STALAG 171

Recently the Buffalo News, local television stations and Buffalo School Superintendent James Williams have been working overtime creating hysteria about the trouble that bad kids are causing in Buffalo schools. When such hysteria reigns, we get suspicious.

All the media coverage has the same tone: There's an urgent, breathless concern for the children, teachers and parents, a sense of losing control, that something needs to be done before it's too late. Often lurking behind these sky-is-falling scenarios are preplanned remedies waiting to be sold to gullible taxpayers. Is that what's going on here? We're not sure.

The media coverage lacked context.  How does the perceived problem in Buffalo compare to the rest of the country, or for that matter to prior years in Buffalo? What have other cities done when faced with similar circumstances? What has worked and what hasn't? For once can we assess a problem, analyze various strategies and chart a reasonable course of action? Of course not. 

In predictably political overreaction, Assemblyman Sam Hoyt has called for metal detectors to be installed at school entrances and uniformed Buffalo Police to patrol the school hallways. This, thankfully, is not the tack being immediately taken.  Superintendent Williams has something else up his sleeve.  His ready plan is to turn School 171 on East Delavan into an “alternative school” and fill it with the district’s 500 (527 have already been identified) most unruly students.         

While this on the surface seems like it could be a practical solution, we smell a rat. One fact that has not been mentioned is that Williams did some work for a Tennessee company called Community Education Partners (CEP) before he came to Buffalo. CEP is a private company that runs alternative schools. The company has been criticized for doing little more than warehousing problem kids and eventually driving them out of the system. 

Williams claims the alternative school will not be a eliminating problem students from the school system, but rather bringing them back into the fold by offering them a full range of activities, everything from performing arts and fine arts to sports and computer stuff. The CEP website also boasts that they offer troubled kids a full range of services.

Williams’ alternative school is going to have 500 students.  CEP’s basic contract for a school system says that it will run an alternative school for 500 guaranteed students. Williams estimates that the alternative school he wants will cost $5 million. CEP says that it will charge about $10,000 per student.  Guess what? $10,000 per student times 500 students is $5 million. Coincidence? Maybe. Nobody involved with Buffalo schools that we talked to had heard of CEP.  Williams’ office didn't return our call.

We don't know what the alternative school destined to occupy School 171 is going to turn out to be.  If, however, Williams attempts to bring in a company like Community Education Partners, there needs to be a whole lot of scrutiny going on.  So keep your eyes and ears open and for now let's just call this story a little bit of preventative attention.


CBS cancels mid-season replacement show
Critic forced to write about real musicians

In a move that shocked Rochesterians numbering in the double digits, CBS television cancelled their mid-season replacement romantic drama “Love Monkey,” featuring comedic actors Tom Cavanagh (“Ed”), Jason Priestley (“Beverly Hills, 90210”) and a local precocious teenager who tried out for a role in VH-1’s “In Search Of The Partridge Family,” Teddy Geiger.

As of press time, CBS has not made any announcements regarding a rumored spin-off series about an aging music critic madly obsessed with a teenage musician.

Geiger’s family and Rochester Democrat and Chronicle music reviewer Jeff Spevak are among the only people in Rochester concerned by this turn of events. Some have even speculated that without locally manufactured corporate talent to write about, Spevak may have to turn his focus to area musicians who actually work day jobs and don’t have wealthy Pittsford homeowners for parents.

Attempting to retain his hipster cred, Spevak has frequently positively name-checked such critically “safe” acts as Wilco, Brian Wilson and various shitty alt.country acts, while drubbing the music your parents like. Readers had been worried recently, when so much of Spevak’s focus was on the teen idol, but not worried enough to contact local authorities.

Most local musicians have been completely apathetic about Spevak’s return to writing about music that might matter. As J. Foster of Rochester band XLTieRack says, “I’m a local musician and I don’t know Jeff Spevak… If he’s supposed to be covering local music, that should just about say it all.” In Spevak’s defense, he does dedicate about 6 paragraphs a week to local music, in the rarely read Weekend section of the Democrat and Chronicle.

Spevak has not officially announced his plans to deal with life after “Love Monkey,” but we assume he’ll be writing Teddy Geiger’s bio at imdb.com and Wikipedia.

Teddy Geiger, meanwhile has announced that he has passed five Regents exams and may have to get a GED, to which Foster responds, “passing five State Regents exams is like saying that he was able to successfully negotiate the use of the toilet on five separate occasions.” We wish Geiger luck on that, and have a perfectly good suggestion for what he can use the Weekend section for.


Metaphysical Graffiti

The Beast has a blog, buffalobeast.blogspot.com, and we post a few things on it now and then. A few of us have also been checking out other local blogs and posting a few comments here and there. Once in a while we have to bitch slap a sucker or two.

What's interesting about local blogs, however, is often not what any particular blogger posts but rather what posts receive any attention by engendering a significant number of comments in response. This really doesn't happen very often with local blogs. Most posts get only a couple of comments or none at all. It’s rare when you see a local post get up to twenty of so. So you can imagine what a surprise it is when a post gets over a hundred comments.

That happened recently when local housing advocate Harvey Garret (remember him, he was the guy that the Buffalo Housing Inspection Dept. picked on) had a long post on buffalorising.com basically condemning graffiti and those that perpetrate it.  At last count his post received 114 comments. The post wasn’t all that special.  It was a frustrated, schoolmarmish attack on those committing the crime. So what is it about graffiti that drew so many comments?

Buffalo Rising is a site that gets a decent amount of local traffic.  It's best described as a sort of junior chamber of commerce—but they support businesses of all sizes. A lot of posts implicitly demand allegiance to their perspective of unabashed, almost insanely optimistic Buffalo boosterism.

On one hand, Graffiti is an important topic to many in the revitalization camp who see themselves as crusaders for their good and just cause. They love to play the junior Gestapo when it comes to their property. Justin Azzarella, Executive Director of Forever Elmwood, not long ago announced a $1,000 reward for the heads of graffiti perpetrators.  So Garrett was kind of preaching to the converted. Garrett's contempt for graffiti artists is pretty well summed up in his words:

I'm happy to see Atak, Merk, Lyons, and Meth behind bars and being prosecuted to the extent of the law. But once you get to know the younger kids, you'd rather not see them arrested and spending time in jail along with some really bad characters. If that's what it takes to stop them from destroying our neighborhoods and terrorizing our elderly, then I'm ready to do whatever it takes.

If taking down a few youngsters is what it takes to contain this scourge then that is what has to be done. Unsurprisingly, the comments in support of Garrett's bold anti-graffiti stance, by our unscientific review, appeared to greatly outweigh those disagreeing with him. There were occasional attempts to appease the other side, but for the most part these were of the patronizing “when I was young and stupid” variety. Some quotes from the pro-Garrett comments follow:

It is sickening that we have to look at the mess that results from their 'game' and residents feel terrorized.

Can the owner of a building press charges for trespassing? Obviously the punk   was on the roof to tag this building. Hit them with as many hammers as you can!

A community award should be presented to the officers who captured these half wits.

The damage has become excesive, abnormal and pathological in it's destruction of others property in Buffalo.

There were a fair number of comments posted that were pro-graffiti/anti-garrett or at least attempted to understand it:

Call me some crazed urban pervert. But I like the graffiti. I especially like the huge ATAK tag on that building just north of the 198, right after the 190/198 connection near Tonawanda Street.

This is exemplary of the pro-graffiti comments—they like it or accept it but the reason is not very clear.

There were also a couple posts from people claiming to be graffiti artists.  Probably the most interesting was the comment from somebody claiming to be the graffiti artist known as ATAK. It was mentioned above and you've probably seen his name in huge letters on a building somewhere in the city.   A couple quotes from his long comment are as follows:

            I do not see graffiti as a game at all. To me, it is more like a second 9-5...but with better benefits.

            I hate the cliché response "maybe we should spray-paint their property and see how they like it". Very witty, but very...stupid. I'm not vandalizing your cars, or your houses...unless perhaps you own one of the many dilapidated buildings that I have painted on, in which case I owe you a personal apology. I would understand most of your hostility if I was painting your personal homes or your places of worship or something like that, but this is not the case. A majority of the work I do is on buildings that are either owned by the city, a business, or completely uninhabited. Nothing that I do is causing irreparable damage to the surface itself. These articles honestly are comparing paint to something like a grenade, making it seem like what I am doing is crippling the structure and wounding the onlookers. Complete fiction. Paint can be painted over.

Clearly this begs the question: are you going to pay for the paint, punk? But ATAK has a point: Derelict buildings cause graffiti, not the other way around. ATAK’s post was responded to by Garrett and there are another 23 comments attached to that.  Garrett’s response was basically, “I respect your passion but you’re wrong.” Then on another blog, BuffaloPundit posted his response to ATAK, wherein he went all Eric Cartman on him:

I’d like the opportunity to go to Atak’s house and shit all over it. I’d like the chance to shit on his rug, in his kitchen sink, I’d like to let one loose on his floor, on his dishes, and smear a good one on the windows and the tiles in the bathroom.  Because that’s art to me. I think about the placement of the shit and the way   in which the browner shit mixes with the greener shit. I’m really well-versed in the legalities of shit-placement and the fine history of, say, the German scheisse artists of the 30s. All of which means one thing. Atak isn’t an artist. He’s a self-important, bloviating jackass with a Sharpie.

Now that’s eloquent. Pretty brutal, but who are we to discourage that? 

So what is it about this post about graffiti that caused so much mostly venomous commenting? It took on a character of us versus them, good versus evil that so many despise when seen coming from George Bush and his criminal syndicate.  We have become a society of such very “pious” people that a petty crime against property that doesn't injure anyone physically moves people to frothing-at-the-mouth hatred.  This is not healthy. Many of us have to relearn what it is to understand that we don't know everything and freedom is about real things like war, peace, health, welfare, and happiness and not some paint on the side of a building.

Big, thriving cities have graffiti, too. We have to admit, it’s not as cool these days as the ornate, layered work of the ‘70s. Now it’s usually just a fucked up autograph. But crusades against graffiti aren’t about morals; they’re about financial self-interest. If you don’t want some kid bringing down your property values, that’s understandable. But don’t pretend you’re overthrowing apartheid, and don’t exaggerate Bart Simpson into Jeffrey Dahmer.

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