Please end the #strong movement

I want to speak on behalf of three cities — San Bernardino, Calif.; Las Vegas and Orlando. It’s a tad presumptuous to claim to represent so many people, but having lived in all three I have a good idea of what links them.

We are not #strong. We are not #VegasStrong. We are not #OrlandoStrong. We are definitely not the extremely clunky and hard for most to spell correctly #SanBernardinoStrong.

Hear me out. This is not meant to be rant against any political party or candidate.

We didn’t join the military en masse as many millennials did after 9/11 — keep that in mind the next time we want to rip that generation. We didn’t even feel compelled to do a few extra reps at the gym.

We are not #strong because after all this time, nobody has a firm grasp on what it means to be #strong.

Take San Bernardino. When I grew up in that city, it was a proud blue-collar area. It wasn’t idyllic as Christopher Robin frolicking with Pooh Bear in the Hundred Acre Wood, but it did instill worthwhile values. I look back at that time fondly because San Bernardino did play a role in the man I became. It was diverse and a little hardscrabble. You had to respect people of all walks of life. You had to earn your keep.

I hardly recognize San Bernardino today. Industry and its Air Force base closed up. One of its malls died. Heck, you have to search for any retail in the city above a liquor store. Since then, both city and county governments have faced major ethical scandals. The city itself declared bankruptcy due to horrific mismanagement.

So a couple of Muslim terrorists open fire on a holiday party and I’m supposed to accept #SanBernardinoStrong? I can’t. Why should I? What makes a corrupt city in ruins #strong?

Orlando and Las Vegas are financially better off and relatively stable places to be, but what makes them #strong? All the marquees and billboards in the cities proclaimed their #strength after another Muslim nutjob shot up the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, and believe me, you don’t have to convince me that lazy-eyed hillbilly was nuttier than a fruitcake when he opened fire from Mandalay Bay.

Being #strong isn’t limited to gun attacks, either. Boston was #strong after a bombing. Houston is said to be #strong after a flood. But what does that hashtag accomplish, exactly?

Now, people have gone to social media and asked us to #PrayFor these cities. I can respect that. I think it’s a precious gift for someone to pray for you or me, even if you don’t believe in a deity.

But did you ever notice that after 9/11, New Yorkers were not #NYCStrong? No. We stood with New York City. We were united with New York.

What I would suggest is that instead of false claims of strength, we consider telling people we are #OrlandoUnited or #VegasUnited.

Consider Orlando. I worked about two blocks from the Pulse, an LGBTQ club. You should have seen the city unite behind that community following the attacks. You hate Trump supporters? They were there to help, donating blood and money. Same for the Muslim community, I might add. I was there. I saw it. You now see the rainbow flag fly over much of that city, at Orlando City Soccer Club games, etc.

What if Houston united to make Texas safer from natural disasters?

Maybe in Las Vegas, we unite behind first responders. I doubt we join this anti-second amendment push I saw on social media, but perhaps we unite behind banning bump stocks. I don’t know yet, but what I hope for is that we unite for something bigger than ourselves.

Ironically, that would be a real demonstration of #strength.

PS — I have no idea if San Bernardino would ever unite for anything, so there’s that.

An open letter to Orlando city leaders regarding the Pulse nightclub

To Orlando mayor Buddy Dyer and The Honorable commissioners of the council,

For openers, this post is not meant as a rebuke to anyone working for the city or in the LGBTQ community. I mean no disrespect.

I am just not certain purchasing the land where the Pulse nightclub currently sits is the best idea. I understand that turning the site into a memorial is an idea from people who have their heart in the right place.

But if it were up to me, I’d want the club to open again.

I recognize that my opinion might be a little awkward. I am fully aware of what happened there. I went to high school with one of the victims. Also, I work about a block away, although I was not in the neighborhood when Omar Mateen acted on his evil intentions.

My assertion comes from two beliefs. The first: We often hear that when loved ones pass, they would want us to go on with life — to be happy, to appreciate beauty, to laugh, grow, and to dance. It is a hunch that would be the wish of the victims. 

True, there is at least one more LGBTQ club in Orlando. But I come from cities that have many more than one. I moved to central Florida from Hollywood, Calif. As you might imagine, there is a thriving community in that area. I’ve been in those clubs. I’ve seen more problems in other clubs, so perhaps bringing back the Pulse is more of a benefit to Orlando.

The second reason I think the Pulse should reopen is a bit primal. It’s not that everything President George W. Bush said was correct about the so-called war on terror, but I believe that having fewer LGBTQ clubs in Orlando does give the terrorists a victory. I do believe in an afterlife. I want Mateen — wherever he is right now — to realize that he did his worst and it did not benefit his twisted cause.

I want there to be a reopened Pulse with its patrons happy. I want that to be a figurative middle finger to Mateen, that he learns the depths of the failure of his ill-conceived principles. I want his dispicable acts to be a complete loss to him and those who harbor the same sickness at the core of their beings.

Perhaps the Pulse owners take the money — I don’t have an issue with the price tag reported — and use it to open a new Pulse at a different site. If that’s the result, so be it.

There’s a meme. I don’t know who created it, but it altered the logo of the club into a rainbow-flag themed heart. Underneath included the words, “We aren’t going anywhere.”

Well, don’t.

Updates on Hurricane Matthew for Altamonte Springs

Update (11:39 p.m. Florida, 8:39 p.m. LA): The storm is shifting east, according to the Orlando Sentinel and at least one local news channel.

Not like a hard right turn in a classic Hollywood car chase, but yeah, it’s going a little bit further from shore. I’m looking at computer models and only one streak has it touching land in the Sunshine State.

Sanford, mentioned earlier in this post, has allegedly been soaked with 5.87 inches of rain in the last 24 hours. Having worked in Sanford, I’ve driven through areas of blinding rain and the moment I leave the city, dryness. Can’t explain it.

Not that we didn’t appreciate the #PrayForFlorida hashtag, of course. We all need a little more prayer in our lives.

If something changes tonight, I’m sure it will wake me up.

Update (8:42 p.m. Florida, 5;42 p.m. LA): You can’t avoid it — every single local channel, every news network, has an asswipe in a windbreaker standing on a pier. Even the local CBS affiliate won’t give you any relief with tonight’s football game. Come to think of it, do I really want to watch the San Francisco 49ers?

Again, my purpose with this blog is to slow the roll of panic. News outlets are treating Florida as if it’s a small state. Driving Florida is something akin to traveling from San Diego to San Francisco. In California, people hear of “The Big One” earthquake for decades. Nobody really buys it.

So when you read “We’ll need body bags if people don’t evacuate” as a headline on The Weather Channel page for Altamonte Springs, it’s complete bullshit.

There is no evacuation order here.

You must be specific. Which sheriff? Otherwise, instant panic.

And trust me, the messages I get from people out west are panicked. If I didn’t used to be in that industry, I might freak out a little, too.

They’re inciting a panic because their web desk doesn’t know what the hell its doing.

By the way, it’s a firm rain.

Update (6:25 p.m. Florida, 3:25 p.m. LA): Current projections of Matthew’s path have it missing Miami, the butt-kicking part of it, anyway. That not-so-sweet spot might tap landfall in Melbourne or Space Coast, as previously mentioned. Technically, I’ll be in a hurricane if that happens.

Again, it’s the people on the coast who had to flee.

Read an interesting story about Cape Canaveral. NASA only built the facility for a Category 2 hurricane. Matthew? Category 4. Good thing the shuttle program was disbanded.

Update (5:25 p.m. Florida, 2:25 p.m. LA): The Weather Channel website has corrected itself. The rain I photographed in the post below will not stop until after 11 p.m. Friday.

There is a curfew in effect for Seminole County, which is just north of where I live, from 5 a.m. Friday to 7 a.m. Saturday. Seminole County, for those who aren’t from here, includes Sanford — where Trayvon Martin was killed by George Zimmerman.

Update (4:31 p.m. Florida. 1:31 p.m. LA): This is the nonhurricane rain I mentioned earlier.

It’ll stop in an hour.

My mom was nice enough to call a moment ago, and I had to calm the situation. Yes, Orlando International Airport is closing at 8 p.m. tonight. It’s a prudent move. So is buying some extra food. I have enough pizza and Little Debbie’s to last a while.

They tell you to fill up the tub with water to drink. No thanks. But it will help if the toilet tank needs the water to initiate a flush. So there’s that.

Also, to add some needed perspective: Gov. Rick Scott did say the hurricane will kill you. The exact quote is, “Don’t surf. Don’t go to the beach. This will kill you.”

So would flying a plane. For that matter, so would taking a roller coaster and Disney World figured that out.

Update (2:45 p.m. Florida, 11:45 a.m. LA): There is rain expected at 4 p.m., but that is more typical late-afternoon showers I’ve come to expect since I’ve moved here. Currently, the expectation is for the storm to come not at 8 p.m., but 9. The worst is expected to come to central Florida at about 5 a.m. Winds will spike and continue to gain strength into the 80 mph range from then until 8 p.m.

Authorities are asking to clear the roads at 6 p.m.

Original estimates of five inches of rain in the next day have increased to as many as eight inches.

Aside from Matthew, tropical storm Nicole has been upgraded to Hurricane Nicole. This sucks. I’ve never had any luck with girls named Nicole.

Shelters are opening in Florida. I have not heard of any in Seminole or Orange counties.

In the meantime, I’m watching Ireland play Georgia in World Cup qualifying. Not our Georgia, Russia-typey Georgia.

(First post): Good afternoon, I’m James and up front, I promise this is not a troll post. I do have gallows humor, but I realize many are a little freaked out about Hurricane Matthew. Unless of course, you’re with the Clinton campaign and you see the opportunity to turn disaster into votes. But I digress:
This is for residents of Altamonte Springs, surrounding areas and those curious. The current headline from Florida Gov. Rick Scott is that Matthew “is going to kill people.” I want to temper that. Florida is a big-ass state. For the uninitiated, Altamonte Springs is just north or Orlando, maybe 40 miles from the coast. Those people need to run. I needed to get Domino’s.

I remain convinced I am in no danger. Maybe that’s just the reporter in me. I volunteer. I expect to be summoned to help. Should that happen, I expect to be in a little jeopardy then, but I doubt it. The “hurricane” part of this storm extends about 50 miles from the eye. Beyond that radius, it’s a tropical storm, which is still problematic, but so be it.

You’ve probably heard about Melbourne, where Matthew might touch the state. I’m 62 miles from Melbourne. Matthew would have to stay on land for quite a while, making a 45 degree angle north by northwest.

When Matthew reaches Space Coast, which is closer, I’m 50 miles away.

I am on the tail end of the hurricane part, maybe 10-15 miles in the hurricane, unless it makes an unexpected drastic turn. The winds would be like the bad ones whipping through Cajon Pass. They expect a lot of rain, but there’s going to be more than a foot of it out on the coast.

This is what I know as of 1:39 p.m. on the east, 10:39 a.m. back in L.A. (Updates coming):

Publix will close at about 3, at least the ones in Altamonte Springs. This is what the bread aisle looked like yesterday and today:

Maybe I just have a thing for Latina single moms. Who knows?

Target in Casselberry is open and less hectic, as of now. Remember to get more than food. Towels to the bottom of your doors is a good idea. Virtually every store I went into expects to be closed all day Friday. I did read a story about Waffle Houses staying open pretty much no matter what. Take that, vegans.

It is not expected to rain steady here until 8 p.m. (5 p.m. LA) There are no shelters opened or planned to open yet in Seminole County.

I’m watching “Designated Survivor” on DVR, for those who appreciate irony.   

Terrorists have France on the ropes

I hope to keep this brief because terror attacks bring me down. I like to keep things light and a little hopeful on this blog. It’s hard to do that after what happened in the last year — in Paris, San Bernardino, Orlando and now back to France in Nice.

Despite reports to the contrary, the terrorists are winning in France.

I’m not here to score political points for a conservative movement. Even if I wanted to, President Obama is out of office in less than a year, anyway, so what’s the point?

Ever since 9/11, we’ve heard a variety of things that we have to do “or the terrorists win.” We have to live our lives or… We have to show Muslims we accept them or… We have to shop in the mall or… We have to fly an American flag attached to the passenger window of our SUV or…

You get the idea.

All of those ideas pale in comparison to one thing: If you concede terrorists cannot be stopped, the terrorists win.

To repeat, I’m not suggesting Obama has waved a white flag.

But these quotes from French politicians sound like a concession speech to me:

“Times have changed and France is going to have to live with terrorism.” — France prime minister Manuel Valls

“The question is, are we able to prevent it? And my answer would be, unfortunately no.” — Nathalie Goulet, head of the France’s Foreign Affairs and Security Committee

Wrong. No, those quotes are worse than wrong. If you allow yourselves to accept terrorism, you lose. It’s just that simple. 

A government that shrugs its shoulders and advises its citizens that it cannot keep them safe is not a just government. More than anything else, that is a fundamental purpose of a government. Consider: a government passes laws, imposes taxes, etc. If terrorists don’t follow these laws and you won’t stop them, then why should I, the private citizen? I have to protect myself.

That is one step closer to anarchy.

If France’s elected leaders cannot say they can keep their citizens safe, France needs a new government.

On the plus side, I think both of our major political candidates get that basic tenet. On Fox News’ “The O’Reilly Factor” on Thursday, presumptive Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton didn’t use talk as tough as her Republican challenger, but one of the main points of her argument was particularly insightful. Host Bill O’Reilly mentioned sending in NATO troops, which splits the burden amongst nations along with the United States.

“Let’s not kid ourselves,” she replied. “If we do that, America will have to lead.”

You’re damn right, Madam Secretary. We will have to lead, because France will not.

Whatever you want to say about Clinton or Donald Trump, I sleep better at night knowing that both of them recognize when other nations accept a new reality of terrorism, we won’t. The United States, for all of its flaws inside its borders, is ready to take command when people outside the borders threaten our way of life.

I don’t claim to know how to defeat terrorism.

But what I do know is accepting it won’t keep us safe.

Shrillness overload

I don’t even know who Jesse Williams is.

He probably said something worthwhile. It may have been a glorious address that rivaled the Sermon on the Mount, for all I know.

For the record, it’s not Jesse Williams’ fault that I don’t know what Jesse Williams said. I have absolutely nothing against Jesse Williams, I believe.

Because social media has been a relentless procession of anger hurricanes for the last few years, I can’t take another speech, even if it’s worthwhile or beneficial.

I’m tapped out of rage, indignation, self-righteousness.

Consider that Williams — who has been a trending topic for two or three days regarding something at the BET Awards — inspired a furious Grade 5 downpour of political tweets and posts after social media became Hurricane Screw Brexit, which was preceded by Tropical Storm Congressional Sit-In. And this was all within the last seven days.

Not to mention the fact that I live in Orlando and millions of people who have never set foot in Florida condemned me as the cause for being a conservative Christian, as opposed to the guy screaming “Allahu Akbar” and with more firepower than a warship.

For the last year, I can’t turn on any app without seeing memes about Donald Trump.

How am I supposed to have deeply held convictions about all of these topics? Heck, how does anybody have deeply held convictions about all of these topics?

It’s too much.

I miss the days when pretty girls used to take happy photos and post them on social media. I think they still do on Instagram. Please Lord, I hope they still do on Instagram. Even if I don’t have a chance with those girls, it’s much more uplifting to admire beauty than it is to shovel this much anger manure.

Just now, I looked up who Jesse Williams is. OK. He’s an actor on “Grey’s Anatomy.”

Perhaps one day I’ll read what he said. Hell, there’s a fair chance I agree with his opinions right now without having read them in the first place.

But I’m here to tell you, I’d be more willing to hear what he had to say when he said it if people picked their spots instead of flooding the “cause of the day” on my feeds.

“So James, how close do you work to the place that got attacked?”

That close.

To be clear, I don’t work here every day. My employer sends me all over Central Florida. I wasn’t here when Omar Mateen screamed “Allahu akbar” and blasphemed his faith, and I don’t want to make a big political argument about guns or militant Islam.

I just want to keep things simple and tell you what’s been going on it Orlando.

The FBI has left, but the police are keeping the actual plot of land secure and there are still news vans in the area. When the FBI was here, blocks of downtown were locked down. People created their makeshift memorials as close as the authorities would allow — such as this one:

I previously wrote that I had no idea Pulse was an LGBT club, not that it mattered. I have purchased donuts for ungrateful coworkers at the shop next door.

I knew one of the deceased, albeit very little. I knew people who ran when they heard gunfire.

Billboards across the city rotate flashing hashtag affirmations about how strong we are and how we are united and have pride. Maybe we do. We no longer appear to be in shock. Considering much of this area is based on tourism, and therefore weren’t actual Orlando residents, how shocked were we in the first place? The Florida Mall was pretty full the day after the attack.

To be frank, I would prefer #OrlandoSafe to #Orlando(whatever), but I can’t see that happening anytime soon.

Yo Facebook, I have a mom

You might have noticed at the top of your Facebook feed the social networking site is trying to encourage you to talk about specific subjects. Hey, your favorite team won! Tell everybody how you’re celebrating!

Well, I no longer live in Los Angeles and I’m sitting by myself in a one-bedroom apartment in Central Florida. I zipped up my fly, forgot to brush my teeth and went to bed. Go Dodgers.

I don’t recall why my pants were unzipped in the first place.

I can only guess how these make-me-comply suggestions helps Facebook. Perhaps it helps target ads. I’m no expert in analytics.

But you can only go so far with it before it becomes a little weird. Today is International Yoga Day. Facebook is asking me what’s my favorite yoga pose, like it’s been staring at my ass from the other side of the gym and wanted to say hi. Am I right, ladies? Am I right?

(Truth be told here: My favorite yoga pose doesn’t make my ass look good. It makes the ladies’ look amazing. Sorry/not sorry. I heard a lot of lousy “downward dog” jokes from hacky comedians in LA. Downward dog isn’t even close to the sexiest pose in the yoga girl arsenal.)

It started to hit me that Facebook — which changed the game in social networking because it wasn’t as creepy as MySpace — is changing itself again into a maternalistic pain in the ass. You’re not thinking of anything in particular, trying to decompress after dealing with mobs of confused or angry strangers you met in the course of your work shift, and your cell phone goes off. Oh yeah, Facebook, can I call you later? I don’t really have anything going on and I don’t really know what to make of International Respect-People-With-Chronic-Head-Lice Day.

Maybe Facebook is trying to influence our conversations because it’s gotten far too cheap and sleazy in the course of the presidential campaign. Yes, people, I know the GOP candidate has miserable hair and his wife took dirty pictures. Why are you trying to discourage pretty women from taking dirty pictures?

But the moment that really inspired me to retreat from Facebook came the day of the infamous Orlando terror attacks. I had just heard about it and during the course of finding of blood bank to donate because contributions were needed, Mom called and asked if I was OK because she didn’t know.

That’s what makes Mom Mom. She didn’t know the details of the attacks and wanted to make sure. Unconditional love. Even if it meant I might be gay.

Then while going to the blood bank, Facebook kept sending me text messages to tell everyone I was safe. The site knows where you are and wants you to post. That’s not unconditional love. That’s … Truthfully, I don’t necessarily know what that is.

But drawing attention to yourself when other people are in trouble just isn’t a particularly loving response.

And besides, those two moments confirmed to me what we all privately suspect: no amount of processing speed in a computer hard drive will be faster than your mom when it comes to expressing love. Mom won that race, social networks.

You can’t make automated “I’m safe” responses take the place of friends and family calling you. If it ever does come to that point, God help us all.

I have but one political take to make about Orlando

Technically, one and a half.

Here’s the “half take”: I am remarkably disappointed in how many people immediately sought to politicize this ugly mass murder in Orlando. This includes my friends. I had turned off my cell phone yesterday because I knew I would wait for hours to donate blood. I described the aftermath of the Pulse nightclub attack. The aftermath was a hopeful and as optimistic as the attack was ugly.

Then I turned on my phone, expecting to see a stream of well-wishes on social media. But no. All I read was “ban this” and “bomb that.” Eff liberals. Eff Republicans. Such blind political rage. That’s the difference between 9/11 and Orlando. People couldn’t wait to use this tragedy for political points. Frankly, it makes me ill.

Now, for the one actual opinion with regards to American politics.

Former Army Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf once said something very profound. I don’t recall the exact quote, but the essence was that two valuable traits were to A) precisely define the problem that needs to be solved, but B) don’t exaggerate the problem or downplay it. By being honest with yourself, you open yourself to the possibilities of solving great issues.

As such, President Barack Obama is letting us down because we’re not even allowing ourselves to define the problem.

Yes, it’s fair to debate what weapons can be available in the United States. You want Congress to consider ideas? You want to advance ideas of your own? Go right ahead.

But that’s not the problem. It is a problem.

Radical Islamic terrorism is the problem. The more Obama skirts the issue and tries to reframe it, the more it appears he has his head in the sand.

Obama doesn’t have to threaten war. Recall the Schwarzkopf statement. To threaten war is an exaggeration. One could easily argue President George W. Bush defined the problem and exaggerated the solution with the invasion of Iraq.

Some say that the mere mention of “radical jihad” or “Islamic terrorism” will increase attacks. Considering I’ve lived in two American cities that were attacked in the last 8-9 months, that’s folly. We are being attacked no matter what we say, no matter what we offer in goodwill. Because people such as ISIS have no good will in them.

Tomorrow, I’ll be changing topics. I’m sick of talking politics here. That wasn’t the purpose of this site.