Hear that squawking? It's not The Bird. It's that group we've come to know as "downtown artists."
This time they're not shrieking about city fathers trying to police the lawlessness of their monthly First Friday gatherings (one of which is coming up just next week) along that stretch of galleries known as Roosevelt Row. Nope. This time, the brush-heads have gotten their paint-splattered panties in a bunch because ValueOptions, the Maricopa County mental-health agency, has opened a 24-hour Urgent Psychiatric Care facility at Second Street and Garfield -- mere spitting distance from First Fridays hot spots, not to mention the studios and homes of the artists who keep this new arts community alive.
The newly opened nut farm is housed in a 15,000-square-foot concrete bunker that provides round-the-clock head-shrinking services to patients who either walk in or are escorted in by local law enforcement. ValueOptions' Jeff Karako told The Bird that the facility treats about 30 people a day, from garden-variety manic-depressives who need refills of their meds to hard-core nut jobs who are "a danger to themselves or others."
So much for that old saw about artists being big-hearted and sensitive. Most of the creative types The Bird chewed the rag with were so busy bitching about the weirdoes walking their streets and goofing up their art openings that they forgot to make like they give a hoot about any humankind who can't draw, sculpt or perform theatrically.
The Bird managed to keep its beak shut, but it couldn't help but wonder: Is there that great a divide between ValueOptions loonies and those who make their living making mobiles out of old Dixie cups? That would be some of the downtown, um, artists.
The Bird perched on the shoulder of one Roosevelt Row gallery owner -- who refused to be identified, of course -- just long enough to hear this: "We have enough trouble with the transients coming in on First Fridays without having to deal with sick people, too. I know it sounds bad, but we want people to come back to First Friday. They won't if they think [downtown is] all just homeless bag people and people on leave from a psych facility."
Whined Sam Wilkes, Row resident and Artists' Theatre Project actor, "It's a little scary because we don't know who's going to be walking around our neighborhood. I have a roommate who's 18, and it's possible that some psycho could accost her!"
Did this guy just fall off the turnip truck? Regardless of whether there's a mental-health facility around the corner, there are always crazies on the streets of U.S. downtowns.
The Roosevelt Row goobers would've complained about Vincent Van Gogh hanging out.
Between carping about their new wacky neighbors, Wilkes and Ian Wender -- a resident of Holgas, a trendy Roosevelt Row apartment complex populated by arty types -- like to complain that ValueOptions didn't deign to tell residents it was opening a nuthouse.
Um, the artists must've been so busy rinsing brushes that they missed the facility's much-publicized grand opening ceremony in September. The event, The Bird heard from ValueOptions chief operating officer Sue Dess, was attended by local politicos like Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox and state Senators Robert Meza and Jim Warring. (Talk about goofballs in their midst!)
Dess pooh-poohs the notion that her clients pose any threat to Roosevelt residents or visitors, and points out that the neighborhood was already home to Art Awakenings, an art-based therapy program for people with serious mental illnesses.
In any case, this feathered fiend doesn't understand what all the fuss is about. It seems mighty convenient for artists to have a mental-health facility right in their neighborhood. They'll have less distance to travel when their crayons break and they just can't take it no more.
Ticket to Ride
The timing couldn't have been worse. This month, the Scottsdale City Council was faced with voting on whether to go ahead with a pilot project to pioneer photo radar cameras on Loop 101.
The Bird supposes that, by now, everyone has gotten used to the pesky red-light cameras now in place in Valley cities from Paradise Valley to Chandler, but Scottsdale's program will mark the first time that cameras will be used to catch speeders on a U.S. freeway.
And so let's just say that Scottsdale couldn't have been happy to admit that, in the very same month that it's authorizing unprecedented use of photo radar surveillance, it's also quietly refunding fines from 1,964 traffic tickets mistakenly issued to its citizens.
You read that right: 1,964 drivers were wrongly ticketed in Scottsdale.
Ouch! You know how it goes: There you are, sailing along at a modest 20 miles over the speed limit, when you're zapped by a flash of light. A month later you get a citation with your beaming mug bearing the official record that you were driving 55 in a 35 zone.
Well, what The Bird heard is that every one of those photo tickets issued is supposed to have the date, time and speed stamped in a "data bar" across the damning photograph.
But as Bruce Kalin, the program contract administrator for Scottsdale, explains, the city's photo radar vendor, hometown company RedFlex, was jiggling with the software in one of its mobile photo radar vans and, somehow, said software was mistakenly changed so that it deleted that little data bar that lists date, time and speed.
That happened in July. And although someone is supposed to check every citation to make sure it's got that key date-time-speed information, that someone didn't catch the problems affecting the van in question until October -- almost four months later.
At which point, the city figured it had a problem.
"If that [time and mph] information isn't there, it's technically not a photo that can be used as evidence," Kalin told The Bird. Which must mean that all those tickets are inadmissible in traffic court. Which could, of course, lead to something this extended third finger dearly loves -- a great big scandal!
And so Scottsdale began quietly mailing refunds.
"Anybody who paid will be refunded," Kalin vowed to this faux falcon. "If they went to driver's school, that will be refunded. We're also refunding process-server fees."
Kalin says the city isn't out a dime. The refunds are being paid by the city's outside contractor, RedFlex, since it's the one that screwed up. Damn! The Bird was hoping that greedy Snottsdale would get punished for its damnable money-grubbing policies!
Scottsdale Councilman Jim Lane, an outspoken critic of the Loop 101 plan, says he was first informed of the refunds by a constituent who'd just gotten his money back -- and, naturally, that guy wasn't calling to complain.
"He was delighted," Lane says.
But the plumed one's still guessing there are some people who aren't.
Like the people who sat through six hours of traffic school only to be told they'd wasted their time. Sure, they get their money back, but what about those six hours of their lives?
Can you say pain and suffering?
None of this much fazed the City Council majority, which went ahead and approved the Loop 101 plan. The city's now estimating that the new cameras will nab 198,500 speeders a year -- which means no one should cry for RedFlex. The company gets $42.48 per citation, which could mean $8.4 million for RedFlex in the first full year of operation. It can afford to make a couple of thousand refunds, fuck you very much!
The Bird's never less than entertained by the flatulent rhetoric that blows from the pie-holes of the pious, so it loved the Vatican's recent announcement of new policies against homosexuals in the church.
Seems Pope Benedict XVI (the Pope formerly known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, and author of some of the nastiest anti-gay documents to come out of the Vatican in the 1980s) has been pressed to come up with a scapegoat for all the horrific sex crimes perpetrated against children by his church.
Surprise! Pope Ben has singled out America's favorite whipping boy, the Homosexual Male, to pin these hideous crimes on.
The five-page Vatican report, called an "Instruction," rejects seminary candidates who are "actively homosexual, have deep-seated homosexual tendencies, or support the so-called gay culture." It goes on to say that "One cannot ignore the negative consequences that can stem from the ordination of people with deeply rooted homosexual tendencies.'' (The Bird presumes that "negative consequences" is papal code for "diddling altar boys when no one is watching.")
The report suggests a solution to the church's rampant pedophilia: Admit only homosexual seminarians who've been celibate for three years -- a notion championed in a brief written statement from Phoenix Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted last month.
Of course, there are no similar rules for heteros. It's just the swishier seminarians who must dodge sex and "gay culture," meaning books or movies detailing homosexual activity.
To which The Bird must cry to His Holiness: Your doctrine also denounces heterosexual intercourse outside of marriage, but The Bird doesn't see any rules barring straight seminarians from buying books or tickets to films that depict that particular sin (which, of course, would be the majority of books and films created in the past 50 years).
And, okay, most of the molestation cases in the Roman Catholic Church have involved male victims. But even a pretend pigeon knows that this doesn't mean all gay priests are potential molesters.
Touché, says the very Reverend Chris Carpenter, pastor of Christ the King church in Mesa. "Sex abuse in the church is not a homosexual problem," Carpenter insists. "It's more about the abuse of power."
Carpenter cites a study on the church's sex abuse woes from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice that found no clinical evidence suggesting homosexual priests are more likely to have sex with minors than heterosexual ones.
"The Vatican's Instruction takes aim at gay seminarians to distract Catholics from the real issue," says Mark Elliott Newman, president of the Phoenix chapter of Dignity/Integrity, a gay Catholic group. "That issue is a church hierarchy that protects abusers but fails to protect abuse victims.
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"There may be some gay priests who are pedophiles," Newman told The Bird. "But moving them from church to church, as the Catholic hierarchy tends to do, is not the answer. Nor is scapegoating gay priests."
Bottom line: Gay does not equal pedophile. The latter's a reprehensible condition that afflicts both sexual orientations.
What the Catholic Church needs to do is, at the first sign of pedophilia by a priest, gay or straight, turn his ass over to the police. It's a no-brainer, yet it's something that continues not to happen.