Salty Dog: Sarasota Thunderstorms and Dogs (by Karma with reporting from Griffin, Dexter, JoJo, Gabby, Lily, Misty, and Bella)

12 image composite of Sarasota during 8 minutes on 9-25-16 by Val Vasilescu

One of the worst places in the entire world for dogs with thunderstorm-a-phobia would be here in Sarasota. Tampa actually holds the record for most frequent lightning strikes, but hey, we are wolfish creatures with highly evolved senses who can feel the electrical charges coursing through our DNA even miles away. Danger is coming.

But you humans are so clueless. You wait until you see dark clouds above you, or jump at the thunder claps, or run from the sheets of rain. Until then, there you remain on the tennis courts, golf courses, beaches, walking paths and parking lots, completely oblivious to the fact that your environment is in flux. Danger is coming.

Some of you think you are in control by counting the seconds between thunder and lightening strikes to calculate how close the storm is. So sad. We canines have you beat by at least 10 miles in discerning changes in the barometric pressure, and yet you ignore our early warning system comprised of shaking, whimpering, or drooling. If we had opposable thumbs we’d send you a text but most likely you would still fixate on what is wrong with us!

So pay attention! We are trying to tell you before your human brain can even register it: Trouble is afoot! The air is full of electrical charges! Run for shelter! Get under something and stay there! Instead, you pat us on our heads and talk to us in baby talk : awww, poor ting. Is something scare-wing you?

P1030107Yes, dear clueless human companion. Something is scaring us: your nonchalance.

Colossal bolts of electrical charges are headed this way with no rhyme or reason for where they will hit, and still you are putting on your sneakers to go for a walk! For 30 minutes we have tried to alert you that disaster is looming and there you are firing up the patio barbecue. We are hugging the toilet bowl or sitting in a puddle of drool or buried beneath the bed (there are no basements here!) and you are floating in the pool with a vodka and tonic. And then you wonder why we freak out when storms approach. You are unreachable! You are unteachable!

So maybe, just maybe, it is you and not the storms that cause us distress. So take that dog-hugging storm vest that you bought online and return it;  don’t even try to wipe us down with anti-static dryer sheets; you swallow that sedative the vet gave you;  stop playing Mozart in the hope that it will soothe us; and get your money back now for that canine desensitization course–you are apparently a graduate yourself!

All you need to do is listen:

Danger is coming.


From the Salt Mines: What Drug Questions NOT to Ask During a Job Interview (by Sasha)


During my ongoing quest for employment in Sarasota, I was recently among a group of job applicants brought in for an orientation by a Human Resource (HR) department of a large local employer. We were there to learn about policies and to fill out forms.

We were also treated to an eight-minute film on the employer’s policies regarding alcohol abuse, drug abuse, and urine testing. The HR person announced that there was “zero tolerance” for abusers, then let the film roll.

The film depicted obviously drunk or high employees (played with abandon by terrible actors) who jeopardized the safety of themselves and others. But the message was clear: Zero Tolerance. Random urine tests would be used to screen violators, and if an employee tested positive, job termination would follow. Zero tolerance. Roll the film credits.

Now in previous blogs I’ve been hard on HR departments (see my posts at this blog from the Category “Salt Mines”), but what followed the showing of the film (with only minor embellishment) gave me sympathy for HR personnel: when the HR staffer asked the perfunctory question about whether we, (the job applicants supposedly eager to be hired), had any questions in regard to the film, several hands immediately shot up in the air.

You have a question?

“Yes. Like, what if I party with weed on a Friday night and then go to work on Monday and I’m tested but I’m not high?”

Sir, as stated in the film, marijuana can stay in the system for 5 days or more. If you test positive, you will be terminated.”


“What if everyone else was smoking and I only inhaled the air?


“Yeah, how ’bout that?”

“That’s happened to me!”

Same answer.”

Pause. More hands.

“Really? Another question?”

“The movie said something about crack cocaine, but what about blow?” Continue reading “From the Salt Mines: What Drug Questions NOT to Ask During a Job Interview (by Sasha)”

Off-the-Top-of-our-Heads Reactions to the Clinton-Trump Debate #1


Jack:  The Poly Sci wisdom is that debates tend to reinforce the support among strong supporters; so it is the “undecided” voter, usually a moderate, that is the target of the candidates. Undecideds are still a large segment of the population, so this debate was important.

Jack:  Clinton needed to reach out to where her favorability ratings were shaky or falling: young people who are interested in economic inequality and suburban white women who are concerned about whether Trump is “presidential.” Trump needed to present a presidential demeanor to reassure voters who would like to vote for him mainly because he is not Clinton. He didn’t accomplish that tonight.

Sasha:  Given that, she succeeded. She presented as presidential while Trump interrupted her repeatedly, had several (albeit minor) implosions, and ended by saying she didn’t “look” presidential. He quickly changed the phrasing to a lack of “stamina;” or how he put it the second time he said it with emphasis: “stam-men-a” (code for testosterone?) Undecided women won’t like how he treated her; her base will solidify. She missed an opportunity, however, to remind voters that there are many female leaders of foreign countries and Trump will need a respectful demeanor to work with them.

Sasha: Trump avoided questions; he repeated himself; he sounded unschooled. However, his base likes that off-the-cuff, ready to rumble demeanor.  But will this win him undecided voters? I don’t think so.

Final throw-in thoughts:

Clinton managed to act natural although she was obviously well-rehearsed, had control over her body language, and was very aware of how the camera was on her (and him) at all times.

Could Trump have been a bit ill? We thought he sniffled throughout the first half of the debate and his eyes looked almost closed, then he started to come around. But given that he has criticized Clinton’s health, he couldn’t very well claim illness, could he.

Finally, calling these performances “debates” is of course a misnomer. They are at best side-by-side press conferences. A serious debate consists of having a proposition (e.g., decreasing taxes on large businesses in order to create jobs),  allowing each side time to argue for or against the proposition,  questioning and challenging each other’s facts and analysis, and then giving closing statements. That presidential debates are in fact “debates” is debatable.


From the Salt Mines: Unionizing in Sarasota (by Sasha)

Just when I thought that unions were a dying breed (along with any recognition of workers’ rights), two groups of employees in Sarasota have recently voted to unionize: the faculty at State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota, and the newsroom of Sarasota’s local newspaper, the Herald-Tribune.

Kudos to both. Teaching and news reporting are worth fighting for.

SCF faculty had to do something after the disastrous decision by its Trustees to eliminate tenure for all new hires, making SCF unique among Florida state colleges.


Tenure is mainly defended for the philosophical reason of “academic freedom.” This isn’t just a highbrow concept; it has practical implications for those of us who have taught and researched topics that are controversial (and in the world of academia where just about anything is questioned, that means just about everything.) Imagine researching global warming, reproductive rights, religious tolerance, genetic engineering, or a theory of limited growth in Florida’s current political environment. Your career would be at risk.

But tenure is more than just academic freedom. It is what the business world would normally concede to be a “best practice” because why on earth would any professor of merit, i.e., a scholar who worked for 10+ years to earn a Ph.D. and establish a strong c.v., choose to join an outlier college that did not offer job security when there are other choices available? In addition, the academic world is scheduled to at least one year out for jobs, conference papers, grants, journal submissions, and invited lectures. The offer of a one-year contract means that new hires will need to apply right away for their next job. One foot out the door is not a way to build a dedicated faculty.

It’s no surprise, then, that the faculty at SCF Manatee-Sarasota, voted last week 75-25 to unionize.

Decisions were also made at the Herald-Tribune that threatened the workforce and the integrity of their work. From 2006-2008, the HT cut its workforce by one-third. Within the last five years, the paper was owned by the NY Times Co.,  sold to the Halifax Media Group in 2011, then acquired in 2015 by GateHouse Media. As expected, layoffs followed the acquisition; 16 newsroom employees lost their jobs.

For the newsroom employees at the Herald-Tribune, the September 15 decision to unionize appears to have been a difficult one. The vote to unionize was 22-16; a number that is sad not just because it shows divisiveness, but because of the sum: there are only 38 newsroom employees left.

The Herald Tribune building by

The downsizing of staff made it possible for the  HT to announce in August that it will move from its iconic Main Street building to three floors of the SunTrust building next store. Meanwhile Senior Editor, Bill Church, will leave the HT effective September 26 to take a promotion to Senior Vice President of News at GateHouse in Austen. Apparently he achieved in Sarasota what he was hired to do.

So pay attention workers of Sarasota–workers’ rights are at a nadir and unions may be on the rise. Hmmmmmm. Cause and effect?



The Salt Life: The STOP! Town Hall Meeting on “Sarasota, The Vue, and You” (by Sasha and Jack)

img_2040The biggest question at the standing-room-only STOP! Town Hall Meeting Thursday, September 22 at the Selby Library was this:

How on earth did a monstrous building like the Vue gain public approval?

Vue with man
The Vue

The simple answer is that it didn’t.

And it didn’t because, unbelievably, it did not need public approval at all.

As Kate Lowman put it, “Administrative review gave us the Vue.”


This exclusion of a public voice regarding development is behind the formation of STOP! (a community-based organization of Sarasota citizens).  In order to “preserve our quality of life,”  four City Master Plan & Zoning Code changes are sought:


  • Wider sidewalks with room for greenspace;
  • Realistic traffic studies;
  • Reintroduction of opportunities for public input during the review process; and
  • Prevention of expanding the administrative review process beyond the downtown into neighborhoods.

(More information at

Over the course of an hour, four speakers offered details that explained how The Vue and other downtown development projects came to be.

Kate Lowman, who serves as a steering committee member, described how in 2003 new city zoning codes, inspired by the principles of New Urbanism, aimed to create a walkable, pedestrian-friendly downtown. But this effort was undermined when a lawsuit by Argus was settled by replacing a public review process with a purely administrative review process. Without any opportunity for public input, approval for development was guaranteed as long as a proposal met the zoning codes.

Mike Lasche, a bicycle and pedestrian advocate argued that “walkability” must mean more than a mere possibility that a person could walk a path. He suggested that walking is a form of transport that should be safe, viable, shaded, conspicuous, and even convivial.

Eileen Normile, former city commissioner, explained that the use of arcane traffic impact formulas result in developers (e.g., those of the new Quay project) escaping any amount of “concurrency fees.” What is needed, she argued, are realistic traffic studies.

Jennifer Ahearn-Koch, former planning board member, contrasted the public process of development approval (that includes 3 closed and 3 open steps) with the abbreviated administrative process that makes no room for public input at all.

Even from the water, the Vue is imposing

STOP! is clearly onto something here. Anyone who attempts to walk by The Vue or new construction sites near Fruitville or First Street can experience first hand how truly pedestrian and bicycle un-friendly these sites are. It’s like walking through a concrete tunnel with traffic racing nearby.

So, the points made at the September 22nd meeting clearly resonated with the 200 plus people who attended, and the four speakers were informed and informative.

But as political scientists, we would like to suggest several questions for STOP! to consider as it moves forward. Continue reading “The Salt Life: The STOP! Town Hall Meeting on “Sarasota, The Vue, and You” (by Sasha and Jack)”

Weird Florida: Book Review of Craig Pittman’s Oh, Florida! (by Jack)

Why is it that so many jokes end with the punch line “FloriDUH?” In an attempt to answer this question I read the recently published book Oh, Florida! by Craig Pittman, a reporter for the Tampa Bay Times and native Floridian. It won’t take but a few chapters of this humorous and fascinating book to convince you that Florida is the weirdest state in the union. Pittman documents Florida weirdness throughout its history, but the event that focused national attention on our state was the 2000 election, which ushered in a wave of Florida weirdness stories (and discouraged parents from naming their sons Chad).

Pittman’s argument largely consists of overwhelming the reader with stories of “Florida weird.” A modest sampling of those stories will capture the flavor of the author’s work:

  • In 1930 a Key West X-ray technician fell in love with a tuberculosis patient named Maria Elena Milagro de Hoyos. After she died “Count Carl von Cosel” (as he became known) dug her up and slept with the corpse for nine years.
  • One of the first crimes committed in 2014 involved a Port Richey man who attacked his girlfriend with a banana. Assault with a banana with intent to …..?!
  • A Miami woman and Delray Beach man bought pistols, then went to Publix and bought 10 frozen turkeys. They thawed the turkeys, stuffed them with the guns, refroze them and tried to smuggle them into Haiti. Needless to say, they were caught.
  • In 1948 Clearwater residents reported the tracks of a strange three-toed bird that emerged from the water, walked around the beach for a while, and then returned to the water. An expert zoologist from New York was brought in to determine what it was. He declared that it could not be a hoax and that, in fact, he saw the large bird in flight. Forty years later an auto body repairman confessed to being the Clearwater Monster. He rowed out to the Gulf in a boat, strapped on leg irons in the shape of a three-toed bird, waded to shore, did his walk-about, and returned to the boat. It did increase tourism in Clearwater.
  • In 1996 a man sued a Clearwater strip joint claiming that he suffered a neck injury when the performer Tawny Peaks thrust her 69HH breasts in his face. (He lost the case).
  • A couple stole moon rocks from NASA and put them under their bed in an Orlando motel so they could have “sex on the moon.”
  • What other state has headlines like these: “Spring Hill Man Charged With Striking Wife With Turkey Neck,” “Florida Man, 36, Assaulted Teen Relative with Taco Bell Burrito,” “Gator Bites Off Hand of Everglades Airboat Captain,” “Clearwater Police Arrest Man Wielding Samurai Swords.”

But Pittman doesn’t only deal with the kind of stories that make you chuckle and scratch your head. About a third of the way into the book he develops a more serious tone and provides the reader with considerable background on aspects of Florida’s history that won’t appear in the books they use in Florida’s schools. He describes the corrupt nature of the political system (often emanating from the Tallahassee “Tower of Power”), the shady dealings of police departments throughout the state, Florida’s fascination with strip clubs, the control of bolita games by the mafia, the influx of slide ruler wielding nerds to develop the space program, and, of course, the thriving practice of plastic surgery.  These chapters are must reads for anyone who wants to get to know Florida. It is a seldom discussed and somewhat snarky history of the underbelly of the Sunshine State. Continue reading “Weird Florida: Book Review of Craig Pittman’s Oh, Florida! (by Jack)”

Salt Life Photo Essay: Outdoor Art (by Sasha)

Presidential Election 2001 Redux? (by Jack)


With the recent tightening of the presidential contest I began to think about our last close presidential election (the Gore-Bush 2000 election) and I was struck by the emerging similarities. Here are just a few:

  • Going into the month of September both Gore (in 2000) as well as Clinton (in 2016) had substantial leads in the polls. Clinton’s lead was around 8% while Gore’s lead was around 10%. By the end of September Gore was in a statistical tie with Bush; Clinton is now virtually tied with Trump.




  • In 2000, after a long drawn-out impeachment disaster people were experiencing “Clinton fatigue” (Bill that is). Today voters are experiencing their own version of “Clinton fatigue”—this time it’s Hillary.
  • In 2000 voters rated Gore higher than Bush in terms of competence and being prepared to be president. It didn’t matter all that much. Likewise, voters rate Hillary higher in terms of competence and being prepared to be president. It doesn’t seem to matter.
  • In 2000 the economy was doing quite well—growing and producing jobs. Gore was unable to take advantage of that. Today the economy is also doing quite well—growing and producing jobs—but people are convinced otherwise and Hillary doesn’t seem to be able to take advantage of a relatively healthy economy.
  • images
    analyzing the “hanging chads” of Florida ballots; from

    In 2000 Florida proved to be the critical swing state (I won’t dredge up those hanging chads and that horrendous Supreme Court decision). According to poll analyst Nate Silver Florida is the state with the highest probability of being the key swing state in the 2016 election (an 18.1% chance).

  • In 2000 the voter registration rolls in Florida were artificially (and illegally) depressed by state officials as they purged thousands of voters who should have been allowed to vote. Today Florida leads the nation in disenfranchising voters by denying ex-felons the right to vote. Slightly less the 7% of the voting age population is denied the vote in Florida, the highest disenfranchisement of ex-felons in the nation. (Note: Vermont and Maine allow people in prison to vote in presidential elections).
  • In 2000 Al Gore was framed by the media as “dull” and “wooden.” In 2016 Hillary Clinton is framed by the media as “uninspiring” and “unable to generate enthusiasm.”
  • In 2000 the Democrats surprised many by creating an effective get-out-the-vote campaign (unusual for Democrats). In 2016 it is commonly believed that one of Hillary’s advantages is her “ground game” where she has thousands of offices focused on turning out the vote.
  • Media analysts were in agreement that the coverage of the 2000 campaign, with its emphasis on scandals and negative politics, undermined journalistic credibility. Coverage of scandals and negative politics in 2016 pales by comparison and the media is attacked by both Trump and Clinton as being unfair.
  • In 2000 there were two minor party candidates in the race, Ralph Nader and Pat Buchanan, who probably cost Gore the election. In 2016 we have Gary Johnson and Jill Stein, both of whom will probably draw more votes away from Clinton than Trump.


So in 2000 George W. Bush won the election although he received more than half a million fewer votes nation-wide than Al Gore. Nate Silver gives the odds of a similar result happening in 2016 only at a 6.4% chance.

But, hey, we live in Florida where weird things happen all the time.

Looking into my crystal ball I see  a winner vaguely coming into view. It seems to be an image of a blond woman. My hunch is that Hillary will improve her support among young people and Hispanics and her ground game will be able to turn out the necessary votes to win a close one (yet again) in Florida. Floridians will breathe a sigh of relief and feel free to name their sons “Chad” without fear that they will be laughed at when they get to junior high.

What’s your prediction?

U.S. Constitution Day 9/17/16 (by Sasha)


As the Founders of the Republic would have done….grab a friend and a tankard of your favorite brew and take the following Quiz and discuss it in celebration of the day that commemorates the signing of the U.S. Constitution:



True or False (a.k.a. “I’ve got a 50/50 chance”):

1) The Constitution opens with this line from the Preamble: “When in the course of human events…”

2) The revolutionaries Thomas Paine (author of Common Sense) and Patrick Henry (he of “give me liberty or give me death” fame) put in place the limits on the Executive power.

3) The rights of the people are found only in the Amendments to the Constitution.

4) The Constitution does not contain the word “slave.”

5) Thomas Jefferson and George Washington were among the 39 men who signed the Constitution.


6) The President’s State of the Union Address is required by the Constitution.

7) At the Constitutional Convention, James Madison argued against adding a Bill of Rights to the proposed Constitution.

8) Alexander Hamilton of NY supported offering an American kingship to a foreign prince.




9) The First Amendment is the 1st listed in the Bill of Rights because it declares the most important fundamental rights.



10) Members of Congress cannot be arrested except for treason, felony and breach of the peace, during their attendance at Congress and in going to and returning from Congress.

EXTRA CREDIT:   Where does an explicitly intended reference to a person’s sex appear in the Constitution and/or its Amendments? (Ignore all the references, if you can, to the usage of the hes, hims, his, etc.)

Continue reading “U.S. Constitution Day 9/17/16 (by Sasha)”

The Salty Dog: Why Carpets Rule over Tiles (by Karma)

img_1966On an evening dark and queasy

I crawl upon my doggy kneesies

beyond a vast expanse of tile

to the tiny oasis of soft beige pile.


It’s there upon my beloved carpet

my stomach heaves and then I barf it

across six feet of woolen lawn;

Now relieved, I relax and yawn.


When suddenly my humans begin to shriek

“Get off the rug, you [bleepidty bleep!]”

They descend with sprays and thirsty towels;

Their distress causes loosening of my bowels.


Now I’m up in the air and out the door

To the doghouse; but why, I’m not really sure.

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