Off Key! From aerial assaults to bullies paid off?

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By Robert Frederickson

Elsa’s unexpected toll …


Well, the first hurricane of the season blew by just after Independence Day, thankfully delivering only a glancing blow to the area. Still, as is often the case with predictions and forecasts made in this life, danger and misfortune often arrive from unexpected directions. Just ask the many folks in North Port who had to deal with rising water threatening their homes as 10-plus inches of rainwater slowly rolled down the Myakka watershed on its way to Charlotte Harbor well after the storm had left the area.

Then there was my own home where I awoke the morning after the storm to the clash and clatter of a full-fledged, adrenaline-fueled battle royal unfolding in the kitchen. It involved my bride fully engaged with a squadron of dive-bombing yellow jackets that had somehow gained entry into our modest abode. Brave soldier that she is, she had already dispatched three of the fiends by using the flat-bottomed end of a Swifter mop to pin the offending devils up against the wall. But several more members of the squadron were regrouping high above at altitudes beyond even our Swifter-enhanced reach. They were circling in the upper reaches of the cutouts for the skylights in the living room, employing a strategy used by some of the greatest pilots in the annals of aerial combat: preparing to attack out of the sun to blind their foe… But a ladder brought up to the front line from the rear (that being the garage) quickly broke their advantage and finally, the battle was won,

Or so we thought … but no, a few minutes later, another fighter appeared on the horizon.

“What the heck is going on here?” the bride exclaimed (not her exact words, as some reading this who know the woman will have already surmised).

But this intruder soon augured in as well and we finally had a moment to reflect on just how the squadron had been able to penetrate our (presumed) restricted air space.

I figured it must have something to do with the storm. So I stepped out onto the second story deck off the kitchen and looked at the rear of the house to see if a falling limb or some other debris had compromised a wall or the roof. Nothing. Then it dawned on me: I had brought in the patio furniture and a tall pedestal fan that had been out on the deck as directed by Steve Jerve and every other weatherman within earshot. I had placed the fan just inside the sliding glass door near the kitchen, since the garage (on the opposite side of the house) was already full. Now, as I examined the fan’s insides I saw it: hidden behind one of the blades: a 5-inch wide yellow jacket nest with about 15 or 20 bees milling about, ready to avenge their fallen comrades. It turns out we hadn’t used the fan since the previous fall, so the bees had plenty of time to build their nest undisturbed by spinning fan blades.

My wife opened the sliding glass door and I slowly moved the fan and its passengers back out onto the deck.

Peace and plenty had again returned to the land we call home. But a valuable lesson had been learned, or perhaps re-learned: All security is an illusion.

Ohh, and another thing: Check for wasp or yellow jacket nests before listening to the weather guy and bringing in you’re lawn furniture.

Lightning strikes … twice!  

Well, Sarasota resident and Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik has done it again: His franchise has one its third Stanley Cup, with the last two coming back-to-back, a testament to the team’s recent dominance. 

A boat parade down the Hillsborough River in Tampa to celebrate the Lightning victory was the third such celebration hosted by Tampa in the past year, the last coming in February after the Bucs won the Super Bowl. You may remember QB Tom Brady tossing the championship trophy from his boat to another on that occasion, something he blamed on too much Avocado Tequila.

No such trophy toss occurred this time around, perhaps due to the size differential. The Lombardi Trophy weighs in at about 7 pounds while the Stanley Cup tips the scale at a formidable 35.

Why so large? Well, since 1925 every member of every team that has won the trophy has had their name engraved on the cup, meaning every decade or so another ring has to be added to accommodate the ever-increasing list of names.

Now that’s a trophy to be admired.

Off Key irony of the day

Cuban protesters have taken to the streets across the island nation recently in a push for greater freedom. Many in the crowds have been seen waving American flags. Meantime leftists in this country wear Che Guevara T-shirts and denigrate that same flag, calling it a symbol of oppression. Ex-NFL quarterback Colin Kapernick even showed up to a press conference wearing a shirt emblazoned with Fidel Castro’s visage screen-printed on the front a while back.

My idea?

How about a permanent citizen exchange program?

Billion-dollar bully?

Many small businesses, both here in southwest Florida and across the nation at large, have complained about what they see as strong-arm sales tactics used by the internet review firm Yelp in their advertising sales efforts.

There’s a documentary on the subject with the title “Billion Dollar Bully.” It seeks to explain the business model Yelp allegedly employs through the words of small business owners who have dealt with the company and its sales pitches, which one business owner featured in the film compares to a thug walking in the door and saying “Nice business you’ve got here … It would be a shame if something happened to it.”

Those interviewed tell remarkably similar stories. Basically they describe a pattern where after declining a Yelp sales associate’s initial advertising solicitation, the reviews posted to their businesses’ Yelp pages suddenly shift, taking on a decidedly more negative cast. Newer, less flattering reviews get highlighted on the most prominent portion of their Yelp pages with older, more positive ones get filtered out of the overall rating the businesses receive.

A few days later the owners say they receive a follow-up call from their Yelp rep promising help “cleaning up” their reviews … if they agree to sign up for one of the company’s advertising packages.

Even worse, the documentary shows individual business owners recounting their inability to opt out of Yelp by taking down their Yelp pages. Those pages belong to Yelp it turns out, not the businesses to which they point.

Those who have tried to sue say they quickly learn about the archaic Section 230 law passed by Congress in 1996 to protect internet companies from being sued over the content they pass along to the public … protections that don’t exist for more traditional news and information outlets like this newspaper that must fairly consider what they report or suffer the consequences.

The Section 230 rules are the same ones that allow companies like Twitter and Facebook to cancel users or delete content that expresses views and opinions not in keeping with their own corporate or political self-interest.

Ironically, the Section 230 rules were part of a bill named “The Communication Decency Act.”

I recommend the documentary to anyone with an interest in this subject. I’ve heard of at least one local business having issues with Yelp and suspect there may be many more. If you have an experience you’d like to share — good or bad — feel free to reach out to me through the Siesta Sand.

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