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12/29/2005

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CHEAP SHOTS
Our annual compendium of sucker punches, low blows and gut kicks. Enjoy!

 

Time once again for our annual cleansing ritual. Here's how it works: We think back to 2005 and fondly recall all the people, places and things that made the world – and especially our small corner of it – a little crappier, a tad less inviting, a smidgen more unfair and a touch more slimy. We compile our lists, type our little fingers off, then let out a deep, collective breath. In, out, in, out. Deep cleansing breaths. Feel the anger and indignation slipping away? In, out, in, out, in, out.

That's so much better. Now we're ready to start 2006 with a lungful of fresh karma. In no particular order of importance, we present Cheap Shots 2005.

Former Sadler Elementary School teacher Jan P. Hall deserves a Cheap Shot for her racist screed about Hispanics ruining our country, but that would be too easy. Instead, this one goes to the bigots who oozed out of the slime to support Hall's complaints. One resident who spoke at the Aug. 23 school board meeting in Hall's support said, "[Immigrants] have already bankrupted local clinics." Another speaker stated that he feared for our security because of immigrants. One letter-writer to the Orlando Sentinel even called for Hall to run for governor. That's a great idea. Run, Jan, run.

Here's one for the City of Orlando's code-enforcement department. For the past four months, Orlando residents Susan Anastasio (who uses a wheelchair) and Tom Cook have been informing the city of handicap noncompliance issues. In all, they've cited more than 140 businesses and apartment complexes in a letter to both code enforcement director Mike Rhodes and Mayor Buddy Dyer. The result? One business has changed its parking lot. OK, so code enforcement might have bigger issues to tend to in growth-happy Orlando. But then again, there are at least 140 locations that Orlando's disabled residents will find difficult to impossible to navigate.

For years the state's Republicans had to straddle the line between traditional party ties to big oil and their constituents' (not to mention Mother Nature's) desire for no Gulf drilling. Then Katrina stormed through and they had the cover they needed. Citing rising oil prices, Florida Reps. Mike Bilirakis, R-Tarpon Springs; Cliff Stearns, R-Ocala; and Jeff Miller, R-Chumuckla negotiated legislation in early September that would allow drilling off Florida's eastern shores. The provision, attached to a budget bill, was stripped from the House version in November, but that was no thanks to these shortsighted Florida reps. Thanks for selling us out as soon as you found an issue (high gas prices) to hide behind, guys. Voters, remember those names at the polls.

Wal-Mart is such an easy target, but Rollback Smiley is still Cheap Shot-worthy. In November, the company was shooed away from placing a store on Econlockhatchee Trail via public outcry. But across town, the big-box behemoth is still trying to shove a 193,000-square-foot Supercenter in at the corner of John Young Parkway and Central Florida Parkway, just two miles down the road from another Supercenter. (Every two miles?) And they were sneaky, too. The word "Wal-Mart" didn't show up on any development review agenda until late in the approval process, making it next to impossible for anyone to mount an opposition. As of Dec. 15, the plan was still moving forward.

Central Florida News 13 raises the pink bar with John Handiboe's looped "Hey John, What's Going On?" entertainment reports. Handiboe (not "handlebar") provides pivotal coverage of pressing pop-cultural events lit with a local filter. It's all bald head, glasses and casual sweater – willful and graceless pandering, naturally – with just enough "attitude" to make anchors like the matronly Jackie Brockington utter things like, "You go, boy." Stefanie Powers in town? Ask her about Robert Wagner. Mary J. Blige? Talk to her like she's a sista. If for no other reason, Handiboe gets three Cheap (whiskey) Shots for expanding his recent Dixie Stampede/Dolly Parton interview into a three-part series: "She loves the camels and the show is becoming so popular she was forced out of her own show," he said, nonsensically.

Cheap shirts, cheap hair and cheap cologne may not be far down the checklist of necessary accoutrements for a mayoral hopeful, and arguably neither are lawsuits over business dealings. But by combining all of these and more, then wrapping them in a bow of relative campaign invisibility (and pronunciation problems … is it "lo-pez"?), Ed Lopes transcended all reason when he ran for the special election last spring. Even the soft-shoe Sentinel laid into him with a scathing exposé on April 15, pointing out that Lopes was heavily indebted to his business clients and hiding from lawsuits. Most attempts at getting to the bottom of his character were met with a Pandora's box of conundrums. Lopes never really participated, showing up for few interviews and no debates, leading to the obvious conclusion that he was just a passing blemish.

Just in time for the holidays, Walt Disney World shoved nearly 180 custodial workers into even lower-wage posts. The company then contracted out the original custodial jobs to companies that pay minimum wage and offer no benefits, a move sure to pad Disney's parks and resorts division's $1.2 billion profit. Walt Disney once said, "I couldn't have outside help and still get over my idea of hospitality. So now we recruit and train every one of our employees." Screw that! A low-wage Cheap Shot goes to Walt Disney World for treating its employees like pawns in a giant chess match. So much for the happiest place on earth.

Our senses shouldn't be offended by The Daily Buzz on WB affiliate 18, the nationally syndicated, Orlando-based news-and-gabfest brought to you by the people who make The Gilmore Girls. But just staring into the mirror that they hold up to us as Central Floridians (office casual, water-cooler chatter, golf after work) makes us sad. A peculiar portal for wire service items and refried blog drivel involving Paris Hilton, The Daily Buzz apparently does quite well in various low-end suburban markets nationwide. Employing a former soap star (Andrea!), an average Joe (John!) and a slightly pudgy cad (Mitch!) as anchors, each telling jokes over the news (and each other), the Buzz descends into a Valiumed death-knell drone every weekday. It looks cheap, too. Which makes us want a shot.

You've seen the billboards and the gauzy television commercials for the Orlando Sentinel's "The Story of You" advertising campaign. And if you're like us, you've wondered what, exactly, all that heartstring-twanging palaver means. Who wants their local newspaper to bring them their own story? Don't you already know that story? How about our newspaper actually delivering the story of that stuff called "news"? Oh, wait. That would require a fully staffed newsroom, rather than a management-heavy, stock-price-watching organization making demographic-pleasing decisions that cut reporters off at the knees, when they're not actually laying them off.

We hear this bit of image fluff was chosen over another, more interesting campaign, but since when has the management at our daily corporate paper picked "interesting" over "bland"? Yet you've gotta hand it to the folks over at Push (the ad agency that put this campaign together): In a very meta way, they really nailed what the Sentinel is all about.

While we're on the topic, the Sentinel's cost-cutting mentality merits many a Cheap Shot, particularly over a decision the paper made this year to scale back its theater reviews. Discerning which shows and performing companies would no longer be written up – and why – was a confounding endeavor, but there was no mistaking the odiousness of the party line arts and entertainment editor Mary Frances Emmons was forced to recite in our April 7 issue, in which she stated that the daily had "created" such a fertile theatrical environment that there was now just too much activity for them to cover. Patting yourself on the back is always a better corporate strategy than admitting you can no longer spare the man-hours to generate the coverage you once did – a sad reality the daily is desperate to hide from the public.

Let's talk about local TV newscasts for a second, OK? There's the relentless focus on crime/accident/small tragedy, there's the emphasis on "investigations" that exist only for the "gotcha" shot, and there's the way the promos make you think something awful is just about to happen to your child/health/property value. All of which makes O-Town news about on par with TV news everywhere else. But it is local newscasters' overuse of the word "literally" that earns them this Cheap Shot. "This car literally hit the other one." "He literally shot her in the face." "These winds are literally blowing down trees." Hey. You're in the news business. Your audience thinks you're telling the truth. If you tell them something happened, they're probably going to believe you without you having to let them know that you're not using an erroneous figure of speech. Literally.

First, he announced his willingness to fill in as mayor while Buddy Dyer was under indictment – but only if all other contenders agreed to drop out of the race first. Months later, he issued a pedantic (if deserved) public warning to the reinstated Dyer about the murky progress of the Orlando Performing Arts Center project. Yes, former Orlando Mayor Bill Frederick continues to disregard the "former" in his title, acting as if Orlando is a directionless community (true) hungering for every morsel of olden-days wisdom he can part with (false). Not that we have anything against Frederick personally – ever since the staff at Wally's told us that he had been a regular there while he was in office, we've considered him our kinda guy. We just think somebody needs to sit him down, Cheap Shot in hand, and remind him that "ex" means "ex." Even the King of Siam knew when to shut his mouth and hand over the scepter. (Don't you get any ideas, either, Glenda.)

You've seen them. Hanging out in their legally proscribed area on the public-owned right-of-way, utilizing their freedom of speech in an effort to "save babies." Or something. As much as right-to-lifers who insist on intruding upon people's personal decisions make us seethe, there's something gentle – even sweet – about the dedication shown by the Old Lady and the Monk, regular protestors at the EPOC Clinic on Virginia Drive. (The monk hasn't been there so much lately, which makes the old lady's dedication even more noteworthy.)

Day after day, she sits on her little camping chair (the Monk usually stands and paces in monk-like fashion), waiting patiently for a carload of emotional distress to pull up. It's touching the way these two feel entitled to let their personal ethics intrude into the affairs of people who probably have quite enough going on already.

We've all been there. The flyer/website/newspaper listing for the great rock/punk/rap show says 8 p.m., so, being a numbskull, you show up at 8 p.m. But that's not when the show starts. It might start at 9 p.m. or 9:30 p.m., but it'll probably start somewhere more in the neighborhood of 10:30 p.m. What does that mean for you, the intrepid music fan who carved a night out of your life to go watch a band perform? It means that you're at the mercy of the bar owner who wants to squeeze that money out of you. He figures that the longer you have to wait between the time you walk in and the time the band starts, the more money spent at the bar. And don't go thinking you can queer the system by showing up at 10:30 p.m. We've tried that and it always ends up that the show started on time that night and we missed the band we wanted to see. Grrr.

It's been an exhausting year for those with big hearts. After digging our own community out of last year's hurricanes, our empathy level for those in similar circumstances had been raised. And given the exponential difference in devastation between our trio of 'canes and the singular destruction caused by Katrina, our hearts and pocketbooks opened as quickly and easily as a drunk sorority girl on a Saturday night.

Some less-than-honorable types were quick to take advantage of that and attempted to scam folks out of their charitable impulses. But, being Floridian, we're always wary of being ripped off, so those rogues didn't get too far. What really pissed us off in 2005 were the clueless charity whores. Those people who put on "hurricane benefit" after "Katrina fundraiser" with little in mind other than the fact that doing such things would be good publicity for their establishments. Not to say that the money raised at these things shouldn't have been raised, but the weird mix of selflessness and self-promotion involved turned our stomach.

Dear "Mayor" Ernie Page: You were mayor for six weeks, and your reign ended eight months ago. Retire the title already. But that's not how you've earned yourself a Cheap Shot; rather, this honor stems from the unbridled arrogance you displayed when you left a developer a threatening voice mail message warning that said developer would get nowhere with a project unless your nonprofit got a piece of the deal. Subsequent television-news reporting revealed that your nonprofit had plenty of other irregularities in its tax returns and other records. It's amazing that you, sir, still sit on the dais.

Where to begin with WMFE, our PBS radio (90.7 FM) and TV (Channel 24) affiliate? Still standing firm at the helm he'll relinquish Jan. 1, Stephen McKenney Steck has led WMFE since 1972. That he's unafraid in his decision-making isn't a question, but his questionable decisions are another thing altogether.

Steck has placed precedence on national programming (did you catch California Dreamin' – The Songs of the Mamas & the Papas earlier this month?) over the production of local content. The number of employees left after years of downsizing has continued to drop, leaving overworked Becky Morgan as the only employee creating a locally produced show, The Arts Connection, dedicated to local coverage. Meanwhile, Steck has obfuscated the changing nature of public television and WMFE – on which you now see commercials disguised as "sponsorships" – with a months-in-the-making "Talk to Us ... We're Listening! " outreach and "WMFE's A Vision for Our Future: Promise, Pride & Potential!" plan. Yes, Steck successfully transitioned the station into the digital age, but there's rarely programming on the station worth watching in that crisp, beautiful format. Change the channel to WCEU-TV, the Daytona Beach PBS affiliate, for public television that's far more inventive.

The homos are coming, the homos are coming! Shield your wives, hide your children, save your marriage! The insipid, hysterical and flat-out mean homophobia that we all know exists in this state has finally taken form in the Florida Coalition to Protect Marriage (or Florida4Marriage.org, as it's now known). These folks – spearheaded by Orlando's own Liberty Counsel – are trying to amend the state's constitution to forever prohibit gay marriage, and for that they deserve a Cheap Shot.

Homophobes, take note: Gay marriage is already forbidden by state law. The bumper sticker said it best: Focus on your own damn family.

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd is a hillbilly and a prude, and he proved it by arresting Chris Wilson, the operator of NowThatsFuckedUp.com. The website, you'll recall, offered amateur porn alongside images of war brutality, and the U.S. Army wasn't thrilled. But it wasn't the gore that got Judd's panties in a bunch.

"It is the most horrific, vile, perverted sexual conduct," Judd told the Orlando Sentinel after the arrest. "It is as vile, as perverted, as non-normal sexual conduct, which rises to the level of obscenity, as we've ever investigated." So what was so horrible? According to the charging affidavit, Wilson's site featured oral sex, anal sex and facials, all shot by amateurs. In other words, stuff you can see at approximately 87 billion other websites. Judd gets a Cheap Shot for trying to impose his narrow morality on Polk County, and the rest of the world too, by trying to shut the site down and trampling free speech in the process.

A Cheap Shot to Sean Hannity, Bill Frist, Tom DeLay, Mel Martinez, Jeb Bush and everyone else who stuck their nose where it didn't belong, championing the "right" of Terri Schiavo to live when every medical expert not in the pocket of the some foaming-mouthed fundie agreed she was in a permanent, irreversible vegetative state. An even bigger Cheap Shot to all the ill-informed "experts" who proclaimed, absent evidence, that Schiavo's husband must have secretly been behind her collapse and that he wanted her dead so she wouldn't magically wake up and rat him out. Nice try.

And another Cheap Shot to Jeb Bush, solo this time, for putting a fundie nutbar in charge of public education. Cheri Pierson Yecke was run out of Minnesota government in 2004 for being divisive and putting her right-wing agenda front and center as education commissioner. She cooled her heels at a conservative think tank for a bit until that fateful day when the phone rang and Jeb was on the other end, offering her the position of chancellor of public education in Florida. Of course Jeb would want to hire such a person; why not let Florida continue to be a laughingstock?

Coincidentally, Florida's science standards are up for review in 2006. If you want to get ahead of the curve, start tutoring your kids in creationism … er, we mean Intelligent Design … now.

A high-toned Cheap Shot to the Orlando Sentinel's editorial page for their anti-gambling campaign. Ever since voters approved an amendment allowing expanded gambling in two South Florida counties – and consequently, on Indian reservations elsewhere – the Sentinel hasn't missed a chance to remind us how ill-informed the decision was and how expanded gambling will bring us drugs, crime, prostitution, swarms of locusts, festering boils, acne, gout, crop failure and everything else bad in the universe up to and including Armageddon. Hey, Sentinel, want a tip to help boost those lagging circulation numbers? Try treating your readers like adults.

Eatonville's Zora Neale Hurston Festival of the Arts and Humanities aired some dirty laundry this year, earning the whole kit and caboodle a Cheap Shot. It started with the decision to move the famed celebration of African-American arts to Lake Lily (white) in Maitland because Eatonville Mayor Anthony Grant wanted to up the permit fee from $20,000 to $35,000. In the end, the permit fee was reduced to $100, and the 17th annual street fest, Jan. 27-29, will remain in the town where Hurston grew up. But this pet project of the earnest N.Y. Nathiri was already battling cries that the event had grown too big for its britches, enticing major sponsors (and yielding $65,000) at the loss of grassroots appeal. Meanwhile, Fort Pierce, the city where Hurston died in poverty and was laid in an unmarked grave, is gaining respect and attendees for its ZoraFest (the second annual takes place April 28-30), which has a simple-folk flavor and a literary focus. Let's see what ugliness arises from true competition.

We hate to have to say that a blonde acted dumb, but WKMG-TV Channel 6 anchor Lauren Rowe earned this Cheap Shot when she moderated the June 21 public forum at Orlando Repertory Theatre at the behest of OPAC, the nonprofit board behind the building of the proposed Orlando Performing Arts Center. It's not her fault that OPAC was premature in its presentation to the public; few knew back then that there wasn't (and still isn't) a viable plan to come up with the $250 million to build it.

But Rowe ignorantly did her part to parry and pivot in her non-responses to questions and observations raised at the forum, which was populated by intelligent local arts organization leaders desperate to figure out what the hell was going on. "And what kind of shows would YOU like to see at a performing arts center?" was a typical response to a pertinent comment about, say, the feasibility of philanthropic fund-raising in cautionary economic times. Rowe was downright insulting.

"Bronze Roots" may have had better success if it had been a trend in hair-coloring rather than an eyebrow-raising proposition to erect 10 bronze statues downtown – at $60,000 to $120,000 per – within the next year, with 22 more to come over the next four years. The project was launched last summer by Downtown Arts District Inc. and inspired and funded by downtown developer Cameron Kuhn, who ponied up a promise of a million bucks to stop the laughter.

According to Terry Olson, director of the Orange County Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs, the project has been put on hold but isn't off the table. (Fifty artists from around the country and some internationals responded to the call. That the project wasn't limited to local artist participation was another criticism.) DAD is now hot on its CityArts Factory, a plan to transform the four floors of the building where OVAL resides at 29 S. Orange Ave.

Kuhn is moving forward on a statue project of his own making; the Sentinel reported in November that dedicated dollars are up to $2 million. Before "Bronze Roots" was shelved, though, a silly list of who would be cast was passed around. At the top were Walt Disney and Zora Neale Hurston, but Kuhn was pushing for Ray Charles and, um, himself. Cheap Shot for hubris above and beyond your importance to this city, Cameron.

Enough already. We're over "Nude Nite" in Orlando, which last September stretched into "Nude Nites," featuring body-painting (yawn), commercial sponsors (yuck) and fund-raising for breast cancer (oh-so-unsexy).

Years ago, when downtown Orlando was sleepy and sneaks and peeks of nekkid bodies seemed just a little naughtier, the underground event made sense. But not anymore. Been there, done that. "Nude Nite" is itself a cheap shot, so we're giving it one.

Let's just give the Metropolitan Bureau of Investigation a perennial Cheap Shot and be done with it, shall we? It's not like Orlando's morality police are going to suddenly stop being clumsy, vindictive, bumbling oafs anytime in the near future, anyway.

In 2004, to keep their reputation intact, the MBI prosecuted yet another strip club – Cleo's – based on a "sting" that accomplished little beyond giving undercover agents an eyeful of coochie on the taxpayers' bill. These fearless crusaders also managed to shutter mom-and-pop video outlet Jerry's General Store last year, after years of trying; and they made the rounds of local adult bookstores to let owners know that they (not a judge, but the cops) considered some of their material obscene. Ever hear of due process, fellas?

A Cheap Shot to the Orlando Police Department for hassling the Food Not Bombs people. The group gets together Wednesdays at Lake Eola Park to hand out food to the homeless and needy, but OPD has made sure they know they're not welcome, say FNB members. One FNB organizer says cops have even told her all of downtown was a "no feeding zone," which it isn't.

The Ripple Effect had the same problem in the same park a couple of years ago and moved their effort to feed the homeless as a result.

On a good day, we doubt the city of Orlando's ability to foster a thriving downtown; on a bad day, we even doubt the sincerity of the intention. And a bad day it was when the city raised the parking rate in the Centroplex garage (to $8 nights, $5 days), making the prospect of a downtown night out even less affordable to working types who were already mortgaging their futures to see the Orlando Magic and Elton John. At least the Downtown Development Board is making it possible for the garage-adjacent SAK Comedy Lab and Studio Theatre to refund their patrons the extra cash, but they'd all better hope that word of the instant rebate travels as widely as word of the increase. Either way, we're awarding a Cheap Shot to exorbitant parking.

Even we can't imagine a shot as cheap as reporting a business competitor to the authorities to get rid of unwanted competition. But it happens all the time, perhaps most recently in the case of the Aug. 28 raid of gay mecca The Parliament House.

Though 12 bartenders were arrested after serving alcohol to a 19-year-old undercover agent, the club got off with what amounted to a slap on the (limp) wrist – reinforcing the belief of reliable inside sources that the entire raid was a nuisance initiated by a "tip" from a rival establishment with a history of smear tactics. Naming names would serve no positive purpose, so we'll merely repeat the observation that the club in question is only gay on certain nights of the week (hey, just like us!), making the sabotage even more cowardly and unnecessary. And now that that's out of the way … had your tires changed recently?

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