The weirdness of Florida never ceases to amaze me. People in the US tend to talk about the nutcases in California, the freaks in New York, the snobbery of Boston and the stupidity of Arkansas but no place in our great nation even comes close to the downright bizarre nature of Florida.
Florida is so strange that I feel that Karl Hiaasen, John MacDonald and Dave Barry must have the finest creative minds in America as they write compelling fictional works that exploit Florida Weird without sounding too much like our daily newspapers. Barry and Hiaasen both have day jobs at the Miami Herald where they spend their days immersed in the non-fiction weirdness of Florida but still manage to find ways to write great stories without just copying them from the news.
I’ve written about this throughout the history of BC and have discussed weird blind related Florida stories, weird Nazi stories and other general strangeness that goes on around us. Thus, when I read the headline, “Crime: Blind Man Robbed Of Clothes, Cane by 4 armed men,” in Blind News, it came as no surprise that the event occurred in Florida.
I first wondered where the men with four arms came from but then started pondering other, more normal, places.
When I lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a city known for its extremely left of center attitudes, celebration of diversity and a collection of an oddball spectrum of humanity that all get along well together in a low crime city, I would, on a near daily basis, walk through a housing project to get from my bus stop to my favorite bar. When people asked me if I ever felt fear in the PJs, I didn’t understand why I should. The toughest gangster kids, in their Raiders and Kings colors treated me kind of like a local celebrity. If a little kid played in the sidewalk, obstructing my path, the gangsters would yell to “Look out for the blind man, get out of his way.” If a trash can or some other object stood in my path, one of the gangster kids would run over and say, “Lemme help you blind man, some motherfucker left a garbage can in the sidewalk,” and would guide me around the obstacle. These kids joined the toughest gangs in the Boston area; they dealt drugs, shot at each other and, undoubtedly, involved themselves in all sorts of crimes. They protected old people and people with a disability, though, as victimizing us would cause a loss of honor. No gang banger got points for hurting one perceived as weak but, rather, they got badges from scars and violence against other tough guys.
As regular readers would know, I grew up in New Jersey. I went to school with the children of prominent Italian mobsters. Like the gangsters I would meet in Cambridge, these guys never hurt anyone without a reason. Plain and simply, random violence and victimizing old or handicapped people was bad for business and would only bring on bad press.
Florida, however, has no rules and very little honor. I am not as creative as Hiaasen or Barry so, I will end by pasting in the article intact from Blind News:
Monday, September 25, 2006
Crime: Blind Man Robbed Of Clothes, Cane by 4 armed men
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Police are looking for the men who robbed a blind man in Riverside, stripped him of his clothes and took his cane, according to WJXT-TV.
The victim told police he was walking home on Stockton Street about 8 p.m. Friday when four armed men pulled up beside him in a car.
The man said the men took his money, his clothes, and his walking stick before driving off.
Anyone with information about this armed robbery is asked to call Crimestoppers at 866-845-TIPS. Callers don’t have give their names and could be eligible for a cash reward.
I received a comment on my item celebrating Jim Fruchterman’s MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship that stated that Ray Kurzweil built a reading machine for the blind before Jim did. In fact, Jim built his first talking scan and read device while a student at CalTech and, in the process, invented using fast forier transform algorithms for optical character recognition.
Jim studied Aero/Astro Engineering at CalTech and worked on using fft algorithms for pattern recognition for use in smart bombs. These explosives had cameras in them and the project intended to create software that could accept a photograph as input and the missile would find its target on the fly by recognizing the patterns in the photo. Jim, a very decent person, saw that the same technology could find a beneficial application and he proceeded to prove his point by building the first truly high quality OCR engine and the first scan and read machine for blind people.
Ray Kurzweil did create the first commercial scan and read product used by blinks. It contained an OCR engine that used Jim’s algorithm and, in many ways, demonstrated a lot of similarities with Fruchterman’s college project. Jim has had great success with commercial OCR but he set up Arkenstone and Benetech as non-profits and, unlike Ray, hasn’t profited personally (except in the sense of the esteem he has received from the community) from his efforts in the blindness biz.
I do not object to profit making AT ventures at all. I worked for the largest one for six years and, sometime in the future, I might make for profit AT software again. Fruchterman, however, has enjoyed the luxury of making his fortune by selling products unrelated to disability and has chosen to do the work on blindness, learning disabilities, landmine detection, human rights and all of his other altruistic interests in a non-profit manner which, like the Bill and Melinda Foundation, should receive lots of applause.