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Our Times: Florida Fantasy

“What You Get” is a regular feature in the Times Sunday Business section that I always glance at but don’t always read. It runs on the bottom of a right-hand page and depicts three houses on sale for the same price in various US cities. There are photos of each house — one frontal shot, one interior — and succinct descriptions provided by the realtors. This week’s houses were going for $1.3 million in Cape Elizabeth Maine, Taos, New Mexico, and Greenport, New York. Last week they were going for $675,000 in Bradenton, Florida, Haley, Idaho. and Detroit. 

Our place in Alameda is said to be worth $1 million, which causes me cognitive dissonance. We own a million-dollar house but can’t afford a much-needed new roof and I have to work to pay the mortgage? Statistically we’re among the fortunate, but feeling constant low-key financial pressure is a drag. If we sold the house and got that place in Bradenton we could be free and clear! Free and clear at last!

Bradenton is where the Boston Braves used to go for spring training. It’s right on the Gulf Coast, just south of St. Pete. Rosie loved Florida the one time we visited. There’s nothing I like more than swimming in a warm ocean (now that I’m too old for hoops and you know what). So I read the details:

“In Bradenton, Fla., an 1874 house with four bedrooms and three bathrooms is on the market for $675,000. The house was almost completely rebuilt by the sellers, who preserved the original hardwood floors in the foyer and living room Windows fill the living and dining areas with sunshine, while ceiling fans keep the space cool. Separating the dining area from the kitchen is a brick fireplace.”

I showed the item to Rosie, reminding her of how much she dug everything tropical —the seashells on Sanibel Island, the little gecko running across the ceiling. The offspring would come visit us, I claimed, “We’d see more of them in Bradenton than we do now...”  .

‘Scratch’

In general, illustrations in the New York Times have been whomped with a digital ugly stick and take up much too much space in the paper.  An exception is “Scratch,” a full-page feature in the Sunday Business Section that is sketched, laid out and lettered by Julia Rothman with text by Shaina Feinberg. The drawings look like watercolors and are always charming. The info is usually interesting. During the Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2000, Rothman drew a group or civilians with cellphones kneeling before three fully outfitted robocops and an armored vehicle. The text listed the price of the officers’ equipment.

This week Feinberg  — unaware that Alex Cockburn had sent “iconic” to the guillotine — used that word to describe bagel shops in Montreal and New York whose owners she had interviewed.  Joe Morenas of La Maison du Bagel in Montreal told her, “The oil used to be 16 dollars ($12.50) for 20 liters, and now it’s like 45 dollars. Tripled! Thankfully, we’re not short on flour. Everybody thinks there’s a lot of profit in bagels, but they are handmade and hand-rolled and still sell for $11.50 ($9) a dozen.”

Acceptable Falsehood

On its editorial page the New York Times routinely derides Facebook and other media that generate revenue by knowingly publishing “fake news.” The lead essay in the Jan. 9 Sunday Review section, entitled “An Assault on the Truth,” attributed the mob’s assault on the Capitol a year ago to the falsifiers who prey on gullible Americans. “Without the yolk of truthfulness around their neck,” wrote Rebecca Solnit, “they can choose beliefs that flatter their worldview or justify their aggression.”

But the Times accepted a full-page ad in the Book Review January 9 that was in no way yoked to truthfulness — or even sanity. They made $50,000 on the deal. 

The Review was devoid of paid advertisements from established publishers. It contained 10 ads for projects produced in-house by Times staffers; a full page ad for The Perfect Sleep Chair; and another full-pager for a book called “I think... I like you better Dead” by a woman named Cathryn Taylor. The ad showed the book jacket, on which an anthropomorphic rabbit is leaning against a wall. There is a blurry picture of the author, a middle-aged woman with blonde frizzy hair. Big print invites the reader to “Partner & Collaborate with a Deceased Loved One.”

The ad contains an ostensible review in almost unreadably small, faint type advising that “The book will expand your view of the beyond and inspire a better understanding of your relationships with those on the other side. The author’s story began with a message relayed to her through a Medium shortly after her brother’s death...” Below the pseudo-review is a list headed “Literary Editor’s Choice Awardees Top 10” that gives highest  honors to “I think I like you Better Dead” by Catherine Taylor. 

For $50,000 you’d think the Times staff would have reminded Ms. Taylor that her copy should include info about how to order her book. But they didn’t, and intrigued readers will have to consult their ouija boards for details about getting a copy.

It must be something in the US zeitgeist. The Jan. 9 Doonesbury showed Boopsie complaining that Hunk-Ra has stopped contacting her. “There’s not much demand for ancient barbarians anymore,” she laments. “All the top channelers these days are working with Biblical figures. Abraham, the Virgin Mary, John the Apostle — there’s even a woman who charges $1000 an hour to channel Jesus!” Her dad suggests that she channel Baby Jesus. “Who wouldn’t want to hear from Baby Jesus at Christmas time?” he asks. “ That could be a real earner!”  In the last panel Boopsie does a take and starts hearing “Coo! Burp! WAAH!”

Bad Vlad

There was a serious editorial gaffe in the New York Times January 6. It occurred on the front page, which used to be vetted by eight editors! “In Kazakhstan, Putin Again Seizes on Unrest to Try to Expand Influence” was the hed. The piece by Andrew Higgins began, “Long adept at stoking unrest in the West, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia sent troops to the Central Asian nation of Kazakhstan on Thursday to try to extinguish the latest in a series of dangerous fires to engulf the lands of the former Soviet Union, territory that Moscow views as its own sphere of influence but has struggled to keep calm.”

One of the eight editors reviewing that lede must have known that dangerous fires have engulfed many towns and cities in the US in recent times. It was unclear, as the story jumped to an inner page, whether Higgins’s dangerous fires were literal or figurative. 

After the jump the confusing image was repeated: “Many question how many brush fires can spring up around Russia’s borders before a similar conflagration is ignited at home.”  I kept reading until a preponderance of evidence showed that Higgins was referring to acts of dissent, not burning trees.  

Healthcare Workers Exit the Field

The effect of the Omicron variant might be mild compared to previous versions of Covid-19, but its effect on the healthcare system has been devastating. An eloquent essay by Ed Yong in The Atlantic described the process: 

“When a health-care system crumbles, this is what it looks like. Much of what’s wrong happens invisibly. At first, there’s just a lot of waiting. Emergency rooms get so full that ‘you’ll wait hours and hours, and you may not be able to get surgery when you need it,’ Megan Ranney, an emergency physician in Rhode Island, told me. When patients are seen, they might not get the tests they need, because technicians or necessary chemicals are in short supply. Then delay becomes absence. The little acts of compassion that make hospital stays tolerable disappear. Next go the acts of necessity that make stays survivable. Nurses might be so swamped that they can’t check whether a patient has their pain medications or if a ventilator is working correctly. People who would’ve been fine will get sicker. Eventually, people who would have lived will die. This is not conjecture; it is happening now, across the United States. ‘It’s not a dramatic Armageddon; it happens inch by inch,’ Anand Swaminathan, an emergency physician in New Jersey, told me.”

Coverage of “The Great Resignation” suggests that workers have been leaving low-paying, unfulfilling jobs. But workers leaving the “hospitality” and “food services” industries are only part of the story. In the past two years, more than 8% of doctors, RNs and medical technicians have quit jobs they trained for in a field they had chosen. 

2 Comments

  1. Martin Oline January 19, 2022

    Well Fred, you could do better than $675,000 in Florida but I don’t think you could get anything quite that old. I’m surprised Brandenton has anything that old still standing. We have lived in Fort Myers for 8 years, mainly to be close to the grandkids, but they are getting older and we have talked of moving back to the Midwest. I have to say that these ‘sit & spin’ hurricanes make me nervous. If they just go through is one thing, but to stop in one place and change direction, well that destroys everything. That is what happened in Bermuda a couple of years ago.
    Another thing about Florida is it’s great in the winter but just miserable in the summer, which is about 8 months or longer. It isn’t noticeable if you work in an air-conditioned place during the day but now I am retired and it can be brutal outside in the daytime. I wonder how nice it would be here if the electrical grid went down. I guess every home would turn into a sweat lodge like the No Cal Indians used to have. At least I wouldn’t have to gather firewood!

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