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The circus is coming! The circus is coming! Excuse us if we sound a little hysterical, but … the circus is coming!

See, some people these days are of the opinion that circuses are traveling crucibles of evil, rolling down the line peddling animal abuse for the amusement of the kiddies. And by "some people" we mean People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, a group that has put a naked, "beaten" woman on the sidewalks of downtown Orlando two years running to demonstrate their contempt for The Greatest Show on Earth.

When we went to check out the naked woman, as is our wont, PETA handed us a 10-page litany of what they claim Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey has done wrong in recent years, everything from not announcing the deaths of elephants to allowing a yak to run at large in San Jose in 2001. For our money there aren't enough yaks at large, but we don't make the laws.

Anticipating the circus media circus, we put in a records request last year right after the circus left town with the United States Department of Agriculture, the agency in charge of regulating such spectacles. We wanted to see all citations issued to Ringling Bros. between 2002 and 2004. It took six months to get the goods, but the records don't paint nearly as terrifying a picture as PETA would have you believe. Yes, there are violations: poor sanitation, expired veterinary medications, an incomplete perimeter fence and potentially dangerous animal transports are the most common; in other words, the kind of infractions you'd expect to see in the business of handling wild animals.

Another popular contention among animal activists is that circuses are on the wane thanks to the allegations of abuse and the fact that there are a lot better ways to spend your entertainment dollars. Here again, we put the theory to the test by pulling attendance figures from recent years at the TD Waterhouse Centre for Ringling's run. In seven shows last year Ringling drew 42,642 attendees, or about 6,000 a night. For six shows in 2004, just 28,189 people came, less than 5,000 a night. In 2003, 44,940 people came over seven nights, which means the numbers haven't fluctuated very much at all.

As for the "better ways to spend your money" argument, we checked that out too by sending a Happytown™ operative to the show last year. We can confidently report that, yes indeed, there are better ways to spend your money. Alcohol comes to mind.

You've probably heard that state Rep. Sheri McInvale switched parties on Jan. 10. It's really not that big a deal, as McInvale was hardly a Democrat to begin with and sided with the fundies more than progressives during her first four years in Tallahassee.

Besides, her primary challenger, Scott Randolph, matched her fund-raising for the last quarter of 2005 – not good for an incumbent – and the party faithful so disliked her that a week before her 2004 election, the local Democratic executive committee sent her GOP opponent in the primary a $15,000 check.

What we want to know is whether or not her defection also means the demise of the one progressive issue McInvale has managed to come up with in four years, her proposal to eliminate the state's ban on gay adoption. McInvale told Happytown™ she's going ahead with it as a Republican.

The city of Orlando's Community Redevelopment Agency received two bids to develop Federal/ Livingston/Otey Place – or FLOP, as it's sometimes maligned – the 3.5-acre parcel west of the TD Waterhouse Centre.

As this newspaper has documented, some members of the Mayor's Parramore Task Force wanted to shelve this project; city staffers, some of whom have been assembling this land for nearly a decade, forged ahead anyway, and in November a call for developers went out.

The first to answer the call is Tienta Holdings, LLC. Tienta offered to buy the land for $50,000 – a whopping 33 cents per square foot – and build 35 condo and townhouse units costing between $85,000 and $160,000. It also wants tax rebates from the CRA, though there aren't any available.

Next up is PSA Constructors, Inc., a minority-owned business with offices in Orlando and Riviera Beach. PSA is also the program and construction manager for Riviera Beach's CRA, which is right now taking heat for its plan to invoke eminent domain and tear down 6,000 homes belonging to mostly poor, black people and turn the land over to a developer who will then turn it into a … yacht club! PSA offered $253,812 for Otey Place, still a bargain for what the land would fetch on the market. The developer wants to haul in 66 prefab units, including six four-bedroom houses it wants to sell for $484,500. Know anyone who wants to plop down a half-million clams to live in a prefab in one of the city's highest-crime neighborhoods? Neither do we.

Recently we got an e-mail promoting Go & Get Your Life Back, a "musical comedy confronting real life issues" that's coming to the University of Central Florida Arena Jan. 14.

It's a morality play, so we were ready to toss the flyer in the trash until we came across this: A character named "Tangy" gets "fed up with the disappointments of her homosexual lifestyle [and] sinks deeper into a black hole of hopelessness … ," according to the release.

Now, the term "black hole" is a poor choice for a play about homosexuality. But we liked this part even better: "Watch the mystery unfold as Tangy meets up with the hilarious Sister Ross … a saint from the 'old school' who tells it like it is and puts things into proper perspective for her old friend." Sounds like a homo-bashing hoot!

This week's report by Jeffrey C. Billman and Bob Whitby.


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