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The offbeat side of the news

Parallel anxieties

Of all the snow storm-related items to pass through our desk this week, we were particularly perplexed by a news release from the University at Buffalo, in which an English professor theorized a kinship between the “Snowvember” storm and the Charles Dickens novel “A Tale of Two Cities.”

Undoubtedly, the temporary havoc wreaked upon several communities due east and south of Buffalo was horrific. But, Dickensian?

David Schmid, a Ph.D. who also specializes in cultural studies at UB, says it’s not a far-fetched analogy.

In late-18th century London and Paris, the settings for Dickens’ epic tale, the political environments were far apart, despite their relative proximity. As a result, a great hew and cry ensued in London over the reign of terror in Paris affecting many expat Londoners. This caused parallel anxieties in both cities, which Dickens explored.

Similarly, this week, the climatic atmospheres in the snow-plagued regions of South Buffalo and the Southtowns and contrasted with their neighbors to the north. It was like night and day – or sometimes, blue sky and dark storm clouds. However, anxiety took up space in both, Schmid said.

The “Southtowns’ and South Buffalo’s wall of snow demonstrates how microclimate can differ dramatically within a relatively small geographic area, just as the political and social microclimates in London and Paris in the 1790s differed dramatically,” Schmid said.

“Both situations demonstrate that, while actual and political weather can vary wildly within a shared geographical space, what happens in one area has a demonstrable and even dramatic effect on the other,” he added.

In other words, there is no escaping feelings anxiety for relatives, friends and co-workers in distress when they’re just a few miles down Route 5 or the Thruway from your own physical comfort.

A chilling tail

University professors are not the only ones pursuing the improbable links between their own vaunted work and the weather.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals – the PETA folks – seek to raise the consciousness of local dog owners who thoughtlessly leave their chained pooches outside in the frozen snow. Their novel way of getting their message across was to send a letter to Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown, making him an offer that they hope he won’t refuse. The group has promised to clear snow from the sidewalks around City Hall if the mayor grants PETA permission to stencil its anti-chaining ad on the sidewalk. The ad in question features a chained dog and a tagline that reads: “Chained Dog? A Chilling Tail.”

No response from hizzoner yet, but PETA’s dogged pursuit of prime public ad space may have to wait until the next storm, since whatever snow exists around Buffalo City Hall is sure to have melted over the weekend.

Dubious diet advice

WNY Refresh aims to give practical health, fitness, nutritional and parenting advice that its readers are likely to consider – and at least try to follow – but some tips suggested for the section clearly are off the mark.

Here are three from the WGRZ-TV “Live it Fit Now” duo of Derek Alessi and Steven Binks that did not make the cut for the Refresh cover story on holiday eating in today’s Buffalo News:

1. “Whenever you go to a big event or a big meal, wear sweatpants. You won’t feel as fat,” suggested Alessi, a Clarence fitness center owner. “We recommend Zubaz brand,” said Binks, a veteran chef.

2. “For men, eat topless. If you eat without a shirt on, you will always make the right choice,” Alessi said. “Do it in front of a mirror,” Binks suggested, to which Alessi added, “No one’s ever had cake like that while their fat is hanging over their belt. No one.”

3. “I like to avoid the homemade moonshine,” Binks also confided. “That always ends so badly.”

Those who want to watch such banter can tune in to Channel 2 at 6 a.m. Saturdays, where the two also offer less embarrassing recommendations, as well as in today in Refresh

Off Main Street is written by Harold McNeil, with a contribution by Scott Scanlon. email: