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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.

Donna's List

I am fortunate to have my work load eased this week because Donna Parrino sent an e-mail that I shall quote pretty much whole cloth.  You probably know or at least know of Donna:  She was with USF for many years, and both then and now, is a leader in Tampa's Latin community.  Retirement brings her an opportunity to read, and she responded to last week's column about what I was reading at Hubby's hospital bedside with her book recommendations.  Here's what she said:

         "I am currently reading "A Warning" by Anonymous.  It is far better than Bob Woodward's book and very well written.  Makes me think it was written by a journalist or historian with the information coming from an insider.  But maybe not…

         "'Catch and Kill' by Ronan Farrow is amazing investigative reporting; much more than just about Weinstein.

         "'Deep South" by Paul Theroux; not your Southern Living South.  Also about the South:  "Spying on the South" by Tony Horwitz, who died suddenly shortly after the book was published.  He retraces a lengthy journey Frederick Law Olmstead took as a writer for the fledging New York Times in 1850.  Excellent book."  [In case Olmstead doesn't ring a bell, he was a pioneer landscape architect who, among other things, designed New York City's Central Park.]

         "'The Woman in the Window – don't have the author's name, but he is a book editor and this is his first book…good mystery.

         "The Fixers:  The Bottom-Feeders, Crooked Lawyers, Gossipmongers, and Porn Stars Who Created the 45th President" by Joe Palazzolo and Michael Rothfield.  The former is a Wall Street Journal reporter and the latter is a New York Times reporter.  I have not read this yet; it was just published last Tuesday… They wrote a full-page article about the book in the WSJ last weekend…

         "Ok, one more:  "The Taliban Cricket Club."  I can't remember the author, but he is Indian.  This is a brief but clever novel, but I like to think it is based on a true story.  It relates how a sharp young woman (an attorney) outwits the Taliban.  I read it a few years ago, and it still is a fave." 


All of these sound good to me, and Donna, thanks so much!




Yes, Hubby still is in ICU, but if his body could do what his mind wants to do, he would have been in Tallahassee last week for the teachers' march on the day before the legislative session began.  It got some news coverage, but not enough – and sadly, most of today's jejune reporters failed to think beyond the press releases issued by the legislature and the governor.  These guys (and I say "guys" purposely) want you to believe that they intend to give historic raises to teachers, so most of the public is perplexed about why teachers aren't happy.


In short, teachers are angry because the Republican governor and legislature emulate the Republicans in Washington by delivering simplistic answers to complex questions.  Instead of including teachers on planning decisions, they issue mandates on everything from curriculum changes to who may use what restroom.  Their rules apply to everyone, everywhere without attention to local differences – even school governance should be by locally elected officials, not by decrees from Tallahassee. 


It is school boards, in fact, that decide on teacher pay.  They control the county property tax dollars that make up the bulk of educational revenue – and Florida's 67 counties vary greatly.  Some, as education lobbyist Kathy Betancourt used to say, are property rich and pupil poor; others are pupil rich and property poor.  Thus a student in a wealthy county – let us say Collier, which has affluent retirees in towns such as Naples – is able to receive a more costly education than, say, a kid in the neighboring Hendry, where there are many impoverished children and little tax revenue. 


Floridians recognized this in 1968, when we added a equalization amendment to our state constitution.  By the way, in case you are a newcomer or never thought about this, Florida's school districts are countywide.  That is much fairer than most districts Up North, where parochialism prevails and results in tremendous contrast between school districts.  Florida has done a comparatively good job of creating equality, and our Constitution mandates "adequate provision for the education of all children [with] a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools." 


Differences based on geography nonetheless are inevitable, and it is the failure of Tallahassee folks to acknowledge this and other complexities that motivates teachers to give up a personal day and get on a bus to protest.  Governor Ron DeSantis wants a lot of credit for his proposal to create a starting salary of over $47,000 – without thinking about the fact that this would be more than a $10,000 annual raise in underprivileged Gadsden County, while teachers in affluent Broward and Dade counties already make that much.


Moreover, a higher starting salary for new teachers is just one measurement of quality – and even more importantly, it snubs veteran teachers who might well be paid less than newbies under DeSantis's proposal.  That was the case in higher education, when Hubby was president of the statewide union.  Many loyal professors helped create the growing reputation of Florida colleges and universities during the second half of the twentieth century, but we often saw new people come in at salaries that were higher than those of us who built the system.


The point is simple:  educational policy is complex.  Politicians should stop grandstanding with their perennially changing "expertise." They should get over their prejudice against teacher activism, and they especially should grant more flexibility and freedom to locally elected school boards and the teacher unions with which the boards negotiate.  People who are actually in the classroom are the ones with experience and understanding, and their input should be respected. 




         Just a few quickies to get notes off my desk:

·      An item in last week's Times was headlined:  "U.S. Health System Costs Far More Than Canada's Single-Payer."  With the Canadian system, the administrative cost per patient per year is $551; in the US, that figure is $2,497.  That, dear reader, is the price of paper-pushers who guarantee a profit to private insurance companies.

·      Republicans love to accuse Democrats of a tax and spend ideology, but they pursue a policy of borrow and spend.  This was the case with Reagan and the Bushes, while Clinton and Obama left office with appreciable more money in the treasury than they had found.  According to the Treasury Department (headed, of course, by a Trump appointee) the deficit news is bad:  In the first three months of the fiscal year that began in October, it is up 11.8% from a year ago.  Trump is on track to equal the trillion-dollar deficit under Dubya, yet his buddies on Wall Street still are sending stock prices through the roof.  Borrow and spend, sing and dance.

·      On the other hand, we have stopped growing in another sense.  According to the Census Bureau, population growth in 2019 was the slowest in a century.  This is partly because women are exercising their right to control their bodies, but also because of two other factors:  First, Americans are older and thus we have more deaths.  Indeed, four states – Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, and West Virginia -- reported more deaths than births last year.  The second factor, despite what right-wingers will tell you, is a sharp decline in immigration during 2019.  The last time that population growth was this slow was in 1918, when World War I made immigration impossible.

·      One of the books that I've decided not to write about nonetheless had a thought I want to share.  Frederick Douglass, the chief African American abolitionist, escaped from slavery as a young man and thus knew what he was talking about.  He wrote that he never had known a slave who knew the date of his birth.  Imagine that:  No acknowledgement of age, nor ever a birthday.  How poignant. 




Last week I wrote about "The Annuals of America," a chronology of primary documents, and I lamented that the editors had not followed up Columbus with more Spanish explorers.  Instead of Pedro Mendenez de Avila, who led a huge expedition of men and women, both free and slave, to St. Augustine in 1565, the editors chose for that year one John Sparke, an English sailor.


I never had heard of Sparke, perhaps for good reason.  Indeed, his work, "The Attractions of Florida," makes me wonder if he was in Florida at all, although the 27 degrees latitude that he claims includes the southern portion of our peninsula.  Anyway, among the five pages devoted to him are these two paragraphs:

"It is all lowland and very scant of fresh water, but the country was marvelously sweet, with both marsh and meadow… Near their houses were great stores of maize and millet and grapes of great bigness, but of taste much like our English grapes…  Their houses are not many together, for in one house a hundred of them do lodge… 

"The Floridians have pieces of unicorns, which they wear about their necks…  Of those unicorns they have many…they do affirm it to be a beast with one horn, coming to the river to drink, puts the same into the water before she drinks.  Of these unicorns there is of our company, that having gotten the same of the Frenchmen, brought home thereof to show."  (Yes, that is bad prose for a native English speaker, but you get the point.)


Of course, it was the unicorns that clinched it for me, but there are other clues to his counterfeit character.  Florida has lots of fresh water, with springs and rivers even along the coast.  Maize and millet are of the corn family, and do not grow in this latitude, not do grapes thrive in south Florida.  The lodge described is a wigwam used by Native Americans in very cold climates, and not at all akin to the barely-there nature of shelter in Florida.  Finally, there were no Frenchmen here at the time – and very few later, as the Spanish massacred them.


So even without the unicorns, he managed a half-dozen improbabilities in two paragraphs, and yet his work was published as science.  Thus do myths arise.



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