Friday, December 19, 2003

No White Christmas for Strom 

Tired of traditional Christmas music? Can't get enough politics? Then get thee to Rick Horowitz's website for updated carols. Here's one, to the tune of Silent Night:
Silent night,
What a sight,
Good ol' Strom
Talked so white,
Segregationist unreconciled,
Held a Negro girl, fathered her child --
Sleep, you hypocrite, slee-eep,
Sleep, you hypocrite, sleep.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Florida Cowboys 

Geitner Simmons continues his blogging on American regionalism with a look at Florida's cattle-raising history. Among other fascinating facts he notes that Florida might very well have been the site of the first "cowboys-and-Indians fight in North America."

Ranching is still an important business in Florida -- and there are plenty of cultural references around. Students at Kissimmee's Osceola High School are nicknamed the Kowboys, and if you are traveling through that city on U.S. 192, you'll pass the rodeo grounds (not all that far from Disney World). You can even purchase (on-line, of course) the cow whips used by Florida cowboys to catch their cattle's attention. The sound of those whips gave the cowboys their moniker -- crackers.

A good look at contemporary Florida Cowboys can be found in Jon Kral's Cracker; Florida's Enduring Cowboys.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Affordable Housing 

Key West has one of the highest housing costs in Florida. In order to provide affordable housing the city's mayor, Murray Nelson, has proposed that Monroe County's Land Authority purchase 100 lots, and then lease them to qualifying families who would build modular homes.

The lots would be available to families that:
Earned at least 70 percent of their income in the county for the past three years.

Earn between $44,000 and $88,000 a year depending upon the number of dependents.

Contribute $5,000 in "earnest" money.

Build within a year.
Mayor Nelson estimates that under this plan a three bedroom, two bath house could be built for about $150,000.

A recent study in Florida Trend magazine showed that Key West had the highest priced housing, per square foot. A 513 square foot condo was selling for just under $200,000, and "[t]he cheapest single-family detached home on the market in July [2003] was listed at $365,000."

Monday, December 15, 2003

This Could Get Ugly 

St. Petersburg Times political columnist, Steve Bousquet, writes that with Mel Martinez entering a crowded Senate race in Florida a "political bloodbath" could emerge. In addition to Martinez, the Republican candidates include former U.S. Representative Bill McCollum, Speaker of the Florida House Johnnie Byrd, Florida Senator Daniel Webster and Larry Klayman, founder of Judical Watch. Florida's former Secretary of State and current Congresswoman, Katherine Harris, is considering running.
A recent St. Petersburg Times/Miami Herald poll of 336 Republican voters, conducted on Dec. 1-3, showed McCollum was the second choice of Republicans behind U.S. Rep. Katherine Harris of Sarasota . . . .

Harris got the support of 29 percent of Republicans, McCollum 16 percent and Martinez 11 percent. McCollum was strongest among men and older voters. But 38 percent of Republicans were undecided, a sign that the race is wide open.

Across the state, Republicans are speculating that the only way to clear the field for Martinez would be to offer McCollum a high-level administration post, one emphasizing his background in terrorism issues.
The only problem is, McCollum is said to want a victory in this race to remove the stigma of losing to Bill Nelson in the 2000 Senate election.

Just in Time for the Holidays 

Getting into the Christmas spirit -- Peace on Earth, Goodwill Toward Men, and all that stuff -- vandals in St. Peteresburg defaced an exhibit entitled "Coexistence."
St. Petersburg is the second U.S. stop for the traveling exhibit, which has spent most of the past two years touring Europe. Etgar started the project in response to Israeli-Palestinian violence in Jerusalem, but he soon realized the message could resonate across the world.

The posters have been to Belfast, Northern Ireland, Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Cape Town, South Africa, all historic examples of human division.

But before Saturday, there has never been a problem.

Friday, December 12, 2003

Another Florida Political Blog 

I heard from Jefferson Kiely, who has a relatively new Florida blog, Hot Liberty. Jefferson appears to blog from a libertarian/Republican perspective. Good stuff on Mel Martinez's entry into the Florida Senate race.

Although I consider some of its positions to be misguided, Hot Liberty is worth visiting (and revisiting).

Monday, December 08, 2003

The Demise of Lincoln Avenue 

In Florida, as in the rest of the South, one of the unintended consequences of segregation was the development of commercial and cultural centers in and for the black community. Most had a variety of black-owned businesses, the larger had theaters and hotels, while a few, such as Miami's Overtown, had a cosmopolitan atmosphere.

With desegregation, urban renewal and societal changes (many of which cut across racial lines) most traditional black downtowns lost much of their economic viability. Cities and towns across Florida struggle with the problems of economic revitalization in their historic black neighborhoods.

The Lakeland Ledger tells the story Lake Wales' black community, which mirrors the experience of blacks in other Florida cities.
Residents were always back in the neighborhood by dark, said Sonny Hawkins, 49, who operates a barbershop.

"You had to get back across the railroad tracks -- I remember that plainly. If you weren't back, police would harass you and put you in jail. Whites would harass you."

"Those were our boundaries," Young said of the packed neighborhood that had little room for expansion. "Business was good because people didn't have anywhere else to buy from."
One factor cited for the demise of Lake Wales black business district was the failure of the initial entrepreneurs' children to take over their parent's businesses.

Friday, December 05, 2003

A Sense of Place or a Sense of Loss? 

Beth Dunlop, the Miami Herald's architecture critic, wrote a column that ran over the Thanksgiving weekend, so I just got around to reading it today -- and I'm glad I did.

I don't know how long Ms. Dunlop has been covering South Florida architecture. Maybe twenty years, but certainly long enough to know that of which she writes.

In her November 30th column, "Lost Houses Threaten our Past", she considers the fate of our historic houses:
Consider the house. It is the central architectural unit of our civilization. We came out of caves and into huts, and out of huts into houses. It's easy to mark, in epochal terms, the progress of civilization from pre-literacy to culture by seeing the evolution of the house.

Yet houses have never been in the mainstream of scholarship; architectural historians tend to focus on grander symbols of society-cathedrals and castles, monuments and towers. That attitude spills over into the real world, as well, whether it's the realm of government regulation, historic preservation or tourism; we protect districts, sites and monuments much more readily than houses; and even if houses are the essence of our history, we too often regard their preservation as being nostalgia rather than progress.
Dunlop considers a number of factors, such our culture of materialism in which "bigger is better, and more is more." But there are also legal impediments to saving historic houses:
Under current assessment practices, historic houses are valued low, while the land they sit on is valued high. In turn, federal ''flood plain'' regulations stipulate that if the cost of the work to renovate the house is more than half of its value (and remember, the value is already arbitrarily low) the house must either be raised up above flood level or demolished.

It's a complicated situation, and one that needs to be changed. The city law must be strengthened, but that is not enough; federal regulations must be changed as well. We tend to look at each lost house, one by one, without having a larger context, yet each lost house is indeed part of a larger problem.
Other than in a few boutique history areas such as St. Augustine, Pensacola and (maybe) Key West, historic houses throughout Florida are threatened by rising land prices and the demand for "McMansions" that begin at 10,000 square feet.

Local governments are hesitant to even look at the problem for fear of being perceived as not sufficiently protective of property rights. Historic preservation and property rights are not mutually exclusive concepts, however. Unfortunately this lack of foresight and planning means the continuing loss of our historic houses and that much less of a sense of place.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

You'll Get Pie In The Sky When You Die 

Universities are often accused of being hotbeds of leftwing ideology, but it seems that college administrators are getting in line with Republican economics.

According to the University of Central Florida's campus newspaper, UCF's president received a 46% pay increase, while other 33 top administrators were given raises of more than ten percent.

Of course faculty shouldn't expect nearly as much since the school is facing a budget crisis:
Many faculty members wanted to know why the school was facing such critical budget shortages.

"I thought this was well understood," [Provost Terry] Hickey answered. "We had a $4.5 million [legislative] budget cut and lost close to $14 million in enrollment growth funds" sought from the state to support UCF's increased student enrollment.

[President john] Hitt added that the legislature had to restrict the money because of the rising cost of Medicaid and expenses associated with the class-size amendment, which voters previously approved to reduce overcrowding in elementary and secondary schools.
Faculty members were also upset that faculty who were promoted in August would not be paid at their new rate until December, and that the pay for teaching during the summer semester would be cut on average almost 20%.
[Arts and Sciences Dean Kathryn Seidel explained]"If the pie isn't big enough to feed the whole family, everyone gets smaller and smaller pieces."

[English professor Dawn] Trouard had a different view of the situation afterward. "When one member of the family eats half the pie," she said, "it doesn't leave much for anyone else."
Crazy lefty profs with their class warfare talk.

I Don't Care If It Is True 

The website Overlawyered, which says it "explores an American legal system that too often turns litigation into a weapon against guilty and innocent alike, erodes individual responsibility, rewards sharp practice, enriches its participants at the public's expense, and resists even modest efforts at reform and accountability," is missing a bizarre lawsuit in Pensacola.

Businessman Joe Anderson, Jr., is suing the Pensacola News Journal over an article that he admits is "true line by line." Furthermore he did not respond to the reporter's 39 phone calls and registered letter to present his side of the story.

Anderson is politically well-connected, and was involved in the controversial permitting of a cement plant in central Florida following denial by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

(via Florida Blog and the Poynter Institute's Romenesko)

UPDATE: More on the trial from the Pensacola News Journal.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Deco Done? 

There are few structures on Fort Lauderdale beach that are over fifty years old and have any architectural distinction, and the there soon may be one less. The art deco Lauderdale Beach Hotel has been the center of a three-way struggle between the City of Fort Lauderdale, developers and preservationists. Last night the City bowed out, leaving the developers and the preservationists to fight it out.

The story was covered by the Sun-Sentinel and the Miami Herald.


Don't miss Geitner Simmons' series of posts on American regionalism at Regions of Mind.

Plenty to think about.

The Pre-Colombian Environment 

Over at the Volokh Conspiracy, poster Juan Non-Volokh writes about the American landscape:
The "pristine myth" of pre-Colombian America is imploding. European settlers did not discover a "natural" America, but one cultivated by Native Americans, who altered and managed the American landscape for several hundred years. The American landscape of 1492 was no more "natural" than those of the last three hundred years. The idea of an untouched American wilderness is ecological fantasy, not historical fact.
This is hardly a new discovery. For at least half-a-century it has been common knowledge that in the more densely-settled parts of the pre-Colombian America indigenous inhabitants had shaped their environment.

William Cronon's 1983 work, Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England, discusses the early efforts to bring "order" to the wilderness:
When human beings, Indian or European, inhabited and altered New England environments, they were part of [a] linear history. Their activities often mimicked certain ecological processes that occurred in nature, but with a crucial difference. Whereas the natural ecosystem tended toward a patchwork of diverse communities arranged almost randomly on the landscape -- its very continuity depending on that disorder -- the human tendency was to systematize the patchwork and impose a more regular pattern on it. People sought to give their landscape a new purposefulness, often by simplifying its seemingly chaotic tangle.
Juan Non-Volokh seems to assume that those advocating preservation of today's forests are somehow placing "Native American land management as a part of 'nature,' rather than as a part of human civilization. This view is ahistorical, and perhaps reflects a latent cultural chauvinism that dehumanizes non-white accomplishments." Of course he does not cite anyone who argues that the pre-Colombian landscape was entirely "natural," although some of it, particularly in thinly settled lands, undoubtedly was.

I would argue that those who advocate logging in the forests of the Americas and those seek to preserve nature as it exists are not fighting over what is "natural" and what is not. Rather, as Cronon explains, they each have a vision of the landscape's purposefulness.

Monday, December 01, 2003

What To Do . . . What To Do 

Members of the Pasco County School Board are wrestling with the issue of giving themselves a pay raise, and they don't like it.
This is the second time Florida school boards have had to adopt their own salaries in public meetings, a charge given to them by the Legislature after it decided to stop setting the raises for them as it does with other officials such as county commissioners, tax collectors and sheriffs.

"Part of me gets so angry with the Legislature," said board member Marge Whaley, who is undecided about how to vote Tuesday. "It was a punishment."
Broward County's school board recently voted themselves a 10% raise at the same time they were refusing to grant teachers a 4% salary increase, leading to increased acrimony in the negotiations.

In fairness, it is difficult for elected bodies to impartially set their own salaries, and they should be spared that responsibility. Either the Legislature or the local boards should establish a formula for salary increases -- how about the same pay as teachers? A newly-elected school board member would get the same salary as a first-year teacher, with equal raises for both thereafter.

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