The Olympics, The Mayor, School Choice And Boxing

So many topics, so little space. Today’s column also honors the request of readers (actually Bill Shorrock, a friend with negligible attention span) who prefer the short-topic format.

*The Athens Olympics is now underway. Nostalgia, anyone? Not too long ago, the definitive letters were USA and CCCP — now they’re BALCO and NATO.

Granted, the Games have rarely been pristine; otherwise, they would not have had to start all over again in 1896. And since then, the Games have hardly gone incident free, including the marathoner who was caught catching a cab in the St. Louis Games and the American medal winners who gave fisted black power salutes during the National Anthem in Mexico City. And recall the East German female swimmers who had to shave their mustaches before the Montreal Games and the Middle Eastern terrorists who put their inimitably murderous stamp on the Munich Games. And the American boycott of the Moscow Games and the Soviet counter boycott of the Los Angeles Games.

The Olympics survived it all.

But the threat of terrorism in these Games of the XXVIII Olympics has grown a hundred fold beyond the mere murders of Munich in 1972. Steroid testing is now an Olympic event; masking agents are worth a cache of medals. The quaint concept of a gender line has been institutionally blurred with the approved participation of transsexuals.

Anyone orchestrating their viewing habits to accommodate the debut of women’s wrestling? And how about all those events — such as baseball, basketball, soccer and tennis — that don’t even represent the pinnacle of their sports? Anyone going out of their way to watch the NBA’s tattooed third string? And don’t even think of baseball; the U.S. didn’t qualify. But Canada did.

When you come right down to it, the events that are above suspicion, reproach and questionable motivation are mostly the events that we don’t care about. Such as team handball or field hockey or pentathlon. Those are the athletes without agents and the wherewithal to cash in on Olympic exploits. Those are the athletes who hold down real jobs while finding a way to train. Those are the athletes who embody the real spirit of the Olympics. Those are the athletes you won’t see because those athletes play sports that are boring and unappealing to Americans. This one included.

*Minimum wage: Can’t your heart be in the right place and still acknowledge that it’s fundamental economic sense to let the marketplace determine the value of labor — not whether a given laborer can send his kids to college on $5 an hour?

*If there were no 22nd Amendment, what are the odds that John Kerry would be the Democratic nominee in 2004? What are the odds that Bill Clinton wouldn’t be the nominee?

*Another school year is off and stumbling. Most of the confusion is a predictable function of Hillsborough County’s new choice program. Schools scrambling to enroll students at the last minute are as expected as bus-stop screw-ups. But for all the variables, there is one immutable constant. You can send your kids across the street or across the county for school. What matters most is who is at home.

*On the one hand, you can understand any precaution taken with a high-profile event that is on al-Qaeda’s radar — such as the upcoming GOP convention in New York. But what’s with the secrecy surrounding Florida delegate names? According to party chairwoman Carole Jean Jordan, it’s more a matter of privacy than security. That sounds like protection against protestors — not terrorists.

Two points. Protestors come with the territory. And delegates, however invaluable as foot soldiers of a campaign, are otherwise not that, well, important.

*Say this for Mayor Pam Iorio. She is increasingly surrounded by her own people, and like any CEO, she wants them taken care of. In business, such care is in the form of marketplace salaries, perks, stock options and regular performance bonuses. In government, where salaries are slotted and not competitive with the private sector, the framework for bonuses is also limited. But as of this April, Iorio has seen to it that an incentive program for management-level employees was in place — via her executive order.

No one, of course, much cares until someone is actually awarded something. So cue the arched eyebrows on city council when Finance Director Bonnie Wise, who makes $133,000 a year, was awarded a one-time bonus of $6,131.

Sure, that $6,131 could have been spent on something else, as was noted by several council members. But that’s not the point. It’s about what a mayor — and Iorio isn’t the only one –does to attract good people. And then keep them. It should be noted that Wise took a pay cut to come to City Hall last year. It should also be noted that her job involves crafting City Hall’s budget and finding ways to cut city costs — presumably more than $6,131 worth.

**Recently ESPN commemorated its 25th anniversary. Part of the celebration was a weeklong, retro “old school” segment. The network brought back a number of former “SportsCenter” anchors. Many media types applauded even as they noted with disappointment that one of the more high-profile and witty former co-hosts, Keith Olbermann, wasn’t invited back. Too many burned bridges was the eminently credible reason.

Well, call me a dissenting media type. I don’t get the nostalgia — let alone cult status — of “SportsCenter,” whether it featured the acerbic Olbermann, the jive-talking Stuart Scott, the deadpanning Kenny Mayne or Chris (“Shelly”) Berman. If you want nostalgia, consider the BC (“Before Cosell”) era. That’s when the players and the games they played were “The Big Show” –not the non-playing yapsters who want co-billing with the players and plays they smugly comment on.

*Congratulations to Tampa-based Starfight Productions. Not only was its last card at the A La Carte Event Pavilion a sell-out, but the main event was televised nationally on ESPN 2’s “Tuesday Night Fights.” As it turned out, the July 27th card, which featured local lightweight contender Edner Cherry, became one of the toughest tickets around. So tough, in fact, that walk-up fans were turned away. So tough that among the disappointed — and chagrined — was local bon vivant, legendary fight fan and Bank of Tampa honcho Steve Helmstadter.

*It’s obviously wrong to pre-judge anyone’s behavior in the case of that teenaged boys’ soccer team that recently visited Amsterdam. But it’s not wrong to question the judgment of the adults in charge. Amsterdam?

*U.S. Rep. Katherine Harris is now a safe distance from Florida’s next attempt at a presidential election. What she is not, however, is far enough removed from national security rumor-mongering. But at least she regrets, she says, reporting that the U.S. had stopped a plot to blow up a power grid in Carmel, Ind. Among those not amused: the mayor of Carmel, who says it’s not true. What Harris obviously doesn’t regret, however, was plugging the Administration’s efforts on homeland security. You, otherwise, can’t prove a negative.

*Anyone notice how frequently the recently deceased singer Rick James has been referenced as “iconic?” That’s because without James there never would have been “Super Freak,” an ’80s R&B dance hit about a nymphomaniac backstage groupie. James later did hard time for abduction and assault. So much for standards. Call it a posthumous i-con job.

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