I am not a scientist, engineer, politician or oil tycoon. Who I am is someone passionate about the world's oceans and all the creatures that live in them. From the first wave I caught — riding on my dad's back as we boogie-boarded in Hawaii 30-plus years ago — I was hooked.
The ocean has a powerful, yet quiet, calling. Millions across the world seek it out for summer vacations; set sail upon its waters on cruise ships; and stroll along its shores with loved ones. Millions more visit aquariums, seeking a glimpse into underwater worlds.
And now, because of the greed of large oil companies seemingly looking only at the bottom line, the gulf is in great despair. While hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil continue to flow into its waters, our hands are tied until a solution is found. More than a month after the collapse of the rig, there doesn't seem to be a solid solution in sight.
I feel for the families of the 11 who died in the rig explosion, and my heart aches at the thought of the marine life that is, and will be, affected by this ghastly incident. With turtle nesting season upon us, I wonder about the future of their populations. Not to mention the fish, birds, marine mammals and tiniest of animals that call the gulf home. I've signed up with various organizations to help when needed, but until then I feel my hands are tied.
I can't bring myself to watch the news about the spreading oil slick, and I avoid stories in the papers. The devastation feels like an assault on a member of my family.
Susan Barnes, Tampa
Look at the bigger picture
In her May 19 column (Drill away, but give up the things we cherish), Sue Carlton is looking at the subject through the wrong end of her binoculars. Unfortunately, there are many others doing the same thing. They see only a pinpoint of the problem.
If the United States is stopped from drilling in the gulf, who's going to stop Cuba, Mexico, Spain, India and Norway, all of whom have oil drilling companies buying up drilling plots from Cuba?
Does she have an answer for how to deal with the big picture?
Joseph Wynne, New Port Richey
Shut down offshore wells
The Deepwater Horizon oil rig blew up on April 20. Since then, countless thousands of barrels of oil have poured into the gulf. The extent of the spill is not yet understood; it's looking like it may have an effect on the entire Gulf Coast and possibly most of the Eastern Seabord of the United States. BP has tried a couple different things to stop the leak. Interestingly, all of them involve capturing and processing the oil. None have been just about capping the well. It's all about the money with these guys.
Reports are coming out on a daily basis about the corner-cutting, incompetence and criminal negligence that has occurred in the operation of that well.
The same shortcuts are being taken on the oil rig Atlantis. It is also run by BP. It's larger, farther offshore and drilling in deeper water — another disaster waiting to happen.
All offshore wells need to be shut down until the operators can demonstrate that they have the technology to operate them safely. It's obvious right now that they can't. The government needs to take over this operation to cap the well, clean up the spill, and try to save the coastline of this country. Present the bill to BP.
Shut down all offshore drilling until it can be proven safe. Enough of this disastrous farce we've been watching for more than a month.
Jeff Cutting, Brandon
Florida officials must act to stem human trafficking
She was a typical 16-year-old middle-class American girl when she was kidnapped, drugged, gang-raped and savagely beaten for days in a suburban Florida neighborhood.
This girl is just one of the more than 3 million victims of human trafficking every year. Human trafficking has been legally defined as "modern slavery," and for her captor this was business as usual. He had taken money from the men who raped her and "sold" her on the Internet for $300,000. Fortunately, three days after her abduction, during transport to her new slave-master, she was discovered by a search party that her family had assembled.
Most victims of human trafficking are not so lucky. A recent local assessment determined that "in the Clearwater/Tampa Bay area, domestic minor sex trafficking victims are rarely identified and often misidentified." Human trafficking is the nation's third largest criminal industry, and Florida is one of the top three destinations for trafficking victims in the United States.
Last year, the Florida Legislature created the Statewide Human Trafficking Task Force, giving it the mission to examine and analyze the problem of human trafficking and to plan for a coordinated, humane response for its victims.
This task force has determined that when these victims, in some cases after suffering years of torture and rape, are finally "encountered by the law enforcement and judicial systems, many of these exploited children are often erroneously dealt with as criminals." Even though these are children, held against their will in conditions of extreme brutality, they are often treated as common prostitutes by state and local agencies.
To help correct this injustice, the task force is recommending legislation that creates short-term "safe shelters" for the care of sexually exploited children. These shelters would be established as secure facilities where children could receive the intensive therapy and counseling necessary to help them cope with their horrific experiences.
Protecting our children is our most sacred duty. Passing safe shelter legislation is a necessary first step in both achieving this end, and in combating the plight of modern slavery. We hope the Florida Legislature will address this issue in the very near future.
Michael Keller, commissioner, Florida Commission on Human Relations, Brandon
Math and science education
The importance of math
Finally, someone took the bull by the horns to address the substandard education in math and science in Florida schools. Gov. Charlie Crist signed into law a requirement that will enhance and raise the level of math and science education.
Colleges and universities in Florida spend an enormous amount of time teaching students what they should have been taught in schools. In recent years the emphasis in schools has been on teaching students to pass standardized tests at the exclusion of teaching the methodology and thought processes of the discipline. Therein lies a problem.
In my undergraduate courses I often begin the class with this simple question: "How many of you have seen a number?" Invariably, to my dismay, almost all, if not all, raise their hands. They have not been taught to differentiate between a concept (a number which exists in the human mind) and a representation of the concept (a numeral).
Students are not taught about the beauty of mathematics and its usefulness in describing nature and solving the myriad problems facing our society. Mathematics is not just addition and multiplication or a bunch of formulas. From the pyramids of Egypt to travel to the moon, from engineering to medicine and architecture, art and music, mathematics plays a central role. It is the building block upon which students may expand their horizons and reach greater heights in whatever discipline they choose to spend a lifetime.
Unfortunately, unless and until a commitment is made to attract highly qualified, well-paid teachers, our rankings on the world stage in math and science will continue to be in the bottom tiers. But where will the money come from to pay these qualified teachers? Here is a thought. Have you considered the collegiate athletics budget?
Manoug Manougian, Tampa
Try some tolerance | May 17, letter
Neutrality ensures liberty
I'm surprised that the atheist letter writer doesn't understand our constitutional religious freedom through separation of religion and government. I agree that none of us should care how people of any religion wish to pray, sing, worship, etc., so long as they do not interfere with others.
But it is a different matter for government to favor one religion over another, or indeed religion itself. If an organization wants to proclaim a "National Day of Prayer," go to it. But requiring the president and Congress to proclaim this as a matter of public policy is certainly unconstitutional.
Actually, a private organization does sponsor the National Day of Prayer. Publicly the day is portrayed as nondenominational, but NDP's website shows a different picture. Its online application to become a volunteer requires compliance with their Christian statement of belief.
The neutrality of government is the Constitution's greatest safeguard to each person's right to practice religion according to his or her own conscience.
Nan Owens, Seffner
Our Republican attorney general, Bill McCollum, is suing to protect the rights of freeloaders who will not buy their own health insurance, even if it's affordable. But as soon as they get sick or injured they go to a hospital emergency room, can't pay their bill, and then the taxpayers are on the hook for it.
At the same time, as a so-called conservative Republican, he supports the idea that big government — state or federal — should have the right to force a woman to have and raise an unwanted child.
What's wrong with this picture?
D. Franklin, Tampa
By nature, he's a social creature | May 16
Cruelty of animal testing
How wonderful that a primate expert is enlightening us, in the case of the monkey in our midst, that it is a "cruel punishment for any primate to be alone."
I hope that these words sink in for readers to understand why those of us who are against vivisection (the cutting open and mutilation of animals in our nation's laboratories) decry not just what these mad "scientists" do to the animals, but also how they warehouse them for their entire lives isolated, in pain, and in barren cages.
And not just primates but other social animals as well. They are locked up, isolated, for their entire lives and tortured so that we can have yet another scent in our laundry soap or another color lipstick in our purses.
We support these horrors each and every time that we buy a household product without the label, "Not tested on animals."
Jayn Meinhardt, Redington Beach
Pentagon budget cuts
Obama supports military
The last administration tried to divide the country by equating protesting against a needless invasion with not supporting troops. On the issue of budget cuts, we need to look rationally at the fact that defense spending has been the largest item in the national budget for years.
Our current president is addressing this issue in part by phasing out the F-22 warplane and other outdated weapons systems. He is cutting the missile defense program and has restarted nuclear nonproliferation talks. The president is also reforming the military into a modern fighting force and instituting new procurement policies. These are all money-saving measures that the Pentagon may not like.
At the same time, he is increasing pay and benefits for military personnel, promoting the federal hiring of military spouses, improving conditions at military hospitals, improving benefits for veterans including housing, and authorizing the opening of additional health centers to care for veterans, among other promilitary measures.
So criticize the Pentagon if you wish, but acknowledge that President Barack Obama is a strong supporter of your cause, despite the fact that he doesn't use a backdrop of military troops and a waving flag for every speech he delivers.
Bill Ackerman, Homosassa