Happytown 

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Nothing warms our hearts quite like an outdated political scandal involving queer speculation and bribery; it's the same sort of joy we experience when you get your chocolate in our peanut butter while we're upside down in a time machine, and it gives us the perfect opportunity to mock both the political shame system and refer to ourselves as peanut butter cups.

Anyway, on May 16, the Tampa Bay Times came out with a shocking report – well, not shocking; that part comes later – on some of the ins and outs of the Republican Party of Florida spend-a-thon scandal involving the fiscal romance between former party chair Jim Greer and former Florida Governor Charlie Crist. Now, these kinds of divorces are always ugly because that ottoman is mine, but this one is kind of scary. There were voicemails involved!

“Listen, I just wanted to call and tell you something as a man, not like these other people that have put knives in your back and never had the courtesy to call you directly or talk to you,” Greer's June 2011 voicemail message to Crist began. Uh-oh. “I'm sure you know our friendship has ended, is over, and I'm just very saddened by that,” Greer continued. “But I wanted you to know personally from me, that in the future there's probably going to be things coming out that are going to be hurtful to both you and Carole (Crist's wife). But I'll be honest with you, I don't care anymore because I did everything that I ever could for you.”

Before we get too far into what must have been a whiskey-fueled fumbling with an aberrant iPhone in a gay dive bar, it's worth remembering that this all came one year after Greer was indicted for fraud and money laundering via a shell company that funded the state's GOP. Most of the details in this scandal have been covered to death – the parties, credit cards, boats, hookers, blow – but this latest revelation via voicemail has a slightly intriguing ring to it. Crist, as one might expect, has already submitted the voicemails to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and is crying “extortion” at the top of his white-haired, television-attorney-spokesman lungs. What sort of “things” might be “coming out” to hurt Crist and his fancy wife of convenience that did not hurt him during his coveted U.S. Senate bid in 2010?

Back in 2006, when Crist was running for governor, the rumor mill was abuzz about the slight, chrome-domed confirmed (at the time) bachelor who required the wind of a fan for public appearances, and was even fueled by a competitor named Max Linn. He told Happytown™, “He knows that I know he's gay because it's been discussed.” That wasn't quite evidence enough for us, so we scanned Crist's torso with our in-house gaydar machine, the B-MANES 3000, and concluded that it was a possibility. Then he went and got married and all bets were off.

Well, this latest revelation prompted the hilarious political raconteurs at the Wonkette blog to resurrect the old gay rumor with the headline, “How gay is Charlie Crist's extortion scandal, on a scale from one to very gay?” on May 17, sending us into our peanut butter and chocolate wayback machine. The blog's conclusion isn't that conclusive – rather the opposite – but it is kind of funny: “Anyway, though, maybe Charlie Crist isn't gay, because his political career is over and nobody cares about an ambulance-chasing lawyer's sexual orientation.” Ouch!

Speaking of dumb things, when state Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson was recently asked what he learned after student scores on FCAT writing tests plunged to disastrously low levels at schools across the state, his public response was funny, but not in a laughable sort of way: “That communication matters,” the Miami Herald quoted him as saying right after the news broke.

Indeed. The state acknowledged that it had changed the game on teachers and students swiftly and with little clear direction. This year's tests were scored more strictly, each test had not one but two people evaluating it, and punctuation, word choice and relevance were more carefully considered in the scoring. Because, yes, communication matters.

But what does it say about the administration of our educational programs when those who run them – and those who create the standards to which students are held – can't even exercise basic communication skills themselves? Obviously, the state and school districts failed to communicate with one another about this year's exams. What are the rules? Who's grading? What constitutes a passing grade?

The state quickly moved to adjust the scoring on the tests, after less than 30 percent of all fourth-graders in Florida failed to earn a passing score. Last year, more than 80 percent of the kids who took the test passed it.

That move led the Central Florida Public School Boards Coalition to issue a stern letter on May 15 to the Florida Department of Education that basically involved addressing the root cause and not so much the symptoms of failure – you know, like professionals do.

“This type of solution would not be appropriate considering the broad impact these scores have on associated school functions and the critical risk of losing confidence in the validity and reliability of Florida's accountability system,” the letter reads. In other words, we don't need another freaking Band-Aid.

Do the dismal new writing scores mean the students are doing worse in school or that teachers were not as proficient at teaching the material? Or does it mean that the exam-obsessed regulators who changed the rules on everyone without being clear about their expectations are the ones who should be receiving the failing grades this year?

One thing is for sure: If the people making and scoring the rules of communication can't be bothered to communicate clearly themselves, nobody passes the test.

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