Even in war, some want to clear the air

Sunday, April 6, 2003

We're glued to the ultimate reality show - the war in Iraq, beamed into our homes in living color, complete with sandstorms, bombs bursting in air and embedded reporters in combat gear.

There have always been dispatches from the front, but today's technology gives us a front-row seat at the battle for Baghdad.

Of course, not everyone is watching the war. Becca and Bailey still prefer Disney shows or in Becca's case, even a good mystery.

Watching retired generals pontificate over high-tech maps of Iraq doesn't interest them.

Personally, I think the images of war captured by still-camera photographers are more compelling. They shout out at you without the green fog of night-vision TV shots that have become as common as Pentagon briefings.

This is more than a TV war. It's an Internet war too, where every move can be followed on countless media Web sites.

But while the Bush administration marches on in its mission to liberate Iraq, lesser liberties are being lost at home.

St. Louis area taxicab drivers are unhappy over proposed rules from a taxicab commission that would require them to speak English and accept credit cards. They've filed a lawsuit in federal court claiming the commission has violated their constitutional rights.

This whole issue would never have surfaced in New York City, where it's difficult to find a taxi driver who speaks English. New Yorkers seem to have found a way to cope with the language barrier. They take the subway.

It seems to me this whole problem in St. Louis could be avoided if the commission would just mandate that a language interpreter ride shotgun in every taxi. This would improve communication between passengers and cab drivers while boosting employment.

Besides, we should be preserving cultural diversity, not destroying it. America's colleges and universities should require their students to take taxicab rides so they'll learn how to cuss in a foreign language.

Cab drivers with few English skills may be safe in New York, but the city has instituted a ban on smoking in the workplace, which means people can't even light up in a bar.

Such a law has to make smokers elsewhere in America uneasy. Up until now, bars have been the last refuge for smokers.

I'm not a smoker myself. But I confess to having a little nostalgia when it comes to America's taverns.

A little cigarette smoke adds to the décor of many Southeast Missouri drinking establishments in the same way that we cherish the winding country road because it doesn't run in a straight line.

Banning smoking in bars could prove as dangerous as Prohibition, giving rise to "smoke-easies" some New Yorkers suggest.

The nation is on a high-terror alert and now New Yorkers have something else to worry about -- the criminal smoker.

Guys like Eddie Dean can't see through the smoke. Dean owns a New York City bar called the Tiki Lounge. "New Yorkers are defined as a different kind of person. It's a gruffer place. It's less healthy," he told The Associated Press.

It's hard to argue with such logic.

Smoking, of course, is still allowed in war. Some liberties, they say, are worth fighting for.

Mark Bliss is a staff writer for the Southeast Missourian.

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