Thursday, November 23, 2017
Human Interest

The State You're In: From Florida Man to saving the sea cows

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Man of the moment

On Feb. 2, a single tweet — Florida Man Arrested After Pocket-Dialing 911 — launched what has become the hit Twitter profile of "the world's worst superhero," @_FloridaMan.

The unidentified user's shtick is tweeting headlines involving a single Florida man doing something shocking or dangerous, with links to actual news stories.

Florida Man Stabs Wife Over Hamburger

Florida Man Mistakes Girlfriend For Hog, Shoots Her

Florida Man Arrested For Calling 911 After His Cat Was Denied Entry Into Strip Club

It's easy to laugh at, even if you're a Florida man.

Florida Man Repeatedly Called 911 Saying He Needed A Ride To Mexico

Police Arrest Florida Man For Drunken Joyride On Motorized Scooter At Walmart

Florida Man Arrested For Making His Kids Ride A Manatee Calf

Florida Man's list of Twitter followers grew leaps with each headline. He caught the attention of Gawker, Slate and even National Public Radio. Seventeen days and 98 tweets later, Florida Man's followers had grown to more than 47,500. By Wednesday, that number was up to 62,910. But, a couple of qualms.

Florida Man's fresh material must be thin. He's dipping into the archives for news about Florida Man. And that mug shot? It's actually an Indiana man, Ricky Lee Kalichun, who was arrested in Evansville in January 2011 for attacking a neighbor with a sword.

There's something else unsettling about a joke account involving real headlines. It's a little too easy to forget many of these stories involve pain. The man who killed his wife over a hamburger really did stab his 71-year-old wife to death. Their daughter found her bloodied body.

The details scrub the novelty away.

Florida Man Run Over By Van After Dog Pushes Accelerator might prompt a chuckle, but not for the family and friends of James "Bo" Campbell, a 68-year-old Army combat vet who earned two purple hearts in Vietnam before a freak accident pinned him between a double metal gate and the back of a 1995 Chevy van. The Florida man left behind two children and five grandchildren.

Ben Montgomery, Times staff writer

SYI saves the sea cows

News that yet another person has run afoul of the state's law against molesting manatees (viz one Ryan Waterman, 21, of Fort Pierce, photographed recently hugging a baby manatee) has prompted a flurry of scoldings. Here at The State You're In desk, we prefer to focus on solutions. So taking a page out of the state's python playbook, SYI proposes the 2013 Manatee Lovers Challenge. By taking our very brief online course, "How to Spot an Illicit Manatee Lover," you will be qualified to go out and capture anyone you observe riding, groping, dancing with or otherwise frotting hapless sea cows. The person who bags the most Illicit Manatee Lovers (must be taken alive) will be eligible for a fabulous cruise. Never say SYI stood by and did nothing.

Florida fliers

Now that lawmakers seem set to tackle legislation to regulate unmanned drones over America, we got curious about what might be flying above us in Florida. Federal Aviation Administration records show that the agency has permitted four entities in Florida to use drones. You'd expect Miami-Dade Police Department, the Orange County Sheriff's Office and the Polk County Sheriff's Office would be interested in monitoring human activity from the sky. There's one outlier: the University of Florida.

Is the university monitoring keg parties for underage drinking? Or peeping down on the football practices of opposing teams? Nope. The 11-pound drone is used by Peter Frederick, a researcher with UF's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences who mostly studies wading birds. He's engaged in an ongoing project to develop drones for natural resource work. Frederick said the NOVA UAS Mako he uses is possibly the most advanced natural resources drone in the world, and they've used it to map oyster bars, pelican nests and shorebird aggregations at Cedar Key and the Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge. Here's a thought: How about doing a little aerial surveillance for manatee riders?

Then and now

6: Days that Ponce de León remained in Florida on his first trip in April 1513.

11: Average number of nights foreign visitors stayed in Florida in 2011.

Source: Times staff, VisitFlorida

Smackdown in paradise

In the prologue to his scathing new book, Finding Florida (Atlantic Monthly Press), T.D. Allman points out (with more than a little vitriol) that knowing the name of a thing doesn't mean you know anything about the thing itself. And so it is with the Sunshine State (America's second rainiest). The myth of Florida as paradise is old and widespread, he argues, pushed by people who knew better, people who ought to have known better and people who just wanted to make a buck. Then paradise got some pushback. It's not a totally new argument, but the level of acidity might be. A taste:

"The irrelevant, bizarrely tasteless and fraudulent use of the term inevitably engenders disdain, disillusion and disenchantment . . . 'Paradise Screwed' is a collection of writings by the genially shameless south Florida columnist Carl Hiaasen. Over the decades he has made more money sneering at Florida than most promoters have by claiming Florida is wonderful. Nonetheless Hiaasen has wound up another classic Florida loser. A King Canute of a columnist, he has had no more success turning back the human tide flooding into Florida than Harriet Beecher Stowe has discouraging boll weevils."

• Look for a review of Finding Florida this month in Latitudes.

Fractured Florida

Last year, conservation photographer Carlton Ward Jr. led a 100-day, 1,000-mile expedition from the southern tip of Florida to the Okefenokee swamp in Georgia. The goal of the journey was to raise awareness of the need to establish a wildlife corridor along the length of the state. A book of Ward's photographs will be released this month, and an exhibition is now under way at the Tampa Bay History Center in Tampa. As Ward says in an opening essay to the book, "Road building, development and intensification of agriculture have reduced natural habitat connections to a few fragile threads that could be forever lost without immediate measures to protect them." On the day that Florida Gov. Rick Scott pledged to spend an extra $917 million to widen existing highway corridors and build new toll roads through rural areas, The State You're In asked Ward whether he saw a conflict between his project and the governor's. Here is his response:

"The ecological harm of new roads depends on the details. It is possible for well-planned roads to have sufficient underpass structures for water and wildlife and mitigation for those roads could also pay to protect natural acres needed for wildlife corridors. I think we should protect the ecological infrastructure first, and then develop our roads and living spaces around them. In many cases, there's still room for both.

In a perfect world, I'd like to see all roads, especially east-west roads across the peninsula, built like bridges above the landscape, kind of like the new sections of the Tamiami Trail. And think how much more people would appreciate our state if we could look out over the treetops and prairies as we drove from place to place.

If we spent a fraction of what we spend building roads on conservation corridors, Florida would be in good shape. On the final day of the expedition, Mike Fay (an ecologist and conservationist who joined the group for the last push) offered some good perspective. He said, 'Imagine if we cut I-75 and I-95 into 1,000 little pieces. What would that do to our economies and way of life? We'll that's exactly what we've been doing to wildlife and natural systems for years ...'

Roads themselves present enough of a barrier on the landscape and the way we tend to strip develop right up against them on both sides makes that barrier even more impenetrable for water and wildlife."

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