Florida fisherman hooks, lands jumbo grouper

Spend any time talking salt water fishing and you quickly become aware of the “big ‘uns,” those deep-water behemoths that are the stuff of legends but almost never end up on the end of your line.

Earlier this month Brandon Lee Van Horn of Panama City, Fla., was finally able to stop dreaming and start bragging.

The longtime commercial fisherman, who began fishing on his grandfather’s charter boat at age 8, landed a 330-pound Warsaw grouper on Oct. 1. He caught the monster in 375 feet of water after a 25-minute fight to bring it to the surface.

“You have no idea how much that fish means to me,” he told the Panama City News Herald. “I will probably never catch another one that big ever again.”

Van Horn, who fishes for a “little bit of everything,” mostly seeks out smaller species like vermillion snapper. Bigger fish such as Warsaw groupers can be difficult to land because they often break off or straighten out hooks once they’ve taken the bait, he told the paper.

Warsaw groupers are among the biggest fish found in the Gulf of Mexico, growing up to eight feet in length and nearly 600 pounds. Van Horn missed the Florida state record by more than 100 pounds, to a 436-pound giant caught in 1985 off Destin, but he was still pretty pleased with his day.

“I will probably never, ever catch one in my life this big ever again,” he said. “Definitely a fish of a lifetime.”

(Top: Brandon Lee Van Horn shows off his 330-pound Warsaw grouper in Panama City, Fla.)

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Inept Florida interpreter angers some, amuses others

The recent hurricane that devastated the Caribbean and Florida was no laughing matter. But officials in Manatee County, Fla., unwittingly added hilarity to a Sept. 8 press conference when they hired a bumbling interpreter for the deaf for an emergency briefing related to Irma.

The interpreter, Marshall Greene, a lifeguard for the county, has a brother who is deaf, according to the DailyMoth, a video news site that provides information via American Sign Language. Greene mostly signed gibbering, referencing pizza, monsters and using the phrase “help you at that time to use bear big,” during the event. Other information signed to viewers was incomplete, members of the deaf community said.

While there’s no question that the county failed in its responsibility to the hearing impaired, watching a video of the press conference, with Greene’s signing translated into subtitles, is amusing to say the least. You can watch one of the videos here.

The county typically uses interpreters from VisCom, a professional sign language interpreting service. VisCom owner Charlene McCarthy told local media she was not contacted about providing services for the press conference and that Green was apparently not fluent in American Sign Language, according to the website AL.com.

Manatee County spokesperson Nick Azzara told the Bradenton Herald Greene was asked to interpret during the storm rather than have no one signing.

In retrospect, one suspects county officials now understand that it would have been better to have no one signing rather than an individual informing the deaf about pizza and monsters while a major storm worked its way toward them.

(Top: Manatee County, Fla., press conference held on Sept. 8 featuring interpreter Marshall Greene, in yellow.)

Famed Miccosukee alligator wrestler retires after 30+ years

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Two Sundays ago Rocky Jim Jr., a Miccosukee Indian who lives in South Florida, quit a job he’d been doing for more than 30 years.

His decision was prompted by the fact that his hand was firmly encased in the mouth of a large alligator.

Jim had been wrestling gators since he was 13 years old, but having been bitten several times previously and understanding that if the large reptile now clamped onto his hand began to thrash, as is natural, he would lose his appendage, he decided it was time to step down.

Jim was the last of his 600-member tribe still wrestling alligators at the Miccosukee Indian Village near Miami.

Alligator wrestling is considered a Native American tradition, first popularized in the early 1900s by a white man born in the US of Irish immigrants, Henry Coppinger Jr, according to Agence France-Presse.

“Coppinger himself wrestled alligators, and recruited natives – who lived alongside the reptiles and hunted them – to perform, too,” according to the wire service. “Paying crowds flocked to see men climb on alligators’ backs, open their jaws and flip them over – with the effect of making them go limp for a few minutes.”

While the term “alligator wrestling” might imply an aggressive man-versus-beast matchup, it’s actually more a ritualistic dance, one based on respect.

Jim, 44, was known for pulling wild, hissing alligators from the water by their tails, then tip-toeing around them, stroking them, tapping them, and getting close enough to go nose-to-nose with them, literally.

For almost a century, alligator wrestling was a fixture at Florida’s roadside parks, river docks and Native American villages.

In their heyday, alligator wrestlers could earn $1,000 a week in tips, according to 2012 South Florida Sun-Sentinel story.

Today, however, the practice is on the decline. Theme parks such as Disney World have diverted tourists’ attention. It is criticized by animal rights groups. There are more lucrative ways for tribes to generate revenue, including gaming and hotels. And the idea of going mano en garra with a 10-foot reptile isn’t appealing to younger tribe members, who are increasingly interested in modern society.

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Social media provides needed kick in rump to insurers

health

Perhaps social media does have a bit more value than my curmudgeonly self would care to admit.

Last week I wrote about a friend who is battling leukemia. Beyond the difficulties associated with fighting a life-threatening condition, she had also been clashing with her insurers, Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Florida (Florida Blue) and Prime Therapeutics, both of which had denied her coverage for needed cancer-treatment medication.

As a result, she’d gone more than a month without medicine.

It’s not as if my friend was attempting to secure reimbursement for experimental medicine or didn’t have sufficient coverage. Florida Blue was simply giving her the runaround, even though my friend’s prescription was on its list of approved medications.

Even with her medical team working to help her, the companies denied coverage, claiming, among other things, that they had not received the information.

Doctors, nurses and health care providers worked diligently to get the correct papers into the hands of my friend’s insurers for several weeks. Yet, a month later she was still without needed medicine and still without answers.

Taking a break from such earth-shattering revelations as smoking birds and personal issues with LinkedIn, I detailed the above in a Sept. 30 post.

Around the same time, another friend started a GoFundMe campaign to help raise money to buy a fax machine for Florida Blue. That was because the insurer had told my friend with leukemia that one of the reasons they hadn’t received her doctors’ requests for authorization because their “fax machine was busy.”

As was stated on the GoFundMe site: “I want to raise enough money to buy a cheap-ass fax machine for Florida Blue so they can help dying people get their treatments. I would also like to buy them a time machine so they could move boldly into the 1990s, but that’s another issue.”

Within a short while Twitter was aflutter with tweets about Florida Blue’s (and Prime Therapeutics’) shenanigans, as was Facebook, and before long a representative from Florida Blue, having noticed the publicity, decided to step in to handle the case.

Around the same time, an individual with Prime Therapeutics posted a comment on my blog expressing her desire to assist my friend.

By last Saturday, my friend had her medicine in hand.

This happened because people got the attention of Florida Blue and Prime Therapeutics through social media, and because there were individuals at both companies who were willing to make a special effort to help my friend cut through unnecessary red tape and get her medication.

My friend is not out of the woods, but she is fortunate to have many friends who are or were journalists. They understand how to use social media and publicity to get things done. However, it should never have required scores and scores of people, if not more, using social media to get Florida Blue to do the right thing.

All of which raises other questions:

  • What happens to the vast majority of the population that doesn’t have a slew of publicity savvy friends at their disposal?
  • Where do those who are older and may not have the strength to keep fighting turn when they’ve been denied needed medicine that they’re entitled to under the terms of their insurance?
  • How many have died because insurers essentially waited them out, understanding full well that some of the ailing wouldn’t have the strength, willpower or ability to fight for what they’re entitled to?

I’ll not get into the injustice of a young mother being stricken with leukemia. There are some situations in life that one simply cannot wrap one’s mind around.

But I will say that those who work in the health field, including health insurers, should do all within their power to make the lives of those they serve easier – rather than more difficult – when their customers find themselves facing life or death scenarios.

Feeling blue with Florida Blue: How insurers play God

florida blue 2

Ever wonder who would inhabit the deepest reaches of hell were Dante to return and rewrite his famous Inferno?

The easy choices, if we’re looking at it collectively, are surly DMV employees, self-aggrandizing school board members and self-righteous do-gooders who miss no opportunity to sing their own praises while informing you of your own missteps.

As if the above alone wouldn’t fill up at least a couple of circles of hell, there’s another group which deserves its own special place in perdition: health insurers who make life insufferably difficult for those with serious illnesses.

I have a friend who is battling leukemia. She is in her early 40s and she and her husband have a beautiful 7-year-old daughter. She has traveled to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas, many times for treatment but lives in Florida. Beyond the unfairness of a wonderful person with a great husband and sweet young child having to battle of a life-threatening illness, she also has to fight insurers which routinely deny her coverage for needed cancer-treatment medication.

My friend’s medical team has sent documents in triplicate to her insurers – Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Florida (Florida Blue) and Prime Therapeutics – several times and each time insurance representatives have claimed that “they have no way to attach the documents to each other” or that they “have not received them.”

Screen shot from friend's Facebook feed as she expresses her frustration with insurers who won't pay for approved cancer medication.
Screen shot from friend’s Facebook feed as she expresses her frustration with insurers who won’t pay for approved cancer medication.

The folks at Florida Blue – whose slogan is, ironically, “Here For You, in Your Pursuit of Health” – have decided not to cover my friend’s prescription even though it’s on their list of approved medications.

Because of this, my friend has been without anti-cancer medication for a month, obviously not a good thing for someone with leukemia.

Her doctors, nurses and health care providers have been working diligently to get the correct papers into their hands for several weeks. Yet, a month later she is still without needed medicine and no answers.

I understand insurance is a business, but I don’t understand how paper pushers in any corporation can deny coverage to someone whose life is at stake when the needed medication is on the list of those already approved by the insurer.

At what point does someone within the company say “Enough!” and blow the whistle on this sort of unethical and, most likely, illegal, activity?

How many other examples like this are going on at health insurers across the nation?

Finally, how do the people who knowingly deny insurance coverage, and most certainly understand that they are jeopardizing lives in doing so, live with themselves? Can it be that easy to suspend ethics, compassion and decency?

Dante would have a field day with folks like those at Florida Blue and Prime Therapeutics.

When a brief obituary speaks volumes

mike a

Obituaries are often like first dates: Light and fluffy without any of the baggage that inevitably accompanies life.

Sometimes, though, an obituary will tell it like it is (or was).

Take this notice that appeared in the Tampa Tribune on May 27.

RUSH, Michael J. (AKA Dirty Mike), Born Oct. 10, 1953, in Dayton Ohio. Transplanted to Nashville in 1958. Took root in Tampa in 1986. Died May 18, 2015. Sorry for any harm I have ever caused or done. If I owe you money, sue me.

Short and sweet, at least in a figurative sense.

Also shown is an American flag, denoting that “Dirty Mike” was a veteran.

What’s nice about this obit is, beyond its brevity, is the lack of platitudes, false praise or bromides about peace, love and understanding.

It would seem likely that ol’ Dirty Mike wrote his own obituary, and one gets the impression he penned the piece as he lived life – on his own terms.

Dirty Mike likely would have been the first to tell you he was no saint, but he also would have had no trouble owning up to that fact.

That I can respect.

Great Nickel Caper evidence of penny-ante criminals at work

boxes of nickels

Not only is it not quite on par with the Great Train Robbery or the JFK Lufthansa Heist, but the Great Nickel Caper of 2015 may be among the most irrational crimes ever committed, at least in terms of cost-effectiveness.

Recently, 183 boxes of nickels were purloined from a residence in North Naples, Fla., during a house party. The value of the 360,000 5-cent pieces was $18,000. The weight of the nicked nickels? Nearly 4,000 pounds. (Among questions that come to mind is why anyone would have 360,000 nickels in their home?)

The coins were stored in blue and white boxes the size of large bricks, according to a South Florida television station.

Detectives are asking the public to be especially alert at places where individuals can redeem change, such as at banks or grocery stores with coin-counting machines, reported WFTX-TV.

Thieves also made off with a .12-gauge shotgun, a .45-caliber firearm and miscellaneous ammunition, possibly to protect their ill-gotten booty as they made a very, very slow getaway.

In all seriousness, what does one do with 360,000 nickels? I suppose you’d never have to worry about having money for parking meters, but other than that – and heading to a gambling casino to play the nickel slots until your arm falls off – it seems like you’ve bought yourself more problems than the $18,000 is worth.

Then again, criminals usually aren’t noted for being deep thinkers.

And the casino scenario isn’t even realistic. Besides loading up a U-Haul, how would you get the money to gambling establishment without attracting undo attention?

On the plus side, one supposes the nickel nabbers have a great start on a coin collection, narrow though it may be.

(Top: Boxes of nickels similar to those stolen from a North Naples, Fla., home last month.)