Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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January 2, 2006

COME FOR THE SUNSHINE; STAY FOR THE INSANITY.... Having been born and raised in Miami, I look back at Florida with some fascination. In fact, I've long harbored a silly notion that all bad things that happen in this country have an almost direct connection to the Sunshine State. After the Elian Gonzalez controversy, the 2000 election debacle, the original anthrax letters, the flying lessons for the 9/11 terrorists, and the Terri Schiavo matter, it's hard not to notice that Carl Hiaasen doesn't have to exaggerate much for his novels.

And in case Florida's "eccentricities" weren't obvious before, publishers of non-fiction are helping educate the rest of the country.

How weird is Florida? So weird that not one, not two, but three different books have been titled "Weird Florida."

The first, written by Palm Beach Post reporter Eliot Kleinberg, hit stores in 1998 and detailed years of strange news stories. Charlie Carlson published his "Weird Florida" in 2005 documenting unusual sites around the state. Now Kleinberg is coming out with a "Weird Florida II" in January with more true, offbeat stories.

"I'm already putting together a file for book three," Kleinberg said of his works. "If I thought for a second that Florida was going to stop being weird, I'd be worried. There's no signs of abatement."

Florida did indeed have scores of weird stories in 2005, from the woman who concealed a stolen parrot in her bra to a beagle puppy that was trained to sniff out pythons to a Key West man who robbed a bank with a pitchfork.

I can appreciate that people in across the country are prepared to argue that their state is bizarre. It's almost a matter of civic pride. But as Tom Tomorrow noted earlier this year, there's just something about Florida that makes it a "cauldron of craziness."

My question, for anyone who might be able to explain it to me, is how this tropical state managed to become such an attraction for disaster.

Is it the influx of immigrants from around the world who don't always get along with one another? The competition between cultures and languages? Too much sun?

Mike Wilson, the Floridian editor of the St. Petersburg Times, wrote an item (which is no longer available online) suggesting that it's more of a genetic problem.

Friends in other states expect me to defend Florida in times like these. But like a parent making excuses for an aberrant teenager, justifying it is the best I can do. Look, this isn't Boston, founded on intellect and the principles of religious freedom. This is Florida, founded by hucksters and luckless dreamers. Eccentricity is in its DNA.

Wilson was Guatemala in the early 1990s on assignment. While there, he spoke with locals who said they couldn't imagine living in Florida. It was, in their minds, "too dangerous" and too overwrought with "bad people."

Guatemala was in its 25th year of a civil war at the time.

Steve Benen 10:17 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (31)

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In your list of weird things in Florida, you forgot to mention Dave Barry. He could probably clear up any confusion (alas, he's on leave, but probably would make himself available for a question like this).

Stephen King lives there now, also (or so I heard).

Happy New Year, guys!

Posted by: merciless on January 2, 2006 at 10:21 AM | PERMALINK

Florida is one big swamp. People were never meant to live there.

Posted by: zxcv on January 2, 2006 at 10:24 AM | PERMALINK

As for Dave Berry, West Chester, PA would like for him to return to raise the IQ level.

Posted by: thethirdPaul on January 2, 2006 at 10:25 AM | PERMALINK

I am from South Florida (Coral Springs in Broward County). I think what makes Florida weird is the fusion of the worst aspects of Southern, Northeastern, and Caribbean cultures with few of the positive aspects. That and lots of crazies flock here like bees to honey.

Posted by: JKR on January 2, 2006 at 10:26 AM | PERMALINK

Did not realize that Elmore Leonard was writing non-fiction.

Posted by: thethirdPaul on January 2, 2006 at 10:32 AM | PERMALINK

Sorry to interupt this important political discouse, but............do you want to read something really scary? Click here.

Its the DLC manifesto. The parties have become frick and frack. We really need to do something to clean up the corruption in the system. (Saw Siriana last night, talk about a whole new meaning to "can't fight city hall").

Ronnie Raygun is the beginning of the demise of this great nation and the middle class. Fixing what is wrong has to start with Reagan's time in office. Trickle down, indeed!

Clinton in some ways was even worse. If Reagan or Bush had done NAFTA, we would have KNOWN not to trust them. But because it was Clinton (and he was suppose to be one of us), we trusted him to look out for our jobs and our wages. Instead, he triangulated them right up the river. Read the DLC manifesto and see how proud they are of this support for "free trade" and "globalization".

My resolution is simple! If we get another GD Dino as our Presidential candidate, this liberal is voting for the Republican (even if its Frist); and I'm going to send him money,too.

I just wany my country back; and I want to know where in the hell did the United States of America go?

Posted by: maggie on January 2, 2006 at 10:35 AM | PERMALINK

You fuggotta'bout me.

Posted by: Santos Trafficante on January 2, 2006 at 10:51 AM | PERMALINK

It's the lack of a killing frost. Makes people stupid.

Posted by: JaB on January 2, 2006 at 10:54 AM | PERMALINK

I agree with Maggie. Unless we continue to nominate unelectable, out-of-touch and personally unlikable liberals like John Kerry, I'm voting Republican.

Posted by: Pat on January 2, 2006 at 11:10 AM | PERMALINK

Isn't the new "Dino-land" young-Earth creationist theme park in Florida, too? That's gotta be worth a few weirdness points.

Posted by: Garamond12 on January 2, 2006 at 11:18 AM | PERMALINK

Maybe it's got something to do with being on the margins (but sizeable enough to house the loonies). BC, behind its mountains is Canada's locus of lunacy (though very attractively so I may add). And Queensland seems to be Australia's epicentre of idiocy.

Posted by: snicker-snack on January 2, 2006 at 11:27 AM | PERMALINK

don't think the concentration of nuclear power stations helps either.

Posted by: foo on January 2, 2006 at 11:28 AM | PERMALINK

Russell Baker once described it as "the complete works of the Marquis de Sade after being bowdlerized by Gerald Ford".

Posted by: Bruce Moomaw on January 2, 2006 at 11:40 AM | PERMALINK

Please refresh my memory. How did the Bush family get its greedy feet into Florida via Jeb? Was "High Pockets" given a old fiefdom down there?

Posted by: Hedley Lamarr on January 2, 2006 at 11:57 AM | PERMALINK

Florida is the new California

Quote from the article: Back in the 20th Century, California was "the land of fruits and nuts." It was where you went if you were too strange to make it anywhere else in the country. It was our nation's haven for artists, gays, people who followed or started non-mainstream religions, and those who wanted to make experimental films or music. I grew up in that California. Now California is rule-bound and insanely overpriced, so those people move to Florida instead.

Posted by: Robin "Roblimo" Miller on January 2, 2006 at 11:58 AM | PERMALINK

I used to live in FL: my ex said it was move to Florida, or we break up. So we did both.

As for the anthrax letters, I was living about 2 miles from where the first one landed, so it became a little personal to me. If one reads Amerithrax (the FBI code name for the investigation), it becomes very clear that the anthrax letters of 2001 were a domestic, right wing terrorist plot. When were the letters first sent? When the patriot act was being debated in congress. What politicians got sent anthrax letters? Democrats. What politicians were not sent anthrax letters? Republicans. What TV stations were sent anthrax letters? Domestic ones that the right wingers hate. Which TV stations were not sent anthrax letters? Domestic ones the wingnuts like, and any station with international distribution. Which newspapers were sent anthrax letters? The ones the wingnuts hate. After all, Coulter still claims that the only thing that McVeigh did wrong was that he didn't go to the NY Times building. They were one of the newspapers mailed anthrax letters.

Posted by: Peter on January 2, 2006 at 12:19 PM | PERMALINK

Southern Baptists, Jeb Bush, currently votes Republican: How can it NOT be weird?

Posted by: Bill Arnett on January 2, 2006 at 12:42 PM | PERMALINK

Don't forget Florida's attachment to earlier unpleasant historic moments, which were largely a result of local Cuban omnipotence. There was clearly SOME connection to the JFK assassination (massive for conspiracy theorists; at the very least, Oswald's membership in Fair Play for Cuba); and several of the Watergate burglars were Cubans. Florida lunacy may have peaked under Bush, but it's been making its presence known for some time.

Posted by: demtom on January 2, 2006 at 1:00 PM | PERMALINK

Didn't happen over night. Check out the eerie similarities between the elections of 1876 and 2000. Both changed the direction of the nation.

Posted by: thethirdPaul on January 2, 2006 at 1:06 PM | PERMALINK

actually as an 18-year survivor of the place, i've long believed that florida's transitory population has a lot to do with the lunacy here. if you're crazy, nobody notices because nobody knows you. crazy becomes acceptable. crazy become normal. soon you think you're crazy if you're behaving normally.

and there's jonathon rothschild's theory that florida always has been an outlaw state -- from poachers in the everglades shooting nearly every bird in site in the early 1900s to bootleggers taking advantage of florida's terrain to haul in booze during prohibition. there's the story of the mayor of miami beach bravely stating publicly that old alphonse capone was not wanted in his town, while at the same time secretly acting as capone's real estate agent. and yes, he found scarface a home. in miami beach. after all, the state has only two natural resources, sunshine and dir, both attractive to those with a propensity to make a dishonest living.

Posted by: mudwall jackson on January 2, 2006 at 1:16 PM | PERMALINK

It's the southernmost state...the farther South land is the more idiots, bigots and religious pinheads there are. I grew up in KY, a Northern Southern state...so I can speak with authority. You could tell our cops weren't really Southern because they only abused non-mainstream and non-white people, they didn't kill them.
Why does being further South make a difference?
A) the heat fries your brain
B) it doesn't take much to live, so all kinds of looney-toon people persist....continuing to live and believe in all kinds of idiocy.
Up North where I live now, the firsthard frost kills off the light-weight fruitcakes or sends them running South. We do, of course, have industrial grade, agricultural Zone 9 hardy fruitcakes.....

Posted by: Stewart Dean on January 2, 2006 at 1:55 PM | PERMALINK

As a native Californian, I'm not sure we're quite ready to relinquish the title to these Johnny-come-lately Floridians. They've got Jeb; we've got the Groppenfuehrer. And I would pit our Congressional delegation against theirs any day. State legislature? Not even close. Self-indulgent populace? We've got more than $100B in bonds mortgaging the future to overcome chronic lack of fiscal discipline and lack of infrastructure spending. I think our schools are even worse than theirs. I was in Florida in October; their roads are better than ours. Immigration woes? Heh.

Weirdos and generally demented behavior? I acknowledge Florida's progress; the state is certainly making a case for itself. I believe they are ahead in serial killers. However, I still think we're the leader. For tackiness, although Florida's got much of the Gulf Coast and Miami, we've got Hollywood, which provides that all-important edge. Rednecks? We got 'em, too. Lots of 'em.

Nah, Florida is making remarkable gains, but I think California is still leading in the race to the bottom and the prized third-world wannabe trophy. Look at our cost-of-living. Shit, in Florida, the average person can buy a house. Here, on the other hand, we are getting close to that nirvana where only the wealthy can own anything. Third-world all the way.

Posted by: Nixon Did It on January 2, 2006 at 1:56 PM | PERMALINK

Florida is living proof that sunshine is bad for you. Love those hurricanes, though. They say Florida has a great climate. I just don't see it.

Posted by: Pechorin on January 2, 2006 at 2:00 PM | PERMALINK

Well, Florida is the only state with its own fark tag.

Posted by: Brian on January 2, 2006 at 2:53 PM | PERMALINK

I think that Florida is best described by Homer Simpson;
"Florida? But that's America's wang!"

Posted by: Osama_Been_Forgotten on January 2, 2006 at 3:09 PM | PERMALINK

Kidan, the Abramob, and a dead Greek guy. The beat goes on.

Posted by: parrot on January 2, 2006 at 3:20 PM | PERMALINK

nixon, i'll have to say that jeb is no match for arnold. on the other hand, for sheer stupidity and looniness, i don't think there is a legislative body in the world that matches the florida legislature, especially the house. these are the people who are seriously considering making it illegal for companies to ban their employees from taking their guns to work! i mean give me a break! this after last year's shoot first, ask question later bill that makes it legal shoot someone if you feel the least bit threatened.

Posted by: mudwall jackson on January 2, 2006 at 4:03 PM | PERMALINK

And no one has mentioned Loveline's Contest Germany or Florida, being the game where if someone cuts off their toes, cooks and eats them kind of story happens it could only have come from one of the aforementioned two. Adam Carolla takes over for Stern tommorrow and he is at his best way funnier than Stern. The West Coast is gonna have
a good time he starts tommorrow morning. Go Aceman.Adam sucks on tv but is a fucking genius laid back riffing on the radio.

Posted by: Dr Drew on January 2, 2006 at 5:14 PM | PERMALINK

As a native northwest Floridian (most of my family still lives there after 120 years) and current Texas native, I have to say the similarities between the two states are considerable.

My accent fit right in -- most Texans think I'm a native. The humidity and heat are similar (although I often tell Houstonians they don't know what humidity is until they've lived in Florida for a while). Texas is full of independent-minded SOB nuts, and so is Florida. It's football obsessed, and so is Florida. It's home to a significant immigrant population (Mexican), as is Florida (Cuban). It's an unrepentant Southern state, and so is Florida. Both states are nonunion, and the spread between wealth and poverty is marked.

But it's the heat and humidity, I contend, that makes the denizens of both states crazy. Live either place for a while, and you'll go a little mad too.

Posted by: Motherlode on January 2, 2006 at 10:52 PM | PERMALINK

Though from Wisconsin, Pat McCurdy has it right:

Too much sun makes you stupid
Too much sun makes you nuts
Too many days, too many ultraviolet rays
With a bikini thong jammed up your butt

Alternatively, Florida may not be the locus of craziness in the United States; it may just be the sanest crazy place in America. Maybe Texas or Alabama or Mississippi or Oklahoma are even more insane than Florida, to the extent that insanity in those states is normal and not remarked upon. Florida, though, may be mostly insane, but with enough people without chromosome abnormalities that someone feels obliged to point out what's going on.

Posted by: cminus on January 2, 2006 at 10:57 PM | PERMALINK

Alongside my complete Hiaasen I also have Tim Dorsey - he's got a good handle on Florida's history as a magnet for the deranged. Start with Ponce de Leon - it's Leon Country after all.

I lived in Tallahassee (aka Southern Georgia) for a while. We called it Bland-ahasse, Cul-de-Sac-a-hasse, Can't-get-there-from-here-ahassee. Place is 90% Midwesterners - 5% corrupt pols.

The remaining 5% are Bowdens.

Plan to don my 'Noles tee shirt today and watch them get torn limb from limb by Joe Papa's boys...sigh. And look - hold the damned Foot Locker bags - the kids on this team were in, what, the 4th grade when a handful of players from the '93 team went shopping.

Posted by: CFShep on January 3, 2006 at 9:01 AM | PERMALINK



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