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Lane DeGregory on a life-saving dog

Today on 1A:

ST. PETERSBURG — The first time it happened, Gerald Rittinger was driving to buy his gravestone. His diabetes was getting worse. Doctors had just diagnosed him with prostate cancer. They gave him six months. Gerald's wife, Jeanne, was in the passenger seat of their Lincoln that day. Their puppy, Zeke, was supposed to stay in the back seat. But the yellow Labrador kept putting his big paws on the console between them, inching forward. They headed north on Interstate 75 to his family cemetery in Kentucky. After about three hours, Zeke stood up and began barking. "Down! Zeke, get down!" Jeanne scolded, tugging at his collar. Zeke leapt up, nuzzling his wet nose against Gerald's neck. Licking his face. Laughing, Gerald tried to push away the puppy. But Zeke wouldn't back off. His barking got louder. The dog became so agitated that Gerald had to pull off the highway. Seconds later, Gerald had a seizure. "If he had still been driving," Jeanne said, "all of us would have been killed." That was 12 years ago. Gerald had his headstone engraved, planted it in the graveyard, then came home to die. But Zeke wouldn't let him. Keep reading.

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Your choice on Nov. 4

Charlie Crist on Rick Scott: "I'm, like, the opposite of this guy."

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Six things I underlined in the Times' editorial about the University of Florida hiring Kent Fuchs from Cornell

1. Fuchs (pronounced "fox") is taking a leap of faith in bringing his talents to a state and a system that too often undervalues and underfunds higher education.

2. ... at a time when higher education is rapidly changing.

3. A top 10 public university combines cutting-edge research with an educational system that produces the next generation of critical-thinking citizens, who know not only how to make a discovery but how to ask the right question. A solid grounding in the liberal arts plays a key role in creating those thoughtful leaders of tomorrow.

4. ... the prestigious Association of American Universities. UF is the only Florida school among the 62 members.

5. ... compare this result with the recent debacle at Florida State University, where John Thrasher, a powerful state senator with fundraising skills but no academic experience, was chosen in a process that appeared to be rigged from the start and discouraged quality outside candidates from applying.

6. ... the flagship university of the nation's third-largest state ...

Read the whole thing.

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This is a picture of Charlie Crist winning the election

See that smile?


See that smile?

"Are we really going to debate about a fan? Or are we going to talk about education and the environment and the future of our state?" Charlie Crist asked last night down in Davie. "I mean, really."

The fight over the fan, said this morning's lead editorial, is all anybody will remember.

"The new kind of synthetic novelty which has flooded our experience I will call 'pseudo-events,'" Daniel J. Boorstin wrote in 1961, in his book The Image, which even today — especially today — reads almost uncomfortably clear-eyed.

A "pseudo-event," Boorstin wrote, has some of the following characteristics:

1. Its relation to the underlying reality of the situation is ambiguous.

2. It is not spontaneous.

3. It is planned primarily for the immediate purpose of being reported or reproduced.

"Look how much power I have over you," Crist once said, "and I haven't even won yet."

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Evidently, Florida is the strangest state in America, but at least Craig Pittman exists to explain it

Seven things I liked in particular watching Craig's LipTV chat:

1. "We've been a haven for hustlers for decades now. ... It's a legacy dating at least back to the 1910s, the 1920s, when we were selling swampland to the Yankees ..."

2. "It's sort of the rootlessness that we have here in Florida. I mean, we are a state full of people who recently arrived, for the most part -- you know, 19 million people, and a lot of us just got here, and so there's no real sense of community in a lot of places. There's no sense of having anything at stake. And so it's easy to just focus on the surface of things, on the shallowness. I call it the Cinderella's Castle Syndrome -- you know, it's our most famous piece of architecture, Cinderella's Castle, and nobody lives there."

3. "We were a frontier long after most of the other states were settled -- I mean, as late as the 1890s we had cowboys, you know, shooting it out. ... All that has continued up through today as far as people feeling threatened, people feeling like, 'I don't know my neighbors,' so I'm going to have a weapon on hand."

4. "Florida voters are very fickle." …

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The frantic search for ways to stop the spread of lionfish

As invaders they make the pythons in the Everglades look poky. They're unfussy about their habitat, they're potent reproducers, they eat just about everything, their stomachs can expand to 30 times the normal size, and they have no predators in the Atlantic and the Caribbean. Not even sharks. But maybe the sharks can be ... taught to eat them?

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'It continues to stay with me,' Jeff Klinkenberg said this week

The other day I asked Roy Peter Clark about some of his favorite stories by Jeff Klinkenberg. He mentioned Old Hitler. Chesty Morgan. He also mentioned the personal narrative on the death of a young friend on a golf course in Miami. It came up, too, when Jeff and I sat and talked. The piece ran in the Times, in Floridian, on a Wednesday in February of 1987, long enough ago where it doesn't come up with a Google search. I hadn't read it until just now. Here it is, a little more than 1,000 words:

I liked to climb to the roof at night and throw water balloons at passing cars, and when that lost its novelty I hurled guavas, a common tropical fruit. One night, a couple of teen-agers whose car I smashed with a guava chased a friend and me over fences, through bushes and into back yards where dogs snapped at our heels. We somehow escaped.

One night, a friend and I built a dummy, and, hiding behind a bush, threw it in front of a passing car. The car screeched to a stop, and an elderly man got out, shaking, certain he had killed somebody. I am still ashamed. …

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The best Jeff Klinkenberg stories ever according to Craig Pittman

This week is the last week of Klink's 37-year career here at the Times. I asked Craig to give me off the top of his head some of his favorites.

1. Couple marry in swamp where love bloomed like rare orchid.

COPELAND — The bride wore a long white dress and muddy boots. She yelled "HOOTEEHOO!"

Waiting for her in the distance, the groom hollered "HOOTEEHOO!'' back. She homed in on his shout and sloshed toward him through the cathedral of cypress trees and cypress knees, ferns and royal palms that grew in the black water.

Michael Scott Owen and Donna Ann Glann-Smyth were going to exchange vows in the holiest place they know, a primeval Florida swamp where alligators and cottonmouths go with the territory.

In their wedding chapel, a ghost orchid, one of the rarest of all plants, clung to the trunk of a pond ash. Poison ivy hung from the curved bough of what served as their altar, a red maple.

Renee Rau, an ordained minister who also manages Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve in southwest Florida, asked guests to settle down. The green tree frogs, performing their unique version of Mendelssohn's Wedding March, ignored her. …

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Government REALLY doesn't create jobs in Florida

From WGCU's Ashley Lopez:

The state's population has grown by 4 million since 1998. Its budget has increased by $25 million since 2000. Yet Florida has almost 10,000 fewer established positions in the State's Personnel System, State University System, State Legislature, Courts System and Justice Administration combined, than it did 15 years ago.

This means Florida's government has been operating at its lowest staffing levels in almost two decades.

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Listening to Jeff Klinkenberg

The one and only.

The one and only.

This week is the last week of Jeff Klinkenberg's 37-year career here at the Times. He started working at this paper in February of 1977. Eight months before I was born. We sat and talked yesterday. Here are some of the things he said:

1. My parents moved to Miami in 1951. I was two. My dad was a musician, a piano player, and he was really good. People come to Florida to start over. I think he thought that there were going to be more gigs down here. He gave it a shot for about four or five years until I had to be in school. But he loved the outdoors. So that was his gift to me. I have early memories of fishing when we lived in Key West. He had been on the high school swim team and we'd go to Haulover Beach in Miami and he'd do these one- and two-mile open-water swims and I'd hold onto the back of his trunks and I had a mask and a snorkel. It was like being in an aquarium. I can shut my eyes and see all those fish even now. …

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A new Dozier mystery

From (of course) Ben Montgomery:

PHILADELPHIA — Thomas Curry met his death by some railroad tracks near Chattahoochee in 1925, trying to run away from the Florida School for Boys. He'd served just 29 days for delinquency at the hellish reform school some 20 miles away in Marianna. The coroner who examined his body couldn't tell what killed him. "(C)ame to his death from a wound to the forehead, skull crushed from unknown cause," wrote Chattahoocheee coroner L.H. Sanders on the boy's death certificate.

His body was shipped by train to his grandmother in Philadelphia, where services were held at a Catholic church, and a box was buried at the Old Cathedral Cemetery in West Philadelphia, on top of a casket that held his great grandmother.

But researchers trying to determine how Curry was killed unearthed a mystery Tuesday. …

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It's been a while since we got hit by a hurricane, the Washington Post points out

Charley in 2004.


Charley in 2004.

Jason Samenow, the Capital Weather Gang's chief meteorologist:

Florida has gone 3,270 days without a hurricane — nearly nine years and, by far, the longest stretch on record (the next longest streak is 5 seasons from 1980-1984, in records dating back to 1851). Meanwhile, the Sunshine State's population and development have boomed.

Florida is long overdue for a destructive hurricane and has never had so many people and so much property in the way. This dangerous state of affairs is compounded by the potential for complacency and lack of recent experience. When hurricanes don't strike over such a long period of time, some people may be lulled into a false sense of security and/or forget how horrible hurricanes can be.

And then there are newcomer Floridians who haven't ever had to endure a hurricane. notes that more than 1 million people have moved to Florida since Wilma in 2005, the last hurricane to hit the state. "That's potentially 1 million people who are inexperienced with the impacts of hurricanes and tropical storms and lack the experience boarding up a home, cleaning out a flooded home or battling mandatory evacuation traffic," writes. …

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The non-pretend part of the Magic Kingdom

10 things I underlined in the Bloomberg story about poverty in Orlando Eve Edelheit sent my way this morning:

1. It costs a family of five about $1,500 for a four-day pass to the theme parks at Disney World near Orlando, Florida. It takes Weston Vlier, who drives a bus there, four weeks to earn that much.

2. ... a growing class of working poor in Orlando, which has the lowest median pay among the 50 most-populous American metropolitan areas ...

3. "The reason it becomes a potential problem for places like Orlando from a budgetary standpoint is that they don't have the money to build the infrastructure that could attract well-educated workers."

4. The metropolitan area, whose population has almost doubled since 1990 to 2.3 million, set a record with 59 million visitors last year, outpacing New York's 54.3 million and Paris's 29.3 million ...

5. ... Disney World is the largest employer in the region, with about 70,000 employees. An army of hotel maids, bus drivers and ride operators work around the clock to maintain its allure.

6. Almost 40 percent of jobs in Orlando pay less than $25,000 per year, the largest share in the 50 most-populous U.S. cities ... …

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It's your job as a person who lives here

Next up: Nov. 4.


Next up: Nov. 4.

Former Gov. Bob Martinez in this morning's Times:

November's election is right around the corner, but performing your civic duty and being a good, engaged citizen requires more than marking a ballot. While I encourage citizens to participate on Nov. 4, and to make an informed decision at the polls, for our government to operate effectively citizens must care beyond the outcome of an election.

To hold government accountable, citizens must be involved in its processes. However, far too few Floridians are taking a genuine and meaningful interest in government. In our most recent election, statewide voter turnout was only 17.5 percent, the lowest it's been since 1998.

Why are Floridians choosing not to participate? One reason is likely because they lack good information about candidates, issues and government processes. Quality information about government is critical to meaningful participation in the public sphere, which ultimately holds government responsible for its actions. …

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'There is only one way to save natural Florida ...'

Read what Julie Hauserman wrote in the Tallahassee paper.

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