The Sarasota County School Board recently announced that it had chosen to replace out-going superintendent Lori White with Todd Bowden, the 45-year-old executive director of Career, Technical and Adult Education for the Sarasota Schools. After an extensive national search, lo and behold!!! the best candidate in the entire nation just happens to be right here under our noses. School board members praised Bowden for “know[ing] our district’s issues completely.” Well, duh, no kidding. Was that attribute in the ad for the position?
Meanwhile on a hilltop overlooking Charlottesville, Virginia a tremor startled residents as Thomas Jefferson rolled over in his grave. Why, you may ask?
Thomas Jefferson was the first American politician to advocate for public education; in fact, he developed a ground-breaking theoretical justification and structure for education. He contended that a well-educated citizenry was crucial for the creation and maintenance of democracy. If we could educate citizens to understand the world and their place in it, and if we could provide citizens with the skills of reasoning and critical thinking, we might be able to sustain what was then a bold experiment—democracy. Jefferson believed that democracy was not dependent on structures like
checks and balances or political elites, but on a vigilant, well-educated public.
At the time public education was a radical idea. In his writings that were crafted in his study at Monticello he sketched out a system of education beginning early in life and culminating in a university education that revolved around studying and understanding the classics. By studying the arts and sciences citizens would become reflective, critical thinkers who could act upon their world to transform it. In other words, the health of democracy was based on a broad, liberally educated (in the classical sense) citizenry. Education would open one’s mind and, in the process, benefit democratic society by creating active democratic citizens.
But the tremors did not fade out in Virginia, instead they traveled up the East Coast. The island of Manhattan also experienced the quake as educational philosopher John Dewey likewise rolled over in his grave. Building further on Jefferson, Dewey envisioned education as helping students realize their potential, not as cogs in the capitalist machine, but as human beings who, through education, could work toward the greater good of society by discovering their own potentials. Dewey rejected the idea that education should provide students with a set of pre-determined skills (job training) and instead education should be a catalyst for social change.
Is this lofty vision of education what Superintendent-to-be Todd Bowden embraces in Sarasota? Well, not exactly (in fact, not at all).
Todd Bowden doesn’t think much of educating people to be democratic citizens; he doesn’t seem to be interested in opening up the minds of young people; he doesn’t pay much attention to critical thinking; he seems unaware of how education can develop morals and values; he doesn’t seem to think much of classical education. Todd Bowden’s vision of education is to train people for jobs, to be cogs in the inherently anti-democratic “machine.” Here is what he said: “I talk regularly about why we educate, and we don’t educate for education’s sake. We educate with a workforce development mindset so that all our students can be financially independent. So that they graduate not just with academic skills, but skills that translate into the workforce. . . it is the core of what we do.”
How’s that for a lofty vision of education?
Alas, the Sarasota School Board seemed to be impressed with that “vision” of education. He received unanimous support.
I probably shouldn’t be shocked as the future Superintendent Bowden is in the mainstream of “educational philosophy” in Florida. Led by Governor Scott who similarly believes that the major purpose of education is to train people for jobs (note his “Degrees to Jobs” initiative) the vision that dominates education throughout most of Florida is job preparation. Training people for jobs is training people to fit into an authoritarian system, to obey rather than question, to keep silent, and to accept ethically questionable activities (e.g., Wells Fargo).
Democracy needs citizens who possess the understanding and skills necessary to behave democratically. If we don’t start developing those attributes in school, where will we do it?
Will a win be more traumatic for Cubbie fans and the Cub franchise than a loss?
This is the question I ponder as we prepare ourselves for the start of the World Series
Yes, we now live in Sarasota, FL, but Cub fans remain true blue no matter where they reside.
Jack is a natural born Cub fan, having been born outside of Chicago and raised by a Cub fan father. As a New Yorker, I cheered for the Mets, but when I realized that this was untenable for our relationship, I agreed to convert upon marriage over 20 years ago. It was only then that I began to appreciate the tragic history of my new team—a team that has not won the World Series in what is now 108 years and yet their fans remain loyal and fan-atically devoted. For heavens sake, my father-in-law lived to be 102 and during his entire lifetime did not see his beloved team triumph.
Like any conversion, I had to learn the history and traditions associated with my new religion.
And a religion it is. Being a Cub fan demands spiritual depth. It means having faith when reason tells you otherwise, it means developing personal strength in the face of despair, and it means being the butt of jokes about perennial losers. But it also means love–as in love of the game despite the loses, love of the players despite their foibles, a love of legacy despite its moments of deep disappointment, and a love of living on the margins when the world clamors for the mainstream. It’s no wonder that the most prized seating at Wrigley is not in the box seats but in the outfield bleachers, and that the drink of choice is not a Heineken but a Bud (Cub fan, Bud man).
I have touched the holy ivy at Wrigley; attended spring training games in Mesa, AZ; wear with pride my pin-striped shirt with GRACE on the back (for Mark Grace, natch); learned that a Cubbie fan is expected to throw back onto the field (with distain) the REAL homerun ball hit by the other team; know that when the Cubs have the lead, never to chant “Let’s get some runs!” after the rituals of the Seventh Inning Stretch; sang with gusto “Go Cubs Go! Go Cubs Go! Hey Chicago what do you say, the Cubs are gonna win today!” (watch a video version of the song here) and repeated with genuine conviction, “This is going to be THE year.” I even know that the sign on a nearby rooftop that spells out “EAMUS CATULI” is Latin (almost) for Go Cubs.
And I have learned to forgive and be forgiven. I confess that shortly after our move to Sarasota, I became enamored of another: The Tampa Bay Rays. Like the Cubs, the odds seemed against them but still they played scrappy baseball. I came to love their manager Joe Madden for the upbeat spirit and quirky ways he brought to the team and the game.
But then Fate once again shook the universe, and Madden left the Rays and joined, of all teams, the Cubs, (taking Ben Zobrist with him). I forgave them and then found forgiveness myself when I returned to the fold of the Cubbies (despite their losing ways).
Now things have changed. With Madden at the helm, the Cubs are, dare I say it, winners. They are poised to play this Tuesday night in the World Series against the Cleveland Indians. They will be playing in their first World Series since 1945—before Jack was even born. So we should rejoice, right?
But I can’t.
Part of the Cub history is their ability to snatch defeat out of victory. Among the worst moments are the billy goat curse of 1945, the black cat on the field in 1969, and the Steve Bartman fan interference debacle in 2003. And then there is a history of devastating injuries (Sammy Sosa’s caused by a sneeze), of ninth inning collapses, and of dropped balls, once cracking bats that now meet only air, and players who collide with each other. A familiar posture of Cub fans occurs when they cover their eyes to ward off the demons of doom followed by the communal groan of “OOOOH NOOOO!” It is thus that Cub fans topple from the highest of optimistic heights to the basement of baseball abyss.
So it’s no wonder that I face the World Series games with trepidation. (I hear the warning “Winter is coming” and shudder.) I don’t want to witness the pain of those I love should the Cubs return to their previous Cub-like ways.
Adding to my concern, is the fact that this year we are once again 3 generations Cubbie strong. With the birth of little Madison, who at just 7 weeks old wore her Cub tee each night to witness the Cubs win the National League pennant, we wonder if this could really, really be THE year.
But upon reflection, I’m not really afraid of losing. We have, after all, already won in making it to the World Series following a 103-58 season, and we have already won in never giving up and keeping the faith despite over a century of defeat.
What really scares me is winning.
How will winning alter our Cubbie identity? No longer the perennial but undisputedly, lovable losers, who will we become? Will our ranks be infiltrated by unproven, unworthy bandwagon Cub fans?
I confess; I’m not sure.
But for the sake of all those who did not live to see this day, those like Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, Steve Goodman, Harry Caray, and our very own Erwin Freie, I’d like to give being a winner a shot.
What can pirates teach us about democracy? Well, read on…
The “Golden Age of Piracy,” as historians call it, lasted about 80 years from the 1650s to the 1730s. While piracy was a worldwide phenomenon the area I want to comment on is, most appropriately, here in Florida and the near-by Caribbean, where many Floridians go on cruises (beware!). In Florida we had our share of notorious pirates including Black Caesar, Captain Kidd, Blackbeard, and my personal favorite Captain Calico Jack (inspiration for the Johnny Depp character Jack Sparrow and designer of the iconic black and white skull and crossbones flag we have come to associate with pirates).
The popular image of classic pirates is either that of blood-thirsty plunderers with eye patches or misunderstood swashbuckling psychopaths with peg-legs and parrots clinging to their shoulders. But what do we really know about the pirate life? How did they work together to plunder and loot? How did they organize their ships? Is there anything the life of pirates can inform us about in our own lives?
Thanks to a substantial body of “Pirateological” research and written accounts of some notorious pirates themselves we have a fairly good understanding of pirate life. While there is no doubt that much pirate behavior was brutal and disgusting there was one aspect of their lives that may surprise you: Oddly enough pirates were active participants in democratic systems, systems that in some respects were more democratic than our present-day version of representative democracy.
On board the pirate ship the pirates elected their own officers including the captain, the quartermaster, boatswain, gunner and other officers. Not only were they elected, but they could also be ousted by majority vote. While the captain had absolute authority during attacks (a recognition of expertise) many other decisions—such as which ships to attack and which direction to head after attacks—were made by vote of the crew. The quartermaster functioned as a chief executive and, in effect, a check on the power of the captain. He was in charge of arbitrating disputes and acted as an intermediary between the captain and the crew. What’s more, the quartermaster functioned as a judge, deciding what punishments would be handed out for rule violations (yes, they had rules) and, perhaps even more importantly, deciding how the loot would be distributed.
Hey there canine friends (and human companions), did you know that SRQ Airport is a place where you can go?!?
I mean, of course, “go” as in “go potty.”
Not only are there two areas to walk outside the airport, (one near ticketing and one near the taxis by the baggage exit) but there is a place inside by Gate B2 where service animals and pets can use “the facilities.”
Just take a look…there’s the men’s room, the women’s room, and then our relief area. (By the way, why do humans call their relief areas “bathrooms” or “restrooms” or even “rooms” at all? I just don’t get it.)
Here’s what it looks like inside the service dog/pet relief area:
Pretty neat, huh? My only quibble is with the size of the fire hydrant…really?
Sure, Yorkies will love it, but a German Shepherd will really need to have good aim. Good thing there is a hose for humans to clean up the turf (or elsewhere) after you “go.”
But it’s clean, it’s inside, it has a view, it’s climate controlled, and it’s for us.
So a big AAARRRFFF shout-out to the humans at SRQ (and the consultants from Southeastern Guide Dogs) who remembered that whether you’re human or canine, when you gotta go, you gotta go.
Perhaps the most publicized animal vs. human Florida stories involve alligator or shark attacks. These creatures are rather large, their presence is difficult to detect, and they can attack quickly. The media like to report about these attacks because of their dramatic nature. But actually they infrequently kill humans. On average only ten people per year die as a result of a shark attack world-wide and since 1948 only 23 people have died as a result of alligator attacks. So what is the animal that kills the most humans? Well, strangely enough it is the six-legged, quadruple-winged blood-sucking mosquito.
Other than our own species (homo sapien) which kills on average 425,000 other humans very year the mosquito kills anywhere between 750,000 and 1 million humans a year. Its killing technique differs from animals such as the shark, the alligator, or even venomous snakes (of which Florida has many). There aren’t many credible reports of mosquitoes actually draining people of their blood—for an average sized human and average thirsty mosquitoes it would take about 400,000 bites to drain a person of enough blood to kill them. That’s unlikely to happen even on “Naked and Afraid.”
Mosquitoes are much trickier; they kill humans by transmitting nasty diseases such as malaria, dengue, West Nile virus, chikungunya, yellow fever, Japanese encephalitis, Saint Louis encephalitis, Venezuelan equine encephalitis, and La Crosse encephalitis (don’t know why we don’t have a Sarasota encephalitis). What makes it even more unfair is that these flying monsters transmit diseases while being unaffected by those diseases themselves.
Right now in Florida the largest mosquito concern focuses on the aedes asgypti(aa) species, because it’s the one that transmits Zika.
It helps to know your enemy, so here is some information about little “aa’s” behavior. At the risk of being called sexist I need to say right off the bat that it is only the female mosquitoes that we should be concerned with. The girls go for your blood in order to provide food for their eggs. I don’t know exactly what the guys do while their girlfriends are out biting people, but the guys aren’t the problem. The aa is an urban mosquito—it lays its eggs and the larva grow in small amounts of water (they love discarded car tires and the infamous Florida bromeliad). Being urban insects they don’t travel much, usually no more than ½ mile from home in their entire lifetime (which only lasts about 2 months) and they fly slow and low. If you’re thinking about hiding from them consider stopping breathing (they smell carbon dioxide) and sweating (they smell that too) and don’t wear dark clothes (it holds heat which they can also sense).
It seems as if it will be difficult to hide from them, so how about killing them? A war on mosquito terror!
Environmentalists are, of course, always concerned about “unnaturally” disrupting the ecosystem. But, there seems to be no research that indicates that mosquitoes are beneficial for much of anything. Apparently they do pollinate a few flowers, but lot of other insects perform that same function. So why not declare an all out war of the ‘lil monsters and aim for eradication of the enemy?
Trying to be sensitive about the environment I looked into using natural predators against them. However, it appears that the only predators that seem to use them as a major source of food are dragonflies and a fish appropriately called the mosquitofish. Dragonflies are hard to domesticate and control and, although mosquitofish are given free of charge to people with ponds in California, there is no research that shows that they actually have much of an impact on the mosquito population. In addition, the mosquitofish is cannibalistic, further undermining its ability to wage a war on what should be the real enemy.
But lo and behold, there are some people who are defenders of the mostly deadly animal to humans. For instance, Dr. Fazale Rana, who’s a member of a group that calls itself “Reasons to Believe” argues that “[e]very mosquito bite ought to be a reminder to obey God.” According to the good doctor Adam and Eve were not bothered by disease or deadly animals until they disobeyed God. Dr. Rana goes further and claims that it’s actually beneficial that mosquitoes kill so many people because it is God’s way of controlling population growth. “While the population might become healthier, its numbers would swell and overpopulation would eventually become a concern. Overpopulation then leads . . . to suffering.”
So the next time you think about swatting that pesky mosquito that’s draining you of your bodily fluids think about Eve, admit that you are a sinner, and smash that ‘lil monster!
A warm welcome to our returning Snowbirds and a quick update as to what has changed (and what has not) since last you’ve been in Sarasota:
(1) The new mascot of Sarasota is now the crane.
No, not this one:
(2) We have several new roundabouts with more on the way. The rules are simple: yield before entering, otherwise floor it; once you enter the circle, you have the right of way—unless someone is texting; traffic flows counterclockwise (think quickly); don’t stop or brake when you are in the circle–unless forced to; when you need to exit, you move to the right lane (but watch out for British tourists who move to the left); if you miss your turn, just go around again; and…well, just try it and you’ll see; at least you’re not sitting at a traffic light reading bumper stickers.
(3) Another driving tip: remember that upon returning to Florida you must stop using your blinker (they may be illegal here), and do not trust them when you see them on because chances are it’s been blinking since the vehicle crossed the Mason-Dixon Line.
(4) Remember back in the day when Main Street had dime eating parking meters; and then they were taken out; and then new confusing digital ones were put in; and then those were taken out? Well, guess what’s scheduled to return to Main Street…Yep.
(5) Nathan Benderson Park continues to improve facilities and host events: but beware of the new speed trap! If you’re coming from the south, you’ll see cars flying at 70 mph or better to your right on Interstate 75, while your speed drops from 40 mph to 30 mph. Yes, bicyclists will pass you in the 30 mph zone, and rowers on the water will appear to fly by, but just in case you’re tempted to catch them, there’s a nice officer hiding in the dip in the road to remind you to slow to a crawl.
(6) And a few words to bicyclists riding along University…we have invented a new challenging bath path for you; it is the disappearing lane. It goes like this: there’s a dedicated bike lane that suddenly vanishes at the intersection of Cattlemen and University. But fear not: a sign clearly states that, from this point forward (yes, as you are entering the construction zone of the “diverging diamond” near the Interstate 75 ramps), bikes will now be “sharing” the lane with cars. No; we’re not kidding. Theoretically, it could work, right?
(7) Tourists sometimes mistake the Red Tide warning at the beach as an advertisement for a local IPA brew. Reminder: if you see this sign, run, don’t walk from the shore, and try not to inhale. Those fish are not lying there drunk; they are dead, dead, dead. (Guess they believe in the old adage, better dead than red. Sorry, I had to say it.)
(8) Another warning: Television viewing here may be detrimental to your health. Swing state Florida has more political ads than Sarasota has cranes. Now’s the time to dvr and zap those ads.
(9) But speaking of television, you may in fact not have to worry. Verizon sold its television and internet service to Frontier. Chances are, then, that when you return, you will have neither. We had to learn to speak Filipino in order to resolve our problems through multiple conversations with “out of country” customer service.
(10) Sarasota has allowed a new exclusive condo to be built on the corner of Gulfstream and Ringling Causeway. It is named for what it has destroyed—the Vue. Future projects are rumored to include: the Quay, the Pedestrian Way, and the Gulf Shore.
(11) Some local restaurants have decided to mix food with presidential politics–a bold marketing strategy that must be intended to separate those with strong stomachs from the weak. Not to worry: these establishments tend to be clearly marked by outdoor signs that specifically invite the business of “deplorables,” “gun toting patriots,” “Tic Tac fans,” and “Russian hackers” (shirts required, except for Putin.)
(12) This election year could be a confusing one for Florida voters. At least two of the proposed state amendments are tricky. Amendment 1, titled the Florida Solar Energy Subsidies and Personal Solar Use amendment, is said to promote neither. Think about that. And the Medical Marijuana amendment is not endorsed by the AMA. Hmmmm, again. Meanwhile, Jeb Bush will most likely be voting for Hillary Clinton, and Billy Bush is now the most googled member of the clan. And remember when you left us in the spring, Marco Rubio declared he would not run for reelection? Well, now he really, really does want to be Senator for another 6 years. (The “Marco!” “Polo!” ad against him is hysterical.)
And we wonder why Florida has the reputation for being “weird.”
Back in 1858 Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas conducted seven debates throughout seven of the nine congressional districts in Illinois as they campaigned for the United States Senate. Each debate was scheduled to last three hours. What they said was recorded by stenographers, reprinted and distributed throughout the United States. People discussed and argued the issues that the two candidates raised. No one listened to them on the radio, saw them on television, or live streamed them; instead they read the debates in newspapers. This was democracy at its finest—candidates identified and framed the issues and citizens discussed and debated with each other.
Contrast that with the image of Donald J. Trump in Mexico City standing side-by-side with Mexican president Peña Nieto calling him a friend and referring to the Mexican people as “amazing people.” A few hours later in Phoenix Trump, standing in front of American flags, talked about creating a “deportation task force” to round up Mexicans (rapists and murderers?) who had illegally entered the country and send them back to stand at the end of the line to re-enter the land of milk and honey. Trump’s visit to Mexico provided him with a great visual—standing at a podium next to a grim-faced Mexican president. Then, hours later, creating another image as he blasted away at illegal Mexican immigrants. Whatever he said in either venue was irrelevant; it was the image that was significant.
In Mexico he created an image of a world leader capable of standing up to leaders of hostile nations (for Trump Mexico is a hostile nation). Back in the friendly confines of Arizona he reverted to the image of a “non-PC” candidate “telling it like it is.” Forget what Trump is saying (he often says things that are not true), image is what the Trump campaign is about.
It has been argued that Trump thrives upon, and even encourages, misinformation; that uneducated angry white men are flocking to him; that he is followed by “deplorable” people (the latest by Hillary). I think that is too simplistic. His appeal is broader. Trump is an extension of a presidential campaign phenomenon that began with the advent of television, was realized by Ronald Reagan, and became an art form with George W. Bush. These presidents (really their advisors) understood that reality had become “contested,” and they attempted to define it for their own political purposes through images, not words. Politics today is not a battle of ideas (ala the Lincoln-Douglas debates) but a battle of images. “Dubya” even went so far as to hire an image team composed of professionals drawn from the major networks to stage “message of the day” backdrops for pseudo-events to convey a simple yet coordinated message.
So Trump is not unique in his use of images. What is somewhat different about Trump is that he lacks virtually any substance at all. While candidates such as George W. Bush were taken to task for not being as informed about issues as presidential candidates should be, Trump’s ignorance about basic political issues and his lack of policy proposals is stunning. Still, it may not matter. Image becomes its own reality.
The difficulty with images is that they disempower the American citizenry. At their best images are effective at raising questions, but they do not provide people with information and perspectives that can provide the basis of democratic dialogue among citizens. How do you argue with an image? Images merely “are.” They can be pleasant, attractive, ugly, and disturbing. But they don’t provide the kind of information citizens need to engage in democratic discussions. Substantive arguments (which the Lincoln-Douglas debates provided) possess the possibility of engaging citizens in dialogue about important issues.
But images are effective on the campaign trail because they tap into people’s feelings, and those feelings often override rational thought. Unfortunately image creation and manipulation represents our present-day approach to presidential campaigns. As three-time Grammy Award winning guitarist Adam Jones once said: “It doesn’t matter what [the image] is about, all that matters is how it makes you feel.” Trump is creating an image that taps into people’s emotions and those emotions may very well overwhelm rational discourse.
Last weekend we dropped a large chunk of change at Lowe’s when we purchased a washer and dryer–they had enticed us into this sale by soliciting our patronage with a 10% off coupon.
This weekend we experienced a reversal: we were instructed by Lowe’s to leave the premises because we were “soliciting.”
Our crime? We were standing outside an entrance (not blocking it or harassing anyone) holding up clipboards that read on the back: “Register to Vote Here.”
On the front of our clipboards were Florida Voter Registration Applications. We wore no signs of political affiliation and neither did we hand out any materials. We were there with one civic purpose: to facilitate voter registration for anyone interested.
But even when this was explained, the Lowe’s representative told us, “I just don’t want you here.” We had to immediately move, although wandering the parking lot would be okay (because presumably it was owned not by Lowe’s but by several stores).
We complied. But although Lowe’s, other stores, HOAs, and even individual homeowners are entitled to have and to enforce a policy of “No Solicitation,” we were, in fact, NOT soliciting.
To solicit implies a commercial or financial interest. It means to peddle, to sell, to offer for sale, or to ask for help. It can also be defined as urging a cause strongly, attempting to entice, or offering to have sexual relations with someone for money.
Just to be clear, we were not soliciting in any of those forms! (Can you imagine: “Hey there baby, want to fill out this form with me…”)
The adoption of non-solicitation policies is understandable; they prevent people from standing outside a store like Lowe’s selling their own products, promoting their own services, or asking customers for cash. Sometimes “canvassing” is included in these prohibitions, but canvassing is different as it involves pressing an idea or asking someone for an opinion or for support. (Members of religious groups who preach their faith door-to-door are sometimes said to be canvassing, not soliciting.)
Voter registration is none of that. In fact, it is considered a neutral civic activity that is usually exempted from non-solicitation policies, rules, and statutes because all it involves is offering people an opportunity to register to vote by filling out a government document.
But for four of the people who talked to us today, that was a hollow offer. They had been convicted in Florida of a felony, and Florida law therefore prohibits them from becoming a registered voter—not only when serving their time, not only during probation, but even after that. In reality, for most convicted felons, they have lost their right to vote in Florida forever (unless they go through a complicated appeal process that results in the right being restored.) In Florida over 1.5 million people are disenfranchised in this way; i.e., over 10% of the voting age population. This is the highest rate of disenfranchisement in the nation.