Every diner is a critic | Jan. 17
Take reviews with a grain of salt
While websites for restaurant reviews by the average Joe can be extremely helpful, they must be taken with a grain of salt. I've been in the restaurant business for almost 30 years and know firsthand that the online review forum can be used by anyone, including rival restaurants and disgruntled ex-employees who can say anything they want — and do.
It only takes one person who was fired for whatever reason and has a bridge to burn to ruin the reputation of an otherwise stellar establishment. On the flip side, owners and managers encourage friends and employees to go to these sites and post positive reviews to steer new guests in their direction. The bottom line: If you want to know the quality of a restaurant, check it out yourself.
Brent Morgan, Largo
Gaming the system
Social media is a double-edged sword. In the latest scam, sites post complaints on competitors while paid members or businesses get glowing endorsements, and any complaints on them somehow don't get posted.
This becomes a major problem for doctors and attorneys, as they are prohibited from posting any response due to laws covering the release of confidential information.
John Satino, St. Petersburg
If the Republican leadership's proposal to reduce funding for federal agencies to 2008 levels is adopted by the new Congress, the ability of the National Weather Service to warn the nation of severe weather will be damaged. Cutbacks in discretionary spending appear inevitable, but Congress should recognize that not all federal programs are of equal importance and that some federal employees, such as National Weather Service forecasters and technicians, are critical to protecting lives.
Roughly three-quarters of the funding of the National Weather Service is used for salaries. Fifty-nine percent of all its employees are classified as "emergency/essential" employees who are required to report for duty even if the government is shut down or in the event of natural or man-made emergencies during which other federal employees are excused. We are unaware of any other federal agency that has a greater number of emergency/essential employees, except for our colleagues at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who track and command the nation's weather satellites. Most of the National Weather Service employees work at the 122 weather forecast offices across the country, which are manned 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
Few people are aware of how thinly staffed the 122 forecast offices are. During most hours, there are just two operational forecasters who are responsible for issuing forecasts and warnings of inclement or severe weather for an area with an average population of 2.5 million. The two forecasters in Ruskin have responsibility for protecting more than 5.4 million people in west-central and southwest Florida.
Funding at 2008 levels will mean an $87 million reduction and may result in the closure of 12 forecast offices, leaving tens of millions of Americans unprotected or perhaps closing some offices during the overnight hours.
Forecasts and warnings have a broad outreach. These products are used by media outlets to warn of severe weather events, including below-freezing weather, tornadoes and hurricanes. They are also used by private and public entities for planning and response to hazardous weather conditions caused by these storms.
Congress must judge federal agencies and their programs on their individual merits rather than subject them to indiscriminate, uniform reductions. The National Weather Service and other agencies that are predominately composed of emergency/essential employees, because of their critical role in protecting public safety, should be excluded from budget or personnel reductions.
Dan Sobien, president, National Weather Service Employees Organization, Bradenton
For better lawmakers
I sympathize with the state legislators' plight of having short-term positions with long-term learning curves. It shifts power to the insiders, career bureaucrats and special interests.
First, I would suggest our elected officials must earn the public trust. If our society is to have a chance at reversing the incivility that is growing like a cancer around us, then start behaving like ladies and gentlemen who can be respected by all, whether we agree with you or hold an opposing view.
Second, as a goodwill gesture, officials could support Amendments 5 and 6 on fair districts and agree not to take the matter to the courts.
And they could turn the Public Service Commission back to the hands of the public whom, sad to say I must remind them, they are elected to serve.
Rich Packman, Clearwater
Rubio criticizes drawdown plans | Jan. 18
Wars draining the treasury
This story would be funny if it wasn't for the tragic loss of our most honorable troops carrying out this fiasco in Afghanistan.
Where is all the uproar over balancing budgets and fiscal responsibility? This ridiculous war and the other fiasco in Iraq have never been funded and never will be. The conservatives complain about spending but refuse to address the billions of dollars pumped into these wars. You can't have it both ways, senator. Either pay for this sad blot on America or get out.
Doug Bauer, Clearwater
Gun lobby runs amok
I am dumbfounded. Rep. Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford, has sponsored a bill (HB 155) that would make it a felony for a physician or staff member to ask patients or family members of patients if they own guns or store guns at home. If found guilty, the medical provider could be fined up to $5 million or face up to five years in jail.
I am sure the intent of such a bill is to prevent those radical, liberal bands of marauding pediatricians from coming to your home and taking guns away. However I would assume that a physician, like a pediatrician, would ask such a question to ensure guns are safely stored to prevent a child from accidentally putting a .22 slug in his skull. Or perhaps to ascertain if a mentally unstable patient might have the potential to injure himself or others. Preventing injury is what physicians and health care providers are mandated to do, especially pediatricians and emergency medical providers.
This bill, with such devastating penalties, clearly demonstrates the power of the National Rifle Association in this state. It also demonstrates the radical, paranoid and unrealistic responses from some gun owners and legislators on such issues.
I believe our legislators have much more important and urgent issues to address than this bit of propaganda.
Edward Briggs, St. Petersburg
Driving on wintry roads | Jan. 14
If you're heading north
Being a transplanted New Englander, I read this BayLink article with great interest. It was good but left out two important things that those who have never driven in ice and snow need to know. They are:
1. If you think you are losing traction, take your foot off the gas rather than stepping on the gas (perhaps a normal tendency). Apply the gas gingerly to maintain traction.
2. If you are driving a front-wheel-drive car (and most are these days) and need to slow down, do not downshift. Downshifting will cause your car to spin around backwards and go off the road.
This is from my personal experience.
Jack Flynn, Lecanto
Tempers rise with water bills | Jan. 19
Checking water flow
Most homeowners should be able to determine if water is leaking between their meter and their house.
First, find your meter and open the cover over it. In most meters your should see a needle-type gauge; a numeric rolling gauge, like the mileage readout in a car's speedometer; and a small triangle. If the triangle is rotating, water is flowing through the meter toward the house. Double-check all the faucets, toilets and sprinkler heads to see if water is flowing. If all faucets are off — with no dripping — and toilets are quiet and sprinkler heads are dry, then the triangle should be still.
Richard Formica, Tampa
An 'unmatched' public servant | Jan. 19
Shriver a great role model
It was refreshing and uplifting to read the article about Sargent Shriver. He had a zest for life and for helping his neighbor. His life was about serving the public, not the lobbyists or people with deep pockets. Shriver might have married into a very influential family, but his humility came through in this article.
It was sad to read about his decline from the awful disease of Alzheimer's, but his determination and love of other people still was there. He was not only a great role model for his children, but for many around the world.
Mark L. Grantham, Gulfport
He was an inspiration
I had the immense good fortune to work closely with Sargent Shriver in the early 1990s as director of public affairs for Special Olympics International in Washington, D.C.
To this day, Mr. Shriver remains the most inspirational person I've ever met. While his truly brilliant mind and gentle dignity were remarkable, it was his relentless optimism and total passion for service that inspired me to constantly push the envelope to achieve more than I ever dreamed I could. Mr. Shriver welcomed every idea — no matter how revolutionary — and always, his response was, "We can do that!" Then we did.
During those years, Special Olympics opened chapters throughout the former Soviet Union and, most remarkably, in China where people with mental disabilities were routinely shunned, institutionalized, or worse.
It marked the beginning of a global awareness of the abilities and potential of people with developmental disabilities.
Today, I mourn for my mentor. I am saddened, too, that Sargent Shriver's compassion, civility, integrity, commitment and dignity are so difficult to find in today's leaders and mentors.
Lari Johnson, St. Petersburg