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12/30/2004

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CHEAP SHOTS

 

Some papers use their final publishing cycle of the calendar to wistfully look back on the year that was, praising the good and excusing the bad, sugar-coating it all with the soft focus of time. We say screw that. We'd rather use this final opportunity of 2004 to take one last swipe at the people who did their level best to act like ruthless toads last year, who made it just a little harder for the little guy to get through the day with a buck or two in his pocket and a shred of dignity in his soul.

And so we give you Cheap Shots 2004. We look at it as a cleansing exercise, a way to let go of all the bile and invective that built up last year, and start 2005 with a fresh karmic slate. Enjoy it with someone you love to hate.

All due apologies to Bill Lueders, a fine editor at Isthmus newspaper in Madison, Wis., from whom we stole the title, if not the idea. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right Bill? – Ed.

• • •

Let's start by delivering a Cheap Shot to every gloater who has yet to remove those pernicious "W" stickers from their cars. If you still have one on your car, you are a dick. Guess what? We know who won. Guess what? Fifty-five million of us still think he's a class-A moron, no matter how long you keep that sticker on your Excursion. How about we stand united and scrape all of those stickers off? And yes, that goes for all the sad sacks still sporting John Kerry stickers on their Volvos too. Please, for the sake of national sanity, don't bring up the topic of what could have been. Peel that thing off your car.

• • •

An ultra-boozy Cheap Shot goes to every downtown Orlando partier who has yet to demand that Mayor Buddy Dyer make good on his promise to at least look into extending drinking hours downtown. Remember when we (foolishly?) supported the guy based on the notion that his leadership was somehow fresh and visionary? Remember when we thought he wanted to actually do something to help the moribund downtown become the 24/7 city he likes to talk about? Come on, people, scrape yourselves out of the gutter and hold his feet to the fire on this one. Fight for your right to party.

• • •

Clear Channel gets a Cheap Shot for that execrable billboard on I-4 declaring George W. Bush "Our Leader." Substitute the words "Der Führer" and you're pretty close to the company's real intent: Shut up and obey. Are we the only ones totally and utterly disgusted by a media behemoth, whose goal is to dominate the public airwaves and wring them for profit, pledging fealty to an elected official? Hey Clear Channel, ever heard the term "fourth estate"? It means the media, especially those operating on public airwaves, are supposed to serve as a check and balance on the power of government, not use the privilege of operating on the public airwaves to discourage dissent. We all knew Clear Channel sucked, we just didn't know how bad. Until now.

• • •

New York Times columnist Bob Herbert deserves (and thusly receives) a Cheap Shot for his sloppily reported Aug. 16 column "Suppress the vote," in which he read the tea leaves of a Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation into Buddy Dyer's re-election campaign, got almost everything wrong and then set off a firestorm with an anecdote about armed FDLE officers wandering around black neighborhoods to intimidate voters. Smelling conspiracy, the story was picked up by liberals everywhere. Unfortunately it was 99 percent bullshit. Herbert called the investigation "odd," which it was only if you really believe it's odd for a state law enforcement agency to be looking into potential vote fraud in the neighborhood where it happened. But hey, the story line fit, so Herbert made sure the facts conformed. Shucks, that must be the way they do it in the big city.

• • •

All right, we've got say it: We're tired of our property values increasing. Not because we mind refinancing every six months to get money to spend on booze and trips and lamps and stuff, but because the thing that's sending our property values sky-high is people's seemingly insatiable desire to move into cool old neighborhoods, raze the cool old houses and build bland (and expensive) McMansions. It's not gentrification in the classic sense; it's more like picking up a prefab suburban neighborhood and dropping it in the middle of downtown. Which kinda defeats the purpose, yes?

• • •

We here at Cheap Shots would also like to extend a middle-finger salute to the people who didn't come see American Music Club back in October. On a Saturday night, even. One of the best and most-respected bands in alt-rock history re-forms and comes all the way to Orlando to play for us, and all you people hang around outside on Orange Avenue. Granted, it was Oct. 30, so everyone was more concerned with dressing up like hookers and taking part in Amateur Night than with seeing a primo rock show. But for all the whining and moaning that people do regarding a perceived dearth of good shows in town (and for the record, that dearth is a perception, not a reality), when a truly great one happens, and not that many people show up to enjoy it, why the hell do you think bands might not come here?

• • •

What was up with all the people who took our friend Jed Maheu seriously at FMF 2004? The guy's a junior publicist at Sub Pop and people were treating him like he signed Nirvana and The Postal Service. It was really kinda funny, since the main reason he was here was to drink on Axis magazine's tab (we helped), but there he was, fielding questions and making a lot of people mad with the answers (which usually ran along the lines of "your band sucks, dude"). If you ever needed evidence that Orlando's a small town in big-city clothes, the overwhelming number of clueless, ladder-climbing musicians who approached him on that weekend looking for knowledge could seal your case. Maybe for FMF '05, the Axis guys could ask us for recommendations: We know a graveyard-shift DJ at a low-watt station in Palatka who once interviewed the drummer for the Doobie Brothers.

• • •

Everyone – even the Sentinel's TV critic – was ashamed and horrified by the apocalyptic frenzy whipped up by The Two Toms (Terry of WFTV Channel 9 and Sorrells of WKMG Channel 6), during the hurricanes. So why is it that both of these guys still have jobs? Hour after endless hour of these guys telling us we were going to die had us praying for our power to go out. "Bithlo, watch out. A shearing vector of tornadic terror is going to hit you ... NOW." Jesus, guys. You're weathermen. We know "weather events" put a rise in your drawers, but please understand that we aren't all that excited about being part of your fevered fantasies. Especially when you manage to so frequently mix up "sunny and warm with afternoon showers" with "hot and humid with torrential downpours all morning."

• • •

Why, oh why couldn't that palm tree have actually hit WOFL Channel 35's David Martin? You remember during Hurricane Frances when that obnoxious fashion victim was trying to earn his Dumbass Field Reporter of the Year award by standing on this side of the Melbourne causeway in the middle of a freaking storm? Well, we do. And we also remember when that big-ass tree came flying down this close to the back of his head. Bloodshed is bad, but watching that little cream puff get smushed would have done a lot to alleviate our storm boredom.

• • •

One thing's for sure, none of these blathering hurricane junkies could hold a candle to our beloved Rod Johnson, but as we discovered back in October, the folks at Central Florida News 13 didn't like him very much. At least that what we have to assume, since they fired him. And for that they get a Cheap Shot. Rumor has it Johnson's departure wasn't neat and tidy. We figure that in a TV world where hysterical meteorologists and grandstanding idiots get to invade our living rooms every night, the soothing, baritone mumble of a professional like Johnson is out of step.

• • •

It's impossible to work at a newspaper and not wake up grateful every day for having a mayor like Buddy Dyer, who provides unmentionably wonderful fodder for our pages. So Cheap Shots would like to say a special "thank you" to Hizzoner, for everything from the ongoing Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation into the March election, to his impossibly expensive dreams for downtown renovation, to his willingness to hand out public money to his buddies – i.e., Cameron Kuhn (whose shot comes below) – like candy. Here's to three more years of making our job easy! Keep it up, Buddy.

• • •

The aforementioned Cameron Kuhn is another well-deserving recipient of a Cheap Shot. Yeah, it's great that he's rebuilding the decrepit Jaymont block. But when he gets a $3.5-milllion up-front gift, and will bank some $30 million while letting the city take care of virtually all the risk, we tend to get our panties in a bunch. And then we hear his next project will mean the end of our favorite watering hole, Scruffy Murphy's. We get the last laugh at Kuhn's expense, however: We moved the hell out of his building earlier this month. No more rent from us.

• • •

Whenever there's a Buddy Dyer line to parrot, or a fluff piece to be done proclaiming Hizzoner the greatest leader in the free world, the Orlando Leader is there. Which isn't surprising, since its first few issues seemed dedicated to securing Dyer and commissioner Patty Sheehan's re-election. But things got a little too hagiographic when the Leader dressed Dyer up as savior-of-humankind Neo from the Matrix movies. There's ass-kissing, and then there's ass-kissing.

• • •

You can't make fun of city council without dissing the undisputable queen of dumb, Daisy Lynum. So many jewels come out of Lynum's mouth that's it's hard to pick one. But Cheap Shots settled on Pepperhill Park. Basically, Lynum's a director of a nonprofit tied to a development group that wanted city money to build affordable housing between a crumbling neighborhood and an industrial-zoned property. Of course, the deal the developers wanted – the land for free and a $2.5 million cash handout – was so ridiculous that even the task force Lynum helped appoint to evaluate bids for developing the property turned the deal down cold.

• • •

A big Cheap Shot smooch to all the media outlets who blatantly ripped off our stories and claimed them as their own last year. We're not the biggest player in town, see, so some media consumers out there may not realize from whence these stories came. That doesn't make it any more ethical to pass stories off as original reporting, folks. At least when we lift your stuff, which we do on occasion, we give you credit. While there are several examples we could use, we'd specifically like to single out channels WESH Channel 2 and WKMG Channel 6, along with the Orlando Sentinel, for this dubious award. In the last 14 months, they've all re-reported our Orkin investigation without giving us a scintilla of credit.

• • •

You can't whisper the word "tax" in this town without Doug Guetzloe stuffing his corpulent mug in front of some camera trying to pass himself off as a crusader for the little guy. But the way we see it, Guetzloe's juvenile philosophy on public financing amounts to nothing more than a pathetic attempt at bolstering his sagging rep as a political heavy. The guy's a has-been. We especially like the reports that keep coming out about him trying to get people to pay him to back off his anti-tax campaigns. According to Maitland officials, who floated an $18.5 million bond to rebuild their city hall and public safety buildings in July, he tried the tactic there. But city officials told him to sit and spin. Mad props to Maitland for that. Guetzloe is one watchdog who has no teeth.

• • •

Exactly one year after Orlando Sentinel columnist Mark Matthews started his post-Tyler Gray run as the paper's nightlife correspondent – a tenure that lasted, um, just over one year – he published an introspective piece in which he apologized for the many mistakes he felt he had made in the column's very first installment. (One retracted boner: an unprovoked, outdated swipe at Orlando Weekly's controversial "Eat at Doug's" cover story.) While it would be easy to mock Matthews for jumping into a gig he was (by his own admission) ill-prepared to handle, the honesty of his self-critique was at least marginally endearing. The jeers instead go to Matthews' editors, who apparently didn't realize that letting one of your writers apologize for clumsily finding his way in print is the same thing as admitting that you're not giving him any damn supervision in the first place! Who's signing off on the editorial copy at that place, anyway – blind capuchin monkeys?

• • •

Whoever said that talk is cheap never got around to telling Glenda Hood, whose reign as mayor of Orlando was a triumph of PR over actual accomplishment. Locals weren't a bit surprised, then, that Hood brought the same image-conscious élan to her subsequent role as Florida's secretary of state (taking over for the notorious Katherine Harris). Faced with the prospect of troubleshooting (and maybe even fixing) the state's obviously flawed election system – the defects of which are still being uncovered – Hood instead invested her time and scads of taxpayer dosh in "educating" the public on the system's reliability. In other words, she did her level best to skip the product-testing phase and move straight on to the sales pitch. That effort was undercut by certain real-world events – like the revelation that a statewide list of "felons" was about as reliable as the brake lights on a Ford Taurus. But don't let it get you down, Glenda. Even the best used-car salesmen sometimes have trouble closing.

• • •

It was no big secret that Buddy Dyer's administration desperately wanted to raze the so-called Jaymont block as part of its forward-lurching program of urban renewal. But to get the job under way, city hall had to attend to certain ancillary details – like redefining the downtown center as the intersection of Church Street and Orange Avenue, rather than its customary location at Orange and Central Boulevard. One fatally rational local politico – informed of the change almost as belatedly as the rest of the populace – raised the completely logical suggestion that a renumbering of street addresses might therefore be warranted: Why have 1 Orange Ave. situated at Orange and Central if that's no longer the heart of downtown? Reportedly, his reasoned proposal met with naught but a chorus of disapproving stares from the Humorless Bastards Who Run Everything. Guess those powers-that-be aren't in too much of a hurry to rename Central Boulevard "Two Blocks North of the Nexus Lane" anytime soon the way they should.

• • •

We supporters of the Zora Neale Hurston Film Festival didn't mind waiting until the 11th hour to learn the identity of this year's closing-night feature; the festival's staff had announced a new film by "a major black director," and the industry's racial balance remains sufficiently off-kilter that such offerings are few and far between. While Charles S. "Roc" Dutton may not enjoy the reputation of a John Singleton or a Spike Lee, he certainly fits the job profile. Our embarrassment rested in knowing that the picture in question, Against the Ropes, was a freakin' Meg Ryan vehicle – and an especially slipshod one, at that. Zora Neale Hurston, Maya Angelou, the chick from Joe Versus the Volcano … it's an unbroken cycle of sisterhood, yes? For reasons already stated, we don't feel up to hurling a Cheap Shot at the festival, and Dutton doesn't quite deserve one, either (despite having made one crummy flick). So the brickbat goes to Meg Ryan, who probably had nothing to do with her movie's Zora booking but is well enough off to take the punishment. And whiter than a tube of Crest.

• • •

When Kip Marchman campaigned (successfully) for mayor of the City of Winter Park, he seemed less interested in turning the place into an upscale strip mall than preserving it as a community based on the needs of actual people. So it's hard to get your head around some initiatives that have been approved under Marchman's watch – like a stiff $50 fine imposed on folks who park their cars within the city's downtown center and then re-park them within the next four hours in another space that's less than 500 feet away. A mailing sent to Winter Park residents clarified that the fine was intended to prevent motorists from monopolizing valuable downtown parking spaces. But to many of us, it sounds like a great reason to limit your Park Avenue visit to a grand total of one establishment and then vamoose, before a silly little thing like your love of convenience jumps up and bites you in the back pocket.

• • •

The brilliant drafters of Amendment 1 get a Cheap Shot. And by "brilliant," we mean "ambiguous" and "sneaky as all hell." Face it, when you're drafting a constitutional amendment aimed at eventually manipulating the public into overturning Roe v. Wade, wording is everything. So what was their recipe for success? They mixed one cup of the American public's own bloated sense of self-righteousness with two tablespoons of the American public's complete inability to communicate with their own children. Then they beat the mixture with a Bible, sprinkled in a dash of confusing phrasing and served it chilled to the millions of do-gooders who were drooling for their chance to damn someone else to hell on Election Day. Like we said, brilliant.

• • •

With dogged determination and a holier-than-thou mentality that just wouldn't quit, Jeb Bush swept into the Schiavo family affairs like an angel of "compassionate conservatism" while giving a handful of Florida's Supreme Court judges the middle finger. Apparently, it's not "compassionate" enough to let a brain dead woman rest in peace after 14 years of life in a vegetative state. Pucker up, Jeb, this Cheap Shot's for you. And you thought Dubya was the only stubborn, pompous ideologue in the family.

• • •

Speaking of pompous ideologues, Mel Martinez gets a Cheap Shot for just being himself. True to the same moral manifesto that colored our state map red, Martinez erupted into Florida politics with enough malice and foul character assassinations to make the good Lord proud. So how does a man with a mediocre political track record win Florida's Senate seat? By labeling his opponent a terrorist-lover, that's how! Thanks, Mel, for showing us how to lower the social dialogue.

• • •

Hurricane season was a time of togetherness. It was a time for us to put aside our differences, and to do away with silly rivalries. It was in this spirit of reconciliation that one of our beneficent and highly talented staff writers offered Sentinel columnist Mike Thomas an olive branch for a job well done. Thomas took the olive branch and used it to cold-cock our beneficent and highly talented staff writer:

"I'm a big fan of your column, and have been for quite some time," wrote the writer in a private e-mail. "Your column [about buying plywood and hiding] was hilarious!"

So how did Thomas thank the writer? By mocking in his next column: "Orlando Weekly? Never heard of 'em." Hey Mike, piss off! And go shave your mustache while you're at it.

• • •

On Oct. 24, Mary Wilson and her volunteers painstakingly set up 1,104 pairs of army boots on the steps of the Orange County Courthouse, as part of the traveling Eyes Wide Open exhibit. Tagged with names and remembrances of real soldiers killed in Iraq, the sight of the empty boots brought home the reality of war. Too bad only a handful of people got to see it thanks to Rene Placensia, president of Rene's Productions, who happened to throwing one of his Latin mega-parties along Orange Avenue in front of the courthouse on that same day. Barricades were put up so there was no intermingling between the two events, which closed off the boots to public viewing unless you figured out the secret back entrance. It was shockingly unpatriotic not to support the memory of killed American soldiers and disgraceful to hear the a cappella rendition of the national anthem obliterated by a pounding salsa beat blaring over supersized speakers. Cheap Shot to you, Placensia, for being a boor.

• • •

Enough already with teachers flashing their breasts or feeling ones that don't belong to them. In February, Seminole County fourth-grade teacher Stacey Cherry (real name) admittedly succumbed to too much drink and peer pressure, lifting her top at a Super Bowl party for some Mardi Gras beads. ("Janet Jackson did it, too," one could hear her tattle.) Pictures were taken and Cherry paid the price when they circulated on the Internet for students, parents and superintendents to tsk-tsk (and ogle). Earlier this month, Osceola County computer teacher Tom Vacek was accused of rubbing his hand back and forth on a student's breast – like he didn't know? Just because students wear below-the-hip jeans that push their butt cleavage out of this world and belly tops that make navel-gazing a group activity doesn't mean teachers can join in the adolescent fun.

• • •

As if our local PBS affiliate WMFE hasn't prostituted itself enough to fund its expensive digital conversion instead of improving local programming, it had the audacity to send out solicitations begging us to "please help WMFE recover" because fund-raising went flat after the hurricanes. Boo-hoo. Both the TV and radio station were off the air after Charley, and by the time Jeanne rolled through, the TV station switched over to a satellite feed of kids programming. Federal law mandates that WMFE must remain non-commercial, but they run advertising anyway. Code word: sponsorship. From its website: "WMFE sponsorship messages must adhere to three overall rules: no price references, no unsubstantiated qualitative language and no 'call' to action. Messages CAN include the telephone and website address and factual information and features about your company." Perhaps it's time for the FCC to kick WMFE's ass like Charley did.

• • •

Sit in on the meetings and the joke gets even funnier. On one hand, the Big Planner himself, Mayor Buddy Dyer, is demanding a viable plan to build a multimillion-dollar downtown performing arts center within six months. On the other, UCF is moving its School of Film & Digital Media – home of the Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy and its video gaming program backed by Electronic Arts (makers of Madden NFL) – into the city's run-down Expo Centre with the rest of UCF's arts components to follow suit. The joke's on us, fellow citizens: Nobody has any money to do anything but talk and hire consultants to talk back to them, except for the $4.2 million handed over to UCF by the Florida Legislature from our tax dollars. Forget your future, we're all going to end up slaves to the forces of video-game production.

• • •

It's a hard pill to swallow, but in the aftermath of the Kerry defeat, the Democratic candidate's pro-choice stance turned out to be a killer. The ugliest word in political campaigning is "abortion," and the Republicans are so adept at flinging it left and right. So why, oh why, weren't the strategists out there making damn sure that everyone understood the complexities of pro-choice that extend way beyond the "A-word": pro-family planning, pro-birth control, pro-reproductive freedom, pro-medical care and education for sexually transmitted diseases that cross every political and sociological boundary. Here in Orlando, we have to acknowledge Planned Parenthood of Greater Orlando for their tireless efforts in delivering the services to the people who need them, but on the other hand we have to smack 'em upside the head for dropping the ball on the imperative campaigning that was necessary to wake up this town to the realities of eroding reproductive freedom. If even they are afraid of how the A-word can scare away needed financial donors, how will we ever win this war?

• • •

After 17 years, we still ask ourselves why the city of Orlando does not demand that the annual Caribbean Carnival that blankets the west side of downtown with colorful festivities over the Memorial Day Weekend doesn't make its way down Orange Avenue and other main streets on the east side. The growing West Indian population invests thousands of dollars and just as many hours into making flamboyant costumes and floats for the parade that make it one of the more fantastical celebrations in town. There are even natives of this town who've never heard of it, but the multiday affair is well-known on the calendar of Caribbean festivals. This is one sector of cultural tourism that smacks of racism, and we'll hold that opinion until we see Buddy Dyer in a feathered headdress leading the junkanu parade next May.

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