Thursday, July 29, 2010

July 29: The Story Oliver Stone Doesn't Want To Tell: His Own

By Sylvia Gurinsky

What if Joshua Silverstein had made his dressmaking fortune in Germany or Austria or Poland, rather than in New York? What if Joshua Silverstein and his wife had had their son, Louis, born in 1910, in those countries? What if Louis had grown to manhood in those countries, and tried to make his way?

He would have been stopped, of course, in his 20s, because of the spread of Nazi influence - Adolf Hitler's influence. Louis Silverstein may have never made it to 40. He almost certainly would have gone to a concentration camp, and might have died there.

It wouldn't have mattered, either, if Louis Silverstein had done in Europe what he did here - change his last name to Stone to avoid anti-Semitism and marry a Catholic woman. The Nazis frequently came for the Jews who tried to lose their Jewishness first.

Instead, it was here, in the United States, where Joshua Silverstein evidently didn't pass on whatever Yiddishkeit he might have had to Louis, who did change his name to Stone for fear of anti-Semitism and marry a Catholic woman. In 1946, they had a son, Oliver.

If you've been reading about that son's interview with The Sunday Times of London this week, you know why this is relevant.

Oliver Stone has become a successful director by telling stories and trying to discover his version of "the truth."

The one truth - and one story - he doesn't seem interested in is his own Jewishness. For a man who was given so much, that is tragic.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

July 28: Metromover Accident Shows Need For Maintenance Money

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Almost a year ago, I wrote:

Last week's accident on the Brickell Loop of Metromover, in which one car crashed into another one, showed exactly why that money is needed.

After the accident, David Sutta, a reporter for WFOR-Channel 4, did a story about the current condition of Metromover; along with age - the Inner Loop tracks opened in 1986, the Omni and Brickell Loops in 1994 - there are rats chewing at the cables:

With a 25-cent charge, those 8 million riders per year would generate $2 million for Metromover maintenance, which would certainly help matters.

That's why the Miami-Dade County Commission should re-institute the fee. It's not too much to ask - or pay - for the public's safety.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

July 27: Bad Signs In Miami

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Violating local, state and federal zoning, traffic and visibility standards, not to mention messing up your architecture? Hey, if you're the City of Miami and you're strapped for cash, no problem.

Last week, the city commission gave unanimous preliminary approval to a plan by developer Mark Siffin to build two electronic billboards, with one potentially of 250 feet and one of 350 feet, atop a 100-foot parking garage that would be constructed next to the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts. According to the provisions of the deal, Siffin would chip in a lot of money for an annual permit and millions toward the construction of Museum Park in the former Bicentennial Park.

Is it all worth putting what the defunct South Florida magazine used to call "Architorture" next to the classy Arsht Center? Is it worth putting drivers along 395/MacArthur Causeway distracted by those billboards at risk? Is it worth keeping nearby residents up at night with the lights?

Beth Dunlop, who covers architecture for The Miami Herald, had an apt take:

The commission will take its "final" vote this Thursday. Expect a lot more opposition at Dinner Key than there was last week.

I put "final" in quotes because it really won't be.

-Not with nearby residents fighting this every step of the way as Miami tries to get approval it doesn't yet have from Miami-Dade County, the State of Florida and the federal government - each of whom have regulations that could prevent the sort of project Siffin's proposing.

-Not with Miami residents likely to take this project to court - which will ultimately cost the city dearly needed dollars.

-And not with questions about how the city, particularly Mayor Tomas Regalado, put this deal together and seemed to skate it past the usual review process. Regalado, who's already ticked off a lot of traditionalists with his recommendation to hold back $100,000 from the Gusman/Olympia Theater in Downtown, is making a lot more people angry with this deal.

The city commission meeting is this Thursday at 9 a.m., and this issue will come up very quickly. Have a good breakfast and head over to Dinner Key - and persuade the commission to reverse itself on what will wind up being a very costly deal.

Monday, July 26, 2010

July 26: Still Needed: Accuracy, Honesty and Accountability

By Sylvia Gurinsky

One of the longstanding rules of good journalism still applies: If your mother says she loves you, check it out.

So do the rules of the Society of Professional Journalists' Code of Ethics: No distorted news content. Journalists should admit and correct mistakes immediately, hold others accountable when they don't and live up to the standards demanded of others.

That's more important than ever when those who break the news don't necessarily work as traditional journalists.

During the past week, two entities that fall into the nontraditional category have made their own news - in different ways.

The first was conservative pundit Andrew Breitbart, who evidently did not follow the SPJ Code of Ethics provision concerning distortion when he posted video that took comments by Shirley Sherrod, Georgia director of rural development for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, out of context. A lot of other media, both traditional and non-traditional, also violated the code by not confirming the context of her statements. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was one of them; he fired Sherrod before he had all the facts, then did a 180. President Barack Obama apologized to her.

No such full showing of remorse as yet from Breitbart, who may be sued by Sherrod for libel. New York Times v. Sullivan, the 1964 court case that set the standard for libeling a public figure, will get a real test with this one, if Sherrod goes ahead. The standard of that court case includes libel and malice, and heaven knows a lot of the political back-and-forth of the last 15 years or so has certainly been malicious.

Yesterday came news about the website Wikileaks publishing a lot of information about the U.S. conduct of the war in Afghanistan - mostly during the administration of President George W. Bush.

Another Pentagon Papers? Not quite. A lot is already known about how the Afghan war has been conducted; that was not the case when the Pentagon Papers, about American policy in Vietnam between the 1940s and 60s, were published in The New York Times and The Washington Post in 1971.

This time, Wikileaks worked with the Times, the British newspaper The Guardian and the German publication Der Spiegel. All three vetted the website's work.

What is also known is that the rush to publish is more urgent today than it was 40 years ago - and the tendency towards mistakes, wrong assumptions and misjudgments is much higher. Accuracy, honesty and accountability are even more important today.

That means anyone who publishes a website has to abide by those old rules. They're not just for so-called "professional journalists" anymore.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

July 22: Motion Picture Home Saga Is Like a Bad Movie

By Sylvia Gurinsky

A Hollywood screenwriter could come up with this story if it wasn't so sadly true.

Next year, the Motion Picture Television Fund will commemorate its 90th anniversary; it was originally the Motion Picture Relief Fund, created by the early giants of movies, including Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford. In 1942, the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital was dedicated. For most of its history, the best and the brightest in the industry have lived up to the organization's motto, "Taking Care of Our Own."

Until recently.

Last year, the MPTF announced the closing down of the Long Term Care Facility, with the argument that the organization couldn't afford to keep it open because of a $20 million shortfall.

The Wrap, which covers the entertainment industry, has been chronicling the saga. It published notes from the board meeting where the decision was made, saying that part of the shortfall stemmed from lower reimbursements from Medicare and Medicaid.

But in an industry that makes millions each year and an organization that has gotten help from most that work in it, why does this facility need public help?

Some of the industry's current best and brightest have been campaigning to keep the closure from happening - George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon among them. Many more - including industry professionals, the families of current and former residents of MPTF's facilities and others - have joined efforts to keep the facility open, including a petition drive.

Still others are asking how the shortfall happened. The answer is pretty much the same as it's been in a lot of corporate America recently: Glitzy renovations in various MPTF facilities that weren't crucial, and lots of money for the executives running the facilities, which the Los Angeles Times also chronicled.

Lawsuits have already been filed over the long-term facility closure, and the battle continues.

The MPTF's board includes plenty of people who have made movies about the downtrodden and who have supported the Democratic Party - you know, the one that got health care reform passed. One has to wonder why the board members are acting like the people they profess to be against.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

July 21: C'est La Guerre, Stupid

By Sylvia Gurinsky

The Republican Party's continued standoff against a United States Senate vote to approve benefits for Americans who have been jobless more than six months gets more ludicrous the more the party argues against adding to the deficit.

That's because without those benefits, those jobless won't be able to pay their bills. Now that adds to the deficit - and to the bad economy. No payments, no business.

Another culprit in the deficit hike is actually two culprits - the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that G.O.P. leaders decided not to pay for with a war tax. Until Vietnam, each war that Americans fought overseas included a tax increase to pay for it.

It's not the jobless who are creating the deficit. To quote the French, c'est la guerre. Guerres.

Monday, July 19, 2010

July 19: Tweak Bridge Tender Numbers

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Removing distractions such as televisions and DVD players from bridge houses is a good idea to improve bridge tender safety. So are more supervision and better training.

But there's another idea that might need addressing: Adding more bridge tenders.

The shifts are eight hours long and the tender is alone. It's difficult enough to stay focused on any one thing for so many hours, but it's crucial when lives are at stake.

And they have been at stake in Broward County in particular during the last few years. Last year, 80-year-old Desmond Nolan died crossing a bridge at Sheridan Street in Hollywood because the bridge tender did not see him while opening the bridge. Nolan's family filed a lawsuit against Florida's Department of Transportation and the company it employs to operate that bridge. A couple of weeks ago, 76-year-old Miguel Borda was lucky to escape with his life while the bridge at Hallandale Beach Boulevard went up.

There's a large population of elderly residents in Broward's coastal sections, and they are likely to walk across bridges for various purposes, including shopping, fishing and exercising.

For a bridge tender, what's on the bridge - pedestrians and cars - should get priority before the boats that cross. A bridge tender also has other duties - including paperwork. On weekday shifts, the tender can face rush hour traffic.

Imagine the outcry if there was a single air traffic controller in the tower at Miami International or Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.

FDOT and its contractors need to add more, as well as better trained, employees. On Broward's busiest bridges, one, apparently, is not enough in the bridge house.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

July 15: The Rules Aren't Different Here

By Sylvia Gurinsky

The rules are the same for any candidate for public office - even one who has worked a lifetime in the private sector.

In Florida, this year's election has two candidates for statewide office who fit that bill: Democrat Jeff Greene in the race for United States Senate and Republican Rick Scott in the race for governor.

They're both high in the polls in their respective primaries, but they haven't gotten with the program yet in terms of disclosure. Floridians are still waiting to hear the details of Greene's tax returns, and concrete explanations from both men of their business dealings.

If they win their respective elections in November, they will take public responsibility for Florida's future. They will not be able to hide behind the doors of fancy offices.

If they believe they can keep a distance from the public responsibilities of office, they might want to ask Jesse Ventura and Arnold Schwarzeneggar - two men who weren't "career politicians," but have certainly known the pains of holding public office.

As long as they want - and possibly hold - those public offices, Scott and Greene have responsibilities to be open and honest.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

July 14: Reading the Tea Leaves From Cuba

By Sylvia Gurinsky

If image is everything, as some say, the question is what's behind the recent images coming from Cuba.

The first images came a couple of weeks ago, with a now-teenaged Elian Gonzalez talking about his life and his brief, tumultuous time in the United States in 1999-2000. Clearly, the Cuban government was trotting him out on the 10th anniversary of his return to that island as a propaganda victory - specifically over the Cuban exile community in South Florida.

The next images came a few days ago, with a skinny Fidel Castro in a supposedly live interview (more likely, to quote an expression NBC once used for its Olympics coverage, "plausibly live"), talking about this and that, including the possibility (for him, anyway) that the United States will launch a nuclear war.

Why those images? Most likely because Cuba is trying to avoid the images, at least for its own people, of its release of 52 dissidents. Also most likely because Fidel's brother, Cuban president Raul Castro, is trying to keep the peace in the country. Nothing like a "Fidel's Greatest Hits" release to do that.

But the Cuban people have shown many signs that they want to head into a peaceful, prosperous and open future - including a friendly relationship with the United States. Those signs are far more telling than these pathetic forays into the past. Fidel Castro may be feeling a little healthier these days, but he can't turn back the march of progress in Cuba anymore.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

July 13: Sports Maxi-Sniglets: LeBron James Signing, George Steinbrenner and Bob Sheppard

By Sylvia Gurinsky

A little perspective, South Florida. The Miami Heat ain't won anything yet.

The hype that followed last week's signing of LeBron James may have been more of a situation of a community struggling with economic issues letting off some steam. Potentially, it may be the most important off-the-field day in South Florida sports since the day Don Shula became the Miami Dolphins' coach in 1970. But we won't know for sure until next June.

Good for David Stern, the commissioner of the National Basketball Association, for criticizing the dog-and-pony show James participated in on the ESPN network to announce where he was going.

(By the way, Jim Gray, who had the guts to ask Pete Rose about his lifetime ban from baseball during the 1999 "Team of the Century" ceremonies that included Rose, didn't act like a journalist in hosting the ESPN show. He acted like a hack, and there is some question about what he's getting in the way of money, and where it's coming from.)

Good also for Stern for coming down hard on Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert for his over-the-top public criticism of James, with a $100,000 fine. Free speech is one thing; acting like a 2-year-old is another. James was a free agent who had the right to go wherever he wanted, so there was no "betrayal."


"I don't think any man is as good a king as he could have been. But this one tried. He tried very hard."
Anna Leonowens, "The King and I"

No, George M. Steinbrenner III was not as good a king as he could have been during almost four decades as principal owner of the New York Yankees. He often treated employees inexcusably, with criticisms as harsh and harsher than the one Dan Gilbert gave LeBron James. He fired (and re-hired) with impunity, and he managed to insult no less a figure than Hall of Fame player and manager Yogi Berra, who wouldn't speak to him for 14 years. His impatience for winning would often lead to bad decisions, and a very long dry spell for the Yankees during the 1980s and 1990s.

But he did try, very hard - and often succeeded, with multiple World Series championships for the Yankees during the late 1970s and 1990s. Those teams were put together with the best balance of a quality farm system, trades and free-agent signings, and patience from baseball executives (Gabe Paul during the 1970s, Bob Watson and Brian Cashman more recently).

Outside of baseball, he was a shining knight for numerous schools, charities, community programs (especially in Tampa, where he lived for many years) and the United States Olympic Committee, whom he helped with support that built the U.S. Winter Olympic team into a powerhouse.

He also had compassion for people down on their luck, whether it was current or former employees, sportswriters (!) or people who were not famous at all.

His legacy in baseball is a matter of constant debate. But he will be missed. Baseball will not see his like again for a long time.


The Yankees and baseball are also mourning another loss, of the team's graceful public-address announcer, Bob Sheppard, who died at age 99 on Sunday.

Sheppard had worked for the Yankees from 1951 until illness forced him away in 2007, though he never officially retired. He can still be heard announcing Derek Jeter's name, and will be in tonight's All Star Game. Movie fans can also hear him in the 1999 baseball movie "For Love of the Game," which was filmed in Yankee Stadium.

He was a speech professor at St. John's University, and kept things simple. He kept his distance from the goings-on in the Yankee clubhouse, but he was, indeed, what Steinbrenner liked to refer to as a "true Yankee." And a class act.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

July 1: On Independence Eve, 1 For All

By Sylvia Gurinsky

How much do you know about the First Amendment?

Of all the amendments in the United States Constitution, it may be the most used: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

But it may not be the best known, with only one person in 25 able to name all of those rights.

At some point each day, all Americans use their First Amendment right - even if it's just to wave hello.

A number of organizations have united to remind everyone of that right and what it means. "1 for All" is a campaign to educate students and the general public.

Start with this website:

And just go from there.

It's a perfect way to celebrate this country's independence.


Enjoy the Independence Day weekend. I will return with new blogs Monday, July 12.