Liberal Redneck Trae Crowder will make you laugh your southern heart out Friday night at the Straz Center in Tampa

The viral video star talks about what the South gets wrong — and right.

Trae Crowder’s pretty great. I’m not just saying that because I agree about 150 percent with what he and his buddies say in their book, The Liberal Redneck Manifesto: Draggin’ Dixie Out of the Dark; I say that because he’s a pleasure to interview and a straight shooter. Here’s what he told us about Donald Trump, the Deep South and living in Southern California. 

I first saw you perform in September 2016, before our most recent presidential election. What’s the biggest change you’ve seen inside the Deep South since the election of Trump?

The thing that blows my mind the most about all of it — and this has been true since the very beginning of the Trump phenomenon in the Deep South ­— is that I mean I still can’t believe that they got on board with this dude in particular, because I grew up in the very rural Deep South. My whole childhood — and I know for a fact — if you would have polled people around there about what they thought about Donald Trump prior to whenever it was he first went after Barack Obama, any year before that, you asked them what they thought about him, it would have been pretty much universally negative. So many people I grew up around … just couldn’t stand a loudmouth, blue-blood, silver-spoon, Yankee huckster, charlatan guy who thinks he’s better than everybody else. He would’ve been reviled. And the thing that’s always been crazy to me about it was the first thing that ever was crazy to me about it, which was I still can’t believe that it’s this dude in particular that has become their champion.

Do you feel like you’re making any inroads in the Deep South with advice you give in the book, or do you feel like you’re in an echo chamber?
A lot of people don’t like this answer but it is an honest answer in terms of reaching people on the opposite end of the political spectrum where I’m from, like stereotypical far-right redneck types? No. I don’t think I’ve done very much of that at all. I don’t know how possible that really even is in my opinion, especially for a comedian.

Having said that, one thing I have gotten a lot of and still do is people not from the South, who have never been, who tell me that we — Drew and Corey and I — have changed the way they look at the South in general, or southern accents, or white men from the South; i.e., that they literally didn’t know that people like me even existed until they saw one of my videos or what have you. And that also was very important to me. I mean, I wish that I could change people’s lives politically and I wish for a lot of things to change politically in this country, but I don’t know how much of that is really feasible, but if I can maybe change some people’s perceptions about where I grew up, that’s also super important to me, and I do feel like some of that actually happens.

What do you miss the most about Tennessee?

Well, as of late, it’s been barbecue. I haven’t really found a good barbecue. I’ve heard that it exists…

But also in football, going to away games and the actual season of “autumn” doesn’t exist in Southern California. They don’t have that; they don’t have any seasons. There’s just one long season. I mean, if you’ve got to have just one, it’s the best one to have. I miss the fall and I miss being around other people like me. I don’t exactly fit in here. I’m still enjoying it; politically, I’m surrounded by a lot of like-minded people.

In  your book, you write that “screaming about your right as an American while rocking the Confederate flag is like arguing against gay marriage with a dick in your mouth.” Can you try to explain to people outside the Deep South why people insist that it’s “heritage, not hate?”

Because of Lynyrd Skynyrd, it hasn’t always had the same level of irredeemable vitriol around this Confederate flag as it does now. My dad, he’s the reason I am the way that I am. He’s got a gay brother. And he was the farthest thing from racist; he raised me to be open-minded. And he had shirts and stuff that had the rebel flag, although most of that had to do with Skynyrd at the time. My dad passed away a few years ago, and I am very confident that if he was still with us, [with] everything going on revolving around the Confederate flag now, he’d put it behind. But it is cut and dried now. At this point there’s no redeeming it. It means exactly what most people say it means: that you’re intolerant at best and downright hateful and dangerous at worst. To shove that flag in people’s faces at this point after everything that’s happened in Charleston and in Charlottesville and everything …The people that are still dusting off those old arguments as you said a bit ago. Now? Present day? I’m not going to defend that mindset. It’s been a complicated thing for me, but it’s not anymore. It hasn’t been for a while now. 

You wrote in the book that y’all want to change the South “for the better.” How do you see that happening other than old people dying and new people learning better?

Well now you’ve stumped me, because honestly you gave the answer that I was going to. That’s not the only way but I do believe that’s the main thing that’s going to happen. The South has changed in my lifetime; we’ve still got a long way to go. But we’ve also come a very long way. Things have gotten way better. There’s a whole lot of work to be done, but it’s moving in the right direction. And I think that will continue,  especially as [laughs] the older people die off and people keep learning and having new experiences. 

Trae Crowder with Drew Morgan and Corey Forrester

Straz Center for the Performing Arts, 1010 WC MacInnes Place, Tampa | Fri., March 1: 7:30 p.m. | $35-$75 | 813-229-7827 |

This article originally appeared in Creative Loafing Tampa.

Tampa filmmaker pays homage to B-movies with short about single-use plastics

‘Creature From the Bag Lagoon’ may be the best thing we’ve seen all year. It heads to Tampa in December.

Even if I didn’t already love Creature from the Black Lagoon, I’d be in love with local filmmaker Kevin Short’s short film, Creature from the Bag Lagoon.

Watch the trailer. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Creature from the BAG Lagoon… I see what they did there!

I’ve seen the full thing (hey, as a journalist, you take what perks you can get) and can tell you it’s well worth heading to either the Tampa Bay Underground Film Fest or the Silver Screen for Short Films to check it out. It’s an environmentally aware B-movie riff made locally, which is to say that we had a filmgasm watching it. 

Seriously, it’s a lot of fun to watch. In a world where every environmental choice seems to have planet-ending consequences, this one approaches the same topic with levity and — dare we say it? — schlock.

This article originally appeared at Creative Loafing.

Tampa Bay Underground Film Festival | Britton Theater  and Villagio Cinemas, Tampa | Dec. 6-9 (Creature shows ec. 8) |

Does Florida’s governor deserve the label “Red Tide Rick”?

A fact-based look at whether or not we should blame Rick Scott for this extended red tide season.

Red tide. Whose fault is it, anyway? Is it Big Sugar? Rick Scott? Bill Nelson?

There are so many choices — and so many political ads — that it can be hard to find the villain in it all.

Right now, let’s focus on that unfortunate moniker “Red Tide Rick” and take a look at what Florida Governor Rick Scott has actually done that could have contributed to red tide.

  1. Rick Scott has adopted an anti-tax, anti-regulation stance on government.
  2. When he took office, he cut budgets at state environmental agencies like the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the water management districts ($700 million), including the South Florida Water Management District.
  3. According to Politifact, DEP cuts included eliminating the agency that reviewed plans for development in Florida cities and counties, the Department of Community Affairs (2011)
  4. In 2012, the DEP laid off 58 employees.
  5. According to the Tampa Bay Times, the DEP no longer handles environmental enforcement cases at the same level as it did under Governor Charlie Crist. In 2010, DEP handled 2,289 cases by 2012, that number had dropped to 799.  
  6. Those budget cuts at the water management district meant that Florida’s water monitoring network lost more than 200 of its 350 sites. Currently, the state has only 115 sites for monitoring water. (Source: Florida International University’s Southeast Environmental Research Center). 
  7. DEP pollution regulation enforcement has also dropped. In 2010, DEP handled almost 1,600 enforcement cases; last year, it handled 220. (Source: Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility)
  8. Governor Scott also made it easier to have a septic tank, repealing the law requiring they get inspected. Florida has 2.6 million septic tanks; after Scott repealed the law, only 1 percent get inspected
  9. He has also disallowed the use of the phrase climate change, although scientists say research indicates rising ocean temperatures contribute to extended red tide blooms.

While we know that red tide is a naturally occurring bacteria and it originates offshore, significant evidence suggests nutrient runoff acts as a fertilizer for the bloom, so it’s safe to assume Scott’s policies haven’t done much to prevent — or remedy — the situation.

This article originally appeared at Creative Loafing.

Don’t Close Your Eyes: Election Night 2016

Election Day became Election Night, and then Election Morning… and at the end, I was glad my grandmother wasn’t alive to see it.

Originally published in Creative Loafing.

I’ve blocked a lot of my marriage, for a myriad of reasons, but I remember the 2000 election as if they were yesterday. For all the ways we were mismatched, my husband and I shared political beliefs. 

We voted. We went to work  — he worked at an ISP (the halcyon days before the dot-bomb) and I worked for Pinellas County Utilities. We came home from work. We had coffee and cigarettes on the back porch. We went to play tennis, something typically reserved for Friday night date night (tennis, the Clearwater Barnes & Noble and then Red Dwarf and Newsradio reruns on TiVo) but necessary because I needed to burn off energy before the polls closed. We had dinner. We sat in front of the TV.

I voted in my first presidential election in 1992, wholeheartedly in favor of Bill Clinton. My grandmother, a beautiful redhead, a crazy liberal outspoken pisser of a woman, grabbed hold of my ideals in the sixth grade. She’d pick me up from JFK Middle School, while my dad broke his ass on construction jobs and my mom worked for next to nothing making sure the doctors at the Diagnostic Clinic got their fair share (and she made barely a living wage) from the insurance companies. My grandma, my idol, worked part time for her nephew, and so had time to pick me up. My parents didn’t get political — they registered to vote based on their middle initials: a D for my dad’s David and an R for my mom’s Rochelle — but my grandma did.

“What do you think of the idea that President Reagan doesn’t remember where he was blah blah blah?” she would ask, and I think she was talking about the Iran Contra thing but really, I was 10; I didn’t know. Something about candy?

“Uh, I don’t know,” I would say, staring down at my shoes, wishing they were Keds and not the K-Mart off-brand.

“Well, he says he doesn’t remember, and I understand that. There’s lots of things I don’t remember,” she said, steering her Chrysler LeBaron towards Clearwater Mall. “But you know what?”


“If I were president, I’d sure as hell write it down.”

Then she’d take me to Stuart’s and buy me highly inappropriate — or so my mom said — underwear and pants.

And so it went. Grandma Grace von Ebbinghaus Samela worked in Harlem, joined the NAACP, triumphed over her Jewish roots which yes, were a liability, and went on, her greatest achievement her amazing daughter who raised me, an unapologetic liberal. My parents may not be politically vocal, but that didn’t mean they take liberty lightly. I registered to vote April 25, 1990. I was 17, and I remember registering in the C-Mall at Clearwater High, in advance of my 18th birthday. Voting, my grandma taught me, mattered.

And so, in 1992, I voted for Bill Clinton, and when he won, my friend Linda and I went for a walk. We were about to graduate from St. Pete Junior College and move on to university, and when Clinton won, our world felt brighter. Shinier. We walked around her neighborhood and, drunk with 19-year-old optimism, we talked about how much better our lives would be with Bill Clinton. We would have opportunity; the economy would be better. We would have hope.

He had a good run, too. I disagreed with him on things, like deregulating media, but loved almost everything else. I couldn’t fathom, then, in 2000, that the Dems would not sweep the nation.

And so we sat, my future ex-husband and I, sweaty with tennis grit (I suck at tennis, by the way) and barely able to eat, as we watched election returns.

Too close to call.

At 1:00 a.m., I couldn’t hold out anymore. 

“Wake me up when we have a president,” I told him, and the dog and I retired to our lower-middle class bedroom with stained pink carpet. 

I rose shortly before 8 — I was almost always late for work those days — angry that he hadn’t woken me. I shook him to wake him.

Why didn’t you wake me?

Because we don’t have a president.

The next few months… well, if you were there, you don’t need me to tell you. I remember sitting at the now-shuttered Pastino’s Italian Restaurant with a co-worker while he told me it didn’t matter. I knew it did, but I was young and who was I to argue? Maybe it didn’t. I wanted to believe that.

It mattered. 9/11 happened. The dot bomb happened. Iraq. Osama Bin Laden. Hate happened.

I divorced, which was better for both of us, really. I moved south county. I started freelancing. I pretended politics didn’t matter, even though it had upended my world. Barack Obama became president.

By then, I had new friends, and I sat in a Kenwood living room as he and our First Lady entered one of many inaugural balls. And I felt hope again. I wished my grandmother, now dead, could be there with me, and although it sounds prosaic, I like to think she was. I felt those stirrings of optimism, that America truly offered all of us opportunity. I remembered that long-ago hope I felt, walking around that suburban Clearwater neighborhood. It had been a long, dark eight years. I was ready for Barack Obama.

I was ready to continue riding that wave of optimism, ready to return to the markedly less controversial arms of the Clintons, ready to watch history being made as we welcomed our first woman president. I scoured a secret Hillary Facebook group, openly weeping at the stories of all these women who battled sexual abuse, oppression and hatred. I believed. This was our time, I told myself.

I was wrong.

Of course, I had doubts. I’m no dummy. I saw the rallies. I saw the red shirts. I watched someone at the polls yesterday, yelling at the sweet volunteers about rigging. I knew Trump — excuse me, President-elect Trump — had a following. I knew, bubbling just under the surface, was this festering pustule of hate.

What I didn’t know was how big it was. In my heart, I never believed he would win. Love Trumps Hate.

Tonight, watching returns, I dozed. I woke shortly before 1 a.m.. I should go to bed, I thought, but then I remembered 2000. Going to bed then had been a mistake. Superstitious? Perhaps. But maybe if I don’t go to bed, this won’t be real.

And so, at 4 a.m., I can’t sleep. I’ve turned off the telly. When news of Hillary’s concession broke, I leaned into Barry and wept.

Tonight — this morning — I can feel my grandmother’s presence in the room with me. But she isn’t beside me, cheering for Barack Obama. Instead, we’re at the Florida Holocaust Museum. She’s older now; years of smoking have whittled her lungs, and to leave the house she needs a wheelchair. To honor her heritage, I’ve gotten her a membership at the museum, and we arrive on the anniversary of Hitler’s suicide. I wheel her from display to display. She doesn’t speak; her oxygen whispers every few seconds, but that’s the only sound.

We stop in front of a small diorama: a cruise ship, showing little wooden people lined up on every deck.

My grandmother, my brave hero, twists around in her chair and looks at me. Her face crumples.

“We didn’t do anything,” she says.

“What do you mean, Grandma?”

“Those people — they wanted to come here. They got on that boat, they left Germany, came to America, and we were supposed to take them. And we didn’t. We told them to leave.

“We sent them back to die.”

And then, the memory is gone and I’m back in my bedroom. Barry sleeps fitfully a few feet away. Calypso, alarmed by my earlier hysterics, won’t leave my side. Even the foster puppy looks at me warily, unwilling to sleep until I shut the laptop and go to bed.

We sent them back to die.

Until a few hours ago, I believed — with my whole heart — we would never do that again. Hate, until tonight, had no sanctified place.

This is a new America.

For the first time in my life, I’m glad my grandmother’s already dead.

And I don’t want to close my eyes.

Kent State It Was Not

Some days I love my job. Yesterday was one of those days.

Now, here’s where I could write about the new sports organization for kids in Gulfport and how watching the coaches with the kids made me feel some scrap of hope for a lost demographic. I could describe the great photo I took of a puppy licking a cherub-like toddler’s face. I could tell you about the kid dressed as Batman in the fishing derby.

Yeah, that’s so not how this blog entry is going to go down. No, I’m going to talk about the folks who staged a protest on Gulfport beach to protest the city’s beach tobacco ban.

Let me assure you that I totally respect people’s right to gather and protest, but I do have some serious doubts that outlawing smoking on a public beach violates any civil liberties. How is smoking on a beach more a civil liberty than being able to bring my dog down there (which is illegal in Gulfport) or enjoy a glass of wine while I watch the sunset (also illegal in Gulfport)? However, I’ll hop off the soapbox long enough to tell you why I had so much fun at this smoke-in.

A group of people who feel, for whatever reason, that the ban on tobacco use violates either the law or their civil liberties staged their third smoke-in on Gulfport beach. The first one failed because the city hadn’t put up signs letting people know about the ban, so the police refused to ticket the smokers. The second time a St. Pete attorney managed to get a ticket, but the city dropped the case when the attorney fought the ticket in court (please don’t ask, I really don’t want to go into it right now). Yesterday this determined group of like-minded folks trudged on out to the beach again. I showed up, ready to take a picture of the smokers receiving tickets. I even had visions of getting really lucky and seeing someone led away in handcuffs.

So, there I am, with one certain scene from Basic Instinct running through my head and Alice’s Restaurant (my head is a dark and strange place) playing the soundtrack, waiting.

And waiting.

And waiting.

See, the thing is, no one called the police on the smokers, although the beach had plainly marked signs. Parents, couples, clubs – they were all out in force, but no one appeared bothered enough (or aware of the law enough) to call the police. No one.

Finally, one of the protestors called the police.

On themselves. 

It gets better.

After a bit – I’m guessing 20 minutes or so, but I don’t really know – I see a police car pull up. Finally! Civil disobedients manned their posts, lit their smokes, and smiled in anticipation.

It was not to be.

Seems the officer was en route to another call but – because we’re a small, waterfont-Mayberry type of town – he stopped by, friendly-like, to explain that the police would be by to ticket them once they finished working a rash of vehicle burglaries.

“Please, be patient,” he asked the protestors. “I may not be the one coming back, but somebody will be here eventually.”

It was a little like watching police work in Canada.

“Only in Gulfport do they send out a cop to apologize that no one’s here to arrest you yet,” one protestor said.

The police did return, although before the officer could get down to writing tickets, a sergeant spoke with the protestors.

“Look, we all know why we’re here,” he said. He explained that if everyone insisted on keeping their stogies lit, the paperwork alone would keep one officer from patrolling Gulfport for between two and three hours, and he explained that the police already had their hands kind of full, what with the vehicle burglaries and, you know, crime.

“Out of respect for my officers,” the sergeant said, he would appreciate it if “one of you would like to take the hit” for the smoking ticket. The group conferred and agreed that, except for one of them, they would put out their smokes. The lone smoker – the same attorney as before – went peacefully over to the police car and received his ticket.

The other smokers either put out their cigarettes or – after asking the officer if they could do so legally – moved off the beach to finish their cigars.

Kent State it was not. No pepper spray, no riot regalia. No police brutality. The police are quite friendly.  Really, the Occupy movement should come to Gulfport.

As long as they don’t smoke on the beach.

How to Do Bike Paths

Today I’m in Hilton Head, getting ready to take a RoadTrek across Florida for three weeks (starting tomorrow). Aside from helping me complete my thesis for the Florida Studies program, this trip will help me undo my relatively tiny carbon footprint from last month. The thesis is another story and, if you’re so inclined, you can follow my travels at my probably-always-evolving-over-the-next-21-days web site, but right now I’m thinking, of course, about bike paths.

Hilton Head is a tourist mecca but it also has some locals who, many years ago, cared deeply (I’m pretty sure they care still) about retaining a certain type of character as the island developed. When you drive on to Hilton Head today you’re met with a wooded island that doesn’t allow traditional signage. The sheer amount of foliage belies the anxiety-producing number of vistors who cluster around the ocean here annually. The natives (well, no, not the natives, but the locals) made sure of it, and if you’re a store who needs a big sign or fancies neon, you’re out of luck. Whether you’re marking the location of a plantation – and don’t get me started about that nomenclature – or a McDonald’s, basically all your signs have to look a lot like this. No billboards, no high signs, and no flashing neon. It’s a nice visual break, but there’s still plenty to look at in the form of trees and landscaping that doesn’t look a bit like manicured landscaping. These folks are hard core about keeping the local flora intact. Seriously, this is what one of the roundabouts has on its inside (this photograph may be of another part of the island, but trust me, it’s close enough that you’ll never know the difference):

The best way to see this all this is on your bike, because a smooth-paved, well-marked, broad bike path contours the entire island. And my god, it’s gorgeous. Where the path crosses water (and it frequently does; this is low country), bikes bump smoothly across wooded decking on a path flanked by copper-topped posts. You can’t bike for fitness on this island, because every other tenth of a mile is a new vista of cool ocean-forest-like stuff to look at.

Seriously. Except for in a very few places, the entire island’s bike path looks pretty much like these photos. And there are bike racks everywhere and signage and people – even new visitors – learn pretty quickly how to navigate the island and give way to all the cyclists. I could live here without a car, easily. Well, as long as I didn’t have to leave the island.

It’s nice to see a community so committed to cycling. Of course, given the sheer volume of tourists, if they didn’t offer throngs of bikes for rent and well-marked paths to travel, the traffic would look like a cross between Manhattan and Clearwater beach.

Our tourist communities could learn from this city.

Hard Candy: Carbon Footprint

This is not my regular column.

In relation to the column I wrote last week, one of my readers let me know there was a very active discussion on Facebook about me and my carbon footprint. He contacted me and asked about my carbon footprint. Here is my response to him, and anyone else who wants to know if I’m a hypocrite.

Whenever practical and safe, I drive a scooter that gets roughly 122 miles per gallon. I have a mid-size car that I try to drive no more than two days a week and for longer trips only. I have compact fluorescent bulbs in my home anywhere I can put them. I attempt to buy things that are grown locally whenever possible, although I struggle with spinach and berries, two of my favorite foods.

I do not recycle because I believe it is a net loss for the environment in terms of energy used, but I am fortunate to live in Pinellas County, where the majority of all trash collected goes to the county’s waste-to-energy facility (WTE), where it is incinerated (emitting less toxins than the cumulative emissions of all the wood-burning fireplaces in the county) and converted to energy, which the county then sells back to Progress Energy, replacing “dirty” energy with “clean” for at least 110,000 homes and the facility itself. I know all this because I spent five years working as a public relations specialist with the county’s utility and I researched the facility for articles I wrote for industry publications, point being there that I know enough to say I researched my choice not to recycle.

My carbon footprint is below that of the average American, according to the Nature Conservancy’s highly generalized quiz. Here’s how I stack up:

“Your estimated greenhouse gas emissions are 15 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent per year, which is below the U.S. national average.”

According to this site, the U.S. National Average is 27 tons, so I felt pretty good about that until I saw that the world average was only 5.5.

I do believe the test has some flaws; the largest one being that it doesn’t account for locavorism, solar energy, or community and private gardens. Also, it doesn’t seem to account for WTE technology as many communities still use landfills, which may make recycling a better choice for them, but not necessarily for us. Also, I re-took the test and entered the best possible answer for every option (it shows you the impact of each choice as you make it) and the lowest footprint anyone can get (a vegetarian who eats only organic food and has no car, doesn’t fly anywhere ever, and unplugs everything unless it’s in use) is 7.3.

Am I a hypocrite? I have no idea how to measure that. I never said I was better than anyone I wrote about in that column, so I’m not entirely certain why anyone’s using that term at all. I’m clearly not perfect, but then, how boring would that be?

Hard Candy: Hands Across a Sham

I know, I know. I can hear it as I type these words: how dare I call last Saturday’s event a sham. Those who attended will tell you it was a beautiful demonstration of … well, something. I’m not sure what. I know that everyone there seemed pretty passionate about stopping drilling off Florida’s coast. And, hey, I’m all for that. Let’s stop it right now. But the reality is, there’s too much hypocrisy surrounding even events like these for that to happen.
Look, I applaud passion; I am passion’s biggest fan. And I’m not trying to belittle your grand gesture Saturday, but I do hope you understand that Saturday’s event was only that: a gesture.
People drove to the event. The event organizers handed out plastic bottles of water. Someone hired a banner plane to fly up and down the beaches, towing an anti-offshore-drilling banner. All these things require oil by the truckload, which, funny enough, needs oil to ship the oil. As far as I can tell, BP and other oil companies directly benefited financially from this international event.
Let’s put it into one of those math problems we all hated in junior high: If 12,000 Floridians drove an average of two miles to participate in Hands Across the Sand, and each protestor consumed one bottle of water during the event, how many gallons of oil would BP have to pump out of the Gulf to power the protestors’ cars and produce the plastic water bottles?
Don’t bother doing the math.
I wouldn’t have a problem with this if the protest stopped the practice, but I think we’ve gotten confused somewhere along the way. Government can’t even stop tobacco farmers from growing tobacco, and far fewer Americans smoke than drive. What on earth makes you think the government is going to stop oil exploration? There’s too much money changing hands; couple that with the potential for lawsuits for lost revenue and you and I both know that the federal and state governments aren’t about to staunch the flow.
I know my attitude might upset you. Politicians promised us, you may start to say, but before you finish that sentence, stop. Oh, sure, Saturday saw plenty of political posturing and promises. What a down-home opportunity for grandstanding. I believe our city officials when they say they won’t vote for drilling; I even might believe county commissioners. Here’s the thing, though: all the people who spoke to our city Saturday? The school board candidates, county commissioner Barbara Sheen Todd, Gulfport’s own very fine mayor Mike Yakes? They don’t actually get to vote on oil exploration. So, you know, good for them for taking a stand, but it won’t stop the oil from suffocating Apalachicola oysters or painting its carbon footprint over anhinga, dolphin, and mackerel. It won’t keep the panhandle fishermen in business, and it won’t wash the beaches clean.
Right about now I’m sure most of you are calling me a hopeless misanthrope, a hateful cynic who lacks compassion for the human condition. I beg to differ. I used to be like you, ready to march on Washington, sign a petition protesting genetic research on mollusks, or stage a sit-in for dolphin-safe energy. But somewhere along the way I started seeing all these causes as what they were: shams that detracted from the business of, as so many people like to call it, “saving” the planet.
BP acts in the best interest of its bottom line. I won’t address criminal concerns or whether it was morally or ethically right for them to do what they did, because that- unfortunately- doesn’t matter. What matters is economics: supply and demand and profit and loss. The minute oil production becomes something that doesn’t bring a profit, I promise you BP- and every other oil company- will stop drilling. No government agency will revoke permits, no groups will circulate a petition, and no protests occur: they will just pull up stakes and go home. Take away the profit and you take away the problem.
If you want to hit BP where it hurts, don’t bother holding hands on the beach. They’ll just scoff at our ineffective methods as we fuel our cars before heading out to the beach. Instead, stop using their product.
Is it possible? Yes, but not practical. Strive instead to reduce consumption. Eat local. Think about how things are made. Of course, there’s the biggie: drive less. And don’t kid yourself with an electric car: where do you think electricity comes from? Progress Energy has three coal and oil plants in Florida: Crystal River, Anclote, and Suwanee.
So try carpooling, or bicycling, or trading in that SUV for a snappy little Miata. Many scooters get well over 100 miles per gallon. Buy locally grown food, and stop drinking water sold in those convenient little plastic bottles.
Overwhelming, isn’t it? It takes much less work to attend the occasional protest or sign a petition. But you won’t change a damn thing that way. If you want to change things, really change things, forget about government. They won’t help you. Administrations change, and policies shift with the tides. Government should keep us safe from crime, provide strong schools and protect us from foreign invasions. Despite what we’d like to think, our Constitution has no verbiage about marine ecosystems or environmental high grounds. That part’s up to us, and we can’t have it both ways.
Instead, put your money where your heart is. Change the world? Not likely, despite what we’d so dearly love to believe. Change your carbon footprint? That’s the first step. You can’t drive your Ford Explorer to the oil protest and think you’re making a difference, and you can’t enjoy French wine, German cheese, and Iowa steaks and think that your signature on a petition matters.
Contact Cathy Salustri at Find more details about determining your carbon footprint at, or click the link on The Gabber Newspaper’s Facebook Page.

Hard Candy: Spin, Baby, Spin.

Turn off your television. Right now. I mean it, turn it off. There’s nothing of value there for you, at least not news-wise.
I usually don’t get this irate at the local news stations until June 1, when hurricane season opens and the weather terrorists masquerading as news people turn every gusty day into a dark windy omen of the next apocalypse. With the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, though, Christmas came early for the media this year. Tourists are canceling their trips and the coastal economy, still pasty and malnourished from an excessively bitter winter, is steeling itself for an even more barren summer.
If I were to point fingers, I’d point first at the “Drill, Baby, Drill” morons who bought the line that drilling was safe with very little risk. Next, I’d love to blame British Petroleum, I really would. More than that, I think we should tar and feather the politicians who allowed drilling with oil from the spill and feathers from any bird affected by it.
But the biggest criminal of all is the media. Even though not one drop of oil has hit Florida shores—or, at press time, any coastal shore—people are canceling reservations and changing plans and refusing to eat seafood. That’s because the fourth estate, charged with the complex goal of reporting news and events accurately and fairly, apparently sees that goal as an opinion to be ignored if there’s money to be made.
Look, I don’t think we should drill; the risks outweigh the benefits. I understand how very strong the compulsion must be to point out every negative possibility so that no one will dare utter support of drilling.
But I also understand that there’s a difference between talking about what could happen which, by the way, isn’t actually news but speculation, and reporting on actual events. The media, in our own twisted, passionate attempt to remind the world why drilling is a bad idea, has sensationalized the disaster, and in doing so is about to decimate the tourist trade along the beaches. Beaches that, by the way, are still white and beautiful.
If you want to know what’s going on with the oil in the Gulf, please don’t rely on your television set. For that matter, don’t rely on any type of news media, and that includes the Gabber. We are not scientists. I don’t know about the folks at Fox, but my degree is in broadcast journalism, not marine biology or minerals management. I’m about as qualified to predict the oil’s path as the guy drinking at On The Rocks at 8 in the morning.
Wait just a minute, I can hear you say. Are you telling us not to believe what’s on television and in the paper? Absolutely. Don’t believe one single word. News is a business, and don’t you forget it. Oil that doesn’t hurt cute little birds and kill the fish that those adorable dolphin love to eat? Well, that doesn’t sell airtime. Oily birds and black beaches, now, that sells advertising.
I’m not saying don’t prepare for the worst, and if the oil reaches our shores I will certainly go wash birds or drop off gallons of Dawn dishwashing detergent or whatever the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary asks of me. But I’ve looked at the science, and while I’m no scientist, even I can tell that, as an industry, we’re making stuff up to keep you watching and reading.
I guess you can’t blame us, really. We haven’t had a decent disaster since Katrina. It gets boring, reporting on run-of-the-mill murders and carjacking. This oil thing certainly spices up our days.
WTVT, the local affiliate news station of the ever-respected Fox, ran a story about how the spill was affecting fishermen. They interviewed one captain who said the spill hadn’t impacted his business but all the media coverage was scaring it away. That story segued into another about the oil and how it might hit our beaches. While the news anchors didn’t actually say this, I turned off the set also expecting a plague of locusts and death of our firstborns.
I don’t expect you to believe me when I say we’re not to be trusted. My entire point is that you shouldn’t believe me. I implore you instead to check things out for yourselves. There are two web sites with projections and advisories from scientists whose qualifications surpass that of “looks good on camera”: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP).
NOAA’s Incident News and main web sites have valuable information and the FDEP has a section on the Deepwater Horizon, the vessel at the center of this debacle. On that page you can download the oil’s projected trajectory. These links, listed at the end of the column and on the Gabber’s Facebook page, are the same ones the media goes to for information.
What’s that? You say you can’t really see much of Florida on the maps showing where the oil might go? Well, don’t take it as sign that you shouldn’t prepare.
Take it as a sign to turn off your television.

Conversation From the Gate of Heaven

Scene: Gate of Heaven, exterior, day. God sits at pearlized desk in flowing robes, reader glasses on the bridge of his nose. He’s wearing red Converse high tops and a Devil Rays cap.

God: So, what gift did I give you?
Me: You gave me the ability to craft words.
God: Ah, yes, I remember now. That’s a lovely gift, isn’t it? And so many ask me for that one. They have such dreams… so sad that I can’t give it to everyone. There was this young lady- Emily Dickinson. She used to ask me every day for talent. But it wasn’t in the cards for her. So many people write… novels, poetry, investigative pieces, they’re all out there for the taking and so many people try to write these things. But they, unlike you, don’t have the talent.
Me (shuffling feet): Yes, you were quite generous with me.
God: Now, that’s what I like to hear. Tell me what you wrote; tell me how you used this gift to make people smile or weep.
Me (edging toward gate of heaven): Ah, well, see, here’s the thing… I never actually finished anything like that. (Quickly) I wanted to, but, uh, see, you gave me such a gift that I was able to make a living writing, and I always felt guilty writing things that I thought were just for me. Indulgent, really. You, uh, don’t like too much indulgence, do you?
God: Well, don’t let this out (chuckles at own joke) but, well, indulgence has its place. And, of course, you know those things you didn’t write because you were making money writing other things–they would have been lovely and I would have helped you get them published.
Me: Really? I mean, you know agents and stuff? (Catches self, stops, clears throat) What I meant was, oh. Thank you. And I’m sorry.
God: Oh, no need to be sorry. You wrote; you used the gift. What did you write?
Me: Uh, I wrote for a weekly paper.
God: (claps hands together eagerly) Oh, a journalist! The fourth estate! How lovely. I bet you did investigative pieces, didn’t you? You probably saved lives with an expose of the sausage industry or something like that, didn’t you? Oh, how noble to sacrifice your personal writing to turn in pieces that changed the world around you. Did you save any babies? I love it when reporters save babies with something they’ve written!
Me (sweating now): You’re toying with me, aren’t you?
God: Pardon? Didn’t you save people?
Me: Er, not exactly.
God: Well, what did you do with this gift I gave you?
Me: I reported on local news.
God: You mean, local investigative pieces? Oh, well, not to worry. Many small-town reporters don’t feel like they made a difference, but trust me, they do. I mean, I do kind of know most everything.
Me: (chuckles nervously) Heh. Glad you think so.
God: So tell me, what’s the last thing you wrote?
Me: Erm, uh, well, I was working on my column when, uh, I died.
God: (claps hands as a child would) Oh, goody. I love opinion pieces. I bet you were well-thought-out and logical and made points that changed people’s way of seeing the world.
Me (under my breath): I’ll take that bet.
God: What was the column about, anyway?
Me: Well, I’m not really comfortable discussing a work in progress…
God (sighs): Writers. OK, what was the last one about?
Me: Mooring fields and boats.
God: Boats?
Me: Uh, yeah. (Gets excited) I talked about people who didn’t like boats and how they should move out of Florida.
God: And, um, what did you expect to change with that column?
Me: Um, it was more of a venting thing.
God: Could I see a copy of last week’s paper, please?
Archangel enters stage left, hands God newspaper, exits stage right. God thumbs through paper.
God: I see you discuss moving the city’s kayak launch and reviewed Little Mary Sunshine.
Me: Um, yes.
God: OOOH! And here’s something really riveting- a photo of two musicians eating cheese. (clears throat) Would you care to explain, Miss Salustri, exactly what you did with your me-given talent?
Me: You’re looking at it, sir.
God: This is IT? Emily Dickinson, Chelsea Handler, David Sedaris–they all would have killed for your talent. And what do you do with it? Review community theatre? Write about kayak launches? Tell people to move?
Me: I’m going to hell, aren’t I, sir?
God: No, not exactly. I’m sending you back to write for Fox News.