With all of the recent coverage of discolored water on Hawaii's coast portending the tsunami to end all tsunamis (or, basically, the tide going out), it's easy to forget about the big aquatic suck going on right in our backyard. Not so for local name-giggle Dick Batchelor, the former chair of the Florida Environmental Regulation Commission and state representative who now spends his time as a "consultant" saying angry things to anybody who will listen. Which we will.

Late last year, Batchelor fired off a missive to Gov. Charlie Crist with regards to the passage of Senate Bill 2080 into law last summer, complete with an amendment that would basically disallow any public input into the sneaky art of issuing water consumption permits in general, and specifically the granting of access to Niagra Bottling Company for 500,000 gallons of the clear stuff daily from the Floridan Aquifer. "This is a classic case of bureaucracy making decisions under the shadow of darkness," Batchelor complained, while just putting out there the idea that he might even sue somebody.

That hasn't happened yet, but neither have Batchelor's ruffled feathers been smoothed over. Last week, he popped up again via an appearance at a League of Women Voters luncheon and sundry communiqués received by this very paper. His message: this is all so much more fucked up than anybody realizes.

"It's unconscionable that [the St. Johns River Water Management District], which is taxpayer funded, insults the public by collecting their tax dollars, spending millions of those tax dollars on paid advertising telling the same taxpayers not use water, and then turns around and gives that same water away to a bottling company who will then bottle the water and sell it back to the same taxpayers," he wrote in a circuitous frenzy. 

Worse still, Groveland continues to get royally screwed by cascades of Niagara litigation. Not only are they stuck with the expenditure of $700,000 in legal fees to fight their case against the water giant – a case that had its goalposts practically removed when the new law went into effect – but now Niagara has filed a $4 million claim against Groveland. Surely Dick Batchelor will have nothing to say about that.

"It's incredulous that a private water bottling company, which just received a permit to withdraw billions of gallons of fresh water out of the Florida aquifer, would turn around and sue the city of Groveland for $4 million," he electronically typed until his fingers bled. "This makes Niagara Bottling Company look like a Wall Street bandit." Bandits, I tell ya!

He may be missing a jaw;these days, but the world's best-known film critic, Roger Ebert, has ways of talking, robotically or otherwise. And on March 3, the day after his talked-about, tear-inducing appearance on the Oprah Winfrey Show, Ebert's mind was (at least briefly) on Orlando Weekly online film columnist Steve Schneider. 

The former OW film editor had some choice words about the program (see "First Shot: Ebert's balcony scene," March 2, in our Culture 2 Go blog), specifically Oprah's shameless need to turn Ebert's cancer battle and successive surgeries that left him deformed and unable to talk, eat or drink into a Hallmark-worthy narrative for the whole 10 minutes she afforded the legend. (There were interviews with Morgan Freeman and Colin Firth to get to, after all.)

Ebert (trivia bite: the Weekly published his syndicated reviews in the paper's infancy) read Schneider's critique and responded on Twitter: "He's right and he's wrong, I agree and I don't, and he's smart and thinks for himself." Here, here!  

Not to be one-upped, Weekly freelance film reviewer William Goss passed along his close encounter with the (barely) surviving half of Siskel and Ebert. Way back in May 2009, Goss lit into an inane article in SmartMoney magazine about the state of film criticism. At Cinematical.com, Ebert praised Goss' dissection, deeming it "sane and worth saying." 

Feeling left out, current Weekly film editor Justin Strout quickly pointed out that his mother once proclaimed his work "adequate."

This  week  in  the  gay:  We're


On Mar. 3, eQuality Giving – a loose fundraising entity of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer interests – issued its annual ranking of states and the District of Columbia by just how nice they are to the gays. Florida, the tortured closet case of inbreeding that it is, ranked near the bottom … ahem …  at 47. How did we get there? The methodology behind the gay group's ranking system involves six points awarded for six "equality goals": hate crimes, non-discrimination, gay marriage, freedom to choose your own gender, bullying statutes for the kids and gay adoption.

Considering those cheerful categories, Florida can only claim a paltry 1.5 points – from what we can tell that comes from the fact that sexual orientation is covered under our state hate-crimes law (not transgender folks) and only slightly supports chosen gender identity on official documents (meaning you have to amend your birth certificate). On everything else, we lose. Whatever. Suck it Idaho, Mississippi, Ohio and Tennessee!

In related news, 2010 looks to be another year of gay disappointment in the state legislature. First, the Competitive Workforce Act, which was intended to address GLBTQ discrimination in the workplace, is falling flat in both the house in senate. Firebrand state Rep. Kelly Skidmore, D-Boca Raton, was unable to even get the house version heard this year, while hottie state Sen. Dan Gelber, D-Boca Raton, has had his senate component thrown to the wolves of a hostile Republican committee. A complementary bill, the Access to Opportunity Act, received similar frowns from the stuffed shirts – including fear from the Chamber of Commerce that any such equality legislation would open their business constituents to lawsuits – and has effectively died. Sorry, gays. Maybe next year?

The biggest building in Orlando may fall on televangelist Pat Robertson, now that a federal judge has yanked away his last shield.

Atlanta-based SunTrust Bank's 35-story local citadel in downtown is a visible sign of its extensive presence in Central Florida, though Robertson's oily smile may loom even larger for the devoutly gullible. Some of those widow's mites – up to $7.5 million – may wind up in SunTrust's coffers when the U.S. District Court in Norfolk, Va., gets it all worked out.

That's the venue in which SunTrust is accusing oil company Cenco Inc. of breach of contract; the company owes SunTrust money for the purchase of an oil refinery and terminal in California, according to the Virginian-Pilot newspaper. The current amount has more than doubled from the original claim.

So where are Robertson's fingerprints on all this? Well, he signed for a letter of credit for the oil company, making him personally obligated for its defaults.

But why would such an unworldly saint dabble in petro-dealings? Pat, it seems, is the trustee for Robertson Charitable Remainder Unitrust, which in turn is sole shareholder of Cenco. In short, he controls it. That's why the judge allowed the bank to add Robertson as a defendant.

Don't worry, though, ol' Pat won't be destitute if the judgment goes against him (although your 700 Club-addicted grandmother may be): The whole amount sought is only about 1 percent of his various nonprofit enterprises' annual take. For that matter, it's only 7.5 percent of what the Orlando SunTrust tower cost to build.

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