Federal Bureau Of Incompetence

In the wake of the latest awful school shooting, in which 17 students and teachers were killed in Florida and another 15 people were injured, there has been a lot of talk about guns and gun control.  That debate is entirely warranted, but I hope that there is also room for broad discussion about the performance of law enforcement agencies — from the FBI on down.

Last month, the FBI received a specific, credible warning about the accused shooter, Nikolas Cruz.  A person close to Cruz contacted the FBI’s Public Access Line on January 5 and described Cruz’s gun ownership, desire to kill others, erratic behavior and disturbing social media posts.  The FBI acknowledged that it received the tip — but did nothing, in violation of its own internal rules.  In a statement, the Bureau said:  “Under established protocols, the information provided by the caller should have been assessed as a potential threat to life. The information then should have been forwarded to the FBI Miami Field Office, where appropriate investigative steps would have been taken.”

Nikolas-Cruz-919429And it certainly appears that, if somebody from the FBI had actually looked into the tip, they would have found a lot of very disturbing information about Cruz, from troubles in school and a recommendation that a “threat assessment” be performed on Cruz, to a self-mutilation post and other troubling activities on social media and a comment on a blog about being a “professional school shooter,” to multiple calls about Cruz and his erratic behavior to the local sheriff’s office.  It’s hard not to draw the conclusion that, if somebody had just followed up on the tip, the massacre might have been avoided.

A statement from Christopher Wray, the Director of the FBI, about the FBI’s failure to act said:  “We are still investigating the facts. I am committed to getting to the bottom of what happened in this particular matter, as well as reviewing our processes for responding to information that we receive from the public.” He also said:  “It’s up to all Americans to be vigilant, and when members of the public contact us with concerns, we must act properly and quickly.”  But in this instance, Americans were vigilant and did report on concerns arising from disturbing behavior — and the FBI totally dropped the ball.

According to its website, about 35,000 people work for the FBI.  The Agency’s annual budget is more than $8 billion.  In short, the FBI has a lot of resources.  Given the number of mass shootings we’ve seen in this country, in schools and otherwise, it’s unfathomable that a credible tip to the FBI about a potential mass killer would be ignored.  If the FBI doesn’t follow up on such tips, what in the world is it doing?  And while it’s nice to know that FBI Director Wray is going to investigate the Bureau’s failure to investigate the tip about Nikolas Cruz, we might want to make sure that the FBI’s conduct is investigated by people who won’t drop the ball this time.

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That Overcrowded Feeling

There are some airports that always seem to be incredibly overcrowded.  The Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood airport is one of them.  Is it because it’s the end of “the season”?  Is it because the airport just hasn’t kept pace with the growth of the surrounding community?  Is it because airport planners think it’s hilarious to cram people into concourses like sardines in a tin can?

Who knows?  But it’s not a pleasant way to start, or end, a trip to the Sunshine State.

Meanwhile, Back At The Shuffleboard Court . . . .

You have to wonder whether it ever bothers the people of Florida that everyone else in the country views it as an enclave for octogenarians.  No surprise there — Florida has the largest percentage of senior in the country, with almost one in five residents above the age of 65 and one county where more than half the residents fall into that category.

wvc_seniorgames_0920123Stories like this one, about a “shuffleboard rage” incident in St. Petersburg, aren’t going to help Florida’s retiree rep.  It reports that an 81-year-old guy was charged with battery after getting into a fight with another man during a shuffleboard tournament at a seniors center.  The feisty octogenarian reportedly punched the victim in the face and hit him with his shuffleboard cue, scratching the victim’s face.  Unfortunately, the article doesn’t report certain crucially important details, like what provoked the incident, and whether the two men were wearing colorful plaid Bermuda shorts hitched up to nipple height and support hose at the time of the altercation.

What would it be like to live in the Sunshine State, home to millions of slow-walking, bad-driving, loudly attired seniors wearing bulky hearing aids?  I think it would be strange and depressing to live in a place where there are so many older people relative to the rest of the country.  Now we learn that the state might be somewhat dangerous for the many shuffleboard fans among us, too.

Honoring A Promise To Mom

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Mom and Dad bought a condo on Hutchinson Island in Stuart, Florida in the late ’80s.  It became a special place for them.  When Dad retired a few months after they bought the condo, they began to spend more and more time in this enclave of seagrass, windswept beaches, and crashing surf.  I think Dad would gladly have moved down here full-time, but Mom wanted to keep a place in Columbus to spend time with kids and grandkids.  So they compromised, as successful married couples do, and split the years equally between their condo at Suntide and a condo in Columbus.

They spent many happy years here, and made many friends.  The kids and grandkids enjoyed the condo, too.  It was a great place to take little children, with a sunny pool and a beach and sandcastle building and boogie board riding and shell-gathering only a few steps away.  Kish, Richard, Russell and I came down here regularly, and so did my siblings and their kids.  We all have strong memories of this place.

Dad died in 1997.  He wanted his remains to stay here, and we honored that request.  The kids got older, the visits to the condo became less frequent, and Mom wanted to spend more time in Columbus with her kids and Columbus friends.  Eventually we sold the condo at Suntide, but Mom always said that after her death she wanted her remains to be brought here to be with Dad, always and forever.  We promised we would do so.  And this weekend all of the kids and grandkids are here to honor that promise and think once more of Mom and Dad and their little piece of paradise.

Mom and Dad and the condo are gone, but the sand and surf and sun — and memories — remain.  I got up early this morning to watch the sun rise over the Atlantic, and it was as beautiful as I remembered.  Mom would have liked it.

Goat-Blood Government

There are some among us who might contend that a little goat-blood guzzling might be good training for a politician.

After all, if you’re going to be sacrificing your principles on a regular basis, why not sacrifice a barnyard animal while you’re at it, and suck down the lip-smacking, iron-flavored richness of its still warm hemoglobin as you thoughtfully consider the many rewards of your chosen profession?  It kind of makes you wonder whether some of the other significant political figures of our time haven’t taken a nip or two of billy goat blood from time to time after they’ve come off the Senate floor or just finished a contentious committee hearing.

In Florida, a Senate candidate named Augustus Sol Invictus (that’s not his birth name, which he legally changed a few years ago to those rolling Latin words that mean “majestic unconquered sun”) has admitted to quaffing some goat hemoglobin.  Two years ago, Old Sol apparently walked from central Florida to the Mojave Desert — any geography buff will tell you that’s quite a jaunt — and spent a week fasting and praying, and then when he returned home alive he gave thanks by sacrificing a goat to the pagan “god of the wilderness” and then drank its blood.  And really, who among us, upon returning from a week-long visit to California, hasn’t been tempted to do the same?

Sol is a criminal lawyer — do you think he runs ads that say “Better Call Sol”? — who’s running as a Libertarian.  He thinks the government is “waging war on citizens” and citizens therefore have “the right to self-defense on government,” and he sees “a cataclysm coming.”  He admits to being investigated by the FBI, the U.S. Marshals, and other law enforcement personnel, but seems to take some pride in that fact and says he’s flattered that they think he’s a “threat to the stability of the system.”

I’m not sure about a threat to the system, but he’s proven that he’s a threat to goats.

St. Augustine

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On Christmas Day we traveled to St. Augustine, the oldest continuously populated city in North America — or something like that. It was founded in the pre-Pilgrim 1500s by the Spaniards, and it’s well worth a visit.

Our first stop was the Castillo de San Marcos, the fort the Spaniards built to protect their settlement. Although the interior was closed — even the National Park Service takes Christmas Day off — our tour of the grounds showed that the fortress is in remarkably good shape given its age and history. Richard’s Google check indicated that since being founded by the Spanish Empire, the CdSM has flown the flag of England, the U.S., and the Confederacy, and also been used to house prisoners.

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We then walked along the harbor road to the old town section of St. Augustine, which features some of the beachfront kitsch you expect in any Florida town, but also some very interesting buildings dating from the Spanish era as well as some fine architectural flourishes added during the Gilded Age. Among the highlights were two facing hotels built by the indefatigable Henry Flagler, a railroad and oil magnate who played a key role in Florida’s development. The one shown above has now become city hall.

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But it is the structure across the street that is the real jaw-dropper. Formerly the Ponce de Leon Hotel — where travelers presumably could search for the Fountain of Youth in the Florida sunshine — it is a beautiful and sprawling bit of Spanish-influenced architecture that includes lots of remarkable features, like the fierce carved lion head at the gates, shown below.

I don’t know much about how and where Flagler made his money, but I will say this: he used part of it to create a fascinating object of great beauty. It’s fitting that this structure has now become the main building of Flagler College.

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