Letters from the Issue of March 21, 2002

The heartless sea claimed the Fantome and crew

All in the Family Feud

The fire department, like the nation, is strengthened by dissent: Regarding Mike Clary's article "Caution: Flammable Substance" (March 14), going against the status quo, especially after an act as despicable as September 11, always appears tasteless. Yet it is courage such as that expressed by Miami-Dade County firefighter Willie Latimore in going against the ruling elite's Pavlovian instinct to preserve the power structure that truly creates a path for a better way.

Opposition and patriotism are not contradictions in terms. There is room for all. We can all exist as one big happy family. You can't make me more American by forcing me to speak your language, but you can win my heart by forgetting that I speak a different one. In short, America is not a recipe, it just is.

I see that ugly monster raising its head again, and it sure ain't Willie Latimore.

Manny Losada

Miami

A Tragedy at Sea

The mighty ocean is indifferent to death: Thanks to Mike Clary for his very interesting article about Mike Burke, founder of Windjammer Barefoot Cruises ("One Last Cruise," March 14). I am writing because I now have a doubt as to the accuracy of some published facts -- to wit, approximately two years ago the Miami Herald published a lengthy and seemingly well researched story on the Fantome tragedy. In said article, it was stated (to the best of my recollection) that as Hurricane Mitch approached the Central American coast, slowly and erratically, the Fantome crew was instructed to enter into Puerto Cortés, Honduras, where the passengers and nonessential crew were disembarked (and were then taken to San Pedro de Sula, Honduras, to board a commercial flight to Miami), and where the Fantome took brief refuge from the rough weather. Then, when it became clearer that Hurricane Mitch was also headed for the Honduran mainland, the crew was instructed to put out to sea from Puerto Cortés in order to attempt going around the monster in a southeasterly direction. In Mr. Clary's article, he stated that these events unfolded in Belize, not Honduras. Which of the two articles is correct?

Also on the personal tragedy of Capt. Mike Burke, he is a gentleman who should not be so harshly judged. In fact, from an expert seaman's point of view, he took very sound decisions in the midst of a desperate situation. He disembarked his passengers; he disembarked his nonessential crew; he attempted to have his beautiful ship ride out the storm in a safe port; when this became impossible he instructed a very capable and well-paid crew to sail around the phenomenon. Furthermore, the ship's actual captain had the faculty to choose the ship's ultimate measures, had he judged Captain Burke's to have been unsound. He must have, therefore, felt all along that the best decisions were being taken. I have seen far smaller and weaker vessels successfully attempt the same maneuver undertaken by the Fantome.

Life-claiming tragedies have always occurred at sea and will continue to occur. Every sailor who has ever ventured just a few thousand yards away from shore knows that, feels that. When the inevitable happens again, everyone should be understanding and compassionate toward anyone linked with the tragedy. Mud-slinging and second-guessing are very easy temptations from the comfort of a living room, a bedroom, or a bar.

Hank Pagan

Kendall

Mike Clary replies: Both the Herald and New Times published accurate accounts. On October 25, 1998, passengers completing a cruise aboard the Fantome disembarked at Omoa, Honduras, the usual beginning and ending point for the ship, as Hurricane Mitch approached. But 97 arriving passengers boarded and set sail for Belize, where it was thought they would be safer. From there they would be evacuated to Miami via air charters arranged by Windjammer. Those passengers arrived in Belize about noon on October 26. The ship, with 31 crew aboard, then left for the south in an effort to outrun the storm.

College Isn't Just for Eggheads

Think athletes have it easy? Go ahead, you try being a champion football player:After reading Kirk Nielsen's article about the cheating incident involving UM football player Andre Johnson, I say kudos to Professor Thomas Petersen and the University of Miami's Undergraduate Honor Council for upholding their end. However, Andre Johnson's case brings to the fore a more problematic issue than a simple case of academic dishonesty.

In short, it's time the elitists got over it. College is not only for smart people.

People generally go to college for two reasons: to become smarter and to increase their value in the job market. Andre Johnson and every other football player who is "sold this dream and duped into playing sports" is attempting to do the latter, just like every other student in his or her own field.

It's time to realize that college is a training ground, be it for business, sociology, or football. Mr. Johnson has chosen football. Until there is some other way of getting to the National Football League, you nerds need to get off your hallowed pedestals and realize that the university also serves as a vocational institution for many nonintellectual careers. Just because Mr. Johnson doesn't know the meaning of "euphemism" and "stigmatizing" doesn't mean he has no understanding of the vocabulary that will help him be successful in his chosen field. Do most sociology students know the definition of "crackback block" or "pulling guard"? Doubtful.

The truth is, all athletes have to be double majors, succeeding in their academic major and their chosen sport. A good portion of the hours a regular student spends studying his one major, athletes spend practicing, or, if you will, studying their other major. In fairness, if football players have to be able to play well and write like English majors, perhaps in order to graduate English majors should be required to catch a 30-yard bullet while sprinting down a field in tight coverage in front of thousands of screaming fans.

By playing UM football, Mr. Johnson has not only increased his worth in the job market, he has also achieved the other goal of attending college: He got smarter. For even if he never worked on a single assignment on his own, just being exposed to the ideas floated in Professor Petersen's class five out of ten days undoubtedly expanded his mind in some way.

If Andre Johnson doesn't make it in pro football for some reason, then yes, he may end up selling cars for a living. But I'd be willing to bet there are at least as many former sociology majors selling cars as there are former football players doing the same.

Doug Keller

Cutler Ridge

Now Onstage: It's Music!

Ask me about putting the live in Billboardlive: I just read Brett Sokol's "Kulchur" column "Meet Nightlife's Mr. Fix-It" (February 28) and want to thank him for the inside scoop on Billboardlive. Many of us around town were wondering what was happening to that place. So far it just hasn't lived up to its potential. Word on the street about the place is pretty weak, at least among the music scenes. Most people seem to enjoy boycotting it more than attending it.

Can you imagine opening a club called Rolling Stone Live and then just hosting DJ music? It's pretty silly. Hopefully this guy Rudolf Pieper will actually do something to bring hipness back to South Beach. I have some suggestions, notably in the area of hosting a night or two of actual music. In case Rudolf has missed this, the music scene here in Miami is getting ready to explode. There are functions popping up all over town at clubs of all sizes. People are flocking to see live music of all kinds right now. He should grab at it. They have the perfect venue. Some say not, but I would disagree. I believe he could make it work.

Ed Hale

Miami Beach

They Didn't Tell Us They Were Greedy

Maybe it was somewhere in the fine print? Regarding Rebecca Wakefield's article about Sunset Harbour condominiums ("Get It in Writing," February 28), we bought a unit in the townhomes a year ago directly from Groupe Pacific. We are more than 50 years old and this was not the first time we bought a home.

An eleven-year veteran salesperson from Pacific showed us the unit and premises. She indicated to us that the open-air pool belonged to the townhomes and was also used by the marina. She took us to the space where the spa/gym was being built and indicated it belonged to the two towers and the townhomes. We were shown the parking lot of the towers where the townhomes would be able to use valet for guests or extra cars. We received brochures that had all of this and more in writing. We also received the condo documents, all ten pounds of them.

We are not lawyers and yes, we did not read ten pounds of documents. Did we rely on oral representation? Guilty. But we had bought homes in the past, including a unit at the Yacht Club at Portofino, and we received exactly what we were shown. The difference is that we had always dealt with honorable, decent business people. Who would believe that a developer would keep the pool, the gym, and the parking lot for himself and then try to sell or lease it back to the owners? Only the greedy and unscrupulous developers of Groupe Pacific.

Michael Bedzow does not return phone calls and does not meet with people. He has his pawns, like Alan David, to do that. In one of the few meetings where Mr. Bedzow was present, he said, "Fairness is not a business term."

It is too late for us, but Groupe Pacific and its related companies continue to build in Miami Beach. To all prospective buyers out there: Buyer beware!

The only place to hit people like these is where it hurts: in the pocketbook. And if you are foolish enough to do business with them anyway, my advice is that after you shake their hand, count your fingers.

Marilyn Espinosa

Miami Beach

Forget the Fine Print

It was all there in the glossy brochures: Thanks to Rebecca Wakefield for her article on Sunset Harbour. I see that a tiger does not change its stripes. I noticed in reading the article that Michael Bedzow did not return Ms. Wakefield's calls but instead had one of his hired guns, Alan David, do it for him.

Bedzow blames the sales people for misleading buyers. His answer is: Read the fine print. But even when the print isn't fine (as in advertisements in various publications), he still changes his tune. Just look at the advertising for the Sunset Harbour retail shops.

Bedzow blames DCC Constructors but fails to point out that he wouldn't pay them on a timely basis. His main tactic would be to stall until they simply took whatever he paid them. Bedzow blames the condo association for not agreeing to fix the north tower's balconies but fails to mention that his plan for testing the repairs was ruled not up to code by Miami-Dade County. His tactic again is to stall until we take whatever plan is on the table.

Dennis Leyva

Miami Beach

Moving in for the Kill

The predatory developer weakens his prey, then leaps: Regarding Sunset Harbour, a favorite ploy often used by developers is finger-pointing and going after contractors, as well as tightening the purse strings to subcontractors to gain leverage and diffuse culpability. These tactics complicate and prolong litigation, which buys time for the developer, enriches lawyers, and financially bleeds subcontractors and condo owners.

If the developer is fortunate to have a legal subsidiary, he can milk pro-bono work out of it to fight his battles. The developer then resorts to propaganda and threats to weaken the resolve of owners while the accusatory finger of guilt is always pointed at their nemesis, a handful of disgruntled association board members whom they blame as the chief impediment to a settlement. As you approach a court date you anticipate closure, until the strategy of delay, mediation, and another dose of procrastination is thrown into the pot as the developer circles his prey, looking for signs of weakness, cracks in unity, divisiveness among board members, and rebellion among owners hit with additional legal assessments.

While all this is going on, the developer voices his tired mantra: "We've been prepared to do it right all along." They are without sin. They have no control over their sales people, who climb high on the tower of Babel in pursuit of promised commissions and are struck down by the curse of doublespeak. We are asked not to believe promotional literature or oral representations but to inspect plans on file with the city to educate ourselves on building methods and materials. In the words of an educated farmer, this is a lot of bovine waste.

Raymond A. Heffron

Miami Beach

Without Claire We'd Be Nowhere

She cultivated that garden till it was in full bloom: Mike Clary's article on the Miami Beach Botanical Garden ("It's a Jungle in Here," February 21) merely glossed over the Arts in the Garden series and the role of conservancy founder Claire Tomlin. Under her leadership this program has presented more than 100 performing groups (local, regional, and international) and dozens of art exhibitions, and turned the garden into a highly sought art venue for Second Thursdays (Miami Beach's monthly free cultural open house) and other cultural programs.

Multiple grants from the Miami Beach Cultural Arts Council, the Miami-Dade Cultural Affairs Council, and the State of Florida Division of Cultural Affairs attest to her success in turning an abandoned and neglected property into a vibrant community asset.

Pola Reydburd

Miami Beach

Strings Attached: Horrific Imagery

The story may be complicated but the truth is not: I am a huge fan of New Times. I think the work you do is outstanding. But that cover illustration for Gaspar González's article "Strings Attached" (February 21) -- oy vey, as they like to say.

It was glaringly offensive and not that far removed from Jewish illustrations used by the Nazis in their schoolbooks and anti-Jew propaganda. I've looked at the stuff for years and am extremely familiar with the big-nosed, smiling, greedy Jew trying to seduce young German maidens with their pockets full of gold coins. Now, in the 21st Century, they hold a ball of string.

Initially I read the article and tended to agree with the author: This just shouldn't be. But then after reading letters from readers raising the issue of Christmas lights and decorations on public property, I can see the Miami Beach eruv is a much more complicated issue. I only wish Mr. González would have raised these issues as well.

In this community we are often overwhelmed by the atrocities suffered by Colombians, Cubans, Haitians -- the list goes on and on. But that does not eliminate the unmatchable horror and devastation experienced by the Jews in Germany. Having spent time touring the death camps of Poland and Germany, I can only tell you that I am much more sensitive to the low-grade anti-Jewish rhetoric and imagery that still pervades our culture. Because the Jews have made such an extraordinary effort to integrate themselves into American culture, people wrongly assume that their heritage and suffering is fair game. It isn't.

When I visited Auschwitz I noticed a stack of gray blankets, which I assumed were there to keep the prisoners warm. I was wrong. They were blankets made from the prisoners' hair, which was shaved before they were executed. These people were murdered so they could become blankets. That is a hard story to match from any immigrant community.

Philip Smith

Miami

Strings Attached: Extremely Offended

The story may have been fair but the illustration was not: While the article by Gaspar González about the Miami Beach eruv attempted to be fair and balanced, William Taylor's cover illustration could easily have been lifted from Jules Streicher's Der Sturmer. I was taken aback when I saw it. I can only imagine the reaction it caused for Jews who lived through the Holocaust, who suffered the consequences of racist propaganda accompanied by drawings just like Taylor's. At best the cover was in poor taste. I know many people who found it extremely offensive.

Rena Turoff

Miami Beach

Strings Attached: Make It Past Tense

The letter was correct but the title was not: My original letter to the editor ("Letters," March 7) listed my title as "founding" rabbi, Young Israel of Bal Harbour, as well as president of Surf Florist, Inc. When you printed the letter, however, you named me as (current) rabbi, Young Israel of Bal Harbour. I am no longer employed by Young Israel as their rabbi. Your clarification would be appreciated.

(Rabbi) Chaim Casper, founding rabbi

Young Israel of Bal Harbour

Surfside

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