Letters from the Issue of November 22, 2001

The Great Art Debate, Part 2: This letter not intended for stupefied couch potatoes

Message to Merrett: Get a Life!
I was there and I can tell you he was spoiling for a fight: I work at the county's Emergency Operations Center (EOC) during activations and was there during the Hurricane Michelle activation described by Jim DeFede ("Bunker Mentality," November 15). Miami-Dade County residents are blessed to have such a smooth-running machine in charge when disasters are anticipated or strike our community. The Office of Emergency Management (OEM) is under the direct control of the county mayor for obvious reasons. During emergency conditions there can be only one person in charge. Furthermore Florida statutes give the mayor this authority.

Former County Manager Merrett Stierheim came in on Saturday, November 3, ready to pick a fight. Proof of this is the fact that he consulted with the school-board attorney prior to his arrival at the EOC. He stormed into the center like a bull in a china shop and disrupted the teamwork environment that is usually present. I observed both County Manager Steve Shiver and Mayor Alex Penelas behave like gentlemen while Stierheim attempted to dominate the scene as if he were still in charge. Interestingly enough, when Stierheim was county manager he always contended that the decision to close schools was made by the OEM. Now that he is superintendent of schools the decision is his to make? Speaking as a mother of children attending Miami-Dade County Schools, I'm glad Mayor Penelas stood up to this bully who needs to get a life and get out of the business of trying to run the county.

I have developed a new respect and admiration for Mayor Penelas from this experience. Working there, I have watched as he carefully listens to the advice provided by OEM staff and the National Hurricane Center to make decisions for us, the members of his community. Mr. Stierheim needs to understand that he is just a representative of a functional group within the emergency-management system and put his ego aside because, frankly, I would rather see my children protected by the mayor than see Mr. Stierheim's ego satisfied.

Name Withheld by Request
Miami Lakes

How Nasty Is Otto? Let Me Tell You
He'd make a fine Assistant Secretary of State for Criminal Affairs: I enjoyed another well-done article by Kirk Nielsen ("Waiting for Otto," November 8). While he captured the main thrust of Otto Reich's disinformation efforts, the innocuous-sounding Office of Public Diplomacy was in fact a totalitarian-style, nasty covert collaboration among the White House National Security Council, CIA propaganda experts, Army psychological warfare specialists, and the Oliver North enterprise (which also included our present U.N. Ambassador John D. Negroponte).

These efforts were not only aimed at getting around the Boland Amendment but were directly related to serious human-rights violations and a broad range of criminal acts while "democratizing the hemisphere" under Reagan-Bush. Nielsen's use of the phrase "potentially far more volatile forms of disinformation" softens the overall scope of what Reich and these folks did. September 11 sheds new light on Orlando Bosch's acts of terrorism. The civilian plane blown up off Barbados included the young members of the Cuban Olympic fencing team. The Boston Globe called Bosch another Abu Nidal. Not only did Reich use his Venezuelan ambassadorship to help Bosch back into the United States, he also helped exile heavy hitters, including Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and her then-campaign manager Jeb Bush, in preventing Bosch's deportation. Eventually Bosch obtained a full presidential pardon by George Bush, Sr.

Interestingly, six weeks after Reich tendered his ambassador's credentials in Caracas, a local judge cut Bosch loose after ten years in jail for the bombing in question. Venezuelan President Carlos Perez later stated that Bosch's legal files had been tampered with. These repeated machinations on behalf of exiles, according to the New York Times (July 20, 1990), were "a startling example of the Justice Department under no legal compulsion but conspicuous political pressure from local politicians squandering American credibility on issues of terrorism." Bosch remains defiantly unrepentant, claiming the exiles' acts have been legitimate acts of war. He still enjoys hero status within a large like-minded community in South Florida and New Jersey.

I am surprised no mention was made of Reich's vice chairmanship of Worldwide Responsible Apparel Production (WRAP), a highly controversial clothing-industry front set up with his ex-CIA buddies to undermine growing anti-sweatshop movements and avoid legitimate outside monitoring. Also Reich already has an initial $700 million jet-fighter deal with Lockheed-Martin and Chile awaiting "trial ballooning" to see how others in the region will respond. I can't see him giving up this fat brokerage fee even if he does make it to the State Department. The conflict-of-interest pile is now as high as Mt. Everest.

Fernando Alvarez-Costa
Tampa

The Great Art Debate, Part 2
This letter not intended for stupefied couch potatoes: This is in reaction to Mertz Kan's letter (October 25), summarized in the headline "Art is a mirror, not a lens." If Alfredo Triff suggested that art should be a reflection of truth -- enlightening and thought-provoking -- he's completely accurate. There is not one mere definition of what art actually is, but I need a better definition than "art is just art." To give you a little lesson in art history, Mr. Kan, the notion of the artist as an enlightened genius does not have its roots in the Renaissance; try going back many centuries to antiquity. Truth and the intensification of life was portrayed in the art of those times. What the majority of our society lacks today is intellectual curiosity.

If you want a mirror or a reflection of our society, turn on your television and find your reflection in MTV or programs like Who Wants To Be a Millionaire. These days only a minority of people pick up a book instead of watching countless hours of television. They also are the people who visit art galleries to escape from "pop culture" to find insight or even truth in the visual arts. Art can open one's mind by stimulating all the senses, and by doing so it offers insight that can be a connection on a personal level. Artists should aspire to make connections of substance with their audiences on an intellectual or emotional level. The viewer can carry that experience for days, weeks, and maybe even years. True art is not ephemeral.

For example, Triff's critique of the "4 Painters" exhibition at the Dorsch Gallery is a prime example ("Wide Portrait of Painting," November 1). What shocked some people at the show was a painting called Wanker by Jordan Massengale. I stood in front of it for quite some time. I was curious, and it raised questions in my head: Why would he paint such a composition? Is it a reflection of how he views society behind closed doors? Is it a reflection of himself performing acts that may offend others but are pleasurable to himself?

The point is that thoughts ran wildly through my mind. I was stimulated by this artist, who has a passion for his work and the moral courage to take a chance and display this painting to the world with no regrets. Mr. Kan, this work of art, among many, is not a reflection of a society gone numb; this work is a lens that reveals a society that is very much alive.

Nadhia Sanchoo
Miami

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