Monthly Archives: May 2011

To Swing, Wildly: Notes on The Flail

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[Note: Like the piece following it, this was written for  the current Arbus, but tightness of space precluded its publication. This is more biographical, touching on their backstory and the dynamics of the festival gig this weekend; their excellent  “Live At Smalls” CD itself is reviewed below.]

The word “flail” commonly refers to a European device used alternately for threshing grain or thrashing people. Two lengths of wood or metal, joined with chain or rope, measured and made to suit specific tasks. We may recognize it most readily in the form of nunchaku, which have a variety of applications. In its verb form “flail” means “to swing wildly”, and it’s in that sense that The Flail can be regarded. The Flail: Live at Smalls (SmallsLIVE) is their fourth album, and it captures them at their very best.

The Flail play what could be called “mainstream” or “traditional” jazz: straight-ahead, build around a defined melody played by a frontline of trumpet and saxophone, with a consistently swinging rhythm section. But words can’t do justice to their attack, which is informed by the broad diversity of the members’ experiences. There is no leader, per se; it is a group of individuals working toward a common purpose.

Dennis Cook, of JamBase.com, notes: “Despite a name that suggests spastic movement this is measured, gorgeously executed and warm. … [They] move with seamless, telepathic grace.” Jazz great Kenny Barron (best-known for his work with Stan Getz) wouldn’t have to pay a dime to gain entry to any jazz gig anywhere, so when he says “I’d pay good money to see these guys play,” it carries extra weight.

Most of their songs are their own compositions, though they’ve done excellent interpretations of Monk’s “Trinkle Tinkle”, Duke Ellington’s “Oclupaca”, “Remember” by Irving Berlin and “The Chooch” by George Garzone (who has employed several of the band members). The new album is entirely original, with three of the eight tunes written by bassist (and Jacksonville native) Reid Taylor, including the lead burner “Mr. Potato Bass” and the closing “Under the Influence of Stereolab”.

They specialize in loping mid-tempo grooves, evoking a mood of smoothness and sophistication—think luxury car commercial—but prove adept at any pace. Note “Better Watch What You Wish For” or “Light At the End of the Tunnel” (both by pianist Brian Marsella), which phase through entire moods so quick you barely notice it. “We’re Not Out of the Woods Yet” sees a New Orleans second-line beat give way to soul-jazz harmonies Roland Kirk would savor. The overall picture is of a very mature, forward-thinking group of jazzmen rooted in the tradition.

They have infused the word “flail” with fresh new meaning, just as they have the concept of jazz quintet, which was once revolutionary but was long since so leaden from the baggage of a previous era that modern musicians often avoided it on purpose. With a frontline of tenor and trumpet, and piano-bass-drums rhythm, the challenge is to define a signature sound within a format where the listener has preconceptions based on what they have heard before. It’s the same challenge faced by a rock quartet of guitar-bass-drums-charismatic front-man or, for that matter, a symphony orchestra.

Reid Taylor, whose 80 year-old French bass anchors the rhythm section, made an interesting point about their dynamic. Speaking via phone from New York, while preparing for a gig at Fat Cat later that day, he noted that all the members of the band maintain full schedules working in all kinds of groups besides The Flail, and that’s true for their colleagues. The critical and commercial emphasis has shifted from the bands themselves to the individual—there are fewer “sidemen”, as such. This, ironically, strengthens the unit, as each member brings a lot of diverse experiences to the table. The same could be said for the jazz scene in Northeast Florida.

Born in Jacksonville in 1973, Taylorwas first drawn to music as a profession by the extremely influential electric bassist Mike Watt, formerly of a seminal punk band called the Minutemen. It was just a few years later that the influence of Charles Mingus inspired a shift toward the acoustic upright; he currently plays a French model built in the 1920s and uses gut-strings, as opposed to the newer steel strings used by some 80-90% of jazz bassists today. Taylorwas first trained by Steve Novosel while attending American University in Washington, DC; he later studied under the great Butch Warren for four years before he moved to NYC to train under Steve Irwin.

After graduating, Taylor dove deeper into the deep pool of opportunity for a skilled bassist in the New Yorkscene, working for artists as diverse as bop baritonist Cecil Payne to avant-garde standard-bearer Charles Gayle. Besides his work in the Flail, he also does a weekly gig at the WestVillage’s Fat Cat Jazz Club with Ned Goold and plays in a noise-rock band called Gunnar; he also recorded an album of his own pop music under the nom-de-bass “Balk”. All in a day’s work.

It was while attending the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music (founded 1986), that the members of the Flail first met and began working together in 2001. Trumpeter Dan Blankinship is fromRichmond,VA, and counts Wynton Marsalis and Lee Morgan as inspirations; he was classically-trained at the prestigious Peabody Conservatory before turning to jazz full-time. Tenor saxophonist Stephan Moutot moved toNew Yorkafter building a career in his nativeFrance. Pianist Brian Marsella hails fromPhiladelphia, which has produced countless jazz greats. Drummer Brian Zebroski was raised inPittsburghbefore training under masters like Billy Hart and Charlie Persip at New School; he’s also a member of the acclaimed Alex Skolnick Trio. (Hipster alert: he also played with Bonnie Tyler, of “Total Eclipse of the Heart” fame.)    

Over the years, the Flail has burnished their international appeal, starting inFrance. Moutot’s connections in his homeland’s music scene enabled him to open the door into one of the most passionate jazz markets in the world. Quoting their bio: “Over the course of several tours in France they have played to packed houses in Paris, Lyon, Grenoble, Renne, Ardeche, and Marseille; highlights include Jazz a Vienne (2002, 2004), the Marseille Festival du Jazz des Cinq Continents (2002, 2005), and the College d’Espagne at the Cite Universitaire Internationale de Paris (2009).” They’ve even played with rappers and b-boys in Villefontaine, recalling Max Roach’s work with Fab 5 Freddy and the New York City Breakers some 30 years ago. 2007 saw their debut in Madrid, where they hope to return this year.

This aspect of their aesthetic has evolved during the group’s decade together, dating back to the very onset of their output. Their first album, Live In France, was recorded during a concert in Grenoble (birthplace of Andre the Giant) in 2002; the second, Never Fear (2006), was recorded at Paris’ Acousti studios. Their self-titled third album was, like the newest one, recorded live at the venerable Smalls Jazz Club inNew York, which has hosted nearly every big name of the past 40 years at one time or another.

Much like the Village Vanguard, which is arguably the all-time greatest setting for jazz recording (with all due respect to the Columbia Records studios on 5th Street, and Rudy Van Gelder’s living room in Hackensack, NJ), the character of Smalls comes through in the sound; a skilled listener could probably discern the location just by listening.

Over time, the band has come to prefer recording live, as it better captures the immediacy of their sound, from the nuances of improvisation to crowd response and the ambient noises that, in proper amounts, adds a texture to the music that no studio can. “There’s a lot of clinking glasses,” notes Taylor with a laugh.

And other musicians agree: The Flail’s is just one among many jazz albums recorded there in just the last few years. It’s a brilliant business model that other venues for live music could utilize to bring in extra revenue and get their name around to new customers. (The Knitting Factory had great success using this model in the ‘90s, in the process helping undergird the scene as it exists today.) Among those who appear on albums released by the club: Cyrille Aimee, Spike Wilner, Omer Avital, Bruce Barth, Ben Wolfe, Ari Hoenig, Jimmy Greene, Ryan Kisor, Kevin Haynes, Ethan Iverson, Jason Linder. That’s just a drop in the bucket, but it’s a very well-documented drop.

With the new album already generating strong critical buzz in pre-release, and shows already booked in three countries 2011 is looking to be the Flail’s biggest and busiest yet. Their performance at the Jazz Festival comes at the start of a summer that will take them well outside their NYC base to other hotspots like Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia and WashingtonDC. They are also building toward their first West Coast tour, which runs from Los Angeles up to Vancouver via Portland, Seattle, San Francisco, etc. And, of course, they will be returning toEurope.

It was a special thrill for Taylor to bring his group down to his former hometown for last year’s Jazz Festival, where they were booked in the 2pm opening slot on Sunday. This time, expect a more central spot, where audiences can see one of the rising young jazz bands in the country at a key point in their musical development. The fact that they view our festival as being as important as all this other stuff speaks to the role it plays—and can continue to play—in the jazz world. Hopefully they will make a regular practice of appearing here.

Figure 8: Expanding the Jacksonville Jazz Festival (In Eight Steps)

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[Not sure if this had been posted before. Originally written for Arbus.]

As we prepare for yet another Jacksonville Jazz Festival, it’s worth noting what a great job has been done by the city’s Office of Special Events in moving festival activity from Metropolitan Park to the Laura Street corridor. The move made things much more scenic and accessible; it also helped spread the wealth to local businesses nearby. All involved will admit, though, that no amount of success is any reason to disregard the potential for even more in the years ahead.

The suggestions below are not just this writers. They result from years of chatter with people involved in every aspect of the festival business—musicians and festival bookers here and elsewhere, journalists, fans, bystanders. Everyone has an opinion, and if you’re patient enough to listen, great insight can be had. These concepts all involved very small outlay of money, if any at all, but can quickly grow festival business.

1.) Expand the whole scope of the festival: The old saying “Less is more” does not apply to the Jacksonville Jazz Festival. The huge success that it’s been in recent years should provide the impetus to make it even bigger, allowing organizers to book more artists over more days and generate even more revenue for the city, its citizens, and the jazz industry itself. The festival is already profitable, and it’s worth the money the city puts into it. But the brutal fiscal and political realities mean nobody can predict what may happen in the next few years. The Jazz Festival needs to be profitable, and there’s no reason why it can’t be. One thing we know about jazz fans, historically, is that they will pay whatever it takes to get the music they want to hear. Jazz impresarios (and their counterparts in the classical world) built the music industry as we know it—everything from mic placement to global distribution to the concept of systematized concert tours.

2.) Exploit connections to NYC, etc.: Historically, the jazz industry has been based inNew York City, ever since Louis Armstrong arrived there from Chicago in the mid-1920s. It remains so today: Most of the musicians, clubs, record labels and jazz media are there, including a literal ton of talent fromNortheast Florida. Every Jazz Festival should have a solid contingent of the hottest, freshest players from the Apple, to reestablish ours as one of the country’s great festivals.

3.) Push for more involvement from local media: As with everything involving local culture, local media remains the weak link. They need to be strongly encouraged to cover things like this, instead of constantly reaching out for negative stories. The personalities alone make for easy content, and it will probably spike ratings upward. All it takes is a few cameras roaming the area, and even visitors from other cities will instantly know that we take our jazz seriously.

4.) Reach out to the national media: Our Jazz Festival is one of the oldest and best in the country, and that point needs to be reiterated to the national jazz press, most of whom have no idea there’s a jazz scene here anyway.

5.) Scout statewide talent: As it stands, the Jacksonville Jazz Festival is the oldest and best-known in the state; we have connections in the jazz industry that the other cities can only dream of. Our festival should be a showcase for the best jazz talent in the southeast, in addition to our own and the big names from up north. By incorporating more regional talent, we will encourage more tourist traffic from those cities.

6.) Integrate the surrounding venues as part of the festival experience: The bars, clubs and restaurants of our Urban Core can play a vital role in expanding the festival’s scope. There are many fine jazz artists who may not command enough of a draw to warrant placement on the main stages, but their critical appeal is such that having them here sends a strong message about our commitment to the music. Most nights, the festival wraps up around 11pm (except for the ‘Round Midnight Jazz Jam on Saturday nights). It seems a big mistake to let those crowds die down, when we’ve got a captive audience ready to experience more of the city. Festival organizers should reach out to nightspots like TSI, Marks, Dive Bar, De Real Ting, Burrito Gallery, etc., and encourage them to do their own jazz booking for festival weekend. All that activity should be included as part of the festival lineup, with all-access passes gaining entry to these places (or, at the very least, a free drink).

7.) Make better use of the festival’s own history to sell its future: Ideally, the Jazz Festival’s history could be on permanent display somewhere downtown, like the Ritz or even City Hall.Jacksonville has hosted some of the greatest musicians of all-time, but that sterling record is inaccessible to anyone younger than a certain age. If our history was better-defined, it would be even easier to chart the city’s future.

8.) Use social media to direct traffic: Social media like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and others cost virtually nothing, but their impact on business can be huge. Local artists and musicians, having had to develop in what amounts to a media vacuum, have already helped establish the value of such technologies; Facebook, in particular, renders local media irrelevant, as far as concert listings and such. The Jazz Festival should set up accounts with these sites and use them to direct traffic to various parts of the festival. Bret Primack’s eyeJazz.tv site is a great new resource. They want short, quickly-made videos of jazz activity, but not performance stuff; more like interviews with artists and fans and tours of venues. We’re already working on connecting with that site to show off more of the nuances of our jazz scene.

sheltonhull@gmail.com; April 8, 2011

“Revolution Girl Style Now: A Look at Kristin Noelle Hinga” (1997)

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“I’m going to say exactly what I want to say, I don’t care if it’s flowery or pretty….” A pretty girl with bright red lipstick, smoking, keeping track of how many cigarettes she’s had, not for any health reason, but simply because she likes to write things down. She goes through a notebook a month this way, and anyone who’s read her writing knows it’s worth it.

Kristin Noelle Hinga is on a couch in a now-defunct coffee house, sharing the secrets of her “thing,” which is the kind of all-encompassing cop-out term that exasperated hacks with too much irony in their bloodstream would apply to Hinga’s multimedia endeavors. Given Hinga’s disputatious nature and her propensity to let you know exactly what’s on her mind (if only all women were more like her, then maybe I wouldn’t have missed my deadline from stressing out over a girl), you’d be well advised to avoid all smarmy generalizations, because all generalizations are bad. A better perspective can be had of what she does by watching her do it, oh, say, November 11, when she will be doing her one-woman show, “Motion Pictures.” Another view can be taken on the 22nd, when she will be having a public opening of her artwork on St. Augustine’s Artwalk. And of course, you, the reader, having demonstrated your enthusiasm for fine literature by reading this, just have to go get her collection of poetry, Typewriter Ribbon.

In the end, it doesn’t really matter how one characterizes her work, because the resounding fact is that it’s good. She may be the only well-known writer in Jacksonvillethat no one ever really sees. Not that she’s reclusive; she’s merely busy, and she tries to keep herself as busy as possible. She’s the publisher, editor, and owner of Brown Booth Publishing, geographically based inSt. Augustine, though its real center is the brain of its 23 [?]-year-old creator. She started Brown Booth in an effort to control the ways in which her writing would be produced and presented to the masses. She’d always been influenced by writers who at least appeared to be self-contained, free of corporate polish and shine, like Anais Nin, Jim Carroll and Henry Rollins. She says that Sonic Youth guitarist Lee Ranaldo (who, by the way, will be performing at Beep Caffeine on Nov. 15 with bandmate Thurston Moore and veteran jazz drummer William Hooker) “is the reason” why she chose to do her own “thing.”

“He taught me that it’s not about the money,” she says of Renaldo. What it is about to her is changing other people’s perceptions. Or not. In fact, she’d rather that you did it yourself. She has founded her own literary/art movement called Sarcasm, which is based on her infamous Sarcasm Manifesto. “Sarcasm is not a movement of all the people together, it’s more each person on their own.”

Money Jungle Classic: “Infinite Justiss” (2001)

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Alan Justiss: the name brings forth a multitude of divergent opinion from as many different people as you ask, most of whom are probably right. He is a near-deity to some, a near-devil to others; an extreme man for extreme times whose personal habits and proclivities challenge the dainty drudgery of daily life. He is a major figure in the burgeoning local spoken-word scene, and could’ve been a national or international Celebrity Poet had he the stomach to shill his own work. I interviewed him behind the Czigan-Rummel gallery, downtown, during an ad hoc press junket for his reading at the Karpeles on October 6. Church bells and sirens outside. Looking into those small black pupils set into blue irises was like viewing a solar eclipse–much easier to find than people like Justiss, and more so everyday.

Alan Justiss is the product of an age of fresh post-war liberation, a time when the young and idealistic were more empowered to follow their muse, for better or worse, by the sudden realization that, with the introduction of nuclear weapons, “humanity” was a much more impermanent concept than in the days of single-shot muskets, bayonets and trench warfare. “I was born in Dayton, Ohio, 1943. At the age of four days old I moved to FL, grew up in Yukon . . . by the time I was six or seven I had read everything that Mark Twain had ever written, and from that point on I was always fascinated by stories and imagination, and the importance it could have on people’s solitude.” And what is the value of solitude? “Self-discovery. Because when you get around people, they don’t let you know anything about yourself but their own preconceived ideas.” His solitary nature is captured brilliantly in a recent painting by Mr. Jonathan Lux: coffee, cigarettes, a radio that seems to never stop and his manual typewriter.

He has four children–Christopher, Damon, Suzanne and Monet–produced during five marriages ended by his lust for that next poem. Each woman proposed to him–“if they think I’m worthwhile, I better tell them yes.” He attributes his uniform failure within the “family man” motif to his work, which long ago ceased being simply an obsession and became perhaps the raison d’etre we all need to get ourselves out of bed and into the sunlight each day. As for the ladies, well . . . maybe number six is out there, but Alan hasn’t been with a woman in 12 years, and “I Am Waiting,” he says. “I know what love is. I have a lot saved up.”

Alan did journalism for the Mayport Mirror and, later, the Jacksonville Journal in the mid-1960s. “Six weekends I spent at the Astor Hotel and the various fleabag places, talking with winos and people on social security–I had my typewriter and I was looking down on Bay street, Laura street, Forsyth street, Duval–that was where I found true life was, in these small enclaves of humanity.” He expressed no real desire to write prose anymore, unfortunately. The question of influences (a word that, in the context of journalism, comes off so blatantly fanboy I try not to use it while working) brings a flood of names spanning a glorious century of and for American literature: “From Mark Twain and O. Henry, it was Carl Sandburg, Jack London, and then Hemingway, Steinbeck, Henry Miller, the poets–Rimbaud, Verlaine, Baudelaire–and then onward through H.L. Mencken, John Fante, Charles Bukowski, Alan Justiss–a major influence on me. . . .” And why not? He knows his demographic.

Of them all, Bukowski (1920-1994; author of 50 books, my favorite being Shakespeare Never Did This) is probably his favorite, maybe because they met in 1973. The details depend on what source one goes to, but this is AJ’s story: “I had originally gone over to see his girlfriend, Linda King, and I’d just come back from San Francisco . . . Bukowski hid in the bathroom for about the first 30 minutes after I arrived. I’d come over to praise her work, and then I started talking about her boyfriend. Hank came lumbering out of the bathroom and realized that I was interested in his work also. We got thrown in the drunk tank; he wrote that he’d busted out all these panes, but what actually happened was I was razzing him. ‘Come on, old man, you didn’t duke it out with Hemingway.’

“He said ‘Yes, I did,’ and he rammed his fist through a small pane of glass in a French door. We were really fucked up, and I ran my left fist through eight panes of glass, which severed all kinds of things in my wrist [and caused a near-fatal case of gangrene]. Ah, what a fiasco it all became.” The end result is that Alan has the ironic distinction of being called a “drunken swine” by Charles Bukowski in the poems “We All Knew Him” and “With the Other Woman,” from 1981’s Dancing in the Tournefortia.

A unifying trait in the writing he loves is insistence, a confidence born of repetition. Young writers are invariably frustrated, and his advice to them hinges on the idea of detaching from one’s personal stake in their work. “Don’t try to write–write. Don’t be self-critical of yourself because you haven’t reached some perfection. Give yourself credit for the fact that you are vulnerable and that you do things in creation that perhaps have no value, but it is a constant rehearsal for the time that you’ll be able to dance across the page and people will be able to feel the wind in the words. So, discipline . . . discipline . . . discipline.”

The work available from Alan Justiss is hardly commensurate with what he’s done. Most of his work prior to 1990 is unavailable at present. He was in the Peeling Potatoes anthology, also Solidarity; he’s published chapbooks like Freedom At its Worst Angle bootlegs from readings and radio exist; but the thick volume I think is needed to really get a real sense of his art–which should include older stuff and analyses by colleagues like Nestor Gil, Jr. and Robert Eskew–remains uncompiled. That will change at some point, surely. He recorded You’ll Laugh in the Coming Years with Jay Cole and G. Jerome Jones in 2001, performed at the New School last year. (These and other items can be had in some form via Mr. Justiss.)

“I spent most of my life, from the age of seven, running away from home, and when I was finally able to con my way into the military at the age of 16, my parents gladly signed the papers for me to go in. I have since spent most of my life outside of Jacksonville, because there was always such a cultural devastation constantly occurring. Anytime something raised its head, it was put back down into the swamp. But when I turned 50, after my fifth divorce, I came to a conclusion: I knew that I was a writer, but I also came to a conclusion: this is my home town, and this is where I feel I should die. And that’s why I haven’t left this place in ten years. That’s the bottom line. This is where I’m going to die. This is where I will die . . . maybe. [laughs] Hell, I don’t know about that. I ain’t no prophet.” But by voicing it, he makes it so . . . maybe.

There is a saying: “Buy the ticket, take the ride,” and it’s a saying embodied–and emboldened–by the life of Alan Justiss. Justiss lives like a man who knows that compromise, like so much of what passes for “normal” in this abnormal world, is a scam, a short ticket to slow death that much be avoided whenever possible. A lesson worth learning, I think. The ride he’s taken has been interesting, if not always fun. The road he leaves behind him is cracked, mottled, laced with intermittent fires and congested with debris, screaming women, men stumbling through the smoke in dazed delirium, like the Autobahn if they never cleared the wreckage. Of course, his road is great fun to look at from the sky, if you can deal with it. Speed kills, indeed–but everything kills, eventually.

sheltonhull@gmail.com; September 21, 2001

 [Note: Alan Justiss died February 14, 2011]

Ed Austin interview transcript (2006)

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Interview Transcript: Ed Austin—Recorded February 13, 2006

Ed Austin was the 61st mayor of Jacksonville, Florida, but only the fourth to hold office since the city and county were officially consolidated in 1968. Hans Tanzler was mayor at the time (1967-79), followed by Jake Godbold (’79-‘87) and Tommy Hazouri. Austin won the Democratic primary of 1991, unseating incumbent Hazouri, and would be succeeded by John Delaney in 1995 and John Peyton in 2003. Austin later changed his affiliation to Republican, and is currently the last Democrat to occupy City Hall.

Even without that new emerald-green BMW with its “Go Jags” license plate, Ed Austin would be hard to miss. He’s approaching 80, but looks at least 15 years younger; this is mostly a testament toAustin’s commitment to good health and vigor in his golden years.Austinworks out almost every day, alternating from cardio to circuit-training at YMCAs inRiversideor Ponte Vedra. What really keeps him going, though, is his family. A father of three, Austin has nine grandchildren, five of whom live in the area.

Having lived in Avondale for 40 years, most of which time he was bound-in to his work at the Courthouse and City Hall, and after recovering from a bad car accident a decade ago, he now travels with a passion, spending more time out of the country than most Congressmen or Senators. His itinerary is the stuff of dreams:London,Paris,Venice, salmon-fishing inAlaska, white-water rafting along the Snake River.

SDH: What have you been up to since your days in City Hall?

EA: Well, that’s a long time ago. I’ve been around and covering some ground. I guess I stopped doing any kind of consulting work about four years ago; I’ve really fully retired, and fully enjoy it. I’ve had no problems being with filling up my day.

SDH: Do you live far from here?

EA: I live in a condo down onSt. Johns Avenue, by [the old] Cedar River.

SDH: Have you always been out there?

EA: No. My wife and I moved out there when all our kids got out of high school, went to college, and moved from a house into an easier-to-manage condo. We’d lived in a two-story house down the road [before that].

SDH: What makes this part of Jacksonville so special to you?

EA: Well, you know, I came intoJacksonville back in the ‘50s, over a half-century ago — well over, actually — and I moved into the Westside, and I’ve lived over in the Avondale/Riverside section since 1959. We’d gotten familiar with it, and we know where everything is, everything’s convenient, close-in. When I was in City Hall and the Courthouse, it was a short commute to be down there—ten minutes, no problem. And it’s still a nice neighborhood. I enjoy this area. When I moved, I told my wife I’d move anywhere she wanted, as long as it was closer to the Courthouse.

SDH: What’s fun for a guy like you?

EA: Now, well—I married a lovely lady about two years ago [Austin’s first wife died in an auto accident in which he was seriously injured in the 1990s], and we have a good relationship, we enjoy doing things together. We’ll do some traveling. We’ve had a couple trips toLondon,Paris, and a great trip toItaly last spring; did a whitewater rafting trip down theSnake River in July. And I fish when I can. I planned my trip this summer forAlaska, to fish for silver salmon, and I did a trip for a weekend up in centralCanada, for walleye. The traveling is fun—I enjoy that. We’ll be taking another trip shortly.

I read a lot. I get a lot of good magazines, or what I think are good magazines—

SDH: Like what?

EA: The American Enterprise, National Review, Weekly Standard. Mostly conservative, but they’re good. I get the Wall Street Journal every morning, because they deliver it to your door now. The first hour of my day is taken up with the newspapers.

I have friends. We get together. I have a group that meets at my condo on Wednesday mornings—faith-sharing. There’s about nine of us, and we’ve been doing that for ten years. It’s a good mental-heath exercise. Also, five of my nine grandchildren live here inJacksonville. They range in ages from eight to 15, and I’m going through the things I did as a parent, as a grandparent—going to basketball games and ballets and whatever you do. My son and I are heading out to the Keys; we’re going to take his boys down to the Islamorada for some fishing. My grandkids right now are just the absolute joy of my life; they light me up. I’ve got them all over the place.

SDH: How is running a family like running an organization like government?

EA: In any man’s life, it’s got to be the number-one priority. Family has got to be the number-one priority. I just had a rule: I had to be home for dinner. I upset a lot of nerves at dinner-time. You take the calls when they call in, and you keep your family up there as your top priority. But it’s not—no, you can’t run it like [business], because you’ve got your wife, and that changes the formula. It’s a partnership, not an executive position for the male, if it’s a good relationship.

SDH: As someone who played a part in helping make the city what it is–

EA: My real career was as a prosecutor. I was a State Attorney—

SDH: How long?

EA: I was State Attorney over 20 years, elected. And then I was only there [City Hall] for four years, but you get recognized more as the mayor, not what you really were. Before that, I was an assistant prosecutor, so I had about 25 years as a prosecutor, and that was what I really did, professionally, but I had that four years as mayor, and it was a great experience. This city—we woke it up a little.

We had a little self-esteem problem with this city, and I think we helped turn that around. We got to rebuilding some things, and building some new things. That’s what we set out to do, and I think we accomplished that.

We also fixed HUD over there—HUD was terrible, and we got to straighten it out and turn it around. That and creating the Children’s Commission, which I was real proud of. We had a good four years—you always brag about it, you never cut yourself down.

SDH: You’re held in generally high esteem by all the politicians I’ve talked to—

EA: Well, you’re very kind. I’ve worked hard and tried to be fair. You know, the key to this business is, whenever you’re in any office, is the quality of the people you surround yourself with. And I had such good people working with me—John Delaney, Rick Mullaney, Audrey Moran, John Jolly [sp?], Mike Weinstein—I could go on and on.

SDH: I’ve noticed that, in recent years, some of the top politicians around the country have been former prosecutors [for example, Rudy Giuliani and John Kerry; several are seeking governorships in 2006, including Charlie Crist in FL and, Eliot Spitzer in NY].

EA: You see them come out, they’re in administrative jobs, and it lends itself to staying in an administrative, executive-type of function. You have to make your own decisions over there, and it’s a good decision-making training ground, even for your assistant, because you’re making important decisions all the time. And usually there’s some notoriety and press involved with it, so you get your name recognition out, and it’s a logical step to run for something else. Some of them don’t make it; we’ve had some try, and shoot themselves in the foot with it. You can’t use the office to—I’ve never ran the State Attorney’s Office thinking I was going to use it to run for office—that was never in my mind. The best way to get promoted to another job is to do [the one you have] well and not worry about it.

SDH: Who was the best prosecutor you ever saw?

EA: Oh, I had so many good assistants. I must have had 350, 400 people down there in the State Attorney’s Office. I could make one friend, and lose 350!

SDH: Are there particular skills that come into play to be an effective prosecutor, as opposed to an effective defense attorney? Can the same person do both well?

EA: Yeah—well, I did. I was the first public defender in this community, back in ’63. I got appointed, and I was public defender for five years, and then the State Attorney job opened up, and I simply changed sides. I went from defending hundreds and hundreds of people to prosecuting thousands, so yeah, you can do both. It’s just a transition in state of mind. And this State Attorney’s office is supposed to be about administering justice, not just convicting; you’re running a system.

SDH: Some people say that criminal justice system doesn’t have the resources to do all the tasks it set out for itself. Is that true?

EA: It’s about like it’s always been. I don’t see any lesser emphasis on it. You go to the legislature every year, and they set priorities. I’ve never had any problem getting adequate funding, you always want more, but you do what you can, and if you organize it well and utilize your resources to make your people fully productive, you can do on the money. The funding seems to me to be fair, for both the defense and the State Attorney. You can always use more, but there has to be a limit. They split it up inTallahassee; they emphasize one thing and take it away from something else.

SDH: Who is your favorite mayor ofJacksonville, other than yourself?

EA: I really can’t name one. I was General Counsel for Hans Tanzler. Hans was our first consolidated mayor, and he was the perfect man for that job. I don’t know if “perfect” is the right word, but he was the best man for that job at that time. He did a masterful job. And, of course, I’m so close to John Delaney, who just did an outstanding job for the city. Now that doesn’t mean I don’t like and respect the others, but those two, I thought, really did very well for the city.

SDH: Is there anything aboutJacksonville, from a city government perspective, that makes it harder to run than other, similar, cities?

EA: No—it’s the exact opposite. [Before Consolidation], we had a small central city and big county area. When we consolidated it all into one, we created the most efficient form of city government there is, anywhere. So if you don’t run it properly, it’s your fault, and not the city’s fault. It is the best form of local government in theUnited States, so when you go in there you can’t complain that it’s a mish-mash. They got rid of a lot of the problems of—you know, you go down toPinellasCounty, and they’ve got 28 city governments with 28 mayors. Up here, we have the Beaches community, but we’ve have one government, fundamentally. The police functions, the fire functions, the water and sewer functions, the recreation functions, it’s all consolidated into one 841 square-mile area with one set of controls, and it’s just much more efficient.

SDH: That said, why is it that in the post-Consolidation years we haven’t really seen many people contending for statewide office from this part of the state?

EA: Well, I guess that’s cyclical. For a while there, we had President of the State Senate more than out share. We had Brantley and Jack Mathews; Fred Schultz was Speaker of the State House at about the same time as Mathews was President of the Senate. Jim King was President of the Senate. I suspect that if you check that, over a representative period of 30-40 years, you’ll see we get our fair share.

SDH: Burns was Governor, right?

EA: Yeah, Haydon Burns was our last governor from here. That was in the 1960s. [Burns was mayor 1949-65, followed by Lou Ritter, 1965-67.] We’ve had some run. Jack Mathews tried it, Hans tried it.

SDH: Have you ever had to get snappy with people, in the course of doing business?

EA: Oh sure. You have people who will try to get you to do the wrong thing; your friends will try to get you to do the wrong thing. The most difficult part of the job is saying no, but if you don’t say no to people who want you to violate your oath of taking care of people’s affairs, you’ve failed. You’ve got to be able to stand up, even to your friends, and say “This is not the way we do it; we’re going to do it in the way that’s the best interests of the public.” You stay that course, and they understand.

SDH: I sometimes wonder how discipline issues work out in a city, like this, where it seems like everyone knows each other—

EA: I think you get a better government, on the whole. I think the further you get away from home, you get more of the good ol’ politicking and the favoritism. I think you get better hands-on decision-making at the local level. I think it’s better than at the state level, and light-years better than at the national level, because at the national level they’re elected to represent the whole country. It’s not healthy, the way we run the Congress, with everyone fighting over one little piece instead of looking at the best interests of the whole country. I don’t know why they can’t get that, but they don’t seem to get it.

SDH: It seems like a whole different political culture now.

EA: Oh yeah, and it’s not good for the country. But at the city level, you’re running a municipal corporation. It’s really more like running a business. It’s not a business, it’s a government, but the municipal corporation is really doing a lot of the services—water/sewer, roads, parks and playgrounds. You take some tax money and you get the best of those things that you can give them for that tax money. Now, there’s not much excuse for being politicized all the time. The closer you are to down here, the less you are being politicized—not that it’s free of politics, obviously not.

SDH: We’ve had certain situations in recent years, which I won’t get into, that raise the question of, What is the proper role of local government, or state government, in regard to the federal government? How much should ordinary citizens expect of government?

EA: The balance between the states and the power of the federal government has been an amazing concern since our Founding Fathers put it all together. That’s Madison and Jefferson and Newt Gingrich and Harry Reid. It’s an ever-running thing that stays under reassessment. The Supreme Court is taking some cases recently about that balance, when the federal government starts doing things that are normally left to the states.

I don’t think that’s a real problem at the municipal level. We have some revenue-sharing, which is helpful, from the state down to the city, but I never saw any problems in the relationship of the city to the state. We sometimes think they should take care of an area they want us to take care of, but it isn’t a big problem.

The fight, the political science things is how much the federal people do in relation to how much the state government can do—I’ll just use abortion as an example, where it used to be that the states controlled that, and then the Supreme Court handed down Roe v. Wade, and that’s a running debate, who should have those powers. That’s philosophical and way up there—it’s more than philosophical, it’s election stuff.

SDH: There will probably be more openings soon, unfortunately.

EA: Well, I don’t know who’ll gets it, but obviously when they start to get 85 or so, I know about that. I know about age!

SDH: How old are you?

EA: Almost 80. I’ll be 80 in July. If you don’t fight it, it’s not a problem. My senior status has been a joy. I am not going to fight it. I work out at the YMCA either inRiverside, or down in Ponte Vedra, wherever I happen to be. My wife has a place out inNeptuneBeach, and I kept my condo, so we live in-town some and out at the beach some. I work out 20 times a month-plus, to keep myself in fairly good shape.

SDH: What’s your regimen like?

EA: I’ll walk one day for about 45 minutes—warm up, walk for about 30 minutes at the pace I want, cool down. The next day I do about 18 of those machines, Cybex equipment, with light weights and high repetitions. I do it every other day—I don’t do the same thing every day, it makes you decay. You have to take a day off every once in a while, to let your body heal, rest. You can’t be a fanatic about it. You have to be sensible.

SDH: What’s your diet like?

EA: I enjoy good food. My wife and I eat out a lot. My routine at breakfast is I just do the same thing almost every morning, pick up lunch. I had a melon and a muffin this morning; that’s about five days a week with me.

SDH: When important people are in town, where do you take them? Do you have a favorite restaurant?

EA: Oh yes, there are some very good restaurants. There’s a place out at the beach called Medure’s; we like Giovanni’s,Sterling’s out in Avondale. I remember 30 years ago, when you couldn’t find a good restaurant in Jacksonville, but now we’ve got two Ruth’s Chris, which I like very much.

SDH: What is the first thing a visitor or a new resident should know aboutJacksonville?

EA: Well, if they’re a family, [just] to put their children in quality schools. To make sure their kids are getting a quality education, however they have to do it. Parents have got to fight that system. That’s always the first thing. Then, I it’s just a question of learning where the action is—how the government functions, the different departments.

SDH: Okay, word association: Charlie Bennett?

EA: Integrity.

SDH: John Delaney?

EA: Effective. Capable. Compassionate. Of course, I knew John better than I knew Charlie Bennett. John worked with me as prosecutors for ten years before we worked together as mayors. I had him right out of law school; he’s an outstanding man. He’s a great President, out there at UNF [University of NorthFlorida].

SDH: Have you been out there since he’s been president?

EA: Oh yeah. I went out and had lunch with John last week. He’s doing a great job, and he’ll grow that university, do some of that “upgrading” we talked about earlier.

SDH: Do you guys still talk about political stuff, or is it more “gentlemen talk”?

EA: Not really a whole lot. You know, you second-guess other people—it’s fun. They’re friends—you don’t do anything about it, you just talk about it. But I’m watching one or two coming along. I’ll still have them out to my condo, do some things with the people I like when they run. I’m still involved, some. You know, a lot of senior citizens vote. I have some breakfast groups that I go to, and sometimes politicians will stop in, so you stay abreast of it. You complain some—everybody does it, but we don’t beat anybody up—not bad.

SDH: What should Jacksonville look for as it moves ahead in the next few years, next few decades? What’s the step?

EA: I think we’re poised. I think we’re situated very, very well, with the way Delaney dedicated resources to transportation, the river, good airport, beaches. What we have to do is manage it so that it will grow in a way that enhances our quality of life, rather than making it miserable because it’s too thickly populated. I think to grow soundly, which we are doing—I don’t think there’s any city poised to grow better than we are. And that consolidated government is a big piece of it. In a light wind, I could pass an ordinance in an afternoon if I needed to.

I think the piece that we need to work on is education—keep on trying to upgrade to get graduate schools so we can get research in here, teaching and training. You need to work the sciences, the math, and you have to have the research engines to attract the right kind of businesses and the right kind of industry. I’d say that the education piece, taking care of the workforce and upgrading the workforce, is the most critical piece of an otherwise fantastic thing, a desirable place to build and grow in.

You’ve got enough there to write a book.

SDH: I know—maybe I will, as an educational tool.

EA: Well, we can get into it. Old geezers like me can give you a lot of history. Even if we didn’t do much, we can tell you what happened. You know, the reason we passed Consolidation is we had such a corrupt government. We had so many public officials indicted that people got into the frame of mind to throw everybody out, in the form of a new government. It really helped pass it; I think it would have passed anyway, but that was a big piece. It really got corrupt in the 1950s and ‘60s.

SDH: What factors made that corruption happen?

EA: It was out of control. It was a machine-political thing. The same people kept getting reelected, and they knew that they’d get reelected. You had the core city, which was one government, the county was another government, and they stayed in power. You know that story: absolute power corrupts absolutely, and they got corrupt, and we prosecuted them. I didn’t indict them; I inherited most of these cases.

SDH: In your travels, do you ever see things that remind you of here?

EA: Yeah. You look at a city differently when you’ve been a mayor. You assess it, you size it up when you go into it. You wonder what their problems are; sometimes you can tell. I think you can tell a lot by how they maintain public buildings, how they maintain the waters and stuff. You can almost tell how a city feels about itself by how its public sector assets are maintained.

SDH: What advice would you give to future mayors?

EA: I think you have to look at what you have. You have to assess what you’ve got, and then make a decision on where you want to take it in the time you have. “Where do you think the people want it to go,” might be a better way to say it. And then you have to select some goals to get it there. You can’t be all over the place; you can’t do all things at all times. You pick the things that you really want to work on, and you concentrate on them to make it happen. The key to all of that is persistence: when you see what you really need in your city, you just stay with it and get it done, even though it’s sometimes difficult, sometimes even unpleasant. But if you know that’s where you need to go, you stay with it. Always try to do it for the right reasons—you always know what’s right. It might be a close call, but you always know what’s right.

[Note: Ed Austin died on April 23, 2011.]

sheltonhull@gmail.com

Sherman Skolnick book review (2004)

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Ahead of the Parade: a Who’s Who of Treason and High Crimes—Exclusive Details of Fraud & Corruption of the Monopoly Press, the Banks, the Bench and the Bar, & the Secret Political Police, by Sherman H. Skolnick. Tempe, AZ: Dandelion Books, 2003. 315 pp.

Sherman Skolnick is probably best-known as the founder of Citizens’ Committee to Clean Up the Courts, founded in 1963 to conjure up concepts of corruption and criminality that could be used as political leverage against judges and lawyers. While many of his targets would dispute his version of events then and now, it can’t be denied that more judges and lawyers have gone to jail because of his efforts than any journalist or politician who immediately comes to mind. I could not imagine what price Skolnick has paid to pursue his particular line of dialogue with history, nor, perhaps, what price has been paid to him. I do know, however, that he’s almost 80 years old and knows enough HTML to get a book deal.

His take on politics is less reliable, as demonstrated in his book Ahead of the Parade. It’s technically his second book, but The Secret History of Airplane Sabotage (1973), which examined in excruciating detail the crash of United Airlines 553 at Chicago’s Midway Airport in December, 1972, never actually made it through the first printing—perhaps because he concluded that the crash occurred at the request of Richard Nixon, the master of dirty tricks, who wanted to silence the wife of Watergate conspirator E. Howard Hunt; she died alongside a US congressman and a CBS News reporter.

So he could be viewed as credible on the subject of judicial affairs, especially in his hometown of Chicago, a tough place to come up doing that kind of work today, more so especially if crippled by childhood polio. Apparently Skolnick’s parents appealed to FDR to personally intervene in obtaining hard-to-find medical care, and he did, even having the boy out to visit with him in Hot Springs, where he made available some of the “alternative therapies” developed for the (usually) sitting President. In later years Skolnick would accuse FDR of complicity inPearl Harborand the squandering of US gold reserves, though he remains fond of the old autocrat. More recent Presidents get harsher treatment, and W is depicted as fundamentally illegitimate.

The challenge here is to describe Skolnick without using the phrase “conspiracy theory,” which isolates the reviewer from heat associated with the author’s arguments but is nonetheless prejudicial. Where once the phrase enjoyed a certain cachet, just a few years ago, in the years since the most flamboyantly destructive conspiracy in modern history was executed by associates of Osama bin Laden the phrase has been used to slur a lot of content that is verifiably true. The liberation of Iraq, for example, was widely and vociferously opposed on the basis of arguments since proven correct, even endorsed by those who argued most stridently for war—and apostates before and since have to worry about being labeled as “conspiracy theorists” by professional conspirators.

Skolnick’s writing style has real old-school punch, like a cross between William S. Burroughs and Walter Winchell. It would be fun to read on almost any subject, but that his chosen field is sabotage and dirty tricks is just delightful! His skolnicksreport.com is loaded with what is, at the very worst, the very best political satire available in English, and at best the finest conspiracy theory this side of Lyndon LaRouche. Until a better phrase comes along, it will have to be called that, though doing so begs the question of whether it is possible for conspiracy theory to ever be true. Having written more about Mr. Skolnick than any other living journalist, and being reasonably educated in many of the matters that come up in his work, I would say: Yes. Conspiracy theory permutates from game theory, and is a fundamental component of political science as an art form.

A number of individuals and organizations come under suspicion within this framework, including the CIA, FBI, MI-6, Mossad, McDonald’s Federal Reserve, Bank of America, Chicago Board of Trade, Chicago Mercantile Exchange, Wal-Mart, Coca-Cola, CREEP, BCCI, Jesse Jackson, Marc Rich, Rahm Emanuel, Timothy McVeigh, Saddam Hussein, Al Gore, Gore Vidal, and “William Rockefeller Clinton” (don’t ask). All the great dynasties are here: Rothschild, Rockefeller, Kennedy, Windsor (whose matriarch is Queen of England) and five different men spanning three generations of the Bush family, including the current “occupant and resident” of the White House. Now, even those of us who doubt that China uses Wal-Mart’s transportation channels to move drugs into the US and pays law enforcement to look the other way, or that JFK was supposed to be killed at a Chicago Bears game a month before Dallas, can marvel at the audacity with which Skolnick hammers out his theses.

If a fifth of Skolnick’s reports on national and international politics were ever proven true, the shock would reverberate across the world. A fun mind-game to play when reading Ahead of the Parade is to assume that, amidst all the questionable content, there is one line in it that is absolutely true—but which line?

A large portion of the book is devoted to theIllinoisjudicial scene—namely, the details of a lawsuit that sought to overturn copyright protection for Coca-Cola. He writes of judgeships and media anchor-spots being purchased, and of secret courts that do the elite’s bidding behind the scenes. Unless one has a passion for jurisprudence (or lack thereof), or like collecting dirt on one of the world’s most successful brand names, the reader will skip through much of this material for the meat—the dirty deeds of our nation’s elite. Bush, Clinton, Gore, the Pope, the Queen of England, the Rockefellers, Jesse Jackson, Marc Rich, Chandra Levy, even Simon Wiesenthal—very few escape his poison pen, and those who do are excoriated repeatedly on the website.

The visual of an 80 year-old man speaking quite sincerely about how the Pope has killed people to keep up margins in the soybean trade, or how Al Gore was nearly killed twice by air power in the week before JFK, Jr. died in similar fashion (which he has done at length on his cable access show, “Broadsides”), is plenty amusing, like a senile relative rewriting history. But there is a method to his madness, which centers on dissolving the reflexive belief that it is possible to exert real power in this nation while also holding true to professed morality. In that sense, Ahead of the Parade could be viewed as the sequel to the late William Cooper’s Behold a Pale Horse (1991), that classic of conspiracy theory that reads as more legit with each passing year.

The most obvious lesson to be taken from Skolnick’s opus is that most if not all the major global powers have people hard at work on behalf of their interests right here in America. Another lesson would be that bribery is a very specific art form, the mastery of which can greatly relieve the pressures of an aggressive life. I doubt that anyone would seriously question such notions anymore, but it was flatly dismissed as late as the Enron collapse in summer 2001, which to outsiders looked much like a controlled implosion done for the benefit of shadowy forces, and whose perpetrators escaped justice by throwing money at our government.

If this book has any real flaw, other than the questionability of its content, it is that the book could never come close to the sheer vicious joy of the website. A better idea would have been for Skolnick to anthologize his infamous “Overthrow of the American Republic” (OOTAR) series, now numbering 66 parts. But that would be too easy. There is something clearly quixotic about Skolnick’s quest to piss of the entire Western ruling structure, so to see a book under his name at all is pretty heartening for those Americans who truly value our (current) freedom of speech.

The distinct possibility that our country, for better or worse, has already been sold out from under us to people whose identities we won’t know until it’s too late has not been articulated in this way since William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsburg got really deep in the early 1970s, and I would hazard to guess that they would enjoy Skolnick, in moderation. If nothing is true unless you see it with your own eyes, then most of what we know to exist really doesn’t, which is an infinitely more frightening prospect than if everything was true. As the recently pardoned Lenny Bruce once said “Chicago is so corrupt, it’s thrilling.” Indeed.

sheltonhull@gmail.com; December 13, 2004

*Note: Sherman Skolnick died in 2002, but his website remains intact.

“Brown Equals Green: The Conservative Case for Alvin Brown”

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This column runs on Election Day, so most readers have already made their final choices for the handful of spots that remain in play, including Mayor and a few seats on the City Council. These are big decisions, with bigger consequences for our city, our state and perhaps even our country. When it comes to the top spot, I’ve decided to vote for Alvin Brown, and the next few paragraphs will hopefully help explain why.

I wrote in these pages a decade ago that our nation’s future depended to no small degree on what happened in Northeast Florida in that time. Unfortunately, I was proven right, as our strategic slack and political instability cost us the ability to continue being the “Bold New City of the South”—so the slogan was changed to reflect our projected status as the city people drive through en route to places that actually want the revenue generated by tourists and the relocation of new businesses and young families.

It was a revolutionary idea, the notion that anything that happens here matters. Many dollars have been invested cultivating the prevailing stereotypes of this region: racism, ignorance, illiteracy, a stern resistance to change of any kind on any level. The unstated subtext is that our citizens’ faith in God amounts to a form of mental disability that retards progress and stymies fresh thinking. Of course, the core of the church’s actual power is simply the perception of its power, ably assisted by liberal media.

Nevermind that Brown’s election would immediately counter the stereotypes and allow for the immediate rebranding that is so necessary. It would also send the message that Jacksonville is open for business. The case for him can be made in strictly capitalistic terms. His is ultimately a candidacy rooted in free-market conservatism, as reflected by the support he has drawn from the business community. People like Preston Haskell and Peter Rummel don’t fall in with losers. Tommy Hazouri, Matt Carlucci and Delores Weaver are no chumps. Even Ed Austin got “down with Brown” after he gambled and lost on Audrey Moran, writing a fat check in the last days of his storied life.

No mayor can upset the apple-cart. Transformative change is not on the table right now. Our nation’s municipalities are fighting an existential battle against 40 years of bad economic policy and a world war entering its second decade, reaching deeper into the homeland every day. The assorted cliques and cartels of this world are not laying people off like our governments and corporations are. Even al-Qaeda is recruiting a new CEO; the perks are great, but don’t even bother asking about the health insurance. There are challenges, but there’s no need to adopt a defensive posture.Jacksonvillemust take up a stronger leadership role in the economic, cultural and political life ofFlorida; if not, then you can easily imagine what the next few years will be like.

Mike Hogan is a good man, and a public servant of quality. While many outside observers, myself included, questioned the wisdom of putting his wife and grandchildren on-camera as de facto surrogates, the fact that they came off so well in those commercials is a testament to his abilities as a husband, father and grandfather, so good for him. It’s entirely possible that, once elected, Hogan could prove to be far more moderate than one might expect. He could even be the kind of loose cannon Florida’s gotten very good at producing—the kind of man for whom microphones turn themselves on.

For local progressives, this is probably the most important electoral stand they will ever make. For conservatives, this is a crucial test of what that ideology means in the new reality. The question revolves around growth and prosperity within a fair free-market system, versus slowing the speed of progress to service social objectives. Expectations were low for John Peyton, but he became one of our best mayors ever, and a plausible primary challenger to Rick Scott, who needs to be beaten in 2014, preferably by someone fromNE Florida—maybe even John Peyton. Alvin Brown is not the guy to do it, but he can help create the political conditions that make it possible.

I’ve long believed that the concept of “objective journalism” is ridiculous. Human beings have opinions about damn near everything, and those who don’t are either dumb or just lying, for one reason or another. “Objective” and “impartial” are different things; the debauched FoxNews slogan “Fair and Balanced” more closely approximates the point. The reporter should gather the facts, give all sides’ views a fair hearing, and give the audience an honest appraisal of the situation, whether it’s a war, a football game or a kitten stuck in a tree. Or, for that matter, a political contest.

sheltonhull@gmail.com; May 9, 2011