Celery City

In the days after George Floyd’s killing, I thought much about racism, my white privilege, and just about everything else.  I woke up each morning feeling as though I should write, or say, angry words.

And I did.

I found that many of those words were directed at Sanford, my Central Florida hometown, where I’d observed egregious acts of racism.

Though as my thoughts drifted to other thoughts, I was surprised by my recall of some positive experiences coming out of Celery City (Sanford’s nickname).

After a cooling off period I decided to pursue  a few of those stories. I will likely publish some of the negative stories, too; though will try to no let those consume me.

A couple of the positive stories (still in development ) , “Woke Barber” and “That Stain Is On Our Soul” are related to the City of Sanford’s reprehensible treatment of Jackie Robinson. Thus, I’ve provided the background post, “Royal” on that topic.

The series begins with a brief description of my transition from  New Englander to Southern Boy: “How Did I Get Here?”

I have several story pursuits in my head, and have no idea of  how many I’ll actually write, or publish.  Though only one way to know how this ends is  to begin.

So, here we go….

  1. How Did I Get Here?
  2. Royal
  3. Woke Barber
  4. Scaling Mount Dora
  5. That Stain Is On Our Soul
  6. Trayvon Martin And The Demise of Critical Thinking
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White House Wheelchairs And Lungs of Iron

Nemesis

“Finally the cataclysm began – the monstrous headache, the enfeebling  exhaustion, the severe nausea, the raging fever, the unbearable muscle ache, followed in another forty-eight hours by the paralysis.”

That passage  is from Phillip Roth’s novel, “Nemesis” in which he  described the onset of Poliomyelitis (commonly known as polio)  a disease transmitted by viral infection. Many polio victims experienced muscle weakness, sometimes with permanent paralysis, malformed limbs, and in some cases, death.

The US first reached epidemic levels of polio in the early 1900s, and the scourge terrorized the United States, for nearly half a century.

New Cataclysm

By the time I rolled around, the first polio vaccine (the Salk Vaccine) was pretty well established and the second one (the Sabin vaccine ) was already in  distribution. Thus, most of my knowledge of the polio epidemic, came from books, movies, and memories shared by people  around me, including  my older siblings.

In light of the current viral onslaught, Covid-19 ( or…novel coronavirus or SARS-CoV-2 ) that has wreaked havoc on much of the world, I endeavored to read more about the US polio epidemic.

I was rather surprised by what I found:

  1. The US polio epidemic peaked in 1952.
  2. That year, there  were 57,879 polio cases and
  3. There were  3,145 deaths
  4. Permanent paralysis is estimated to have occurred in .5% of infections.

I’d assumed that all of the numbers (cases, permanent afflictions and deaths) would be significantly larger. Certainly, they are frightening, but the statistics pale in comparison to what the US is currently experiencing with Covid-19.

As much as it feels like it’s been with us forever, Covid-19 is a relatively new nemesis. The US is in its 10th month of Covid-19 cases.

Here is a statistical snapshot of Covid-19 in the US (as of October 25, 2020):

  1. The earliest US cases occurred in January of 2020
  2. There have been over 8.3 million US  cases and
  3. The current death total exceeds 222,000.

Note: Among Covid-19 patients, who are no longer are infected, there have been many reported cases of long-term symptoms, requiring extended hospitalization, physical therapy and other treatments. Though since we are in the early stages of this pandemic, the extent, or duration of these afflictions is not clear.

Witness

I shared some of the figures about polio with my older sister  (14 years my senior).  As I stated previously, I was surprised by the figures.  She was shocked.

On the phone with her several  weeks ago, when I recited some these statistics. her reaction was: “Are you fucking kidding me?!?”

This was followed by, “We weren’t allowed to do jack-shit during  the summer! We didn’t have to worry about our government requiring social distancing, our parents made us do that!”

Like many people her age, the specter of polio looms large in her memory. Covid-19 looms large in her current life. This is not surprising.

State of Denial

Though many people, my sister’s age or older, who can recall the polio epidemic, are dismissive of Covid-19. This is really surprising to me.

Polio seemed to strike fear into the US, summer after summer. Though statistically, its worst year was way less menacing than Covid-19’s first 9 months.

I realize that there were polio-deniers, though it’s impossible to determine the numbers, or the extent of disinformation from that point in history, nearly 70 years in the past. Likewise, we won’t get a good handle on the extent of Covid19-denial, or disinformation present in 2020.

Though I suspect that the level of denial might have been lower for polio than it is for Covid-19. I say this because, in part, because the cause of polio was not known for many years.

And it was persistent, and prevalent in some areas every summer. While scientists (and  seemingly everybody with an internet connection) are still wrestling with details, it is accepted that Covid is a respiratory-borne virus.

The Look of Polio

Another reason that I suspect a population of deniers was smaller is that people, knew what polio LOOKED like.  There  were clear reminders that  polio was a real threat.
In the early 1950s  memory of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, was still fresh with parents and their older children during the mid 50’s. There had been clear, though intermittent, visual evidence that he could not walk without assistance.

(Note: I chose the term ‘intermittent” because The Roosevelt White House tightly  controlled FDR’s public image, thus only  scant few photos or video of the president sitting in a wheelchair, or video of him walking with leg braces were ever circulated.

Though people knew of his physical challenges, regardless of whether they’d ever actually seen evidence.)

Then there were the polio wards. The most-disturbing memories I have (from books, and documentaries) were patients in iron lungs; where victims with paralyzed diaphragms were provided machine-assistance to enable them to breathe.

I remember seeing two different types of ward: somewhat compact rooms where the iron lungs were stacked like bunk beds, and others with expansive open rooms, with patients occupying iron lungs as far as the eye (or at least a camera view-finder) could see:

Polio Ward Showing Many Patients in Iron Lung (assisted breathing device)

Iron Lungs, Rancho Los Amigos Hospital Polio Ward
(Source US Food And Drug Administration)

Many photographic examples  were of pediatric wards. The term “infantile paralysis” was a commonly-used synonym for polio; because unlike Covid-19, the largest portion of patients who suffered debilitating illness or death were children. Many of the victims were under the age of 5.

I think this is a key difference why  some  people can be dismissive of  Covid-19’s severity. With our current scourge, it’s easier for us to accept that the lives of older people, or with an underlying condition, are at risk with any kind of respiratory infection.

While the idea of children becoming disabled or dying, is universally unsettling.

We’ve had many potent visual reminders of  Covid-19: bodies being loaded onto freezer trucks, exhausted nurses and doctors, families saying their goodbyes to loved ones over Zoom video.

I’m not sure if any have the impact of a an incumbent president in a wheelchair, or scores  of children, encased in a machine providing them breathing assistance.

Decades from now, which, if any,  will be the startling visual reminders of what Covid-19 LOOKED like?

Addendum

In recent years, there have been several medical opinions that President Roosevelt did not actually suffer from polio. Many claim his symptoms were more consistent with Guillan-Barré syndrome, an autoimmune condition, induced by a bacterial infection.

Though throughout the onset of his illness through his death was believed to have had polio.  This perception may have helped to accelerate the development of polio vaccine, since FDR was the founder of National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (now known as March of Dimes), which raised hundreds of millions of dollars for the development of the first polio vaccine.

 

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That Stain Is On Our Soul

As mentioned in the intro to this series, I woke up with a chip on my shoulder the morning following George Floyd’s death. I sat at my desk,  ready to pick a fight with Sanford, Florida, though I only lived there for a few years.

So, I started Googling.

I was actually looking some articles from 2012, that immediately following Trayvon’s Martins’ death in Sanford, also described Jackie Robinson’s experience with the city.

I found something I wasn’t  expecting; an apology from Sanford’s  city government to Robinson. I eventually found this article from the Orlando Sentinel ;  dateline: Sanford, Florida, April 16, 1997.

The article is about a City of Sanford meeting in which a City Commissioner  speaks to that  blemish on the Sanford’s  past: when its police chief  refused  to allow Robinson, and Wright to take the field, under threat of arrest.

Commissioner Eckstein had this to to say. “We need to apologize for what happened because as long as that stain is on our soul, it hurts the city of Sanford.”

Commissioner Eckstein (“Mr. Eckstein as I knew him) had been a teacher at my high school. I was never in his class, but he was the type of person, who said hello to, shook hands with, or  smiled at, just about everybody, in the hallways (which were outside in my school…because, Florida).

It was common for people grab lunch from the cafeteria and stand in the hallways, while eating, talking, laughing, yelling, swearing a bit. We’d see Mr. Eckstein coming from the distance. He was hard to miss. He had  hair that was so light, it would be a stretch to call it blonde. You could see the (not quite) blonde hair from quite a distance. His nickname, since childhood, of course was…..Whitey.

Occasionally, he used to stop and talk with my football teammates. I think primarily because a some  of my friends were star players, and some had been students in  his class (I was neither ). I’m not sure if he knew my name, or what position I played, but he treated me like he knew me well.

I remember some Friday nights,  moments before kickoff, he’d  ducked into our locker room before we took the field and wish the team luck. He sometimes had one or two of his young children with him.

Once, I remember seeing him after a game, on my way back to the locker room, he told me “good game.”  We’d lost, I’d  missed some key blocks, and I had two penalties; I hadn’t had a good game. Still, it was uplifting to hear somebody tell me that I had.

It was  good thing for Sanford to engage in some self-examination of its past. Yes, it had taken 50 years, but they addressed their problematic past.  While  the City of Sanford’s  resolution surprised me. Though, it is unsurprising that this resolution had originated with Mr.  Eckstein.

Good game.

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Digital Pandemic

(Note: In this alternate-reality tale, it is not my intent to minimize the human suffering caused by Covid-19,  on the world, though am trying to call attention to out how ludicrous it is that the negligence of selected leaders is  given a pass by many media vehicles and voters.

I’ve used Jeff Bezos and Amazon in this example solely because of their name recognition.  I am not a customer of Amazon Prime or Amazon Web Services, though I  have no intent to malign either. )

I suspect that I am not alone in that I am dumbfounded a lot lately by  the disregard given to the elephant in the room which, ironically, is and infinitesimally tiny virus.

I can’t go into every aspect, but it’s especially perplexing that people in a  country that has not been able to safely manage Covid-19 (or novel coronavirus, or (SARS-CoV-2) for the past seven months (despite advanced notice of its severity) are blaming other countries.

I pondered this for a few minutes and thought of a few possible possible analogous scenarios before settling on an example of a digital pandemic and reactions by a computer industry titan.

This is meant as a thought exercise. It is unlikely that anything of this scale would happen in real life. Though it not out of the realm of possibility.

(As Rod Serling used to say)
You’r Next Stop, The Twilight Zone:

  • That in late 2019, a computer  virus, that had begun to wreak havoc on digital infrastructure around the world, was determined to have originated in China.
  • And that by April of 2020, many of  the major players in the cloud-service space—Microsoft, Apple, Google, and Amazon… were to be infected and suffered data losses.
  • And by May of 2020, that Microsoft, Apple and Google were  able to contain the virus and to restore most their customers’ lost data. Furthermore they tightened their security and disaster-mitigation plans.
  • And throughout the summer of 2020, Amazon continued to experience daily infections of its own infrastructure that were passed on to tens of thousands of Amazon Prime, and Amazon Web Services (AWS)  customers every day.
  • And every day, several hundred to several thousand Prime customers had their profiles wiped, or worse yet, their personal information stolen.
  • And AWS customers such as Disney, Samsung, Adobe, Dow Jones, had all of their AWS data deleted, or were subject to ransomware attacks…resulting in US job losses in the tens of millions, and substantial damage the US gross domestic product.
  • And beginning in March 2020, and frequently throughout the year, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos heaped praise on himself at the “amazing job” he had done in addressing the “China virus”, while each day hundreds-to-thousands of customers learn that their  data is lost forever.

Now ask yourself:

  • Would Jeff Bezos have any credibility if, after a year of failing to publicly acknowledge the risk of the virus,  he referred to the malware as the “China virus?”
  • How many  consumers, or large businesses would  remain a Prime, or AWS customer, respectively?
  • Would Amazon win any new customers?
  • Would the Amazon’s board allow Bezos to remain in the CEO position?

 

 

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Woke Barber

The Old Redhead

Red Barber was a legendary baseball announcer for radio and television, who worked for three major league teams: the Reds, Dodgers and Yankees.

Some years after his sports broadcast career, Barber enjoyed renewed fame as a regular public radio contributor. For 12 years, he conversed, every Friday,  with Bob Edwards longtime host of NPR’s Morning Edition on an array of topics, which included sports, gardening  and nearly everything else.

During that period,  I moved to Tallahassee, Florida, where Barber lived at the time. Shortly afterward, I was surprised to learn that he and I had gone to the same high school (many, many,  many, many ….weeks apart).

High School Baseball Team Photo (circa 2020)

Barber Top Row, 2nd from left
(Photo from University of Florida Smathers Libraries)

For real, the team nickname in his day was The Celery Feds.

It was peculiar that I didn’t know that Barber and I shared an alma mater. I was really into baseball when I was young; therefore it seems unlikely that I’d never heard, or read this, information before. Rather, I suspect that it never registered with me. Unlike with players, they don’t keep stats on the play-by-play  broadcasters.

Barber was the Dodgers announcer when Jackie Robinson made his Major League debut in 1947. Until fairly recently, I’d never considered what Barber thought of the decision by Dodgers’ owner, Branch Rickey to sign a Black player.

It turns out, that he wasn’t a fan of the idea.

“Report!”

In  Barber’s book 1947 When All Hell Broke Loose in Baseball,  he described his reaction to Robinson’s signing. Barber recalled life in the segregated South  which included  seeing Black men, who had been tarred and feathered, forced to walk the streets of Sanford, Florida,  by Ku Klux Klansmen.

Barber also wrote that one his youthful aspirations was to perform in minstrel shows. Tarring and feathering black men, minstrel shows, segregated schools and businesses… was the normal that Barber knew.

Months before Rickey signed Jackie Robinson, he informed Barber of his intent break baseball’s color line. Barber would write later: “I believe he  (Rickey) told me about it so far in advance so that I could have time to wrestle with the problem, live with it, solve it.”

Upon hearing the news, Barber’s solution was to quit. He told his wife, Lyla that day, a Friday, that he would resign Monday.  Her response was “You don’t have to quit today, let’s have a Martini.”

Here is a short video in which Barber explains the decision.

As the video points out  Barber realized that the news Rickey gave him required Barber to examine himself. In the video he recalls remarkably empathetic thoughts (about that it was chance that he was born white).  Barber said that he admired Robinson’s athleticism,  and spirituality.

Barber also  mentions hearing the voice  of  (Baseball’s first commissioner )  Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis echo from the grave with a simple directive  “Report.”

Barber was able to compartmentalize;  separating his professional obligations as an announcer from his biases that were due to his  upbringing in the Jim Crow South.

During the course of their time together with the Dodgers (Barber left the team for the Yankees after the 1953 season), Barber and Robinson became friends.

In modern times, people might claim Barber “got woke”  Perhaps. I didn’t know Barber, so I can’t say how he’d feel about that.

It is impressive howBarber’s life changed for the better, when  Rickey put him in an uncomfortable situation and he was thus forced into some deep self-examination. I suspect he  would have made the right decision, even without a Martini.

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