Florida is being inundated by scantly clad college students looking for some fun in the sun. We are in the middle of the 2021 spring break, the time of year American and Canadian colleges and universities close in advance of their final semester of the school year.
After the enforced confinement of the past year, and the record cold most of the country endured just weeks ago, being able to escape to the Sunshine State must feel awfully good. Old people have been doing it for months. I’ve heard quite a bit of French — and seen the corresponding Quebec license plates — during our weekly outings to a sparsely populated beach on the beach. However, we’re all wearing masks — mandated for indoors in our county — as we walk from the parking lot to the water, and we sit apart from each other. More and more of us have struggled through the crazy vaccine protocols to get our immunizations.
The same cannot be said for what’s happening just a few miles down the road in Ft. Lauderdale, South Florida’s spring break epicenter. Maskless romping in close quarters by unvaccinated youth means these kids will be taking home more than a sunburn when they migrate back to their indoor college life. I can see the t-shirts now: “I went to Ft. Lauderdale and all I brought back was COVID.”
Which is why I absolutely love an idea spun up by my favorite Palm Beach Post columnist, Frank Cerabino: applying the pandemic protocol to spring break activities to make them safe for students this year.
What would spring break be without a hotel swimming pool full of scantily clad college students holding plastic drink cups and grooving to the sounds of a pool-deck DJ? So, let’s do it … but a little differently this year due to gathering restrictions with COVID-19. Just follow these rules:
Frank Cerabino, The Palm Beach Post
“You must sign up to reserve a time slot to be in the pool.
And being that it’s Florida, we’re making you sign up through Publix grocery store. Don’t ask. It’s just something we do.
You’ll have to get up before 7 a.m. and compete with all the other college students across the nation coming here for spring break.
Once you are successfully allowed into the Publix online portal, you will be able to enter the approximate geographic location of your spring break hotel. Then you will see a list of available pool slots and times that are available in your area.
With only five people allowed in a swimming pool at any given time, there will be heavy demand for a relatively small number of spots.”
That’s how we roll down here in South Florida. Enjoy!
My days are bookended by two delicious hours of information intake. The early riser in our household, I quietly ingest The Palm Beach Post on my iPad over breakfast on our lanai, and my husband and I soak in the PBS NewsHour after dinner. (We’re not all highbrow: we watch Wheel of Fortune during dinner.)
The newspaper and the NewsHour often inform what I write about in this blog. Today, the subject is newspapers themselves.
… over the last 15 years, I was reading, 1,800 newspapers, local weeklies and dailies, have shut down.
The St. Petersburg Times — on the opposite coast of Florida — became one of those lost local newspapers when it was merged into the Tampa Bay Times a decade ago. Yesterday, as reporter Claire McNeill wrote, the printing plant that continued to run the paper saw its last issue hit the streets, marking yet another loss.
When the St. Petersburg Times’ plant was built in the late 1950s, the paper ran a 36-page special section. ‘Like the great pyramid of Egypt,’ a reporter wrote, the new plant was a grand symbol, ‘a functioning monument’ for readers alive and unborn.Hiring ads ran near-daily: ‘Get in on the ground floor of the newspaper of tomorrow.’
Our local newspaper tells us what’s happening in our community, our village, our town, our county. If all politics is local, the newspaper empowers us to engage on issues that matter. Let me give you a concrete example: tomorrow’s local elections.
My husband and are not eligible to vote. Our community lies outside the boundaries of local government in the western reaches of unincorporated Palm Beach County. Our elected officials — the commissioners, the sheriff — were part of the November elections. I will admit that I glossed over the Palm Beach Post’s many articles on the issues and the candidates in tomorrow’s municipal elections, but yesterday, the paper got my full attention.
Reporter Chris Persaud wrote about the spill-over impact on local elections of the record number of Floridians who voted in the 2020 elections. Eligible voters who requested a mail-in ballot for the November elections automatically received a ballot for tomorrow’s municipal elections. For some, it was a welcome reminder.
Normally I don’t even vote in presidential elections. I ain’t got no faith in politics, period. But because of the recent craziness in politics, I just decided to take a swing at it.
Tommie Butler, a 64-year-old Black Democrat from West Palm Beach, quoted in a Palm Beach Post article by Chris Persaud
For others, it was an annoyance.
I thought we were done voting.
Lisa Steinmetz, West Palm Beach, quoted in a Palm Beach Post article by Chris Persaud
Democracy is ongoing, as is our civic duty to participate. We are never done voting. And these are exactly the types of actions that the GOP is seeking to put an end to after what was the highest turnout in the nation’s voting history. So, if there were no newspaper and no surprise ballot in the mailbox, who would turn out for local elections?
Who is going to provide the public the kind of information they need and deserve to know in order to be engaged citizens?
Critics of President Trump can learn something from pro-democracy movements in other countries. Just as pointing and laughing deflates flashers, wit deflates dictators. Making the leader a laughing stock wins people over. In his recent column for the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof labels the power of mockery as “laughtism.”
We know it works against Trump. Who can forget the 2011 White House Correspondents’ Dinner when Seth Meyers rolled out his Trump jokes as a grim-faced Donald glared back.
Donald Trump says he would run for president as a Republican, which is odd because I just assumed he was running as a joke.
Seth Meyers, 2011 White House Correspondents’ Dinner
The Kristof notes that the Committee for the Protection of Journalists — which I looked at in a recent post about the Voice of America — has intervened this year to defend seven cartoonists around the world who were arrested, threatened with prosecution, or threatened with death.
It was a cartoon of a the prophet Muhammad in the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo that led to the 2015 attack that killed 11 of its staff. The New York Times’ Norimitsu Onishi reported that the magazine reprinted the cartoon last month as the trial began.
The editorial cartoons that run in my newspaper, The Palm Beach Post, have hit the nail on the head, lampooning the White House’s coronavirus containment claims and strident electioneering. Cartoonists David Horsey and Clay Bennett are among the cartoonists that I’ve featured in my recent posts.
The grins of the people are the nightmares of the dictators.
Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo
Kristof closes with a final quote of Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo that seems particularly well-timed. In the international embarrassment that was the first presidential debate, Vice President Biden called Trump a liar, but we have come to understand this as a fact, along with his cheating and other corruptions. Trump has been discredited so frequently, most recently in the NYT tax expose, that cartoonist Andy Marlette was ready with this within hours of the debate.
Mom was raised in Winona, Minnesota, a small town on the banks of the Mississippi, where her mother was a housewife and her father ran the ancestral hardware store. The community revolved around the local YWCA, where Mom absorbed experiences in volunteering that molded her character for life.
My mother found a way to use these experiences during my father’s work in Bogotá, Colombia, in the mid-60s. For the first time in our Embassy life, Mom found like-minded women interested in community service. Bogotá had an active community of “señoras de por bien” — well-off women — who considered it their “deber,” their duty, to do something for poor communities. American women from the Embassy and the expat community contributed their shared experiences in volunteering. As Mom struggled to get well-intentioned Colombian women to follow through, she wrote home:
I’d love to have articles from the YW about the responsibilities of members. We’d like to show how cooperation can accomplish so much for clubs, families, and the country. I dunno. How do you train people in loyalty and responsibility?
Nancy Robb Amerson, letter to her parents, 1965
The effort of Mom and her women colleagues was recognized by none other than Ambassador Covey T. Oliver, citing a letter to the editor that has run in El Tiempo, the Bogotá daily newspaper.
The jist of the letter was that our work with the Jardín was real diplomacy. The ambassador send a copy to Washington so the we would have “official recognition.” It is surely a nice extra to have what we try to do recognized as being of some worth to the joint effort.
Nancy Robb Amerson, letter to her parents, 1965
Register and vote
Mom passed away in September, 2012, before she had a chance to vote for Barack Obama. At her memorial, my sister said, “Be sure to vote. Mom would want you to.”
So, today, make sure you are registered. If you want to vote from home, request your paper ballot today. When you get it, read up on the issues and the candidates and mark down your choices. Before you sign it, be sure you have the right ballot — not your house mate’s — and check your listed name before signing. I learned this the hard way when we voted in the Florida primary. I signed my full middle name when the ballot was for Kelly A. Lopez. Probably disqualified. I won’t do that again. You either.
The world has loved, hated, and envied the US. Now, for the first time, we pity it.
Fintan O’Toole, Irish Times
The United States’ response to the Coronavirus has been marked by leadership failure, science denial, and political manipulation, such that, seven months into the pandemic, our country has had 6.5 million cases of the virus, and we are closing on 200,000 American deaths. According to the Republican National Convention, all of this is in the rear view mirror. According to reality, the virus continues to spread. As students go back to school this month — with the courts reviewing Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran’s order to open brick-and-mortar schools — health directors and epidemiologists forecast renewed ignition.
Senegal, a country of 60 million people ranking near the top of Foreign Policy’s list, has had only 14,000 cases and 284 deaths to date in this pandemic. The state of Florida, with about twice as many people, has nearly 50 times the number of cases. An American living in Senegal says that her Senegalese friends are flabbergasted that Americans are arguing over whether to wear masks and questioning the severity of the virus.
There hasn’t been a moment where my family was thinking that we should have evacuated. We always felt being here was the better choice.
Shannon Underwood, American living in Senegal, quoted by Deirdre Shesgreen, USA Today
America, for the first time in its history, is pitied and viewed with disdainful condescension. And the person at the helm — who the conservative commentator George Will calls “the most frivolous person ever to hold any great nation’s highest office” — has his hands off the wheel while our nation is on a downward spiral.
His message of disruption — his unvarnished nationalism and tolerance of white supremacists coupled with his skepticism of the pandemic dangers — is spilling well beyond American shores.
Katrin Bennhold, The New York Times
This really sticks in my craw. An “America first” tin-pot dictator modeling fascist behavior for a far-right German audience is the antithesis of the role of American president. It begs the contrast with another American president who spoke to a German audience. In his 1963 rock-star tour of Europe, President John F. Kennedy affirmed America’s solidarity with West Germany in resisting the Russians. “I am a Berliner.” Pro-democracy. Pro-NATO. Pro-allies.
My father represented our country in the US Foreign Service. In 1963, he was posted at the American Embassy in Rome, Italy, where he handled the press when President Kennedy visited a few weeks after being in Germany.
The plans went off without a hitch. Kennedy emerged alone from Air Force One, glamorous and handsome, waving to the small knot of observers. His open-air limousine was escorted by the handsome Carabinieri on horseback. He made his protocol visit to the Quirinale Palace, the seat of the national government. Kennedy’s call on Pope Paul VI came just days after his installation upon the death of John XXIII. The media noted this historic meeting between the first Catholic American president and the head of the Catholic Church.
From When the Dictator Flew Over Our House & Other True Stories, not yet published, Jane Kelly Amerson López
Like diplomats before and after him, my father’s loyalty was to the United States and its elected leader, regardless of policies or political party. It was not always easy — Dad came to disagree with the Vietnam War, which very much colored America’s overseas relationships — but being a diplomat today comes with unprecedented challenges. A July Democratic staff report to the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations — Diplomacy in Crisis: The Trump Administration’s Decimation of the Department of State — concluded:
The President has undermined the United States’ role as a global leader, withdrawing from international organizations, agreements, and commitments, seeking to walk back our responsibilities to allies and partners, and retreating from leading the response to global crises.
Democratic Staff Report to the Committee on Foreign Relations, US Senate.\
The facts speak for themselves. Or, to quote Trump, “It is what it is.” We will vote in November.
My foot rises. Before it falls there is a tiny moment when neither of my feet are really carrying weight — a suspension, a moment of physical trust. Something in me knows that the ground will still be there. Let me return to this innate knowledge — this ancient confidence.
Gunilla Norris, “Walking,” Being Home, A Book of Meditations
My November checkup at Shands continued the good news. No aneurysms. I graduated from PT and walked up the three flights of stairs to our daughter’s apartment.
Help me to not be so afraid of the heights and depths! Help me to concentrate on the connection between the two: those humble steps, those one-after-the-other steps, which are the only ones I can really take. Help me to love a slow progression, to have no prejudice that up is better than down or vice versa. Help me to enjoy the in between.
Gunilla Norris, “Climbing Stairs,” Being Home, A Book of Meditations
I kept progressing. I added weight workouts to my routine. I walked longer. I jogged a little. I felt like I could run, but I wanted medical clearance first.
My six-month checkup was to be at Shands in May, but the pandemic threw off those plans. I stayed home and kept my eye on Florida’s Coronavirus infection rate as the virus burned viciously through the state. I felt great but I had felt great before my illness, too.
Finally, the COVID curve peaked and bent downward, and Shands, which is a five-hour drive away, accommodated my request to have the CT scan done locally and forwarded to my doctor at Shands for her review. I suited up and had the test on August 19.
Yesterday, I got the results. No aneurysms. No restrictions. I did the happy dance and went for a run.
Next checkup is in twelve months. It’s the first appointment on my 2021 calendar. Happy New Year!
When my father was stationed at the American Embassy in Rome, our family mail came to us via the Army Post Office (APO), which routes US Postal Office mail to military bases and diplomatic missions around the globe. [A note here: the Defense Department says that the APO mail service is available to only US Postal Service mail. You’ll understand why I say this in a minute.]
So, back to Rome. The Italian postal system was unreliable, so people living in Rome during my parent’s time at the Embassy (early ‘60s and, again, mid-‘70s) put their mail in post boxes in Vatican City, which has run its own postal system for the past century. I just ran across this informal 2017 poll that shows that Italy continues to be ranked poorly on its handling of the mail, with some 80 percent of the respondents to an informal poll rating it as “poor” or “fair”.
the US mail ranks 7th in the world
Look at the bar graph again. In this list of 35 countries, Japan leads in high points for its mail system, followed by South Korea, Switzerland, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Austria, and the USA. 7th in a list of 35 countries, a good system.
Americans depend on the US mail
Americans have long relied on our government delivery of the mail to keep in touch with family, order supplies, transport livestock, and even transport children, as my friend Karen Coody Cooper writes in this piece that recently ran in our local newspaper, The Palm Beach Post.
My dad grew up on a South Dakota farm, where the mail linked his mother to family and friends who had found a warmer, easier life out in California. My father’s memoir, From the Hidewood, includes a story about his mother writing her family and making a friend of Dad’s one-room schoolhouse teacher through conversations at the mailbox.
… by the time she’d put the letter and its three pennies inside the roadside mailbox and raised the flag, the familiar slender figure with the book bag in hand had almost arrived.
Robert Amerson, From the Hidewood
Current attempts to hamper service
Elsewhere in the same issue of The Palm Beach Post was an article about the Trump Administration efforts to hamper the US Postal Service’s ability to deliver the mail, — in order to ensure its demise and resurrection as a for-profit enterprise — resulting in the death of chicks in transit to poultry farmers who’ve relied on the mail for their inventory. Representative Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) has taken the issue to Washington. Look at her. I would do what she asks. She is one of us persistent, nasty women who wants answers. I don’t think she’s going to be okay with converting the US Postal Service into a private corporation. And, Americans serving our country abroad rely on the USPS to get their mail to the Army Post Office.
Private sector Mail failed me
This week, I had my own postal experience that sheds some light on the issue for me. After a decade of holding onto the written records of my mother’s family — a collection of letters, poetry, and other paper in annotated binders which she created and curated — I decided to finally get them to their proper home, the historical society in her hometown of Winona, Minnesota. Although I felt badly about not having done more with the materials while I had them, I knew that I was doing the right thing in putting these treasures closer to family. The Winona County Historical Society assured me that they’d accept the materials, redirecting any that might better belong in another historical collection — Mankato, in Blue Mound County, was where her mother’s Kelly family was from; other family came from Fountain City, across the Mississippi in Wisconsin.
I packed the binders into two sturdy boxes culled from Amazon deliveries. Given the delicacy of the task, and trying to limit my exposure to people — the Coronavirus has not been tamed here — I chose FedEx to deliver the two boxes to their permanent home.
Here is what happened one week later.
One box was delivered to the Winona County Historical Society. The other box was dumped at my front door, soaking wet, falling apart, and somehow still containing its precious cargo. The FedEx address label with the Minnesota address was gone, and the box made it back via my husband’s name and our home address on a new FedEx label. How this happened is a mystery. When I tracked the box, it shows that it is still enroute to the original destination, with a current address of Countryside, IL. The automated response line would not put a real person on the telephone. Because the box is still in transit. And the FedEx shipping center down the road, which I visited yesterday with the box and cargo in hand, will not issue me a refund and/or re-ship the cargo. I’ll try again today to reach a human being.
So much for the private sector.
The USPS will get my box this time. I’ve been out in the world enough to appreciate that social distancing precautions are in place to protect me, and 95 percent of the people we’ve seen are wearing masks. The Coronavirus numbers are in decline.
Of course, Governor DeSantis and Education Commissioner Corcoran are demanding that Florida schools re-open in-person. I’m betting we see those COVID-19 numbers shoot back up.
Trump ads threaten: “You won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America.” The images in these ads were taken as Trump sits in the White House. We have never been lead so callously.
He’s against God. He’s against guns.
Donald J. Trump, about Joe Biden
Trump sounds like a frantic salesman who cannot keep his pitch straight.
EJ Dionne, The Washington Post
He is hoping to get the nation to focus on the lesser problem of mayhem… To distract from the crushing, monumental screwup of public health and the economy.
Mona Charen, Ethics and public policy center
He is a businessman, and as such has thrown in the towel and declared bankruptcy.
William Damato, Letter to the Editor. The Palm Beach Post
The most dangerous people are the ones who speak with total authority and no room for error.
Jerome Groopman, Harvard Medical School
We all have to die, but we don’t have to die of stupidity.
Leonard Pitts, The Washington Post
Stupidity is being allowed to metastasize. And without science-based leadership at the top, it will continue to empower and embolden the mask holes among us.
Frank Cerabino, The Palm Beach Post
I equate Florida to a cruise ship. It’s very social, and it’s very group friendly, whether you’re flocking to the beach with friends or you’re all around the table having lunch.
Peter Ricci, Hospitality and Tourism Management program, Florida Atlantic University
We have I would say uncontrolled transmission at this time. That is fair to say.
Norman Beatty, assistant professor of medicine, University of Florida division of infectious diseases and global medicine
Florida alone has an average daily death toll roughly equal to that of the whole European Union, which has 20 times its population
Paul Krugman. The New York Times
Nothing’s risk-free in life.
Governor Ron DeSantis
Local government leaders in Georgia are being sued by the governor of that state for having the temerity to order the wearing of masks in their jurisdictions.
Can I get annexed to Germany or even North Carolina?
Mayor of Athens, Georgia
I am among the many New York State government retirees living in Florida. I know we make up the largest group outside the State. I know we have the expertise and the numbers, so how about we can petition Andrew Cuomo to be annexed? We would leave Mar-A-Lago behind.
I grew up reading The New Yorker. Well, not reading it exactly, but flipping through the magazine to take in the cartoons, and trying to enjoy them like my parents did. We also had two big coffee table books of collected New Yorker cartoons, including one issued in 1950 on the magazine’s the 25th anniversary. It included this by Charles Addams.
These days, the editorial cartoons in The Palm Beach Post express the nation’s exasperation and exhaustion better than ever. Here are some from the past month.
Andy Marlette of the Pensacola News Journal digs into Governor Ron DeSantis, whose callous attitude rivals that of his hero, Donald Trump. Trump’s genius test is fodder, too.
Nick Anderson of The Washington Post channels Trump’s “it is what it is” response to the Coronavirus.
Walt Handelsman of The Advocate in New Orleans and Signe Wilkinson of the Philadelphia Daily News are tracking the Republican’s dismal record on responding to America’s economic crisis.
Andy Marlette even gets credit for weather forecasting, correctly noting that Hurricane Isais kept away from Florida, where the Coronavirus is running rampant.
These talented artist-commentators say more than a thousand words. Thank you!
I think for comfort… Emotional support… these are people that probably wanted to adopt, and now they have more free time to spend with a pet.
Tri-County Animal Rescue CEO Susie Goldsmith
Research has shown that walking a pet dog, playing with the cat, or engaging in the daily care of a companion animal can help to increase healthy behaviors, increasing the likelihood of recovering from serious illness.
Ten years ago, when my husband and our chocolate Lab, Django, were enjoying winter weeks in Florida while I was still working in upstate New York, I realized that, although I was getting exercise at the gym, I didn’t get out in the neighborhood like I had walking our Lab.
We need another dog!
Jane Kelly Amerson Lopez
Black Lab puppy Pancho joined our family. A few years later, I figured out an even better idea was retiring and joining the rest of the family in Florida.
Pancho became our daughter’s companion through college and grad school and life. His muzzle and paws are now a distinguished gray, causing a Spanish-speaking toddler in the family visiting remotely to wonder why the Pancho was wearing white zapatos, shoes. Very fancy.
When we lost our chocolate Lab Django to a debilitating nerve disease, the hole his absence left in our hearts was too deep to fill. Devastation became melancholy, and sorrow became remembrance.
Time does heal. And new experiences give you perspective.As I recovered from my 2019 Amsterdam illness and my husband recovered from the trauma of nearly losing me, the hole in our hearts filled and our life made room for Kumba. He was cautious but so sweet, and time has made him stronger, happier, sillier. He’s my exercise buddy and our at-home entertainment. We are so grateful to have found each other.
Barely six weeks after we adopted Kumba, the country was in Coronavirus lockdown. Because both of us are immune compromised, we would probably have not ventured out to bring a dog into our house, but lots of other people have. More than ever.
Abandoned dogs who once waited desperately at local shelters for someone to want them now have people standing in line to take them home.
Sue Carlton, Tampa Bay Times
All of a sudden, people are home all the time, with an abundance of time on their hands. People are taking their dogs for walks and generally building stronger emotional relationships with their pets, reducing their own stress, anxiety, and depression.
Here is an update on a post from last year about a rescue Golden Retriever named Levi Journey. Levi and his saga will soon be a children’s book! Levi’s therapy partner, Julie, has written a children’s book about the Golden Retriever’s transformation from abandoned stray to much-loved therapy dog. Martin Peers, an illustrator from the UK, is partnering with Julie on the book, which should be available in time for Christmas. I will post a link to order the book when it becomes available. Meantime, here’s a fun look at how Martin does his work. Our Pancho and Kumba both resemble the results!