Sunday, August 31, 2003

We're Number One! 

It's not a city, but Saturday night it had more people than Miami Beach, Lakeland or West Palm Beach. With the new expansion of Bill Hill Griffin Stadium at the University of Florida, 90,011 Gators (were there any San Jose State fans in attendance?) watched the season opener. This was the largest attendance for any football game in the state, ever.

Labor Day in Florida 

Those who work for the State of Florida are almost always underpaid, many of their benefits have been taken away and the trend is to hire cheaper private workers to replace them.

Not satisfied with this, Governor Bush has put forth new hiring guidelines that have the intended effect of preventing career employees from rising to top jobs:
Under the subheading, "Hiring from within," the document makes it explicit: "On occasion a candidate from within may be the best candidate. Remember, however, that we are looking to bring new talent and fresh ideas into state government. Please make sure you have exhausted external search before proceeding with internal candidates."

On occasion?

The document also said that one way to find "good candidates" would be to ask the governor's office for a list of names. Another would be to "network with people in your industries to find good candidates to bring into state government . . ."
Martin Dykeman of the St. Petersburg Times also points out the buddy-buddy hiring practices the new guidelines foster are already well advanced thoughout State government, and states ". . . the policy will be widely seen as it is plainly meant: As yet another put-down of state workers. As one more way to pack the government with ideological carpetbaggers who know little and care less about Florida's history and values."

Going Beyond Bizarre 

Mark Lane uses the phase, "More wing-nuttery" to describe the hiring of attorney James H.K. Bruner by the Department of Children & Families. Need we say more than that Mr. Bruner was allegedly a member of Patriot Saints for the Kingdom of God on Earth?

Where do they get these guys?

Saturday, August 30, 2003

First We Privatize, Then We'll Worry About the Kids 

I hate to sound like a broken record, but what is going on in Tallahassee? Apparently the State doesn't have enough money to fund a boys half-way house in Palm Beach County, so it's going to be closed.
The 20-bed program in Lantana will be replaced by a girls detention center to be managed by a private company. That company, Psychotherapeutic Services, is in the process of forfeiting its license to run a 112-bed program for delinquent boys in Broward County because of chronic problems with safety and security.
According to this article in the Sun-Sentinel, the state will save $5.00 per kid per day by privatizing, but no one can say if the level of service will better:"Can the private sector do it cheaper than $90 [ day, per child]? Probably," [Darryl Olson, juvenile justice's regional director of residential and correctional facilities] said. "But can they do it better? Time will tell."

At least we should have enough prison space for these kids.

Friday, August 29, 2003

Timing Is Everything 

The Palm Beach Post questions the decision to indict a Cuban air force general and two MIG pilots in the 1996 shoot down of two civilian planes, calling it "shallow politics and hollow justice."
Marcos Jimenez, the U.S. attorney in Miami, denied that the indictments were politically motivated, but the timing suggests otherwise. The week before the government filed charges, a group of 13 Republican state legislators -- 10 of them Cuban-Americans -- wrote President Bush to warn that his steadfast support among Cuban-American voters could be in trouble for next year's election. After the government had done nothing for seven years, Mr. Jimenez apparently was overcome with the urge to do something just as the legislators put their letter in the mail.
The indictments are meaningless since there is no chance that there will be an extradition. I guess they could be considered a constituent service.


Anyone want to guess how many IT departments will be sending out an email on Tuesday instructing employees to stop setting this as their desktop background?

Thursday, August 28, 2003

Trust Us, We Really Meant It 

Remember the old Groucho Marx quote "I don't want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member"? Well apparently Governor Bush takes a similar attitude -- he doesn't trust the judgment of the electorate that put him in office.

In trying to overturn the small class size amendment, Bush and his toadies in the education department are claiming that the voters didn't know what they were doing. The Ocala Star-Banner is having none of that:
With 52 percent of voters favoring this directive, the voters' decision was seemingly made with full knowledge that smaller class sizes would come at a hefty price. Under Gov. Bush's administration, state analysts estimated that paring down the number of students per teacher would cost anywhere from $8 billion to $27.5 billion over the next 10 years. These are additional public education costs, above and beyond the state's regular annual budget for schools statewide.

It should be remembered, too, that the "what, where, why, when and how" of the class-size amendment - including its tremendous cost - was repeatedly reported in newspapers and on TV stations across the state for months preceding the vote.

So, it can and should be presumed that those who voted had a clear understanding of what they were endorsing and its ramifications. Those who didn't can only blame themselves for not being informed when they went to the polls; and those who didn't vote essentially forfeited their right to complain about this measure's passage.
Of course Bush did warn us that he had "devious plans" to negate the class size amendment if it was passed. He tried to weasel out of that one, but his recent efforts remind me of another of Groucho's sayings, "Who are you going to believe, me or your lyin' eyes?"

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Defender of the Everglades 

Florida Congressman Clay Shaw (Ft. Lauderdale) is a conservative and, in the case of the Everglades, a conservationist. When Governor Bush and the sugar industry moved to delay the Everglades clean-up, Rep. Shaw warned them that they were reneging on a deal already made as well as jeopardizing federal funding.

Sally Swartz, editorial writer for the Palm Beach Post, writes about Rep. Shaw's crusade:
I don't agree with U.S. Rep. E. Clay Shaw, R-Fort Lauderdale, on every issue, but he rates a high five for his commitment to the Everglades. Unhappy with the Legislature's new law delaying the Everglades cleanup for 10 years -- until 2016 -- Rep. Shaw said he now looks to U.S. District Judge William Hoeveler, who has called the law "clearly defective," to take action. And Rep. Shaw has a specific action in mind.

He hopes the judge will name former Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth, a Democrat, as a special overseer of the Everglades cleanup. Mr. Butterworth "would be a good one," for the job, and his appointment, Rep. Shaw said bluntly, would be the sugar industry's "worst nightmare." Mr. Butterworth supported the proposal to levy a penny-per-pound tax on sugar cane and argued that the "polluter pays" constitutional amendment requires the state to make growers pay more to clean the Everglades.

For a Republican to recommend a Democrat so strongly takes guts, considering that the Bush brothers have been known to get even with fellow Republicans who disagree with them. The governor's decision to back the controversial state law granting the cleanup delay is a bad mistake -- one that could become an issue in the presidential campaign.
Clay Shaw deserves our support for stepping to the forefront on this issue.

Don't Fix it if it Ain't Broke 

The ideology of privatization is based largely on faith. When one examines specific examples of a government outsourcing services to private corporations, the results are often less than ideal. The Gainesville Sun criticizes the Florida Department of Education for, at best, mishandling the privatization of its Florida Information Resource Network.

In addition to questionable bidding practices, reduced services and questions by the Federal government, "[n]ow, officials may have to return to the Legislature in search of more money in an already tight budget year to keep the state's 67 school districts, 11 public universities and 28 public colleges electronically connected."

Let's Not Cheap Out 

Florida Senator Bill Nelson, who flew aboard the shuttle Columbia in 1986, writes in the Orlando Sentinel that the critical report on NASA should lead to an increased concern for safety, but should not be used as an excuse to cut back the space program. While much of the focus has been on "human, technical and institutional flaws" within NASA, Senator Nelson points out that budget cuts have taken their toll:
In the past 10 years, essential safety upgrades have been deferred or delayed because of budget shortfalls. We must dramatically increase NASA's human spaceflight budget to provide the safety upgrades, badly needed infrastructure improvements, and a shuttle replacement vehicle as soon as possible.

We can't explore space on the cheap.

But without clear leadership from the president and a commitment by Congress to increase the shuttle budget, the safety recommendations we're reading today will be meaningless.
Senator Nelson correctly compares our tentative steps beyond our planet to Lewis and Clark's expedition across the continent, noting that now as then it takes presidential leadership to push off into the unknown.

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

To See Ourselves As Others See Us 

I'm not one to automatically blame America, but by the same token I am not blind to our faults. Too often these emanate from an inability to stand back and see inconsistancies in our policies. Columnist Max Castro writes in today's Miami Herald about one double standard that is of a type that "infuriates" other nations:
On Tuesday, the United States gave its blessing to a program -- known in bureaucratic doublespeak as the ''Airbridge Denial Program'' -- that allows Colombian fighter pilots to shoot down unarmed civilian aircraft suspected of carrying drugs. The program was suspended two years ago after an American missionary and her infant daughter were killed when their plane was mistaken for a drug plane. U.S. officials say now there are sufficient safeguards to prevent a similar tragedy.

Notwithstanding, as Michael L. Evans, director of the Colombia Documentation Project at the National Security Archive, wrote Thursday in The Herald, the program ignores international law. The International Civil Aviation Organization's rule holds that governments ''must refrain from resorting to the use of weapons against civil aircraft in flight.'' The State Department's own legal advisor wrote that the ``prohibition applies whether or not the aircraft in question is suspected of engaging in criminal activity.''
Just two days later, though,
. . . the U.S. government indicted for murder two Cuban fighter pilots and the former head of the country's air force for shooting down two unarmed Brothers to the Rescue civilian aircraft in international waters near Cuban air space, resulting in four deaths.

The Cuban government claims the action was justified because Brothers to the Rescue aircraft had engaged in repeated violations of Cuban air space and posed a danger to safety and national security. But the planes were unarmed civilian aircraft, and when the United States took the case to the International Civil Aviation Organization, the body ruled against the Cuban government.
Castro points out the differences between the two shoot-downs, but notes that
the shooting down of civilian aircraft is a violation of international aviation rules no matter who is on board. The differences in the cases do not make the glaring inconsistency in the U.S. position any less evident -- or any less familiar. It's another instance -- though not as dramatic as Iraq or global warming -- in which our government resorts to international organizations and laws when it agrees with the position and ignores them when it doesn't.
Obviously the United States should act to protect its interests, but some people seem to have a myopic view of what those interests might be. An old corporate saying goes, "Be careful of the toes you step on today, they may be connected to the ass you have to kiss tomorrow." Unfortunately too many people never expect that they will not be toe stompers, engage in it in a promiscuous manner, and realize too late that eveyone else is taking delight in their unexpected downfall.

Too late the lament, "I never saw it coming."

Thursday, August 21, 2003

Gone Fishin' 

Back next week.

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

Complex Issue 

Robert Batey, professor of criminal law at Stetson University College of Law in St. Petersburg, writes in the Tallahassee Democrat that Florida has an operating "prison industrial complex." Various special interests -- corportions and politicians -- profit from a sizable inmate population and expanding penal facilities:
Over the last generation, many corporations have profited handsomely from the building and maintaining of our sprawling state prison system. They want to continue to profit, so they contribute generously to those politicians who will vote for new prison expenditures.

The bureaucracy needed to run Florida's prisons has also enlarged substantially, from administrators down to the guards. These people want to keep their jobs, so they too reward the politicians who support them, with money and votes - and by locating new prisons in the supporters' districts if they have that power.

All this works to the benefit of those in political power, so our governors, Democratic and Republican, have sought dramatic increases in the state's prison system, and our legislators, Democratic and Republican, have voted overwhelmingly in favor of them.

The Legislature's recent action is a textbook example of this process. The primary reason for the recent spurt of new prisoners is increased drug convictions. Beginning two years ago, the Legislature started cutting drug treatment programs, both in prison and for those on probation, a cost-saving device that removed about $14 million from the state budget.

You don't have be a rocket scientist to conclude that if the treatment programs had continued, many of those now going (or returning) to prison would be doing something different with their lives.

So we saved $14 million, but it is now costing us $65 million. It seems stupid - unless you're part of the prison industrial complex, and stand to profit from all that taxpayer money. Now $65 million will go to businesses and bureaucrats, who will take their cut, and then pass a lot of it back to the politicians in the form of political contributions.
Governor Bush denies that there is any relationship between cutting drug treatment funding and increases in prison population: "The budget cuts are too recent to have the implied impact on the rate of recidivism."

Happy Birthday Al 

I didn't realize he was still alive, so I was both surprised and delighted to see that baseball Hall of Famer Al Lopez is still going strong at the age of 95, and still in his hometown of Tampa. Tampa has produced a number of baseball greats -- Tony La Russa, Steve Garvey, Wade Boggs, Dwight Gooden, Gary Sheffield and Lou Piniella (current manager of the Devil Rays) -- but Lopez was the first:
As a teenager, he caught the fastballs of an aging Walter Johnson. He still can speak, with authority, about witnessing the power of Babe Ruth. Once, a fatigued Lou Gehrig stepped out of the batter's box and turned to Lopez, the opposing catcher. ``Al, can you see anything wrong with my swing?'' When spring training ended, Gehrig headed north and learned about the disease that would end his career.

Lopez played for two teams that were managed by a young Casey Stengel - ``he could out-talk anybody, even back then'' - then spent most of his own managerial career as Stengel's chief adversary. . . He is the only surviving player from the second All-Star Game (1934) and the oldest living member of baseball's Hall of Fame.
When he was born in Ybor City, the Spanish-Cuban section of Tampa, Theodore Roosevelt was president and there were only 46 states:
In Tampa during the World War I era, Lopez said his family was poor. Main thoroughfares were dirt roads. His father worked constantly and his mother looked after nine children. He expected to eventually learn the cigar trade, but baseball became his escape.
He broke into the majors in 1928, along with Pepper Martin, Chuck Klein, Carl Hubbell and Bill Cronin.
The game took him places. In the corner of Lopez's souvenir display case, there's a photograph of him standing near President Kennedy during the first-pitch ceremony on Opening Day 1961 in Washington. There's another shot of him, as a White House guest, sharing a laugh with President Reagan.

``A little kid from Ybor City, imagine that,'' Lopez said. ``How lucky can a man be? The years have been good to me.''
Lopez had the unfortunate luck to be managing when the Yankees were at their stongest. The Bronx Bombers reached the World Series 14 times between 1949 and 1964. The only two times that they failed to win the American League pennant during that period they were bested by Cleveland (1954) and Chicago (1959). Al Lopez managed both of them. As he said, "The Yankee can be had." Not often, though.

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Drug War Casualty 

A 19 year-old university student serving a weekend sentence for marijuana use was placed in a cell with a convicted sex offender:
The 19-year-old student was raped June 7 by his cellmate, who was being held on sexual battery charges, officials said. His cellmate held a ballpoint pen to the teenager's neck and forced himself on him, said Alachua County Sheriff's Sgt. Jim Troiano.

The cellmate, Randolph Jackson, 35, also raped or attempted to rape three inmates between March and June, the investigation found. Detectives have asked prosecutors to formally charge Jackson with sexual battery.
Too bad the student couldn't get rehab instead of jail:
While [the Governor's daughter] Noelle [Bush] has been given every break in the book -- and then some -- her father has made it harder for others in her position to get the help they need by cutting the budgets of drug treatment and drug court programs in his state. He has also actively opposed a proposed ballot initiative that would send an estimated 10,000 nonviolent drug offenders into treatment instead of jail. I guess what's good for the goose gets the gander locked away.

Of course, Jeb's wildly inconsistent attitude on the issue -- treatment and privacy for his daughter, incarceration and public humiliation for everyone else -- is part and parcel of the galling hypocrisy that infects America's insane drug war on every level.
(thanks to Florida Politics)

Not Enough 

The Orlando Sentinel is not satisfied that Governor Bush's five-page form provides enough information to justify the state's expenditure on private school vouchers. A level playing field should be created:
True accountability, however, will not be achieved until the state requires all voucher students eligible to take the FCAT to do so, and reports the results. Florida can't provide a high-quality education for all students by closing its eyes and tossing money at private schools.

How I Spent My Summer Vacation 

The new school year is about to start, and what have school boards been concerned about? Shirttails and cell phones.

Sun-Sentinel columnist Michael Mayo describes the Broward School Board cell phone fiasco:
The board has flip-flopped to the point of absurdity on this strangely charged issue. Almost every month has brought a different vote. But today, thanks to the begrudging reversal of board member Lois Wexler, the cell-phone proponents should finally prevail.

"We've got to move on," Wexler said Monday. "School's around the corner, and here we are going back-and-forth. It's been downright embarrassing."

In April the ban was lifted, but in June it was re-imposed. In July it was off again, but because three of the staunchest cell-phone opponents missed that meeting, it appeared the ban might be revived today. (In the vagaries of board procedure, a change needs two successive votes to be implemented.)

Hey, Buddy, Would You Like To Buy The Sunshine Skyway? 

Perhaps I'm being overly cynical, but the State Board of Education's endorsing repeal of the class size amendment so that the $600,000,000 cost could be used "for teacher salaries, reading specialists, technology and career preparation for high school students," seems more than a little bit bogus.

What are the odds that the Legislature would, if the class size amendment was repealed, allow that money to be used for educational purposes? More likely that they would declare tax cuts were in order and education in Florida would take another step backwards.

UPDATE: The Florida Times-Union has an article with more detail on this issue.

Testing in the Sunshine 

A Daytona Beach New-Journal editorial says that the FCAT will be a flawed instument unless it is made more understandable to those who are effected by it:
The testing game is a sham. And it's time to expose it.

Make the results of the tests public, as a group of Florida parents are demanding.

Gov. Jeb Bush maintains that the tests can't be made public because they would then not be able to use the tests again. That dodges the issue. The aim of testing should not be to preserve the integrity of tests but to ensure that each child receives an adequate education.

Corporations who make the tests may disagree, too, claiming it would be too expensive. But their motive is profit. States can lead the way to a solution by requiring manufacturers to create tests that can be rotated and whose results can be shown to teachers and parents. Making the tests public would hold the testing industry accountable. Making the test public would expose the exam's weak points. Questions that are poorly worded or otherwise flawed would be known -- and presumably have a better chance of being corrected. Improper scoring could be discovered quickly and corrected.

Making the tests public would enable teachers and parents to understand the test and provide help for children precisely where it is needed. In order to improve, students need to know what went wrong. It would also help schools focus on programs that work. It could refocus the objective of testing on its original design -- to help students learn better.

Feds Flunk Florida's DCF 

Shades of the FCAT. Florida's Department of Children and Family Services failed a federal review designed to "measure how well children are faring across state systems created to protect them."

Of course those who questioned the efficacy of the FCATs were called crybabies, but in this case, "[c]ritics, including state officials and outside advocates, say the reviews are flawed."

The proposed solution? No, not adequate funding -- privatization.

In the meantime, DCF needs to address issues such as this.

Monday, August 18, 2003

New Eras in Their Brains 

Orlando Sentinel staff writer David Porter has an informative article on the history of the Civil Rights era in Central Florida. As was the case elsewhere in the state, movement toward integration was quicker, or at least less violent, in the cities than in rural areas.

With much of the state's economy based on tourism and the construction industry (housing developments for new residents), civic and business leaders were anxious that ugly scenes of racial turmoil be avoided. The establishment strategy was to refuse black demands, but to give in if they persisted.

The defining moment for Florida during this period came in a speech by Governor LeRoy Collins delivered in a statewide television and radio broadcast during the early evening of March 20, 1960. In it he called upon Floridians to take the path of moderation, but also to recognize that the segregation that existed in law and in people's hearts should come to an end.

Read today the speech seems quaint and hardly objectionable, but it is hard to over-estimate the courage it took to deliver it. It would be a mistake to assume that in 1960 the Civil Rights movement was inexorably moving toward the end of segregation. The Freedom Riders were still to come, George Wallace had not yet stood in the doorway at the University of Alabama, James Meredith had not yet enrolled at the University of Mississippi, the March on Washington was yet to occur, as were bloody scenes in Birmingham and Selma. More important, most white Southerners were convinced that blacks were inferior and that the basic framework of society could not withstand the "mixing of the races."

The speech may have been made in response to the fear of violence, but Collins went beyond a mere call for peace:
Friends, we must find answers. There is absolutely nothing that can aid the Communists more at this time in establishing supremacy over the United States -- and that is their ambition -- than racial strife in this country.

I made that statement the other day and somebody said to me,

"Yes, I think you are right about that. We understand how that injures our nation for the word to be passed along about our racial strife, but all this could be eliminated if the colored people would just stay in their place."

Now friends, that's not a Christian point of view.

That's not a democratic point of view.

That's not a realistic point of view.

We can never stop Americans from struggling to be free.
He asked Floridians to shake off the shackles of the past and imagine a new Florida:
Friends, we've got mobs beginning to form now, in this nation, in this Southland and in this state. The time requires intelligent, careful, thorough study of big problems, and the reaching of solutions that are going to be reasonable and sound and make good sense.

We cannot let this matter and these issues be decided by the mobs, whether they are made up of white people or whether they are made up of colored people.

And we in this state have this sort of situation; we have got extremists on one side and we've got extremists on the other. We've got this mob shouting here; we've got that mob shouting there.

But where are the people in the middle? Why aren't they talking? Why aren't they working? They must start working. They must start efforts that are going to bring about solutions if we are going to get over these problems and these troubles and keep our state growing as our state should grow.

You remember the little story about the song of the brook? It said, "Bring me men to match my mountains, bring me men to match my plains, men with empires in their vision and new eras in their brains."

We've got to have men with new eras in their brains. We've got a state to build, we've got a nation to save. And we've a God to serve.
With that speech LeRoy Collins became an American hero.

[Video clips of Governor Collins are available on the Florida Memory Project site.]

Occupational Longevity 

Anyone who holds the same job for 67 years is doing something right. And if that job is catching alligators, he'd better be doing everything right.

The St. Augustine Record reports that at the age of 75, Rufus "Bubba" Stratton has decided to get out of the alligator trapping business. It's not that he's no longer able to catch the big reptiles (he still catches about 150 a year), it's just that there is not enough money in it anymore.

Tough Times Ahead 

Governor Bush is in for tough times in the next couple years, according to Tallahassee Democrat political editor Bob Cotterell, and he probably can't count on the support of some important Republicans in the Legislature.
Unless the state's economy recovers fast enough to ease pressure for new taxes - or unless some miraculous solutions are found for shrinking class size in public schools, building a high-speed rail system and meeting the social and economic needs of a fast-growing state with an aging population - the popular Republican governor and the learned elders of the Senate seem to be on permanent collision courses.
Bush's use of hardball tactics against members of his own party won't make his job any easier in the coming years.

Saturday, August 16, 2003

Cuba Jamming? 

It's been over a month since the allegation that Cuba was jamming U.S. broadcasts to Iran hit the media, but there has been little additional information brought forward since the initial charges were made. Now, it seems the story has dropped out of sight entirely.

Most of the major media stories are follow the information in the initial report by NBC News producer, Bob Windrem, and the denials by the Cuban government.

Several conservative groups (see Insight and The Heritage Foundation) assume the allegations to be true, often criticizing the Bush Administration for failing to act forcefully:
If the Bush administration already had been floundering at political action and political warfare against enemies abroad, it was caught with its pants down by the time VOA started its low-budget news show for Iran. Intelligence analysts are not sure about the extent of Chinese technical involvement, but the Cubans were able to stop a new U.S. hearts-and-minds campaign with the flip of a switch. [fromthe Insight article]
But in a July 20 article, the Financial Times cast doubt on the certainty that Cuba was the culprit [the Financial Times requires a subscription, but the article is can be accessed here]:
Initially there was speculation in the press and by Cuban-Americans that the jamming was being done by the Cuban government. Among the rumours was that Cuba was using the defunct Soviet communications interception station at Lourdes, outside Havana, for the jamming.

Cuban expatriates focused on the jamming to highlight Cuban ties with Iran. They noted that Iran supplied oil to Cuba at concessionary terms and that Cuba had sold biotechnology to Tehran. In 2001, Fidel Castro, the Cuban leader, visited Tehran, where he was widely reported to have got on well with President Mohammad Khatami. Mr Castro announced that he had had the longest sleep of his life in Tehran. The leaders promised increased co-operation.

But despite the cordiality, US officials say Cuba would have little to gain and much to lose by being seen as a junior partner of Iran.

A US official told the FT that Washington was sure Lourdes was not the source of the jamming and was unsure whether the Cuban government was involved.

Technical experts say it is not too difficult to interfere with the transmission of programmes to a satellite. A television news truck contains all the requisites to send a blocking signal.

To interfere with the Voice of America and expatriate signals, say experts, jamming would have to be done from the eastern US or parts of Canada and Latin America. Cuba is one of the few countries in the region where a deliberate attempt to jam a US-owned satellite might be carried out without massive and immediate response by local and national officials.

The US official told the FT that although Cuba might have been the source of the jamming, it was possible the interference came from the Iranian embassy in Havana.
I would guess that there is less here than meets the eye, especially since the right-wingers have failed to keep up the drumbeat for tough action against Cuba in retaliation for the jamming.

Global Security.Org has background information on the Lourdes intelligence facility in Cuba, the alleged source of the jamming.


Last night I was watching the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's coverage of the northeastern blackout and was impressed with the breadth of its reporting. Too often American broadcast and cable news programs seemed to be almost exclusively (or at least overly) focused on New York City.

Talking Points Memo has a link to the Blackout History Project, which has archived an impressive amount of information on the 1965 and 1977 blackouts, and is soliciting personal accounts of the current electrical outage.

And Liz Donovan's Informaniac Behind the News has worthwhile links to Investigative Reporters and Editors, Inc.'s resources for media coverage of the blackout. A lot of links to information on the electrical industry, deregulation issues, how the grid works and more.

Finally, the Lakeland Ledger explains why Florida is not likely to experience a catastrophic blackout.

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

School Board Says 18 Credits Not Enough 

According to Florida Today, the Indian River School Board wanted to advise students and parents to steer clear of the new reduced credit for graduation plan, but were told by their attorney that they had to provide the choice.

Under Governor Bush's new plan, a student can graduate from high school with just 18 credits, rather than the 24 previously required. "Several board members said the state plan is ill-conceived and not practical for most students."

But well-conceived if the purpose is to reduce the number of students.

Thank You California 

The other night, Jay Leno commented on the California recall campaign, saying that it was so bad, "even Florida is laughing at us."

Fortunately, as the Tallahassee Democrat points out, Florida law makes it a bit more difficult to throw an elected official out of office in midterm. There is no provision for recall of legislators or the governor. Moreover the grounds for recalling local officials are limited to malfeasance, misfeasance, neglect of duty, drunkenness, incompetence, permanent inability to perform official duties and conviction of "a felony involving moral turpitude."
Leon County Elections Supervisor Ion Sancho said Monday that Florida's tougher recall method is seldom used, mainly because elected officials are protected from recall for the first one-fourth of their terms and because courts have strictly interpreted the seven politically deadly criteria.

"What's happening in California, recalling someone nine months after they're elected, couldn't happen in Florida," Sancho said. "Also, when people come in to start a recall and I show them the legal definitions of 'misfeasance' and 'malfeasance,' that usually stops it right there."

Jolly For Their Times 

About a month ago I linked to an article in the St. Petersburg Times on how the recent movie, Pirates of the Caribbean, portrayed buccaneers as, perhaps, a bit more "jolly good fellows" than they were, historically.

Now, in an interesting post titled "A Defense of Pirates", Ideofact makes the case that in the context of their times pirates' cruelity didn't stand out as particularly unusual.

(thanks to Geitner Simmons' Regions of Mind)

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Covering for the Governor 

Florida's new Board of Governors, created to oversee the state universities, has been criticized for taking no meaningful action as the Republicans in Tallahassee underfunded higher education. As the Gainesville Sun points out, it took a situation that might have negative political repercussions to get some action from the Board:
It's likely that the board would have happily and faithfully kept to its "hands off" policy - allowing the university system to slowly disintegrate while Bush and the Legislature put public higher education on a starvation budget in order to finance their tax cuts. But the presidents of the universities wouldn't cooperate - which is to say, they refused to sit by silently and pretend that their institutions were capable of absorbing $40 million in budget cuts and taking on an additional 22,000 unfunded students without negatively impacting the quality of their educational offerings.

So the presidents began talking about freezing enrollments. And you can't blame them. It's simply not reasonable to expect universities to continue, year after year, to accept thousands of new students while the Legislature stubbornly refuses to provide additional funding for them.

In the next decade, university system enrollment is expected to increase from 292,000 students to nearly 400,000. But if the Legislature sticks to its pattern, per-student funding will continue to fall dramatically even as enrollments increase drastically. That's a prescription for higher education mediocrity, and the presidents have been saying so.

And the presidents are correct: If the Legislature refuses to fund enrollment growth, then admissions caps are the only reasonable alternative. But to impose caps would be to fly in the face of the official fiction in Bush's Tallahassee - that there is no fiscal crisis and that the universities are doing just fine, thank you.

Hence the sleeping giant awakens.
"There will be no enrollment cap without review by this board," proclaimed member Steve Uhlfelder last week. Chimed in board chair Carolyn Roberts, "This is a very important moment for our outstanding board. We are going to be advocates for our universities, but we are going to hold them accountable."
Roberts, of course, led the failed campaign to prevent the formation of the Board of Governors. That Bush would then appoint her to the Board of Governors is an insult to the majority of Floridians who voted for its creation. But by placing his toadies on the Board, Bush has insured that he will not have to confront angry parents asking why their otherwise qualified children were not accepted to a state university.

He just has to hope that they don't catch on that their kids might be receiving a discounted education. 

Historic Bradenton Neighborhood Threatened 

The Sarasota Herald-Tribune calls for the preservation of historic properties in Bradenton's Point Pleasant neighborhood. Developers want to demolish a 102-year-old house as part of a proposed condominium project.

The Herald-Tribune outlines what is at stake:
Neighborhoods like Point Pleasant are integral to the city's appeal to residents, tourists and investors. Old homes, when carefully restored, are likely to contribute more to the city's rebirth than a nine-unit condo.

As we've pointed out before, the city's comprehensive plan recognizes the value of historic neighborhoods and urges the preservation of Point Pleasant. If the city allows this house to fall -- eyesore though it may be at the moment -- similar requests will follow and one of the city's oldest neighborhoods is likely to vanish bit by bit.

Records? What Records? 

Jac Wilder VerSteeg of the Palm Beach Post recently conducted a little investigation:
Last week, I contacted more than 50 organizations listed on the Florida Department of Education's Web page as groups accrediting private schools. I asked, via e-mail, what percentage of third-graders were held back. Typical responses: "We don't keep records on this. I would expect ours to be negligible;" "The data you have requested, specific to third grade, is not collected... As to retention, it would be negligible;" "Sorry, we do not track such data;" "We do not keep any such records."

The operative word for the number of third-graders held back in private schools is negligible. That is in painful contrast to the record number in public school who were failed because of the FCAT.

The obvious question is: Did private schools hold back fewer students because they were more successful at teaching kids to read? But there's no answer. Schools that don't base promotion policy on the FCAT can't be compared to those required by law to use the FCAT.
As a parent I would be a little suspicious of a school that didn't even know how many of its third graders were held back. Wouldn't you?

Cricket Cup in Florida? 

Broward County is studying the feasibilty of building a 30,000 seat stadium for cricket matches. The Sun-Sentinel reports that the facility would be part of a new county park to be developed in the municipality of Lauderhill.

In anticipation of the stadium, local officials are creating a Cricket World Cup host committee to pitch it as a site for the 2007 matches.
"We have an ideal chance of getting a game or two," said [former West Indies cricket star Lance] Gibbs, who thinks there are enough cricket buffs in South Florida to support a stadium. He pointed to the tens of thousands of people who make their home in South Florida since leaving Jamaica, the West Indies, England, India and Pakistan.

The bidding process to play host to a World Cup cricket match begins this fall. The decision, expected in 2004, falls to the West Indies Cricket Board.

Lauderhill will be competing with Caribbean nations where cricket is the national sport, including Jamaica, Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago.
Given the length of cricket matches, they had better be planning on lighting the field for night play.


Governor Bush is going to ask the Legislature to spend an extra $60 million to handle "a larger-than-expected number of inmates." The South Florida Sun-Sentinel article states that the Florida Department of Corrections estimates that by year end the inmate count will stand at 81,266.

Some of the new prison funds will come from federal economic stimulation funds, of which $600 million are available with few spending restrictions.
Bush wants to hold it in reserve as an election-year nest egg. But the Republican governor, who has signed into law a number of tough-on-crime initiatives, is willing to come up with cash to blunt any talk of releasing inmates early.

Some Democrats immediately took aim at Bush's spending priorities.

"He wouldn't listen to us when we asked about putting some of the economic stimulus money into state universities or the Department of Children & Families," said Senate Democratic Leader Ron Klein of Delray Beach. "But he's ready to spend on prisons. It's really a failure of the budget process to have our priorities put in this order."
Ironically, Florida's prisons contract with local community colleges to offer classes to qualifying inmates, so we could be presented with a situation where students "on the outside" are not able to take college classes while prisoners can.

Monday, August 11, 2003

Railroad Preservation 

South Florida was the end of the line for the railroad. Henry Flagler's Florida East Coast Railway rolled into Miami in 1896 and then "went to sea," reaching Key West in 1912. The hurricane of 1935 destroyed the Key West extension, and the FEC discontinued passenger service in 1968, but it seems that South Florida is currently enjoying something of a railroad boom.

The Miami Herald reports that five antique railway cars will soon be housed at the restored Hollywood railroad station: "Cars that are being renovated for the Hollywood site include: two White House signal communications cars, which were part of the presidential train; a ''Jim Crow'' car built specifically to separate white and black passengers; a luxury Pullman car that Rudolph Valentino is said to have leased; and a railway post office car that later was part of Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show."

Plans are also being formulated for a recreation of the 1927 inaugural run of the "Orange Blossom Special," although this time only from Jupiter to Hollywood.

Sunday, August 10, 2003

A Thrill Unlike Any Other 

From where I live I can see the blazing trail of the shuttle rockets as they begin their assent from the Cape. Impressive, but nothing like being at a launch. One of the most memorable moment of my life was being at the Kennedy Space Center watching a rocket bound for the moon take off. Even though you might be a mile away, the power of the giant engines igniting causes your body to shake.

Recently, St. Petersburg Times, columnist Bill Maxwell recounted the joys of visiting the nation's spaceport, and its significance to our pioneering spirit:
Any citizen who has not spent at least one day at Kennedy Space Center should do so. This place is real America. Its presence should not be taken for granted. Even as workers piece together Columbia, astronauts are training for the Endeavour mission. "They're eager to get back into space," an official said. "They know the risks."
Our space program is one of the best things we do.

Amendment Fever 

Vigilantism results from the perception that law enforcement has broken down. Likewise, the increase in citizen initiatives is largely a reaction to a Legislature that is reluctant to address critical issues that bedevil our state.

Mark Lane, columnist for the Daytona Beach New-Journal (and host of Florida Blog) tells us that there are now 48 amendments to the Florida constitution filed with the state. Among the proposed amendments there are
"... fully 11 amendments, introduced with varying degrees of seriousness and economic backing, addressing medical malpractice. The trial attorneys have raised $3.8 million to push their amendments. The doctors and insurance companies have started organizing their own.

One would impose a cap on noneconomic damages in malpractice cases. This had been tried in a different form in 1988. Voters might remember lab-coated doctors waving signs in polling place parking lots. It lost, receiving only 43 percent of the vote.

Another one would guarantee a right to uncapped noneconomic damages in malpractice cases.

What if both pass?
Lane reluctantly admits we've "about reached the saturation point."

Of course much of the blame can be placed on the Bush administration and Legislature, which refuse to address the issues of concern to Floridians, and have studiously ignored many of the amendments that have already been passed.

Friday, August 08, 2003

Northern Gators 

I had always thought that the nickname "Gators" was unique to the University of Florida, but such is not the case. According to the website College Nicknames, there are five additional colleges that use our favorite reptile as as their mascot.

What's surprising about this is where these colleges are located: Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Maryland, New York and California. When has there been a gator sighting in any of these states (other than in zoos or sewers)?

Perhaps Florida should change it's mascot to the Polar Bear.

Two Black History Museums in St. Augustine? 

The St. Augustine Record reports that the nation's oldest city could be getting two new museums devoted to black history. Apparently St. Johns County is considering spending up to $700,000 to renovate the old Excelsior High School building. A local non-profit group, Friends of Excelsior, would establish a museum in the building.

The other black history museum is being developed by the National African American Archives and Museum, an organization that had originally intended to locate in the Excelsior High School. A spokesperson for the organization said they still plan to open a museum, but now in a different location.

Florida Left Behind 

According to the federal No Child Left Behind standards, ninety percent of Florida's public schools failed to make adequate progress in math and reading scores. Only 22% of the highest rated schools under Gov. Bush's A+ Plan for Education met the federal guidelines.

Governor Bush's office sought to explain away the disparity: "The two measures are actually complimentary," said Jill Bratina, the governor's spokeswoman. "The A+ Plan measures individual student progress, and No Child Left Behind measures the performance of groups of students."

Or maybe both standards produce questionable results.

Thursday, August 07, 2003

None of Your Business 

The Florida Department of Education seems to have adopted a stonewall stategy for dealing with recent accusations that it is not exercising reasonable oversight of state voucher programs, according to the St. Petersburg Times:
As the Florida Senate conducts its inquiry into the lack of oversight for school vouchers, it might begin with a question of basic regulatory fitness: Is the state Department of Education following the law?

The answer to that question is far from clear, and the confusion derives in part from the enveloping code of silence within the agency. Ask a question, but don't expect an answer. Ask for documentation, but don't expect it to be delivered. Ask for any piece of information from preschool classes to doctoral programs and be directed to one woman, DOE spokesperson Frances Marine, who gladly and repeatedly will refuse your call.

In the agency that Education Commissioner Jim Horne runs, this, as reported by the Palm Beach Post, is a typical exchange in the flow of public information: A DOE choice administrator is asked how many students receive corporate tax vouchers in Miami-Dade. His agency has no record, so he contacts Patrick Heffernan, president of Florida Child, the state's largest voucher organization, for an answer. Heffernan's e-mail response: "I would need to know who wants this and why - and unless this is urgently needed by a friend of the program, it will have to wait till later next week at the earliest."
The Times suggests that the Senate take a page from the medical malpratice hearings and consider questioning Commissioner Horne under oath.

Wednesday, August 06, 2003

Old Fashion Education 

Over the past fifty years Florida school boards have closed small-town schools in an effort to consolidate resources, comply with court-ordered integration and to provide bigger schools for a burgeoning student population. Although fondly remembered by the "old-timers" these schools just didn't seem to make sense in today's educational world.

One such town is McIntosh, located between Gainesville and Ocala. Its population hovers around 400, except when it holds its annual 1890 Festival, and the town's only school closed in 1948.

The Ocala Star-Banner reports that McIntosh is about to get its own school again, and on the same site as the old school. Apparently the location is not the only connection to the past:
In some ways, the school has that old "one-schoolhouse" feel. Classrooms contain wooden - not plastic chairs - and handmade desks. There is a cowbell, which teachers will ring to signal the start of school.
The school's academics will be strongly tied to the arts, said [Principal Shirley] Lane, who believes this approach improves learning. Students will spend blocks of time studying reading and math and preparing for standardized tests. They will also spend time playing the recorder, which resembles a wooden flute.

Twice a week, students will practice knitting. And they will hum songs between lessons.

The school hopes to enroll 35 students this year. School directors have been passing out fliers and spreading the word at local grocery stores and other functions.
The new McIntosh Area Charter School received start-up funding though a $150,000 federal grant and $32,000 in local donations. Although they admit keeping the finances in the black will be an on-going task, local residents are happy to have a school to call their own.

Tuesday, August 05, 2003

Heads Private Schools Win, Tails Public Schools Lose 

Florida's Education Commissioner, Jim Horne, seems to have forgotten that he is supposed to represent the educational interests of all Floridians, not just those who support private schools.

I guess it's understandable that he would have trouble remembering, since he has pretty much stated that parents who send their children to public schools are making a poor choice. The Palm Beach Post's editorial writer, Jac Wilder VerSteeg, discusses Commissioner Horne's and Governor Bush's efforts to explain away their double standard:
[Horne]said private-school parents who use publicly financed vouchers don't need the FCAT to know whether their kids are doing well. This is the same guy who, along with Gov. Bush, says every public-school student had better do well on the FCAT -- or else. Since both sets of parents are sending their kids to school on the public's dime, why do private-school parents get an FCAT pass while public-school parents get an FCAT stick? The only possible conclusion is that private-school parents are better.

Mr. Horne stuck to that claim during his roundtables -- to which he gave the Orwellian title of "Accountability Summits" -- held last week in Tampa, Miami and West Palm Beach. Of course, all the summits were at private schools and featured panels stacked with private-school parents. Did you think Mr. Horne would visit public schools to defend his double standard?

Mr. Horne has to say that private-school parents are smarter than public-school parents. Pathetic as that excuse is, there's nothing else he can say to defend the fact that last year Florida gave up $50 million in so-called corporate vouchers for private schools whose students didn't have to take the FCAT. This year, Florida will give up $88 million in vouchers for private schools whose students don't have to take the FCAT. Quite naturally, the sight of all this money fleeing the public treasury for private schools that don't have to prove they're teaching anything has prompted people to ask: Why do my kids have to take the FCAT and their kids don't?

Mr. Horne and Gov. Bush don't have a good answer. But they have decided on the answer they're going to give, and, by God, they're going to stick to it: Private-school parents are better parents than public-school parents. So Mr. Horne endlessly repeated things like, "The parent is the ultimate consumer" and "Fundamental accountability in (voucher) programs rests with the parent" and "I'm going to trust parents every time."

In fact, he's not going to trust parents every time -- not public-school parents, anyway.
On the other hand, maybe Commissioner Horne is just ahead of the curve -- at the rate Governor Bush and the legislature is starving public education in Florida it may soon be true that parents who opt for public school aren't looking out for their children's best interests.

UPDATE: From the Tallahassee Democrat on this issue
The bottom line: The tax breaks that fuel corporate vouchers represent dollars that would have gone toward other state needs, such as public education. Therefore, the demand for better oversight is perfectly legitimate. Complaints that the criticism is purely political are purely political.
ANOTHER UPDATE: The Palm Beach Post says of Commissioner Horne's latest proposal, "It is not a substitute method of accountability. It isn't accountability at all."

Those Who Don't Remember the Past . . . 

It was published a couple weeks weeks ago, but St.Petersburg Times columnist Martin Dyckman offers an interesting comparison of the operating styles of current governor Jeb Bush and former governor Claude Kirk. The first Republican to be elected Florida governor since Reconstruction, Kirk was known for his grand gestures and imperial attitude.

Dykman contends that both Bush and Kirk, neither having ever held elected office prior to occupying the governor's mansion, expect "total loyalty, and [have] little if any respect for the constitutional prerogatives of an independent legislature."

Edmund F. Kallina Jr, author of Claude Kirk and the Politics of Confrontation, wrote that Kirk believed
"the duty of subordinates, whether in the governor's office or the Republican party, was to accommodate themselves to the wishes of the chief executive. On the other hand, he viewed the Legislature with disdain and, at times, even contempt. . . . He had no genuine respect for the Legislature as an institution. . . . Only the governor, as far as Kirk was concerned, knew what was good for the state and had the best interests of Florida in mind."
While allowing for the different circumstances confronting the two Republican governors, Dyckman notes that in his confrontations with legislators of his own party Bush is repeating the mistakes Kirk made over thirty years ago, and these mistakes may very well haunt the remainder of his time in office. Having not allowed for differing opinions on issues such as medical malpractice, Bush may find "Senators who never told him no before will be ready to let him know what it means to be a lame duck."

Monday, August 04, 2003

Cemetery Records to go Online 

Orlando's Greenwood Cemetery, the final resting place for many of that city's pioneers, dates back to the 19th century. It is an important part of the area's history, but
The death records of nearly 80,000 people, including just about all of those with a downtown street named after them -- Bumby, Anderson, Parramore, Livingston and Robinson -- are in [hand-me-down filing] cabinets.

Some are hand-scrawled and fading on yellowing paper that dates to the 1800s. "Exhaustion," "drunk" and "vertigo" are listed as causes of death in the days before science could identify certain ailments.

Genealogy buffs and other curiosity seekers have spent hours in the tiny office to search for clues about the city's earliest families.
The City of Orlando Clerk's Office is in the process of putting those records into an on-line, searchable database.
"In a city in which you have a number of people moving in and out, it's important to create a sense of history, and the cemetery is a very important part of that," City Clerk Jose Fernandez said. "There was an impetus that we did have some old records that could deteriorate, so we wanted to preserve as much as we could."

The database, searchable by a number of categories, such as name, date and funeral home, is expected to be available to the public within a month. Search results will contain images of the original documents, handwritten notes and all.
When completed the database will be available on the City of Orlando website.

Getting in Front of History 

The City of Weston was incorporated just seven years ago, but is in the process of forming a historical society. Twenty years ago virtually the entire area was part of the Everglades, but Mona Habib, who is trying to get the organization going, argues that it is not too early to begin preserving the Broward County municpality's past. Habib wants to collect documents and artifacts related to the city's development before they are lost, scattered or destroyed.

The real treasures, though, may be beneath residents' feet
Not only could the society capture present events, Habib said, but it could serve as a depository for artifacts being unearthed that tell the story of the early Native Americans who lived in the area.

Historians say Weston contains some of the oldest artifacts in Broward County, and the city maintains the state's first archaeological park. Peace Mound Park, on Indian Trace just west of Weston Road, opened in 1987 and is built around an ancient Indian mound, where archaeologists have found artifacts of the Tequesta Indians dating back 5,000 years.
Habib is supported in her quest by the Broward County Historical Commission.

Who's Vouching for Florida Vouchers? 

The St. Petersburg Times has more questions on who is keeping track of how the state's $146,000,000 school voucher budget is being spent. Obviously in a program of that size there are going to be mistakes, but the real issue seems to be that Education Commissioner Jim Horne appears either unconcerned or is trying to hide the problems.
When asked about the lack of oversight, Horne responds as though he doesn't understand the question. Of the $350,000 in tax money that went last year to a Tampa Islamic school the FBI claims is a base for terrorism, Horne says "that proves to me there was a system of accountability in place." Of the McKay voucher money that once was sent to a St. Petersburg school with broken windows, overgrown vegetation, no license to operate a school and citations for housing code violations, he similarly claims his "system" worked. When asked about the lack of record-keeping, the failure to adopt rules or auditing standards, his spokeswoman offers a standard refrain: "The department has been and continues to be in full compliance with the statute."
Horne and his supporters claim that the real test for voucher effectiveness lies with the parents. Tina Dupree, who heads the Miami non-profit organization through which state voucher funds are channeled, states ""If the parent is satisfied," she said, "why should (taxpayers) even care?"

Florida Tax Watch, hardly a leftist organization, cares:
"I think parents want what's best for their kids," says Dominic Calabro, president of Florida TaxWatch. "The reality is that even informed parents don't always know. We've seen that parents can be perfectly content as schools engage in grade inflation and social promotion. They don't discover until six or eight years later that their child is not really making the grade."

Calabro argues that the government must be held to account for all tax money it spends, and he is joined in his thinking by Senate President Jim King. King, a Republican who voted to support the state's three different voucher programs, has called for a review of corporate tax vouchers as well as vouchers, named after former Senate President John McKay, that are given to disabled students.
The Times concludes that "one of the biggest obstacles" to meaningful debate on this issue is Commissioner Horne.

Sunday, August 03, 2003

Three and Out -- To What? 

A Sun-Sentinel editoral cautions that the state's new "early exit" from high school is an ill-conceived and cynical attempt to avoid paying for smaller classes, as required by the recently approved constitutional amendment.
The Florida Legislature and Gov. Jeb Bush stuck school districts with this new law earlier in the year, apparently more motivated by finding a quick fix to the constitutional amendment that limits school class sizes than making a meaningful attempt to raise academic standards and improve public schools.
The editorial warns that the students who opt for a three-year high school career will be the ones who pay the price:
An early exit from high school isn't exactly a coveted shortcut to a better education. Most colleges and universities prefer admitting students with four-year high school degrees who have taken the necessary courses to ensure a successful collegiate career.

Students bound for college can leave high school in three years and get the basic requirements to apply for a slot in the state university system, but that doesn't mean much in a competitive environment in which state universities are considering limiting enrollments across the board.

Friday, August 01, 2003

Cotton Armor 

Geitner Simmons' Regions of Mind has a very interesting post on the early Spanish explorers, their encounters with native inhabitants and the armor they wore while traversing what is today the southern United States in the 16th century.

Cultural Preservation 

Scattered thoughout Florida are a number of towns that were either founded or built by what many might consider unlikely ethnic groups. One such place is Tarpon Springs which was made famous by its Greek sponge divers and immortalized in the 1953 movie, Beneath the 12-Mile Reef . (The movie had a suprisingly strong cast, including Robert Wagner, Gilbert Roland, J. Carrol Nash, Richard Boone and Peter Graves, with Rock Hudson providing uncredited narration.)

One might think that synthetic products had forced natural sponges out of the market, but as an article in today's St. Petersburg Times points out, such is not the case. Tarpon Springs sponge divers and merchants are suffering from the cheaper labor costs of spongers in the Caribbean.
"And it's difficult to attract good sponge divers these days. There are virtually no benefits, and divers are at sea for almost 200 days a year. Diving can be dangerous, and the oppressive summer heat and smell of the sponges can be overwhelming."
Several old time Tarpon Springs spongers are attempting to preserve the industry. They held a sponge auction on the docks for the first time in a number of years and are recruiting experienced divers from Greece. Don't bet against these guys, they're tough.

Of course this is Florida, so a little hokey tourist attraction is required -- in this case Spongeorama!

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