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Doris writes a weekly column for LaGaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper, which has pages in English, Spanish, and Italian.  Begun in 1922 for Tampa's immigrant community, it continues to thrive more than a century later.  Her column is titled "In Context," as it aims to put contemporary issues in the context of the past.

“Honoring the Enemy:” A New Book in an Old Setting

I recently had the pleasure of reading the manuscript of the next book by Floridian Robert N. Macomber. This is the 14th in his series of naval novels with very accurate historical backgrounds. All of the titles include some form of the word “honor,” and in “Honoring the Enemy,” the enemy is Spain, as the US sided with Cuban rebels against their longtime European ruler. It is the second in a planned trilogy on the Spanish-American War of 1898 – which of course hits close to home: most of the soldiers destined for warfare in Cuba departed from Port Tampa. The first of the trilogy was largely set in Ybor City, where Cuban emigres planned the revolution.

Robert Macomber does a huge amount of research for his books, with close attention to geographic detail – including maps -- and accurate information on weapons, battles, spies, and actual historical figures. They include not only the ubiquitous Lieutenant Colonel Teddy Roosevelt, but also General William Rufus Shafter, who used our grand Tampa Bay Hotel as the Army’s headquarters. The days were long past when Shafter was known as “Pecos Bill” for his exploits in the West: by 1898, when he governed from the hotel, he weighed more than 300 pounds. When he moved on to Cuba, it was difficult to find a mule big enough to carry him up its mountains.

That rather epitomizes this near-farce of a war, in which Army logistics were so disorganized that soldiers were given woolen uniforms in the tropical summer. Many sickened from bad food – or no food – and historians estimate that five times as many men died of disease as of battle wounds. This was infuriating to the hero of the series, Captain Pete Wake, and especially to his irreverent buddy, an Irish-American seaman called Rork. They were Navy men who believed in keeping things shipshape and were very unhappy to be assigned to land. Wake was the Navy’s liaison to the Army – and although that sounds like a desk job, the always adventurous pair took on an espionage mission. Among their narrow escapes was one at a brothel.

All of the action takes place around Santiago, on Cuba’s southeast coast, and I hope that the next book will give us a little more about Havana and the northwest coast. But San Juan Hill is on the southeast and the Rough Rider action was there. And the action is good! Although Hubby is nuts about nautical novels, I rarely read them – yet this kept me turning the pages, even though they were computer pages in Adobe. The book is being published by the prestigious Naval Institute Press, and I highly recommend it.

Robert is the brother-in-law of Tampa’s Susan Glickman, well known for her environmental activism, and former State Representative Ron Glickman. I hope to see them and you when the book is launched: Thursday, March 14, from 6:30 to 7:30 at the Oxford Exchange. Put it on your calendar.

Bears as a Model?

It’s February, and I’m reminded that when I lived Up North, I always thought that bears got it right by sleeping through winter. Many was the day went I went to work in the dark and came home in the dark and said to myself: Why? Why do humans do this? Why not just hunker down and hide out until the vernal equinox? If bears can put their bodies into a restful state for months at a time, why couldn’t we?

So I did a little research on hibernation. My goal was to find out why only bears, of the many large mammals, evolved this method of coping with cold and insufficient food supply. I did a lot of googling around, but still have no clue. Large mammals from deer to wolves live in similarly harsh climates, but their bodies don’t deliver this escapism. Oddly enough, one of several smaller species that hibernate is the lemur of Madagascar, which sleeps in holes in trees for more than half of the year – and that island in the Indian Ocean never gets cold.

What made me think of this was a message sent by an old college buddy who spends much of his day wandering around the internet in search of unusual photos. Fred and Dixie were the first couple I knew who announced to their parents that they should not expect to be grandparents. Instead, they worked for a living, not for a career, and spent their earnings on fun. Attracted by the sound of “Clearwater,” they moved to Florida before we did and took underwater photos. They did a spectacular series on the Hillsborough River, but Florida’s excessive growth soon motivated them to move on. They now divide their time between Washington State and Colorado.

So Fred sent two highly unusual photos, of a mama bear and her five cubs – one taken during their first summer and the other in their second. Apparently it is about as uncommon for a bear to bear five babies as it is for a woman to bear five babies – and getting them all in camera range took long days of quiet hiding in the woods. I hope the photographer gets some money for his persistent efforts, but money probably wasn’t his main motivation, was it?

My next question is less biological than sociological: while mama and cubs snooze away the winter in a cozy den, where does papa bear go? As far as I can tell, he not only doesn’t share the same bed as mama, he may even emerge from his solitary cave and romp around on nice days. Of course, there are variations between varieties of bears, but this general gender pattern seems to be real across the animal and human kingdoms. Guys just are restless. And reckless.

It turns out that some thoughtful researchers are working on the phenomenon of hibernation. Being able to put a patient into a long sleep would be especially useful in trauma cases, in prolonging organs for future transplant, and perhaps even in curing diabetes, kidney disease, and osteoporosis. Bears can remain motionless for months without losing muscle tone or organ function, so really creative scientists are looking at them as a model for extended space travel. Biologists know more about this than I knew that they knew, and their research is clearly another reason to preserve the Arctic.

There are no bears in the Antarctic, and their absence is another good question. Bears are referred to in the oldest of literature, as the ancient Greeks were aware of them, and the Old Testament of the Bible mentions them several times. They presumably moved north from the Mediterranean, swimming even in polar ice, but apparently only one type of bear went as far south as the Andes Mountains of Peru before this branch of the evolutionary journey halted. Why? Why birds but not bears at the South Pole? Yes, we still are at the beginning stage of understanding our planet and ourselves.

And a Word about the Weather

Mark Twain’s observation that “everyone talks about the weather, but no one does anything about it” still is largely true – but that doesn’t mean we remain as ignorant as in his time. See above. Before I pondered bears as a model, though, I had noticed how weather modeling is becoming very accurate. While we were expecting company from Massachusetts last month, I kept a careful eye on the weather – and on a specific day-by-day basis, the meteorologists’ predictions were right virtually all of the time. Our local Klystron 9 advertises that it is the most advanced weather radar system in the world, and I believe them. (And I hope that the woman who seems to be there hour after hour, day after day, is well paid. It’s lovely to see not only a woman, but especially an older woman, in this capacity. I never even envisioned a female meteorologist when I was young.)

And that reminded me that when Sandy Freedman was mayor, she included me on a press conference at MacDill AFB when Vice President Al Gore spoke about NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Yes, Gore was a futurist who thought deeply about scientific issues, and he should have been president. NOAA, he told us, brought together several agencies that dated as far back as 1807, when Thomas Jefferson created the US Coastal Survey. One of my favorite feminists, astronomer Maria Mitchell, was hired by that agency to predict weather for Cape Cod sailors – two years after her 1847 discovery of a comet. The Weather Bureau began in 1870 and was assigned to the Department of Agriculture when that began in 1890; in 1940, the function moved to the Department of Commerce.

So without going into more detail on what often are scorned as “bureaucracies,” the point is that people expect -- and get -- objective facts from meteorologists and other scientists employed by the government. And history shows that these agencies take the lead at the beginning of almost any field. When things become profitable – as in the case of Klystron 9 – private enterprise may stir itself, but whether it is NOAA or NASA or the Center for Disease Control or whatever, we depend on the federal government to take the first risks, to fund the pioneers. That, among many other reasons, is why we don’t need any more shutdowns.


Doris Weatherford writes a weekly column for La Gaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper. With pages in Spanish, Italian, and English, it has been published in Tampa since 1922.
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