Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | July 1, 2008

Puh-lease: Too little common sense, too much hypocrisy

This week I’ve compiled a natural disaster-themed roundup of current events that make me roll my eyes, shake my head and utter a two-syllable “puh-lease.”

Thanks to the numerous lightning-sparked fires plaguing our region, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District issued advisories warning of unhealthy, smoke-filled air.

These advisories, while issued with the best of intentions, always make me roll my eyes and wonder: What are we supposed to do about the bad air, stop breathing?

Thankfully, I haven’t noticed any lung irritation during the last several days, but the smoke is a major problem for my eyes. Sometimes it gets so bad, the only thing I can do is the visual equivalent of not breathing: close them.

I’ve considered leaving the area until the smoke clears – it’s difficult to be productive when your eyes are closed – but gasoline prices are so high that outrunning the smoke in a car is prohibitively expensive, not to mention prohibitively time consuming.

So why not fly to some smoke-free destination for the duration? Puh-lease. The same high oil prices that are boosting gasoline prices are boosting jet fuel prices, meaning that outrunning the smoke in a plane is prohibitively expensive, not to mention prohibitively annoying, thanks to the dubiously effective safety measures to which air passengers must submit. Air travel elicits lots of head shakes and eye rolls from me.

One lesson that the unusually early and vicious fire season should teach us is renewed respect for how dry this region is. Right?

Puh-lease, not in Gilroy. Despite fresh evidence that we live in an area that’s ready to go up in flames at the drop of a spark, Gilroy remains the one place in Santa Clara County where “safe and sane” fireworks – and there’s a term that induces head shakes every time I see it – are legal.

Last week, with the air full of eye-stinging, lung-clogging smoke, Gilroy City Council held an emergency meeting to consider a one-year fireworks ban. The proposal suffered an eye-roll inducing lopsided defeat, 5-1. Councilman Peter Arellano cast the lone vote to ban fireworks this year; Mayor Al Pinheiro was absent.

I know the current fires were started by lightning, not fireworks, as Councilman Dion Bracco is fond of pointing out. That’s not the important lesson taught by the current fires, or the other recent fires attributed to other causes. The important lesson is that, to paraphrase a holiday song, baby, it’s dry outside.

In addition, the mix of legal and illegal fireworks makes it very difficult for fire officials and police to distinguish between fireworks that are “safe and sane” and those that are, I must deduce, “unsafe and insane.”

It also leads to the lame attempt to control illegal fireworks called administrative citations. Instead of citing the person who’s using the “unsafe and insane” fireworks, officials can take the easy way out and cite the owner of property where illegal fireworks are used.

With administrative citations, officials don’t worry if the owner might be a landlord who lives several blocks, cities, counties or states away, or might be a resident owner who’s out of town. Instead, with administrative citations, property owners are held responsible for the actions of others.

Puh-lease, common sense should tell officials that scheme is patently unfair. But common sense should also tell them that fireworks and tinder-dry conditions don’t mix.

But, common sense is clearly in short supply.

Of course, natural disasters like fires aren’t limited to the liberal, diverse, tolerant, same-sex marrying state of California.

The Midwest, the veritable buckle of the Bible belt, a predominantly religious, politically conservative region, is experiencing the opposite natural disaster: flooding, the worst in decades.

But I wonder, where are the prominent religious right wingers blaming the Midwest flooding on the victims, as so many did after Hurricane Katrina?

Perhaps they’re silent because the fact that Midwesterners are among America’s most religious and most conservative citizens proves an uncomfortable truth: That natural disasters aren’t related to abortion rates, tolerance for homosexuality, or prevalence of non-Judeo-Christian religions and non-literal Biblical interpretations.

You can’t proclaim natural disasters to be God’s vengeance on the wicked when they strike a region populated mostly with people with whom you disagree and remain silent when natural disasters strike a region populated mostly with people with whom you agree.

At least, not without generating an eye roll, a head shake, a “puh-lease” and a charge of hypocrisy from me.

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