January 2020

I saw this sign at the Checkers on Dale Mabry, just north of Northdale last Sunday, and had to stop to take a photo of it.

In case you’re wondering, the term comes from the 1992 book The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate by Gary Chapman. Think of it as The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, but for the kind of person who re-watches Titanic and The Notebook regularly, or for couples taking premarital courses.

In the book, Chapman explains his theory that each person generally has one primary and one secondary “love language”, which is the way in which they express and experience love. Now that I’ve piqued your curiosity as to what the five love languages are, you can now rest easy that I found a nice chart that summarizes it:

Tap the chart to see it at full size.

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The “look” at the Virginia rally, explained

by Joey deVilla on January 20, 2020

If you’ve been watching the news about the “pro-gun” rally in Virginia, you may have noticed that this is the defining “look” of the protesters:

Want to know what’s behind the beard-and-sunglasses aesthetic? Find out in Nate Powell’s comic, About Face, which explains this uniform paramilitarized look.

It also explains what’s behind the black-and-white U.S. flag, the predominance of the Punisher’s death’s head logo among the beard-and-and sunglasses set, and more.

I’ll close by repeating the final lines in the comic, because they’re that important:

At its core, this is a child’s power fantasy finally enacted in adulthood, speaking only the language of power, the intellectual crudeness of reaction, contrarianism, opposition.

This is a canary in a coalmine (just one of many): that aggrieved, insecure white Americans with an exaggerated sense of sovereignty have officially declared their existence as above the law, consistent with a long tradition of living and acting above it — propped up by apolitical consumer trends’ normalizing impact.

These are the future fascist paramilitary participants and their ushers — take them seriously.

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Baby, it’s (relatively) cold outside

by Joey deVilla on January 20, 2020

We’re closing in on the end of January, which means it’s time for that brief period known as “Tampa Winter”! This week, temperatures are expected to drop to lows in “the 30’s” — that’s between -1° and +4° for people who measure temperatures in degrees Celsius. It’s 48°F / 9°C as I write this, and I saw a couple of people in winter coats on my drive to work.

Photo by Douglas R. Clifford, Tampa Bay Times. Tap to see the source.

Tampa Bay is a humid place, and paired with these temperatures, you get a kind of cold that my fellow Canadians will find somewhat familiar, if cute. Expect lot of gnashing of teeth from the locals, especially those who wear a t-shirt, shorts, and flip-flops all the time (the caption that the Tampa Bay Times used for the photo above starts with “Insulated with blue jeans…”).

More reading:

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U.S. presidents and their dogs

by Joey deVilla on January 18, 2020

Tap the image to see it at full size.

Is it possible to neuter a dog twice? It certainly appears to have happened to the bitch in the lower right-hand corner.

Worth reading

The recent Rolling Stone article on Lindsey Graham has a great quote from former Republican strategist Steve Schmidt that perfectly summarizes Graham and lot of other people who’ve hitched their fortunes, identities, and hopes to Trump’s incredibly corrupt wagon:

“People try to analyze Lindsey through the prism of the manifest inconsistencies that exist between things that he used to believe and what he’s doing now,” Schmidt says. “The way to understand him is to look at what’s consistent. And essentially what he is in American politics is what, in the aquatic world, would be a pilot fish: a smaller fish that hovers about a larger predator, like a shark, living off of its detritus. That’s Lindsey. And when he swam around the McCain shark, broadly viewed as a virtuous and good shark, Lindsey took on the patina of virtue. But wherever the apex shark is, you find the Lindsey fish hovering about, and Trump’s the newest shark in the sea. Lindsey has a real draw to power — but he’s found it unattainable on his own merits.

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Seen at the supermarket

by Joey deVilla on January 18, 2020

I like grits, but I have no idea if the instant stuff is any good, or even passable. Who’s tried them, and what do you think?

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At last, Tampa Bay gets its own Jollibee!

by Joey deVilla on January 17, 2020

At long last, Tampa Bay has its own Jollibee!

Located in Pinellas Park (4057 Park Blvd North), it opened its doors this morning at 9:00 a.m., and people lined up early in order to be among the first to get inside. Some of them, like this guy, have been there since last night:

Jollibee know that they have a dedicated fanbase who’ll camp out for a grand opening, so they set up some covering to make the campers more comfortable:

To understand what Jollibee means to Filipinos, check out this article: Why Jollibee Is Much More Than a Filipino McDonald’s. Here’s the key paragraph:

But Jollibee is more than just a Filipino restaurant. It’s a symbol of the Philippines itself—delightfully cheesy but totally earnest in its beliefs. We are a karaoke-loving people who embrace all things mawkishly sentimental. We make McDonald’s commercials featuring grandfathers with Alzheimer’s that I can’t even watch the first ten seconds of without tearing up. And I’m not alone in equating Jollibee with homesick feelings for a birthplace I never got to properly know.

If you’re not Filipino or have never been to a Jollibee, you’re probably wondering what it’s like. Let’s start with the late Anthony Bourdain, who visited a Jollibee in Manila for the season 7 premiere of his CNN show, Parts Unknown:

“I sneer at fast food, revile it at every opportunity but I am also a hypocrite because to me, Filipino chain Jollibee is the wackiest, jolliest place on Earth.”

To get a taste for what Jollibee is like in the U.S., I’ll point you to the Fung Bros.’ review of the one in Los Angeles:

Here’s Layne Fable, an American who spent some time in the Philippines, visiting a Jollibee with her brother in New Jersey:

A little closer to home, “LuisYouTube” took some Jollibee first-timers to the branch in Jacksonville:

I will be there soon.

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Photo by Joey deVilla. Tap to see at full size.

Someday, perhaps a decade from now, when we’re all looking back at how far the Tampa Bay area has come, we’ll look back and remark at the key role that Café con Tampa played. Every Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. in the Oxford Exchange’s Commerce Club, Tampa’s most active, engaged, involved, and well-dressed citizens gather to hear important topics given by interesting speakers while enjoying a delicious breakfast in beautiful surroundings.

Photo by Joey deVilla. Tap to see at full size.

Last Friday’s edition of Café con Tampa’s guest speakers Rick Homans from the Tampa Bay Partnership and Moez Limayem, Dean of the USF Muma College of Business, who talked about the newly-released 2020 Regional Competitiveness Report. This is the third year this report was released, and it compares the Tampa Bay region to 19 similar metro areas in the U.S. using economic indicators.

You can view the report online here.

The report paints a picture of an area with great potential and great disparity. In a meeting when the report was released the day before, Dave Sobush, director of policy and research at the Tampa Bay Partnership, had this to say:

“The Tampa Bay that many of us enjoy is not the Tampa Bay experienced by many of our neighbors, and while we should be proud of all that we’ve accomplished in recent years, we should also recognize that we can – and must – do better.”

Here are my photos and notes from the event:

Photo by Joey deVilla. Tap to see at full size.

Photo by Joey deVilla. Tap to see at full size.

Photo by Joey deVilla. Tap to see at full size.

  • The mantra: “What gets measured is what gets done.”
  • When the Amazons of the world look at us to see if they want to set up shop here, they look at the hard data, and not the “fluffy stuff”.
  • In the report, they paid attention to six specific “proven,” “unimpeachable” drivers of regional competitiveness, namely:
    1. Economic vitality
    2. Innovation
    3. Infrastructure
    4. Talent
    5. Civic quality
    6. Outcomes

They started by citing some statistics from the report.

First, the good news. Of the 20 regions in the comparison, Tampa Bay is number one in net migration!

That’s one of the factors in Tampa Bay’s business establishment start rate…

…as well as the share of its jobs which are in the “advanced industry” category:

Tampa Bay placed in the top 10 for 14 other indicators.

And then there’s the rest of the story: Tampa Bay placed at or near the bottom for 20 indicators, including percentage of working poor: 43% of Tampa Bay residents fall into working poor category.

Of the metros in the list, Tampa Bay placed second-last, with Orlando at the bottom:

Here’s median household income: Tampa Bay is at the bottom of the 20 metros, with a mean of $55,701.

Tampa and Orlando also have the highest pedestrian and cyclist fatality rate, with Tampa being only slightly better than Orlando:

Tampa’s at the bottom of the list when it comes to availability of public transit, which is measured via revenue miles per capita, which measures the number of miles traveled by public transit vehicles during revenue service. If you live here — and especially if you moved here from a city with usable transit options — this is no surprise:

Educational attainment is another big economic indicator, and once again, Tampa is near the bottom:

We’re at the bottom in labor force participation rate, which is the percentage of the working-age population that’s either:

  • employed, or
  • unemployed and able to work and actively looking

When I first moved here, I got into a conversation with a taxi driver who’d immigrated here. He said “The best thing about this place is that I’m a genius next to the locals.” He may have had a point, based on these education achievement numbers:

Another place where we’re rock-bottom: Per capital GRP — gross regional product, where you take the value of goods and services produced in the region and divide it by population:

  • These are major economic and structural issues
  • Looking at where we stand in comparison to other regions, it’s tempting to say “Thank God for Miami, thank God for Orlando,” which place worse in some indicators
  • The numbers get worse for women and people of color
  • “Are we for taking from rich and giving to the poor? That’s not the idea”
  • Economic mobility is the American dream
  • Of the 20 million Americans born in the 80s, those born in the northeast and midwest are likely to be better off than their parents. However, if you were from the south or southeast, that’s considerably less likely to be the case.
  • The southeast trend isn’t irreversible, nor is Tampa Bay doomed.
  • Minneapolis was once where we were now, but they took steps to bring them to where they are today.
  • You may be surprised to find out that a lot of research shows that the number one factor in upward economic mobility is the availability of public transit

Q & A

Q: We’re seeing wage growth in other parts of Florida outpacing our own. The state overall has 2 times Tampa’s wage growth, and in the case of Miami, it’s three times. We also have higher costs of housing. How do we fix this?

A: We’re not attracting the right level of jobs. We looked at signals and indicators in LinkedIn and Indeed.com, and for Tampa Bay, the opportunities and the path to growth are in work in the financial and IT sectors. We also have to resolve the problem that for the same jobs, people in Tampa Bay are paid less, even when you account for cost of living.

Q: So the report says that improving housing, education and public transport is necessary. Who’s doing that?

A: These are very important — especially having a reliable transit system. The economic situation in Minneapolis was bad until transit improved. We’re just part of a team, and the team that will deliver the necessary solutions has to be a bigger team than us. What we need to first do is realize that it’s okay to talk about our weaknesses — as long as we start addressing them. If we come back here every year and depress people, everyone will hate us!

Q: I’m trying to bring back the Urban League of Hillsborough County back. Will you help us?

A: Yes — we can talk about inequality or inequity. We need to look at zip code data vs. genetic data. Too many people are being left behind: there’s a 46% unemployment rate in certain neighborhoods in St. Pete. If we want to be among the best, no one in Tamp Bay should be left behind. We need to give people a chance regardless of race and zip code, and if we do that, we all win. This isn’t just a moral imperative, but a pragmatic one.

Q: How do you balance the effort to bring in companies vs. growing local companies? I’m thinking of ConnectWise, whose acquisition turned many employees into millionaires.

A: One reason ConnectWise was successful: USF alums! It’s important to keep our businesses here and give them the power to expand. We’re seeing increasing activity in the tech space at all levels, from large companies at the Synapse Summit to startups at Embarc Collective.

Q: The report covers a lot of things and the project of improving Tampa Bay may be too big. Can we focus on getting started with small improvements, such as raising teacher salaries, making the most of existing transit resources, and raising the salaries of the working poor?

A: We need a regional strategy. We’re just doing the research and making recommendations; we don’t have a plan for Tampa Bay. We’re trying to provide tools and data to formulate a plan. The good news is that there are a lot of things going on here in Tampa Bay to make things better. The bad news is that we’re fragmented and don’t talk to each other.

Q: What are solutions to our transportation issues? We got the sales tax to fund transit improvements approved — how do we use it now? How do we deal with the bridges, which are a choke point? Improvements of any sort could cost billions, and we still have people fighting the transit tax.

A: Right now, Tampa Bay is at 10 revenue miles per capita. In comparison, Seattle is at 30. We’d like to see it go up to at least 20, which would be a big deal. There are currently two valid projects for regional connectivity: Regional bus rapid transit using right of ways and shoulders, and CSX (a big challenge, but we need to look at it). We’re light years ahead of where we were 3 years ago — let’s develop the vision and plan to get the rest of the way.  It will take time, but we need the effort.

Q: What are the dangers as we move the needle?

A: Cooperation between different groups and area, and sharing of expertise.

Q: Job growth comes largely from small businesses. Was there any attempt to separate small businesses in the report?

A: We looked at small businesses and entrepreneurs and counted them in. We found that for these businesses, early stage funding is the number one challenge. One of the warning signs in the report is that the rate of job growth is steadily declining.

Q: Is it wise to focus on elements of our transit system or focus on it as a whole?

A: It should be viewed as a whole, in order to better find ways to increase coverage and reliability. We have expertise and the data — we need to act! And yes, the ferry is a component of the system.

Q: Part of the problem is that when you talk to people from outside about Florida, they think of Miami and Disney, and that’s it. How do we solve this and get more people to think of Tampa Bay?

A: There’s the Global Tampa Bay initiative. We need it to send out a unified message, as the various counties in the region compete and send different signals. The gap between us and competitors is increasing, so we need to figure out what our regional brand is. There are good models to follow, both inside and outside Tampa Bay.

Café con Tampa is a weekly gathering where people interested in the issues that affect Tampa Bay and the world beyond meet to learn and share ideas with interesting, entertaining (and sometimes infuriating) guest speakers. It takes place every Friday between 8:00 and 9:00 a.m. in the wonderful setting of Oxford Exchange, a combination of restaurant, book store, gift shop, co-working space, design studio, event venue, and one of the best “third places” I’ve ever set foot in. It’s attended by an interesting audience that’s often a mix of movers and shakers from the worlds of arts, business, academia, and government, and put together by local heroes including Del Acosta and Bill Carlson, City Councilor and President of the communciations agency Tucker/Hall. Admission is $12.00, and it not only lets you into the event, but also gets you Oxford Exchange’s delicious breakfast spread. If you want to see interesting presentations and have great conversations with some of the area’s movers, shakers, and idea-makers — myself included — you should attend Café con Tampa!

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