Media Musings

* The Florida Strawberry Festival Soundstage is renowned for its acts that hearken to other eras. Which can mean a notably eclectic list of performers. For example, where else would you be hosting appearances by Engelbert Humperdinck, The Lettermen and Vanilla Ice?

* I’m still nobody’s go-to person when it comes to Oscar predictions–let alone movie critiques. Truth be told, I’ve never recovered from all the unfathomable praise lavished on “The Blair Witch Project.” And, yes, I still think it’s the biggest hoax since Piltdown Man.

Fast forward to the most recent case of cinematic cluelessness: The “Best Picture” Oscar awarded to “The Shape of Water.” I thought–and wrote a couple of months ago–that it should have been titled: “‘Dr. Strangelove’ Meets ‘The Creature From the Black Lagoon.'” It was overrated and over-hyped. That hasn’t changed. Maybe “The Shape of Water” should have won for “Best Bestiality Romance.”

Sports Shorts

* Roger Bannister, R.I.P. In perpetuity. Along with your accomplishment. And its context.

Bannister, the British runner who in 1954 broke the four-minute barrier (3:59.4) in the mile, died last Saturday at 88. What he did was historic and incredible. But how he did it–and what he did afterward–are also incredibly memorable.

When Bannister made history on the track at Oxford University in front of some 1,200 spectators, he was a 25-year-old medical student. He was also part of an amateur–yes, amateur–post-graduate all-star running team. How quaint.

And after he broke that mystical barrier and made sports history, he went back to work. And then a few months later–at the peak of his prowess and international renown–he retired. He couldn’t stay a world-class athlete and become a physician, he would explain. Standards–and priorities–mattered. A distinguished career as a neurologist would ensue. He was also knighted.

Roger Bannister will be remembered for making history. For those in the know, he will also be recalled for doing everything the right way. He wasn’t the beneficiary of performance-enhancing drugs, he wasn’t subsidized, he ran on old-school, dirt tracks and he never “cashed in.” His feat of fame was between Olympics. He quit on top–and became a doctor. We’ll not see his kind–nor era–again.

* That was quite the devastating quote the other day from ESPN’s long-time hoops analyst Dick Vitale. “I don’t like the fraud that college basketball has become,” he said. Ouch.

Remember when the biggest, big-time college basketball issue was academic standards and who might flunk out? Now the very best players have no intention of finishing, have institutional enablers to get them through faux-student status and have access to de-facto, palm-greasing agents before committing.

* I’m one of those sports fans who reads all those page-two, small-print results, schedules and college rankings. The rankings are particularly interesting right now with basketball, baseball and hockey as staples. Basketball and baseball are all familiar names. Not so, college hockey. It’s beyond eclectic. Where else would Notre Dame, Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State be in the same mix as St. Cloud State, Clarkson, Omaha and Union? BTW, St. Cloud State is No. 1. Go, Huskies.


* “Ballistic missile customers are the most concerning of North Korea’s partners and deserve the highest attention. Egypt is one of those.”–Andrea Berger, a North Korea specialist at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies.

* “Absolutely unacceptable.”–How Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau characterized President Donald Trump’s plan for tariffs on steel and aluminum imported into the United States.

* “The president is going to quickly find out that you can’t start a trade war with your allies and expect them to work with you on other issues. The administration is squandering the little credibility they had with transatlantic partners.”–Jamie Fly, senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund.

* “Please reconsider. You’re punishing the American taxpayers and you are making a huge mistake.”–The response of Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., to Trump’s tariff plan.

* “We are extremely worried about the consequences of a trade war and are urging the White House to not advance with this (tariff) plan.”–AshLee Strong, spokeswoman for House Speaker Paul Ryan.

* “We didn’t cover ourselves in glory in terms of how we handled that. It was confusing.”–White House Chief of Staff John Kelly on how he handled security clearance and domestic abuse allegations against former top aide Rob Porter.

* “Trump is a creature almost preternaturally attuned to the shifting moods of the public and deeply influenced by what he sees on television. For him, ideology and philosophy do not mediate politics; politics is mediated by TV.”–Republican consultant Rick Wilson.

* “(Trump) really likes stage sets and all of what makes for good theater. This was his first love.”–Trump biographer Michael D’Antonio.

* “The Republican Party is learning what should have been obvious from the outset: Mr. Trump’s chaotic personality can’t be contained. His presidency is infecting the entire party.  … The Republican Party has become a destructive and anarchic political force in American life. The president and his acolytes are championing conspiracy  theories and a sweeping, uncalibrated, all-out assault on our institutions.”–Peter Wehner, senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

* “I thought it was fascinating television and it was surreal to actually be there.”–Texas Sen. John Cornyn, the No. 2 Republican, who sat next to Trump during the president’s bipartisan, gun-discussion meeting with members of Congress. The meeting that stunned some Republicans when the president “seemed” to back gun-control measures.

* “If I was there (Parkland High School) and I didn’t have a firearm, I would have gone into that scene.”–Donald Trump.

* “It’s clear to me that AR-15 or other high-velocity weapons, especially when outfitted with a high-capacity magazine, have no place in a civilian’s gun cabinet. As a doctor, I feel I have a duty to inform the public of what I have learned as I have observed these wounds and cared for these patients.”–Heather Sher, M.D., Broward Health Medical Center.

* “We don’t want to be a part of a mass shooting.”–Edward Stack, CEO of Dick’s Sporting Goods, explaining the rationale for his company restricting gun sales.

* “Bans do nothing but infringe on the rights of law-abiding citizens.”–NRA.

* “We live in a world of dense information pollution. The long-term fallout is really dramatic corruption of our democratic sphere.”–Nicco Mele, director of the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School.

* “While it seems shocking to be finding heroin at the public library–that’s where we are. This is an all-hands-on-deck situation.”–U.S. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-N.Y.

* “We are the forgotten business on some level.”–Robert Greenblatt, chairman of NBC Entertainment, defending the relevance of traditional television broadcasters.

* “An industry consumed with comic books and teenage boys.”–How Maureen Dowd, New York Times, defines Hollywood.

* “We are very concerned about the sexual harassment bill. …You will see many considerations when we redo our rules next year.”–Florida Senate Republican Leader Wilton Simpson of Trilby.

* “When you can’t change the laws, change the politicians who make them.”–Florida state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando.

* “When we think about the growth of the Tampa Bay region and the companies that are moving into the West Shore business district, like Amgen, that travel all over the world, we think that this unique facility and its connection to the SkyConnect system is going to attract new types of businesses that are going to want to travel all over the world.”–Chris Minner, TIA executive vice president, in referencing the next phase of the airport’s $2 billion master plan of expansion and renovation.

* “It’s about time our reputation is as strong as our objective performance.”–Judy Genshaft, president of USF, which is about to launch a major rebranding campaign in the coming months.

“In Guns We Trust” Update

A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

Too bad there weren’t better Founding Copy Editors. That gives awkward a bad name. But we digress.

You don’t have to be a constitutional lawyer–or channel Barack Obama from his constitutional law-instruction days at the University of Chicago–to see that the sacrosanct, “In Guns We Trust” Second Amendment is far less than a seamless rationale for why we should allow assault weapons beyond law enforcement and military use.

It has everything to do with the post-Revolutionary War, “militia” and musket context of 1789–as well as contemporary common sense and public safety–not some unwitting scenario where the Founding Fathers were perversely prescient about the counterproductive needs and priorities of 21st century America.

Needs, according to the National Rifle Association, gun manufacturers and Second Amendment self-servers, that included private citizens having access to weapons of war. Priorities that included going to the political mattresses to prevent gun confiscation that would ostensibly begin with the banning of AR-15-like rifles and high-capacity magazines. Constitutionally, save us from our slippery slopes.

No lack of irony that the Gunshine State–of concealed-carry popularity and Stand Your Ground infamy–is now in the rhetorical cross hairs.

Gov. Rick Scott is against banning assault weapons such as the AR-15 that was legally purchased by mass murderer Nikolas Cruz. Scott diverts in predictably disingenuous, faux patriot fashion. “I know there are some who are advocating a mass taking of Second Amendment rights for all Americans,” he said, in full Founding Fodder mode. “That is not the answer.”

Of course it isn’t–merely a helluva sensible place to start.

Neither is the rationale espoused by Florida Senate President Joe Negron. He equates an assault weapons ban with a Constitutional violation. “I think there’s a delicate balance,” said Negron. “Even in difficult times, we have to follow the Constitution. We have to show fidelity to the Constitution.” As if a common sense ban that would help thwart mass murder would be Constitutional infidelity. Thanks, Joe.

And then there’s always Republican State Sen. Dennis Baxley, the Stand Your Ground author, who treats gun-control as manifested in an assault weapon ban as tantamount to treason. “I don’t see any interest here on that,” he said. “We’re pretty comfortable that freedom works.” In other words, you Second Amendment wimps are yet again trying to make the case for an infringement on freedom.

Surely, the Founding Fathers weren’t hoping to inspire zero-sum, bumper-sticker sophistry that would imperil the innocent. Surely.

However, increasing the assault weapon age limit to 21 could, ironically, be less than helpful. It could give the impression that something quite meaningful had actually been done, when, in effect, it becomes a political talking point of negligible help. Which would be readily apparent at the next horrific mass shooting.

Arms And Teachers

President Trump, as we know, has endorsed the arming of specially trained teachers to help prevent mass shootings such as the one at Parkland High School. No surprise that Florida Senate President Joe Negron and a number of his colleagues are among those in agreement. As in, “See, we’re doing something. Our kids are worth it.”

Among those most notably in disagreement–most school administrators, most teachers, most law enforcement officials, most parents and most kids.

As a former teacher, I can identify.

The law of unintended consequences will always be enforced. Whether it’s an armed teacher mistaken for a shooter. Whether the armed teacher errantly shoots a non-shooter. Whether the armed teacher’s gun falls into the hands of a student. There’s a reason why law enforcement–whether it’s a school or a baggage claim area or a concert–doesn’t buy the rationale of more “good guy” shooters to the rescue. Chaos isn’t very self-sorting.

“That scares me,” acknowledges Mike Grego, Pinellas County’s superintendent of schools. “And it should scare parents too, because that’s not what teachers signed up for.”

We go instead with the professionals who have been specifically trained to accept risk and signed up to protect the public–yes, even in Broward County.

Tell-Tale Tie-Cutting

That’s a pretty impressive and representative list of corporate America that has announced the severing of ties with the National Rifle Association. As in sizable discounts. We’re talking Delta and United Airlines; Avis, Hertz and Enterprise car rentals; the Best Western Hotel chain; and MetLife insurance. But it begs the question of what the hell took them so long? More  embarrassment and awful PR than outrage?

We’re also talking a stark U.S. reality: You can’t have a functioning gun culture without the complicity of corporate and political America.

Students’ Counsel

We know that the Parkland High mass murders have, in their gruesome wake, left an activist  mindset that has the potential to make a difference. Notably articulate students on the precipice of political leverage have been taking the initiative to make the case that common sense and the common good should trump the political babble and NRA obeisance that always kicks in after one of our mass tragedies.

We’ll know their impact is more than emotional transience if–or when–we start to see a noticeable uptick in young-adult voter registrations. The Gunshine State actually provides online registration at

Here in Hillsborough County, the Supervisor of Elections Office regularly visits high schools to conduct voter registration drives. Supervisor Craig Latimer’s office even uses Twitter to give students a heads up. “We work closely with all the high schools,” says Latimer. “We do see a good return on that. They know we’re coming.”

That obviously is no guarantee of registrations, let alone voting. But it does mean the system is pro-actively courting a demographic known for its flagrant under-voting.

If something meaningful is going to result from our most recent horrific mass shooting, it will arguably involve momentum initiated by those now coming of political age. Those for whom “that’s-the-way-the-system-works” is just unacceptable “BS” when it comes to a life-and-death bottom line.

We may also be seeing a reprise of sorts of what young civil rights activists did in another era–combating the forces of historical oppression. It has to start somewhere, because the assault weapon lunacy has to end sometime. There is precedent. And there is a do-the-right-thing-for-the-right-reason void.

Douglas High School student David Hogg–who’s an activist, not an actor–said it best. “I ask that this be a time of togetherness, and something that is going to be always remembered, not only as a terrible incident, but as a turning point in American history, where students speak up and speak out when the politicians won’t.”


* “American leadership in the world is in our interests, but it’s in yours too. ‘America First’ does not mean ‘America Alone.'”–Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, in his address to a meeting of U.S. governors in Washington.

* “We must include in the (Middle East) diplomatic initiative, since without Iran no regional solution can be achieved. In strained and dangerous moments, it is essential to talk to your enemy. As the adage goes, ‘Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.'”–Thomas Pickering, former ambassador to the UN, Russia and Israel and former undersecretary of state for political affairs during the Clinton Administration.

* “Through today’s actions we are putting companies and countries across the world on notice that this administration views compliance with U.S. and U.N. sanctions as a national security imperative. Those who trade with North Korea do so at their own peril.”–Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

* “The biggest threat to the integrity of our democracy today is in the Oval Office.”–Thomas Friedman, New York Times.

* “It is time for the secretary of defense, the secretary of state and the national security adviser to confront Mr. Trump, collectively and directly, to inform him that unless he publicly affirms the reality of the Russian threat and authorizes the strongest possible response to it, they will have no honorable alternative to resignation. They swore an oath of loyalty to the Constitution, not to Mr. Trump.”–William Galston, Wall Street Journal.

* “I’m not in any way justifying what the Russians did in 2016. It was completely wrong of Vladimir Putin to intervene in this way. That said, the methods they used in this election were the digital version of methods used both by the United States and Russia for decades: breaking into party headquarters, recruiting secretaries, placing informants in a party, giving information or disinformation to newspapers.”–Dov H. Levin, post doctoral fellow in the Institute for Politics and Strategy at Carnegie-Mellon University.

* “The one thing we all agree on: Our social fabric is torn. … Civility is not a sign of weakness, but of civilization.”–Nicholas Kristof, New York Times.

* “It used to be friendly-adversarial. There would be retaliation for stories they didn’t like, but nothing compared with this. … This president hates us. He’s warring on us. Once we lose ground on something, it’s hard to get it back.”–April Ryan, White House correspondent and Washington bureau chief for American Urban Radio.

* “I’m not always with the president on what he might say or do, and if that happens, I’ll call them like I see them, the way I have in the past.”–Utah Senate candidate Mitt Romney.

* “The idea that the president’s son would be going and shilling the president’s brand at the same time Donald Trump is president and is managing strategic and foreign relations with India–that is just bizarre.”–Daniel S. Markey, senior research professor at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies and former Southeast Asia expert in the State Department during the George W. Bush Administration, on the timing of the promotional visit  of Donald Trump Jr. to India–the Trump Organization’s biggest international market.

* “The odds are that we will lose seats in the House and the Senate. History tell you that; the fired-up nature of the political left tells you that. We go into this clear-eyed that this is going to be quite a challenging election.”–Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

* “Florida has gone the wrong way since Sandy Hook for sensible laws.”–Avery W. Gardiner, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

* “I do not understand how I can go into a store and buy a weapon of war.”–Parkland High School student Sam Zeif, during President Trump’s “listening session” at the White House.

* “If it were my daughter, I would want to personally kill my client, make no mistake about it. … It’s awful to be involved representing anybody when the community hates and hurts so much because of that person.”–Howard Finkelstein, Broward County’s public defender, whose office is representing Nikolas Cruz.

* “Even if all potential mass shooters did get psychiatric care, there is no reliable cure for angry young men who harbor violent fantasies. Instead of hoping that imposing mental health treatment on everyone who shows ‘red flags’ will put an end to mass shootings, we should focus on ways to put some distance between these young men and their guns.”–Amy Barnhorst, vice chairwoman of community psychiatry at the University of California, Davis.

* “Most people who are mentally ill are not dangerous, and most dangerous people are not mentally ill.”–Arthur Lurigio, professor of psychology and criminology at Loyola University Chicago.

* “America is in the throes of great disruptions and anxieties, as we sort out our values and our future. But it doesn’t take any soul searching to know this: Treating children as collateral damage is intolerable.”–Maureen Dowd, New York Times.

* “Evil walks among us and God help us if we don’t harden our schools and protect our kids.”–Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president and CEO of the NRA.

* “Many in legacy media love mass shootings. Now I’m not saying that you love the tragedy, but I am saying that you love the ratings. Crying white mothers are ratings gold.”–NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch.

* “It’s really not the (direct candidate) contributions. It’s the ability of the NRA to tell its members: ‘Here’s whose good on the Second Amendment.'”–Cleta Miller, former NRA board member.

* “(Teachers) do not want to be armed with guns, no. They want to be armed with the tools to do their jobs.”–Luke Flynt, secretary-treasurer of the Florida Education Association.

* Everybody is on heightened alert right now. If you say something or post something stupid, you might end up going to jail for it.”–Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan.

* “The purpose (of startups) should never be, this is how I’m going to make a lot of money. The purpose should be, this is how I’m going to show my talents and help change the world and make something different.”–Steve Wozniak, the inventor of the Apple personal computer, during his appearance at the USF Lecture Series.

Gun Culture To Die For

This is no time for a “conversation,” however mature and civil that always sounds. Not when the subject is America’s ever-ratcheting culture of violence. Not when the topic is mass murder by assault weapon of choice. Not when nothing has changed for the better since Adam Lanza’s evil rampage in Newtown, Ct. a little more than five years ago.

We then saw the vile onslaughts of, among others, Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik in San Bernardino, Calif., Omar Mateen in Orlando, Stephen Paddock in Las Vegas, Devin Patrick Kelley in Sutherland Springs, Texas and now Nikolas Cruz in Parkland. Heinous acts all, all heinously enabled by AR-15 style rifles, high-capacity magazines and gutless, political bottom feeders appealing to the lowest-common denominators among gun owners and the highest fund-raising potential among NRA officials.

“Conversations” are politically self-serving for professional sophists and their disingenuous talking points. These are the political prostitutes misrepresenting the context of the 18th Century, “well-regulated militia”-driven Second Amendment and whoring out for the NRA. Yeah, we’re talking about you, low-caliber, Little Scruples Marco Rubio, and you, A-Plus NRA-rated Rick Scott, and you, Donald Trump, who did a gun-reform 180 once you hypocritically pivoted to run in the Republican presidential primaries.

No, it’s past the time for a societal “conversation.” It’s time to channel our inner Howard Beale. Because if we’re not “mad as hell” right now, this county is going to hell.

This means an all-out effort–from Tallahassee to Washington–to ban, yes, BAN–weapons that do not belong in the hands of anyone outside local law enforcement, the National Guard and the U.S. Military. In fact, if, indeed, you can make a case for why you should have one of these weapons, then you sure in hell shouldn’t have one. You’re beyond rhetorically dangerous.

It also acknowledges that a ban–yes, BAN–on the sale of military-style firearms weapons and bump stocks et al is not a panacea. Of course it isn’t. Not when guns and violence are embedded in our culture. Not when deinstitutionalization has kept more of the mentally impaired in our midst. Not when bureaucracies screw up behavioral red flags and background checks. Not when violence–from computer games to rap lyrics–can seem ubiquitous. But this is where you start.

Al Hoffman, the Palm Beach developer and a major GOP donor, finally said what many more influentials need to say right now. “I will not write another check unless they all support a ban on assault weapons,” he has announced. “Enough is enough.”

That’s not exactly the summit of the moral high ground, but it’s what it takes in today’s America where leadership is too often for sale. And it’s a lot more practicable than “thoughts and prayers.”

Trumpster Diving

* Three takeaways from the notorious Rob Porter case.

>It is–or at least should be–unconscionable that a security-challenged, blackmail-vulnerable, ultimate insider would have gotten that far for that long. This chaotic, Amateur Hour administration gives dysfunctional a bad name.

>In a White House of influential rogues who also looked the part, Porter looked relatively safe. Not Conway or Bannonesque. Clean cut and Ivy League educated. Rhodes Scholar Mormon. And that, ironically, should have been a NASCAR red flag. Why the hell would someone that clean cut with that kind of education credential want in on anything Trump? That even transcends self-serving, amoral ambition. There had to be something else going on.

<“I am totally opposed to domestic violence and everybody here knows that.”–Donald Trump. Imagine having to actually say that?

* Three things we can say after the Justice Department’s special counsel announced the indictment of 13 Russians and three Russian companies for criminally interfering with the 2016 elections. First, it’s more than a “witch hunt” and a “hoax,” regardless of whether Trump-campaign “collusion” is proven or not. Second, the Russians obviously sought to undermine the Clinton campaign, which begs the obvious question of their motivation for de facto helping the Trump campaign. Why? That’s truly scary. Third, Russia had confidence that outside trolls and bots could manipulate enough manifestly vulnerable voters in purple states to make a difference. Exact results can never be known, but the motivation and efforts for electoral sabotage are both alarming and insulting.

* As long as there is a Trump Administration, there will be a place in the news cycle for the likes of Stormy Daniels. But that doesn’t mean that legitimate media, such as the Tampa Bay Times, should play titillating (yes, pun intended) enabler with front page–below the fold–coverage, so to speak, of Daniels’ appearance and, uh, performance at Thee Dollhouse. Gross, pathetic, sad.

* Speaks volumes, doesn’t it, when the president criticizes Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, Rep. Adam Schiff and others over their connections to the Russian probe but no criticism of Vlad Putin. Maybe those dossier “golden showers” rumors–not just an authoritarian bromance–are having an impact.

* So how vulnerable is the U.S. to Russian meddling in this year’s mid-terms? There are approximately 10,000 U.S. voting jurisdictions that mostly run on obsolete and imperfectly secured technology. Ouch. Talk about infrastructure issues.

* Life imitates art (of the deal)? Here’s the second paragraph from Trump’s 1987 “The Art of the Deal.”

“Most people are surprised by the way I work. I play it very loose. I don’t carry a briefcase. I try not to schedule too many meetings. I leave my door open. You can’t be imaginative or entrepreneurial if you’ve got too much structure. I prefer to come to work each day and just see what develops.”

Thirty-one years later, most people would have never thought this work ethic would have wormed its way into the Oval Office. Most people, indeed, have been seeing what has been developing. Who knew what the artifice of the deal would have presaged?