Thursday, January 29, 2009

Jan. 29: Sniglets On PACs, the GOP and Joe Torre's Book

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Here's the opening sentence on the Web site of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's new political action committee:

"Dedicated to building America's future, supporting fresh ideas and candidates who share our vision for reform and innovation."

Uh, with a name like SarahPAC, exactly which candidate is it supporting? Not the same one as HillPAC, which was set up to support Hillary Clinton when she ran for office.

Wouldn't "I Love Me" have been simpler for these people?


The Republican Party is getting 2009 off to a bad start, with No votes in Congress on the economic stimulus plan President Barack Obama is pushing. They seem to be doing it just to be contrary, following the lead of Rush Limbaugh, who was perfectly described in the title of the first book by Minnesota Senator-Presumed Al Franken.

Second memo of the week to the G.O.P.: Remember, one of the reasons you lost Congress and the White House is that you weren't showing respect for the will and needs of the people. Republican leaders are debating how to win back voters. Think of the lady in the hat last Tuesday, Aretha Franklin, and show some R-E-S-P-E-C-T to voters.


Count me as one of the people looking forward to reading "The Yankee Years" by Tom Verducci and former New York Yankee manager Joe Torre. Hysterics and gossip aside, the biggest word is that it's a well-written book.

I've always had the idea that Alex Rodriguez is basically Reggie Jackson without the World Series rings, and Derek Jeter is Thurman Munson without the family and the grumpy demeanor. I also believe that the Yankees, during the past few years, have repeated their early 1980s history, when a good team was thrown away with the signing of the glitziest free agents. Looks like Torre's pretty much confirming conventional wisdom.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Jan. 28: Bidding Updike Adieu

By Sylvia Gurinsky

For all his achievements in the world of fiction, some of the greatest writing by John Updike, who died yesterday at age 76, was non-fiction.

Here's a link to one of the best: His 1960 New Yorker piece about Ted Williams' last game, including one of the greatest sentences ever written in the English language: "Gods do not answer letters."

Adieu and merci, Mr. Updike.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Jan. 27: G.O.P. Sings Same Ol' Song

By Sylvia Gurinsky

A couple of weeks ago, President Barack Obama said that he'd be willing to listen to any good ideas for an economic stimulus package.

Can't the Republican congressional leadership come up with something more creative than "tax cuts"?

That's the same song they always sing. For six years, they sang it in tandem with President George W. Bush, and we know how well that worked out. It's one of the reasons the economy is in this mess. Tax cuts for the wealthy without much else certainly don't do very much to improve either corporate ethics or results.

A suggestion to the G.O.P.: Try studying economic theory. Trickle-down tax cuts are just as voodoo now as they were in 1980.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Jan. 26: Figure Skating Is Paying For 20 Years Of Leaders' Sins

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Unless some miracles happen at this year's World Figure Skating Championships in Los Angeles in March, the big buzz for next year's Winter Olympics could be why there are so few skaters for Americans to buzz about, and so few foreign skaters to truly embrace. (I challenge anyone who isn't a serious fan of the sport to name one of the current successful Japanese female skaters.)

Remember the glory days of the sport during the 1970's, 80's and very early 90's? It was true that the Cold War produced great rivalries between American and Soviet skaters in particular, but there were also great international personalities. The sport was at its creative peak.

With individual exceptions, the sport has been seeing a slow decline in quality over the last 20 years, and a fast one in popularity over the last five. Here are the reasons why:

*Taking out the sport's identity: Let's start with the International Skating Union's decision in 1989 to eliminate the tracing of figures - those things that give the sport its name - in senior competition because they weren't television-worthy. The primary results have been a decline in skaters who have control in their programs and an increase in injuries because of more emphasis on jumps.

*The decision by the International Olympic Committee to eliminate the line between professional and amateur skaters: Forget about the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, which had the novelty of recent Olympic stars (Brian Boitano, Katarina Witt, Torvill and Dean) returning to middling success. Once that ship had sailed, it seemed like skaters started striving more for financial gold than Olympic gold, lowering the quality of skaters seen in national competitions every year and causing popular skaters to forego the difficult stuff and try to parachute in for the big competitions. This has also hurt the quality of professional figure skating, which reached its peak in popularity in the late 1980s and early 90s.
Right now, Michelle Kwan should be having a successful professional career. Right now, Sarah Hughes and Sasha Cohen should be battling to see who can reach the top of the Olympic podium in 2010.

*The attack on Nancy Kerrigan: Remember all the attention? It was extremely unhealthy for the sport, because it generated a flood of made-for-television events, tours, etc. that the sport couldn't financially sustain. It also generated rubberneckers who were not true skating fans and would not support the sport in the long-term.

*The 2002 Olympics judging scandal: The biggest blow, not only because it happened but because judging wasn't reformed the way it should have been.
There was nothing wrong with judging skaters on a 6.0 scale. What needed to be changed was the national affiliation of judges, which was improper and led to the horse-trading that produced the 2002 scandal. The lack of transparency in judging also needed to be addressed. Instead, there is now a complicated system that television viewers don't understand.

Here are ways to fix the sport:

*Raise the age limits: The minimum should be 16 for women, 18 for men for senior competitors. Until a skater has developed physically, he or she should not compete at the senior level. Period. Enough of this nonsense of "Oh, she has to re-learn her jumps because her body's changing."

*No parachutes for pros: Unless you're injured, retire or turn professional (or have a military obligation), you compete in your country's nationals. No three years of "Dancing With the Stars" and then trying to qualify for the Olympics.

*Know your audience: Go after those most likely to be loyal supporters of the sport. Market to them. And when you televise the sport, put your best rivalries (For the U.S., that's currently the men.) in prime time.

*Affordable ice shows: Create something the whole family can enjoy.

*Bring back 6.0s, artistic value and (finally) integrity in judging: Change the judging system again, so that it values quality and transparency. No national judges.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Jan. 22: Sniglets About....Well, a Whole Lot Of Things

By Sylvia Gurinsky

A lot to talk about today:

*President Barack Obama is bringing in the first team to deal with Afghanistan (Richard Holbrooke) and the Middle East (George Mitchell). The question is how quickly they can undo eight years of incompetence, dishonesty and threats.

*I can't say I'm surprised that Caroline Kennedy withdrew from consideration for the U.S. Senate seat from New York vacated by Hillary Clinton. I'm only surprised it took this long. The entry of Kennedy, an extremely private person, into this dog-and-pony show only made sense on the basis of her wish to serve after the election of Obama, whom she strongly supported.
She can find a way to provide that service in some fashion, and likely will. Hopefully, that will let the vision of her discomfort in the public eye fade.

*The fact that Nielsen calculated that 38 million viewers watched the inauguration ceremony on Tuesday - 3 million fewer than Ronald Reagan's first swearing-in in 1981 - shows that Nielsen needs to change the way it does its calculations.
People went to public places - such as the Arsht Center and Gusman Concert Hall in Downtown Miami - to watch the inauguration. They also went online. In fact, it's possible more people watched the inauguration online than on television. Back in 1981, TV was the only game in town. That's no longer true.

*The Florida Legislature will not consider a measure this year for a referendum in Broward County to make the election for sheriff nonpartisan. It's just as well. There shouldn't be an elected sheriff, period. Broward is the only county in Florida that still has elections for the post.
These aren't frontier days. Law enforcement needs to be professional to the very top.

*A correction: The WTVJ-Channel 6 reporter whose name I've been chasing the last two weeks is Gary Widom. He's a pretty good reporter, but still bungled the Arab-American reaction in the Israel rally story almost two weeks ago.

*Finally, some applause for Alonzo Mourning, who is retiring after a stellar 16-year career that included Olympic gold, an NBA championship and a life-saving kidney transplant.

Mourning's most important work is helping the underprivileged, which he does with his wife, Tracy. On Tuesday, they went with a group of children from Miami's Overtown neighborhood to the inauguration. He isn't retiring from that. Thank goodness - and thanks, Zo.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Jan. 21: Incomplete Inauguration Coverage

By Sylvia Gurinsky

It felt like a few people were missing from much of the South Florida media coverage of the presidential inauguration - like this region's congressional delegation and civic leaders who went to the ceremony.

The coverage of South Florida inauguration events was very good. Television and newspaper coverage of what happened in Washington was mixed to bad.

There was no excuse for any major media outlet not to have its first team in Washington for this huge story. That includes budget cutting.

Plenty of people have said that traditional media are slowly committing suicide. That's due to more than the current bad economy. That's due to years of bean counters slowly compromising good journalism for the next quarter's earnings. Because of that, both the good journalism and the good earnings are gone.

“Instead of putting more water in the soup, we put in more tomatoes," said one-time New York Times executive A.M. Rosenthal of the paper's choices during a previous economic rough patch.

Newspapers, television stations, radio stations and Web sites all need more tomatoes. For this story, however, too many just put water in the soup.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Jan. 20: Two Miles, Three Men

By Sylvia Gurinsky

It's just a two-mile distance from one concrete structure to the other.

But in those two miles, three men - Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King and Barack Obama - are now permanently linked.

Yesterday, the memories were of 1963, of King at the memorial created in memory of the slain President Lincoln.

Today, Jan. 20, 2009, Obama made new memories two miles away, at the U.S. Capitol, as he was sworn in as this country's 44th president.

Yesterday, the vision was of King at the Lincoln Memorial, saying, "We've come to our nation's capital to cash a check."

Today, when Obama raised his hand at the U.S. Capitol, it was paid in full.

Two short miles. But what a distance this country has traveled.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Jan. 19: A True Public Service Day

By Sylvia Gurinsky

When a national day honoring Martin Luther King was created in 1986, the first idea was to celebrate the life of the principal of the civil rights movement. It has evolved into much more: A day - THE DAY - for national service.

Clicking on will take the viewer to numerous community projects, including feeding the homeless, building a house, teaching a class or conducting a clothing or food drive.

Many people say this year's King celebration has more meaning because of what is scheduled to happen at noon tomorrow - the swearing in of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States.

That's not true, however. Any King celebration has more meaning, whether happening in a momentous time or not, because of the people who live up to these words King said in February, 1968:

"If you want to be important—wonderful. If you want to be recognized—wonderful. If you want to be great—wonderful. But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. That's a new definition of greatness.
And this morning, the thing that I like about it: by giving that definition of greatness, it means that everybody can be great, because everybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don't have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don't have to know Einstein's theory of relativity to serve. You don't have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love. And you can be that servant."

(Source: MLK Papers Project Sermons at Stanford University: "The Drum Major Instinct")

Friday, January 16, 2009

Jan. 16: Semi-correction for Jan. 12 post

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Steve Litz was not the WTVJ reporter who bungled the reporting of the Arab-American response to last Sunday's Jewish community rallies. However, I can't find the name of the reporter who did bungle it on the station's Web site. I promise I will get it right.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Jan. 15: Take Education Hunger Strike Protest To Tallahassee

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Two mothers of students at Ronald Reagan High School in the city of Doral in Miami-Dade County have put a new twist on protesting budget cuts: They're on a hunger strike.

Meanwhile, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist is quoted as saying that Floridians understand the cuts the Florida Legislature has to make, and that's why there aren't protesters in Tallahassee.

Well, it's time for a long and loud protest in Tallahassee. Bibiana Salmon and Malexys Morales, the hunger-striking women (water only), should lead all parents, teachers and students opposed to the cuts to the land of legislators who go on ritzy retreats and get lucrative college jobs, and a governor who spends six figures on a European trip during an economic downturn.

Looks like Charlie and the G.O.P. boys and girls could use a big dose of reality from their constituents, who actually have to live with their actions.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Jan. 13: "Marlins" Park Also Belongs To the Community

By Sylvia Gurinsky

One issue that hasn't come up much in the debate over a new baseball stadium on Miami's old Orange Bowl site is what it's going to be used for when the Florida Marlins are on the road or in the off-season.

Presumably, the land is going to be available to everyone else to use, as the Orange Bowl was.

Unless the Marlins reach the postseason, they will play 81 games in the park and perhaps need it on the average of a week or two more - sometimes for workouts, sometimes for exhibition games, sometimes for community events. That will leave roughly 275 days, including virtually all of November through March, when the team will not use the park.

That will leave it available to everyone from high school teams to soccer leagues to concert promoters to rally organizers.

Remember - because this includes public money, it's also a public park.

On Sunday, a Miami Herald article indicated that the Orange Bowl rose from one of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal projects during the 1930s. Whoever played, spoke and performed there until its demolition early last year, it ultimately belonged to the community.

That's the sales pitch supporters of a new park need to use to keep the plan in place. So far, they haven't.

It might be a good way to keep the wavering support of Miami-Dade County commissioners. Promote those 275 days - or find the land being used 365 days for something the community doesn't need.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Jan. 12: Sniglets On Bernie Madoff and the Good and Bad Of WTVJ

By Sylvia Gurinsky

To paraphrase the Monopoly card, Bernie Madoff should go to jail....go directly to jail.

The many people and charitable organizations who have lost livelihoods certainly won't agree with Judge Ellis. He had a chance to take a paddle to Madoff, but shook a finger instead. Shame on him.


Note to all reporters covering the local protests over the Israel-Hamas conflict: Watch your words.

Steve Litz of WTVJ-Channel 6 in Miami blew it in his coverage of local Jewish community rallies yesterday. He mentioned he had spoken to local supporters of the Palestinian community who had called Israel terrorists for going into Gaza.

First of all, that's loaded language in this community, which has close to a million Jews. Second, he didn't get anyone on the air from the Palestinian community, for any comments. At the very least, he could have gone to local representatives of Arab-American groups, or to local mosques. And if they wouldn't comment on camera, he should have said so.


Finally, so long to Tony Segreto after 40 years at WTVJ.

Segreto is a rare breed, a South Florida native who stayed and made good. WTVJ has been his only professional home, first as a sportscaster for so many years and finally as a newscaster.

He excelled at both - who can forget the early morning of Aug. 24, 1992, the day Hurricane Andrew blew into town - but will likely be remembered most for sports because his station's sportscasts were truly "must-see TV" in an era before South Florida had four professional sports teams. Segreto's sportscasts were major league in every way.

Here's a link to a curio: Segreto tossing to pioneer sportscaster Jane Chastain for a story about basketball:

Segreto also has a strong involvement in the community, with membership and participation in organizations as diverse as Gilda's Club, the Make-a-Wish Foundation and the Dan Marino Foundation.

Here's to you, Tony.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Jan. 8: High Florida Education Grades Certainly Not Because Of Legislature

By Sylvia Gurinsky

The B-minus grade Florida has received from Education Weekly for its public school system can be attributed to good teachers, good students and involved communities.

There is one entity that doesn't deserve credit: The Florida Legislature. They deserve plenty of blame, however.

Teachers have been performing miracles in their classrooms no thanks to Tallahassee, whose philosophy is "Cut the things that are needed most in the state." That includes health care, social services, the environment and education.

Lawmakers have carried that sorry rationale to the current special session.

State Sen. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, pointed out the problems with school spending and higher education in Florida. Those have gotten worse, and so is the budget for Florida's schools.

Yesterday, Broward School Board Chair Maureen Dinnen said that when people come to her, looking for responsibility for budget cuts, she's going to point them toward Tallahasse.

Agreed. The Florida Legislature, once again, gets an F.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Jan. 7: Delay Digital TV?

By Sylvia Gurinsky

There's new proof that maybe this mandatory conversion to being able to see Brian Williams' deviated septum more clearly isn't such a good idea.

Nothing against NBC News anchor Williams, who is a true professional. The real gripe is about digital television, and the almost complete turn-off of analog television signals scheduled to take place next month. This country isn't ready.

The latest proof: The federal government has apparently run out of money for its digital converter program. That's the one in which analog television owners can apply for a $40 or so coupon for a converter box so they can see digital broadcasts. For the time being, anyone who applies for such a coupon will be put on a waiting list.

It does no good to say that television stations have been warning people about this for almost a year. Americans are nothing if not last-minute. In a bad economy, they're certainly not going to run out and get a digital television or satellite or cable (two things that would also work on analog TVs).

Come Feb. 17, millions of Americans could be shut out of watching television. That may not be such a bad thing these days when it comes to network prime-time viewing, but it could be very bad when it comes to important news and public affairs.

It gets worse. The Federal Communications Commission still has not completely addressed what will happen in the event of power outages from blizzards, hurricanes, etc., except to say there are more expensive, battery-operated converters. Gee, thanks for telling us, FCC.

Do we need any more proof that the complete conversion to digital needs a delay?

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Jan. 6: Did Blagojevich Make Richardson's Confirmation Impossible?

By Sylvia Gurinsky

In Newsweek's excellent chronicle of the 2008 presidential election, the term "pay for play" is mentioned. Essentially, it's an updated description of the old-time political backroom dealing. The magazine mentioned that Barack Obama wasn't playing in a couple of the states in which the process was known to take place.

When I read it, it reminded me of the line by Captain Renault (Claude Rains) to Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) in the classic film "Casablanca": "There are many exit visas sold in this cafe, but we know you've never sold one. That is why we permit you to remain open."

Perhaps "pay for play" was part of the concept of politics as usual. Naturally, it didn't get the media coverage it might have warranted - until Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich apparently took it to extremes.

Has the Blagojevich matter done collateral damage to New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who had been Obama's nominee for commerce secretary?

Maybe. Richardson got the green light from Obama not only on the basis of his record, but also on the theory that the "pay for play" investigation of Richardson wasn't that big a deal and would end soon. Recently, the word came that that wasn't the case. Whether the hijinks in Illinois or new discoveries in New Mexico inspired investigators to press on, who knows?

The bottom line is, Richardson, who has had a stellar career as a diplomat and an elected official, is in trouble. Obama may have some temporary egg on his face until a new Commerce nominee is named.

And the first buzzphrase of 2009 is "Pay for play." Hopefully, the Blagojevich mess can end that practice.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Jan. 5: Sniglets On Protests, Senators, the Kennedy Center Honors and the Late Love 94

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Memo to local police: When one side shows up to protest the Israel-Hamas conflict, assume the other side will be there, too.

Miami police may have not anticipated that the number of people coming to Biscayne Boulevard yesterday was going to be quite so large, particularly since members of the Jewish community had a protest earlier at the Holocaust Memorial in Miami Beach.

However, they should have taken a look at what happened in Fort Lauderdale last Tuesday. When a pro-Palestinian crowd showed up, a pro-Israel crowd began to show up as well. Fort Lauderdale police handled it well, but the crowds last Tuesday were relatively small.

Yesterday was a different story. Palestinian supporters were protesting outside the headquarters of the Israeli consulate. It was announced in advance, and logic would have dictated that protesters on the beach would have come to Miami to support Israel.

They did, and as The Miami Herald and local television stations reported, things got heated:

As the Herald story also reported, tourists visiting the area were caught off guard.

This isn't the first time Miami police have had issues with protestors. For all the emotions yesterday, it was a lucky thing that more serious injuries and skirmishes weren't reported.

This conflict has crossed the Atlantic. More vigilance will be needed.


Some have referred to Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich as Gov. Blabbermouth. A better label would be Gov. Chutzpah.

That's what he showed in appointing longtime Illinois politician Roland Burris to that vacant Senate seat. Some have said Blagojevich is being savvy in playing the race card. But he's just being racist (assuming they will seat Burris just because he's black), selfish and uncaring of the interests of his state.

Burris, who has criticized Blagojevich for previous actions, should have said "No" when he was offered the seat. He's being selfish, too - and hypocritical.


For a while last week, it appeared as if common sense might prevail in New York: There was a story that Gov. David Paterson wanted to appoint a "caretaker" senator - someone who would serve until the next election, but not run for the U.S. Senate seat Hillary Clinton will vacate if she is confirmed as secretary of state. It would have avoided the pre-election politics going on in that state.

Alas, Paterson has said no, because it wouldn't allow a senator to build up seniority.

So, more political fights in New York for a couple of weeks.

Remember just a few weeks ago, when Minnesota was the looniest state in the nation because of the recount in the Al Franken-Norm Coleman Senate race?


I didn't mention Caroline Kennedy, who hasn't exactly wowed the masses with her "campaign" for that New York Senate seat......OK, now I've mentioned her.

As she's done for the last few years, she again hosted the Kennedy Center Honors (A few years ago, she replaced legendary newsman Walter Cronkite, who was sorely missed on PBS' New Year's program from Vienna this year, although Julie Andrews did a fine job as host.).

The Kennedy Center Honors is in need of some change.

Most of the giants, the immortals have already been honored (Those who picked the honorees proved they have a malicious sense of humor by picking Barbra Streisand this year, and having her a few seats down from President George W. Bush, instead of waiting for a new administration.). In recent years, in honoring favorites of the baby boomers, the selectors have made some big blunders, including not picking the great - and probably greatest - American baritone, Robert Merrill.

Meanwhile, with five people being picked each year, here's a frightening thought: Madonna as a Kennedy Center honoree. It may come sooner than you fear.

So here's a suggestion: It's time for the Kennedy Center to come up with a program that can honor people they missed (like Merrill) and people who died before the honors began in 1978, and combine it with a scholarship for promising students in the field of the posthumous honoree.

The Kennedy Center set a precedent this year with its Mark Twain Award for comedy, when George Carlin was honored posthumously (The award had been announced just before his death.). The center can go back...and forward.


A brief tip of the football helmet to the Miami Dolphins, who came back from the depths to have a fine season this year.

With all the attention going around, here's another tip of the helmet to Head Coach Tony Sparano, who doesn't seem to get enough credit for the team's success. He certainly deserves it.


Finally: Reason 498 the Telecommunications Act of 1996 was a horrible piece of legislation: The demise of Love 94.

WLVE 93.9 in Miami is owned by that bastion of democracy known as Clear Channel. Before the station started its endless repeats of five Christmas carols in early November, it was a jazz station - not perfect, but at least a solid sponsor for jazz programs in the community.

But after the holiday ended, 93.9 came back as a junk station - otherwise known as a dance music station, which we all know South Florida doesn't have enough of.

Supposedly, Love 94 is headed to something called "HD 2," which isn't available for most radio listeners, particularly those who can't afford it. So, it's effectively dead to most of us.

Wish the Telecommunications Act was, too.