Like Nowhere Else
What can compare with the Sunshine State? Here are just a few items, with the help of the news digest “The Week”:
1. Edward Archbold, 32 again proves winner of an insect eating contest, consuming more cockroaches, worms and crickets than any opponent. About to celebrate his victor’s prize, a pet python, Archbold suddenly dies.
2. A wild rhesus macaque attacks an elderly woman, capping his three year crime spree through the Tampa Bay region. Neighbors were not surprised by new acts of this gangsterish simian – “If you don’t feed him, he cops an attitude.”
3. Governor Rick Scott, former head of the Hospital Corporation of America, opens a new telephone hotline for the thousands terrified they might have been injected with fungi laced steroids. The phone answers, “Hello boys,” and gives access to a phone sex “hotline.”
4. Governor Scott blasts Florida Universities for not doing enough for business, declaring academic subjects like anthropology pointless; his daughter has a degree in anthropology and is working on her MBA.
As Carl Hiaasen might have said, you can’t make these things up.
While CNBC ranks Florida 47th in economic health and 42nd in education, the state continues to lead the nation in overall kookiness. No longer is California the center of strangeness; with the move of OJ Simpson from southern California to south Florida, the zeitgeist shifted. But the migration did OJ no good; soon he was imprisoned for stealing sports memorabilia – that he signed himself.
Causes of Confusion
Why is Florida so special? The list of reasons is long, but here are some:
1. Geography – most of the state is a sandbar sticking into the Caribbean and Atlantic at one extremity of the North American landmass. Extremities attract the extreme.
2. Retirees and other immigrants – about 80% of the population was born somewhere else.
3. An economy highly based on real estate and tourism, blasted by the 2007 ongoing financial fiasco which still wreaks havoc worldwide. The home of DisneyWorld has more than passing experience with fantasy.
4. A climate set to shift quickly as global climate change picks up speed – often literally.
Making Lemonade from Lemons
Nothing stays the same. Florida has many opportunities to move from public derision to international success – as has partially occurred in Miami, unofficial economic capital of Latin America and leader in the newest financial “asset,” contemporary art:
1. Take global climate change seriously and make money doing it. Florida’s coastal cities are high on the UN list of urban spaces that will disappear beneath the waves. Climate change will probably not happen in some nice linear curve – changes may well accelerate, taking out infrastructure before it wrecks homes and offices. Florida’s universities can set up interdisciplinary centers on global climate change and look at ways urban spaces can actively change practices to adapt – especially as there won’t be a choice.
2. In a world of growing knowledge industries, education is a foundation for survival. Making kids memorize to pass uniform state tests will not improve their creative abilities; nor will hectoring humanities professors to counsel more graduates to become insurance salesmen. Primary education reform can follow best practices in places like Singapore and Finland that educate kids well and inexpensively; university education can follow the path of Texas, another “extreme” state marked by hurricanes, humidity, and giant bugs which has managed to create high tech industries and jobs. If you want to make money and have a sustainable environment, people need to be taught how to think – and respect the ability to think.
3. Stop preferring crooks for high political office. The governor is a well known “control freak” who when running HCA apparently knew how many knives were used each month in its many hospitals; yet he remained unindicted and took the Fifth Amendment 75 times while watching his company pay the biggest Federal fine in history – for Medicare fraud. Our local congressman is well known for winning his first election where 18,000 votes “disappeared” in districts where he did poorly; taking a $15 million loan from Merrill Lynch and keeping the money – with no “personal obligation” to pay it back – as he declared his company bankrupt; and running anti-illegal immigration ads while locking in illegal aliens at night to build his dream house each morning. Making crooks state and national leaders does more than create headlines – it eventually breaks down the social contract that allows communities to progress.
4. Use sunlight. We got lots. The Sunshine State should be a leader in solar power – including research to make it practicable for virtually every home and business.
Floridians have watched their economy shrivel, immigration reverse, and coastlines erode. It’s time to put the crisis to good use. Contempt for reality is a poor survival strategy. People often invent ingenious solutions when their backs are to the wall.
And things could be worse. One congressman recently declared “evolution, embryology and Big Bang theory” as representing “lies from the pit of hell.”
It could be that he does not know his immune system creates antibodies through forced evolution; without evolution and its benefits, he and the human population would end.
But Representative Broun is no Floridian; he’s from Georgia.
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