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the flog

Guns But Not Money

 

This piece has been edited from its orginal version, in accordance with the clarification below. 

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For the past two decades, Florida education policy has been decided in a top-down manner that gives little or no consideration to educators, parents, or locally elected school board members. Not only does the legislature pass ideas that give Alice in Wonderland a run for her money, they want local school districts to jump through the looking glass and down the rabbit hole while taking valuable teaching dollars away from our children. This year, local autonomy, a cornerstone of so-called "conservatism," is being challenged on many fronts. Two of the most pressing issues are testing requirements for graduating seniors and the plan to send armed, non-law-enforcement personnel into our schools.

Ashley Smith Juarez was the single Duval County School Board member who spoke out against the armed-school-employee inanity, aka HB 7026, which was signed into law on March 9. The "Guardian Program," as it's been dubbed, was passed in the wake of the tragic Valentine's Day killing of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

Juarez told WJXT that she is very worried about potential liability issues for the county. Duval County School Board Chairwoman Paula Wright is on record saying she hopes that the district will be able to recruit retired police officers and military personnel for the jobs.

Superintendent Patricia Willis bemoans the cost, as does former board Chairwoman Becki Couch, who cites the recurring tendency of the legislature to underfund their laws.

Reports estimate that even with dedicated state funds for the guardian program, the district will fall about $600,000 short of the cost of full implementation, not counting future liabilities. The cost increase comes at a time when the district is carving into its reserves to offset a $62 million budgeting shortfall.  So while we're scrambling to arm …   More

the flog

Forget Trump

The left wing of America encompasses a wide variety of interests and differing opinions, but it is nonetheless in full agreement on Donald Trump: Misguided reasoning and moral depravity have defined his rise to and time in the presidency. Consequently, some left-wingers may think it best to harness this shared resentment to fuel Democratic and otherwise left-leaning campaigns in the 2018 midterms, but it would be dangerous to do so. A Trump-centered midterm push would suggest that the left wing of America is merely the lesser of two evils, rather than a trustworthy group that can create meaningful progress for America. In order for the left to mobilize its base, it'll need to promote a message that points to a way out of the currently embarrassing and destructive political situation, instead of one that just laments it.

In his presidential campaign, Donald Trump invoked two particularly despicable features of the conservative wing: He ignored empirical fact in favor of self-promotion, and he demonstrated in far too many instances that he has little respect for anyone who does not offer him their full-fledged support. These behaviors, however, do not detract from the fact that Trump convinced people of the importance of voting for him-something that Hillary Clinton ultimately failed to do.

The left should recognize that, at the very least, Trump made political participation significantly more important. A great number of voters chose, consciously or not, Trump's apparent political philosophy: an elite-centered plan in which we ignore any socially inclusive agenda, embrace the advancement of the familiar, and give greater financial freedom to those who are already reveling in it. Trump identified his target base, came to understand its particular socio-political anxieties and then constructed a plan that addressed those anxieties head on. While this exploitation was largely unethical and self-furthering, it was, at its core, a basic political strategy: …   More

the flog

Advocates Save Goliath Grouper … for now

For nearly two decades, it has been illegal to harvest goliath grouper, a long-lived fish species indigenous to Florida's reefs that can weigh up to 800 pounds. This week, conservationists have reason to celebrate; thanks to their efforts, the ban remains in place. But that could change in the near future.

Decades ago goliath groupers, a curious and slow-moving species that historically ranged from Florida to Brazil, became a popular fishing target, which, coupled with habitat loss, sent the species into rapid decline. Harvest was first restricted, then prohibited entirely in 1990. In 1994, the International Union for Conservation of Nature added the goliath grouper to the list of critically endangered species.

Since then the goliaths have slowly recovered, though the speed of their recovery is subject to conflicting opinions. In 2006, NOAA Fisheries removed it from the "species of special concern" list; it is still considered critically endangered by IUCN. Many believe that the species lost much ground it had gained in the record freeze of 2010, and has also been impacted by red tide, poaching, etc. Since 2004, three attempts to assess the stock have failed to pass peer reviews. Scientists remain unsure of how many goliath grouper there are.

In the last few years, a handful of anglers have begun complaining about goliaths snatching game fish off their lines, and blaming them for low yields on reefs popular for fishing, claiming that goliaths are eating up all the reef fish. Advocates believe that overfishing, pollution and habitat loss, rather than predation by goliaths, have decimated reef life. Scientists' analysis of goliaths' stomach contents have found that the vast majority of the grouper's diet consists of baitfish or crustaceans, rather than gamefish, the Miami Herald reports. Further complicating the issue is a finding that mercury levels are too high in goliaths for humans to safely consume them, which conservationists believes calls into …   More

the flog

Constitutional Revision Commission “bundling” smacks of lazy, sloppy, political manipulation

Historically, Florida's Constitutional Revision Commission has been well regarded as an honorable, non-partisan, and diligent institution tasked with analyzing the state's constitution, and proposing changes to the voters.

This year, however, their hard work is at risk of being undermined by commissioners who are seeking to "bundle" distinct, and sometimes, conflicting, ballot items into single proposals.

For example, commissioners are seeking to bundle a proposal that, if enacted, would demand three separate changes related to our public schools: the loss of local control of charter schools, enshrinement of civics education into the constitution, and term limits for school board members.

Many proposals going into these bundles could be easily handled by the legislature. In fact, civics education is already alive and thriving thanks to former Florida House member Charles McBurney from Jacksonville.  He led the passage of the "Sandra Day O'Connor Civics Education Act" in 2010, creating a civics curriculum for middle-schoolers. As a result, Florida's middle school civics-literacy rate has nearly tripled the national average-all without amending the state constitution.

The "civics education" ballot item has been bundled with murkier, more controversial items in order to gain more votes for the latter. Shame on the CRC members for thinking we don't know better.

Voters who want part, but not all, of a bundled proposal would have to choose between the following options: (1) Vote "yes" for the whole thing, including the items they might not want; (2) Vote "no" for the whole thing, including the items they might want.

Either way, proposal "bundling" dilutes the power of voters.  And the practice smacks of laziness, sloppiness, and political manipulation on the part of the entire CRC.

Please contact CRC commissioners now, and ask them not to bundle proposed constitutional amendment items.

Instead of having their choices watered down by …   More

the flog

Ready Player One

Nostalgia is a fickle and addictive emotion. It's like going back in time with your DeLorean/Tardis, snatching those rose-tinted glasses off of your own six-year-old face and slipping them on like Horatio Caine as you rocket off towards the Andromeda Galaxy with a copy of the Hitchhikers Guide in the passenger seat and the obligatory David Bowie cassette blaring Star Man and Space Oddity out of your sonic-laser speakers.

It's like mainlining a pure shot of dopamine. It comes in hard and fast, but then reality comes back with a vengeance. It smacks you in the back of the head and stomps on your rosy glasses as they hit the ground.

Nostalgia has been playing, and will probably always play, a role in the world of filmmaking. What easier way can you can grab the attention of those both young and old? Just look at some of the most popular films and television shows of the past eight years. You have the 80s reincarnated with Stranger Things (2016) on Netflix, Star-Lord cranking Elvin Bishop and Cat Stevens in Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), Scott Pilgrim fighting his girlfriend's evil exes Street Fighter-style in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010) and second rebirth of the Star Wars franchise--third if you count the animated Clone Wars series.

All of these examples use nostalgia to some degree. Whether it be homage, pastiche or parody, they dig down into the recesses of our brains where our adolescence resides-presumably where it's been hanging out with Seth Rogen, smoking weed, eating pizza and playing video games this whole time-and dangles these gems of low-hanging dopamine fruit in front of the cave, trying to get a bite.

Now, with Steven Spielberg at the helm-arguably the inventor of the blockbuster and the target of much of our nostalgic tendencies-Ready Player One (2018) comes crashing into theaters. In terms of today's film goer, it's like giving Scooby and Shaggy the key to the Scooby Snack factory.

Set in the year 2045, the world is on the brink …   More

the flog

DIAMOND in the Rough

With increasingly clarity over the past decade, the breadth and scope of our nation's drug problem has emerged from the shadows of anecdotal angst to become arguably our nation's most pressing human concern. For the general public, the crisis has personified itself in the faces of all the friends and loved ones lost to opiates-a brutal roster of lost souls that can barely be recited without the loss of composure. Here in Florida, we have had the unfortunate privilege of being on the cutting-edge of almost every type of social ill, long before the mainstream media finds a sellable angle.

Whether it's homelessness, or the plight of our veterans, or gun violence or human trafficking, it's all old news for us long before the first flickerings of sincere shock cross the faces of Mr. and Mrs. America. This is true, also, with drugs, all of them-ALL of them. This is why medical marijuana is such a big deal here: When folks say it's saved lives, it's not just rhetoric; most of us can draw examples from our personal lives. Trailer-park peeps making meth in motel rooms, shaked-and-baked at the WalMart and blowing out backseats of mobile units; angel-headed hipsters freaking from tweaking, anonymous web videos for our dark amusement; parents overdosing in parked cars with their children, where at least someone can maybe save them in time. Florida bears these burdens disproportionately, and there is not a person on Earth who can say with a straight face that they have any idea what to do.

And then there's that fiendish coca, which has killed enough people to fill up a football stadium, most of whom do not reside in the narrow strips of earth where the stuff can even be grown. Broken condoms busting the guts of drug mules from Brownsville to Bogota, hemorrhages and headshots, tears for fears that are entirely justified. Consumer demand in the US and Europe has laid waste to Mexico, erased an entire generation in places like El Paso, Chicago and Miami, and the only winners …   More

the flog

Heavy METAL

When Donald Trump began making noises about pushing for import tariffs on foreign aluminum, it created a stir, maybe even more than normal. Any tariffs will only increase costs to the consumer, affecting a wide range of products across the board. Whether any of this has any impact on Stephen Harlan's resale prices is unclear, but since all that stuff is trending upward anyway, it probably doesn't matter. Harlan buys his sheets of aluminum in bulk, and uses them to create some of the most visually affecting art seen anywhere these days. In this area, he's exclusive to Phillip Anthony Signature Gallery in St. Augustine, and he will be there in person all weekend (Friday, March 30 through Easter Sunday, April 1) to debut some new pieces and to confab with collectors.

Stephen James Harlan was born in Minnesota, but he didn't stay there long, living in California, Washington DC and Maryland before settling in Wilmington, North Carolina a decade ago. But it was a childhood spent in Fort Myers that made a permanent influence on his life and art. Scenes of the beach and the ocean recur in his work, with the bright, almost psychedelic colors commonly associated with southern Florida. It's like a virtual Parrothead Fantasia, evocative of lazy days and busy nights.

Harlan made his name painting abstract images in California, but it was only fairly recently that he happened upon the style with which he is associated today. He creates the pieces using computers, decked out with special software that allows insane amounts of detail. The colors are added one pixel at a time, with his 21-inch monitor representing maybe a square inch of the finished piece, so a piece that sells at the size of a coffee table, say, would be the size of a school bus if presented at the same size it appears on the screen. The art is then reproduced onto large sheets of shiny, aircraft-quality aluminum, although you can get them on canvas, as well, if you like that matte look. Either way, to see …   More

the flog

Trump Trade War Could Screw Over the Florida Orange Industry

The pending Trump trade wars could bode poorly for American workers in numerous industries. 

In response to Trump's threatened tariffs on European Union exports of steel and aluminum, the EU has drafted two lists of American products to which it could add a 25 percent tariff. Five types of orange juice are on Part A. The items on Part A could be targeted immediately; those on Part B could be subjected to tariffs after three years, Politico EU reports.

Though most of its production is consumed domestically, Florida is the world's second-largest exporter of orange juice.

Politico EU also reported that a senior official said the list was for "stakeholder consultations."

The two lists comprise a total of 6.4 billion Euros, or 7.8 billion dollars, worth of American exports.   More

the flog

Professor: Next Generation Knows Better than to Pay Attention to the NRA

On March 24, millions of Americans across the nation will participate in March For Our Lives. According to the March For Our Lives website, the event has been "created by, inspired by, and led by students across the USA who will no longer risk their lives waiting for someone else to take action to stop the epidemic of mass school shootings that have become all too familiar." In other words, today's young people are tired of living in what they see as a dystopian world awash in guns created by past generations. This generation will be the one that brings rationality to insanity and finds a way to protect both the Second Amendment and human lives.

Can they do it? Will these "kids" be able to produce meaningful policy outcomes that have eluded previous generations?

Not if the NRA has anything to do with it. An organization founded to improve marksmanship, promote gun safety and encourage environmental conservation, today the NRA is arguably the most powerful interest group in the nation. Time and again, the NRA has marginalized gun violence cessation efforts on behalf of their gun manufacturer masters. Bogeymen such as Michael Bloomberg, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are catnip for eager buyers who believe that, at any moment, firearms and ammunition may no longer be for sale or, even worse, confiscated. Never mind that the Supreme Court and an overwhelming majority of Americans support gun ownership and do not support an outright ban on guns. NRA dogma teaches gun owners the Second Amendment is under threat and even the most modest concessions will lead society down the slippery slope toward a fictional 1930s-style German gun confiscation program.

In the real world, there is seemingly no end to the number of polls and statistics that indicate Americans support tighter restrictions on purchasing and possessing firearms. From universal background checks to regulating sales of certain firearms to increased mandatory waiting periods, pollsters, interest …   More

the flog

Verse, CHORUS, Verse

The awful atrocities committed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Valentine's Day stand out as the year's most wrenching national tragedy (so far). But they always say that every cloud has a silver lining, and the political story of the year, without question, has been the stirring response mustered by the survivors of that mass shooting, who rose up with one voice on behalf of their fallen classmates to do what no one really thought would be possible, under any circumstances: effect real, substantive change in the nation's gun laws, in the midst of an epochal election cycle.

There's been a cultural shift, as well, with America's youth motivated and acting to drive policies like never before. These activities are culminating, for the moment, with the March For Our Lives, being held on Saturday, March 24 in Washington, D.C., with satellite rallies scheduled for dozens of other cities around the nation, including right here in Jacksonville. Much like the Women's Marches of the last two years, these promise to be seminal events that further catalyze the so-called Resistance, while galvanizing a whole new generation of activists. Power To The People, and all that.

On the night before the march, there will be a number of poetry readings in the relevant cities, at which writers and laymen will raise their voices in defiance of this disturbing trend toward hyper-violence. These readings are being coordinated by 100 Thousand Poets for Change. The organization, founded eight years ago by Terri Carrion and Michael Rothenberg, runs as many as 500 events every year, in 100 countries around the globe.

Here in Northeast Florida, the locus of their focus is Babs' Lab in Riverside, the latest creative effort from the indispensable Ms. Barbara Colaciello-actress, director, teacher and general facilitator of the city's performing arts scene for two decades now. Colaciello is working in conjunction with the roving poet performers Bards & Brews, whose emcee, …   More