Tuesday, June 30, 2009

June 30: Step Up Building Inspections, Atlanta

By Sylvia Gurinsky

“No further inspections are usually done on properties after they have been issued a certificate of occupancy,” said Woodling, who added this is common practice for the city.

She said only a complaint would have brought out inspectors.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution, June 29, 2009

That's what Catherine Woodling, a spokesperson for Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin, said yesterday after part of a parking garage collapsed yesterday in the city. Here's a link to the whole article, by Leon Stafford:


How does a facility that welcomes, theoretically, tens of thousands of moving vehicles of varying sizes each year not warrant at least a quarterly inspection? Hasn't Atlanta's Bureau of Buildings ever heard of the term "wear and tear"?

On top of that is the news that Hardin Construction, which was fined $6,300 for a role in last December's collapse of a bridge at the Atlanta Botanical Garden that killed one person and injured 18 others, oversaw this parking garage as well. Subcontractor Metromont Corporation did the construction work on the garage.

Franklin and the City Council must take the next step. Pending an investigation, they need to suspend Hardin's work, and possibly Metromont's as well, on any municipal projects.

Franklin and the City Council also need to take a look at the building inspection process - apparently, to create one. Especially now, there's no excuse for not having follow-up inspections.

Monday, June 29, 2009

June 29: Farewell, Peter Pan

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Troubled talent. That was Michael Jackson.

A look at tons of performances and music videos on YouTube confirms once again the tremendous musical gifts of the singer, who died last Thursday.

From his rise with his brothers as part of the Jackson 5 to his apogee with the "Off the Wall" and "Thriller" albums, his duets with Paul McCartney and "We Are the World" to his later albums, one sees his singing, dancing and performing skills repeatedly.

In one song during the 1990s, he sang "It doesn't matter if you're black or white." He became a crossover talent on a level with Elvis Presley and the Beatles; his music bridged cultures.

Sadly, he was a prisoner of that talent and success, seeming to retreat into his own world, increasingly away from reality and identity with each plastic surgery, each publicity stunt and, finally, the investigations of child molestation. The clouds on that never completely lifted, though a 2005 jury found him not guilty. Now, the hype over his death will start in earnest, as it did with Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley, two others with great talent who died troubled, and with a prescription drug connection.

In a 1983 interview with Newsweek, at the height of his popularity, the magazine referred to him as the "Peter Pan of Pop." Perhaps so. Take a look at his evolving facial features, and at Peter Pan the way Walt Disney Productions drew him, and see the similarities.

My favorite of his songs, a lovely ballad called "One Day In Your Life," was recorded in 1975, long before the height of his solo success. On its surface, of course, the song is about a lost love, maybe a lost romance. Given what has happened since, and his death last Thursday, it takes on new meaning, given the passion and melancholy with which Jackson, then 16, sang it. Perhaps it was a wish for something else.

Perhaps that wish has come true for him in death in a way it never did in life.

Farewell, Peter Pan.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

June 23: Petition Drive Needed For Public Transportation in South Florida

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Last week's "Dump the Pump Day" in South Florida was seriocomic.

Commuters left behind their cars and rising gas prices for the alternatives of Tri-Rail and bus systems. They opted for a regional rail system that might not be there in a year and buses that might be severely cut back.

Shouldn't that say something to local and state elected officials?

I wrote previously about the threat Tri-Rail is under:


It's been almost two months since that vote, and practically no one has stepped up to say, "Let's find a dedicated funding source for commuter rail in Florida." Members of South Florida's congressional delegation did send a letter to Florida's Department of Transportation, according to Bizjournals.com.

Other than that, there's been silence. "Dump the Pump Day" would have been a good time for an elected official or a few with brains and guts to say, "Here's what we should do." So far, nothing.

Here's what someone should do: Draft a plan creating or maintaining regional rail and public transportation systems across Florida for those who want and need them. Come up with a funding plan - the $2 surcharge on rental cars isn't a bad one. Put it on a future state ballot by petition and let voters decide its fate.

Once, Florida voters said yes to a bullet train until they realized the financial and logistical folly of such a plan. Regional rail and public transportation systems are not folly. They're needed. They need funding. They need support.

It's time to make sure those who "Dump the Pump" have a reason to do so.

Monday, June 22, 2009

June 22: Yet Another Reason To Fight Those Bullies in the NRA

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Did you know people on the United States government’s watch list for possible terrorist activities are allowed to buy guns in this country?

This comes from last Saturday’s New York Times:


The National Rifle Association’s response would be comical if it wasn’t for the fact that so many members of Congress in both parties, and now apparently – and unfortunately – the Obama Administration as well, continue to knuckle under to the NRA despite the climbing gun death totals across this country.

Now who’s putting this country in danger from terrorists? It isn’t just extremists halfway around the world.

Contrary to the NRA spokesman’s statements, Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey is, very commendably, putting public safety first on this matter. What is it going to take for his fellow members of Congress and the president to do the same?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

June 18: "Utter Nonsense" Call For Virginia Key Plan Is Right On

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Right on, City of Miami Planning Advisory Board.

Here's The Miami Herald story about what they had to say on the city's proposal for Virginia Key:


"Utter nonsense" is the right phrase, especially when one considers the work that's already been done at the site. Historic Virginia Key Beach, which was a blacks-only beach from 1946 until barriers started coming down, is being restored and becoming a popular weekend spot for families of all demographics. With a restored carousel and train is a very new and high-quality playground for young children.

There is also the matter of Miami Marine Stadium; there is a campaign to restore that facility.

There's already enough concrete in the Virginia Key area. After two "Nos" from two boards about glitzier plans, Mayor Manny Diaz and the Miami City Commission need to get the message: Less is a lot more when it comes to Virginia Key.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

June 17: Name Downtown Miami High School For Janet Reno

By Sylvia Gurinsky

The Miami-Dade School Board can reverse the blunder they made today in a school naming.

The blunder was because it looked like a school near Florida International University's North Miami campus was going to be named for former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, but a committee had a change of heart and recommended naming the school for former Miami Heat star Alonzo Mourning and his wife, Tracey. The school board went along.

Not that the Mournings don't deserve a school named after them for all they do in this community. They do.

It's the reason for the switch that rankles: The committee feared controversy because of the anger still carried over Reno's decision, as attorney general, to return Elian Gonzalez, then 5 years old, to his father in Cuba.

Reno's contributions to this community are beyond question. She is a lifelong South Floridian, the daughter of two journalists who covered the area for many years. She was the first female state attorney for Dade County, then the first female U.S. attorney general.

More than that, she has faced adversaries in everything from the aftermath of the McDuffie verdict to the Waco raid and the Elian Gonzalez custody battle with guts and an honesty lacking in many public officials. She has waged her battle with Parkinson's Disease with grace.

In a letter to the school board, the Mournings recommended that the North Miami school be named for Reno. They can't be completely thrilled with the way this decision was carried out.

The school board can easily correct that.

The Miami-Dade High School of Law Studies, Homeland Security and Forensic Sciences is being built in Downtown Miami, right next to the Miami Police Department. There would be no better tribute to Janet Reno than to name that school for her.

She's earned it.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

June 16: Sniglets On Digital Headaches and Dave's Dustup

By Sylvia Gurinsky

I want my PBS!!!!!

In this household, at least, the digital conversion has put the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area's two public broadcasting stations - WPBT-Channel 2 and WLRN-Channel 17 - out of commission.

Channel 2's analog channel is broadcasting, at least until the end of the month, a "public service" notice from Comcast about converting to digital. There are questions in these quarters as to whether the presence of that analog channel is preventing the digital one from coming through.

As for 17, it was working fine until yesterday morning. Commercial channels have worked better, though Channel 7 has been out this afternoon.

It's 1952 all over again, with efforts to adjust and readjust television antennas. There are questions as to whether a conversion to cable in these quarters will be necessary to view PBS.

I hope not. I hate pollution. I'd rather have the quality of PBS stations without having to partner them with the garbage of cable news and reality channels to get it.


Classy apology last night by David Letterman for that over-the-top joke last week about Alex Rodriguez and Bristol (and it was about unwed teen mom Bristol) Palin.

Tepid (And I'm being kind) acceptance of apology by the Palin family. I agree with those who say the governor of Alaska was exploiting this for her own political gain.

Biggest blunder came not from Dave, whose joke elicited an "uh-oh" reaction from here when he told it last Monday night, but from the National Organization for Women, with its "me-too" rap on Letterman's knuckles.

NOW has far more important issues to worry about.

Monday, June 15, 2009

June 15: Middle East: What Are They Prepared To Do?

By Sylvia Gurinsky

It's "The Untouchables" all over again.

That famous scene in the 1987 movie in which Jim Malone (Sean Connery) asks Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner), "What are you prepared to do?" resonates all over the Middle East.

Yesterday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu talked about what he's prepared to do: Recognize a Palestinian state in exchange for full recognition of Israel. I have trouble understanding all of those people who say it's a "non-starter." You can't have peace or a Palestinian state without full Arab recognition of Israel's right to exist, so what's the point?

Netanyahu's call for a demilitarized Palestine also makes sense. Israelis have the right to live without the threat of suicide bombs in Tel Aviv and Katyushas in Sderot.

Bibi needs to add one more thing: Get rid of the anti-Israel and anti-Semitic venom being taught in Palestinian schools.

Right now, Netanyahu's being criticized in almost all corners for the speech. But he went further than any previous Likud leader since Menachem Begin has gone. That's progress - especially for Netanyahu.

Now, how far will the Palestinians go? The next move is up to them. Are they prepared to do anything for peace, not to mention statehood?

The question of "What are you prepared to do" also resonates in Iran, where those protesting last week's so-called election results have to decide how far they want to take their dissent. Do they want to take it all the way to civil war and an effort to, at long last, break Iran free of the prison in which extremists have held it for the last 30 years?

The generation that brought that extremism to Iran in 1979 has reached middle age. The young generation of Iranians want more freedoms and a better relationship with the West. They took those hopes to the polls last Thursday. For now, at least, those hopes have been crushed.

But their voices have not been silenced. The question now is whether this is just temporary or the start of a new Iranian revolution.

Again, what are they prepared to do?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

June 11: Two Questions About Holocaust Museum Shooting

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Two very basic questions, unrelated and yet related to this story:

1. Why did the shooter, with his record, have access to a rifle?

2. Why didn't two of the three daily papers covering the second-largest Jewish community in the country (South Florida) have this story on their front page this morning, and the third had it on the bottom of the page?

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

June 9: Pledge Drive and Funding Changes Needed For PBS

Sylvia Gurinsky

It's PBS pledge drive time, when the best network on television turns (in parts) into one of the worst.

No "Mystery," no "Masterpiece Theater," no "American Experience," no "Frontline" and no Bill Moyers or "Now." Not even "Antiques Roadshow." But there is plenty of (ugh) Wayne Dyer and Suze Orman - people PBS wouldn't be caught dead showing otherwise. And how many times has that program with composer/producer David Foster been shown on Miami's WPBT-Channel 2? (I've counted seven so far.) I like Foster, but he's turning into the new Andre Rieu - the program PBS can't stop showing.

Even the beloved opera singers Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras turned into this monster called the Three Tenors, which PBS also showed too much.

All of this goes on because American public broadcasting does not have an independent, sustained source of funding. It has the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which can sometimes be chaired by someone with a political agenda, and which, unfortunately, is subject to the whims of Congress.

The ideal system for PBS would be to have the same kind of funding system Great Britain has for the BBC: An extra fee on each new television purchased. Sadly, Congress will never allow that to happen. It just makes too much sense. Further, would Congress willingly allow themselves to lose any control over anything?

When there are no pledge drives, PBS programs have various corporate underwriters, and the promotions for some of those underwriters are beginning to look suspiciously like commercials, which PBS isn't supposed to have. That's part of the problem.

Years ago, PBS stations would abandon regular programming for weeks at a time to conduct auctions. During the 1980s, the network started to change to pledge drives. In the beginning, the special programming they put on truly was special - documentaries about great composers such as Rodgers and Hammerstein, concerts by Julie Andrews and so forth.

Sometime during the 1990s, stations started discovering they could raise gobs of money with repeated broadcasts of some of those high-end events, such as the first Three Tenors concert, which took place in Rome in 1990. Again, the repeats turned into a monstrosity.

During the past decade, self-help gurus also started showing up during pledge time, in PBS-sanctioned infomercials (That's the only way to describe it.).

About the only thing viewers haven't been subject to during pledge drives is reality programming (Heaven forbid).

President Barack Obama has announced a new commitment to the arts, and he should include PBS in that. He and CPB President Patricia de Stacy Harrison need to take a hard look at how the network raises money all year.

At the very least, PBS can take some steps during pledge drives:

-Remove the infomercials.

-Do not repeat programs more than once during a single pledge drive, with at least a week's separation between the two.

-Rebroadcast special PBS programming, such as Masterpiece Theater's "Jane Austen" series. How about themed "Antique Roadshows," such as the one that was shown before last November's presidential election?

-Do not remove public affairs programming, such as "Frontline" and "Now." Those programs are essential.

-Take classic programs out of the PBS vault. How about a special broadcast of "Upstairs, Downstairs" or "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman"? How about showing vintage editions of "Live From Lincoln Center" (The hilarious 1981 concert of Danny Kaye conducting the New York Philharmanic would be a good example.) or "Great Performances"? Television viewers love nostalgia.

-And yes, bring up an independent, sustained funding source again.

Since the mid-1960s, PBS has been an important resource and a national treasure. Pledge drives and funding issues have put the taint on both. That must change.

Monday, June 8, 2009

June 8: Don't Tear Apart All Turnpike Service Plazas

By Sylvia Gurinsky

A plea from those Floridians who remember using those Port-o-Let trailers at 9 p.m.: Please, please do not tear apart the Florida Turnpike service plazas again.

At least not all at once.

The state is spending $160 million to redo the eight service plazas for the second time in the last 20 years. That includes changing some of the vendors (If you like chocolate mocha lattes from Starbucks or Whoppers from Burger King, as is the case here, you're out of luck. Dunkin' Donuts and Checkers are replacing those other restaurants. There will be other changes, as well.).

The last time the service plazas were redone, Port-o-Let trailers and vending machines were put at each of the sites. The trailers were clean, air-conditioned and had running water, but that's not the entire point. Would you want to stop near a constuction site?

Changing vendors is one thing. Turning drivers' routines upside down is something else. Past experience dictates that drivers who see a bunch of construction will be less likely to stop - making the situation more dangerous.

The road system that advertises itself as "The Less Stressway" could potentially be far more stressful during construction time.

There will be efforts to get some answers from Florida's Department of Transportation about this project; those will be posted at a later date.

In the meantime, get ready for a bumpy ride, Florida motorists.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

June 4: Sniglets on 20 Since Tianamen, Public Records At Colleges and Tom Glavine

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Those indelible images. The Statue of Liberty. The young man stopping the tank. Finally and tragically, the tanks killing protestors in the dark of night.

Twenty years later, the world still remembers the protests for freedom in Tianamen Square in Beijing. All the world, of course, except for one country, at least officially - The People's Republic of China. (Hong Kong, where thousands gathered for a memorial rally, is a notable exception.)

In 1989, the protestors, mostly young, were motivated by the push for freedom that was happening in a large part of the Eastern Hemisphere, particularly Eastern Europe. China had already embraced commercialism, but did not venture from the brutal totalitarianism of Mao Tse Tung's regime. That conflict flared up at Tianamen Square.

Since then, China has become a world superpower, hosting last year's Summer Olympics and currently holding a key to the future of North Korea's apparent conflict with the world. But China is also still a repressive country, with major human rights violations, the killing and jailing of dissidents and suppression of free speech, press and expression. As a global economic power, it makes and exports substandard products.

That last one may have sufficiently embarrassed the Chinese government enough to produce some baby steps at reform, at least in terms of manufacturing. China's leaders have yet to realize, however, that being a global power comes with responsibilities - something the Soviet Union found out, literally, to its peril.

Those in China who value freedom remember the events of 20 years ago. The voice of the dissident will rise again. The Chinese government, for the country's future, would do well to listen.


Great article earlier this week by Jill Riepenhoff and Todd Jones of The Columbus Dispatch on how colleges and universities across the country, including Florida, are abusing the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act:


Sports programs have become big-money centers since Congress approved that law in 1974. Public colleges and universities are just that - public. Their records should be public record. Congress needs to modify this law so it follows the original intent of protecting students' academic records. This law shouldn't be used by schools or the NCAA as a cover-up when athletes, coaches, athletic directors or sports programs screw up.


A big raspberry to Atlanta Braves management for suddenly releasing pitcher Tom Glavine. An additional raspberry for the excuse given - Glavine, who was on a rehabilitation assignment, wasn't scoring on the radar gun the way they wanted. Since when has Glavine been known for the speed of his pitches?

Glavine gave his all to the Braves, with whom he made his big-league debut in 1987. He was there during most of their glory years, winning two Cy Young Awards and racking up most of his 305 career wins. He has been a gentleman besides, taking the heat as a players' union leader during the 1994-95 strike with grace. He will walk easily into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown when he is eligible.

The Braves owed Glavine much more. Their treatment of him reflects the decline of a once-great baseball organization.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

June 2: Reality Shows Should Be a "No-Kids" Zone

By Sylvia Gurinsky

How ironic is it that the controversies involving the Gosselin and Suleman families are happening while two surviving members of the Dionne quintuplets celebrate their 75th birthday?

The five Dionne daughters, born in Ontario May 28, 1934, were removed from a potentially exploitative home and still exploited for years by the Canadian government. They were a pre-television reality show, placed into a special hospital called Quintland, where they were displayed to the public. In 1998, three surviving sisters received $4 million from the province of Ontario for mistreatment.

Cautionary tale? You'd better believe it.

When Jon and Kate Gosselin made the decision several years ago to have the cable channel TLC - which used to be known, also ironically, as "The Learning Channel" - chronicle their lives, their eight children, which include sextuplets, were toddlers and early elementary schoolers.

TLC had done family-friendly reality shows, including "A Dating Story," "A Wedding Story" and "A Baby Story" - babies, incidentally, who usually don't show up on television after they're born.

Profiling the Gosselins seemed harmless enough - until the parents started to get into the tabloids for behavior unbecoming of a family, much less a family program.

The Pennsylvania Department of Labor is now investigating whether the Gosselins' show violates child labor laws. Here's a "Yes" vote, and a suggestion that the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare might want to start its own investigation. The children didn't ask for this situation, to be constantly trailed by cameras - to become one video version of the Dionnes.

There's another potential video version, of course, in California - the 14 children, including infant octuplets, of Nadya Suleman. Naturally, a reality show is being planned. So far, at least, no pickup in the United States.

The only pickup should come from California's Department of Social Services, which should remove the children and require Suleman to enroll in parenting classes until she proves she can be a good parent. Signing up to have your children shown on television for the money doesn't qualify as good parenting.

Earlier this year, there was Jason Mesnick, the father of a young son, who appeared with his son on ABC's "The Bachelor" and also showed how not to act.

Many people want their 15 minutes of fame. If that time often comes at a price for adults - look at Susan Boyle's difficulties in Britain - how much tougher is it for children?

We already know about the travails of children like Anissa Jones, who played Buffy on the CBS series "Family Affair" and died of a drug overdose at age 18, and other young actors and actresses. They went into their situations semi-willingly. The same is not true of the Gosselin and Suleman children, who are not professional actors.

Reality programming is cutthroat television. It should become a "No-Kids" zone. The Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission need to launch their own investigations and forbid for-profit reality shows from featuring children.

Monday, June 1, 2009

June 1: Health Insurance Reform Happening In Baby Steps

By Sylvia Gurinsky

President Barack Obama has said this year is "now or never" for health insurance reform. But moving this Congress is like moving a cow stuck in mud. And even if there is Congressional action, they're likely going to pass a health insurance bill that does nothing to solve the problems of those uninsured because of preexisting conditions.

More likely, what will happen will be piecemeal, frustrating baby steps, such as Miami-Dade Blue, which Miami-Dade County is teaming up on with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida. The Miami Herald had the details last week:


It does improve on the State of Florida's plan in some ways. The state's plan, with some exceptions, only kicks in if someone has been without health insurance for six months.

But Miami-Dade Blue will not cover many preexisting conditions or include various necessary medications.

The key issue that's been coming up in the debate over federal legislation has been cost. But the lowest cost does nothing for people who can't get coverage because they are ill or have been ill in the past.

Obama has seemed inclined to let Congress and the insurance companies take care of the issue. He of all people, whose dying mother battled insurance companies, needs to give Congress a few kicks. The objective is not just lower costs, but full coverage for all who want and need it.