Thursday, December 30, 2004

Gone Are the Days 

Anyone who attended the University of Florida during the 1970s will remember him -- not by his real name, Curtis Read, but as Gatorman. The Gainesville Sun tracked him down in Apple Valley, California, where he lives with his wife.

He was hard to miss, usually on the Plaza of the Americas but also elsewhere on campus:
What really got Read noticed in his years on campus was his habit of swimming with the alligators in Lake Alice.

At that time, the original Albert the alligator, a big bull gator who served as the school mascot, had been removed from his pen near Century Tower and released into the lake for his own well being.

Read says he befriended the gator and regularly brought him marshmallows, a favorite treat. The two became such chums, he recalls, that he could lie on Albert's back in the water.

"People would freak out," he said.
The friendship came to an end on a day when Read went to Lake Alice and found Albert lying lethargic on the bank. He reached Dr. Dave Black, now a physician at Shands at AGH, who operated on the big gator, but to no avail.

"He died in my arms," Read said. "I still miss him."
Thanks for the memories, Gatorman.

Natural Florida Slipping Away 

An important and strategically-located piece of natural Florida appears slated for development. Located on the Little Mantee River in southern Hillsborough County, the 167-acre property contains "[m]angrove marshes and wetlands [that]rise gently to upland hammocks of live oak and pine in this wilderness area along the tidal flats . . ."

A Ft. Myers-based development company recently paid $4.6 million for the property and is seeking rezoning to build "up to 538 single- and multifamily homes and up to 50,000 square feet of commercial space."
Hillsborough County conservation specialists agree with residents that the land should be preserved, and the county's land acquisition agent is putting it on his wish list. However, escalating land values, especially for waterfront property, may put the purchase price out of reach.

"It's a piece of property we'd like to see preserved. It has environmental as well as recreation potential," said Kurt Gremley, acquisition manager for the county's Environmental Lands Acquisition and Protection Program.

"But in this market it's tough to buy real estate and easy to sell," he added.
The county is interested in the property as a wildlife corridor. Otters, bobcats, foxes, skunks, ospreys and hawks make their home there. Gopher tortoises, which the state is expected to designate as a threatened species next year, have also been seen.

Plus, the land would connect county-owned E.G. Simmons Park and a county wildlife preserve to the north, with the river. The county also owns the islands offshore from the land.

"It's kind of the missing puzzle piece in terms of a corridor from Wolf Branch Creek to the mouth of Cockroach Bay," said Forest Turbiville, environmental supervisor in the county Parks, Recreation and Conservation Department.
It's probably too late to save this property -- absolutely so if it is rezoned. Throughout Florida, developers are bidding up the cost of natural land, making it prohibitively expensive (and politically dangerous) for local and state agencies to acquire land for conservation purposes.

Tampa Bay region Posted by Hello

Public Safety on the Cheap 

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel thinks that the Florida Department of Corrections' "get tough" policy with those who violate their probation is going to "prove more problematic than productive."

In response to several high-profile cases, the agency fired a number of probation officers and then ordered "probation officers to arrest violent offenders without warrants as soon as they violate probation conditions -- whether for missing an appointment or committing another crime."
Remember, these are officers without squad cars, often without guns, forcibly apprehending violent criminals without a court order. The new duties come on top of an already overburdened workload for which most agree they don't get paid nearly enough. That's not a reasonable response; that's a disaster in the making.

On top of the risk to officers' safety comes the threat to the public the new mandate seeks to protect. The automatic arrest requirement is exacerbating jail crowding around the state, forcing the release of other suspects who would otherwise have to await trial behind bars.
The Sun-Sentinel rightly points out that one of the problems with Florida's probation system is that it has not been given all the tools necessary to get the job done: "rather than systemic changes, Florida needs to provide its probation officers with the support and resources they need to do their jobs, including better use of tracking technology."

Of course Tallahassee's penny-pinching has led to underpaid probation officers (starting pay $28,679.18)who can give each client about 15 minutes a month. Probation officers also have to go out in the field to inspect clients' residences and work places (see official duties and responsibilities here).

The new policy would greatly increase the workload of probation officers without any assurance of greater public safety, especially since most parole violations could be characterized as administrative in nature -- missing an appointment or traveling outside the county without permission -- and do not involve commission of another crime.

One big flaw in the system is that the probation officers deal with a wide variety of "crimes" -- everything from major violent felonies to teenagers who get caught with a fake ID. The most recent report I could find indicated that three out of four people on probation have been charged with a third degree felony or a misdemeanor. One out of five offenders are on probation for drug possession.

Certainly the caseload would be more manageable, and more time could be devoted to those who pose the greatest danger to the public, if lesser, nonviolent crimes had less stringent and time-consuming oversight.

Unfortunately the governor and legislature want to get tough on crime while giving those who are on the front lines inadequate resources to accomplish their mission.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Stop the Insanity 

The Ft. Myers News-Press joins the growing list of Florida newspapers questioning the U.S. government's Cuba policy.
The irrationality and injustice of U.S. travel and trade restrictions on Cuba are two reasons for ending the failed four-decade-old effort to topple or even moderate the communist regime with embargoes.

New travel restrictions imposed in July by the Bush administration cut in half the number of airplane seat reservations in the second six months of this year compared with the same period in 2003.

The restrictions have caused suffering among Cuban-Americans and their relatives on the island, who get money, food, medicine and emotional support from visits.

Yet, predictably, the repressive human rights policies the restrictions were designed to protest by reducing revenues for Cuba continue unabated — although they remain little or no worse than those in several countries with which we maintain normal relations and robust trade.

In fact, the same U.S. government that enacts these fruitless nuisance restrictions on travel and trade is at the same time helping farm states sell products to Cuba, to in fact expand trade from areas with the political clout to demand it.

California, Texas and Maine have called officially for more trade with Cuba, and more than half the states are selling something there, according to federal trade data.

Only the voting weight of the anti-Castro Cuban-Americans in South Florida keeps this hopeless nonsense going. We suspect even they would be glad if the gates were finally thrown open.
Our policy toward Cuba is a classic example of doing the same thing and expecting different results -- and that's a diagnostic criterion for insanity.

Fighting Over the Scraps 

In this past Sunday's Palm Beach Post, Dan Moffett has an interesting column on infighting between public school arts advocates and physical education programs over what little money is available for non-FCAT offerings.
The rising border war between the arts and physical education is but the latest example of the tortured state of Florida's schools. Sen. Gwen Margolis, D-Miami, touched off the current hostilities when she filed a bill that requires high school students to take four PE credits, instead of the one credit required now. In the Legislature, there's also a push to mandate more physical education classes in elementary and middle schools.

If these movements succeed, something is going to get squeezed out to make room, and that something is going to be the arts — which explains why people who love dance suddenly are disparaging physical activity.

Florida's school days already are shorter than in many states because the Legislature pays for just five hours of instruction. To save money, lawmakers killed an extra period in high schools 12 years ago.

Then came the FCAT. The state started grading schools, and principals started obsessing over how to score better on the tests. Reading and mathematics took priority over band, theater and most everything else. Art education became a casualty of FCAT cramming and tutorials as budgets and the short day shrank.

Over the past 20 years, the number of students taking arts classes has fallen from 56 percent to 37 percent in middle schools, and from about 50 percent to 35 percent in high schools. In Duval and Clay counties, some high schools are unable to field marching bands because of cuts in music programs at the middle schools. With FCAT-motivated emphasis on reading, there is no time for band. So the FAAE [Florida Alliance for Arts Education]has legitimate reason to fear for its territory.

It is no small paradox, however, that physical education — with athletics programs, too — and arts education share many attributes. Both have done wonders in turning problem students around. Athletes who want to participate in sports have to maintain minimum grades, a requirement that provides incentive for classroom performance. Both the arts and physical education sharpen the mind and promote character development.
Except that they cost money. Not a whole lot -- maybe not much more than a corporate jet -- but money nonetheless.

Both Curious and Common 

Right now I'm reading one of my Christmas gifts -- Florida Curiosities, by David Grimes and Tom Becnel. The book's subtitle explains its contents: Quirky Characters, Roadside Oddities & Other Offbeat Stuff.

Grimes and Becnel look at both the bizarre and the commonplace, from the Worm Fiddling Festival in Caryville and the country's smallest post office in Ochopee, to the inside scoop on Florida's welcome centers:
To work at a Florida visitor center, you have to pass a one hundred-question test dealing with Florida government, history and tourist attractions, both major and minor. Besides Disney World, tourists also ask where they can find a mock-up of the Hanoi Hilton (Pensacola), where they can drive a real Winston Cup race car (Orlando), and how the town of Two Egg got its name (residents bartered eggs for other goods; two eggs was the minimum for trade).

. . . . More often than you would like to think, visitors leave kids or pets behind. Although these oversights are usually noticed fairly quickly, there have been times when a husband towing a mobile home has driven away, not realizing that his wife had gotten out of the vehicle to go to the rest room. Sometimes it's hours before the husband realizes anything is amiss.

A 1956 photo of an official Florida Welcome Station, location unidentified. (Florida Photographic Archives) Posted by Hello

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

For Whom the Pell Tolls 

North Florida blogger Dred is not exactly correct in characterizing a recent Palm Beach Post editorial on Pell Grants as "exactly wrong."

It seems that, in fact, nearly 90,000 students who are currently eligible for Pell Grants will not be eligible under the new calculations, as the Post stated.

The increase in the total number students eligible is a factor of more low income students applying for aid (also noted by the Post). These students would have been eligible for Pell Grants whether or not the program was changed.

One might reasonably argue that a revision of the Pell Grants program was necessary, or even required, but it seems that the results of the changes that were passed by the Republican-dominated Congress and signed by President Bush are clear, and as the Palm Beach Post said: tens of thousands of currently-eligible students will be dropped from the program, the increase in recipients comes from a larger pool of low-income students and the net budget effect of the changes is that the Pell Grants program will receive $300 million less than it would if the revisions had not been instituted.

UPDATE: Dred responds to this post, and again charges the Post with assertions it did not make. Dred claims that "the new scheme expands the number of Pell Grants," but that's not right. Actually, the expansion is not a result of the "new scheme," but rather, as was pointed out above, something that would have happened under the old guidelines, as well. Moreover, the Post editorial does not state that fewer students will receive Pell Grants -- just that up to 90,000 formerly eligible students will not have access to the program.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Saving Natural Florida 

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is coordinating the preparation of a Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Plan. A series of public and expert workshops held at various locations throughout the state identified two overarching issues:
The loss and degradation of habitat pose the most significant threats to hundreds of Florida wildlife species.

Lack of funding and enforcement and staff turnover represent the biggest gaps in Florida's wildlife management efforts meant to protect that habitat.
In what appears to be a refreshing change of pace, the commission is asking outside experts, such as The Nature Conservancy and academicians, to review the plan.

Specific issues that threaten Florida's wildlife include:
  • The fragmentation of habitat by new development and development-related projects, such as new roads and power lines.

  • Water pollution and heavy groundwater withdrawal, which affect aquatic habitats.

  • Logging and other disturbance of aquatic ecosystems.

  • Invasive plants and animals, which alter habitat and may cause declines of native species.

  • The need for regular, prescribed fires.

  • The effects of adjacent development, ranging from poor water quality caused by stormwater runoff to wildlife deaths caused by domestic pets or road kills.

  • Lack of enforcement by regulatory agencies.

  • Coastal development, seawalls and beach renourishment.

  • Overfishing of saltwater species.

  • Marine debris and offshore spills and dumping.
Development is certainly the biggest threat to Florida's natural environment, but foreign invasive species, be they plants, animals or diseases, present Florida with a very big problem. As the South Florida Sun-Sentinel recently reported, a pathogen that attack live oak trees has been found in Florida for the first time.
Until last spring, the fungus wiping out California oaks and other trees appeared a still-distant Pacific Coast threat.

Then, in March, Florida had its own brush with "sudden oak death" when inspectors found the pathogen that triggers the lethal tree canker in five nurseries in Jacksonville, Tallahassee and Green Cove Springs.
Found to actually kill trees more ploddingly than its name suggests, sudden oak death cropped up in Marin County in 1995, two years after emerging on ornamental shrubs in Europe. It first swept through less commercially valuable tan oaks, but began to kill off live oaks. It lives on hosts such as camellias, rhododendrons, and azaleas.

The organism invaded a southern California commercial nursery that shipped stock around the nation, unaware of the hitchhiking pathogen. As of Nov. 19, the disease had spread to 22 states, according to the USDA.
With four live oak trees in my yard, this certainly caught my attention.

Gentlemen (and Ladies) . . . Start Your Engines! 

Interstate4Jamming names the strongest potential candidates for governor, keeping in mind that the election is almost two years away.
Democrats: Castor, Chiles, Davis, Maddox and Smith.
Republicans: Crist, Gallagher and Jennings.
The Chiles who's supposedly running for governor is the son of that old "he-coon" himself, "Walking" Lawton Chiles. Blog de Leon has more on this Chiles.

The War on the Poor 

OK, let's try this . . . we'll take an agency that deals on a daily basis with the state's poorest residents, abused children, dysfunctional families and foster homes, fire the state employees and let a profit-making company take over, then automate the process so that the clients will have minimal contact with service providers. Oh, and ignore the advice of anyone who suggests that this move be taken with caution.

Well, no, we can't say that this cost less or that the aforementioned poor, abused, dysfunctional, etc., will be able to handle the new "self-service" system, but this is what the "boss" wants.

Read the whole depressing story on Governor Bush's plans for the Department of Children and Families.

(via Florida Politics)

The Future is Now 

The Palm Beach Post notes that the Republicans are planning to reduce the number of eligible students who will receive needs-based Pell Grants in the future, and calls it for what it is -- a bad idea.

But not a surprise. At the state and national levels, Republicans are doing to a college education what they are trying to do to Social Security -- privatize. Tuitions are going up while financial aid is getting more competitive.

"To compromise development of our next generation of college-trained workers and leaders is another shoot-America-in-the-foot move that must have our economic competitors and political enemies applauding."

Florida Blog Expansion 

A number of interesting Florida blogs have recently come online.

I like Blog de Leon a lot. Billed as the "Conquistador of Florida politics," this blog combines Florida history and current social and political issues. In a recent post on Social Security, he takes Florida Congressman Alan Boyd to task:
Rep. Boyd is the prototypical Blue Dog Democrat, which is to say that he ain't all that blue. His aw-shucks demeanor and Deep South drawl make him attractive to voters in the conservative Panhandle. Even after Laura Bush campaigned in Tallahassee for his opposition (a Republican hairdresser!), Boyd was still able to pull a victory -- thanks, no doubt, to the true blue Tallahassee residents who are solidly Democratic. And now he's letting his New Deal constituents down. Maybe Tallahassee Democrats will put up a primary fight in 2006. But with the Florida Democratic Party in such shambles, it's doubtful.

The fact that Boyd does not hold a seat on any committee that has jurisdiction over Social Security is an indication that the Bush mafia was willing to strike a deal with the first Democrat who made himself available. And Boyd, for some reason, was available.
So far each post is accompanied by a historic photograph -- good stuff.

Another new Florida blog is Dred, which looks at "politics in Florida, the nation, and world." Dred stakes out a position to the right of most other Florida politics bloggers, so he has to work harder. He's a Bull and a Gator (which is certainly cheaper than being a Bull Gator).

Yet another Florida blog from north of the Suwannee is Pensacola Beach Blog. As you might expect, Hurricane Ivan's destruction is a major topic:
Normally, for areas like Pensacola that depend on tourism, a falling dollar might be a welcome development in the short run. More tourists mean more profits for the tourist industry, right?

But these aren't normal times, thanks to Hurricane Ivan. On Pensacola Beach, only three full service restaurants and two hotels have managed to open. Despite the brave face placed on things by local tourist promoters, most beach businesses remain closed. Several are listed as having a 'target' opening date but they're likely to be months away from any semblance of normality. Even some so-called 'open' shops are operating out of a fraction of their usual quarters, under blue plastic roofs, or with limited inventory.
But PBB is never maudlin, and keeps a good perspective on things. Good luck up there.

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Merry Christmas from Florida 

Current Temperature 72F

A somewhat worse-for-wear Santa visits Florida in the 1950s Posted by Hello

Thursday, December 23, 2004

The Anti-Christmas Crowd is at it Again! 

In my previous post, I questioned those who see an ongoing effort to marginalize Christmas in favor of a secular holiday season.

Well, maybe I was wrong. Consider the following text from a card sent out by the Republican Party of Florida:
Wishing you and all those close to you a joyous holiday season and a New Year filled with pride in our great nation.
No mention of Christmas from the GOP. Needless to say, no mention of "peace on earth and goodwill to men," either.

The front of the card also lacks any reference to the religious basis for the holiday.

Florida GOP's 2004 "Christmas" Card Posted by Hello

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Lileks Goes Off Meds 

James Lileks claims that there is a "fear of Christmas that seems to get stronger every year." His proof?
. . . when I wish a store clerk "Merry Christmas!" they often appear stunned and flummoxed for a moment, as if I've just blabbed the plans for the underground's sabotage of the train tracks in front of the secret police. I've said something highly inappropriate for the public square, and I almost expect a security guard to take me aside on the way out.
In response to this nonsense, James Wolcott provides examples that counter Lileks' premise.
This "fear of Christmas" is a phantom menace conjured every year so that certain crybaby Christians can adopt victim status and model a pained expression over the sad fact that not everyone around them isn't carrying on like the Cratchits. This thin-skinned grievance-collecting gives birth to all sorts of urban legends and rumors about big institutions being hostile to Christ's birthday, such as the one that swirled on WOR radio last week about how Macy's employees had been instructed not to say "Merry Christmas!" to shoppers. A fiction that was put to rest when the host hit Macy's website and saw its "Merry Christmas" greeting, and Macy's employees chimed in over the phones to say there was no such policy.
Today, Lileks fires back in his usual style:
I believe it was quite clear in the column, where I explicitly condemned the godless networks for not having an animatronic Baby Jesus read the news the third week of December, or running a crawl below all prime-time programming spelling out the recipe for figgy pudding. As long-time readers of this site will note, I am not just a loud militant Christian who wants to tamp the thick bristling wad of God down everyone's throat with a miter, I am frequently given to posting long MP3 files of myself sobbing in despair over the fact that advent candles are not forcibly screwed into the facial apertures of government officials. That's me, all right.
He then goes off on a rambling discourse that includes multiple uses of the word "overculture," (uberkulture?), a history of the use of the word Christmas in the local newspaper, an odd comment on an odd photograph in Entertainment Weekly and a characterization of Wolcott's audience as ". . . the chic upper-left-side Mo-Dowd demographic whose uteruses have turned to something indistinguishable from papyri rescued from Herculanuem." Now that's the spirit of the Christmas season.

It so happens that my mother worked for many years for a major Florida department store. So I queried her on the issue that led to Lileks tirade. She said there was no official policy at her store, but salespersons were instructed to respond in kind -- if someone said Merry Christmas, it was OK to wish them a Merry Christmas. They were advised not to initiate a specific greeting, however, since it was not always clear that the individual celebrated Christmas (or anything else). Seems like a common sense approach.

But beyond this, who does Lileks think the salespeople he encounters might be?
"What amuses me is the sense of annoyance I detect when I say Merry Christmas to them."
Well, James, they probably are not the "cafe dwellers" that so irk the right wingers. Rather they are more than likely a bunch of average Americans, working eight to ten hours a day for below average wages. They may even be like my mother and have a deep faith in a higher being. Some may even have functioning uteruses.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

She Died for Lower taxes 

Kai Gadsen never reached her fifth birthday. The Florida Department of Children and Families knew there were problems in the family, but took no steps that might have prevented Kai's death.

Lakeland-based blogger, Interstate4Jamming, says we shouldn't expect better from DCF as long as the overriding priorities in Tallahassee are cutting both taxes and government services.
I fully understand that the vast majority of DCF people do the best they can in their own squalid situation. But since [Governor Jeb Bush] has been in place his administration has done nothing but slash and burn that department, in the apparent hopes of eventually privitazing many of it's services. Budget and positions have been eliminated, especially in the field, morale is in the toilet, and workloads are almost impossible. As long as this is the idea that Jeb! and the Legislature has for Children and Families, we'll continue to see disgraceful situations such as what happened in Orlando this week.
All too true. Florida's public employees, especially those working to protect and help the most vulnerable of our citizens, are the scapegoats here. Their dedication and perserverance, in spite of low pay, decreasing benefits and contempt from above, is to be admired.

Too bad they are in the way.

Who Dies? 

Proponents of the death penalty can always point to a particularly cruel and vicious criminal as why executions are justified. If so, then the death penalty must be fairly and consistently applied -- which is why the following case is so troubling:
If anyone deserved the death penalty, it was Michael Roman. He killed five members of a Lake Worth family two years ago. The murders were calculated. One victim was a pregnant woman. Even after all this time, he shows no remorse.

But the state will not try to execute Michael Roman, a fact that can unite opponents and supporters of the death penalty in the belief that Florida should abolish it.

Palm Beach County State Attorney Barry Krischer, who supports the death penalty, says that he and the lead prosecutor agreed to let Roman plead guilty for several reasons. It is rare that a defendant takes a plea to first-degree murder, one of four crimes in Florida that are punishable by death. Under the deal, Roman will get life without parole, which Mr. Krischer says will bring "finality." The state saves not only the cost of a trial; the victims' relatives — who supported the deal — do not have to relive the horror. The state will save more by avoiding years of appeals; all credible research shows that incarceration is far cheaper than litigation. Most important, Roman never again will threaten the public.

It is a thoroughly practical solution to a very emotional case. Having accepted the deal, however, doesn't the state forfeit the moral standing to execute anyone else?
Does the next person to get the death penalty die because it's more convenient for the State of Florida?

This Doesn't Sound Good 

The vulnerability of American troops on Iraqi roads has been much in the news, of late. ParaPundit notes that the U.S. is increasingly relying on airlift to avoid deadly attacks:
Humvees are being carried from Kuwait to Baghdad in C-130 transports, two to a transport. Think about that. The US military can't even maintain a secure ground supply line up from Kuwait to Baghdad.
This, of course, is driving up the cost of the war.

But more important, is this an indication that U.S. military strategy is moving toward fighting from fixed fortifications, and ceding large amounts of territory to the insurgents?

Friday, December 10, 2004

Wait and See 

Miami blog Bark Bark Woof Woof on the Canadian proposal to extend marriage rights to gays:
No gnashing of teeth, no threats of fire and brimestone from the halls of televangelism, no gasps of horror from the keepers of the Sacred Scrolls of Moral Values; just a good common-sense approach to the fair and equitable application of the provisions of the Charter.
And a good test run for the United States -- let's see what happens up north.

Q & A 

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel asks the question,
Is the prosecution of a pair of Catholic missionaries for a one-week trip to Cuba really the best way to promote democracy in Cuba?
and then provides an answer
Energy and time spent excessively punishing Americans who have traveled to Cuba is a distraction, and it sends the wrong message. Freedom, including the right to travel, is a good thing. And it should apply to Americans, as well as to Cubans.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

You Say The Nicest Things 

The University of Florida's new coach, Urban Meyer, knows what Gators want to hear:
I love Steve Spurrier's teams . . . I fell in love with the way they played, the way they walked, the way they talked, the way they took the field, the way they came off the field, the way they scored points. Coaches would be lying if they said they watched the [Gators] play under coach Spurrier and didn't get excited.
I wonder how many visors he'll get this Christmas?

Essential equipment Posted by Hello

Do They Sell UFO Books at the Pyramids? 

Here's an interesting item, courtesy of Andrew Sullivan. Its from the Milwaukee-based Shepherd Express:
Look for national parks' geology to be written more in the image of creationists over the next four years in the continuing effort to create "faith-based parks." An ongoing dispute at Grand Canyon National Park bookstores is that Grand Canyon, a Different View was ordered to stay on the bookshelves by top NPS brass. The book says that the Grand Canyon is 4,500 years old and was formed by Noah's flood. Conventional scientific wisdom has the canyon more around 6 million years old, still rather young compared to the age of the Earth. Despite protests from scientists and the Grand Canyon Park superintendent, the book has stayed on the shelves. The Bush administration said it would review the policy, but the review hasn't even been started since the February complaint.
All in the quest for allowing different points of view, I suppose.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Timing Is Everything 

What are the implications of the falling dollar (other than making a trip to Europe prohibitively expensive)? According to the Economist, it's not good:
The dollar is not what it used to be. Over the past three years it has fallen by 35% against the euro and by 24% against the yen. But its latest slide is merely a symptom of a worse malaise: the global financial system is under great strain. America has habits that are inappropriate, to say the least, for the guardian of the world's main reserve currency: rampant government borrowing, furious consumer spending and a current-account deficit big enough to have bankrupted any other country some time ago. This makes a dollar devaluation inevitable, not least because it becomes a seemingly attractive option for the leaders of a heavily indebted America. Policymakers now seem to be talking the dollar down. Yet this is a dangerous game. Why would anybody want to invest in a currency that will almost certainly depreciate?

A second disturbing feature of the global financial system is that it has become a giant money press as America's easy-money policy has spilled beyond its borders. Total global liquidity is growing faster in real terms than ever before. Emerging economies that try to fix their currencies against the dollar, notably in Asia, have been forced to amplify the Fed's super-loose monetary policy: when central banks buy dollars to hold down their currencies, they print local money to do so. This gush of global liquidity has not pushed up inflation. Instead it has flowed into share prices and houses around the world, inflating a series of asset-price bubbles.

America's current-account deficit is at the heart of these global concerns. The OECD's latest Economic Outlook predicts that the deficit will rise to $825 billion by 2006 (6.4% of America's GDP) assuming unchanged exchange rates. Optimists argue that foreigners will keep financing the deficit because American assets offer high returns and a haven from risk. In fact, private investors have already turned away from dollar assets: the returns on investments in America have recently been lower than in Europe or Japan. And can a currency that has been sliding against the world's next two biggest currencies for 30 years be regarded as “safe”?
Now, let's discuss the trillion dollars or more that would have to be borrowed to begin privatizing the Social Security system . . .

Monday, December 06, 2004

Aviation History Takes Off 

The Palm Beach Post's Elliot Klienberg recounts Miami's rich aviation heritage, and recent efforts to preserve that history.

Plans are afoot to see that the archives of both Eastern and Pan American airlines are donated to the Historical Association of Southern Florida for research and exhibits.

Pan Am "flying ship" at Miami's Dinner Key.  Posted by Hello

Wishful Thinking 

The Daytona Beach News-Journal says abstinence education is OK, but not at the expense of complete and accurate information.
Most teenagers' bodies mature a lot faster than their minds and emotions. Their hormones are raging, but they're not prepared to deal with the consequences of sex. For the vast majority of teens, abstinence is by far the best policy.

But teenagers, as a group, are not idiots. Nor are they docile sheep -- as their parents will probably verify. Giving them incomplete or misleading facts about sex, pregnancy and disease is a bad idea. They deserve complete, accurate and nonjudgmental information that they can trust, including answers to questions they might not ask their parents. Knowledge is power -- in this case, the power to make the right decisions about sex.

Unfortunately for American teens, politicians have usually seen sex education as a venue for grandstanding instead of an opportunity to help teens. The problem is made worse when well-meaning but misguided advocates push for programs that skim too lightly over the often-harsh realities of teenaged life in America.

These advocates often portray sex education as sex promotion. They couldn't be more wrong. Teenagers don't need to go to school to be "sold" on sex: All they have to do is turn on the TV, pick up a magazine or listen to the radio. In the messages that constantly bombard them, babies are adorable props in comical commercials; sexually transmitted diseases are easily resolved plot points on nighttime soap operas.

The best defense against all this pro-promiscuity propaganda -- and teenagers' own impulses -- is accurate, frank disclosure about the reproductive process. Unfortunately, that's not what they're getting.
According recent studies, while more federal dollars are going into abstinence only programs there is no evidence that they are having a positive impact. In fact, the opposite may be true.

Raising teenagers is hard enough. Trying to do it while keeping them ignorant of the truth is not only foolish, but futile.

The Counter-Sexual-Revolution Continues 

The always interesting Tampa Bay-based blog, Population Statistic, looks at the conservative attacks on the new film, Kinsey.
The re-election of Bush on the crest of the moral-values issue is interpreted by conservative social activists as a starter's gun for advancing their agenda. This movie is a perfect target for an early litmus test for future campaigns (although this movement started well before the November election). These groups know their timing will never be better than it is now.

Back to the core of it: It's a blame game, and a futile one at that. Instead of sticking their own heads in the sand regarding sexual issues -- which is their prerogative -- they want to put the issue itself in the ground.
The moral mullahs have pretty much intimidated the FCC, so now it's on to the film industry.

Common Sense 

Monday is Community Forum day on the op-ed pages of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, allowing residents to hold forth on various issues. Often they make more sense than the paid pundits.

Such is the case today, as Deerfield Beach resident Herbert Siegel asserts, "Secularization of America a Myth."

After citing a number of examples to prove his point, Mr. Siegel concludes,
In a letter to John Adams, Thomas Jefferson wrote, "Say nothing of my religion. It is known to God and myself alone. Its evidence before the world is to be sought in my life; if that has been honest and dutiful to society, the religion that has regulated it cannot be a bad one."

Good advice from a very wise man.

Bush Being Bush 

The St. Petersburg Times isn't wild about Gov. Bush's latest proposal to cut state taxes on some business purchases.
Bush now claims to have cut $8.2-billion in taxes over the past five years, at a time when the state was cutting university spending, forcing some teachers to go without pay raises, and telling seniors they might lose their spot in a nursing home if they are taken to the hospital. The prekindergarten program the governor apparently will endorse for next year offers little more than three hours of daily day care, mostly because lawmakers say the state can't afford to do any better.
These gifts add up, as well, and they undermine the only major source of money on which Florida operates. Florida has no income tax, so sales taxes fuel three-fourths of the state budget. A variety of distinguished boards and commissions have called for broadening the reach of that sales tax by removing undeserving special-interest exemptions. Bush himself has acknowledged that the sales tax code offers some dubious exemptions, yet as governor he has only added more.
As the editorial states, Gov. Bush is "proclaiming his priorities." Almost as bad is the ad hoc, piecemeal way he is doing it.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Win Some, Lose Some 

In Broward County, one of the Town of Davie's oldest houses is being saved. The Osterhoudt house is being moved to property next to the restored Old Davie School and 1912 Viele house.

Meanwhile, in Pompano Beach, that city's oldest remaining commercial structure, the 1922 Bank of Pompano building, appears doomed. In spite of local preservationists' efforts, the City of Pompano Beach plans to tear the building down in the near future.

Friday, December 03, 2004

What Did You Expect? 

The Miami Herald's Leonard Pitts has more than a passing interest in the content of the church advertisement rejected by several television networks.
I am a member of the United Church of Christ. I joined the UCC -- a little-known denomination out of Cleveland -- about five years ago. It was the first church I'd ever seen that seemed to take seriously the idea that inclusion is a Christian value. It was also the first that actively sought to resolve divisions of culture, class, race and sexual orientation.

So you can imagine how I feel about Wednesday's news that CBS and NBC have rejected a new UCC commercial celebrating just that characteristic: I am appalled. Frankly, I'd feel that way even if I didn't have a personal connection.
The rejected ad can be viewed online here.

So this is where "compassionate conservatism" has brought us -- ". . . a commercial that says only that God's love includes us all is too controversial to show . . ."

UM to UF 

Word is that Urban Meyer will be the Gators' new football coach.

One of the best aspects of getting Meyer is that he's young enough (40) to be with the Florida program for a long time.

Given the talent he inherits, though, expectations will be great.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Cultural Cleansing 

The morality police are at it Lakeland, where Polk County Commissioner Randy Wilkinson tried to cut funding for the Polk County Museum of Art. Wilkinson charged the museum with "hosting biased events," and cited the museum's showing of Fahrenheit 9/11
He went on to criticize the museum for providing a stage for a production of the nearly 25-year old play, "Sister Mary Ignatius Explains it All for You." He called the performance, which was a joint effort of the museum and Pied Piper Players last month, "anti-Catholic."

Wilkinson said he was equally appalled by the strongly feminist "The Guerrilla Girls" -- performance art that represented a partnership between the museum and Florida Southern College.
Wilkinson's motion to cut the museum's funding died for lack of a second.

In response to Wilkinson's charges, the museum's executive director, Daniel Stetson, said
. . . he wanted the commission to put Wilkinson's comments in context with all the other events the museum offers -- including the holiday-themed Festival of Trees last month, where a Baptist choir performed.

Commissioner Paul Senft commented on how the museum had provided a venue for movies such as The Passion of the Christ.

"We've shown a lot of things . . . (including) The Ten Commandments," Stetson said.
As if that mattered.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

They Got the Message 

I guess the rightwingers are correct -- the mainstream media are anti-Christian.

This proves it to me.

(Thanks to Bark Bark Woof Woof)

We Don't Need Facts to Know What to Do 

The Tallahassee Democrat's Bill Cotterell doesn't think State Senator Skip Campbell's idea for a study commission to examine the costs and benefits of state privatization will fly.
The Republicans who run the state like privatization as much as the Democrats hate it. But passage of Campbell's ideas would be a long shot even if his party wasn't so outnumbered in the House and Senate.

The Democrats might be right about outsourcing. So might Bush and his friends in the Legislature and corporate America.

But when you're in charge, why let those who aren't create a panel of experts to find out?
For Gov. Bush and the Republicans, privatization of government services is a secular faith-based initiative.

The Past is Getting Farther Behind 

St. Petersburg's Bayfront Center "was imploded early this morning." It wasn't an architectural gem, but it was the first place that I ice skated, or saw a live hockey game. Pretty exotic stuff for a Florida boy.

Tattoo You 

I'm not a big fan of tattoos and body piercing. Nothing makes me feel more distant from today's youth than this issue. But then, everything is a matter of degree, I suppose.

Research at the University of Florida looks into this phenomenon:
Thrill-seeking young people - those apt to jump out of an airplane, for example - are probable candidates for body piercings and tattoos. Others trying to work through some traumatic life experience tend to have multiple piercings, the survey shows.

[UF assistant professor of pediatrics and psychiatry, Eric] Storch sought to obtain the associations between people's personality and their likelihood to obtain some body modification such as a tattoo or nontraditional piercing.

Nontraditional piercings are those anywhere other than the earlobe such as the eyebrows, nose, lips, tongue, chin, nipples, navel and genitals.

The link between sensation-seeking behavior and tattoos and body piercings, Storch said, wasn't a total surprise. But the findings provide a basis for potential counseling opportunities to ensure young people know exactly what they are getting into, he said.

"Why I care is that notion of what you do now is what you may regret later," Storch said.

A tattoo of a mouse on a young woman's bikini line, for example, might not be so neat when she is nine months pregnant years later.
The study indicated that body piercings were much more popular with women than with men. It seems that among teenage girls, a belly button ring is part of the uniform.

I'm just glad that I didn't get tattooed back in my college days -- I'd hate to think how dated the chosen illustration would look today.

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