In its most recent report on death sentences and executions, Amnesty International draws some unflattering comparisons between Florida and the rest of the world.
Florida passed the Timely Justice Act (TJA) aimed, in part, at speeding up the pace of executions. Such legislation is inconsistent with international human rights standards which seek the abolition of the death penalty, and ignores the reality of Florida's high error rate in capital cases. Florida accounts for some 15 percent of the more than 140 inmates released from death rows in the United States since 1973 on grounds of innocence. When Florida's Governor Rick Scott signed the TJA into law on June 14, 2013, Rep. Matt Gaetz, the sponsor of the bill in the House of Representatives, responded by tweeting his thanks, adding: "Several on death row need to start picking out their last meals."
Nico Hines, writing about the report on the dailybeast.com, points out that Florida is the only state that allows a jury to recommend death with a simple 7-5 majority, making it that much easier to put the wrong person on death row.
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Name check, with an edge
In her new novella called Sleep Donation (Atavist Books), Pulitzer finalist, MacArthur "genius" and Florida native Karen Russell describes a United States in the grip of an insomnia epidemic. Sleep has become a commodity to be traded and banked by members of the Slumber Corps, who extract from the healthy and transfuse to the tormented. The whole country is afflicted, but Russell name-checks a certain local city in a tone that carries more than a little political bite.
"Our Pennsylvania city has one of the greatest REM-sleep deficits on the East Coast," says the narrator, Trish Edgewater, one of the Slumber Corps workers, "(although we are certainly not the worst hit: Tampa, riddlingly, currently leads the nation in new cases of the insomnia; the governor's budget cuts in that Sunshine State have meant that Floridian sleep scientists remain stalled at the 'dang'/'go figure' stage of their research.)"
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The big number
The average number of potential life years lost annually in Florida because of alcohol-related deaths.
Source: Centers for Disease Control
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Novelist Michael Lister's mysteries starring prison chaplain John Jordan couldn't be set anywhere but North Florida, Lister's home turf. The environment and its residents shape and color the novel; his prose captures the rhythm of life and passage of time there. In Lister's latest, Rivers to Blood (Pulpwood), Jordan is working with an FDLE agent to investigate an apparent lynching, an action freighted with meaning in this part of the world. But nothing is as it seems.
After the paper mill in Port St. Joe had closed and the largest private landholder in the state had become its biggest developer, the small community at the mouth of St. Joseph Bay began to change. With the pungent, acrid odor and thick smoky fog of the mill a thing of the past and land once reserved for slash pines released, wealthy people from Atlanta began to pay unimaginable sums of money for a sliver of sand close to the Gulf. The powers that be thought they had seen the future, and the future they saw was tourism. ... Man had come to the forest and money had come to town, and nothing would be the same for the land or the people of what once was the forgotten coast. ...
Rachel Mills and I were in the Dockside Cafe sitting on high stools at a tall wooden table with a view of the bay. The window was open and through it blew the warm bay breeze and the soothing sounds of seagulls and sailboat riggings - all swirling around in a muffling din of waves and wind.
I had the fried shrimp basket with fries, she had the oysters with onion rings, and we both had sweet tea with lime. Gazing into the setting sun sinking into the bay, she said, "No wonder people are paying small fortunes to have a place here."
"Never thought I'd miss the paper mill," I said.
"Don't tell me you're not in favor of progress."
I didn't say anything.
"Well?" she asked.
"You said not to tell you."
"I can tell you that most of what people are sold as progress, isn't," I said.
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Global Positioning Snakes
As if Burmese pythons needed any more of an advantage in their relentless pursuit of environmental domination, it turns out that they possess remarkable navigational abilities. University of Florida researchers captured a number of the voracious serpents in the Everglades and drove them, in opaque containers, many miles out of the park, only to discover that they slithered right back to where they started. A control group that was driven around in circles before being released wasn't nearly as mobile. Now that's the kind of GPS we're more familiar with.
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64 colors, and he chooses...?
In June 2003, in honor of the 100th anniversary of Crayola Crayons, the editors of Floridian asked four very serious local artists to lighten up a little and get creative in a kidlike way. One of those artists was Theo Wujcik, then 67, who by that point in his illustrious career had already achieved international recognition and placement in the permanent collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Museum of Modern Art. Mr. Wujcik, 78, died March 28 after a battle with cancer. Here we republish his contribution to the Crayola project and the text that accompanied it.
As a young art school graduate, Wujcik went to slaughterhouses and got sides of beef and pigs' and sheeps' heads to use as models for drawings and engravings. A 1964 work, Skeleton 12 Sheep Head, appears here. Hearkening back to those days, he created this sheep's head using sculptors' wax, then painted it with melted crayon. What was he thinking when he worked on it? "Will I get it done in time?"
His favorite crayon? (Shrugging, as if it were obvious): "Red."