Sunday, June 29, 2008

Dogan's Razor

A little while ago, we gently tweaked PNJ columnist Reginald Dogan for putting his feet up on the desk and gathering wool when he should have been pounding shoe leather. So today, it's only fair to salute him for a whole week's worth of real-life social science research performed on Pensacola Beach.

He did it not with shoe leather, but on wheels. Translated from News Journalese into scientific gobbledegook, this is what happened:

The Experiment
Hypothesis: "The dearth of parking... [is] part of the reason why locals stay away from the beach."
Alternate hypothesis: "[A] lack of parking [is] driving away visitors."
Dogan made multiple visits to the beach daily and kept a journal over seven consecutive days. He noted time of day, ease of finding a parking space, location of the space, and general availability. Limited to the most popular Quietwater parking area of boardwalk shops, restaurants, and bars, these are the raw results of his scientific observations, reduced to their essence:

Mid-day Data
Mid-day visits: 6
Number of visits < 1 minute needed to find a parking space: 5
Number of visits > 1 minute needed to find a parking space: 1
Number of visits no commercial district parking space available: 0

Evening Data
Evening/Nighttime visits: 7
Number of visits < 1 minute needed to find a parking space: 5
Number of visits > 1 minute needed to find a parking space: 2
Number of visits no commercial district parking space available: 0

Over the course of the week on only Saturday night did Dogan encounter enough of a parking problem at Quietwater to "do the sensible thing" and cross the intersection to the larger Casino Beach parking lot. There, parking space remained so ample, he writes, "we could play a spirited game of flag football with room left for bleachers and a concession stand."

Tuesday night's "Bands on the Beach" event was the only occasion when Dogan found parking to be even moderately challenging. At that popular summer time event he recorded:
7:30 p.m.: There's not a parking spot in sight. Cars are double parked, lined against the fence and on the sidewalks.
* * *
After cruising through the Casino Beach parking lot, I find one spot in the Pensacola Beach Visitors Information Center lot.
Research Results

Dogan concludes, "There is a parking problem on the beach — a couple times a year, maybe." So much for Buck Lee's claim that the Santa Rosa Island Authority needs to build an "$8 to $10 million parking ramp."

Inspired by these results, we now propose a new hypothesis, suitable for rigorous testing and scientific verification by future students of Pensacola Beach who aspire to follow in the hallowed tradition of Prof. C. Northcoat Parkinson. We call it --

Dogan's Razor

New Hypothesis: The more money governmental authorities want to spend building"improvements" on Pensacola Beach, the less probable is the actual need.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

L.S.U.'s Tiger in the Tank

Forevermore, when we think of Joe McCarthy, his enabler Roy Cohn, and other craven enemies of freedom, we will think of Louisiana State University.
So, Steven J. Hatfill is exonerated in the only way that matters in capitalist America: the U.S. Government will pay him $5.8 million. That seems about right for one of the most egregious abuses of governmental power brought down on a single individual since the Joe McCarthy era.

Oddly, almost no conventional news source today seems to remember that back in 2002 Louisiana State University's top administrators played the part of the despicable Roy Cohn to the Justice Department's updated version of the heinous Joe McCarthy. In the midst of the Government's efforts to completely ruin the life of Hatfill, John Ashcroft's designated "person of interest," that purported seat of academic freedom in Baton Rouge became a co-conspirator by firing not only Hatfill himself but also the dean who hired him.

The L.S.U. "Tigers" went into the tank for a Government gone hysterical and out of control. They did it because of -- what? Fear? Panic? Personal advantage? Horribly misplaced patriotism? It doesn't matter. Those who do not stand up for freedom when it really counts always can invent empty excuses for their cowardice.

Forevermore, when we think of Joe McCarthy, his enabler Roy Cohn, and other craven enemies of freedom, we will think of Louisiana State University. As Edward R. Murrow famously pointed out, "we cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home."

Is the U.S. Media Hyprocritical or Just Plain Stupid?

Media Matters:
Journalists of all stripes agreed: it was important to discuss Edwards' personal wealth in reporting and assessing his policy proposals. Many explained this belief by claiming that Edwards' proposals to reduce poverty and help the middle class were hypocritical, given his own wealth. This was transparent nonsense; that simply isn't what it means to be hypocritical.

Perversely, it seems the conventional wisdom among the media is that it's more acceptable for a wealthy politician to propose policies that help the wealthy than policies that benefit the middle class and the poor.

Friday, June 27, 2008

They Don't Shoot Lawyers... Do They?

From Linda Greenhouse, the great legal affairs reporter for the Times:
Despite the decision’s enormous symbolic significance, it was far from clear that [District of Columbia v. Heller] actually posed much of a threat to the most common gun regulations. Justice Scalia’s opinion applied explicitly just to “the right of law-abiding, responsible citizens to use arms in defense of hearth and home,” and it had a number of significant qualifications.

“Nothing in our opinion,” he said, “should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.”

So, what's the point, then? As Adam Liptak explains, almost everyone agrees with New York's police commissioner Ray Kelly's comment:
[T]here’s no question about it that this decision will generate litigation throughout the country.”

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Fishing Pier Fee Hike

Personally, we've never gotten a bang out of matching wits with a fish. Still, we think the Pensacola Beach Fishing Pier is one of the grandest attractions on the beach. Up-close views of deep-water fish and sharks, and (often) mammals and reptiles, clean air, terrific scenery, breath-taking sunsets and, not infrequently, enjoyable phot0-ops.

The fishing pier is, without a doubt, the best thing the Santa Rosa Island Authority ever did. But every time we go there, day or night, summer and winter, the trash barrels are overflowing and the bathrooms are beyond filthy.

If we thought for a moment, as the Island Authority apparently does, that an extra quarter from walkers like us or another dollar from fishermen would bring improvements, we'd be all for it.
Sadly, it isn't to be.

There is an old and accurate saying in the hospitality industry that applies here: "You can judge the quality of everything Management does by the state of their public bathrooms."

Miller On The Borrow

We've been otherwise engaged and so couldn't join in the fun. It seems Bryan over at Why Now? got the goods yesterday Tuesday on Northwest Florida's congressman Jeff Miller (R-Chucklehead) via USA Today. One day later, the Pensacola News Journal joined in with a rerun, even giving it front-page treatment.

Anyone who has followed Congressman Miller knows he's an ineffectual dunce whose sole contribution to American government is that he does what the Cheney Administration tells him to do. This is just the sort of character who turns out to be a word-thief and it shouldn't surprise anyone. There's a reason sycophant and plagiarism both have their roots in ancient Greek.

So, we blame the University of West Florida. They never should have asked Miller to deliver a commencement address. A commencement address, mind you!

Commencement speakers should be people who are distinguished by their diligence, personal courage, lifetime achievements, character, "legendary wit" or other accomplishments. They're asked to present the graduates with a "living example of responsibility in action" to mark the momentous occasion of matriculation from school to life.

All that Jeff Miller exemplifies is how to be a toady while at the same time violating the student honor code by stealing another person's words and ideas. West Florida University knew or should have known that.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Pensacola's Community Values

"Residents of Pensacola are more likely to search for sexual terms than some more wholesome ones."
-- New York Times, June 24, 2008
This is rich. It seems there will be a trial next week in nearby Milton. According to the New York Times:
Clinton Raymond McCowen... is facing charges that he created and distributed obscene material through a Web site based in Florida. The charges include racketeering and prostitution, but ... the prosecution’s case fundamentally relies on proving that the material on the site is obscene.
Why does this seemingly run-of-the-mine case make the pages of the Times?

Because defense lawyer Lawrence Walters is planning to introduce evidence of the actual Internet search words used by folk in the Pensacola area, which are aggregated by Google Trends, to show the high level of "interest in the material within the jurisdiction of the First Circuit Court for Santa Rosa County, where the trial is taking place."

Since the law says what is "obscene" is, itself, determined by "local community values" the defense attorney "plans to... try to persuade jurors that their neighbors have broader interests than they might have thought." Pensacola area residents, he argues --
are more likely to use Google to search for terms like “orgy” than for “apple pie” or “watermelon.” ... [I]nterest in the sexual subjects exceeds that of more mainstream topics — and ... by extension, the sexual material distributed by his client is not outside the norm.
***
“Time and time again you’ll have jurors sitting on a jury panel who will condemn material that they routinely consume in private,” said Mr. Walters, the defense lawyer. Using the Internet data, “we can show how people really think and feel and act in their own homes, which,
parenthetically, is where this material was intended to be viewed,” he added.
Very creative. Except for one thing. There's another "community value" that trumps however randy may be the interests of Pensacola residents. And it isn't likely to be exposed by any gizmo Google can invent.

We're betting there isn't a jury person in Milton who will admit to ever having had a sexual thought enter his head. Worse, they'll never admit to suspecting their friends, neighbors, and fellow church-goers of such a shameful thing, either.

How else explain all the Baptist preachers around here who get arrested for pederasty, rape, and similar sexual offenses? Hypocrisy reigns supreme in this buckle of the bible belt.

State's Attorney Russ Edgar knows this. That's why he told the Times, "How many times you do something doesn’t necessarily speak to standards and values.”

Addendum: In a funny misprint, the Times article on-line this morning became momentarily confused over just who it is whose conduct must meet acceptable community standards. Click on the screen-shot below.

Pensacola Slap-Shot

Reggie Dunlop: You mean you could sell us, but you won't?
Anita McCambridge: I could probably sell you, but I can't.

It looks like Pensacola professional hockey is no more. If you want to know why, ask one of the 675 season ticket holders.

Pensacola really isn't a professional sports town. Not hockey, not football, not basketball. It isn't even much of a baseball town, as any number of failed efforts over the last century can attest.

But the city poo-bahs keep trying. The thing is, these days you need four essentials for a long-lasting sports franchise: (1) A local government politically secure enough that it's willing to build a palatial team stadium at taxpayer expense; (2) A handful of fabulously rich people able and willing to spend tens, if not hundreds, of millions for a single toy; (3) A lucrative television market; and (4) a large fan base.

Scratch that. Three essentials. You probably don't even need a fan base as long as you've got the first three. Pensacola doesn't.

But we have our charms, the beach foremost among them, although there are plenty of semi-rich and wannabe-rich folk trying to crap that up with hideous over-development.

There's a lesson here somewhere. Maybe it's that we should take stock, and more fully appreciate, what we are instead of aspiring to something we can never be. Somehow, this puts us in mind of a song:
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don't know what you’ve got
‘Til it's gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot

Monday, June 23, 2008

June Celebration


We've been celebrating and didn't even know it! Turns out, June is National Bathroom Reading Month.

Dangerous Setback

The Pensacola News Journal gets it spot-on:
The intelligence "compromise" working its way through Congress has one major impact: It sanctions lawbreaking at the highest reaches of the federal government, guaranteeing there will be more of it. For a nation born under the powerful impetus of the Founders' intent to limit governmental power — especially executive power — it is a dangerous and far-reaching setback.
There's more.

George Carlin (1937-2008)

George Carlin died Sunday night, on God's day of rest. Or, more accurately, the Christian version of god's day of rest. He would have been amused.


"The most unfair thing about life is the way it ends. I mean, life is tough. It takes up a lot of your time. What do you get at the end of it? A Death! What's that, a bonus? I think the life cycle is all backwards. You should die first, get it out of the way. Then you live in an old age home. You get kicked out when you're too young, you get a gold watch, you go to work. You work forty years until you're young enough to enjoy your retirement. You do drugs, alcohol, you party, you get ready for high school. You go to grade school, you become a kid, you play, you have no responsibilities, you become a little baby, you go back into the womb, you spend your last nine months floating...and you finish off as an orgasm."

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Sandbagger

Joe Blair of Iowa City, who according to the New York Times owns "a heating, ventilation and air-conditioning business," has an elegant essay on the op-ed page today about the fascinations of sand-bagging.

You might be surprised to read such a lyrical piece written by an aluminum duct-and-vent guy. Don't be. Like Hollywood, where all the aspiring actors and actresses have jobs waiting table or being contestants on newly minted TV game shows, everyone in Iowa City is a writer. Most graduated from the Iowa Writer's Workshop.

Joe Blair is no exception. Take a look.

Gatorland

Growing up in the Midwest, many youngsters like to scare each other with tales of throw-back alligators lurking in the Chicago sewer system. Some creatively reason that over time the alligators would naturally have become albino.

Turns out, they were wrong. Chicago's native alligators look a little gray to us.

Even so, this one's been named "White Sox" according to WMAQ-TV.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Constitutional Crime

The U.S. Constitution was mortally wounded today by 293 hit-and-run drivers. Eyewitnesses report it was a bipartisan crime, involving both Republicans and Democrats.

Knowledgeable investigators say the forensic evidence points to multiple motives for the crime. Republican perpetrators left evidence at the scene openly advocating for a more authoritarian government that treats individual liberties as expendable.

Tire tracks reveal their Democratic co-conspirators were craven go-alongs, following orders. First, because they are terrified of what Republican gang members would say about them to the voters; and second, because "the Democratic leadership fears the consequences of their previous complicity in Bush’s illegal spying programs."

Business as Usual

The Pentagon's inspector general reports that Dick Cheney's Halliburton-owned subsidiary, Kellogg, Root & Brown, cheated the Pensacola Naval Air Station and other Gulf Coast Naval facilities out of nearly $10 million on hurricane-related repair contacts.
After Hurricane Ivan struck the Gulf Coast that September, and Hurricane Katrina a year later, KBR was given a number of tasks. They included removing water-damaged carpet and drywall; applying temporary roofing; removing debris; and building trailer parks for displaced families at naval air stations in Pensacola, Fla., and Gulfport, Miss., the Stennis Space Center in southern Mississippi and other facilities in the region.
The full inspector general report is here [pdf alert].

The contracts stupidly called for "cost-plus-percentage-of-cost." This, of course, "rewarded the company for 'inefficiency and non-economical performance.'" KBR also over-paid subcontractors for work and materials. It padded the bills with inexplicable and excessive "expenses." And, the end product was shoddy and, in some instances, so incompetent it had to be done again by someone else at twice the cost.

KBR says it "disagrees" with the inspector general but "will continue to work with the Navy to resolve any problems with the three contracts."

How much do you suppose that 'work' will cost us?

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Climbing Aboard McBush's Flip-Flop Express

Florida governor Charlie Crist is hitching his caboose to the McBush Flip-Flop Express. It is a terrible move. If Crist persists in it, that is likely to haunt him for the rest of his days in politics.

Two years ago, as Pensacola area experts pointed out to Congress here and here and here, there were no good reasons to let loose the drilling rigs in near-shore areas of the Eastern Gulf of Mexico. While we cannot say there will never be a reason to drill there -- never say never, after all -- the recent spike in the price of gas at the pump cannot be a reason to justify the terrible risk to Florida's environment.

First of all, near-shore Gulf drilling yields predominantly natural gas and not oil. Any impact on the price of crude would be greatly attenuated at best.

Second, as Sen. Bill Nelson says, "There isn't enough oil in the U.S. to make even the smallest dent in world oil prices, which largely are being run-up by unregulated traders and speculators, including the oil companies." Our thirst for oil has become so severe all that we have in the ground or under the sea can no longer slake it.

Third, even if it were otherwise the oil industry itself admits it would take at least ten years before it could begin drilling new wells -- even if it wanted to.

Finally, oil companies don't want to drill more themselves, at the moment. They aren't fully exploiting what they have now. As the Tampa Tribune reported recently, "thousands of permits for drilling on federal lands and waters have been issued but have not yet been used."

The hard truth is, as Pensacola's own Enid Siskin has said so cogently, "We cannot drill our way to energy independence. It’s only through conservation, increased efficiency, and use of a combination of alternative, renewable energy sources that we’ll ever be self sufficient."

Any politician who says otherwise either is a fool -- or thinks you are.

The Beach Meet: Dueling Reviews

We weren't able to attend last night's beach meeting, sponsored by District 4 county commissioner Grover Robinson IV. But friends were. Here are excerpts from two reports, edited for this family blog:

Beach Resident Report No. 1:
It was obvious that Grover Robinson's first and main agenda was to get justification after-the-fact for his success at turning the BOCC around on the title bill effort. He started right out by saying that "nobody" wants to pursue title until we have our "day in court" -- when he knows perfectly well the "nobody" thing is just not true.

After that opening salvo, Grover pretty much threw the floor open to questions. The topics ranged from tax issues (lots of complaints about assessments, MSBU's, commercial taxes and lease fee percentages, etc.) to protecting public lands, problems with law enforcement, municipal incorporation, and on and on.

Grover spent most of his time either saying he and the BOCC had nothing to do with certain issues, or that he would look into something, or just blathering on rather ineffectually. He managed to make very few commitments to anyone about anything.

I've said before that I like Grover Robinson, but I was just not at all impressed with him tonight. He reiterated over and over that he was sure "nobody" wanted to proceed with any of 'these other possibilities' until the Pensacola Beach residential leaseholders' suit was taken all the way up to the Florida Supreme Court if necessary.

Then he asked a very slanted question: "May I see a show of hands of how many people want to see the lawsuit go all the way through the courts?"

Well, DUH.... Of course almost everyone raised his hand to that one. Grover was so pleased with himself he practically slapped himself on the knee, turned to someone in the general vicinity of the County Administrator in attendance and said, gleefully, "You're my witness!!"

Then he started to ask for a show of hands of those on the other side of the issue. But he interrupted himself and decided to leave it at that. Of course. He didn't want to know -- nor could he likely find an honest way to word the opposite hand question. ["All those in favor of continuing to throw good money after bad with lawyers who don't win anything, please raise your hands."]

It was obvious from the show of hands in response to Grover's weighted question that most leaseholders present still have their heads buried in the sand. They expect somehow that this one remaining case is miraculously going to turn out differently from all the rest all over the State of Florida and in our own backyard, not only on Navarre Beach but in the very commercial core of Pensacola Beach. Grover Robinson is right there among that crowd, failing to prove a voice of wisdom and leadership, happy to wait and hope against hope for a court ruling in favor of the residential leaseholders. No statesman here.

Not that he's any hero of mine, but Fred Simmons spoke up tonight saying he was finally getting to the point of wanting to throw in the towel and say to heck with it. He feels like he's being "taxed and fee'd to death."

That's pretty much the way I felt, too, though for different reasons. I love the island but I'm disgusted with the situation. I'm feeling like, what's the matter with me? Why don't I just lie back on the beach and forget about it and let the chips fall where they may, as everyone else apparently is willing to do.

We'll see what tomorrow brings and cry about it then. And boy, will everyone be crying.

Beach Resident Report No. 2:

I can't find fault with Grover. I believe he is sympathetic to the Island. He is a leaseholder too.

I think he did the right thing, getting the resolution for deeds rescinded. He said let the lawsuits take their course and we can do deeds later, if necessary. He rightly pointed out that there are limits to what he can do as a commissioner to affect any taxing attempt by the Property Appraiser.

Grover Robinson didn't have any real answers to the taxing issue, but then how could he? He said that he has had his disagreements with Chris Jones in his appraisal methods and he urged two people in the audience to boldly state their complaints to Chris Jones.

He pointed out that if Chris Jones hears nothing, then nothing will happen. You can be sure of that.

Robinson does have a problem with Jones in that Jones seems to have cherry-picked a date when there was a super spike in property valuations for his property appraisals. Now that the market has fallen flat, he hasn't modified the appraisals to conform to reality.

Grover listened respectfully to those in the audience, gave everyone plenty of time to talk, and answered as best that he could.

Fred Simmons and June Guerra of Jubilees very strongly stated and summarized the position in which the commercial people find themselves. June got the only big applause of the evening.

Grover was in total agreement with one man's complaint about the poor behavior of the Boardwalk juveniles and their pit bulls on chains. On this subject, he brought [SRIA General Manager] Buck Lee into the discussion. Lee said that we are paying for an officer to be at the Circle K and two officers on the Boardwalk on the weekends. He said if we don't find the officers at their duty stations, call him on his cell phone. Then he gave out the number.

Someone asked, 'Are you going to answer your phone at 11 pm on a Saturday night?' Buck replied, 'Yes.' Others in the audience assured the questioner that this is true. Buck Lee will answer his phone and take care of business, day or night.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Beach Town Meeting Tonight

There hasn't been a lot of publicity, and some of what we've seen is wrong, but as we mentioned last month tonight Escambia County Commissioner Grover Robinson IV is sponsoring a town meeting for Pensacola Beach leaseholders.
Where: Pensacola Beach Community Church
When: Tuesday, June 17, 2008, beginning at 6 pm
Why: Discuss the future of the SRIA ... ad valorem taxes ... taxes-for-titles, and what-all
A usually reliable beach informant tells us the meeting was confirmed by Robinson's office as recently as early this morning. While the purpose is different, we won't be surprised if this meeting follows a script similar to that of last month's meeting sponsored by the beach chamber of commerce.

Our informant also writes:
Don't know if you know, since it wasn't well publicized, but apparently, very soon after Mike Whitehead did his side-step out of the chairperson's seat, the commission miraculously reversed itself (AGAIN) and voted not to proceed with seeking title legislation, at least not until the latest court case is decided.
Is it true that god made Escambia county commissioners in order to make the Santa Rosa Island Authority look good?

Reaching: A Novel

Mention the other day of the unknown fate of the Byron Burford painting belonging to the University of Iowa inspired a reader to remind us of this now out-of-print novel by an Iowa novelist. It is a coming-of-age tale set in the 1940's written by Harlan native Julie McDonald.

The passage, below, perfectly fits the painting and, oddly, was published about the same year as the painting itself.

Reaching, A Novel
By Julie McDonald
Sutherland Publishing: 1988
(excerpt)

A chaste kiss at the cottage door was Harley's reward for all his attentions, and I found it as exciting as kissing the back of my own hand.

Venus observed all of this and finally asked with that bright, bird-like expression of hers, "Don't you think you're getting his hopes up for nothing?"

"What hopes?"

"He's obviously crazy about you."

"You're imagining things."

So I thought until the night Harley took me to hear the music in the basement of Hotel Jefferson. Bobby Cotter was singing there with Larry Barrett's orchestra, and I was so caught up in her sad, smoky version of "I Cover The Waterfront" that Harley had to repeat himself to get my attention.

"Margaret—I really am serious about this."

"About what, Harley?"

"I'm going to need someone to help me entertain my business clients, and I—I thought it might as well be somebody that I—"

Bobby Cotter sang with a catch in her voice, ".. .for the one I love to come back—to me."

Why couldn't it be Harley? He yearned for me the way I yearned for Arthur Blair, and Arthur probably yearned for a woman who yearned for someone else. It was as if we all were running in an endless circle, never catching the one we were pursuing. If just one person in that circle would turn and run to the arms of the pursuer, somebody could be happy. But I simply couldn't be the one to turn. He was waiting—and with such pathetic hope. Belatedly, I realized that he had been outlining his excellent future prospects while I was covering the waterfront with Bobby Cotter.

He didn't see how I could refuse.

"Harley, I'm just a freshman. I'm not ready to think about anything like that!"

He snapped his fingers. "Knew I was bringing it up too soon, but I wanted to get my bid in."

I bent my Coke straw into one-inch segments, folding it into a packet that sprang into an angled corral when I let go. "Don't Fence Me In!"

"Well," he said, smiling with less certainty, "you can think about it."

I looked at my watch. "I think I'd better get back, Harley. I have a test tomorrow."

'Tomorrow's Sunday!"

I blushed, grateful for the dark room. "I—I meant Monday, but even so-"

As we left, Bobby Cotter was beginning "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man 0' Mine." I wondered if I'd ever find one to love 'til I died.

Harley walked me to the darker door between the cottages, and as he reached for me to administer the usual good-night kiss, I said, "Harley, I don't think we should see each other anymore."

Monday, June 16, 2008

Virtual Tour of Iowa City Flooding

Document the DCF Atrocities

June 6, 'no one could have predicted' a Delray Beach child the Florida Department of Children and Families was protecting would die. June 14, DCF 'could not have foreseen' a Riviera Beach child it was protecting would die. Luckily, the agency had the foresight to order rubber stamps for this sort of thing.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

A Floridian Flooded with Iowa Irony

We have more than merely a passing interest in the great Iowa floods. Among other things, we have an emotional investment in a painting that was hanging, at least until this week, in the foyer of Clapp Recital Hall on the campus of the University of Iowa in Iowa City.

The subject comes up because a Pensacola Beach friend writes to ask, 'Is any place safe?' This is our answer.

Quite a few years ago, we commissioned as a memorial a large acrylic painting depicting three of our family members. Our dad, our mom, and our brother. Each had died too young, each of different ailments. All three had been professional musicians for much of their adult lives and very well known locally in their day.

The artist we chose was Byron Burford. He had personally known each of our relatives very well and for a very long time.

Byron is highly regarded in Midwest and more academically oriented New York art circles. He studied under or alongside such notables as Grant Wood, Marvin Cone, Thomas Hart Benton, and others of the regionalist school. Indeed, until his retirement nearly two decades ago, he was a professor of painting in the same department that Grant Wood chaired for many years at the University of Iowa.

As the artist in charge, what Byron Burford conceived was a large painting depicting each of our loved ones at various ages -- just as he had known them himself over several decades. But he depicted them as if they were different people of different ages, all gathered together in a single nightclub jazz band.

We loved that painting. It hung in a prominent place in our home for many years before we relocated to Florida.

Eight months after moving to Pensacola Beach, Hurricane Opal (1995) struck. Our beach home weathered that storm relatively well. Better than most of our neighbors, in fact. But for the first time it dawned on us life-long 'Yankees' that hurricanes always would pose a potential threat to our lives and property as long as we lived in Florida. So, we took stock of what we couldn't bear to lose and made suitable arrangements.

One of those arrangements was to remove the canvas from its frame, carefully roll the painting, and store it away in what we judged to be the safest place in the house. Grabbing that rolled canvas when the time came for hurricane evacuation was always near the very top of our list -- right after saving the spouse and the dogs.

When Hurricane Ivan hit Pensacola Beach in 2004, we were shocked at how close we could have come to seeing the painting totally destroyed, anyway. Like most islanders, in the dismal aftermath of the storm we grew depressed and worried, wondering what to do with all the stuff we had managed to save, where to live next, what if anything to take with us if we decided to move, or whether to chuck all the books and the art and the nick-nicks and change our life style entirely.

Eventually, we decided to donate the painting to the University of Iowa in Iowa City. That's where our family members had been so well known, even locally famous, for their musical work and other prominent positions they held in the university community. We also figured that Iowa is just about as far away from hurricane country as one can get.

So, two years ago we had professional slides taken of the painting for our own use, in case we ever want to make a very large poster print. Then we paid for reframing it in a fancy "security" frame and sent the painting off to Iowa City after completing the usual charitable paperwork.

The university decided to hang it in the foyer of the new Clapp Music Hall which was being dedicated that Fall as the latest in a large complex of new music and art buildings on the banks of the west side of the Iowa River. Although we haven't been there yet to see it, we were told it was very prominently placed in the new entry hall and everyone was thrilled.

It was a huge relief to transfer the painting into safe hands. It lifted our spirits tremendously. Not only were we able to bask in the glow of certitude that the painting we loved so much was now safe, but we were surprised to discover that in giving it away our own load suddenly seemed so greatly lightened.

Today, we read that several of the music and art buildings on the University of Iowa campus, including Clapp Recital Hall, are threatened with severe and destructive flooding. A press report has it that at least one very rare, autographed concert piano already has been declared a total loss. Engineers there are worried that two or even three bridges may collapse, causing damage beyond comprehension.

We do not know what has happened to the painting. Almost all contact with university personnel and old friends there has been cut off either because they're out sandbagging day and night or because the raging river has overwhelmed local communications.

Moreover, the worst is yet to come. According to early Sunday news reports, water levels now inundating Iowa City aren't likely to crest until next Tuesday.

The irony is plain: we gave away a much beloved painting to save it from Gulf Coast hurricanes, only to watch helplessly as flooding Midwest rivers threaten to destroy it. If there is any obvious lesson in this, it is that nowhere is truly safe from the vagaries of nature or, for that matter, life itself. That might be the best answer we can give our beach friend.

But there is a subtler lesson, too. Quite likely, Thoreau had it right two centuries ago: one should own no more than the minimum necessities of life.
Most of the luxuries, and many of the so-called comforts of life, are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind. With respect to luxuries and comforts, the wisest have ever lived a more simple and meagre life than the poor.
Maybe the 'consumer culture' America has created is beginning to consume us. As we learned after Ivan, and Iowans will learn after the floods, even one's most precious sentimental belongings matter not at all, really, compared with the lives of friends and loved ones and the memories we have of those we have loved. Things possessed matter not at all, in the end.

We know this intellectually, of course. And we treasure our memories. Yet, for some reason, we still can't help wondering what has happened to that painting.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Thoughts About the Deluge

The Iowa floods are truly of historic dimension. Even Digby is wowed.

"Far be it for me," she says, "to bring up the Obalglay Armingway, but this seems really bad."

Indeed, it is. Pensacola residents, with their recent history of violent hurricanes fresh in mind, can relate. But the kind and extent of flooding we're seeing in the Midwest is, if anything, even more devastating than Ivan and Dennis.

Iowa (from the Mesquakie word for "beautiful land") is blessed with many rivers and streams, as the NOAH map, above, illustrates. We happened to be hanging around there in '93 when the worst floods in that state's recorded history inundated Iowa and neighboring states downstream along the Mississippi River all the way to New Orleans.

For a very long time that year Des Moines, a metropolitan area at least three times the size of greater Pensacola, lost all of the most basic municipal infrastructures we tend to take for granted: electric power, passable streets and bridges, sewer and garbage service, readily available food, and potable water. Without those, surviving became a huge challenge every day.

Ironically, it was the lack of potable water that quickly became the most frightening. The Des Moines municipal water plant was knocked out for ten days back in 1993. For a week and a half, nearly half a million people had only what rainwater they could catch and occasional Army Reserve water distribution trucks ("bring your own containers") for all their needs. Half the city took showers outside, under the eaves. The other half didn't take them at all.

Judging from news reports, the flood levels in most Iowa communities this year are twice as high as in '93. Although it may be true, as one local described it to us today, that the Des Moines water plant is now a "fortress" that cannot be inundated again, other cities haven't had the foresight or the means to protect against renewed flooding of the biblical dimensions they're seeing today. They have to extemporize.

And when extemporizing, one can get desperate. Among the strangest stories of the Great Iowa Floods of '08 is this, from the Cedar Rapids Gazette:

In hopes of keeping the raging Cedar River from washing away a railway bridge, on Tuesday evening local railway company officials "placed about 20 rail hopper cars loaded with rock on the span." The river rose, and rose, and rose some more. Then --
The Cedar Rapids and Iowa City Railway Co. bridge downstream from the Eighth Avenue bridge collapsed into the river at 9:43 a.m. *** The hopper cars are in the river now, too, the railway reports.
Here's a photo of the aftermath:

Northwest Florida residents can relate to what's happening in Iowa perhaps better than most. Severe hurricanes disrupt and threaten life in much the same way. So, too, can out of control fires in the West. And, for that matter, killer blizzards in the North and East.

Now that it's evident we're all in this together, can we at last dispense with the pointless carping about the "moral hazard" of living here, or there, or over yonder? No one is proof against disaster, whether natural or man-made. Everyone is as likely as not to be in need of help from his fellow citizens at some time or another.

Today, it's our distant fellow citizens in the Midwest who need an extra hand. Tomorrow, it could be us.

Watching the Iowa Floods

Cheers


Can you hear the cheers erupting all over Pensacola? People are just now reading the final line of the Pensacola News Journal's editorial this morning. "Give beach goers a break."

It's great populism. Let's vote for the editorial writer, whatever he's running for!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Paradise Road Postponed


Reconstruction work on the Gulf-front road from Pensacola Beach to the Gulf Islands National Seashore park known as Opal Beach has been postponed.

Because of shore bird nesting and sea turtle season, construction will not resume until early Fall. As they used to say in Vaudeville, "some dirty pigeon stooled on us."

The road, which formerly connected Pensacola Beach with Navarre Beach, was 'Ivanized' in 2004. The eastern half from Opal Beach to Navarre Beach re-opened last month.

The western half of the highway won't become usable until very late this year or early next.

Bridge Toll, Noise Issues Postponed

Following its age old custom, last evening the Santa Rosa Island Authority glanced into the pot of simmering issues on Pensacola Beach and shoved it onto a back burner. No change in the noise ordinance for now. No increase in the bridge toll, for the time being.

O'Brien made the "easy" prediction there would be no toll increase because county pols are running for reelection. We say it was easy because it's the SRIA's way of life.

GOP-smacked

Political Puzzle

What do pastry chefs, dog trainers, and oncologists have in the common? See for yourself.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

An Extravagance We Cannot Afford

If, as it has been observed, military generals are always preparing to fight the "last" war with outmoded technology and tactics that have been superceded by new conditions, can we say that those who govern Pensacola Beach now seem to be planning to fight for a type of tourist business that is rapidly disappearing with the changing times and economy?

Doubling the Bob Sikes Bridge toll to the equivalent of half a gallon of gas is not the problem. Building an $8 million to $10 million parking ramp in the center of Pensacola Beach is.

Beach businessman Bruce Ferris has it right when he told the News Journal's Kris Wernowsky, "The money could be utilized on a better shuttle system."

The best ECAT has been able to manage for access to Pensacola Beach is a miserably bare bones bus schedule that runs between the beach and downtown Pensacola only twice a day, six days a week. The scheduled times and stops are abysmal. You could move an artillery regiment faster -- and they'd probably have more fun while sight-seeing along the way.

Nothing but highways built for individual automobiles directly links Pensacola Beach to the airport; the I-10 corridor; East-West coastal highway 98; popular scenic, historic, museum, or recreational sites on the mainland; and all the other beach communities from Fort Walton to Perdido Key.

For once, how about meeting the future instead of lagging behind it? Rather than committing to build a multi-million parking lot as if we are still in the 1980s, the Santa Rosa Island Authority can lead the way in getting everyone together throughout the Greater Pensacola area; all the little fiefdoms from Perdido Key to Fort Walton Beach. Start planning now for an imaginative, convenient, and enjoyable area mass transit system that integrates and expands tourist (and local resident) travel options throughout the Northwest Florida coastal area.

Hundreds of other communities in the U.S. and around the world -- many of them with widely dispersed populations no bigger than ours -- are doing it with a mix of buses and trams, light rail cars, and a variety of other people-moving systems. You can be sure thousands more are planning to join them soon as we are compelled, at last, to wean ourselves from our oil addiction.

In four months, a $2 toll is going to look cheap when gas is selling for $7 a gallon. Only some "new" multi-million dollar parking ramp will seem like an extravagance that we cannot afford.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Five Vice Presidential Choices for Barack Obama

Put aside age, gender, race, ethnicity, and religion. Which of the following sets of qualifications, skills, and prior experience do you think would make for the most impressive combination in a vice presidential candidate running mate for Barack Obama?

(Scroll down the page for our answer)
  1. Annapolis graduate, Marine rifle platoon commander in Vietnam, and winner of the Navy Cross for heroism, the Silver Star, two Bronze Stars, and two Purple Hearts.
  2. Georgetown Law School graduate, former staff attorney for the House Veterans Affairs Committee, and Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs in the Reagan Administration(1984-1987).
  3. Best-selling author of eight novels and two screenplays, Emmy award winning documentary producer, and former English teacher at the U.S. Naval Academy.
  4. Nebraska-born former amateur boxer, self-taught historian, and current U.S. Senator.
  5. Vietnam war vet, former Republican critic of John Kerry's anti-war activities in the 1970's, former Secretary of the Navy, and current critic of Bush's Iraq War.




Keep scrolling down....


Keep scrolling...


Keep scrolling...




The correct answer is 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5.


Dept. of Amplification
6-11 pm
The thoroughly execrable on-line right-wing slant-news source that Atrios amusingly derides as "Drudgico" coincidentally sent a hit man out yesterday to take a pot shot against the "correct answer" Veep we suggested above. About all the hit man accomplished is to lower the bar for swiftboating. Today, James Fallows responds.

Document the DCF Atrocities

No one could have predicted those two separate instances of death by neglect. So, Florida's Department of Children and Families "has agreed to formalize" her custody of however many of her other children may still be alive.

We're in the Soup, Now!

The seeds of raging inflation sewn by the Bush administration's exorbitant Iraq War spending ... "morally obscene military spending" ... imprudent tax cuts for the super-rich ... dollar indifference ... and record setting federal discretionary spending are beginning to flower everywhere.

Gas over $4 a gallon; bread topping $3.50 a loaf; and Cap'tn Crunch "costing close to $6 these days." Etc. etc.

Even (or especially) the U.S. Senate can't live within its means. Do you suppose this news means that Pensacola's own McGuire's Irish Pub will soon have to stop selling Senate Bean Soup for 18 cents a bowl?

Monday, June 09, 2008

Pictures at an Exhibition


Barrier Island Girl has the photos of Sunday's sand sculptures on Pensacola Beach.

Probably not what Mussorgsky had in mind, but fun anyway.

Couldn't Be More Deserved

One seldom sees mordacious editorials in the respectable dead-tree press overflowing with what can only be called extreme vitriol and personal loathing. Today, the Pensacola News Journal makes an exception for Escambia County Commissioner Mike Whitehead.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Beach Media Franchise

It's been quite a week for Pensacola Beach resident William Post's thoroughly researched new book, Deceit Beach.

You've seen the blog. You read the sequel.

Now, catch the weekly Independent News magazine's cover story. And buy the Pensacola News Journal's Sunday op-ed editorial.

Can a Broadway musical be far behind? If it is, sound ordinances be damned. Let 'er rip to show how "welcoming" our county commissioners are.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Gulf Breeze -- Speed Trap City

The Gulf Breeze City Council this week gave final approval to a new "police emergency service response" (PESR) fee ordinance. Essentially, the ordinance tries to shift the "costs of furnishing police and emergency service responses" in motor vehicle accidents to anyone who is deemed to be "responsible" for the accident or emergency service call.

Superficially, this may sound like a good idea. But it's the modern day equivalent of a speed trap, gussied up to look like a "tax cut" for city property tax payers. And it's pregnant with unintended consequences.

You can read the entire ordinance here [pdf warning]. One of many problems with the ordinance is that it exempts city residents. Section 18-140 specifies that --
residents of the City of Gulf Breeze shall not be charged a PESR fee... or be liable... to others for the payment of all or any portion of a PESR fee.
In other words, all other things being equal, if you live in Gulf Breeze nothing changes; you're still covered by the state's uniform laws and "comparative negligence" laws. No additional PESR can be assessed against you by the City of Gulf Breeze.

But if you reside anywhere else in world you can be singled out to bear the entire cost of a Gulf Breeze emergency service call merely on the say-so of an investigating police or EMT agent who deems you "responsible."

Out-of-area tourists and Pensacola Beach residents will be hardest hit by the new PESR. Indeed, by the very terms of the ordinance they are the only ones to be hit.

Now let's see how that works. Gulf Breeze police officer investigates an auto accident. One driver is a city resident -- say, someone who pays monthly rent. The other driver is from Hoboken, New Jersey. Hmmm. Who to pin the blame on? The driver who is exempt from reimbursing the cop's employer or the out of state guy who isn't?

Tourists are free to avoid Gulf Breeze, of course. And they likely will, once the city's reputation as a speed trap spreads. But Pensacola Beach residents have no such choice. Right now, the only way to come or go to their homes is through Gulf Breeze.

It won't take lawyers very long to figure out that the ordinance likely violates the federal constitutional right to equal protection, due process of law, and freedom of travel. However much revenue the City of Gulf Breeze hopes to generate with "PESR" assessments against out-of-towners, we expect the City will wind up paying many times that much to defend this constitutionally dubious ordinance in federal court.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Speaking Truth to Clinton's Power

Via Talking Points Memo, we learned of a particularly engaging Kos diary entry by JDodsonvls, whose profile suggests he's a young lawyer.

A day after moving into Florida's 19th Congressional District, Dodson wound up attending a town hall meeting in Palm Beach County sponsored by the district's incumbent Democratic congressman, Robert Wexler. Apparently, most of the Democrats in his district support Hillary Clinton.

Wexler supports Barack Obama. "I thought I could feel some tension in the room, but maybe it was just me," he writes.

After some preliminary remarks, Wexler himself pointed out "the elephant in the room." And then things got very interesting....

"Meet the Staff" at Tiger Point... Oops!

Why is it that Meadowbrook Corporation's web site no longer allows you to "meet the staff" of Tiger Point Golf Course?

Gulf Breeze residents say it could be because corporate honchos early last week surprised the local golf club's general manager, Aaron Williams, with a pink slip.

No shame in that. Williams joins a long list of golf course managers who have been given the bum's rush at Tiger Point Golf and Country Club. Few last more than a couple of years. Many have gotten the heave-ho quicker than that.

Indeed, Aaron Williams may have made the Guinness Book of World Records for longevity at Tiger Point, if there is such a category. He was employed all of four years.

One club member told us Williams' firing came as no surprise to her. "Meadowbrook is cheap. They'd rather hire some new guy than give a raise to an experienced manager."

Williams' replacement already is on the job. Chris Hendrick previously was "general manager" at the deeply troubled "Jubilee" planned golf community in Pace, Florida. Now re-christened "Contrada Hills," that ill-fated project has had more marketing names than houses.

Another Tiger Point club member we spoke with claims that Guy Balencie was seen hanging around the clubhouse facility just a day or two before Williams was axed. Balencie has long been rumored to be pro golfer Jerry Pate's BFF. Over the years he has twice been put in charge of the Tiger Point facility. Once, after Pate turned the newly designed East Course over to others. And again after Pate re-designed the course's greens in 2001.

More recently, press accounts have identified Balencie as the overall "project manager" for Jubilee/Contrada Hills. Some Tiger Point club members speculate that if he did pay a visit to the club recently, he must have been trying to cut his own Jubilee payroll by getting Meadowbrook to hire Hendricks. Another possibility is that Balencie, like the proverbial rat, is trying to leave the sinking ship himself.

In either case, it wouldn't be the first time Balencie became entangled in a Tiger Point manager termination. Seven years ago, as the Associated Press reported at the time, Balencie's "ear was nearly bitten off during a brawl" at the clubhouse.

Google cache has the archived story:
The fight started over the dismissal Friday of Tiger Point's general manager, Steve Goldstein. Randy Current, of Gulf Breeze, said he and some other members had gone to the club Monday to resign their memberships in protest.

Balencie was walking through the members grill when [Lawson] Luster called him a name... .

An argument ensued and Balencie asked Luster to step outside and then pushed him on the way out, deputies and witnesses said. They exchanged punches and wrestled on the ground during the fight.

It's fun to watch the rich at their leisure, isn't it?


CORRECTED 6-3 pm

Monday, June 02, 2008

sTrAiGhT tAlK eXpReSs

Document the DCF Atrocities

July 7, 2006: Dean McGregor, age 7, is found "lying in bed, unresponsive, his dead eyes fixed in space." He died from "blunt force head injuries."

Who could have guessed? Not the Florida Department of Children and Families:
  • Feb. 16, 2005: "DCF's abuse hotline received a report that Desmond McGregor's girlfriend had used a belt to discipline Dean's twin brother... ." A caseworker from [DCF contractor] ChildNet dismissed the allegation as a "form of revenge" by a family member to try to gain custody of the three boys... . No action was taken, the suit says."
  • April 2005: "[A DCF] caseworker on a supervised visit was told by the three brothers that one boy had been injured on his back. 'The monitor observed 'a long abrasion' on [the boy's] back... ." The boy 'reported to the monitor that `Desmond hit me' with a belt." The boy also accused the teenage son of his dad's girlfriend of biting him in the head... ."
  • April 13, 2005: Dean McGregor reported to DCF Child Protection Investigators "that his father hits him with a belt... . He also told the team that his dad's girlfriend and her son also hit him.
  • November 2005: The non-custodial mother "said in an abuse report that Desmond McGregor had attacked her, and she 'fears for her life and the kids' safety."
  • March, 2006: After DCF received another abuse report, a state Child Protection Team found "medically confirmed abuse, failure to provide a safe environment and failure to protect... ."
  • June 2007: Dean McGregor is "pulled out of the bottom of a pool after a brief submersion episode," hospital records show.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

T.S. Arthur

NOAA Hurricane Center:
The official intensity forecast calls for weakening to a depression later today...with degeneration to a remnant low expected in two or three days. A possibility still exists that the center could emerge over the southern Bay of Campeche....although northerly wind shear and dry air parked over the Gulf of Mexico would limit redevelopment should this occur.

Pensacola Beach Hurricane Forecast

Whee! Let's gamble: