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Time 2 - Lucy 0

   I read The News today, oh boy.

   A 4.4 million-year-old fossil nicknamed Ardi has been proclaimed the earliest known ancestor of the human species. She displaces Lucy, a mere 3 million years old, as the furthest back we can get with remains that are recognizable as hominids in our line of evolution.
   Lucy, you may recall, was so named by her discoverers because of the song that had been blaring from their camp tape player, the Beatles' "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds."

   This about a week after we read that Lucy Vodden, childhood friend of Julian Lennon and inspiration for John Lennon's lyrics to "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," had died at age 46 after a long battle with lupus. The story that the song was really an anthem in praise of LSD won't die, supported partly by some things that fellow Beatle Paul McCartney has said. But John and Julian always stuck to their story.

   Of course, both versions could be true. Coincidences, after all, abound.

   If your name is Lucy, I'd be careful. These things tend to happen in threes.

-- George Pyle/The Buffalo News

Buffalo, you are not alone

Some news from elsewhere. And why it sounds familiar:

- Pavement to Parks Allison Arieff/The New York Times
   Last Friday, cities and towns throughout the world celebrated Park(ing) Day, an event created to bring awareness to the importance of using and enjoying public space.

- Why not turn vacant lots into gardens? Donn Esmonde/The Buffalo News
   Buffalo’s full-bore demolition policy has left in its wake thousands of vacant lots. Next to many of them are homeowners like [Roxanne] Chase, who would gladly turn an eyesore into a lawn for kids to play on or a garden to brighten the street.

- Jail conditions violate rights of prisoners, feds say Laura Maggi/The New Orleans Times-Picayune
   Conditions at the Orleans Parish jail "violate the constitutional rights of inmates," according to an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice released Tuesday that focused on inmate safety and mental health care....
   Sheriff Marlin Gusman, who runs the jail, lambasted the report, saying it doesn't reflect the current reality at the complex or take into account difficulties his agency has faced since Hurricane Katrina. "This report is a terribly dated, fundamentally flawed work done by people who obviously have little appreciation of the tasks facing a city in recovery from the greatest national disaster in this country's history," Gusman said in a statement.

- State sues county over jail conditions Matthew Spina/The Buffalo News
   The State Commission of Correction charged in a lawsuit Tuesday that the Erie County Holding Center consistently violates state standards and that jail managers have failed to correct the problems, despite their claims. ...
   "This lawsuit is a blatant political attack in an election year to cast negative aspersions on the good work done by the men and women of the Sheriff’s Office,” said [Sheriff Timothy] Howard, the Republican incumbent.

-- George Pyle/The Buffalo News 

Gaffney is last casualty of Studio Arena's collapse

   Studio Arena Theatre announced late Tuesday afternoon that Artistic Director Kathleen A. Gaffney has been terminated.

   The theater veteran and Niagara Falls native returned to Western New York in early 2006 with high hopes of reviving the regional playhouse. But she was undone after less than two full seasons by suffocating debt, which forced Studio to cancel the last two productions of the 2007-08 season and seek protection from creditors under the Bankruptcy Act.

   The organization will move forward as Studio Arena in name only, with Shea's Performing Arts Center expected to take over management of the Main Street stage.

   "Our primary mission is to preserve the building as a theater," said Daniel A. Dintino, Studio Arena board president.

   Gaffney and managing director Iain Campbell, who has accepted a theater position elsewhere  according to Dintino, were Studio's last two paid employees.

   Did Gaffney get a fair shake in her struggle to bring Studio Arena back? Let us  know what you think.

   --Tom Buckham

Arts tradeoff -- is it worthwhile?

     The Albright-Knox Art Gallery added a multi-hued feather to its cap Thursday with news of a
"partial gift" from Italian collector Count Giuseppe Panza di Biumo of 71 works recently featured in the "The Panza Collection: An Experience of Color and Light."

   The paintings, installations and sculptures were made over the last 40 years by 15 artists previously were under-represented or not included at all in the gallery's collection of modern abstract art, and thus meet an obvious need, said Director Louis Grachos.

   In return, the family received an undisclosed sum from the gallery's special endowment for acquisitions, which grew by more than $67 million through the controversial sale of 207 antiquities at Sotheby's in Manhattan.

    Being able to make this kind of deal was just what the Albright anticipated when it put those items on the auction block. Was the tradeoff worthwhile? Tell us what you think.

    --Tom Buckham
 

Miley Cyrus' troubling wardrobe problem

  A lot of parents who shelled out money for "Hannah Montana" movie tickets, concert tickets and official girls clothing  feel betrayed today.

   This follows the release of provocative photos of 15-year-old Miley Cyrus, the previously clean-cut superstar who plays the "Hannah Montana" role, published in the latest issue of Vanity Fair magazine.

   It's a blow to parents who held up Cyrus as the wholesome alternative to Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan and other troubled starlets.

   But it's only the latest case where parents have had to worry about the sexualized images that bubble out into the mass media landscape.

   The release of the Cyrus photos … coupled with the release last week of the latest version of the violent video game series "Grand Theft Auto" … has parents and experts talking about how best to protect children from violent and sexual content.

   Children and teens have access to a nearly limitless amount of entertainment, ranging across TV, movies, the Internet and video games.

   While some critics say government, broadcasters, game makers and retailers have a responsibility to do more, most say parents have to make the final stand.

   What do you think? How troubled were you by the Cyrus photos?

   How closely do you monitor what your children and teens watch on TV, on DVD or on the Web?

   And do you really believe that these images can have an effect on the attitudes or behavior of young people?

    -- Stephen Watson

Over-the-top language on family-time TV

  I do not watch that much network TV, which is why I was surprised this week to turn on a sitcom at 9 p.m. and hear a character repeat a slang term for testicles throughout the show.

Previous airings of "Two and a Half Men" included explicit jokes and use of a slang term for intercourse (not the "F' word). The FCC in recent years has cracked down somewhat on obscene language on the public airwaves earlier than 10 o'clock at night, when preteens are more likely to be watching. But there obviously are some large holes in the net.

   I understand that pretty much anything goes on cable TV. I expected tighter limits on network television (and radio) in the early evening. Am I being an overprotective parent, or do other people see the casual use of street slang during prime time as a problem?

   -- Donn Esmonde

The big finish?

   Studio Arena Theatre's descent into bankruptcy was no shock. Buffalo's theater community saw it coming a mile away.

   Handing Artistic Director Kathleen Gaffney the additional title of chief executive officer in early 2007, following the firing of Ken Neufeld, and the subsequent layoffs of 14 staff members, plainly indicated an organization in distress.

   Then came talk of a potential merger with Artpark or Shea's Performing Arts Center - sure signs that the Studio board was groping for a way out of the mess.

   Despite rampant rumors in recent weeks about the theater's likely demise, the board of directors remained silent up right to the end, apparently to protect the box office for "To Kill a Mockingbird." One employee said theater management "threatened us with immediate dismissal" if the new blackout was violated.

   Only Monday, the day after "Mockingbird" closed, did board President Daniel A. Dintino finally take the stage to explain just how deep a financial hole Studio Arena was in, that it planned a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing and that it hoped to reinvent itself with help from Shea's and Buff State.

   --- Tom Buckham

The Bratz doll controversy

I found Bratz dolls, and the issue of sexualized toys, to be a charged issue while working on today's front-page story. A number of parents and others that I interviewed were deeply disturbed at how Bratz were being marketed to adolescents and even toddlers.

They were also alarmed by the marketing of a stereotype they felt both objectifies girls and suggests they mostly care about boys, shopping and looks.

Other parents -- even some not thrilled by how risque the Bratz dolls look -- felt the dolls were not a big deal, and any negativity could be offset by good values instilled in the home.

How do you feel about Bratz dolls, and the overall issue of sexualized images being marketed to young girls?

Do you allow your daughters to play with Bratz dolls or are they banned from a place under your Christmas tree?

-- Mark Sommer

Hooked on the Web

     Millions of people spend hours at work and at home on the Web, with no ill effect. But thousands of people, perhaps many more, are sucked into the online world and find themselves unable to pull away.

   These heavy Internet users spend 10 hours or more playing online video games, viewing pornography, gambling, chatting with friends and strangers, or creating new virtual identities.

   Some say they feel addicted to the Internet, that it affects their jobs, their schoolwork and their relationships.

   Experts disagree over whether this is an addiction, an impulse-control disorder, or just a habit taken to an extreme. Read my story here.

   What do you think? Do you think this is a serious problem? Should more be done to keep people from engaging in unhealthy online behavior?

  -- Stephen T. Watson

Not so funny funnies

   Granted, sometimes you can go all through the comics and not one of them will make you laugh.

   But Wednesday's paper might have set some kind of record for comics trying to make you cry.

   Three strips - "Bliss," "For Better or For Worse" and "Funky Winkerbean" - featured the death, or apparent death of a character. The latter two appeared to be the end of the road for beloved characters whose health has been a subject for years.

   In "For Better or For Worse," Elly's father Jim had a stroke and has been recovering at home under the care of his second wife, Iris. In Wednesday's strip, Iris sees him staring out the window and tries to talk to him, before yelling "JIM!!!" in the final frame.

   UPDATE: Thursday's strip shows that Jim did not die, but had another stroke.

   Lisa in "Funky Winkerbean" is in hospice after battling breast cancer for years. In a scene that seems to suggest moving on, she is talking to her husband Les when a masked man in a tuxedo extends his hand for hers.

   And in "Bliss," the Grim Reaper escorts a man toward the horizon while the man says, "What took you so long?"

   If Marmaduke drops dead tomorrow, I'm going to be REALLY depressed.

--- Bruce Andriatch

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