Thursday, November 20, 2014

Decrying a Florida tourists seldom see

kw: book reviews, nonfiction, polemic, newspaper columns, essay collections

Carl Hiaasen is a journalist and columnist for the Miami Herald, and has been for quite some time. A hundred or so of his columns from the past ten years have been gathered by his editor Diane Stevenson into his new book Dance of the Reptiles. You might think the title is about alligators, but a piece of wisdom from my mother came to mind within a few pages of starting the book: Many years ago I was leaving to hike alone up Mt. Lowe, which is accessed through the old Groucho Marx estate in upper Altadena. She expressed worry for my safety, and I said, "I know how to avoid rattlesnakes." She said, "I know, but I'm worried about rattle-people!" The Reptiles of the book are public officials in Florida.

Alice Longworth Roosevelt is said to have carried a cushion embroidered with the words, "If you don't have anything nice to say about anybody, come sit here by me." She'd have been delighted by a visit from Mr. Hiaasen, at least for a while. He is a skilled storyteller, and the writing itself kept me going for quite a while, maybe a third of the book. After that it became a slog. I just don't have an appetite for quite so much mad-dog, polemical journalism.

I understand his frustration. I moved here to the Mid-Atlantic area (I'm kinda south-west of Philadelphia) about 20 years ago. I sure didn't stay here because of the political climate. Within 2 years of our marriage, we moved from California to a Western state, and we've lived in the West or Midwest ever since. A couple of months after our move, our son entered first grade, so I began attending PTA and School Board meetings. What a shock! The PTA was OK, though I was sitting next to a corrupt politician who soon became a senator. My personal take on his voting record is that he has exactly opposite values to mine. I score him a perfect Zero, at least until yesterday, when he actually voted in favor of the XL Pipeline!! (Not that it did any good…)

School Board was another matter. Every member was on the take. The President was big into construction, and it was no coincidence that plans were brought forward time and again, either to demolish building A so a new school could be built somewhere else, or to change the school year in such a way as would necessitate big (and costly) amounts of remodeling of about half the buildings. I got the notion one day that a well-placed bomb at one of their closed door meetings (the usual kind) would do the human race a whole lot of good. Once I realized I had begun thinking that was a really good idea, I quit attending.

I really don't know what to say about the book. It is ancient wisdom that the pen is mightier than the sword, but I think it'd need a dozen more pens of the quality this author shows, to make much of a dent in Florida's public service industry. If you hanker for a really comprehensive catalog of the ways politics go bad, and you used to think New Jersey politics were the worst this country has to offer, read this book, or as much of it as you can without being awakened with the heebie-jeebies!

No comments: