Drapes of Wrath, Name Droppings, Bead Needs

Drapes of Wrath: Attorney General John Ashcroft had had enough. No, not of backlash from his homeland security directives and opinions. But of the backdrop he frequently fronted in the Great Hall of the Department of Justice.

There was something incompatible and offensive, apparently, in Ashcroft keeping America abreast of terrorist threats and countermeasures in front of the female statue that represents the Spirit of Justice. Some, however, seemed to see Jugstice instead.

One large, actually voluptuous, breast is exposed — and often shared cropped photos with Ashcroft’s dour visage. The AG thought the jugstaposition inappropriate, but the photo-op venue too endowed with history to change. So the offending breast has been covered by some blue, $8,000 taxpayer drapes.

War or no war, isn’t it time for Ashcroft to lighten up? After all, Janet Reno had no problem with it.

Name Droppings: Let’s cut right to the chase on the issue of school names. Except for that special American pantheon of heroes and high achievers, we’re much better off going geographical. It avoids needless controversy and helps instill some sense of community in schools too often lacking in identity.

Unlike a rose, a school by any other name wouldn’t be the same. Marcus Garvey or Steve Garvey Jr. High? Harry or Truman Capote Middle School? Stonewall or Jackson Pollock High School? It’s like denying there’s no difference between MLK Boulevard and Buffalo Avenue.

In our heart of hearts we all know that it shouldn’t matter — but it does. We know how, well, shallow it sounds to traffick in names when we all know that what’s most important about schools are its teachers and the quality of instruction. Reality, however, dictates that image and connotation count, along with politics and even raw snob appeal. Would it matter if your diploma and resume read: “Sharpton,” “Schwarzkopf,” “Shabazz” or “Shakespeare” High School?

The fundamental problem is two fold when we name schools after people. For openers, we have many more schools than we have dead American icons. And the disparity only widens. No problem with the Washingtons, Jeffersons, Franklins, Lincolns, Edisons, Wilsons, Carvers and Roosevelts. But all too quickly do we run out of first tier names. How else to explain Buckhorn Elementary?

No offense intended, but it’s like wandering through the Baseball Hall of Fame and noting the plaques of Ruth, Cobb, Gehrig, Young, DiMaggio, Aaron, Mays, Koufax and Yan.

Worse yet, however, are scenarios for naming schools after the living, typically local politicians and prominent members of the business community. Not only are they not likely of icon quality, but the unwritten chapters of their lives can prove dicey for posterity. Joe Kotvas Alternative School would have been awkward. Two years ago Steve LaBrake Vo Tech might have made the cut. Ronda Storms Magnet School could still happen.

Here in Hillsborough, this county is notorious for taking care of its own, as in school board members and school district employees. Dead or alive.

For example, last year Tampa Palms’ parents voiced enough opposition to the Hillsborough County School Board that it changed the new J. Crockett Farnell High School to Freedom High. Seems the opposing parents took umbrage at having their kids’ school named after the late school superintendent who was forced to resign in the 1960s after being convicted of stealing school district property.

Before long, Farnell’s backers had re-petitioned the board to name a middle school in Nine Eagles after him. The district agreed after noting that Farnell’s conviction was eventually overturned on appeal. The name stayed — and standards prevailed.

Bead Needs: Marketing kudos to South Tampa dentist Nancy C. Aft. Leading up to Gasparilla, she has been running a newspaper ad with the practical reminder: “It’s your SMILE that will get you the beads!!!”

Well, it probably improves your chances. But as we all know all too well, a smile will get you just so far when beads, especially the primo, non-generic variety, hang in the balance.

Will we next see an enterprising plastic surgeon take a similar approach — pitching women to augment their chances of landing killer beads?

It’s, Like, The Will of God, You Know

Lake Superior State University recently issued its annual list of words and phrases that should, in its opinion, be summarily banished from popular usage. “Mis-use, over-use and general uselessness” are the rationales. Among the language pariahs are “9-11” shorthand for the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, as well as “friendly fire,” “surgical strike,” “bring the evildoers to justice,” “in the wake of,” “synergy” and “faith-based.”

In the wake of that noble effort, let’s call in surgical strikes against a few other words and phrases that flat-out need sacking — and retrofitting others to a sensible context.

“Awesome.” Remember when it meant wonder inspired by something sublime or maybe majestic? No longer. Mundane rules. As in “Your (sweatpants, slip covers, Barry Manilow CDs) are ‘awesome.'”

“Man.” As in “Hey, (I choose not to use, acknowledge or learn your name) ‘man,’ how’s your (wife, portfolio, golf game)?'”

“Football.” At all costs, including linguistic numbness, avoid confusing with any other sport. As in “Anytime these two outstanding ‘football’ teams get together, you’re going to see a well played, tough ‘football’ game because both ‘football’ teams have superb head ‘football’ coaches and talented ‘football’ players who know what to do with the ‘football’ and what to do when the other ‘football’ team has the ‘football.'”

“Blue Collar.” As in “He (white athlete) is one of those ‘blue collar’ players. He won’t beat you with his athleticism, but he’s like a coach on the field. He gets the most out of his (melanin-challenged) ability.”

“Warrior.” As in “He makes millions of dollars to play a game, and yet even when his team is hopelessly behind, he still tries. What a ‘warrior.'”

“It’s not about Islam.” As in “This is a war against terrorism. ‘It’s not about Islam,’ but it is, disturbingly enough, about those who find it so easy to pervert Islam because the non-Islamic world is apparently nothing less than a nest of death-deserving infidels.”

“Profiling.” As in “I don’t care that it may be a function of common sense, national security and statistical relevance. Racial or ethnic ‘profiling’ is always wrong.”

“Reality TV.” As in “Even though everyone is well aware they are being taped, this really is ‘reality TV.'”

“Disenfranchisement.” As in “Too many people have died for the right to cast an uninformed vote, possibly more than once, for ‘disenfranchisement’ to be tolerated today.”

“The will of God.” As in even God, presumably, would find this faith-based phrase presumptuous.

“The Man Upstairs.” As in “I want to thank ‘The Man Upstairs’ for helping us win this game.” Blasphemously presumes skewed earthly priorities for the Deity.

“Like, you know.” As in “What’s, ‘like,’ not to like, ‘you know?'” OK, it’s a gimme, but we’ve been far too tolerant of this patois parasite. The palaver police continue to look the other way.

“Whatever.” Shibboleth for edgy, non-commitment. As in

Q: “Son, your mother and I would like you to be on time for Christmas dinner; at least acknowledge your grandparents; refrain from commentary that only references that which “sucks;” defer any more piercings until after the holidays; and save that rapper ensemble for non-family occasions.”

A: “Whatever.”

“Bottom Line.” As in “‘Bottom line,’ give it back to the CPAs, even Arthur Andersen.”

“You guys.” As in “Good evening; my name is Paul; I’ll be your server; and welcome to Jean Claude’s, home of romantic, gourmet dining. So, what can I start ‘you guys’ off with?”

“Rap artist.” Bottom line, this, like, gives oxymoron a bad name, you know.

“Star.” Nothing beyond the celestial. Entertainment celebrities are not “stars,” although many do inhabit their own universe.

“Role model.” Athletes don’t count. Some, in fact, can’t.

“Ethnocentric.” Relativist, cultural catchall that doesn’t leave wiggle room for that which is absolutely wrong — say, genital mutilation or evil acts in the name of religion.

“Been there, done that.” Wherever you’ve been, whatever you’ve done. No one cares. Even if you got the T-shirt.

“Dis.” Show some respect for the language. It’s not a word; but do keep it as a syllable.

“Duhhh.” Ditto.

“HELL-oooooo.” Good byyyye to trite, melodramatically whiny, stressed-syllable tampering.

“PUHH-lease.” See above. Please.

“No problem.” Only problematic as a response to “thank you.” Proper response is “you’re welcome.” Thank you.

“Close proximity, “totally destroyed,” “general consensus.” Bring these evildoers of redundancy to justice.

“Near miss.” That would be a Mrs.; otherwise, it’s a collision.

“Cancelled.” Call off this spelling; in fact, consider it “canceled.”

“Remains to be seen.” Doesn’t it always?

“Jerry Springer, Rosie O’Donnell, Al Sharpton, Alan Dershowitz, Maury Povich, the Glazers, Geraldo Rivera, Jesse Jackson, Dr. Ruth Westheimer, Bill O’Reilly, Sterling Sharpe, Howard Stern, Mike Tyson.” Because it’s my list.

Maginot Line Of Security Screening

Item: Valrico’s own Barry Brunstein recently went two out of three when unwittingly carrying his loaded 9 mm Beretta pistol by airport security in Tampa, Atlanta and Memphis. Only Memphis prevented the hat trick of breached security by nabbing Brunstein for packing heat in his carry-on bag.

Item: The Transportation Security Administration has announced that it will not insist that security screeners be high school graduates. Such insistence, mind you, would have disqualified a quarter of the work force of 28,000.

Alarm bells should be sounding everywhere, including TIA and Hartsfield International, over this turn of events. Is the federal takeover of airport security little more than a recycling of the minimum wage, maximum attitude personnel who are part of the problem? They are no match for the bumbling Barry Brunsteins, let alone the malevolent Mohammed Attas.

Is it too much to ask that those who we entrust to help keep a planeload of 747 passengers from a horrific death not drop out of high school? Is the first line of defense in America’s war on terrorism the Maginot Line of security screening?

Toys From Twats

The most bizarre holiday story this side of Barry Brunstein packing airliner heat had to be the 1,000 toys bestowed upon Without Walls International Church in Tampa. The church hands out new toys and food each year to needy families.

These particular toys, however, had been collected at the Déjà Vu strip club on Adamo Drive. Donors in this annual event were needy voyeurs who exchanged gifts for a drive-by peep at women baring their holiday spirit.

Church officials were initially flummoxed when told the tit-for-tat tale. They later did the right thing by accepting the gifts, however donated, that made needy kids happy.

They’ve given no indication, however, that they will participate in future “Toys From Twats” campaigns.

The Joke’s On Us

Did you hear the one about Laughlab? That’s the British-based, scientific study of the world’s funniest jokes, with ostensible allowances for national differences.

The Germans, it turns out, are more easily amused than most. Which should have been a rib-tickler of a red flag right there. The (“Heil Honey, I’m home”) Germans haven’t exactly been known as the cut-ups of Western civilization. Germany wasn’t even the funniest of the Axis powers.

Anyhow, one of the favorite jokes among Germans was: “Why is television called a medium? Because it is neither rare nor well-done.”

Ernie Kovacs might have been flattered.

Make American Talibum Earn Leniency

What to do with John Walker, the Taliban’s favorite American? He turned his back on his country and culture, but that could be said for most of Marin County, CA. Anyway, he’s something of square peg in the legal morass over treason.

Already there’s a public relations’ campaign initiated by the attorney retained by Walker’s parents to sanitize his treasonous, terrorist-trafficking image. Perhaps enough baby pictures will spare him the death penalty.

But here’s a way out.

Cut him a break — but make the American Talibum earn it. Not by making up worthless intelligence, but by serving the country he had foresworn. With a clean bill of health, as well as a shave, haircut and unaccented English, send him back. This time to Tora Bora.

Gen. Tommy Franks, head of U.S. Central Command, has proposed sending U.S. Marines there to comb the wild terrain and dig their way into presumably abandoned caves. Some of these caves, of course, could still be quartering al-Qaeda snipers. Even more likely are booby-traps.

But someone has to actually go in these caves. It’s problematic if all Afghan allies can be persuaded to do this heaviest of lifting. That means some Marines could be at risk.

To paraphrase Mission Impossible, “John Walker, your assignment, should you decide to accept it as a way of undoing some of what you’ve done and as a means of saving your pencil neck, is to be the point man for a lot of Tora Bora cave searches. Your nearly worthless life is worth risking — much more than some Marine serving his country and protecting people such as you.”

Or do you want your attorney to keep those baby pictures coming?

If dwarfs aren’t tossed, do the terrorists win?

It didn’t take all that long, did it? That is, a return to normalcy after the atrocities of 9/11.

Posturing and finger-pointing in Washington over the Administration’s economic package, military tribunals, anthrax response and Taliban-war strategy seems perversely patriotic. Attorney General John Ashcroft is in the righteous cross hairs of every civil libertarian.

A massive media recount of last year’s presidential recount had a nice, disenfranchising touch. And parody-silliness again knows no bounds. To wit — and with apologies to Gene Kelly — a Tonight Show send-up featuring the umbrella-twirling, “Dancing bin Ladens” crooning “Singing in Bahrain.” (“What a glorious jihad; we’re friends with Hussein.”)

And a fiscal food fight in Tallahassee showed Florida was back to business as usual.

Locally, the Bucs, good enough to be frustrating, are doing their part. Thanks also to ethically challenged judges and Steve LaBrake’s extended family.

Nothing, however, underscores the sanctity of American normalcy the way a bizarre, problematic lawsuit does. We are, after all, America the Litigious: Where the little guy still has his day in court.

Thanks to local radio personality David Flood and his attorney, Michael Steinberg, a lawsuit has been filed in U.S. District Court that challenges a 1989 state law outlawing “dwarf tossing.” Something about it being demeaning as well as dicey for those, who because of their stunted-growth condition, have especially brittle bones.

No matter. Flood, who is a dwarf, wants the right to be tossed. And the right, in short, to see that others are similarly uplifted and heaved when he goes, presumably, into the “dwarf tossing” business.

And if we follow the dubious precedent of repealing the state’s helmet law, perhaps Flood’s case won’t be given the heave-ho in court. In that case, Dave, don’t forget to sign that waiver and here’s hoping your next trip is a tight spiral.

Public vs. pundits
This isn’t anything new, but there appears to be a decided disconnect between the American public and many pundits over the president’s executive order setting up military tribunals to try terrorist suspects and accomplices.

That there is ample precedent, Supreme Court sanction and a national emergency seem inadequate rationales.

What the public — which is forced to live in the real world — gets and pundits don’t is this: The ultimate civil liberty is the right to continue to live. That’s what’s at stake when your country is attacked.

Close encounters of the incarcerated kind

Seems that Pinellas Sheriff Everett Rice has been, until recently, letting prisoners leave extra early as an overly generous tradeoff for working jail jobs.

How’d he do that? Illegally. His slammer’s good-time and gain-time policy had been, it turns out, in violation of state law for two years.

But Sheriff Rice had his reasons: severe overcrowding, since alleviated by expansion.

A better solution? Make overcrowded prison quarters — and maybe no ESPN — part of an inmate’s sentence. This is, after all, about punishment — and disincentives to return to such uncomfortable digs.

Women of power

The current Ladies’ Home Journal ranks this country’s 30 most powerful women.

As a result, this is one of the few times you’ll see Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Britney Spears in the same sentence. For the record, they finished 7th and 9th, respectively.

It speaks volumes about our culture, but there is, at least, a little Justice somewhere.

Controlled choice coming soon

For the Pinellas County School Board, the post-segregation-era countdown continues toward the fall of 2003. That’s when the new “controlled choice” program begins.

Schools are now scrambling to figure out ways to attract sufficiently diverse populations.

Not a choice:

Public vs. pundits

This isn’t anything new, but there appears to be a decided disconnect between the American public and many pundits over the president’s executive order setting up military tribunals to try terrorist suspects and accomplices.

That there is ample precedent, Supreme Court sanction and a national emergency seem inadequate rationales.

What the public — which is forced to live in the real world — gets and pundits don’t is this: The ultimate civil liberty is the right to continue to live. That’s what’s at stake when your country is attacked.

Close encounters of the incarcerated kind

Seems that Pinellas Sheriff Everett Rice has been, until recently, letting prisoners leave extra early as an overly generous tradeoff for working jail jobs.

How’d he do that? Illegally. His slammer’s good-time and gain-time policy had been, it turns out, in violation of state law for two years.

But Sheriff Rice had his reasons: severe overcrowding, since alleviated by expansion.

A better solution? Make overcrowded prison quarters — and maybe no ESPN — part of an inmate’s sentence. This is, after all, about punishment — and disincentives to return to such uncomfortable digs.

Women of power

The current Ladies’ Home Journal ranks this country’s 30 most powerful women.

As a result, this is one of the few times you’ll see Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Britney Spears in the same sentence. For the record, they finished 7th and 9th, respectively.

It speaks volumes about our culture, but there is, at least, a little Justice somewhere.