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6/11/2009

Columns > Happytown

Happytown

 

We know it’s tantamount to heresy to spit water all over whatever it is that makes blue and white “ignite,” especially considering that the Orlando Magic are in the NBA finals pressing Dwight Howard’s size 18 shoes up against the merchandised ego of Kobe Bryant and his L.A. Lakers.

But, just to refresh your memory a little bit, do you remember way back in October of last year – as the general election was stirring up street debris in polemical microbursts – how a certain city politician was punching the air about a looming Magic boycott [Happytown™, Oct. 9]? Commissioner Patty Sheehan made it clear to anybody who would listen at the time that she was outraged – outraged – at Magic owner Rich DeVos’ family funding of Florida’s anti-gay marriage amendment.

Yeah, that’s right, DeVos – the Amway man who would sell you hand cream infused with Jesus juice just as long as you sold it to your friends, and they sold it to their friends, and everything ended up looking like a retail pyramid – threw down $100,000 for Florida4Marriage, probably helping to tilt the lying scale in the wingnuts’ favor.

Sheehan, at the time, was talking boycott, and there was even a small Sunday street protest to shame DeVos for doing exactly what we knew he would do when the city crawled into bed with him and whispered “Golden Pleasure Dome” sweetly into his ear.

Fast forward to the June 4 civic hullaballoo on the steps of City Hall. There – in a photo on the Sentinel website’s front page, because hell if we were going to a sports pep rally – right next to a lectern where Dyer gave his Magic speech was Sheehan in a Magic jersey, holding one of those paddle-whacker things that we have yet to understand. And doing so during Gay Days! Oh, Patty, we thought we knew you. Wait. We do.

You know how the year-to-year decreases in tourist development taxes – the hotel tariffs whose tops can only be skimmed in order to build Orlando into a “world-class city” and certainly not to keep police and firemen on the streets – were seeing steep declines of around 25 percent over the past two months?

Well, the public relations folks out at the financially opaque Orlando Convention and Visitors Bureau have once again found a silver lining to e-mail–blast around: Everything is way better than it appears, thanks to the foreigners.

The CVB has just released numbers generated by the U.S. Commerce Department that show that black-socked and fanny-packed vacation spending has been surprisingly strong … or was in 2008. While only 45.5 million domestic visitors graced our crumbling theme-park town – representing a drop of .9 percent from 2007 – Canadians (Canadians!) came down in droves, increasing their visitation by 20.1 percent to 990,000, and the total number of all international travelers was up by 18.9 percent. (It should be noted that U.K. traffic was down 3.1 percent, but who cares?) In the fine print, we find that leisure traffic and business visitation saw sharp decreases, with the ever-lucrative overnight conventioneer circuit dipping 7.8 percent. Clearly, we need better hookers.

Of course, the fact that these numbers don’t really reflect the huge decline in actual dollars coming in could lead one to believe that Orlando has now become a haven for cheap people. Welcome to the roach motel!

Florida’s Department of Children and Families has a long history of getting everything right and never losing track of any of the children it’s supposed to be protecting [“Swallowed by the cracks,” April 16], so it came as a huge surprise to just about everybody when the Miami Herald came out with a story headlined “DCF chief says agency botched tracking program process” on June 3.

In a speech about a year and a half ago, Gov. Charlie Crist praised the agency in his state of the state speech, saying, “Up until now, we have done a better job in this country tracking packages than we have children placed in our care.” So the tanned talking face put aside $9.8 million to buy hand-held barcode readers for the state’s caseworkers. We’ll treat ’em like parcels!

Well, somewhere in the bidding process, everything went wrong. A New York state firm that used to be led by a corrupt senator got mad when DCF chose a Florida competitor and filed a protest. On June 2, DCF secretary George Sheldon confessed that the agency “probably” violated Florida’s Sunshine Law, because they held a meeting to discuss the bids without public notice. Also, somebody e-mailed somebody else when they weren’t supposed to, so the whole thing might have been “tainted.”

The New York consulting company, CMA, then tried to bend horse-faced attorney general Bill McCollum’s floppy ear and got nowhere, leading them to write in a letter that McCollum “turned a blind eye to what we believe is substantial corruption in this administration.” State attorney Willie Meggs now says the case has been assigned.

The takeaway? Everything will stay just as it is, which is perfect.

Where do interns go after leaving Orlando Weekly? No, not Walt Disney World. At least Jeff Gore didn’t. Our activist intern of several semesters ago decided to spend the summer in Palestine as part of the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions. “The way I see it, to help the Palestinians is to help America,” he says on his blog, Dispatches From the Holy Land. And he’s not talking about the theme park. Here’s an excerpt from Gore’s June 4 post:

So as I walk through the streets of Ramallah, waves, smiles, and ‘Hello’s in my direction are not uncommon. As I stand at the table of a bread vendor, the young man next to me places what must be the Palestinian equivalent of an Oreo cookie into my hand. My Swiss friend at my side tells me it is part of Palestinian culture to feed others – it is unthinkable to eat food in front of somebody who has none, no matter how little there is to begin with. Thus it is no surprise to hear her say later on that “there are no homeless people in Palestine.”

Read more at holylanddispatches.blogspot.com. And try to share a cookie today.

All that rain we’ve been getting means you’re going to die, says the Orange County Health Department, probably still a little hyped up from the swine flu hysteria.

Actually, they’re not being that dramatic, but they are being cute (again). In order to fight the threat of mosquito-borne diseases brewing up in that standing water outside your trailer – lots of chickens and horses are contracting Eastern equine encephalitis virus RIGHT NOW – the health department wants to remind you of the “five D’s.” Deez nutz? No. They are: drainage (you should have some), DEET (or other repellants like lemon eucalyptus!), dress (cover most of your skin, whore) and dusk and dawn (avoid; that’s when the bugs bite). Also, you should empty that birdbath, Thelma. Watch out for the bugs!

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