Topical Storm Ronda Wimps Out

Even those who agree with Hillsborough Commissioner Ronda Storms’ (grand) stand on public access TV — and it’s a lot more than south county conservatives — should be able to admit this: she is counterproductive to the cause. Once State Attorney Mark Ober had made the call that what was sophomoric, tasteless and sexually explicit fell short of obscenity, the county’s gaped crusader should have dismounted her soapbox, shut up and concentrated on growth and infrastructure issues.

Instead, she became the issue. Whatever the voyeurship of the “White Chocolate” and “Saheeb’s Dream” shows is, it would arguably be a fraction of that were it not for all the publicity generated by Storms.

Ironically, the ostensible courage of her high-profile convictions isn’t enough to prompt her participation in the upcoming candidate forum put on by the League of Women Voters. That’s because it will be held at the public access TV station. It’s not a “neutral venue,” explains Storms.

Her constituents, none of whom are forced to watch sleazy, brain-dead TV, shouldn’t forget that the best opportunity to size up the candidates was snubbed by Storms. They should expect better from an incumbent, especially such an outspoken one.

Even Devil Ray Scalpers Lose

Call them the Gang That Couldn’t Scalp Straight.

Imagine anyone scalping Tampa Bay Rays’ tickets? As in get-’em-while-they-lapse ducats for the worst team in baseball, one that draws more bankruptcy and contraction rumors than fans. But that’s exactly what three Miami men were arrested for recently.

They had used a stolen credit card to buy 180 Rays-Seattle Mariners tickets. Did they think Lou Piniella was that big of a draw?

This had to be the dumbest local crime since last month’s Days Inn hold-up in north Tampa by a guy who was staying there. He was arrested in his room.

Bud Lite: Take One For The Team

Here’s a solution to Major League Baseball’s All Star dilemma.

Mandate that managers of both sides continue to substitute with abandon and try to play everyone. Keep in mind that actually “winning” the erstwhile mid-season “classic” is of little relevance any more.

This prime time exhibition is merely a forum for cameo celebrity-athlete appearances. The era of inter-league play has already removed most of the mystique, and free agency is incompatible with traditional allegiances.

Anyway, it should be further required that the All Star game must end after the regulation nine innings regardless of the score.

In the event of a tie, however, it will be decided by designated position players, who will pitch. But not to opposing batters.

Instead, they will match dead-aim tosses in a dunk-tank competition featuring buoyant Bud Lite Selig. Not only would this be a workable, entertaining compromise, it would actually reward fans who cared enough to show up or tune in — and root for a tie-breaker.

As to the rest of baseball’s problems, there isn’t a big enough dunk-tank.

Movie Line Goes Lightly Around The Block

The movie line, two and three abreast, wound down the street and snaked around the corner.

In all, nearly 1,000 film fans — anxious, yet well-mannered — had been queuing up.

But not for a “Star Wars'” prequel sequel. And not for anything starring Tom Cruise, Julia Roberts, Will Smith, Adam Sandler or one of the Rocks, Chris or The.

Nor were they awaiting a toilet-humored, teen-age sex farce or another vehicle for violence. Nor an exercise in special effects and chase scenes masquerading as a feature-length movie.

And, no, they hadn’t come to see something indecipherable, gimmicky and pretentious in the guise of “edgy.”

But for “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” where the only thing gratuitous was the romance.

As in an ending that reminds you why folks still cry at weddings. As in “Moon River” by Henry Mancini. As in Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly. As in classy and feminine. Remember that combination?

The street was Franklin, and the corner was its intersection with Polk. What a delight to have been part of a nearly filled Tampa Theatre for this weekend matinee, one of 13 in its Sunday Classic Movie Series.

Movies as they used to make them; theaters as they used to build them; crowds as they used to attract them. And entertain them. An older demographic, skewed toward females. But a lot of couples. Not a backward-baseball-capped, 15-year-old boy in sight.

Exact attendance was 955 — compared to an average of 468 for other Classic Series’ Sundays. For all Tampa Theater screenings, the average is about 100.

John Bell, director of Tampa Theatre, couldn’t have been happier with the response to “Breakfast At Tiffany’s” had he been playing the Mighty Wurlitzer himself.

“It was gratifying — for me and all staff members — to have that kind of turnout,” gushes Bell. “That’s what it’s all about.”

The bottom line, says Bell of the classic series, now in its ninth year, “is getting people in this place. That they may take away a memory that is lasting and positive. But do it in a way that generates resources that lets us do what we do.”

The “take,” including concessions, from “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” was about $6,000, estimates Bell. Box office gross from the $5 tickets was approximately $3,700. (Some of the 955 patrons were card-carrying, annual Tampa Theatre members who didn’t have to pay — or, yes, wait in line.)

“This is not a profit operation,” points out Bell. “We pay our bills. But that’s not our mission. It’s about getting people into this place. It’s about creating lasting memories filled with beauty, color and light. There’s something special about watching a film here. It’s like a time warp. We do it because, well, because it’s fun.”

But there are frustrations. Putting together such a series is not merely a matter of asking for input and ordering up a classic. Lack of quality 35-millimeter film prints is a serious issue. In fact, it’s the reason why movies such as “Patton” and “Flight of the Phoenix” aren’t included in this summer’s series.

In a lot of cases, explains Bell, studios are unwilling to incur the expense of striking a new film print from a negative (and more if it has to be restored) when little more than negligible profits likely loom on distribution.

“It’s an issue for our nation’s film heritage,” says Bell. “Studios are just not taking care of their inventory of prints.”

But a lot of what they do take care of is targeted by Bell. That includes: “A Night At The Opera” (July 21), “The Gang’s All Here” (July 28), “The Greatest Show on Earth” (Aug. 4), “Sweet Smell of Success” (Aug. 11), “Gone With The Wind” (Aug. 18) and the original, silent version of “Peter Pan” (Aug. 25).

Pain In The Wallet Still Haunts Rays

So the days of Wilson Alvarez, the oxymoronic “free” agent pitcher, are officially numbered. He’s near the end of the last year of his five-year contract. For those scoring at home, the portly southpaw has been paid $2,058,824 per win — all 17 of them. That also figures out to $100,000 per inning.

Officially, Alvarez now has left elbow tendinitis. Unofficially, the pain is lower on the team’s anatomy — right where the wallet fits.

Moreover, Alvarez passed on his chance to actually give something tangible back to the Rays after five years of masquerading as a prime time starting pitcher. He could have done that by retiring. Then the Rays would be off the hook for money still owed for this year’s bad pitching and ineffectual rounds of rehab, which obviously never included any sit-ups.

But he won’t.

“Whatever they think is best for the organization, I say do it,” disingenuously remarked Alvarez, who would still be obscenely paid should the Rays release him.

Icon Not An Icicle

There might never be a last word on Ted Williams. He was that good. The statistics still dazzle: from .406 in 1941 to 29 home runs in 1960, when he was 42. He was a bona fide baseball legend.

But he was also a hero, and precious few athletes actually deserve that label. He was a Marine Corps pilot in two wars. Imagine Barry Bonds as a fighter pilot. Didn’t think so.

But now we have this macabre, cold-blooded circus — involving court injunctions and cryonics plans — going on among his kids. Scenarios for saving and selling Williams’ DNA are afoot.

From a purely marketing standpoint, this is a disaster. Passing along DNA is no guarantee of anything. Just look at Williams’ children, who had his DNA passed on to them the old-fashioned way.

Ironic Allegiance to One Nation, Under Attack

Even for the oft-reversed 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the notorious pledge-of-allegiance ruling was an abomination. “Under God” does not mean the same as “under Jesus” or “under Allah” or “under Madalyn Murray O’Hair.” It’s an acknowledgment of an Almighty, however referenced.

It means under a higher power. Imagine that being under fire? How’s that for a sectarian reach?

How, by all that passes for jurisprudence in the San Francisco-based 9th Circuit, can “under God” be construed as a violation of the First Amendment prohibition against the establishment of a state religion?

This travesty of a ruling likely won’t stand, and even the reviled Judge Alfred Goodwin is backing off. But the fact that it happened at all is disturbing and disgraceful. That it happened with this nation under attack by those who decree us “infidels” is obscenely ironic. It’s never been more important for Americans to look inward to inventory and revisit our values and beliefs.

Regrettably, “One nation, under litigation” would be all too appropriate. Tragically, one nation, undermined, could result.

Parsed Principles a Peril

Ever notice the number of people who seemingly can’t concede that the real world can’t be lived in the abstract? Take (the case of) Abdullah al-Mujahir. Please.

Civil libertarians are up in metaphorical arms over the erstwhile Jose Padilla’s treatment: being held in a brig, formally uncharged, as an “unlawful combatant.” This ex street-gang punk from Chicago, however, is hardly the poster lad for victims of fashionable fascism.

The protest typically takes the form of: “If they (the grandstanding, goose-stepping, jack-booted John Ashcroft, et al) can do this to one fellow citizen, they can do it to you too.”

Well, yes. In fact, any other radically Islamic American who had moved to Pakistan via unknown patrons and met more than once with key al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah to allegedly pitch ideas about nuclear weapons should receive identical treatment. To do less would be more than inadvisable; it would be a dereliction of duty.

Is this treatment — suspension of habeas corpus and no ESPN — such a civil libertarian nightmare in a country under attack from those pursuing America’s demise? We are, lest we forget, in the throes of a non-traditional war where preemption of terrorist plans is the first line of defense.

Because al-Jose is an American citizen, say the chattering class of libertarians, he deserves off-the-shelf, constitutionally protected treatment. That he does, of course, if you discount whom he’s met up with and where — and that America is under siege by those who make up the rules as they go along. In legally uncharted waters, the Bush Administration is citing the case of the World War II German saboteurs, including an American citizen, who were tried as unlawful combatants before a military tribunal. That’s as problematic as it is prudent. As it is necessary. Keep in mind, the ultimate civil right is the right to continue to live.

One other point. When we parse principles — however hallowed — beyond reason, we do so at our own peril. Exhibit A: America’s defense against terrorism. Exhibit B: “one nation, under God.”

Fortnight Of Escape: A Team For The Times

Let me state this up front. I really don’t like soccer THAT much.

It has, I’m certain, everything to do with never having played the game. Nor wanting to. Not being eye-foot oriented. Not understanding the game well enough to transcend “1-nil” scores, autocratic referees, red-card expulsions, the science of shirt-grabbing, Second Coming goal celebrations, running clocks and stoppage-time approximations.

But thank you, U.S. World Cup team, for a fortnight of escape and healthy nationalism.

In the aftermath of 9/11, we’ve become a society obsessed with security. Understandably so. There’s this strong correlation with survival. There was also that mushrooming melodrama between India and Pakistan.

Our media “diversions” have been pedophile priests, stock analysts, auditors, western wild fires and a Utah kidnapping. Locally, there’s pubic access TV, FCAT reactions, USF subplots, fast food stickups and the win-friends-and-influence-waterfront-folks campaign of Don Connolly.

And then there’s soccer. Of all things. Imagine feeling (almost) guilty about not getting up — or staying up — for those 2 a.m. games with Portugal and South Korea.

But even on replay, what was not to like about the U.S. team and its feisty, underdog effort?

Never was it more important for such a high profile U.S. team to look so good and look so much like, well, America. It was black and white and brown. Players of African, European and Hispanic descent. Mohawks, dreds, ponytails and buzz cuts.

More important was the deportment department. Was there ever a better time for a team on the ultimate world sports stage to properly act the part? Exuberant, articulate, polite and proud to be representing the U.S. No arrogant attitudes or boorish behavior. No trash talking in victory; no bad mouthing in defeat. No self-indulgent posturing.

They were sons and brothers and nephews and buddies and boyfriends and members of an extended American family that now includes more than 25 million soccer-playing kids. They acted like they wanted to make all of us proud, and they did. They acted like they were honored to be there — not like they were doing their country and their sponsors a favor between endorsements, court appearances and rehab stints.

Talk about a “dream team.”

Coping with the ultimate judgment

Pasco-Pinellas Circuit Judge Charles Cope pretty much skated from a hearing in front of the Judicial Qualifications Commission last week. The case stems from some boozy escapades while Cope attended a judicial conference in California this spring. The state hearing panel threw out most of the administrative charges — leaving only public intoxication and, uh, “inappropriate conduct of an intimate nature.” The determination on those isn’t expected to be made public for several months.

Cope’s attorney predicted the judge would be reprimanded but allowed to remain on the bench. No predictions, however, were proffered by Mrs. Cope, the ultimate judge.