Category Archives: Politics

Rick Scott is the Mayor from Jaws

Florida Governor Rick Scott is a lot of things. Global warming denier because he is not a scientist. Supporter of private prisons that not only waste state money but treat inmates unconstitutionally and inhumanely. Skeletor’s less mirthful younger brother.

But this Friday, Scott added another ignominious distinction to his resume. He is now the owner of a spot-on impersonation of Amity Mayor Larry Vaughn from Jaws. Scott’s great white shark is the Zika-carrying mosquito.

In one of two front page New York Times articles about Zika in Florida yesterday, Scott’s message to residents and visitors to Florida’s Miami-Dade County was lacking in urgency when compared to the CDC. Let’s just kick it to the Times:

He [Scott] minimized the extent of the spread, saying in a news conference, “We have two small areas. One less than a mile, and we’ve already been able to reduce the footprint. We have another area now that’s 1.5 miles on Miami Beach. That’s out of state that takes 15 hours to drive from Key West to Pensacola, so let’s put things in perspective.”

His communications director, Jackie Schultz, said Friday that Mr. Scott “is encouraging  people to come to Miami, to come to South Beach. Just remove standing water and wear bug spray.”

The CDC and Florida are at odds over the state of a square mile in the Wynwood section of Miami. Scott calls the area clear while the CDC says it is still an active Zika zone.

It’s hard to read these statements by the Scott administration and not think of Mayor Vaughn from Jaws. Unwilling to acknowledge the reality of the situation, he kept the beaches open and made statements that could be delivered by Rick Scott and his team. Like this:

I’m pleased and happy to repeat the news that we have in fact caught and killed a large predator that supposedly injured some bathers. But as you see it is a beautiful day. The beaches are open and people are having a wonderful time. Amity, as you know, means friendship. 

And this one:

You yell, “Barracuda.” Everyone says, “Huh. What?” You yell shark and we’ve got a panic on our hands on the fourth of July. 

Or this whole scene between Vaughn, Roy Scheider’s police chief, and Richard Dreyfus’ expert scientist. 

Scott is willing to ignore the potential health risks associated with a spreading virus that we continue to learn more about. And with the lag time between between when someone comes into contact and when a diagnosis can be confirmed, Scott is playing fast and loose with public safety in the name of protecting tourism dollars.

But you don’t have to take my word for it on the threat to people’s health. Just check the other article about Zika in yesterday’s New York Times. It is all about women in South Florida struggling to avoid contracting Zika while pregnant.

 

 

All Kinds of Time With Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk

Ben Fountain's Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk - Image via USA Today
Ben Fountain’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk – Image via USA Today

One of the best songs written by Fountains of Wayne came from their 2003 album, Welcome Interstate Managers. “All Kinds of Time” tells the story of a young quarterback who in the middle of the game pieces it all together during one play.

Quarterback are at the center of the action. Fellow teammates on offense look to him for leadership. Either he calls the plays or relays them from the sidelines. The defense is watching him watch them as they line up. The QB can stick with the play or call an audible. All of this transpires in seconds. But it’s in the rush of the ensuing seconds between the snap and when the ball leaves the quarterback’s hands in flight down-field that 21 other players run, crash and push to either enable or stop the quarterback. It’s in these ticks of the clock where a quarterback has to scan the field for receivers and defenders alike. A half second there or a beat here is the difference between a sack or worse and a first down or better.

In “All Kinds of Time,” knowing that millions in the stands and at home tuned into their televisions are watching what he does, particularly his family around that flat screen, time slows down for him as he receives the snap. I remember reading as a kid that Michael Jordan was so good, he used to see plays develop before they actually happened. Fountain of Wayne’s quarterback seems to reach the same level.

As I read Ben Fountain’s novel, “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” last week, I kept returning to this song. And not just because Drew Henson, one of just two non-fictional players referenced in the novel, never reached that level of ability in two professional sports. It’s because, in the hands of most writers, a character like Billy, a 21 year-old soldier with no college education who manages to have a deep reserve of natural intelligence and emotional intelligence, would seem like an unreasonable stretch of the imagination. But with Fountain, Billy’s almost preternatural internal dialogue seems like the natural outgrowth of his growing up in Texas and his experiences in Iraq with his fellow soldiers in Bravo Squad.

Fountain’s novel is set on Thanksgiving Day 2004, but the story is propelled by flashbacks to Bravo Squad’s time in Iraq, the doldrums during the squad’s national celebrity tour and the time he spends at home with his invalid father, his overrun mother, his two sisters and his rambunctious nephew.

In moments no longer than any given football play, but far more momentous, a few members of Bravo Squad found themselves under attack near a canal in Iraq. Other members of the squad arrive as back-up and take out the Iraqi attackers in a battle captured on film that was later aired by Fox and other news outlets, leading to the beautification of the soldiers back home as heroes. The death of one solider, Shroom, whose strong intellect and friendship with the squad’s leader, Dime, settles heavily on Billy, and the severe injury to another are brushed aside by everyone other than the squad during their national “victory” tour. The culmination of the tour is their attendance at the Cowboys game on Thanksgiving.

Without giving too much of the story away, the squad manages to make their way from the end zone and their field level seats to the bowels of the stadium for a press conference and a meet-and-greet with Cowboys cheerleaders to the owners luxury box. Spread across one afternoon, these interactions and developments flow naturally and occur in such a way that it seems totally reasonable that these ten guys who just weeks before were stuck in some god-forsaken desert in a country most Americans could barely locate on a map would be able to grip and grin with everyone from the Jerry Jones-esque owner of the Dallas Cowboys to the random fans coming up to them when recognized as Bravo Squad.

Welcome Interstate Managers - Image via Tradebit.com
Welcome Interstate Managers – Image via Tradebit.com

Getting back to that matter of moments, Billy’s life is full of them. From the situation that drove him to the army, to the reaction under fire to instances throughout the game where split second decisions, the story’s internal engine and his direction as a character are powered by these choices. And while they are made with limited life experience, there is also a presence of mind and composure that others pick up on from the start. From Albert, the Hollywood producer looking to turn Bravo’s story into a blockbuster movie to Dime who sees in Shroom’s loss a need for Billy to step up, to a Cowboy’s cheerleader whose heart is in the right place and even to the Cowboy’s owner who wants to negotiate with Albert and Billy after Dime goes bonkers, people see something special in Billy.

When writing in the past about the novels I’ve read, I have, from time to time compared certain books to Jonathan Franzen’s unwieldy “Freedom.” “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” captures what it was to live in America and be an American in a lot of ways, in the closing months of 2004. President Bush had won re-election with the held of some Swift Boating of his Democratic opponent, the foundation for the economic collapse at the end of the decade was being swiftly put on credit and the unwavering devotion to a foreign policy that was killing Americans on a daily basis and doing little to make us safer at home were going at full-speed still. All of these are on display in this book. Fountain weaves all this together naturally by writing about characters who are at the center of these events and developments.

The story ends soon after the Cowboys game concludes in a Dallas loss. As the soldiers leave the game, Billy has one last decision to make. And much like the quarterback in the Fountains of Wayne song, he has just seconds to make it, but by the end of novel, for him and for us, it feels like all kinds of time.

A Plea to Reporters: Stop Talking About the 2016 Presidential Election

An Apt Metaphor for Mittens - Via ABC News

I can stomach a days worth of tweets about etch-a-sketches. I can even handle an hour of tweets about etch-a-sketch and Mitt Romney’s dog, Seamus.

I am less patient when it comes to all things Tim Tebow. From his uber-obvious mediocrity as a QB to the on-again, off-again, on-again trade to the Jets.

But the one thing that gets my goat – every damn time it comes up is articles about the 2016 presidential election. No less, 2016 frontrunners! Seriously? We’re already talking about this? Do you hear anybody talking about who is going to represent the US in the 2016 Summer Olypmics? No, because there is a little thing called the 2012 summer olympics. People aren’t even talking the midterms – its my pet name for the Winter Olympics.

You know, it would be understandable if so much more had already happened. Like the Republican candidate had locked up the nomination. Or selected a Vice-Presidential running mate. Or how about started to run a national campaign after the convention in St. Petersburg.

With a third of the US Senate seats up for election, all 435 Congressional seats, a bushel of governorships, and a boatload of State Representatives and Senators on the line this November, it isn’t as if there is a lack of important stories for journalists to dig into.

Yesterday’s Roll Call article, “2016 Frontrunners Diverge on Redistricting,” is the second prominent article I’ve seen recently that devotes a significant amount of ink to the Democratic Governors of New York and Maryland, Andrew Cuomo and Martin O’Malley. Even crazier, it tries to extrapolate their place in the Democratic Party based on each state’s redistricting fight! A Sunday Times article from February goes even further and hyping up long-time electeds like Vice-President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Not to be outdone, Politico went all in today, in what I can only imagine is their effort to win every morning between now and January 20, 2017 with the top of the page article, “Joe Biden in 2016? Not So Crazy.” The impetus for this piece is that Biden, who will be 73 in 2016, has started to put together a top-flight staff with no indication of the rationale behind these moves. And then throw in a West Wing-reference to fights between POTUS and VPOTUS and you got yourself a top story of the morning. Unless, these folks are being hired to run the Joseph Biden Institute on International Relations, High-Speed Rail, Baseball and All Things Awesome, lets focus on some substantive news.

The prize for earliest article has got to go to the New York Observer’s David Freedlander who wrote up the clash between Cuomo and O’Malley last November! Before the first Republican primary voter had cast a vote!

Articles about 2016 have a lot in common with this logo - Via GamesBid.com

Lets put a stop to this craziness now! Maybe reporters are addicted to the horse race of politics, but even if they are, why are they jockeying for a race that is still years away from even reaching the starting gate. There is a horse race happening right now! Even if the GOP is beginning to coalesce around Romney, it’s not, for lack of a better phrase, signed, sealed, and delivered. We don’t know what type of tomfoolery could happen at the Republican convention in St. Petersburg. We don’t know what the general election will bring.

There is no question that 2016 will matter. But we kind of have an election going on right now and wouldn’t it be nice if we just focused on that? Who would want to miss a campaign trail reference to another “quintessentially American” toy by getting in a tizzy a governor who might run in 2016 or might bomb in the run-up to the run-up? Hey, Bobby Jindal!