Ultimate Quality-of-Life Issue

For long-time residents, Bay Area mass transit is as classic an oxymoron as George Carlin’s jumbo shrimp. A few bus lines doesn’t count, unless you’re of the socio-economic class that must use them. Reportedly, the issue of mess transit kept Tampa off the U.S. Olympic Committee’s short list of finalists.

There have been proposals and studies and blue ribbon panels and public hearings and even a pro-commuter rail editorial by the Tampa Tribune. But nothing is ultimately addressed but paving priorities. Cost savings, congestion alleviation and air-quality upgrades never carry the day — especially when the other side of the equation is a tax hike and locals’ love affair with their automobiles and SUVs.

Well, here’s one more arrow for that light-rail quiver. It will save lives.

A survey by Washington-based TRIP — The Road Information Report — has ranked the Tampa-St. Petersburg areas as the second worst in the country when it comes to fatality rates for motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians. Tourists — including elderly snowbirds who nest in the passing lanes — and normal Florida population growth continue to overwhelm the Interstate system. Catching up with asphalt is neither an option nor a possibility.

Perhaps the ultimate quality-of-life issue — fatality rates — will make a difference.


“Second Chance” for Marriott

Nice to hear that the Tampa Organization of Black Affairs will hold its annual Martin Luther King Jr. breakfast at the Marriott Waterside. Less nice was a reference, as reported by Times’ columnist Ernest Hooper, of TOBA board member Ken Anthony. According to Anthony, TOBA was giving the hotel a “second chance” after last summer’s unfortunate, infamous and unfair punch bowl incident.

That travesty, lest you’ve forgotten, involved rumors of a white server maybe-possibly-ostensibly tainting a bowl of fruit punch that resulted in 800 attendees of the mostly black Progressive National Baptist Convention walking out on a pricey dinner. Nothing was ever proven except that Tampa is racially profiled — and vulnerable to race-card playing. The PNBC, after smearing a hotel’s reputation and assassinating the character of an employee, won’t comment — except to its attorneys.

“Second chance?” That gives effrontery a bad name. How about a “second chance” for those who walk out on a bill and then try to hold a city’s and a hotel’s reputation hostage to claims of racism? The Marriott, quite arguably, did nothing wrong except give the PNBC a “first chance.”

Editorially Speaking, This Says It All

No one, of course, would ever confuse the St. Petersburg Times with the Tampa Tribune. They don’t even cost the same. But let’s not bother to count the ways. For purposes of this discussion, let’s just talk editorial policy. The Times generally to the left; the Trib to the right.

Rarely, however, has there been such a blatant editorial juxtaposition as was evidenced in the newspapers’ respective takes on the Bay Area’s two high-profile, nationally noted firings: St. Petersburg Police Chief Mack Vines and USF Professor Sami Al-Arian.

The Times’ take: bouquets to Mayor Rick Baker for firing Vines over his “orangutan” reference and stinkweeds to USF for a “craven charade” in giving the heave-ho to Al-Arian.

The Trib’s take: an opposable thumb down to St. Petersburg for permitting “racial sensitivity” to “run amok.” And thumbs up to USF, which had “compelling reasons to fire” Al-Arian.

The Times backed Mayor Rick Baker’s decision to fire Vines in an editorial benignly headlined “Rebuilding trust.” As in “moving on” being the alternative to “second-guessing Baker.” As if second-guessing were the only option to “moving on.”

Baker, noted the Times, had acted “to heal a potentially serious rift in the community, not only between black residents and their police department, but also between white residents who expected continued progress in their city and a chief whose ability to provide such leadership had been brought under question.”

The issue, as summarized in the head, was all about trust — and community appeasement.

The Times even followed up with a subsequent editorial: “A City Getting Back To Work” — an obvious variation on the “moving on” theme.

“A few loose ends need to be gathered as St. Petersburg moves forward, but the operative word is ‘forward,'” opined the Times. “Despite an unhappy event in the Police Department, the city is still headed in the right direction.”

The Trib’s stand had all the subtlety of punch in the mouth. The politically correct episode was well beyond an “unhappy event.”

“Acute Racial Sensitivity Seems To Run Amok In St. Petersburg” read the headline. One wondered why the qualifier “seems.”

Baker’s firing of Vines was, according to the Trib, “a blazing display of oversensitivity or moral cowardice.” It lamented how “seemingly harmless expressions can turn into racial and ethnic tinderboxes.” The Trib also asked rhetorically if a similar “orangutan” reference, if uttered by either Goliath Davis, Vines’s immediate predecessor, or Tampa Police Chief Bennie Holder — both of whom are black — would have resulted in a firing.

No way the Times asks that question.

In its “USF’s charade” editorial, the Times got all over the university for the “dubious and dangerous arguments” it used to explain and expedite Al-Arian’s firing. In other words, Al-Arian was an embarrassing lightning rod for lousy — and disturbing — publicity.

His canning, said the Times, was couched in “flawed logic.” To wit: That Al-Arian violated his employment contract by failing to make clear that he doesn’t speak for USF; that he was an ongoing security concern; that he had violated an understanding by setting foot on campus; and that his controversial affiliation with USF was hampering recruiting and fundraising.

The cost of “getting rid of a nuisance now,” intoned the Times, “may have left the university vulnerable to much more serious encroachments on its academic integrity in the future.”

No such academic caveats were fashioned into the Trib’s editorial: “USF Gets Rid Of A Hatemonger.” Al-Arian’s “views are vicious,” stated the Trib, and he has sought “to raise funds for murderous Palestinian groups.”

In short, summarized the Trib, Al-Arian has “willfully allowed his political obsessions to unsettle, if not endanger, the entire university. He now is facing the consequences.”

And for good measure: “Good riddance.”

At least we know where they stand.

As for the St. Petersburg Police Force, it will only get worse. Racial agendas and politicized misperceptions are more than excused and encouraged. They are reinforced and rewarded. That genie’s not going back into the bottle any time soon. Certainly not while TyRon Lewis is still regarded as a “martyr.” It’s a mess in St. Petersburg, and spineless Mayor Baker made it messier.

As for USF, the balancing act between free speech, academic freedom and university tenure — and “Death to Israel” rhetoric and the founding of a sham Islamic studies institute still seems precarious to many. It’s not. Ivory tower types can unwad their shorts now.

Put it this way. If you’ve not hired, associated with or shilled for terrorists, you’re not likely to get fired over controversial positions. That’s the precedent.

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.

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?

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.

Simian simile gets chief fired

They didn’t monkey around in St. Petersburg. The forces of political correctness got what they wanted: the head of Police Chief Mack Vines. Mayor Rick Baker, who would give tremulous a bad name, fired him.

Vines was done in by the simile police who were outraged that he would liken an “orangutan” to an unruly, resistant suspect who had to be dragged out of the window of a pickup by several officers. Said suspect was a black man.

Perhaps Vines should have gone with the generic “madman” or “crazy man” or even garden-variety “lunatic.” But to belittle, in effect, the mentally and emotionally challenged is probably beyond insensitivity today. Neither did he utter the culturally chancy “whirling dervish” or the ADA-alerting “spastic.”

No, it was “orangutan.”

There were some phone calls and the usual suspects took the usual umbrage. The city’s employee relations director investigated. A Vines’ apology for having “offended individuals from the African-American community” was not enough. This was a fire-able offense. No counseling. No hair shirt. No second chance. Termination.

Mayor Baker, who has less backbone than, well, an orangutan, summed up the travesty nicely. After acknowledging that he didn’t think Vines’ reference was intended to be racially based, Baker said the simian simile, “however innocently made

Targeting civilization

For the longest time, it seemed the moral high ground in the blood-soaked, Israeli-Palestinian conflict had degenerated into an amoral crater large enough to accommodate both sides.

Where there are Hamas and Islamic Jihad; there were Irgun and the Stern Gang. Where there is an Intifada, there is an arrogant, provocative settlement policy.

But amid all the tit-for-tat violence and carnage, this much must be acknowledged.

Regardless of history, politics or injustices, nobody but nobody targets the innocent the way Islamic militants do. In Israel. In America. In India. In The Philippines. In lieu of civilized standards.

And having done so, proceeds to celebrate the heinous acts. Moreover, nobody recruits suicide bombers — with perverse promises of Paradise and posthumous family payoffs — the way Islamic militants do. And having done so, proceeds to venerate murdering “martyrs.”

Nobody considers discos, pizzerias and city buses legitimate grievance targets the way Islamic militants do. And nobody looks at “infidels,” however defined and rationalized, as fair game the way Islamic militants do.

And to think, this isn’t even “about Islam.”

Reno reaction ill-advised

Just when you think the Florida Legislature’s special session, also known as Fiscal Food Fight ’02, couldn’t get much more bizarre, it does. Thanks, in part, to Janet Reno. But even more thanks to Cuban-American legislators.

Last week Reno, the former U.S. attorney general who’s running for governor, turned up in Tallahassee and was introduced as a guest to the House by North Miami Beach Democrat Rep. Sally Heyman. This prompted about a dozen legislators, mostly the usual suspects from Miami-Dade County, to walk out.

Nice touch. And great for the “cause.”

“We weren’t disrespectful,” sniffed Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami. “We didn’t hiss.” The hiss-less demonstration, of course, was the Cuban-American delegation’s way of reminding Reno — and everyone else, thank you — that they neither forget nor forgive her for deciding to return Elian Gonzalez to his Cuban father last year.

The unflappable Reno didn’t indicate if she were hissed-off or not by the walkout. Deep down, however, she had to know it couldn’t hurt.

Having a bunch of grandstanding South Florida Cuban-Americans walk out could, if anything, earn sympathy for Reno. It’s also a reminder that even if you disagreed with Reno’s Elian position, you could still respect her stand in the face-off with the forces of outrage and intimidation. Finally, how much can you be hurt by a demonstration by those who discredited themselves nationally over the Elian affair?

Waytogo, Mario.

(Politically) Correct priorities at USF

According to USF officials, more than $15 million in budget cuts will force a “culture shift” at the university that will take the form of reduced course offerings, bigger classes and fewer adjunct professors and perhaps support staff as well. Layoffs are in the offing. A hiring freeze will only be waived when the job is “justified.”

All this, including holding classes at rented movie theaters at University Mall, is regrettable but understandable with a $1.3 billion state budget shortfall.

But there will be money — and more than $100,000 at that — available for USF’s first diversity chief. It’s not enough that universities, including USF, are already enclaves of political correctness and citadels of ethnic-racial-cultural-sexual orientation-but-not-ideologic-diversity.

USF needs a $101,000-a-year associate vice president for diversity and equal opportunity the way it needs more black basketball players. Hmmm. Actually, isn’t this part of a too-much, too-late public relations campaign to help distance USF from that embarrassing racial discrimination suit brought by all those black women’s basketball players?

Call it reparations money. Or just call it an institutionally “justified” hire.

What “culture shift”?