Monday, February 27, 2006

Weekend of parades

Wow! Who knew a weekend of parades could be so exhausting! And I wasn't even drinking! The big question now is, "What do people do with twenty pounds of Mardi Gras beads and 18 Moon Pies?" Perhaps I overdid, this being my first ever Mardi Gras celebration, but what an education and what a lot of fun memories.

My favorite moments were those I captured of wide-eyed children and patient pets, but next best were the smiles of all the people who had a long-overdue opportunity to forget the devastation of the past year and a half.

Will I celebrate Mardi Gras differently next year? You betcha! I'm only going to catch 17 Moon Pies!

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Krewe of Lafitte parade in Pensacola

My first Mardi Gras parade! Thanks so much to the Krewe of Lafitte for hosting this super Mardi Gras event. It was definitely fun for the whole family.

I caught a ton of beads, some mini Moon Pies, and all I had to flash was a smile. Of course I screamed out a lung and can't talk today, but I'm ready for the next parade!

Wow! I wasn't expecting floats this big and elaborate here in Pensacola!

"Woo hooo! Over here, guys!"

Tiny screamer with her first beads of the night!

I've got a lovely bunch of coconuts!

Oh look! It's Puff, the Magic Dragon!

Ruh roh. Looks like this guy has figured out what the Queens have in mind for their drones.

Friday, February 24, 2006


At last the fog is gone and I can go back to skywatching!

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

National Museum of Naval Aviation

What can you do on rainy days when you live in Pensacola Beach -- and just happen to have company? It is an excellent opportunity to tear yourself away from the beach and head to the National Museum of Naval Aviation at the Pensacola Naval Air Station (NAS).

The Museum is a great place to take the whole family and, incredibly, admission is free (though donations are greatly appreciated). There are approximately 150 restored aircraft in this beautiful, spacious museum which represent the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard.

Among other things, you will find a large collection of aircraft carrier models, a simulator, cockpit trainers, displays of actual fight logs and other memorabilia, a control car for the K-series of U.S. Navy airships, an NC-4 flying boat, and a Flying Tigers exhibit.

The Museum's Cubi Bar Cafe, which cannot be missed, duplicates the bar area of the famous Cubi Point Officer's Club in Subic Bay, Phillipines. For almost 40 years, the Cubi Bar (an acronym for Constuction Unit Battalion One), was a major source of entertainment for the Navy and Marine Corps squadrons as they passed into the Western Pacific.

Another must-see at the Museum -- and one of my favorites -- is the recreation of a downtown street in Pensacola, circa 1043, which is located on the second floor. Below are photos I took this week.

This recreation of the entrance to Saenger Theatre, circa 1943, shows that one thing has never changed -- girls still love a guy in uniform. Unfortunately what has changed is the price of a ticket! Then: 35 cents; now: $7.50.

Where on earth did they find all the 'vintage' canned goods to stock this grocery store?

Don't you love the old cash register? All the good candy is under the counter. Don't miss the Three Musketeers, Snickers, and Hershey bars.

The old L & L Pawn Shop gave servicemen a discount and no interest for the first 30 days!

Take your parents to see this recreation of a mid-1940's kitchen. It will spark great memories for them and even create some for you.

This kitchen sink looks just like the one I remember in my grandmother's kitchen -- without all that fried food smell.

Monday, February 20, 2006

The winter sky

"The sky. Every hour of the day it’s different. It’s fluid, graceful, elegant. Any time you look at it, it’s restorative. And it doesn’t demand anything from you."

-- A.M. Holmes

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Hey Y'all, Part Deux

I am the more conservative, ever-optimistic, Rebecca-of-Sunnybrook-Farm'ish, comic relief of the duo, a/k/a Barrier Island Girl.

I am more phlogger than blogger, which means the majority of my posts will be photos (though I must admit I bought a whip in Texas once).

Afraid I may cause some embarrassing blunder that results in a loss of readership during the blogmaster's absence, I'm sending my first post straight to the dogs. Now I can relax and enjoy the experience.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Guests Arriving

The Beach Blogger will be going out of town for a while. In his absence, a couple of Northwest Florida bloggers (with terrific blogs of their own) have agreed to stop by and check on the place from time to time, read your comments, and make sure no one is quail hunting on the property without a license.

Stop by when you can and cheer them on.

Writer's Conference

The 3rd Annual Emerald Coast Writer's Conference will be held in Ft. Walton Beach March 23-25. Registration is still open. The keynote speaker is Phillip Margolin, Portland (Or.) criminal defense attorney and a popular mystery writer.

Smile! You're on Traffic-Cam!

No one can get a live operator anymore. Pretty soon we won't be able to get arrested by a live cop, either.

Gulf Breeze is joining a number of other Florida cities who've installed traffic cameras designed to capture and convict speeding motorists, Tampa Bay Online reported this week. The weekly Gulf Breeze News covered the same news.

City officials have strategically positioned the cameras at Highway 98 and Daniels Road. There, in Gulf Breeze Proper, demented traffic engineers designed one of the most confusing intersections in Western Civilization. Daniels Road interesects the main drag on a diagonal line from southwest to Northeast, while nearby Gulf Breeze High School's parking lot exits intersect the main drag from west to east.

If the camera catches someone running a red, the City plans to mail the offending motorist a $100 citation. It then becomes the motorist's burden to prove he's not guilty.

In addition to reporting the move, the Gulf Breeze News ran a sidebar of man-in-the-street interviews. The question: "What’s your opinion on traffic cameras in Gulf Breeze?"

Answers more or less range from "Whaaa?" to "I hope they ship 'em to Cuba and hold 'em without trial, too."

In other words, no one interviewed seems to object. But the whole man-in-the-street schtick sure does look familiar to us.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

There Will Always Be a New Orleans

There will always be a New Orleans. Maybe. At least, we hope so.

A Katrina evacuee, now safely back home after endless weeks in the Pensacola area, sends us this link to a slide show of a Mardi Gras parade through the French Quarter. He says, "It was very cold by New Orleans standards yet the crowds were bigger than I've ever seen. It was a ball."

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Burning Furniture To Stay Warm

Oklahoma Land Rush, 1893

"More than one-sixth of the land proposed for sale, 55,862 acres, is in the Southeast although the majority of the nation's public land is in the West."

-- Columbus (Ga.) Ledger-Enquirer

Having ruined the federal government's financial health in just three budget years, setting us on course for $2.58 trillion dollars in budget deficits over the next three years, George Bush now has decided to throw the nation's furniture into the furnace to keep warm.

As U.S. Rep. Mark Udall (D-Co.) remarked to the Denver Post, that’s "like selling your homestead to pay your credit cards.”

Bush didn't mention this in his State of Union address, but tucked away in his FY 2007 budget request was an administration proposal to sell off over 300,000 public forest lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service. The Bureau of Land Management also will be selling 125,000 acres or more.

The breadth of the $1 billion land sale is unprecedented. The federal government hasn't sold off so much public lands at once since the Cherokee Outlet Land Rush of 1893.

The ostensible reason for the sale is to "help pay for rural schools and roads, making up for a federal subsidy that has been eliminated from President Bush's 2007 budget," according to Los Angeles Times reporter Janet Wilson. Historically, the federal government has made annual payments in lieu of real estate taxes to rural areas where the tax base is diminished by the presence of large national forests, parks, military bases, and other U.S. land holdings.
Bush intends to eliminate those subsidies forever. Proceeds from the proposed forest land sales would partially and temporarily cushion the blow while he is in office.

As David Albersworth of the Wilderness Society told the New York Times, however, in reality the Bush plan is nothing more than "a billion-dollar boondoggle to privatize treasured public lands to pay for 'tax cuts to the rich.'"

The New York Times has a state by state breakdown of the proposed land sales. Not surprisingly, it shows Western states will suffer the greatest aggregate losses in public lands, according to the Seattle Times.

The Columbus, Georgia, Ledger-Enquirer points out, however, that while "the Southeast has the lowest percentage of public forest land in the country" it will take "the biggest hit proportionally" from Bush's proposal. "More than one-sixth of the land proposed for sale, 55,862 acres, is in the Southeast although the majority of the nation's public land is in the West."
On the auction block, among others, are nearly 1,800 acres in central Mississippi's Bienville National Forest. Ironically, the same week Bush was proposing to sell off Bienville forests, the State of Mississippi was celebrating Arbor Day and worrying about reforestation in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. In Alabama, the U.S. Forest Service would sell 3,220 acres from the Bankhead, Conecuh and Talladega national forests. Less than 1,000 acres of national forest land in brother Jeb's Florida will be up for sale.

David Albersworth of the Wilderness Society told the New York Times the plan at bottom is "a billion-dollar boondoggle to privatize treasured public lands to pay for 'tax cuts to the rich.'"

The Southern Evironmental Law Center agrees. In a news release, the SELC maintains --

[S]elling off America’s natural heritage is not the way to fund government services. This move would set a dangerous precedent for years to come. It’s a reversal from the agency’s long-standing effort to add to the national forest system by acquiring important tracts that serve an ecological or recreational purpose. Particularly in the South, where the population is growing, along with the demand for outdoor recreation of all kinds, we need more national forest lands, not less.

* * *
These public lands belong to all citizens, and to all future generations. The Bush Administration ought not to be putting the public’s land up for sale to meet its budgetary obligations.

There are several signs the administration's proposal was thrown together and stuffed in the budget at the last minute. Even now, the Bureau of Land Management cannot say how many acres it will auction off or where they are located. The U.S. Forest Service is unable to provide on its web site more than four 'sample maps' of a few of the areas proposed for sale. And the administration says it can't publish formal notice in the Federal Register until the end of the month at the earliest.

Even the Cato Institute apparently hasn't had time to receive G.O.P. talking points. One of the Institute's callow ideologues by the name of Jerry Taylor, an under-educated Poli Sci major with a B.A. from Iowa who heads their "natural resources" department and claims to be an "expert", automatically spoke up in favor of the Bush proposal. Under it, he said, "Private property will end up in the possession of those who value it the most."

What's that again, Jerry? A national forest? Private property? What do you suppose they're putting in the Kool-Aid at the Cato Institute?

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Corps Truths

The U.S. Office of Management and Budget recently created a new web site called that rates all federal programs on a 2-category scale of "effective" or "not performing." Readers will be shocked -- shocked! -- to learn that three Corps of Engineers programs very familiar to Gulf Coast residents are rated "not performing."

Here they are along with what GAO has to say about them --
  • Coastal Storm Damage Reduction:
    Purpose: The program aims to protect lives and reduce damages resulting from hurricanes and storms. The Army Corps of Engineers partners with coastal communities to share the cost of placing sand on beaches or building structures such as jetties or groins. Most projects involve regular, recurring sand placement for up to 50 years.

    Rating: Not Performing
    * The program lacks necessary information on its success in reducing damages from hurricanes and storms in communities where the Corps has built projects or placed sand on beaches. Additional funding may be needed to collect such performance information for completed projects. At this time only anecdotal evidence is available on the program's success.
    * The Administration does not support Federal funding for long-term beach renourishment (for up to 50 years); it supports a scaled back Federal role instead. The Administration supports Federal funding for the initial placement of sand on beaches after which states and local communities would finance the long-term, periodic beach renourishment.
    * Greater coordination may be needed between the Army Corps of Engineers and other Federal, state and local entities to help prevent unwise future development in coastal communities, including those where the Corps has partnered to provide long-term beach renourishment.
  • Flood Damage Reduction
    Purpose: This program aims to reduce flood damage by constructing levees, floodwalls and other structural and non-structural projects. The Corps of Engineers shares the cost of these projects with states and local communities. The Corps also assists states in floodplain management and maintains large federally owned dams and levees.

    Rating: Not Performing
    * The program lacks information on how completed flood damage reduction projects help reduce the Nation's overall flood damages on an annual or long-term basis. The Corps can estimate, however, the economic and environmental return from flood projects under design or construction, and these estimates are used to set funding priorities for the program's budget each year.
    * Greater coordination is needed among this program, FEMA mitigation programs, the National Flood Insurance Program and states and local communities that set floodplain management policies. The lack of coordination between these entities can result in increased or unaddressed risk to communities in flood hazard areas.
    * The program's state and local partners often do not make citizens sufficiently aware of their actual flood risks by publicizing regional flood plain management plans to reduce the impact of future flood events in the project area. Anecdotal evidence also indicates that state and local partners may not be properly maintaining completed flood projects to ensure the level of protection over time.
  • Coastal Zone Management Act Programs
    Purpose: This program uses federal-state partnerships to manage natural, cultural, and economic resources in coastal areas. States with approved coastal zone management plans receive funding in support of wise planning and resource use. The program also provides funding to support research and education at protected estuarine areas.

    Rating: Not Performing
    * The program lacks long-term and annual performance measures and is not able to demonstrate consistent program effectiveness. The program has developed and made some progress implementing adequate performance measures.
    * Federal approval of state coastal management plans helps to ensure that local and state level decisions are consistent with national concerns. Outside studies of the program's effectiveness have found that the state programs are implementing the stated objectives of the Coastal Zone Management Act, and states have seen improvement in many aspects of management of their coastlines.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Dissing The Donald

Mark Singer has an amusing entry in the New Yorker's "Dept. of Amplification" section. It's too delicious to excerpt.

Just read it.

Fewer Rentals, Higher Rents

Lesley Conn's top-of-the-front-page headline article, FEMA To Charge for Trailers is good news for some 2,000-plus people still homeless nearly 17 months after Hurricane Ivan, even though the agenc hasn't yet set rents.

Pensacola continues to feel the effects of Hurricanes Ivan, Dennis, and Katrina. One of Conn's sources says "about 1,000 rental units in the market that were reasonably priced units that are not coming back." Another reports some apartment buildings are converting to condominiums or selling out to nearby businesses. As a ride around town shows, there also are many multi-family dwellings that still have not been repaired.

Living in a FEMA trailer is no picnic, but it's better than the street.

Ask Your Doctor About 'Soma'

"By this time the soma had begun to work. Eyes shone, cheeks were flushed, the inner light of universal benevolence broke out on every face in happy, friendly smiles. Even Bernard felt himself a little melted."
A Food and Drug Administration panel surprised Washington GovCorp yesterday by voting 8 to 7 to require a "black box warning" on "several drugs widely used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder." Potential cardiovascular complications was one reason. What's catching the attention of Big Pharma, though, is that the panel majority also acted because it suspects doctors are over-medicating children with alleged behavior disorders.

The recommendation is advisory, only. Approval by the FDA itself is far from certain, although usually the FDA follows recommendations of its expert medical panels. Reports the Washington Post:
Members of the board said the recommendation was driven as much by worries that the drugs are being overused in the United States as by the possible side effects: About 10 percent of 10-year-old American boys are taking such medications, and there have been recent sharp increases in the number of adults taking them.

"On the surface, it is hard to believe," said Curt Furberg, professor of public health sciences at North Carolina's Wake Forest University Medical School, who voted for the black-box warning. "What is also interesting is this condition is not really recognized in other countries -- you wonder what we are treating. I am sure there are patients who need these drugs, but it is not 10 percent of all 10-year-old boys."
Brand names Ritalin, Concerta, Methylin and Metadate -- which last year generated $3.1 billion in sales -- were singled out by the board. But the panel might just as easily have targeted the disconnect between drug company promotions for adult anti-depressants and scientific reality, as Florida State University doctors Jeffrey R. Lacasse and Jonathan Leo did recently in a medical journal.

No doubt some children with serious hyperactive disorders benefit from the ADD and ADHD drugs, as a superb Frontline investigative report, "Medicating Kids," convincingly shows. But 10 perent of all 10 year-old-boys in America? Or, 9.3 percent of all 12-year-olds, as the New York Times reports?

Professor Ken Livingston, M.D. has written, "There is something odd, if not downright ironic, about the picture of millions of American school children filing out of "drug-awareness" classes to line up in the school nurse's office for their midday dose of amphetamine."

The pharmaeutical industry isn't happy with the FDA panel's recommendation. FDA bureaucrats are downright shocked.
Robert Temple, director of the FDA's Office of Medical Policy. Asked whether the panel's action surprised him, he said, "I don't know if taken aback is quite the word... it does not astonish me, but it wasn't the primary matter for what we went to them for."
It wasn't 'what we went to them for' because, as the Post report notes, the FDA medical panel "is not supposed to get into the practice of medicine."

Maybe not. But the FDA is supposed to regulate prescription drug marketing. The trouble is, the agency's marketing enforcement arm has been grossly underfunded and highly politicized over the past five years. Regulation of pharmaceutical marketing abuse has nearly disappeared, as USA Today reported last summer:
The FDA's drug-marketing enforcement office has only 40 employees to review more than 30,000 pieces of promotional material a year. Those include TV and print ads, sales brochures for doctors and company postings on Internet sites.
By contrast, Public Citizen reported, drug companies deployed "an army" of K-Street lobbyists with bags full of potential campaign donations. Many of these are former members of Congress themselves, like Florida's own Connie Mack. Another Public Citizen report titled The Medicare Drug War has the details. Congressman Henry Waxman is asking the GAO to investigate.

The latest action by the FDA advisory panel shines a tiny pinpoint of light into the darkness where the pharmaceutical industry, K Street lobbyists, and the Republican-dominated Congress recently engineered a trillion-dollar Medicare prescription drug fiasco that raises concern among both liberals and the few remaining traditional conservatives. It's also causing conflicts of interest for physicians.

As one University of Virginia newspaper columnist suggests, next time you're in your doctor's office, don't ask for the latest mood altering drug. Ask what your congressman has done to help rein in Big Pharma before it ruins the health of the nation -- financial and otherwise.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

The State of Fruit Flies

"[T]he thing we’d like to think distinguishes us from the animal kingdom is our ability to anticipate problems and head them off. Fruit flies just keep going, and when they hit the wall, millions die and they crash. I’d like to think that we’re better than fruit flies."
-- Eugene Linden, American Prospect
Donald Kaul finds the State of the Union delusional:
Perhaps the most glaring omission was his failure to so much as mention global warming, let alone lay out a high-priority plan to deal with it.

It’s time to get real: the jury is no longer out on global warming. It doesn’t need any more study to see if it’s happening. It’s happening. The Arctic icecap is disappearing, glaciers are melting, coral reefs are dying, storms around the world are becoming increasingly violent and average temperatures keep going up.

While there may be a cyclical element to this, the scientific community---with the exception of a few quacks and scientists on the payrolls of energy companies---is agreed that it’s being hurried along by the burning of fossil fuels that release carbon dioxide into the air, producing a “greenhouse effect.”

Yet the president continues to turn his back on this potentially cataclysmic problem and instead offers tax incentives to oil companies already bloated with profits.
Meanwhile, the State of Pensacola this weekend will be frozen.
This January was the 14th warmest on record in Pensacola since officials began keeping weather data in the 1880s. This year, the month only had one day of freezing temperatures.

"We had a warm January, and now, it looks like we'll make up for it in February," said Keith Williams, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Mobile.

The Weather Service expects the low to reach 30 degrees inland Pensacola by Friday morning, with lows in the mid-30s along the coast. A low of 25 to 29 degrees is expected overnight Saturday, with colder temperatures inland. forecasts a low of 42 in Pensacola by this morning. Freezing weather is forecast for Saturday with a low of 31 degrees.
So, does that mean the State of the Globe isn't warming? Not at all, replies Time Magazine's veteran environmental reporter, Eugene Linden, author of the new book Winds of Change: Climate, Weather, and the Destruction of Civilizations:
Climate change and global warming don’t mean it gets warm every day everywhere from this point on. You can’t point to one event and say, that’s because of climate change. What you can say is that as the planet warms, these things become more likely. All sorts of changes begin to come about. You get warm winters. Yet things are warming up. The signs are everywhere. I don’t think anyone disputes that. Call it for shorthand, "global warming." But the danger for us in the near-term is more likely "climate chaos."

When climate changes states rapidly and abruptly, it tends to flicker back and forth. It can get warm, it can get cool, and you can get droughts. You can get all kinds of weather extremes as climate tries to find a new equilibrium. That’s the real deal, because that could ruin the entire world economy.

* * *
Climate’s changing. You can get past a point where you get these runaway effects. We don’t know what the tipping points are. * * *

The only way we’ll know the tipping point at this point is once we’ve passed it. That to me is a call to action. * * * A certain degree of warming has occurred. To the degree that it’s our fault, it’s locked in.

I’ve written a lot about animal intelligence over the years, and in the past the thing we’d like to think distinguishes us from the animal kingdom is our ability to anticipate problems and head them off. Fruit flies just keep going, and when they hit the wall, millions die and they crash. I’d like to think that we’re better than fruit flies.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Sneak Attack

Josh Marshall has the low-down:
It's actually pretty amazing. President Bush took pretty much his entire Social Security phase-out plan from last year and put it into next year's budget without telling anyone.

Newsweek's Allan Sloan took a closer look and found it all there.
Mike at Florida News tells us what to do.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Can You Hear Me Now?

You'd think at least we could have an Attorney General who knows that George Washington didn't have a telephone.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Beach Tax Settlement in the Wind?

Last Saturday's Pensacola News Journal carried an item by Michael Stewart about two local school districts' effort to 'borrow' money from the state against a theoretical judgment for back taxes on Pensacola Beach and Navarre Beach leaseholds. Why Santa Rosa County's school district needs to do this is something of a mystery, since the Navarre Beach tax suit now has been lost. But the Pensacola Beach lawsuit marches on.

Yet, as Stewart reports, "How much money the districts can borrow is unclear."
"The Escambia School District could get as much as $6.9 million; Santa Rosa could get a loan of as much as $2.1 million.

* * *
In Escambia, the $6.9 million represents an annual $2.3 million shortfall for the 2004-05, 2005-06 and 2006-07 school years deducted when Pensacola Beach was placed on the tax rolls.
In other words, the county tax assessor's decision -- cheered on by our Escambia county commissioners -- to break long-standing promises of tax-free leases actually results in a reduction of state education funding to the Escambia County School District. Taxing beach property, it seems, would represent a windfall to the State, not the county. This is why the state has agreed to 'loan' money to the school district as long as it's paid back when and if taxes are imposed on island leaseholds.
In Escambia County, when Pensacola Beach was added to the tax rolls, the state reduced the School District's yearly funding by $2.3 million, the estimated amount the new tax money would generate for Escambia schools.

But many beach residents chose not to pay until a lawsuit contesting the taxes is settled. If a judge rules the taxes are legal, beach residents will have to pay back taxes plus interest. If that happens, the School District will repay the interest-free loan.

If beach residents prevail, DOE would recalculate the School District's funding to make up for the shortfall, Arnold said.
To explain why this is so would require a lengthy article all to itself about Florida's antiquated, unequal, highly politicized, and inadequate public education funding system. All we have to know for present purposes is that Florida' s system for funding public schools is as convoluted as a Rube Goldberg mousetrap. It short-changes school districts which happen to have a disproportionately high percentage of low-income students; and it well may be vulnerable to constitutional challenge.

What catches the eye in Stewart's article, though, has nothing to do with school funding issues. Twice he mentions the possibility of a "settlement" of the tax suit. It's possible Stewart simply made the common mistake of conflating "settlement" with "judgment," and he means nothing more than finality. Or, he could be hinting that true out-of-court settlement talks are underway.

Either way, Stewart's mention of a "settlement" recalls past efforts to amicably resolve out of court the long-standing tax dispute on the basis of a bargain that everyone could live with, beach residents and businesses as well as mainlanders.

What kind of deal might that be? For at least a decade, one group of beach leaseholders always favored trading taxes for an outright deed to leasehold property. Another group bitterly opposed any move toward compromise.

The split was mirrored among the membership of the Pensacola Beach Residents & Leaseholders Assn. While most PBRLA leaders at least privately favored negotiating a deed-for-taxes trade, none was able to marshall the support of enough beach residents and commercial leaseholders to make it happen.

Some PBRLA leaders who addressed the issue, like Ray O'Keefe (1998), argued that agreeing to pay taxes inevitably would lead to the desirable goal of self-government through municipal incorporation. Others like Don Ayres (1999) added that a deed-for-taxes solution also would improve the beach economy substantially by easing bank lender worries and by removing the uncertainty of leasehold renewal policies.

This last is an issue that has haunted the Santa Rosa Island Authority for many years. It's one that seems to be crawling out of its coffin once again, as we noted recently.

Still others, like Gary Smith (2004) recognized that a deed-for-taxes deal likely would satisfy the emotional need for security that many beach homeowners have, regardless of the common legal understanding that a deed is merely one kind of 'bundle of sticks' that other forms of property tenure, like a long term lease, closely approximate. Out of staters, in particular, are often puzzled by the leasehold tenure system on Pensacola Beach. Many potential buyers are scared off. Others simply accept the nonchalant assurances of real estate sales people that it's nothing to worry over.

It's been said that the revered "father of Pensacola Beach," the late Dr. Jim Morgan, also favored a deed-for-taxes solution. One surviving memorandum he wrote for posterity, decades ago, would seem to reflect this, although it also acknowledges that "granting the leaseholders absolute title will have consequences far beyond the taxation issue." (The only copy of the memo known to have survived was later edited by someone else, so it's impossible to be sure whether Morgan or the editor added the mysterious caveat.)

The closest anyone came to negotiating the kind of trade O'Keefe and Ayres (and maybe Morgan) favored came in the late 1990's, when county commissioner Mike Whitehead privately signalled that he would be open to a deed-for-taxes agreement as long as it happened within a few years. Whitehead ran for higher office soon afterwards, however. He lost and left the commission and was only recently elected once more as county commissioner.

With the adverse ruling on taxation of Navarre Beach leaseholds now final, some may assume that it is too late to settle the Pensacola Beach lawsuit. There are good reasons to reject that notion, however.

First among them is that a settlement with the right terms is in the interests of everyone. Even in the teeth of an adverse ruling, there would be plenty of basis for concluding that a true out-of-court settlement would be in the interests of mainlanders, county government, and state government, as well as beach residents.

Okalaoosa County solved the leasehold taxation issue decades ago when they traded beach taxes for a deed. Fort Walton Beach noticeably has prospered since then. One reason, perhaps, is that credit institutions often find it easier to lend money to businesses (or write mortgages for homes) that are secured by a deed to the property rather than a declining years lease. Residential as well as commercial real estate listings sell quicker, and probably for more, when buyers are assured the land tenure system is comparable to what they would find elsewhere, rather than the unique "99 year leasehold interest in Government owned land" that has prevailed on Pensacola Beach since the early 1950's.

A further reason is one of equity -- basically the same principle of fundamental fairness that led the courts in the Navarre Beach suit to conclude that long term leaseholds had so many incidents of ownership that they were the near-equivalent of deeded real estate and therefore taxable. If that is so, then to tax without a deed uniquely disadvantages beach property leaseholders.

Yet another reason is that a deed-for-taxes deal actually would bring in more money to the County than any court ruling. Under the Navarre Beach ruling, only improvements to the land -- house and business structures themselves -- are taxable. Until deeded outright, the land itself remains free of taxation. For those who would declare a beach residence as their homestead, that freedom has less value because the land tax they are avoiding would be less in any event. But for businesses, real estate taxes on deeded land will be just as deductible as a business expense as leasehold fees are today.

There are many more reasons for believing that all sides to the pending tax suits could benefit from a settlement. Undoubtedly, federal legislation along the same lines that enabled Okaloosa County to tax Fort Walton Beach property would be needed, however. The original deed to Santa Rosa Island prohibits Escambia County from titling the land in any other non-governmental peson or entity.

Former congressman Bob Sikes managed to eliminate that provision for the part of the island that is now called Okaloosa Island. Current congressman Jeff Miller has indicated in the past a willingness to sponsor such legislation for the rest of the island.

The lawyers and politicians entangled in the ongoing Pensacola Beach tax suit could do their clients and constituents a very large favor by approaching him again. A true settlement of the tax dispute would be in everyone's interests.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Bleak Sundays in February

The other day in an item about the Navarre Beach tax case, we were, perhaps, too circumspect when we slipped in two links to the on-going PBS serial drama of Bleak House.

Let's be more specific: There are few better ways to spend your Sunday evenings this month than watching this drama. As Stephanie Zacharek of (subscription or free for an ad-watch) says:
Now more than ever, we need Masterpiece Theatre's "Bleak House."

In the past few weeks I've had numerous conversations with people, some of whom haven't looked at Masterpiece Theatre in years, who suddenly found themselves hooked on this British-made Charles Dickens adaptation, currently airing on PBS. (The series began with a two-hour opener on Jan. 22 and will continue through the month of February, ending on the 26th.) That's what happened to me: I turned the show on, never having read the book, and almost immediately slipped into its world.

Many of us have become used to the experience, pleasurable in its own right, of sitting down with a fat DVD box set (a season's worth of a novelistic TV series like "Alias" or "Lost," for instance) and watching a complete arc in a few greedy stretches. It can be fun to whiz through some six months' worth of shows at a clip -- akin to the act of reading pages as quickly as you can turn them. But the downside is that you lose any sense of anticipation between episodes. Cliffhangers become nothing more than puddles to jump. By the time you've even formulated the question "Who shot JR?" (and made a quick trip to the fridge), you can have the answer.

"Bleak House" will be available on DVD on Feb. 28, almost immediately after the series completes its TV run. But nearly everyone I know who has begun to watch the show prefers to see it the old-fashioned way, on successive Sunday nights, as it airs -- a way of approaching Dickens' work that's not far off from the way his earliest reading public would await each installment of his newspaper serials. Dickens' biographer Edgar Johnson has written about how American fans waited at the docks in New York, shouting out to the crew of an incoming ship, "Is Little Nell dead?"

* * *
This "Bleak House" is peopled with a vast assortment of characters, all beautifully cast * * * . There's Miss Flite, played by Pauline Collins, a dithery elderly woman who spends her days at the Court of Chancery following the proceedings in the Jarndyce v. Jarndyce case, and her evenings caring tenderly for the various caged birds who share her small room; Mr. Guppy (Burn Gorman), an oily and ambitious young law clerk who bears an unnerving resemblance to the young Willem Dafoe (and who, after being rebuffed by Esther, can surely be up to no good); and Ada Clare (Carey Mulligan) and Richard Carstone (Patrick Kennedy), John Jarndyce's two young wards, who potentially have much to gain from the Jarndyce v. Jarndyce lawsuit but who also, as their guardian keeps warning them, have much to lose. Carstone is likable but ridiculous (he can't settle on a profession, largely because he assumes he'll never need one), and Ada -- Esther has been brought to Bleak House as her companion -- is pretty, openhearted and bland. We don't want anything truly disastrous to befall these two, yet we're left wondering, as the case becomes more and more tangled, is there enough good to go around?

* * *
Dickens was also a man of surprises, as any master of the serial form would have to be. * * * After watching Episode 2 of "Bleak House," I now think I have some idea of where the story is going, and of at least some of the secrets that Lady Dedlock is suffering with. But I'm sure, in places at least, I'll be proved wrong. For these next four Sundays, I'll be turning the pages, figuratively speaking, with many other viewers, and on Feb. 26, I'll close the cover at last.

And then, instead of feeling confident that I already know the story backward and forward, I anticipate reading the novel for real -- alone, as we always are with a book, and yet not alone at all.
Watch the serial. Then buy the book. You can thank us later.

Area Blogs Update

Extend a welcoming handshake to the newest Pensacola area blog, Living on the Gulf Coast, which summarizes interesting news stories from Pensacola and along the Northwest Florida coast. If it sometimes seems a little like News of the Weird, we have only ourselves to blame.

LGC joins the following local area blogs, which we also index along the right side of our home page.
  • Barrier Island Girl
  • Daily photos, bits 'o poetry, and occasional hilarity from the "Erma Bombeck of Pensacola Beach."

  • Chumuckla Now
  • A group blog from the "hamlet" of Chumukla. Not much going on right now. They must be hibernating.

  • Dome of a Home
  • Valerie and Mark Sigler's storm-proof dome home is the focus of this Pensacola Beach web site.

  • Greg's Page O' "Why Bother?" (Pensacola)
  • This is the blog version of Greg's more permanent web site, known as "Greg's Page O' Fun". If your boss is watching, you can look busy and smart by displaying Greg's WorkHelp 1 and WorkHelp 2 on your monitor screen. Lots of impressive-looking footnotes! The only thing missing is the text that goes with them.

  • (PNJ)
  • The 'official unofficial' blog by Gannett Corporation's Pensacola News Journal editor Kent Cockson.

  • Living on the Gulf Coast
  • Just started. Let's see how it grows.

  • No High
  • Dedicated to fighting the good fight on Pensacola Beach, win, lose, or slow 'em down a lot.

  • Panhandling
  • Described (and edited) as mostly entirely a personal journal" this blog covers the Florida Panhandle from "Arts" through "Nerds" to "Wine." Also, it's guarded by two handsome slug-a-beds.

  • Pensacola Beach Preservation and Historical Society
  • Same as No High, with additional news.

  • Pensacola Beach Today
  • With help from participating beach residents, in time this can become the successor to the now defunct Send 'em news, views, and on-site reports about SRIA meetings.

  • Save Five Flags
  • Photos, newsletters, a message board, and even an interactive history quiz about the Five Flags Motel on Pensacola Beach.

  • Why Now? (Cinco Bayou)
    From nearby Cinco Bayou, this is an "On-line Opinion Magazine featuring annoyed rumblings from the leading edge of the Baby Boom firmly tied to a reality-based world." Bryan has disclosed he formerly worked for a spooky federal agency or two. He knows whereof he speaks -- and listens.
If we've missed anyone let us know in the comments section or by email.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Cribbing for the Quiz

Check out Why Now? He did his homework. So, if you need help, crib his research for answers to the Cartoon Quiz.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Cartoon Quiz

Amardeep Singh, a Lehigh University English professor, asks the question: "Are we really in the midst of a major diplomatic incident over cartoons?"

It sure looks like it. But maybe not. There is a theory floating around The Internets that what's really going on is someone is giving us an on-going test throughout the year on the subject of "self-evident truths" our Founding Fathers proclaimed. (If you haven't heard that rumor, it's because we just started it.)

Today's pop quiz is part of that continuing test. This quiz focuses on Freedom of Speech and Press. Is it a valued liberty we should cherish? Or, is it an inhibition to effective government that has outlived its usefulness in a "Post 9-11 world," as someone might put it.

Put away your books and notes, children. Here's the quiz. For each of the two questions, circle the one correct answer on your monitor with a crayon.

'Toon "A"

1. It is claimed that the cartoon image labeled "Toon A" is of the Prophet Muhammed, himself. The cartoonist is trying to make fun of Muslim terrorists who claim to act in his name when they slaughter people.
a) The little bomb on Muhammed's head makes a good, patriotic point. Therefore, the cartoonist is only excercising his free speech rights. Leave him alone.

b) The cartoon is a blasphemy of one of the world's great religions and its publication is causing millions to riot around the world, putting our troops and other innocents in great danger. Therefore, the Government should have prohibited it from being published.

c) Since this cartoon depicts Muhammed, it is a graven idol. To publish it would be a sin against the First Commandment and therefore the Government should punish any who publishes it. Chop off their arms.

d) Some would agree the cartoonist was making a good point. Some would disagree. The majority should decide whether it can be published.

e) None of the above.

'Toon "B"
2. The cartoonist who drew "Toon B" claims he was making fun of Donald Rumsfeld's assertion that injuries suffered by our troops in Iraq have made them "battle hardened." His immediate subordinates at the Pentagon, however, objected in a letter to the newspaper publisher that this cartoon is "a callous depiction of those who have volunteered to defend this nation, and, as a result, have suffered traumatic and life-altering wounds."
a) This cartoon is deeply offensive and it hurts our country. It should never have been published without prior approval of military leaders at the Pentagon.

b) The image of the soldier is horrible and it will hurt the morale of our troops. Therefore, the Pentagon is within its rights to ban it from being seen on any domestic or foreign military base.

c) This cartoon is critical of Bush administration policies and, therefore, traitorous. The Government should be able to prohibit publication of all cartoons like this in the future and punish anyone who circulates them. Chop off their arms.

Some would agree the cartoonist was making a good point. Some would disagree. The majority should decide whether it can be published.

e) None of the above.

1. e
2. e

Court Rejects Beach Tax Appeal

"Unreason and injustice at the top, unreason and injustice at the heart and at the bottom, unreason and injustice from beginning to end — if it ever has an end — how should poor Rick, always hovering near it, pluck reason out of it? He no more gathers grapes from thorns, or figs from thistles, than older men did, in old times.”
-- Charles Dickens, Bleak House
The Pensacola News Journal is reporting today that the Florida Supreme Court has dismissed without comment the last appeal of Navarre Beach leaseholders against imposition of county real estate taxes.

The end of the bitter 5-year battle between Navarre Beach leaseholders and Santa Rosa County came with a whimper, not a bang. In a one-sentence order, the Supreme Court simply declined to review the case. This allows last year's First District Court of Appeals ruling to stand. That opinion is archived on the web site of the Navarre Beach Leaseholders Assn..

As Gannett's Tallassee reporter writes:
[T]he end of the legal challenge... means 800 leaseholders now owe about $2 million in 2001 taxes. In all likelihood, it also means more than 1,700 Navarre leaseholders now will have to pay more than $19 million in taxes assessed through 2005.
It's a matter of some concern what effect draining nearly $20 million from local residents may have on Santa Rosa County's economy and real estate market. The decision also darkens the clouds over similar lawsuits by Pensacola Beach leaseholders who are challenging Escambia County's parallel effort to impose taxes.

Some are saying that even if the tax is upheld, residents and business who can prove they relied on past promises of tax exemption when they bought beach property still may have a breach of contract suit against the state or county.

If the lawyers get creative enough, maybe the county should rename the beach Pensacola Bleak House.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Childers Conviction Upheld

In 77 pages of judicial opinions, a majority of the 15 judges of Florida's First District Court of Appeals in Tallahassee have upheld the conviction of Pensacola's former political powerhouse, W.D. Childers. If the decision becomes final, the court will be sending the case back to the trial judge for imposition of an order compelling Childers to pay $1 million in "victim restitution" to Escambia County.

Childers was for many years dean of the state senate where he effectively held the purse strings. After being term-limited, he won a seat as Escambia County commissioner and quickly became a dominating force on the board.

The First District's "en banc" (full court) decision and dissenting views are available in legalese here (pdf format). Veteran Associated Press reporter Bill Kaczor has the details in people-speak here:
Former Florida Senate President W.D. Childers lost an appeal Thursday of his bribery conviction related to a Pensacola land deal while he was serving as an Escambia County commissioner.

He was convicted after a fellow commissioner, who later committed suicide by drinking antifreeze, testified Childers offered him a cooking pot filled with cash to vote for the $4.1 million purchase of a defunct soccer complex in 2001.

The 1st District Court of Appeal also ruled Childers can be required to pay restitution of up to $1 million - the amount Escambia County lost when it resold the soccer complex.

It was a rare decision by all 15 appellate judges. Most cases are decided by three-judge panels.

There's more. As Bill succinctly explains, the court --
split different ways on three key issues, voting 11-4 to affirm Childers' conviction, 10-1 to reverse a trial judge who had denied restitution... and 11-4 that the case qualified for a full-court review because it was exceptionally important.
In other words, the judges were more divided over how many of them should sit in judgment than what that judgment should be.

It's unusual to see an appellate court wash its dirty laundry in public like this. What makes it doubly weird is that if a run-of-the-mine three-judge panel had decided the case, Childers apparently would have won. Moreover, since the prosecution's star witness Willie Junior, is no longer alive Childers likely could have walked away altogether.

Chief Judge Charles J. Kahn somewhat testily disclosed early in his dissenting opinion that he was "the author of the original panel opinion in this case." He and one or both of the other judges would have reversed Childers' conviction on a point of evidence and ordered a retrial. Because the entire 15-member court took the case "en banc," however, Childers' conviction has been upheld.

Although they didn't say so immediately, W.D.'s lawyers almost certainly will seek a further appeal to the State Supreme Court. There, two of the larger issues will be whether the
intermediate appeals court properly decided the case en banc and whether Escambia County qualifies as a "victim" when someone bribes its county commissioners to over-pay for county property purchases.

Program for the Pig Pile

Josh Marshall's widely-read Talking Points Memo now provides a Grande Ole Docket listing "trial dates, court appearances and sentencing hearings for players in the current array of national political scandals." It's quite a pig pile of the indicted and convicted.

Aw, Isn't That Sweet?

Last night, the SRIA board and General Manager Buck Lee kissed and made up. Lee gets a 1-year contract renewal and a 5 percent pay raise.

Currently, Lee is paid $82,628 a year and $700 per month for travel expenses, plus benefits.

To his credit, board member Vernon Prather led a charge to up the annual raises awarded to staff, who've really been doing the heavy lifting. The across-the-board 4 percent raise still falls one percent short of Buck's increase. Wild-eyed optimists consider that for the SRIA, at least it might be a small step toward that terra incognito of equal pay for equal work.

No word, though, on the Hummer.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Bucking Buck Lee

Today's daily, the Pensacola News Journal, finally catches up on the old news that Santa Rosa Island Authority general manager Buck Lee received poor performance reviews from staff in advance of his employment contract renewal negotiations. But reporter Lynette Wilson adds a little spit and polish to the story by characterizing the reviews as "mixed." Then, she sticks the whole subject away in a dark closet, with no details showing.
The Island Authority board is expected to consider renewing, modifying or terminating its contract with Lee when it meets today.

Lee's current contract expires in May.

All Island Authority department heads and a random sample of other employees evaluated Lee's performance in two categories: leadership and employee relationships, and employee goal setting and performance monitoring.
Mixed reviews? Listen, when underpaid subordinates with no job security who live paycheck-to- paycheck tell you the boss is something less than a demigod, you know either he's terrible or they've lost their minds.

Lee's defense sounds a lot like the defendant who murders his parents and then throws himself on the mercy of the court because he's an orphan:
Lee said that in a perfect world, he would have had time to learn about the various departments and settle into his job. Instead, in the aftermath of Ivan, he was trying to get the road between Navarre and Pensacola beaches reopened; the island ready for the Blue Angels air show in early July; businesses up and running; and residents back into their homes as fast as possible, he said.
We didn't notice anyone in a shirt and tie out there shoveling debris off Highway 399 or tearing out the sodden wallboard in residents' homes. If Buck was busy doing all of that, it must have been after hours. On overtime, you might say.

There's a reason -- several of them, in fact -- why the weekly Independent News designated Buck Lee one of the Losers of 2005. The IN has been on his tail since shortly after he was hired in May, 2005. Last month the weekly reported:
Except for one department head that gave Lee all 4's (above average), the others gave him average to below average ratings. He scored real low in guiding day-to-day business decisions and implementing effective ways to monitor and evaluate customer concerns and issues.
The Island Authority knew when it hired Lee that he didn't have the education or management experience to run the SRIA. They were counting on his "policy experience" as a former county commissioner. Now, it's learning what voters know all too well about many of our local politicians: Buck Lee's biggest concern seems to be Buck Lee.

He isn't very smart about hiding it, either:
Meanwhile, Lee is pushing an exhorbitant lease renewal fee policy equal to 50% of market value for select small businesses who didn't lawyer-up or cross the palms of the good ol' boys years ago. This is an issue in which everyone on the beach has a major stake, as we've pointed out before.

Some are predicting the SRIA board will wimp out and renew Lee's contract today, but without a raise. If the board had any gumption, it would put him on notice of a re-review in three or six months, tell him to dump the Hummer, and begin advertising now for a potential replacement.

Debbie Norton for General Manager, anyone?

You've Got Male!

Kate at the Tampa group blog Sticks of Fire is passing along this gem:
"The St. Petersburg Times is looking for tales of online love gone bad. We’ve all heard stories about that self-described 'big man on campus' who’s really a middle-aged man with hives. Turn your heartbreak into hilarity and send it in email form to"