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Off Key

By Bob Frederickson

From iRide’s Slide to Media Miss on Red Tide

Sarasota’s ‘Gotcha’ Moment?

The City of Sarasota spent $300k over the past year to bring the Gotcha iRide service to town. The company’s cute little blue and white stretched golf cart-like vehicles circle downtown offering free rides to any and all. They’ve been a big hit with the city’s homeless population, but have garnered little more than yawns from the rest of us. So the city is cutting its losses and not renewing its contract with the company.

The original thinking behind the city’s $300k investment: To reduce traffic and free up parking spaces downtown, all in furtherance of its fervent devotion to the mantra of ‘sustainability,’ (whatever that means…).

But in the end, it turns out the plan just wasn’t…well…sustainable.

$300,000 here, $300,000 there…pretty soon you’re talking about real money.

My question is this: Couldn’t the city’s Sustainability Manager (a real thing) have seen this coming, oh, say about $300,000 ago?

“Survey Says…”

A recent survey found that 47% of our time is now spent interacting with our technology, i.e. smart phones, computers, tablets and the like…which just might explain why we’re having such a hard time interacting with one another…especially the youngest members of society who often seem positively stymied by the most basic forms of human interaction.

Anna Maria a ‘Million Dollar’ City?

 Almost…

A new Zillow.com report expects the city of Anna Maria to be among 23 municipalities nationwide to reach the lofty status of having a median home value of $1 million sometime over the next year.

Anna Maria is the only Florida city being added to the list this year.

The current median value for the island community is $964,200 according to Zillow and is expected to reach $1,049,404 within the next 12 months.

No area cities are on the full list (i.e. the one that includes those added this year  and in previous ones), but there are four listed in the Miami/Ft. Lauderdale, where Fisher Island off downtown Miami is at the top of the heap with a median home value of $3.2 million.

Too Close for Comfort?

Sarah Klum of North Port got an unwelcome surprise one recent morning when she saw something out of the corner of her eye in the garage as she was heading off to work. That something turned out to be a snake; but not just any snake, rather a deadly five-foot long eastern diamondback rattler.

She rushed outside through the open garage door and quickly called her husband who was inside watching after their young daughter.

A call to Sarasota County Animal Control was quickly answered and the responding officers thankfully caught the snake and removed it from the garage where they surmised it had gone to seek shelter from recent rains. The next part of the story threw me for a loop though. As reported by WWSB television, instead of taking the rattler to oh, I don’t know, Cincinnati maybe…well, the officers released it into the woods across the street from the Klum home.

Now I’m no Marlin Perkins, but I do know that most creatures, warm blooded or cold, are territorial by nature. And for whatever reason, that snake thought the Klum’s garage belonged to him (or her…don’t want to offend the personal pronoun police along with all the animal rights folks I’m about to send into orbit).

I remember reading (as an impressionable youth) Edward Abbey’s narrative “Desert Solitaire” recounting the writer’s time as a park ranger in Arches National Park in Utah in the 1950s.

One day he discovered a rattler had taken up residence under the floorboards of his raised cabin.

Ardent and reflexive environmentalist that he was, Abbey undertook the dangerous task of capturing the serpent and removing it some distance from his living quarters…only to have it return.

Another extraction, another return. Finally a dose of reality set in, cutting through the Disneyesque vision of the natural world he had brought with him to the tough, hardscrabble landscape of the high desert. And so a shotgun was dispatched and soon thereafter that rattler was on its way to kingdom come.

Which would be just about the right distance for me, were I in the Klum’s position with a three-year-old child playing in that front yard…or perhaps some day wandering off into those woods.

“Tonight in Sports…”

Speaking of WWSB, the station’s co-anchor Jacqueline Mattes strikes me as a personable young woman who clearly enjoys her job and works enthusiastically to excel at it. I’m sure she has a rewarding and successful career ahead of her. But toward that end, someone simply has to explain to her that baseball scores are measured in ‘runs,’ not ‘points.’

Part of the appeal of tuning into the evening news each night is to hear something new; but being informed “The Rays beat the Yankees by ‘one point,’” doesn’t qualify.

The station dropped its sports anchor – the last to fill that chair being the colorful Don Brennan – now with SNN, during the Great recession. But given the rebounding economy, isn’t it time to revisit that decision?

I’m sure Jacqueline wouldn’t mind.

Half-Baked News…

My definition of so called ‘Fake News’ isn’t as narrow as some on both the left and right who simply define it as any news with which they disagree.

What makes me start talking back to the TV though is better described as ‘half-baked news,’ namely news that misleads viewers, often by conflating one really bad thing with something else that is assumed to be related in some way, despite no actual evidence being presented that it actually is.

You often note examples of this when you know something about a subject through local knowledge that the broader media – based elsewhere – doesn’t when it ‘drops-in’ to cover a story playing out in your own backyard.

Case in point: here on Florida’s Gulf coast we know first hand about the devastating Red Tide that has lingered along our coast for the past nine months. We also are familiar with the algae bloom on Lake Okeechobee which has sent slimy green water to both the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic via the Caloosahatchee River and St. Lucie Canal, respectively.

Now the national media has ‘discovered’ these stories and broadly conflated the two events, treating them in some cases as if they are the same thing,

Here was the breathless report from a recent prime time edition of ABC World News:

“Back now with the environmental disaster plaguing more than 100 miles of American coastline, even making it hard to breathe in some cases. It’s destroying marine life, local businesses and family vacations.”

“Here’s ABC’s Victor Oquendo…”

Oquendo: “This is what a marine disaster looks like. Beaches littered with dead fish, manatees, even a whale shark washing ashore.”

“I’ve been here twenty years and this is probably the worst I’ve seen it,’ says an unidentified beach walker.

“100-plus miles of coastline from Naples to Sarasota ravaged by what’s called ‘The Red tide.’ Residents and tourists suffering too. This family cutting their vacation short in Sarasota:”

(Cut to a tourist on the beach…)

“It was horrendous. There were hundreds of dead fish in the water, on the shoreline, it smelled, said Caroline Pelleya-White (visiting Sarasota with her family).

The report did briefly mention that Red Tide is naturally occurring, but went on to say “but mankind is making it worse. Runoff from large farms and businesses feed the algae in Lake Okeechobee. Because of fears of dam breaks the Federal Government is forced to send that algae clogged water down rivers toward the coasts where this green slime dies in Salt Water then feeds the Red Tide bloom. (emphasis mine). All this leaving air in some places too dangerous to breathe. And if you’re swimming in an infested beach, it’s harmful if ingested.

Experts say this year’s red tide could be the worst in decades. Larry Brand, Marine Biologist: ‘the problem is the source of nutrients. And we humans are the source of nutrients. We’ve got to stop that runoff of nutrients.’ “

Now the part about the ‘runoff’ – be it from Lake Okeechobee or years ago from septic tanks along Phillipi Creek – “‘feeding’ the red tide” has been oft discussed over the 35 years I’ve lived in Sarasota; but it has never been proven, and most local reporters know better than to put those words into the mouths of our local Mote Marine researchers who take their science seriously and pursue it with care and integrity. A call to Mote Marine and a conversation with Dr. Richard Pierce last week confirmed my understanding.

After all, Spanish Conquistadors noted red tide in area waters in the 16th century when they first landed in Florida. And of course, Big Sugar wasn’t dumping nutrients into Lake Okeechobee at the time.

ABC’s Oquendo continued: “There are no short fixes here. And this red tide isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. It will likely last until the end of the rainy season, here in Florida that’s late October, but it could last even longer than that, potentially threatening more wildlife and people. Back to you, Tom.”

Anchor Tom Llamas wrapped things up with this: “Victor Oquendo with those devastating images tonight, Victor, thank you.’

Ya, thanks Victor, you’ve made our day… Virginia Hayley at Visit Sarasota must be especially thrilled. And maybe it’s time for Tom Barwin to once again don his “Anchors Away” sport coat (…never mind).

A few days later a similarly conflated report aired on Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight, with the majority of the video images showing the human influenced Okeechobee algae but the ensuing commentary focused on the loss of marine life attributed to red tide, as if the former must be the primary cause of the latter.

Even our own Dr. Richard Pierce of Mote Marine – Tucker’s guest for the segment – was unable to steer the narrative fully back onto a focused, less hysterical track. He of course pointed out that the Karenia Brevis algae responsible for red-tide is a naturally occurring organism…

But Tucker would have none of it. He ended the piece as if he hadn’t heard a word Pierce had said:

“Anyone adding to this should be in real trouble…”

And on the very same day that segment aired, the Herald Tribune reported on Rep. Vern Buchanan’s presser at Mote Marine announcing additional grant money for research organization aimed at eradicating red tide. (Late Breaking News: sadly and seemingly unbeknownst to Buchanan, none of that money will be reaching Mote, but that’s a story for another day). But to continue, the HT story did add this interesting perspective from a Mote researcher working just down the hall from where Buchanan was speaking. He cautioned that we don’t know whether or not there are benefits to red tide we don’t yet understand; comparisons were drawn to forest fires that remove underbrush and allow forests to be rejuvenated.

But then, we currently live in an age of reaction, not reason.

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio

Than are dreamt of in your philosophy…”