If you're on city property and your pants hang more than 2" below your "natural waistline," you face a $500 fine, and for repeat offenders, jail.
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An unsigned editorial in the Pensacola News Journal decries the decision of a local high-school teacher to cancel the school's One School/One Book summer reading program to stop students from reading my novel Little Brother. They point out that the principal violated school procedures when he took it upon himself to unilaterally cancel the assignment, and that this is both inappropriate as an educational matter and from the perspective of free speech and free inquiry. It's a great editorial, and it rightly emphasizes the bravery of English department head Mary Kate Griffith, who has fought valiantly over this issue.
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Last week's news that the principal of Pensacola, FL's Booker T Washington High School had cancelled its One School/One Book summer reading program rather than have his students read my novel Little Brother has alarmed several national anti-censorship organizations, led by the National Coalition Against Censorship. Their open letter to the principal of BTWHS, signed by the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, the National Council of Teachers of English, the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, the American Booksellers Federation for Free Expression, the Association of American Publishers, and PEN American Center, discusses the legal and moral duty of educators to put challenging material in front of their students.
I'm immensely grateful to these organizations and especially the NCAC for their support, and I really hope that the principal reconsiders his decision and that I can have a chance to discuss the admittedly challenging themes and scenes in Little Brother with his students in the fall.
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US Marshals swept into the offices of police in Sarasota, Florida to whisk away records related to operation of "stingray" surveillance tools that the ACLU had requested. The records detailed the farcically low standard for judicial permission to use a stingray (which captures information about the movements, communications and identities of all the people using mobile phones in range of them), and is part of a wider inquiry to their use without a warrant at all -- at least 200 Florida stingray deployments were undertaken without judicial oversight because the police had signed a nondisclosure agreement with the device's manufacturer and they decided that this meant they didn't have to get warrants anymore.
The ACLU has seen a lot of shenanigans in respect of its campaign to document the use and abuse of stingrays, but this is a cake-taker: "We’ve seen our fair share of federal government attempts to keep records about stingrays secret, but we’ve never seen an actual physical raid on state records in order to conceal them from public view."
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Florida state senator Dwight Bullard thought that a proposed bill to legalize carrying concealed firearms during disaster evacuations was an incredibly stupid idea. So he proposed an amendment to rename the bill "An act relating to the zombie apocalypse." Both the bill and the amendment failed to pass the state legislature.
Richard Masten is the executive director of Miami-Dade Crime Stoppers, a service that promises anonymity to the people who send in tips on serious crimes. So when a judge ordered him to hand over a tip -- with potentially identifying information -- to a defendant's lawyer, he ate it.
As Lowering the Bar points out, this is probably more of a symbolic gesture than a real defense of his source's anonymity, since there's likely a file-copy at Crimestoppers itself. Masten is going back to court this week to receive a punishment from the judge: "I'll bring a toothbrush and some pajamas."
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Hampton, Florida is a town so corrupt that it offends the Florida Legislature, a body with a notoriously high tolerance for sleaze. With fewer than 500 inhabitants, Hampton's major source of revenue is a diseased, questing wang that it has protruded from its main mass onto a 0.2 mile stretch of Highway 301 -- a stretch where the speed limit dips from 65 to 55. Hampton's hard-working traffic cops write an average of 17 tickets a day against out-of-towners, clearing $419,624 in 2011 and 2012. However, the town also operated at a deficit during this time.
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Barry Layne Moore, erstwhile mayor of Hampton, Florida, has been arrested for possessing and selling Oxycodone. Upon arresting him, Bradford County Sheriff Gordon Smith quipped:
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Dave Barry's Insane City is a tremendously fun novel that romps through a Miami full of grifters, pimps, thugs, sweet-hearted beachbunnies, honorable men with pythons, seductive women with spiked drinks who'll rob you blind, dope-sniffing dogs and the cops who handle them, and a girl-crazed orangutan.
Enter Seth Weinstein, who is about to marry Tina, a woman beyond his wildest dreams: beautiful, rich, brilliant, principled -- the daughter of a powerful, uptight billionaire, who has been brought up to seize her goals and never back down. Which is a far cry from Seth, who is a loser who tweets about feminine hygiene products for a marketing company that pays him to astroturf unintentionally humorous consumer packaged goods.
Seth, Tina, and their friends and family descend upon Miami for the wedding. But a comedy of errors, each more improbable than the last, soon has Seth in custody of a refugee from Haiti and her two small children, as well as an angry stripper and her muscle, and the aforementioned man-with-python and sweet-hearted beachbunny. It's a long story, but at least he's doing better than his groomsmen, who have been robbed of everything (including, for one gentleman, all his clothes including his underwear) and dumped on Miami beach.
Though the characters here are stock figures from central casting, the plot is an insane, glorious hairball of best-laid-plans gone wrong, a cross between Fawlty Towers and Weekend at Bernies, building to a crescendo that had me literally hooting with laughter on an airplane. Dave Barry is a funny man. Take the murder-mystery plot out of a great Carl Hiaasen novel, turn the weirdness and absurdity up to 11, and you've got Insane City.
Last week, Mark told you about a giant eyeball that washed up on the beach in Florida. Today, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission released their preliminary analysis of who that eyeball once belonged to and how it likely ended up becoming the temporary toast of the Internet.
The Deep Sea News blog called it last week, but the official word from the experts is that this was the eye of a swordfish. The distinction is based on the size, the color, and the fact that there are bits of bone present around the edges (something you wouldn't see attached to a giant squid eye).
How do you get a swordfish eye without a swordfish attached? Simple: It's swordfish season. In the press release, Joan Herrera, curator of collections at the FWC’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute in St. Petersburg, said that, "Based on straight-line cuts visible around the eye, we believe it was removed by a fisherman and discarded."
But before we pack this mystery away, I think you should take one more close look at the giant eyeball, because it offers a great view a really interesting feature of fish eye anatomy. Fish eyes are similar to those of land-dwelling vertebrates. But there are some key differences. In particular, the shape of the lens...
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This past weekend, I accompanied Miles O'Brien to the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy Space Center. In attendance were present and past KSC directors, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, astronauts and space heroes of all eras—from Thomas Stafford to Cady Coleman—and many of the so-called "pad rats" who built spacecraft from the Apollo era through the Shuttle era. Miles delivered an amazing speech dedicated to those pad rats.
Debbie Cook was in for only 7 weeks in 2007, but her experience was brutal. She testified that Miscavige had two hulking guards climb into her office through a window as she was talking to him on the phone. "Goodbye" he told her as she was hauled off to the gulag. Like Rinder, she described a place where dozens of men and women were confined to what had been a set of offices. Cook testified that the place was ant-infested, and during one two-week stretch in the summer with temperatures over 100 degrees, Miscavige had the air conditioning turned off as punishment. Food was brought up in a vat riding on a golf cart. Cook described it as a barely edible "slop" that was fed to them morning, noon, and night. Longtime residents of the Hole began to look gaunt.
They had to find places on the floor or on desks to sleep at night. Rinder said there were so many of them they slept only inches from each other, and having to get up in the middle of the night was a nightmare of stepping over sleeping figures in the dark.
In the morning, they were marched out of the offices and through a tunnel under Gilman Springs Road to a large building with communal showers. They were then marched back to the Hole, and during the day would be compelled to take part in mass confessions.
During these, Rinder says people he had considered friends would put on a show for the officials overseeing them, trying to outdo each other with vile accusations against each other. Cook testified that Miscavige wanted Marc Yager and Guillaume Lesevre, two of his longest-serving and highest-ranking officials, to confess to having a homosexual affair. The men were beaten until they made some forced admissions. When Cook objected to what was happening, she herself was made to stand in a trash can for twelve hours while insults were hurled at her, she was called a lesbian, and water was dumped on her head.
This surveillance video clip shows 71-year-old Samuel Williams thwarting an armed robbery at an internet cafe in Marion, Florida on Friday, July 13, 2012. Williams, a licensed gun owner, may now become the poster child for those who support "concealed carry" rights in the state.
Williams was present when two masked thugs walked into the Palms Internet Cafe in Marion County, Florida. One of the men was brandishing a gun while the other had a bat. They started ordering patrons around and one smashes a computer screen. That's when Williams took action.
Williams was seated toward the back of the cafe dressed in a white shirt, shorts and baseball cap. One of the masked men, identified as Duwayne Henderson, 19 [at left in photo], comes in pointing a handgun at customers. The second man, Davis Dawkins, 19 [at right in photo], is seen swinging a bat at something off screen, which was later identified as a $1,200 computer screen.
As Henderson turns his back, Williams pulls out a .380-caliber semi-automatic handgun, stands from his chair, takes two steps, nearly drops to one knee, and fires two shots at Henderson, who bolts for the front door. Williams takes several more steps toward the door and continues firing as Henderson and Dawkins fall over one another trying to exit the building. The two eventually run off screen.
Florida governor Rick Scott has ordered a high-velocity purge of the state's voter-rolls, using secret criteria to target 180,000 Floridians and requiring them to prove their citizenship in 30 days or lose the right to vote. Democrats and activist groups claim that this violates federal laws. For 91-year-old WWII vet Bill Internicola, it's an insult. Greg Allen reports on NPR's Morning Edition:
"To me, it's like an insult," he says. "They sent me a form to fill out. And I filled out the form and I sent it back to them with a copy of my discharge paper and a copy of my tour of duty in the ETO, which is the European Theater of Operations."
Internicola's was one of more than 180,000 names Florida's secretary of state identified from motor vehicle records as possible noncitizens. Several weeks ago, the secretary's office sent county elections supervisors a first batch of some 2,600 names. County officials, who are also preparing for the state's August primary, started sending out letters to suspected noncitizens, saying they had 30 days to prove their citizenship or be removed from the voting rolls.
Twin brothers Chris and Jeff George ran "pill mills" in South Florida that helped people get bogus scrips for painkillers. They made so much cash doing this that their employees actually burned the $1 bills because they took up too much space and were too much trouble to deposit. The crooked docs who worked with them were issued rubber stamps for signing scrips so that they wouldn't get hand-cramps.
The deluge of cash became a problem. Employees could be heard on the wiretaps complaining about cash drawers being stuffed to the top. It wasn’t worth keeping dollar bills, so those were separated and then burned by the barrel. Bigger bills were stuffed into garbage bags, then hauled to a bank. Chris George’s wife, Dianna, accepted the chore of making these rather suspicious deposits, although not without grousing that she’d become her husband’s “money mule.”
Other cash-filled bags went to the home of the Georges’ mother, Denice Haggerty, who stacked it in safes in her attic. At one point, says a friend of the Georges, there were 14 safes in the attic, each containing $1 million. Haggerty, who divorced John George in 1988, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and was sentenced to 30 months in prison.
The cash piled up despite the brothers’ free-spending ways. Jeff George bought a monster truck, multiple Lamborghinis and a Mercedes Saks 5th Avenue Edition. There were only five of those cars made, and George liked his so much that when he totaled it, he bought himself another, according to a friend.
Jeff George assembled a small navy, including a 36-foot racing vessel, a 39-foot sports boat and two yachts, 38 and 55 feet in length. He also bought the shopping plaza housing his favorite strip club. The purchases were a convenient way to launder money, according to the indictment.
Cocoa Beach is a Florida town where the economy was for decades buoyed by the NASA Space Shuttle program. Astronauts, aerospace contractors, service workers, and their families all made their way to communities like this one along the "space coast," near Kennedy Space Center.
I traveled to Cocoa Beach a few times last year with Miles O'Brien, Kate Tobin, and the SpaceFlightNow crew, for the final shuttle launches. Press and fans swooped in around those launches like migratory birds. Everyone in town—donut shops, cigar stores, restaurants, strip bars, and, of course, hotels—everyone depended on the space industry for their livelihoods.
But now, the shuttle program is gone. Property values and many of those small locally-owned businesses have tanked. It's a huge bummer. There are big-picture ways to tell this story, but sometimes, smaller stories tell it best.
So here's one: the owner of a garish, hot pink motel along the Cocoa Beach strip called Fawlty Towers (after the excellent British comedy series starring John Cleese) is relaunching the joint as a nudist resort.
Florida students and their teachers are held to account based the scores on the high-stakes FCAT tests. School funding is partially contingent on test performance. Robert Krampf, a Florida science educator, has been reviewing the test-prep materials given to teachers in order to refine his own curriculum and prepare his students.
However, the test-prep materials were very poor. They consist of multiple-choice questions with more than one correct answer. For example: "This sample question offers the following observations, and asks which is scientifically testable: 1 The petals of red roses are softer than the petals of yellow roses; 2 The song of a mockingbird is prettier than the song of a cardinal; 3 Orange blossoms give off a sweeter smell than gardenia flowers; 4 Sunflowers with larger petals attract more bees than sunflowers with smaller petals."
The curriculum guide says that the correct answer is 4, but 1 and 3 are also correct. Krampf asked FLDOE's Test Development Center for clarification, and the Center told him that although the question had three answers, only one was "correct" in the context of the curriculum -- that is, students would only have learned about testing 1, and not about the chemistry needed to test 3, or the observational methodologies to test 4. This is just dumb. It means that the test doesn't distinguish between students who misunderstand the curriculum, students who are making guesses, and students who have progressed beyond the curriculum. In other words, the test can't tell you anything useful about the students' understanding or the teachers' methodology.
The question about isn't an isolated example, apparently. Krampf reports finding many examples like this from all parts of the test, some of which weren't just bad test-design, but factually incorrect; for example, the test defines a "predator" as "An organism that obtains nutrients from other organisms." As Krampf points out, "By that definition, cows are predators because they obtain nutrients from plants. The plants are predators too, since they obtain nutrients from decaying remains of other organisms."
I wonder how many students got "wrong" answers on the FCAT because their teachers taught them too much. How many "F" schools would have higher grades if those scientifically correct "wrong" answers were counted as correct answers. How many "B" schools would get the extra funding that "A" schools get, if those scientifically correct "wrong" answers were counted as correct answers?
We may never know the answers to those questions. The Test Item Specifications are the guidelines that are used to write the test questions. If the Science FCAT test is reviewed by the same Content Advisory Committee that reviewed the Test Item Specifications, then it probably has similar errors. But as much as I would LOVE to check the accuracy of the questions from the actual Science FCAT, I can't. Teachers, scientists, and the general public are not allowed to see actual test questions, even after the tests have been graded and the penalties for those grades have been imposed.
Standardized testing is usually a mess. High-stakes standardized testing is usually a bigger mess. But even by those standards, the FCAT science tests are a disaster, and the lack of transparency and accountability in them means that they're doomed to fail Florida's students for a long time to come.
NPR's Planet Money profiles Willow Tufano, a 14-year-old Florida girl who saved thousands of dollars by harvesting furniture from foreclosed houses and selling it on eBay. She's just bought half interest in a house that went for $100,000 at the peak of the bubble. Her mom owns the other half, and the house went for $12,000. They rent it out for $700 a month now. Chana Joffe-Walt writes,
One day, Willow's mom, Shannon, saw a two-bedroom, concrete-block home on auction for $12,000 — down from $100,000 at the peak of the bubble. Shannon was telling her husband about the house, when Willow piped up.
"I was like, 'What if I bought a house? That would be crazy,' " Willow says...
As I was working on this story, I kept thinking that when a 14-year-old kid can buy a house, the market must have hit bottom. I kept saying this to Willow, and she'd sort of vaguely nod.
But it's hard for Willow to see herself as symbolic of anything. To a 14-year-old kid in Florida, the housing collapse is basically the only world she's known. It's the landscape. It's a Craigslist hobby.
(Image: Chana Joffe-Walt)