Film-The Zookeeper’s Wife

The Zookeeper’s Wife; A War Story by Diane Ackerman. W.W. Norton, 2017 paper. Movie Tie-In. First published in 2007. After the Germans bombed Warsaw including the Warsaw Zoo, Polish zookeepers, Jan and Antonina Zabinski, managed to keep most of the animals alive. Eventually they also began hiding Warsaw’s Jews, saving perhaps three hundred from certain death. Ackerman and the script-writer, Angela Workman, have skillfully woven together this story with the sad history of war-time Warsaw and the fate of Polish Jews in the General Government.

Jan was later a member of the Home Army, part of the Polish resistance. The couple’s two children were involved in Ackerman’s book and the film.

The Zabinskis were honored by the State of Israel as Righteous Gentiles or “Righteous Amongst the Nations.” Ackerman‘s book would also explain the complicated story of Warsaw, the Warsaw Ghetto, and the German and Russian occupation and destruction of the city. The Zoo was located on the east bank of the Vistula, and hence subject to occupation by the Russian army.

Jan Gross, Princeton University, gave an interesting talk in the University of Florida Library on 2 April, “The Jews and their Neighbors in German Occupied Poland.”

Watership Down by Richard Adams.

Watership Down by Richard Adams. Scribners, paper, reprint 2005. Adams’s story follows the flight of a warren of Berkshire rabbits from the devastation caused by a land developer. Published in 1972, it is still a standard back stock title in good children’s departments. Adams died recently at the age of 96. He was Writer in Residence, University of Florida’s English Department during the 1975-1976 academic year.

Tim Tebow. Shaken.

Shaken; Discovering Your True Identity in the Midst of Life’s Storms by Tim Tebow & A.J. Gregory. WaterBrook, 2016. University of Florida’s Heisman trophy winner, Tebow joined the SEC network and contributes to their programming. He has a foundation which seeks to bring, faith, hope, and love to those needing a brighter day. Gregory is a collaborationist, hired to co-author books by people who have something to say but are not writers. I just learned that President Elect Donald Trump paid Tim $12,000 for an autographed helmet. Book authoring can’t compete with a good branding.

Mr. Flagler’s St. Augustine by Thomas Graham. University of Florida Press, 2014.

In the early 1900s Henry Flagler eased himself out of Standard Oil and his partnership with John D. Rockefeller to pursue a career in railroads and resort hotels. He was among the richest men in America in an era of enormous private wealth accumulation, but also wealth inequalities. Florida benefited from that new interest and the money behind it.

Flagler and his first wife had come to St. Augustine for her health. He found the accommodations in “America’s Oldest City” inadequate and began to think about the construction of a hotel that met his standards. He was inspired by, or perhaps he inspired a local physician, Dr. Andrew Anderson, to begin thinking big as well. Anderson owned an orange grove adjoining the town center and a good hotel location. The hard freeze of 1894 had pushed the orange groves farther south and left the town needing new enterprises.

Henry Flagler was a “mover and shaker.” He knew a lot of the East Coast social elites that had made money during the prosperous years of the late nineteenth century, and what they might want in the way of a resort hotel. So they found much to like in Flagler’s Ponce de Leon. Flagler soon acquired two more existing hotels, the Cordova and the Alcazar. These early resort hotels were not year-round hotels. Rather, the hotel’s season began after the New Year, remained open into the hot months of Florida’s long summers, and then closed for the season June.

Graham follows the annual seasons at the Ponce de Leon as described by Mrs. Anna Marcotte in her gossipy local publication, the Tattler. The elaborate parties attended by the rich and famous that both Graham and Marcotte describe are like the destination weddings and other celebrations common amongst the well off in this century.

The hotel guests liked sports, though mostly as spectators. The Chicago Colts (later Cubs) trained in St. Augustine in the spring. There were tennis and golf tournaments, various equestrian events, and prize fights. Later auto racing, though it eventually relocated farther down the coast at Daytona.

Late nineteenth-century American cultural life was brought to its audiences by itinerant lecturers and musicians. But the town also had its own concert band that performed at formal dances to benefit the local hospital or fire station. Tin Pan Alley’s ragtime was the rage in the two decades before the First World War. “Negro melodies” sung by the hotel’s black staff were also popular with the guests. Gambling was about the only known vice.

Hotel patrons got around the town in horse-drawn carriages, bicycles, and cycle rickshaws. They rented cars for short drives down the coast, but most guests continued to arrive by rail at Jacksonville with connections to St. Augustine.

Graham follows Flagler’s railway construction as it makes its way to Miami and then the Keys. At the same time Flagler’s sometime business partner – sometime rival, Henry Plant, was building a railroad down Florida’s Gulf Coast and the magnificent Tampa Bay Hotel. Plant’s hotel would rival the Ponce de Leon in size and splendor and draw off wealthy vacationers from Flagler’s hotels. That rivalry has often been portrayed as contentious; Thomas Graham does not think it so.

Both the Atlantic and Gulf Coast tourism were vulnerable to the frequent recessions. Certainly the great age for the Ponce de Leon was prior to the Great War. Graham reports that it never made a profit after the 1924 season. It now houses Flagler College. The Tampa Bay Hotel was a flop from the beginning. It now houses the University of Tampa.

Florida was, during the careers of Flagler and Plant, part of the Jim Crow South. That meant that the huge staffs of the hotels could not be of mixed race but rather either white or black. Flagler made the choice of employing an all-black staff. Most of the staff were recruited in the North and brought by special trains to St. Augustine for the season.

In December 1964, I was married in Gainesville and had arranged to spend a brief honeymoon at the Ponce De Leon. It was still a grand hotel. Both of us were graduate students, so I had reserved the cheapest room available. We arrived in the early evening and were shown to our room. It was dazzling and I decided that either I or the reservation desk had made a big mistake.

I went down to the desk and explained the mistake. The clerk with pleasure said that the hotel was not busy and they had decided to give us their “honeymoon suite” at the price I had paid for the cheaper room. I suspect that Henry Flagler would have approved of their magnanimous gesture.

Privacy in the New Media Age by Jon Mills. University Press of Florida, 2015.

There has always been conflict between the idea of our right to privacy and the First Amendment guarantee of free speech. But Jon Mills argues that the ‘new media age,’ that is the widespread use of the internet as a source of information, has come upon us. It offers both many new opportunities but also quandaries. And there are, he argues, solutions already in place that deal with the rights of privacy relative to the press and broadcast media. We need to think through this matrix of controls and regulations to see what might apply to the issue of privacy and the internet.


A lawyer, Mills is professor and past dean of the University of Florida’s law school. He was once Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives. He is not an alarmist about the growth of the internet medium. He can see some advantages of having citizen journalists, or “iReporters”, recording and “publishing” what they have observed. For example, the recent incidents of police interactions with the street have had an impact on our views about the relationship of law and order to both civil rights and privacy.


But he is concerned. There are no “editors” and “gatekeepers” auditing the content of videos posted on web sites by thousands of bloggers and read by millions here and abroad. We are getting used to hyperbole these days coming from candidates for the U.S. Presidency. We agree that political speech is allowed to wander from the truth. Those same allowances can be made for postings on the internet. Perhaps they are to be evaluated in much the same way that we view those ‘tell-all” magazines in grocery checkout counters.


The author builds his argument by beginning with the contention that bloggers should have the same rights and obligations as newspaper reporters have always had. Journalists are, for the most part, shielded from litigation over their reportage. We would perhaps agree that we want that to continue to be the case with reporters. But for bloggers?


Mills reminds us that there are, in fact, limits to that immunity of reporters from lawsuits. Property rights come in to play; for example, laws against trespass. Mills agrees that someone using concealed video cameras to record what is going on inside your house is an “intrusion upon seclusion.” Another building block: you cannot legally violate an individual’s privacy when it comes to his or her cell phone without a court order. And anyone who addresses the judge on the matter must have good reason for that request. But the internet makes all this concern for property rights seem a bit quaint. Bloggers don’t bother.


Community Standards? Back when I had a bookstore and a newsstand, I was asked to subject their content to community standards. I argued that it was impossible to ascertain “community standards.” They were the creation of self-appointed “spokespersons”, and never a tangible code. That is certainly true of any notion of community standards applied to the internet.


Those who use the internet enjoy considerable anonymity. Still we know from Edward Snowden’s revelations that electronic snooping can provide the opportunity and a temptation for governments to “listen in” to millions of internet conversations.  


I found interesting Mills’ discussion of the distinction between obtaining information that should be considered private and publishing that material.  Once the information is available to or in possession of the press, prohibiting publican is viewed as prior restraint or censorship, an intrusion upon seclusion. The acquisition of material has been much more frequently contested than the subsequent publishing of it. The courts are divided on maintaining this distinction.


Curiously the longer information about a person’s private life is stored the more it becomes protected in the interests of privacy. Drudging up information that is several decades old is considered more of an offense to privacy than their immediate revelation!


Jon Mills also points out that journalism generally is not a licensed profession. Nor has the category ‘reporter’ even been defined.  Perhaps, at the very least, those in newspaper and broadcast journalism but also those individuals posting on the internet might be asked to read and sign a document outlining what is expected of them by way of intent and accuracy. In the meantime, one should assess the expectations one has of privacy in the new media and adjust one’s participation accordingly.