Florence Snyder - 6/11 - SaintPetersBlog

Florence Snyder

Florence Beth Snyder is a Tallahassee-based lawyer and consultant.

AARP fights ‘loneliness epidemic’ with awareness campaign

Loneliness is an “epidemic” affecting 8 million older Americans and the newest addition to America’s epidemic of Awareness Campaigns.

In recent months, we’ve been flooded with Awareness of senior citizens bringing up grandchildren whose parents are dead or in jail. The rest of the old people are isolated and depressed in unprecedented numbers, says AARP, and it’s time to get Aware.

Because nothing says Awareness better than an online tool, AARP has gifted us with a pandering to a millennial-sounding website called Connect2Affect.org. It’s a 1Stop4U venue where old folks can “learn what leads to elder isolation and how to build social networks …” as well as “post … stories about loneliness.”

That could appeal to cyber-savvy geezers who aren’t overly busy hooking up with high school crushes, along with family members who don’t have time to spend with Uncle Ed and Aunt Mabel, but do have a chance to increase their Awareness.

AARP has developed a print and online “self-assessment checklist that can screen for someone’s risk of becoming socially isolated or depressed.”  Many self-aware seniors self-assessed without AARP’s help, and turned in droves to their doctors for companionship and a pill or three to ease their emotional pain. It hasn’t made a dent in the isolation epidemic, but it has blown a hole in the nation’s pocketbook.

For most of history, people lived in communities where they had meaningful and necessary contributions to make, right up to the time of their brief and final illness. We used to be Aware that we don’t have to outsource our babies to daycare and our compos-mentis grandparents to warehouses that look better than they smell.

FAU puts its money where its priorities are

Lane Kiffen

In 1962, a legislative “initial operating money” appropriation plus private donations for “architect fees, salaries and other expenses” added up to $400,000 in seed corn for Florida Atlantic University.

It still adds up to more money than most working folks will see in 10 years, but it’s less than half of what the school will pay its new head football coach, Lane Kiffin (rhymes with “What is FAU sniffn’?).

To be fair, Kiffin is almost as “big-time” as FAU Football’s Founding Father Howard Schnellenberger, having honed his craft and worn-out his welcome at some of the country’s most prestigious football programs.

Those who swoon when a football coach talks like a Sensitive Guy in a Lifetime cable movie will not begrudge Kiffin his $950K FAU base salary.

“I felt the people there,” Kiffin said in welcoming himself to Boca Raton. “I felt how they wanted me. I felt the vision there. Coming out of there, that’s when I felt like the recruit who was like ‘OK, they have a vision for this place and how we can do it and they want to do it together.'”

 FAU president John Kelly was swooning and ripping his own bodice.

“Today, we continue our pursuit of excellence, our unbridled ambition by hiring the top person in the country, the genius in coaching: Lane Kiffin,” Kelly said.

Kelly reflects the prevailing wisdom — and don’t you dare argue with it — that everyone who teaches everything from anthropology to zoology should feel honored to drive their ten-year-old cars to campuses where coaches live like kings. A football team is a tide that lifts the academic boats, university presidents tell us from their skyboxes where they chat up the boosters. You’d think that nobody learned anything at college in the days before a blank check for football was embroidered into every school seal.

“Genius” Kiffin’s highlight reel includes being called a liar by Raiders owner Al Davis; NCAA violations at the University of Tennessee; and getting his walking papers from USC on an airport tarmac.

“It gives us a head coach with, obviously, a brand in himself,” FAU Athletic Director Patrick Chun enthused. ” … he’s the biggest celebrity football coach in our state.”

For his first act in office, Kiffin recruited another celebrity, De’Andre Johnson, whose collegiate career at Florida State was cut short when he was caught on camera striking a woman in a Tallahassee bar.

Stepping up to journalism’s mission to help with healing processes, Good Morning America gave Johnson airtime to apologize to the victim. Johnson continued to heal at East Mississippi Community College, where he played good football and rebranded himself as an advocate for victims of domestic violence.

Owl Nation is hoping that Johnson’s redemption is real, and is rooting for Kiffin to enrich the university, and not just himself and the retinue that surrounds a head coach, even at a fourth-rate football program, in a city whose name is regularly mispronounced by late night comedians.

Christmas is a-comin’ and the geese are gettin’ hacked

With 11 shopping days ‘til Christmas, Yahoo dropped a lump of coal into the stockings of 1 billion of its users with news that their accounts had been “breached.”

That’s tech-speak for “bad guys forged your cookies” — and they are not talking about the sweets you leave next to Santa’s glass of milk.

Worse, bad guys have Yahoo’s “proprietary code” — and they are not talking about Pitbull’s million-dollar “trade secret.” For purposes of this holiday migraine, cookies and codes are the cyber-pathways by which everybody who does anything on the internet can have their savings stolen, their credit ruined and their life destroyed.

There will be time after Christmas for recriminations, and for Verizon to pull out of its “what were we thinking?” plan to pay $4.8 billion to take Yahoo off the hands of its shareholders.

Right now, Yahoo’s shellshocked customers are playing pickup sticks with passwords and slogging through lists of What You Need to Do Right Now, Dammit.

Meanwhile, back in the 20th century, Florida elections supervisors are fretting over the privacy of voters’ home addresses, which any 8-year-old can find on the internet, and birth dates, which most voters seem to have already shared with Mark Zuckerberg, Mike Allen and Peter Schorsch, and are happy to have them pass it on to the world.

No matter how much time we spend changing our passwords and passing ludicrous exemptions to our public records law, privacy is an idea whose time has come — and long gone.

Plucky kids and dedicated teachers work to save school news

Facts may have died in 2012, but the obituary has yet to reach a handful of plucky high school kids who know that local news is important, and work hard to bring it to their classmates.

The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s Erica Breunlin takes a deep dive into the shallow pool of secondary school resources for kids who aspire to careers in truth-telling, or just want to learn how to be smarter consumers of current events. As usual, it’s the teachers who are doing the heavy lifting, with very little help from individuals and institutions who claim to care about civics, civility, and surveys that show that young people can’t tell the difference between truth and tripe.

“I won’t let this thing die,” vows DeLand High School’s April Sniffen. “This thing” is The Growler, a delightfully-named school newspaper that’s been around since the 1920s, and has added an online edition to the workload, even as student participation has dwindled by dozens in the years she has served as sponsor.

Over at University High, Courtney Kohler-Hanks spends a lot of uncompensated time teaching herself to teach journalism. Like Sniffen, she has no professional training in the news business, but understands that too many kids are consuming too many empty infotainment calories and have too little access to reliable information about what is happening in the places that matter most in their own lives.

“Anecdotally, we have a sense that many schools are de-emphasizing journalism and reducing or eliminating funding for newspapers because of primarily budget constraints,” Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, told the News-Journal.

“There’s also no doubt,” LoMonte added, “that students are being discouraged from pursuing journalism largely because of the uncertainty with career prospects.”

Somehow, some kids refuse to be discouraged. They’re working to “localize broader news topics and involve student voices”; “branch students’ news knowledge out past their own points of interest”; and give their readers “information about what’s going on in this school.”

“I definitely think that journalism has a bright future,” University High’s managing editor Savannah Sicurella, enthusiastically and correctly told the News-Journal.

It’s a refreshing contrast to the 60-something editors who stopped covering cops, courts, city commissions, and school boards and have the nerve to bash subscribers who left them to forage on Facebook for news of the neighborhood where they live.

Meaningless metrics mask troublesome trends in higher education

Florida changes higher education funding formulas nearly as often as Kardashians change clothes. At the Department of Making Things Incomprehensible, Metrics Mavens have their hands full monkeying around with the Ten Metrics that determine which universities get the rich gravy, and which get the thin gruel.

Florida’s Ten Metrics appear to have been written by the folks who write insurance policies, credit card contracts and the scoring system for figure skating. We could get the same results cheaper with an actual tribe of monkeys throwing stuff against the wall.

For university boards of trustees, The Metrics may as well have been brought down from Mount Sinai by Moses himself. They are carved in stone, at least for the current budget cycle.

This week, Florida Gulf Coast University’s trustees are looking for ways to carve $8 million from the budget. That’s the amount of state funding the university stands to lose in the current round of roulette at the Metrics Casino. As of last month, the “average cost per degree metric” was kicked to the curb in favor of the “net tuition per degree metric.” FGCU administrators are projecting that the net tuition cost per degree will come in at $18,060— the highest among Florida’s universities.

In the competitive cage match that higher education planning has become, something will have to give. Items in the FGCU guillotine queue include library renovations, and real professors, who can always be replaced with minimum wage adjuncts.

Those who worship at the altar of Metrics tell us that this is the One True Path to affordable, high-quality education. Actually, $18,000 isn’t much more than the cost of college back when students could get an exceptional education with a part time job and loans they would not spend the rest of their lives paying back.

What has spiraled out of control is bogus academic and administrative jobs and golden parachutes for people with dubious credentials and friends in high places. FGCU is spending $250,000 on its search for a new president. That’s more—lots more—than university presidents were paid in the days when they had to buy their own cars and pay their own mortgages.

Political interference is an old story in Florida higher education, but the monthly manufacturing of meaningless metrics breaks new ground. We are running universities like a badly run business, and students are paying the very high price.

Cox Newspapers’ founder spins in his grave as lights go out at The Palm Beach Post

Florida’s Ministries of Disinformation got an early Christmas present from Santa in Atlanta when Cox Newspapers pulled the plug on the Tallahassee Bureau of The Palm Beach Post and laid off its lone remaining ranger, veteran newsman John Kennedy.

The Cox media empire was born in Dayton, Ohio in an era when men with political ambitions could make a fortune and make their way to the Governor’s Mansion from a basecamp in the news business.

In 1920, Gov. James M. Cox almost made his way to the White House. His running mate was fellow One Percenter Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

The family blood got thinner over the years and Gov. Cox’s heirs relocated to Atlanta, where the climate was warmer and the taxes were lower. For decades, though, they honored their founder with scrappy political reporting that kept the Tallahassee bureaus of bigger, better-funded news organizations on their toes.

As a publisher and a politician, Gov. Cox crusaded for the first version of a state highway system; a no-fault system of compensation for workers injured on the job; and restrictions on child labor. Decent roads and decent treatment of children and working people are not what politicians want to talk about these days at their “avails” and they are not crying in their eggnog at the news that there will be one less reporter trying to get them off their talking points and messages-of-the-day.

John Glenn was celebrity for all seasons

John Glenn couldn’t get to first base as a presidential candidate in 1984. Even then, America was more easily dazzled by Ronald Reagan, who had played a hero in the movies, than a man who flew 149 combat missions in World War II and Korea before becoming the first person to orbit the earth.

Long before game show host Donald Trump took the presidential plunge, we were well on the way to redefining words like “hero” and “celebrity” so that practically anyone could qualify

Glenn was the last survivor of the deservedly storied, fabled, heroic and celebrated Mercury 7 astronauts. His death at age 95 reminds us that there was a time when you had to do something your mother, and everybody else’s mother, would be proud of to become a person of interest to other celebrities and regular folks.

Those old enough to recall the dawn of the Space Age feel like we have lost the most dashing, fair-haired, genuine hero in the family. We knew Glenn’s name, and the names of his six Mercury compadres. We knew their wives’ names, too, and we identified with their children, who saw their daddies climb in to a tin can to travel to unimaginably faraway places filled with unimaginably dangerous things.

By the time Glenn sought the presidency, actual accomplishments were neither mandatory nor much appreciated. Most 80s voters wouldn’t recognize an astronaut standing next to him in line at a 7-11, and would not have wanted an autograph, anyway.

Glenn stayed in the game, and even returned to space at age 77 as a human guinea pig for gerontologists. “To sit back and let fate play its hand out and never influence it is not the way man was meant to operate,” he said. “If there is one thing I’ve learned in my years on this planet, it’s that the happiest and most fulfilled people I’ve known are those who devoted themselves to something bigger and more profound than merely their own self-interest.”

There oughta be a T-shirt for the David Richardson Tour

State Representative — and glutton for punishment — David Richardson (D-Miami Beach) brought his lonely crusade for improved prison infrastructure to the Columbia Correctional Institution on Thanksgiving Eve, giving inmates and guards the rare gift of something to be grateful for.

Florida’s correctional facilities have been decaying for decades, out of sight and out of mind except when there’s a riot, or bad publicity, or bad publicity caused by a riot.

Self-styled “one-man band” Richardson has taken it upon himself to change the public attention paradigm with a series of surprise visits to the decrepit, dangerous Big Houses located in places few Floridians can locate on a map. He’s shown up unannounced at 60 facilities and spoken with more than 225 inmates. It’s a tour without a T-shirt, but the Miami Herald has covered Richardson like Rolling Stone covers The Rolling Stones, making it impossible for the Department of Corrections (DOC) to ignore him, even if he is a Democrat.

The punch list at Columbia is a familiar one. Unflushable toilets. Unworkable showers. Cold water in hot water faucets. Heating systems that don’t work on freezing winter nights. Cell windows jammed shut on broiling summer days. “Head-splitting” noise from out-of-control exhaust fans.

The conditions were horrific — unfit for human habitation,” Richardson told the Herald.

To her credit, DOC Secretary Julie Jones did not try to deny Richardson’s findings or lie her way out of the Herald’s questions. Basic maintenance has been neglected for so long that Jones couldn’t get half of Florida’s prisons fixed if she had Enterprise Florida’s slush funds to work with.

Forced to function like a triage nurse in an overwhelmed emergency room, Jones has no choice but to give the leaking roofs a “priority over hot water” and to rely on corrections staff to bring their own wrenches and squeeze in tasks that should be done by maintenance workers, if Jones could hire maintenance workers for the poverty wages the job pays.

Many Floridians and everyone in the Legislature who isn’t Rep. Richardson have no problem housing prisoners and even troubled teenagers in facilities that are unfit for hamster habitation, let alone humans.

But what about the health and safety of corrections officers like Dale Nye, who has served Florida since 1995 and earns less than $34,000? Nye took to the comment section of the Herald to note, more in sorrow than in anger, that “… in 13 years … my Institution has only gotten one new vehicle…. held together with wire, seats worn-out, so that after you ride… six hours, your hips and shoulders ache, exhaust leaks that fill the car with fumes …”

Nobody is saying that prisoners should be housed at Hiltons with room service and HBO. But they — and their guards — ought to at least have air that’s fit to breathe.

Family farms offer big quality for just a little capital

Not every vegetarian is opposed to eating meat in every circumstance.

What they do oppose is the Fresh from Factory Farms brand of agriculture that makes antibiotics manufacturers rich and the rest of us fat and sick.

So, it’s great news that Nicole Kozak and Manny Cruz have found a way to make a living farming the old-fashioned, pre-Industrial Revolution way. Treat yourself to a video tour of the couple’s farm, and farming methods, courtesy of Ft. Myers News-Press reporter Patricia Borns, and be inspired by the couple’s commitment to “building their farm’s future in ethically harvesting, as well as raising, quality meats.”

At Circle C Farm, the southwest Florida couple has been tending free-ranging, organically-raised, GMO-free poultry for six years, and last year became USDA-certified to “harvest” their birds.

Yes, that’s an agri-business euphemism for butchering Bambi, but man does not live by bread alone. Every culture in every pre-20th century eon evolved to create respectful ways of living with the animals they would consume for protein, clothing, and other necessities of human life.

Family farms like Circle C have the support of experts like Vanessa Bielema, a University of Florida IFAS Extension Agent specializing in sustainable food systems. She says that “small farmers take pride in raising their animals, and they want to see the process finished in a humane, satisfying way.”

“How we handle animals is very gentle,” Kozak told reporter Borns. “We spend a lot of time, energy and money to make sure they’re cared for, and it shows in the quality of the meat.”

At the end of a good life, the animals die a humane death at the hands of a human instead of a machine. It’s a much faster and far less terrifying end than most people get.

Circle C is looking to become a bigger player in the clean food movement. With a capital infusion of 2.3 million, the farm hopes to rebrand as Florida’s only USDA-approved facility offering humane, on-site harvesting of red and white meat.

“I think there’s a felt need for a high-quality processing center in our region that Circle C could fill,” Bielema told the News-Press. “Almost every small livestock farmer I talk to either has access issues with distance to processing facilities, or is dissatisfied with the quality they get back.”

Among those feeling the need are 4H Club kids and elite breeders like Corrinna Hensley, who is currently schlepping her heritage hogs to separate USDA-inspected slaughter and butchering facilities. That takes a bite out of profits, adds stress to the animals, and raises prices for consumers.

Circle C’s capital needs amount to petty cash in the cruel and unwholesome world of industrial agriculture. Kozak’s business plan should be an easy sell to smart bankers who care about their children’s health and state’s future.

One reason for women to #LoveMyStudentNewspaper

It’s #LoveMyNewspaper Day, and The Independent Florida Alligator has certainly earned a hug from feminists, and from men who like their wives, daughters, mothers and sisters.

Molly Vossler, who covers the Nothing Ever Changes Around Here beat for The Alligator, has updated the depressing and open secret that “Men dominate UF’s list of highest-paid faculty.”

Many Gator freshmen weren’t even born in 1998 when highly credentialed anthropology professor Maxine Margolis sued the university for salary discrimination following years of failed friendly persuasion. UF’s lawyers defended the indefensible for three years before writing Margolis a check on condition that she not reveal the amount.

That’s always a clue that “leadership” has very little intention of fixing the problem, so Vossler’s findings should surprise no one. Fifteen years down the road from Margolis’ lawsuit, The Alligator’s analysis shows that of UF’s 100 highest-paid salaried faculty members who work at least three-fourths of the year on the academic side of the house, only eight are women.

“It seems to me that very little has changed at the university,” Margolis told The Alligator, in a sample of the dry, Algonquin Round Table wit that is lost on people who think the humanities are a waste of time.

Vossler reports that university officials are “aware” of the disparity, and “working to address it” by which they mean they will stick it in an envelope addressed to the year 2031.

Vossler’s story takes us down Memory Lane to 1971, when then-UF President Steve O’Connell appointed the UF Status of Women Committee. Such Kabuki Commissions were popular in the 70s, and were better at producing reports than results.

Newspapers are only as good as their sources, and sources don’t come any better than Dr. Shahla Masood, a professor in the UF College of Medicine and its fourth-highest-paid female faculty member. Dr. Masood would be welcomed and well-paid at the best teaching hospitals in the world, and she is not afraid to say for publication what all university women know.

“Inequality in the workplace has become the norm,” she told The Alligator, and “some female faculty members feel afraid to speak up in fear of being ignored, criticized or, in extreme cases, fired.”

“It’s about identifying the necessity of speaking up, because we have to rupture the silence,” she continued. “I want to rupture that silence, and I’ve been thinking about that for a long time.”

Every campus has at least one woman with the resume and the guts to speak up. Let’s hope that every campus has a newspaper like The Alligator to give them the chance to rupture the silence.

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