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The politics of boxing with nature

Recently, humankind in this part of the globe got dragged into an unwanted war with nature and got pummeled, thrice over. Race, creed, economic condition and political affiliation were negligible factors in who and what got stomped. People, houses and property were shown where the real power lies.

Yes, the consequences of man’s obsession with profiteering rather than conservation in the phenomenon called global warming has a great deal to do with the particular nastiness of the storms and the resulting catastrophes. Trump administration obstinacy in acknowledging the connection between EPA regulations and increased weather-related incidences are really beside the point right now.

As we watch the relentless newscasts describing the destruction, one particular anomaly catches the eye. Where are the almost mythical Florida Keys and how do you build a living highway over a nearly 10-mile expanse of open water?

The Florida Keys, representing nearly 1700 coral rock islets and islands just south of Miami (“discovered” by Ponce de Leon in 1511), and divided into the upper (starting with Key Largo), middle and lower Keys (ending with Key West), are connected to the mainland from Key West to Key Largo by 42 separate bridges along the Overseas Highway, otherwise known as U.S. Highway 1. This highway starts in Key West, and the total distance is 156 miles from Miami.

Now regularly seen in a splashy TV commercial for new Lincoln automobiles, the most famous part of that highway system is the Seven Mile Bridge which takes the traveler over an open expanse of water that ends up 90 miles from Cuba. This modern bridge (originally opened in 1940 and reconstructed again in 1982)) is the newer version of what was once a railroad line over the water to Key West that got severely damaged in a 1935 hurricane. This railroad line was once considered a 20th-century “wonder of the world.”

The Keys recently made the news as the first real assault victim of Hurricane Irma. Especially notable was the interview given by Jacque Sands, the general manager of the famous Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum in Key West, on the eve of Irma’s arrival. Mr. Sands and Dave Gonzales, the museum curator, said that, in spite of the demand by Florida Gov. Rick Scott, all of the local authorities, and an urgent plea by Mariel Hemingway, the author’s granddaughter, to evacuate the house and the island, they, the 10 members of the museum’s staff and the 56 “six-toed” cats living there, would stay and ride out the hurricane. Against all advice and odds, while virtually every other house, store and other property in Key West were leveled, flooded or both by Irma, Mr. Sand proved correct. The Hemingway Home and Museum survived the hurricane’s wrath virtually unscathed.

That is news by itself given the pictures of destruction and catastrophe throughout southern Florida. It also added to the lore of Mr. Hemingway’s place, where the author had lived and worked for over 10 years and had written some of his most memorable stories, including the novel, “To Have and Have Not,” and the short story, “The Snows of Kilimanjaro.” The Home and Museum has been for long the biggest tourist attraction in Key West, and with its storm survival stirring memories of the gruff, man’s man that Hemingway always represented, that will be even more the case as the area rebuilds.

The Hemingway House was built in 1851 and, while renovated and expanded a few times since, has stood stolidly on a raised limestone hill since then. Maybe some smart public relations person will seize upon the story of Irma and the Hemingway House as a symbol of American resilience and fortitude after the storm.

Lord knows Florida needs some positive, post-Stand Your Ground news these days.

Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the stepparent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.

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