TEACHERS LOBBY PLAYS ITS CARDS POLITICALLY

THE BALTIMORE SUN

What's a Mike Miller worth?

How many Vic Sulins for a Clayton Mitchell?

Questions to ponder as we pour over the snappy red, white and blue "baseball cards" of state lawmakers issued by the Maryland State Teachers Association.

The teachers lobby says it turned to this political gimmick as a way to "add a light touch to the legislative process."

The front of each card has a photo of the lawmaker and the appropriate politically correct party animal. On the back are some vital statistics and a reminder to: "Get Smart, Maryland. Invest in Education."

MSTA head Jane Stern says the cards are "our way of keepingeducation and the concerns of Maryland teachers in the forefront of the legislative process."

It's a great idea, but I think the MSTA should have used the back of the cards to tell us a bit more about the person on the front. For example, what's John Gary's legislative won-lost record? Where did Phil Jimeno put in his minor-league years? Will Mike Busch be an effective delegation leader coming out of the bullpen in relief?

Stern hopes legislators will trade them and hand them out to constituents.

That raises a bigger dilemma. Should I keep John Astle's card, hoping it will be worth more if he becomes a war hero, or should I try and trade for the wily veteran, Ray Huff? Will Marsha Perry's stock continue to climb or would I be better off looking for Joan Cadden's rookie card?

Bring on the legislative rotisserie league.

SOURCE: Candy Thomson

THEFT OF 'LIVING COLOR'SIGN: 'HATED IT!'

Somewhere out there, an anonymous fan of the television show "In Living Color" has an 8-foot-by-4-foot souvenir mounted on his wall, ormaybe stored in his garage.

Whoever he is and wherever he lives, that fan should know one thing: Safe drivers may get two snaps up, but sign stealers definitely get a "Hated it!"

Around the first of the year, members of the 3rd Platoon at the Annapolis fire station on Forest Drive decided to try to encourage people to drive better by borrowing a page from Fox television's "In Living Color."

Using characters from the show's "Men on Film" segments, the six members created an instant plywood landmark. "Men on Film," with hosts Antoine and Blaine, is a takeoff on film critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert; instead of turning their thumbs up or down, good movies on "Men on Film"are lauded with snapping fingers and various other motions, while bad ones generate looks of disgust and cries of "Hated it!"

Armed with a T-shirt bearing Antoine and Blaine's likenesses, the firefighters painted the characters' heads on a piece of plywood, then added a huge star as background and the message "Safe drivers get two snaps up."

"The guys did a heck of a job," Lt. Eden Avery said from the station Monday.

Obviously, Lieutenant Avery wasn't the only one impressed.

On Jan. 19, the sign disappeared. It hasn't been seen since.

"I think it must have been a college prank or something," the lieutenant said. "It's probably hanging on someone's dorm wall someplace."

A new sign now greets westbound traffic on Forest Drive. A little, big-nosed gremlin sheds a tear as he asks simply that the old sign be returned.

Let's hope the sign-stealer -- the one with the guilty conscience -- is satisfied; not only has he robbed Annapolis ofwhat was destined to become a local landmark, he's made a little cartoon dude cry.

Of course, he could bring the sign back. Now that would be a really snaps-up thing to do.

SOURCE: Chris Kaltenbach

IS THIS A CASE OF THE FLAG WAVING THE DOG?

The guy with the two big American flags streaming from poles stuck in the back of his pickup truck surely meant well. That's why I felt rather bad that, when his truck zoomed past me on the Severn River bridge last week, the first thing I did was laugh.

I realize the danger in making that confession. Flying flags is fashionable. Supporting the troops is fashionable.

As I write this, I already am preparing myself to be deluged withcalls telling me to head for Mongolia, if I don't like the sight of Old Glory zipping along U.S. 50 at 75 mph.

Before you call, let mesay this: I defend anyone's right to fly giant flags from their vehicles, wrap themselves in yellow ribbons or wear Operation Desert Storm T-shirts like the those on display in at least one Annapolis shop window. But if you're going to drive a pickup truck that looks this silly, don't expect me not to laugh.

At lunch the other day, a friend and I discussed the phenomenon of "supporting the troops" with bumper stickers, ribbons, T-shirts and other memorabilia. Since this waris being fought on foreign soil, she said, people have no other way of showing their support. If tangible items such as T-shirts and lapel ribbons foster a sense of unity, so much the better.

Almost without exception, families of the men and women in the gulf say they areencouraged by so many outward symbols of patriotism, even ludicrous ones like the flag-festooned pickup. The nation seems to have made a conscious decision to avoid what happened in Vietnam, when Americans took out their disillusionment on the troops.

Still, I can't help wondering that if, in an effort to redress past wrongs, we are popularizing -- even cheapening -- patriotism to the point where it is being equated with symbols rather than ideas. It's easy to wear an Operation Desert Storm T-shirt, much as you'd wear your school colors to a pep rally. Making genuine sacrifices because you believe in a cause is much, much harder.

In other wars, civilians at home had to make real sacrifices. They limited consumption, worked in defense factories, volunteered in hospitals. In this war, no one -- except, of course, the military and their families -- has been asked to sacrifice anything except, occasionally, their favorite television show.

We haveall the food we want. We have all the clothing and other material goods we want. We have been asked neither to conserve energy nor to payhigher gasoline prices. And, because the number of allied casualtiesso far have been comparatively few, we have been able to harbor an unrealistic and bloodless vision of the war.

Some day not too far in the future, Americans likely will have to make sacrifices. That iswhen we'll find out how much the yellow ribbons and streaming banners of red, white and blue are really worth.

SOURCE: Elise Armacost

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