Our dumb state

It comes on like a migraine. At first it's the slowly paced temple syncopations separating dull waves of topical nausea — WFTV Channel 9 News anchor Barbara West arches her brow and squeezes out some pointed concern about millionaire Isleworth resident Bob Ward and his predilection for prison-visit singalongs dedicated to his wife's murder; the Orlando Sentinel painstakingly chronicles the made-for-television irony of courtroom access for screeching Nancy Grace as she tries to avoid the spotlight while arguing to a court that she didn't cause that Melinda Duckett suicide; Tiger Woods! — and then it slowly grows into something more malicious.

Legions of murderous pythons are cavorting in the brush, ready to eat your baby, so you should go hunt them with sticks. That same brush is dangling in the balance of a Big Sugar deal that might or might not be environmentally beneficial, but boy did it look good on paper. The same water management districts brokering said deal are selling off the water — water that could be restricted for use in watering your foreclosed-upon lawn, or host the amoeba that climbed into your kid's ear and gave him encephalitis — to bottling companies. Paging Carl Hiaasen.

Casey Anthony frowns. Shannon Burke talks. The pain rushes forward in spiraling, concentric circles until you can't even see the dwindling forest, much less the dead trees. The news dump is a landfill trickling toxins into your brain.

"I'm in Florida!" you scream, sniffing for that bit of citrus farm sweetness in the clouds of hot air.

We understand your pain. We're here, too. And barring any illicit pain medication shared by shamed local political hopefuls or Rush Limbaugh, we only know of one way to address it: point, laugh, drink. So our wildly popular, semi-regular compendium of the Sunshine State's nonsense is here once more. Take a step back with us and enjoy the latest batch of anthropological (or at least political) anomalies that have forever — and will forever — define this landscape you and I know as Our Dumb State. Put down the gun.

The Tenthers

The recent surge of dimestore populism has found fertile ground in dumb Florida, thanks in no small part to the state's dystopian take on get-off-my-land Southern pride. In the last year, teabag libertarianism — once a way to get out of your mother's basement — gained some validation in the form of Constitution-referencing websites and the legislators who develop them. State Sen. Carey Baker, R-Eustis, and his Christian sidekick, State Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood — who apparently launched FLFreedom.org to tap the anger of the state's idiot base — jointly penned the Florida Tenth Amendment Resolution, which reiterates the historically well-trod treatise, "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people." In other words, don't tread on me, Obama.

It's not news, really. The very same amendment was utilized by the Supreme Court to shoot down the Federal Civil Rights Act of 1875, to kill the White Slave Traffic Act in 1909, and to allow the interstate commerce of goods produced by kids under the age of 14 in 1918. What harm could it do now?

Well, in the case of Baker and Plakon, plenty. The dubious pair packaged their rebellion with bills meant to shut down any potential national health care plan in a state full of sick people and expand gun rights in a state full of angry people. And those are just two footholds on what could be a very slippery slope. For those of us who rely on the blur of a bigger picture when it comes to issues of the public well-being — given that the horrific Floridian education system brought up a lot of these backwoods bellyachers — this harking back to the brighter times of 1791 (when the Tenth Amendment was ratified) spells out a comical disaster in the making. Except it isn't funny, it's dumb.

Disappering Buildings

Thought you were an idiot the last time you lost your keys, or your driver's license, or your virginity? The state of Florida's got you beat.

Reports surfaced last November that, in these tough economic times, the state could probably use a little financial windfall, and with everything seemingly running itself off the rails, they could probably make some coin by selling off some of those old architectural administrative eyesores that taxpayers have been footing the bill to build over the years. Bully!

State legislators contacted their management services office, told them to come up with a list of surplus state-owned properties, and waited for the money to start pouring in. Trouble was, management services only kept track of their own 115 buildings, thank you very much, meaning that the other 18,000 or so facilities were nowhere to be found because the agencies in charge of them weren't keeping very good records. Uh-oh.

But it only gets worse. In November, realizing that this job was going to be way too much work for the 500 or so staffers in Management Services, the department itself issued an intent-to-negotiate request to find some outside contractor to do the sleuthing. That search, naturally, will be done with your tax dollars.

KKK Kops

At the bitter end of last year, Alachua County detention officer Wayne Kerschner lost his job due to a little bit of extracurricular activity with the Ku Klux Klan. Despite Kerschner's defense in internal affairs documents that the Klan is "faith-based, it is more of a religion-based organization, more of a political-based organization, that their hopes are to increase membership to further the political goals of the group, to look out for the white race," the Sheriff's office ruled that, well, the Klan is made up of terrorists, so go wear that fashionable white ensemble on your own time, of which you now have plenty.

That wasn't the end of the dispute, though. Incredibly, the Orlando Sentinel picked up on the story two weeks later, giving its bully pulpit over to Englewood resident Cole Thornton, Imperial Wizard of the United Northern and Southern Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. Thornton argued that cops and the Klan are like vanilla ice cream and whipped cream (no chocolate) in that both are delicious and white and good for you. All that discipline and dressing up and dancing around fiery crosses in a nonviolent manner only "makes them a better cop." Also, in Florida, cops have always secretly been Klansmen, in case you hadn't guessed, and our overall hate-group population is only overshadowed by those of Texas and California, which are way bigger than us.

Sex Tickets

Not all Florida cops are card-carrying members of fight clubs with hoods. Some are lecherous lotharios packing more heat than they can possibly contain.

Last month, Florida Highway Patrol trooper Wilfredo Bennett lost his job for trading his love gun for leniency. The whole soap opera found its softly lit beginning back in September 2008, when Bennett wrote a careless driving ticket in Kissimmee to Donna Michelle Herbst after a car crash. It was a rom-com chance encounter!

In the ensuing months after the investigation, the plot unraveled. Herbst revealed to the FHP last November that Bennett had given her an escape clause on their first meeting: She could make him dinner and they'd see where it went from there. Where it went was to bed about 20 times, a workload that Herbst started to get a "bad vibe" from. She ended up paying her fine of $76 — less than $5 a bang — and, after Bennett's wife contacted her through her husband's cell phone, the two disgruntled ladies confronted the man in uniform. Bennett was eventually charged with breaking his cop oath and being a manwhore, a crime that could get him 15 years in the pokey. You can fuck your way out of a ticket in Florida, but you're probably fucking yourself in the process.

Breast Milker

Sometimes lactating moms just want to go out with the gals: throw on a Bumpit, throw back a Shirley Temple and kick up their heels to the electro-hop stylings of awful Black Eyed Peas descendents LMFAO, whose "I Am Not a Whore" serves as a sort of postpartum mantra for the easily pleased.

Such was the case of Rachelle Cortez on Dec. 14, at least until she let one of her heels cross over a prohibitive yellow line while in a fit of ecstatic dancing. A mid-fist-pump Cortez was unceremoniously tossed from Club Firestone in downtown Orlando that night and thrown into an anti-romance with off-duty Orlando police officer Brandon Loverde, who, as it turns out, has Oedipal issues.

Cortez told investigators that Loverde led her to a dark parking lot behind a neighboring business, slapped on a rubber glove and confessed to her breasts that he wanted to "suck on them" before squeezing them for a squirt of baby juice. Which is fine, right? He wasn't really working in an official capacity, just moonlighting for $40 an hour like so many of our trusted OPD officers do. And who doesn't need milk?

Trouble was, Loverde hid Cortez from her inquiring entourage, until he eventually pulled her out of her parking-lot prison and disappeared into the night. That was enough to land him with charges of false imprisonment and battery. If he's found guilty, he'll be fired. Otherwise, he'll just be another gun-toting link in our perpetual crazy chain of lawless enforcement.

A Side of Pride

Not only does Central Florida boast the gut-churning honor of playing host to the "World's Biggest McDonald's" — an installation of supersized fries there at the corner of International Drive and Sand Lake Road — but now that very obesity Mecca holds the distinct honor of being a shrine to intolerance.

Poor 17-year-old, transgendered Zikerria Bellamy was partaking in that old "I guess I could flip burgers" adage symptomatic of the flagging economy last July, when, during the job application process, she refused to check the box identifying her physical gender. When called in for her interview, the manager forced the question in what she considered a threatening manner. Later the manager called and left Bellamy an unpleasant voice mail, one she immediately turned around and played for WKMG Local 6 News.

"You will not get hired. We do not hire faggots. You lied to me. You told me you was a woman," the message rattled on.

Gay rights groups were sent into an immediate Facebook uproar, and McDonald's was forced into public-relations backpedaling, nondiscrimination policy in hand. The story went global, even ending up on the BBC. The Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund filed a complaint, and in December, the manager in question was let go, presumably to find a new life at a Burger King, but not at a Dairy Queen.

Gay rights groups were sent into an immediate Facebook uproar, and McDonald's was forced into public-relations backpedaling, nondiscrimination policy in hand. The story went global, even ending up on the BBC. The Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund filed a complaint, and in December, the manager in question was let go, presumably to find a new life at a Burger King, but not at a Dairy Queen.

Death Tweets

Through the years, Florida has become well-known for the old faulty-latch-on-the-pool-gate scenario, which inevitably sends "eyewitness" choppers into hovering patterns over suburban subdivisions as families ponder the fact that small children tend to float facedown.

On Dec. 14, that trend only became more troubling when Merritt Island mother Shellie Ross — a "mommy blogger" with 5,000 followers on Twitter — was going about her maternal exhibitionism of a Monday evening. She tapped her fingers to her keyboard to let everyone know that the fog rolling in had scared her chickens back into their coop at 5:22 p.m. At 5:23 p.m., her 11-year-old son logged a 911 call reporting that his 2-year-old brother was floating in the pool. He had, reportedly, not closed the gate properly. At 6:12 p.m., Ross was right back on Twitter with a message: "Please pray like never before, my 2 yr old fell in the pool." Ross' son was pronounced dead soon after.

What followed was a brief crack in the modern-culture sphere wherein the matter of oversharing was volleyed back and forth on various message boards, and even by online pundits like Andrew Sullivan. Ross had stern words for those who questioned her parenting skills in light of the event, saying "anybody who is attacking me on Twitter is a small-minded asshole who deserves to rot in hell." She also suggested that critics were jealous of her blog and trying to drive traffic to their own sites. This alone is a sad, dumb state of affairs.

Dumber still, though — and also endemic to the viral manner in which information is distributed electronically — the initial story reported by ABC News placed Ross at a home in the nonexistent municipality of "Mirrett" Island, which was identified as part of Brevard County. Any Google search of Mirrett Island today results only in reprints or reprocessing of the original report. Dumb.

Tea Parted

It's tough going when the terms "Tea Party" and "intellectual property" end up in the same litigious blender, but leave it to Florida to bring the fraying of the political right wing to its nonsensical apex.

Much has already been made of the co-opting of the populist teabag movement by the usual GOP suspects — see this month's $550-per-ticket National Tea Party Convention in Nashville featuring Sarah Palin — and whether or not the brand can survive on its own. In Central Florida, two fairly ridiculous anti-establishment, anti-tax ubiquities — lawyer Fred O'Neal and talk radio host Doug Guetzloe — decided last summer that the Tea Party banner would be theirs come midterm election time, and registered the Tea Party of Florida moniker, despite their lack of stature among existing groups. There's been pushback.

On Jan. 19, a group of regional Tea Partiers filed a federal lawsuit in a Florida court against the Tea Party of Florida, in which they call foul on the intentions of Guetzloe and O'Neal. The groups allege that the dastardly duo has been sending out threatening e-mails attempting to force them into renouncing the Tea Party name for promotional purposes. They're also asking the court to rule that Guetzloe and O'Neal do not in fact have "intellectual property rights" to the Tea Party name, and to rule that they and their henchman, former wigged Paultard Nick Egoroff, be forbidden from utilizing "Tea Party" in their political ambitions. Catfight!

Guetzloe sent an e-mail to pol website Talking Points Memo decrying the protests, adding that "a real Tea Party Patriot would not lie, fabricate, distort, mislead and slander others that have been working on these issues for decades."

And failing miserably, we might add.

Hotline to Kidcare

As the health care imbroglio plays out on the national stage, one of Gov. Charlie Crist's signature programs, KidCare — the state-paid health benefit program for children that's been mired in bureaucratic inefficiencies since its inception in 1998 (when Crist was a state senator supporting it) — drew the wrong kind of headlines late last year.

The program currently has more than 250,000 kids on its rolls and has already been pushed to adapt to the dire children's health statistics in the state. However, the kind of pushing and prodding alluded to by a recent phone message on the program's hotline was probably not what Crist had in mind.

"Hey there, sexy guy," a woman's voice intoned. "Welcome to an exciting new way to go live, one on one, with hot, horny girls waiting right now to talk to you."

Admittedly, the sex line was not as direct a get as one might expect from the bumbling idiocy of Tallahassee; callers had to dial a number read to them erroneously by Crist himself on a recording in order to score that kind of action. Crist, who has been publicly rowing himself away from the program since his Senate battle with anti-tax party rebel Marco Rubio became contentious, apologized after the message was allowed to play for two months.

Admittedly, the sex line was not as direct a get as one might expect from the bumbling idiocy of Tallahassee; callers had to dial a number read to them erroneously by Crist himself on a recording in order to score that kind of action. Crist, who has been publicly rowing himself away from the program since his Senate battle with anti-tax party rebel Marco Rubio became contentious, apologized after the message was allowed to play for two months.

Stunned and Dumber

Alas, the end of the road for many in this dumbest of states is a cell at one of its 55 state prisons. There, behind closed doors — or bars, if you will — any number of stupid transactions between the 100,000 inmates plays out in hermetically sealed confinement until somebody blows a whistle and somebody loses their job. It's a different world on the inside, one that doesn't benefit from the scrutiny of regular observation.

Until Take Your Sons and Daughters to Work Day, that is. On April 23, 43 children — sons and daughters of employees of the state prison system ranging in age from 5 to 17 — were jolted into mental incapacity. In some cases, the kids held hands, forming a living conduit for 50,000 volts of electricity.

The kids weren't shot with Tasers, devices that pack a stronger punch, but rather with stun guns that the state hadn't even used on any of its inmates up to that point that year. It may have happened at only three of the state's institutions, but the mass stun-gunning — and tear-gassing — of dozens of minors stands as perhaps the most embarrassing of events in a state that's built on shame. Three prison guards were fired over the incident, two resigned and 16 were disciplined. Not before the kids, though. Because it was Take Your Kids to Work day, all of the children had permission to be severely punished.

"I can't imagine what these officers were thinking to administer this device to children," Department of Corrections secretary Walt McNeil told the St. Petersburg Times, "nor can I imagine why any parent would allow them to do so. This must not happen again."

But this is Florida, so it surely will.

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