Comic of the Century (Year) [Month] – OK, Fine, Just Day

I’m feeling vainglorious* about this because, well…

Fuck him. Really. Fuck Rick Scott.

*Look, maybe it doesn’t 100% apply, since this isn’t my comic. I am not being particularly vain. Self-righteous would have sufficed. Or just boastful, or gloating. The real word would be a mix of shame, vindication, zeal, patriotism, joy and underlying fear. I’ll leave it to the German language to concoct something for that because we English-speakers are as of yet unfamiliar with the full extent of those sentiments (or of any sentiments, really).


Stand Your Ground – Long form

The Tampa Bay Times has a large digital database of information on the “stand your ground” law and its application. If you prefer to read a long form example of this, you can go here.

Otherwise, there’s a couple charts and graphs that help illustrate this point here.

That Sinking Feeling

Gov. Scott has just unleashed the local voter purge leading up to the national election this fall. Among the victims – Bill Internicola:

The World War II Army veteran and lifelong Democrat was given 30 days to prove his citizenship or be stricken from the rolls. The letter he received was one of 2,600 sent to voters throughout the state in recent weeks, to keep non-citizens from participating in elections.

The partisan bickering underscores the tense political atmosphere of a presidential election year in Florida. Though, 2,600 voters doesn’t seem like a lot, the 2000 contest between George W. Bushand Al Gore was decided by 537 votes, a bit of history noted by the congressmen Tuesday and by Sen. Nelson in his letter.

And with presidential politics heating up, Florida is primed once again to be the center of attention. A Quinnipiac Poll released last week gave GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney a six point lead over President Barack Obama.

Reports elsewhere indicate among those purges for “non-citizen” issues or listed as deceased, between 5 and 15 percent in some places are actually that – dead or legitimately not legally able to vote.


What If they Didn’t…?

In Pinellas county, the high school graduation rate is somewhere less than 50 percent. Statewide, that number is comparably depressing. Less than half of students ever make it out of high school with a diploma. Florida also does not compare well nationally. For as long as I can remember, Florida has ranked in the bottom ten of the nation’s schools in terms of putting out top quality education – you know, the chart always topped by Massachusetts and bottomed by Louisiana or Mississippi. So I find myself, in response to the below quote from the Sunday column on this issue:

“We run the risk of telling kids, ‘You’ve gone to school X amount of years, and you didn’t learn anything.’ That’s a scary thought,” Hillsborough County School Board member Susan Valdes said.

What if they didn’t? Learn anything, I mean. What if the average Floridian student is not suitibly prepared for college? Or ready to enter the ever increasingly STEM-dependent workforce? I find myself concluding: they aren’t – I certainly wasn’t – and last week’s retreat from owning this failure proves the state’s students will continue to exit school utterly unprepared.

So let’s run away from owning it and adjust what “passing” means. It echoes our contemporaries at the bottom of the nation’s educational totem pole. Let’s embrace our fine Southern exemplars on the Mississippi river. Let’s eviscerate education funding and redefine success ever lower.


Florida as National Embarassment

Passing rates for the writing portion of the FCAT plummeted over the last year. Fourth grade passing rates fell from 81 percent last year to 27 percent this year. A score of 4.0 out of 6.0 is a passing grade. These results were reflected in 8th and 10th grade writing scores as well.

Governor Scott weighed in with this powerful delegation of responsibility:

The significant contrast in this year’s writing scores is an obvious indication that the Department of Education needs to review the issue and recommend an action plan so that our schools, parents, teachers and students have a clear understanding of the results.

The education comissioner fired back in kind by suggesting dropping passing standards from 4.0 to 3.5…

Under that standard, 48 percent of fourth-graders would have passed the test with a 3.5 or better, along with 52 percent of eighth-graders and 60 percent of 10th-graders

At this point, the level of despair and cynicism welled up within both parties and they pulled open that special desk drawer containing a loaded handgun, wherein they stared lovingly at the sleek gun metal and considered their ownership of cuts to state education and the immediate repercussions regarding said cuts, which coupled with lowering standards to ultimately pass only about half of students spelled out clearly that Florida failed hard at attempts to raise standards while cutting funding and paying only lip service to meaningful efforts to raise Florida out of the dregs of the educational swamp shared by the likes of Lousiana or Mississippi. Floridians know well what it means to teach to the test. It means whole sections of normal classwork are abandoned specifically to teach what it takes to pass the FCAT. If, at the end of abandoning useful, non-test specific, liberal arts, science and mathematics education in order to pass the FCAT yields only a 27 percent passing rate…

Cue shame.

Welcome to Florida.


How scoring changed

Scoring of the FCAT 2.0 Writing test was tougher this year:

• Two scorers evaluated each test, something the state had eliminated as a cost-saving measure.

• Scoring was more stringent on basics of standard English such as punctuation and grammar.

• More attention was paid to the quality of details, word choice, specificity, relevance and thoroughness. Bad: Rote memorization or overuse of techniques like rhetorical questions.

• How often a student misspelled commonly used words had more impact than if a student took a risk by misspelling a word not commonly used at his grade level. Ex: a fourth-grader who spells misspells rhinoceros.

UF – USF: How Do You Feel About a $300,000,000 Cut?

Florida’s Asshole-in-Chief does it again. And all the while claiming he’s actually a good governor on education issues.

Making ends meet in the face of a $1.2 billion budget shortfall this year, on top of an even larger, $3.7 billion shortfall from last year was not an easy task, while still finding a way to pour more than a billion additional dollars* into our schools. But we must also look over the horizon, by spending the money it takes now to make Florida one of the most attractive labor markets in the nation. We accomplish this by investing in high-quality education, raising education standards and rewarding good teachers and the quality student outcomes they consistently produce. (originally from the Orlando Sentinel)

What a fucking riot.

*After Scott had cut 1.3 billion the previous year. That’s right. You got it. He cut the budget by 1.3 billion last year and is patting himself on the back for giving 1 billion back.


Hot, Wet, Stinky, Beautiful

An unconventional modern adventure gets written up with an unconventional flourish in the Tampa Bay Times.

The stakes of a 100 day, 1,000 mile trek across Florida are pretty high (including running across I-4 and I-10 – neither of which have any way for wildlife to cross).

The expedition was six years in the making.

In 2006 Ward heard about an ambitious road-construction project proposed to run 125 miles from Lee County to Highlands County — directly through some of Central Florida’s last undeveloped private and public lands, smack in the middle of the state’s most important bear and panther wildlife corridor.


A National Crisis of Cynicism

A shared sense of constitutional justice, a confederacy of national ideals, a basic semblance of right and wrong: these values bind a people together. A nation that does not confront wrong doers or openly suppresses or conflicts with the punishment of wrong doers is no nation at all.

On November 10, 2011, more than 1,000 students at Pennsylvania State University took to the streets to protest the firing of Joe Paterno, coach of the university’s football team. Police donned riot gear, a few violent protestors flipped a van, many just expressed outrage that their beloved coach, nicknamed JoePa, had been fired.

The university’s board fired Paterno because an assistant coach on the football team, Jerry Sandusky, had sexually abused eight to ten young boys. Abuse, in this case, means activity ranging from fondling, sleepovers, oral sex – both received and given – and in one shocking event, the anal rape of a 9 or 10 year old boy in the university’s gym showers. The last event occurred in 2002 and was witnessed by a graduate assistant working on the school’s football team. The graduate assistant went first to his father, then to Joe Paterno on his father’s advice. Paterno did nothing when told by his graduate assistant and the abuse continued. This type of corralling of information, keeping scandal within the institution of football, eerily matches the epidemic of child rape and molestation within the Catholic Church over the last few decades. The story goes: abused families report to bishops who pass the information up the Church’s hierarchical ladder and then the child-raping priest leaves the offending parish and shows up in another part of the country – still spreading God’s word to good little boys and girls.

Apparently, at no point did Paterno’s condoning of rape between 2002 and 2011 sway the minds of protesting students on November 10th at Penn State. They had all the facts just like the rest of the country. Maybe the most fascinating depiction of this powerful dissonance comes through in the feature done in the middle of the scandal for This American Life.  Could these students both feel compassion for the victims and also protest Paterno’s ouster? Can someone detest the rape of little boys – many who turn to drugs (heroine, alcohol, pharmaceuticals) or suicide – but then also want to keep the coach who, when told about the sexual abuse, did nothing? Identically, Catholic parishioners seem equally unfazed by the way the Church has routed abused priests around and paid massive cash settlements in lieu of bringing down secular justice. A compassionate person might expect the exact same type of flipping vans in the streets protest against the inaction in the Catholic Church and against the institutionalized secrecy surrounding Jerry Sandusky’s string of molestations and rapes. The relative silence on both these issues indicates that presumably liberal American college students on the one hand and the presumably conservative Catholic flock on the other will both stomach the most heinous of abuses in order to enjoy the peace of mind given by the camaraderie of a shared university football team or, on the other hand, to enjoy the moral parables of a centuries old clan.[1] Thomas Paine – author of Common Sense[2] – has the best line on  the logical conclusion of this type of dissonant thought:

“When a man has so far corrupted and prostituted the chastity of his mind, as to subscribe his professional belief to the things he does not believe, he has prepared himself for the commission of every other crime.”

Three months after the firing of Joe Paterno in Pennsylvania, another dissonance-spawning issue occurred outside of Orlando. The shooting of Trayvon Martin and subsequent outrage is more recent, so requires no summary. In the week of my writing this, George Zimmerman was charged by the state of Florida with second degree murder.[3] Second degree murder is basically a spontaneous non-planned murder or, read very closely here, murder based on the killer’s “obvious lack of concern for human life.” The instant Zimmerman was taken into custody the bubble of painful racial tensions burst. Why is that? Most Americans must trust the justice of the courts in a reasonable way or are at least satisfied that something, anything, happened in response.[4] A secondary bout of outrage[5] exploded concerning this case because apparently Florida – and a majority of states – had passed laws making it legal for Zimmerman, or anyone in more than half the states with similar laws, to kill someone, then claim self defense and somehow gain immunity from being arrested. According to Florida’s version of the law, if the Sanford Police Department had arrested Zimmerman, they would have infringed on his right to self defense as defined by stand your ground.  This double play caused some understandable anger and mixed with the death of a presumed innocent ripped a scab off of lingering race issues in a gun state with a bad rap sheet already for dealing with race.

Since the passage of stand your ground in Florida, rates of justifiable homicide have gone up a staggering amount. A story published by the Tampa Bay Times before the Martin-Zimmerman incident regaled a cow-eyed Floridian readership on the statistics. It sparked no outrage or protest, despite stories about homeowners chasing down burglars and stabbing them to death in the streets and other similar cases of what can only be called Wild West justice. Perhaps the line “obvious lack of concern for human life” applies – or do we execute for thievery in Florida?

The most troubling aspect of this case was the delay of justice. Martin was shot on February 26, 2012 and Zimmerman was charged on April 11, 2012. After 46 days, Zimmerman was charged with second degree murder. Do not underestimate the fear and doubt of this span of time. Delaying justice makes the populace think that without protests the government will not act. With the other events of heel-dragging, the American public is practically primed for the protest response. From partisan congressional inaction during an economic crisis to all of the condoned evil fleshed out here, the American people can hardly escape a protest response towards overlooked evils.

“Justice delayed is justice denied. “[6]

This is the same sense of detachment towards justice that Americans have felt about the financial collapse. A few corrupt and exceedingly greedy individuals managed to tank the nation’s economy. Someone clearly broke the law. Nobody has gone to jail for their involvement in the fiscal crisis despite well-reported cases of fraud. Regularly, politicians come out and opportunistically promise to bring anyone responsible for the collapse to justice, if and specifically if, they find anyone who broke the law. This always seems tongue-in-cheek: where both the listener and the speaker recognize the bullshit inherent in the promise.  And despite what Governor Rick Scott or State Attorney Angela Corey said when they had their press event to charge George Zimmerman with second degree murder, the bewildered public feels that without all the protests nothing would have happened. Ultimately, the Occupy movement of last year had the exact same intentions towards the crimes of the fiscal collapse, but did not achieve a similar press event with charges against sociopathic, self-destructive bankers and traders.

How do you address these feelings of detachment and abandonment? That’s more complicated. These emotions and their politicization – think: Tea Party, Occupy Wall Street – undermine the rightful anger they cause. They make the American public feel disassociated or even like enemies. The Trayvon Martin case and the Wall Street financial torpedoing have caused a powerful disassociation between crime and response.  Our right for a redress of grievances seems comically undervalued by those with the power to act and prosecute. Our lizard-brain’s belligerent call for justice against Wall Street, child rapists, and criminals of all kinds must seem laughable. For example, imagine, the Trayvon Martin case had just stayed another 150-word Public Safety story in your web browser or in your newspaper.  No one took to the streets. Just some kid dead outside Orlando. Can you honestly believe the police would have ever acted?

The missteps of justice in the past have worked themselves into the minds of today’s adult Americans. People like, maybe, George Zimmerman, who felt the need to go on armed patrol in his neighborhood. The government certainly cannot or will not protect the average American from pederast priests, financial criminals and all those in power who could have done something but chose not to. One can almost understand why anyone feels the need to carry a concealed weapon or participate in a neighborhood watch group.

These problems of dissonance and the despondency in the American citizen is creating a crisis of cynicism, a critical mass for a great national detachment. The government will not protect you, and to some, is out to get you. Those you disagree with are not only wrong, but evil. Their political embodiments are the very form of the evil-doers of the past: Nazis, Stalinists, Communists, Fascists, bunkered nutcases or anarchic revolutionaries. Justice is not guaranteed for someone who wrongs you. The principles of your religion or lack of religion are being threatened by the other side. All of this conjures up a sense of cosmic crisis, and your lack of ability to do a damn thing about it… well, it makes you powerless. It explains why, for example, presumably liberal students in Pennsylvania will shrug off child rape so they can enjoy football, or how some can shrug off the death of a teenager because, no matter what, Zimmerman can never show his face in public again, or even how the American voter can be so understandably Civil War-ish across the political divide.

When you take away a shared sense of fairness, everyone is a possible enemy or at best, your critical faculties for discerning real threats evaporates. And you certainly cannot rely on the justice system to determine who is wrong or evil, much less actually punish in a meaningful way. Unless there’s a reliable sense of justice and the average American can enjoy a dissonance-free experience of discourse, the more fear-motivated among us will continue to silently arm themselves and patrol the streets and we, the fearful patrolman and the silently angry alike, both know that the chance that the Big Evils – the child rapists, the financial criminals, and so on – will continue to walk the streets.

[1] Of whom, we can only assume, the moral values imposed either fall on deaf ears  or perhaps these teachings actually also condone the rape of children?

[2] Which, strangely, Glenn Beck appropriated the title for his own excoriation of modern “big government”. Strangely because Paine was 1) an actual patriot and 2) had admonished revealed religion in the book from which the noted quote comes.

[3] When I googled this to get a definition, the entire first page was dedicated exclusively to second degree murder in the context of the charges against Zimmerman, what the possible penalty is, what it takes to prove it, etcetera.

[4] Sure, make a cynical sneer, it just proves my overall point.

[5] Maybe the level of attention that televised news can offer to break down contentious issues casts the above understandable controversy in an unfair way. Basically viewers are expected to believe only one of the following is possible 1) a liberal thinks: Zimmerman was a possible racist who was lying about a struggle with the teen and had profiled the young boy – of whom much younger images than current were immediately proffered to the media in favor over more recent photos depicting a grim-looking Martin in football pads and all black jersey – because he was black and wearing a hoodie, or 2)  a conservative thinks: that Zimmerman had just defended himself, he was telling the truth about the struggle, and hey anyhow that black kid was only even in Zimmerman’s neighborhood because he was serving a suspension for having marijuana residue (not actually any smokable stuff, though) in his backpack at school in his hometown of Miami Gardens.

To be sure, not many Americans felt either of those things in such a starkly offensive way. However, some did, namely the very vocal NRA and, on the other side, incendiaries like Al Sharpton – who I have to say wasn’t as critical as he could have been. Both sides were unreasonable because again, on the liberal side, we can’t crucify Zimmerman as a racist or nutcase without evidence and on the conservative side, the NRA thinks the stand your ground law shouldn’t change at all and Zimmerman was completely inside his rights as a gun possessing American and hey, we aren’t even too happy he was charged at all so here’s some money for his defense. These stereotypical liberal/conservative arguments offend equally and come nowhere near a complete view of the scope of the issue. What they have in common is loudness and offensiveness and the appeal of only a very few Americans.

[6] Again, when I googled this, the second, fourth, sixth, seventh and tenth hits were all related to Trayvon Martin. I’d like to also point out this principle is enshrined in our Constitution as the right to a speedy trial, which does not mean the right for suspects to be arrested quickly – though the zeitgeist certainly felt that way about it.

Skin, Oil, Deepwater Horizon – Not a Good Mix

The damning pictures from this article indicate the potential horrors of going to the beach in Florida. Not sharks, not fish, but oil. The long lasting effects of the use of chemical dispersant presents another problem. Sure, not seeing surface oil helps, but it doesn’t mean the problem’s gone.


The Blight Continues: Politicization

On March 24 (quote below) I wildly speculated that the next step in the grieving process would be that the conservatives who put in place the “stand your ground” law would start to distance themselves from cases like George Zimmerman. They’d say it can’t apply to him. That the NRA-types who passed this law would fear for their political existence because of the overwhelming public outrage here. It took little longer than a week to prove that cynical assertion right.

What does it mean that the Governor opposed the “stand your ground” law being applied to this case? It means that the conservatives who put in place the “stand your ground” law are terrified. It means if that law is successfully used to defend Zimmerman, if the “stand your ground” law works here, these NRA conservatives and the governor will eat crow all the way to the ballot box.

This Sunday’s TBT outlined a few instances where these NRA-types are furiously backpedaling in vain. Where it’s perfectly clear in situations ever more outrageous than Trayvon Martin’s that you can arm yourself, chase someone down, confront them, provoke a fight and shoot them dead and get off scot-free.


Durell Peaden, the former Republican senator from Crestview who sponsored the bill: “The guy lost his defense right then. When he said, ‘I’m following him,’ he lost his defense.”

Jeb Bush, the governor who signed the bill into law: “Stand your ground means stand your ground. It doesn’t mean chase after somebody who’s turned their back.”

But, the TBT argues, the politicians responsible for Florida’s “stand your ground” law are wrong:

Since its passage in 2005, the “stand your ground” law has protected people who have pursued another, initiated a confrontation and then used deadly force to defend themselves.

I encourage you to  read the full piece over at the Tampa Bay Times for each case disproving these opportunistic politicians.


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