state of American politics are Larry Wilmore of The Nightly Show, John Oliver of Last Week Tonight, and until recently, the brilliant Stephen Colbert, who invoked the ghost of Andy Kaufman but with a political slant. Colbert spent nine years headlining The Colbert Report, a show which arguably bested The Daily Show as a political commentary, or at least as a spoof of punditry.

Even more telling than the ire of Faux News was the numerous awards The Daily Show took back to Comedy Central. The show’s Emmy line alone is pretty damned impressive – it won eight Emmys for Outstanding Writing for a Variety, Music, or Comedy Program and from 2003 to 2012, it took home the Emmy for Outstanding Variety, Music, or Comedy Program every year – but it also won the Orwell Award in 2005, which is given out to writers who have made the biggest contributions to “critical analysis of public discourse.” Even more impressive is the fact that The Daily Show managed to win two Peabody Awards for its coverage of the 2000 and 2004 Presidential elections. The Peabody’s are the highest awards journalists can win, and the fact that The Daily Show won them twice for election coverage probably says a lot about both The Daily Show itself and the sorry state of political coverage in actual media.

Jon Stewart’s replacement, Trevor Noah, has a hell of a job in front of him. I’m looking forward to seeing where he takes the most sane half-hour on TV, but don’t make any mistakes here: A long era of critical commentary and bullshit detection is in the rearview. I hope Noah can succeed in presenting his nightly commentary as Trevor Noah, because that alone will be his success. Trying to act as Jon Stewart’s better or his outright replacement isn’t going to end well for him if not.

Bad Movies: Pixels

Bad Movies: Pixels

Daenerys Targaryen: “I’m not going to kill you.”

Tyrion Lannister: “No? Banish me?”

Daenerys Targaryen: “No.”

Tyrion Lannister: “So if I’m not going to be murdered and I’m not going to be banished…”

Daenerys Targaryen: “You’re going to play a supporting role in an Adam Sandler movie.”

Movies based on and around video games have existed in Hollywood now for over 20 years, and so far, popular consensus has judged only one of them to be worthy of true greatness. That movie was Wreck-it Ralph, which came out just a few years ago and was well-received by just about everyone, tipped a top hat and winked to those who love video games. Although Wreck-it Ralph featured popular characters from the video game universe, it did so clearly as reference points to watching gamers and spoke to us rather than blatantly pry our wallets open. It understood the appeal of gaming. If I was going to try to deduce a second-place winner, it would be Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, but that’s only arguably a video game movie. Maybe Mortal Kombat if you’re in that school of thought, but Mortal Kombat sucked, and in any case this is only a very distant second anyway.

Even though gaming jumped into a mainstream hobby and art form in the last couple of console generations, gamers still have to contend with the old juvenile delinquent stereotypes that resulted in atomic wedgies and wet willies back in the day. Whenever we think we’re making progress in the anti-stereotype march, though, something like Gamergate walks in and decides to reinforce all the anti-social, woman-hating bullshit we still have to contend with whenever we tell people our hobbies include playing video games. The latest offender is Adam Sandler’s latest movie, Pixels, and gamers aren’t the only ones who are going to be dragged down with it. Dan Aykroyd makes a short feed-me cameo. Martha Stewart and Serena Williams are in here too. Toru Iwatani – the creator of Pac-Man – has both a cameo and an actor who plays a fictionalized version of him. Hall and Oates, Dan Patrick, Robert Smigel, and Steve Koren all cameo while Billy West has a short voice role. Jane Krakowski, Sean Bean, and Brian Cox all play small supporting roles while Michelle Monaghan and Peter Dinklage are both in large, important roles. That’s a hell of an impressive talent heist, and you have to wonder who lost what bets to end up appearing in a Happy Madison movie.

While you could make the argument that Pixels could potentially damage the whole Gamergate thing by virtue of portraying the avatars of what most of its followers probably are, that damage is easily nullified by the movie’s attitude toward women: There are three characters without a Y, excluding the cameos, and all of them are basically used as prizes for the men. Yes, even Monaghan, who plays a military Colonel that loves to create and toy around with weird weapons. It’s so bad that one of the characters – a hopeless, socially stunted dweeb named Ludlow – has a shrine built to Lady Lisa, a warrior woman from a fictional game. When Lady Lisa pops out as one of the pixelated bad guys, Ludlow is able to make a grandiose speech to her which results in her immediately switching sides.

Adam Sandler hates his audiences. That much has been clear for some time. Maybe the Sandler who broke through in the mid-90’s could have made Pixels into something worthwhile, but current Sandler is badly out of touch with everyone old enough to remember when he was making good movies. Sandler used to play to the better parts of humanity, but lately he’s begun to morph into an odd comedy version of Robert Altman. If you’re anything close to the film aficionado that I am, that might seem like a bit of a distance, but hear me out: Altman is the patriarch godfather of the mosaic drama movie, but that’s about the only split between him and Sandler. Other than that, both Altman and Sandler’s movies are driven by stereotypes highlighting all the worst aspects of their characters. Plot takes a backseat in both their movies – both of them basically wrote out their plots on their coffee break napkins because they wanted characters to drive the movies. Then they went about creating their characters by writing out the worst archtypes they could think of and drawing them out of a hat. Both catered movies about low-class people at their worst. Ask some pretentious film asshole about Altman, though, and you’re likely to hear farfetched explanations about the great web of humanity, or looks at the worst of… And I always block them out right there because these people are dicks who are lying to everyone, including themselves, and sometimes well enough to even believe their lies. No. Anyone who likes Robert Altman – or at least thinks of him as a great filmmaker – simply hates poor people and is looking for justification to avoid them.

Fortunately, Sandler hasn’t been allowed to get away with this. This is perhaps because Sandler is more straightforward and honest about his hatred. It took all of five minutes for him to establish his character, Sam Brenner, as an antisocial slob who couldn’t get a handle on his life because he lost a video game competition as a teenager. If you make it through the first five minutes of adult Sam’s introduction without feeling a gut urge to punch him, check your pulse. He is working as an installer for a team like the Geek Squad. Sam’s buddy Ludlow is a different kind of antisocial, with his basement shrine to a video game character and his conspiracy theories. Eddie Plant, a gaming champion who gave himself the nickname “Fire Blaster,” the appropriate soul brother of real-world gaming champion Billy Mitchell here. Only Will Cooper managed to detach himself from the contest that ruined everyone’s lives, but Will is played by Kevin James, and Will is also the President of the United States. Most critics have been complaining that James isn’t believable as the Prez, but I don’t think of it as playing the Prez. I think of it as James playing his usual role as an incompetent boob, which he does as well here as anywhere.

During the big 1982 competition that brought these four together for the first time, the government took footage of the games and sent it out to some random grouping of stars in space, hoping to make contact with an alien race. It worked a little too well. See, the aliens did stumble into the footage, and they sort of took it the wrong way. Instead of “let’s be friends,” the message the aliens took from the probe was interpreted as “let’s have a pissing contest for keepsies.” So they found their way to Earth, in the form of late-’70’s and early-’80’s-era video game characters, rudely issued their challenge, and started knocking down everything in sight. The Army has been preparing odd weapons which could be used to ward off such an invasion, of course, and what those weapons were originally going to be used for is never explained.

Explanations are perhaps not the point, though. Maybe I’m just thinking too hard about Pixels. But I did find the inconsistency of the video game scenes a little odd. During one attack, the aliens are attacking in the form of the bad guys from Centipede while the good guys stand on the ground, firing away. The next attack revolves around Pac-Man, and Pac-Man is the bad guy. The good guys drive cars based off the four ghosts that chase Pac-Man through the maze. The final act is a splurge of references that director Chris Columbus places onscreen but can’t seem to quite be able to field marshall.

That brings me to one of the major problems: The video game references are nothing but references. This is Sandler directly lifting pages right out of The Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer Book of Filmmaking: References don’t have to be anything but references! All they have to do is get the audience to say “hey, look what it is!” The game references don’t do much that’s creative or original with the material. To reference my favorite video game movie again, look at Wreck-It Ralph. It turned the classic video game Root Beer Tapper into a bar where video game characters met and chatted after hours. Tapper’s bar came complete with a lost and found which contained a mushroom from the Mario series, a warning exclamation point from the Metal Gear Solid games, and a pair of Zangief’s briefs. Ralph met up with a group of popular video game villains who were having trouble dealing with being the fall guy all the damn time. The contrast is used perfectly with Q*Bert: In Wreck-It Ralph, Q*Bert was a sympathetic character whose game got taken away from the arcade. We felt for him because he got placed into a bad situation, but later he was the one who clued Felix in to what Ralph was up to. In Pixels, Q*Bert is given away by the aliens as a prize. He’s more or less a MacGuffin, and Pixels movie laws can’t figure out what to do with him. He gives the good guys some useful information after the bad guys give him away, only for the bad guys to refer to him as a traitor after he does so. Um, hey aliens, you do realize Q*Bert was simply playing by your own rules, right? Then he turns into a permanent version of Lady Lisa for Ludlow at the end, a creepy turn of events which even the movie calls itself out for!

This isn’t to denounce Pixels completely. By any measure, the special effects are some of the best I’ve ever seen. They rank right up there with Tron Legacy, Transformers, and those all-time barometers of movie special effects, 2001: A Space Odyssey and the original Star Wars trilogy. They become the star in the final leg of the movie, and for a few brief shining moments, Pixels becomes tolerable. And despite my opening mocking Peter Dinklage’s casting, Dinklage is one of the few actors in Pixels who really throws himself into his part as Eddie Plant. Dinklage is delightfully over the top, and his performance – which channels the charismatic egomaniacism of the real Billy Mitchell – is such a joy to watch that it’s almost enough to rescue Pixels from being unwatchable. More moments with him and Pixels could have been elevated from bad bad into fun bad. Also, Sandler’s buddy, the insufferable Nick Swardson, isn’t in here to obliterate it. Unfortunately, it’s too little, and you’ll get more out of the two-minute short from Patrick Jean.

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