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5/29/2008

Politics > Cover Story

OUR DUMB STATE III: STILL STUPID
Another edition of our semi-regular compendium of Florida dillholery.
Illustrations by Shan Stumpf

 

Here we are again. The earth has orbited the sun. The continents have drifted farther apart. The seasons came and went, as they do. Que sera, sera.

But through it all, one ironclad reality remained: Our state is stuck on stupid. We continue to be the country’s laughingstock, a place where the forces of dumb converge in a supernatural manner, finding new and ever more embarrassing ways to proclaim to the world that Floridians are not smart.

We’ve said it before: When something so idiotic as to be almost inconceivable happens, chances are it happened here.

So welcome to another edition of Our Dumb State, a quick rundown of the stupid spawned here since our last volume in August 2007. Don’t count on it getting better anytime soon.

THE MBI VERSUS US

In October, the Metropolitan Bureau of Investigation – Orlando’s morality police – arrested three Orlando Weekly employees for selling escort ads, charged the paper with racketeering and told the media that the Weekly is a pimping service on dead trees.

Never mind that this prosecution was the first of its kind in the entire nation, or that the MBI opened the investigation two months after we published an exposé about one of the agency’s strip club investigations, or that the MBI’s director himself, Bill Lutz, couldn’t quite figure out what law we allegedly broke.

Like most other investigations undertaken by the Keystone Cops, it didn’t go as planned. In February, shortly after attorneys for the paper filed a motion to dismiss the case, the MBI agreed to drop all the charges against the newspaper, as well as those against the employees. In return, the paper paid court costs and the employees performed community service.

In most states, police have better things to do than launch a two-year investigation of a newspaper for selling classified ads. But this is Florida.

JUST A THEORY

Elsewhere in civilization – Kansas excepted – public-school students have been learning about Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution for decades, because there’s an overwhelming body of evidence to support it and virtually every reputable scientist agrees it’s the best means we have to explain the astonishing variety of life on Earth.

Unfortunately, science sometimes runs counter to churchin’, and this is Florida. When the Florida Board of Education added the word “evolution” to state science curriculum standards, theocrats and the pols who pander to them pounced. There were cries that Darwin’s theories led to Nazism and a demand that the state give “equal time” to intelligent design, a “theory” that can be summarized as follows: “Biological life is really complex, so God must have done it.”

At a February public hearing on the change in Orlando, the fundies were out in full force. Evolution, they proclaimed, was “unprovable and Godless,” and in the words of a self-identified former assistant principal, “I’m a Christian who believes that God created the world in seven days and that there are many examples. There are many proven facts in the Bible.”

Fortunately, and surprisingly, rationality won out. In a 4-3 vote, the Florida Board of Education approved the new science standards. But they had to make a concession: The board agreed that any mention of evolution will be preceded by the descriptor, “the scientific theory of.” Just to make sure that the kids won’t take it too seriously.

BEWARE THE WIZARD

Speaking of fun in the public schools, in early May, the Pasco County school system fired a substitute teacher accused of “wizardry.”

According to www.tampabays10.com, teacher Jim Piculas performed a magic trick in which he made a toothpick disappear for 30 seconds. Shortly thereafter, he was called to a meeting with the school board’s supervisor of substitute teachers and told, “You’ve been accused of wizardry.”

School officials defended themselves by saying that Piculas wasn’t only fired for wizardry – there were other issues at play. Still, if any part of your explanation for sacking an employee includes the word “wizardry,” odds are you live in Florida.

BULL NUTS AND
LICENSE PLATES

The Florida Legislature is almost always a cornucopia of stupid, and this year was no different. The state Senate, for instance, decided to wage war on plastic bull testicles. To be more specific, Truck Nutz, the fake balls that rednecks put on the trailer hitches of their pickup trucks in an effort to seduce their cousins.

Turns out one such redneck is Sen. Jim King, a Jacksonville Republican who copped to having his own pair of Truck Nutz. He called them “an expression of truckliness.”

The Florida House of Representatives -– hardly the model of erudite law-making – declined to take up the ban, which means you can still drive around with a big ol’ ballsack on your truck iffin’ you wanna.

But wait, there’s more from Tallahassee. In April, State Rep. Ed Bullard, a Miami Democrat, proposed a law creating a Jesus license plate, which would have the image of a cross and the words “I Believe” on it. The money from said plate would be diverted to a Christian group right here in Orlando.

The problem? The Florida Constitution bans giving state money to religious groups. Plus the state already has more specialty plate designs than sense, facts that may have prevented the proposal from gaining traction.

BUM FIGHT

The State Legislature doesn’t have a monopoly on moronic ideas; Orlando’s city government has produced a few prize examples of its own.

Exhibit A: In March, city attorney Mayanne Downs sent a letter to the Florida Commission on Human Relations, announcing that the city had rescinded its decades-old policy forbidding social-service agencies from locating in Parramore and existing ones from expanding, even though many of them desperately need to do just that.

But before anyone noticed, the city changed its mind. For no reason in particular, the policy that, just days earlier, the city acknowledged to violate state and federal Fair Housing Acts was now perfectly kosher, because the city said so. Now we’re back to the status quo.

Which is great, because for the last decade this policy has helped Parramore see unprecedented economic revitalization … oh, right. Never mind.

Exhibit B: As further proof that the city would like to pretend that we’re a Disney World annex rather than a real city with real homeless problems, consider the city’s law banning charity groups from feeding homeless people in public parks.

Fortunately for the less fortunate, the city’s meanness has been tempered by its incompetence. Last year, the city arrested Eric Montanez for feeding 30 homeless people, rather than the 25 the law allows. After the city spent thousands of your tax dollars – first paying cops to count how many homeless people Montanez fed, then paying lawyers to take this to trial – in October a jury laughed the city out of court.

A federal judge is none too thrilled with the city either. At a March 26 pretrial hearing on a lawsuit challenging the anti-feeding law’s constitutionality, U.S. District Court judge Gregory Presnell hammered Orlando. “You’re not solving the problem, you’re just moving it around, and perhaps making it worse,” he said.

The trial is set for June 23.

RAIL? NO THANKS

Answer: Salt Lake City. Charlotte, N.C. San Diego. Miami. Houston. Portland, Ore. Dallas. Denver. Cleveland. Minneapolis. St. Louis. Sacramento, Calif. Pittsburgh. Jersey City, N.J.

Question: Which U.S. cities are smarter than us?

Gas is approaching $4 a gallon. Elsewhere, this has driven commuters to mass transit. Cities with rail lines have watched ridership skyrocket. As the New York Times explained, “Some cities with long-established public transit systems, like New York and Boston, have seen increases in ridership of 5 percent or more so far this year. But the biggest surges – of 10 to 15 percent or more over last year – are occurring in many metropolitan areas in the South and West where the driving culture is strongest and bus and rail lines are more limited.”

Here, no such luck. A decade ago, we easily could have built a light rail system. Congress promised us half the money, more than $300 million. The state was ready to kick in more. Orlando’s share of the startup costs would have been $71 million; Orange County’s, just $56.4 million.

Had our leaders been able to do their jobs back then, we’d have light rail now. (For comparison, remember we’re paying $400 million for a new basketball arena that will primarily benefit a billionaire and $175 million to refurbish a football stadium that barely gets used.)

Instead, we got bogged down in parochial disputes and intergovernmental pissing matches. Since then, nothing’s changed. Mass transit is still the stepchild to the locally preferred option to move people around: building roads as far and fast as possible. Our bus system, LYNX, is a last-ditch option for the carless.

This year Central Florida had another chance to move in the right direction, and we blew that too. The commuter rail line set to run between Volusia and Osceola counties wasn’t a cure-all, but it was a start. It had a $300 million federal commitment. And our leaders couldn’t get it done, largely because the project’s backers didn’t notice the trouble brewing from the alliance of trial lawyers and Polk County lawmakers in the Florida Legislature. Have fun on I-4.

HELP US, BIG LOU

Orlando has had its share of bad music (Creed, anyone?). But there’s bad and then there’s embarrassing, a jump that Orlando’s own Biteboy made in May by telling WESH-TV Channel 2, which for some reason cared enough to air the story, that it was seeking boy-band magnate/con man Lou Pearlman’s help. And apparently, Pearlman is interested. (He does, after all, have 25 years to kill.) Pearlman hasn’t yet heard Biteboy, but the band wants to play for him in prison.

THE JESUS POTATO

In more sophisticated parts of the world, seeing Jesus in a potato gets you laughed at. In Central Florida, it gets you on TV.

Here’s an excerpt from the Jan. 21 broadcast Fox 35 produced on the Marion County spud. It really can’t be improved on, so we’ll just be quiet:

Pastor Renee Brewster and her husband Bishop Winston Brewster are a very spiritual couple. But the sight of their savior in a potato has reinvigorated their faith and their desire to help others.

That’s Jesus on the cross. Just looking at it I don’t have to convince,” said Renee.

Renee says she had been looking for an excuse to get out of making potato salad. “I was hesitant about making the potato salad because Sister Frankie makes the potato salad at church and I said, ‘Lord, if it’s not for me to make potato salad then send me a sign.’”

She thought she got her sign right off the bat. “The first potato I split in half and put it to the side because it looked rotten.”

It was her 10-year-old granddaughter who made her give the potato a second look. “My granddaughter said, ‘Granny did you see that in the middle?’ I said, ‘What?’”

And taking a closer look she saw the cross with Jesus in the middle. “It’s remarkable. Even when I cut the good part off, the cross ended up being shaped like a tomb from long ago.”

WHATEVER YOU SAY

Still not convinced that Florida in general, and Orlando in particular, has a paucity of brain cells? Then we recommend you spend some time on the Orlando Sentinel’s message boards. They are a remarkable repository of reasoned discussion and debate.

Psych.

The boards, anonymous as they are, give an insightful glance at how your colleagues and neighbors view the world – a glance that’ll make you want to lock your doors.

In April, the Sentinel published a story about a fight involving black teenagers that broke out at Wet ’n Wild. Here are some representative comments on the story, in all their unedited glory:

This is why abortion should be free and encouraged in the black community.”

Here’s the key to keeping the peace in theme parks. DON’T LET THE BLACK THUGS IN. THIS S++T ALWAYS HAPPENS WHEN THEY ARE GIVEN A CHANCE TO ACT LIKE DECENT PEOPLE. THEY F++K IT UP!”

Stupid police. Don’t you know that chemicals won’t work on baboons, and only make them madder?

And here are some comments on a story in the Sentinel about an AM radio station changing its format from sports to Latin music:

I am so tried of Businesses and other coorporations enabling these Hispanics! Assimulate!!!! I am really upset that three channels in Orlando have switched from Good old American English, music and sports radio to Mexican and salsa music. It’s crap!!! I’m tired of getting stared down by some latin punk at stop lights. I am getting tired of latin guys sticking spanish newspapers in my car at the intersections of roads. I am getting tired of latins talking at the top of their voices so everyone can here. I am getting tired of latins parking their cars in their lawns.”

I, too, rue the [ass]kissing that the media is doing for those Hispanics unwilling to learn English.”

Latin people do act like Circus [expletive] and are a loud and abnoxious boring bunch.”

GOD VERSUS CRACKHEADS

In October, the Orlando Police Department announced “Operation Armor All,” which despite the name was not a plan to shine patrol-car dashboards. Rather, for 40 days people prayed for an hour a day, in hopes the Almighty would respond by smiting bad guys in Parramore, or at least making them stop being so darn bad.

This initiative brought up some obvious questions: On day No. 41, did the protection stop? What about other crime-ridden areas of our fair city? If crime rates in Parramore didn’t drop – or worse, went up – did that mean God doesn’t like us?

In February, OPD announced that Operation Armor All was so successful – according to them, and they didn’t produce any stats – that they were doing it again.

OLD PEOPLE BLOW

There’s more to the retirement haven known as the Villages than wrinkly, Viagra-fueled sex. The Villages is also home to an attempt to assemble the world’s largest kazoo band.

In what passes for a geriatric good time, residents tried to set the world record Dec. 16. Exactly 2,318 people with nothing better to do on a Sunday afternoon gathered on the community’s polo field for a five-minute, assuredly awful rendition of “Jingle Bells.” (Presumably, they then rushed back to their condos and hooked themselves up to their oxygen tanks.)

Unfortunately, the effort wasn’t enough. They fell 361 kazooists short. Maybe they’ll try again next year – and in doing so, once again remind the entire world how dumb this state is.

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