Strings Attached: Unspoken Agendas

Letters to the Editor

It's not about the Constitution, it's about exclusion: I was deeply troubled by Gaspar González's article "Strings Attached" (February 21). He seemed to miss the essential point, that the eruv is not a religious "symbol" in the sense of a visual object or image that conveys religious meaning, such as a cross or Star of David. The eruv is, as he correctly pointed out, virtually invisible and therefore does not convey any state sponsorship of a religious message. The eruv is more easily compared to structures that increase access for people with disabilities, since it makes it much more possible for Orthodox Jews to live within its boundaries.

This, I believe, is the true reason for opposition to an otherwise harmless eruv: Its presence means that Orthodox Jews will find the neighborhood more attractive. People who find this unobtrusive device noxious are, it seems to me, motivated less by a pure desire to keep church and state separate than the desire to keep themselves separate from the sort of offensive caricature of a Jew that your editor chose as the cover illustration of this issue.

This caricature -- worthy of anything published by Josef Goebbels -- is certainly in keeping with Mr. González's uninformed "loophole" comment, which dismisses an ancient and benign religious tradition held dear by Jews for centuries.

Henry Abramson
North Miami Beach

Strings Attached: Unwanted Consequences

A victory in court could be a defeat for us all: The proposal to remove the Miami Beach eruv because it's on public property doesn't make sense. Has the American Civil Liberties Union and the anti-Semite who complained to that organization thought that if indeed they win their case, it would mean no Christmas or Chanukah decorations could be displayed on public property? Imagine this nation with no decorations or signs of any kind.

Armando Amores
North Bay Village

Strings Attached: Untethered ACLU

Okay then, let's ban decorative lights during the holiday season: Using the ACLU's logic regarding church and state and the Miami Beach eruv, I should complain when city workers being paid with my taxes hang Christmas decorations from city light posts during the Christmas holidays.

The ACLU has no problem asserting that Americans are being denied their rights by not being able to travel to Cuba and that the embargo against Cuba should be lifted. What rights are we talking about? The saying "A person is a liberal until he or she is mugged by a minority" shines bright when it comes to the ACLU.

It would seem the ACLU has lost its path and has forgotten the reason it was created, all in the name of political correctness.

Norman Grossman
Miami Beach

Strings Attached: Unforgivable Caricature

If crude sensationalism was your goal, you succeeded: Gaspar González's "Strings Attached" was reasonably factual and balanced. The same cannot be said for the cover illustration by William Taylor, which can only be described as an inflammatory expression of Jew-hatred.

The issues the article addresses relate to all observant Jews. The use of a caricature of a grinning Hasid to illustrate the article reflects an insensitive and ignorant editorial decision not worthy of New Times. After all, would you have used a caricature of Mike Tyson, with an ear dangling from his mouth, to illustrate a discussion of watermelon economics? A caricature of the pope with a condom in hand to illustrate sexual predation by clergy in Boston? Or a caricature of a grinning Fidel Castro to illustrate bilingual education in Miami?

Was it necessary to demean, denigrate, and insult a significant percentage of your readership with crude sensationalism? I suggest that Mr. Taylor and whoever on your editorial staff approved the cover illustration take a trip over to the Sanford L. Ziff Jewish Museum of Florida to view, study, and learn from its temporary exhibit featuring a review of the use of art to promulgate hatred.

We are now post-September 11, New Times. Do not promulgate hatred.

Louis Schneider
Miami Beach

Strings Attached: Unprecedented Insensitivity

How low can you go? You just went there: The artwork on the cover of last week's New Times is blatantly racist and offensive. The exaggerated features and moles of the subject more appropriately belong in the show at the Jewish Museum of Florida, "The Art of Hatred: Images of Intolerance in Florida Culture."

I am stunned by the insensitivity of New Times's editor and staff. You have stooped far lower than usual.

Lynne Cohen

Strings Attached: Unbelievably Disgusting

Want to make things right? Try starting with an apology: Damn! I thought I'd visited the Website of the World Church of the Creator by mistake. That illustration of the Orthodox Jew holding the ball of string was completely disgusting, like something out of Nazi Germany. You guys owe the entire Miami community an apology.

Sheila Fyfe
Coconut Grove

Editor's note: As evidenced by the letters above, a number of people were offended by last week's cover illustration. In a telephone conversation following publication, Rabbi Donald Bixon of the congregation Young Israel of Miami Beach maintained that the drawing, a caricature of an Orthodox Jewish man, was analogous to an illustration of "a black man with big lips eating a piece of fried chicken with a watermelon patch in the background." A stinging analogy indeed. New Times sincerely regrets any offense taken by our readers. None was intended.

Message from the Manager

Believe me, it's okay to drink the water! Jim DeFede's article "Pollution Solution" (February 14) raises important public-policy questions regarding Miami-Dade County's water supply. I don't typically make it a point to respond to this particular writer's interpretation of issues or how he relays information, but I feel the need to set the record straight about directives I have issued to protect the quality of our drinking water.

New Times has printed numerous personal attacks on my colleagues, on me, and even on my family. As a public figure I am resigned to the fact that these kinds of stories will continue. All that said, I am respectful of the role that New Times plays in our society, and I must admit I sometimes find the paper's conspiracy-theory reporting style entertaining. But enough is enough. When a critical policy decision regarding our water supply is mischaracterized, New Times readers need to hear the rest of the story.

Miami-Dade County is committed to protecting our water resources. In fact I believe we have the finest water-resource managers and planners in the nation working in our government. Several critical components of our water policy were omitted in the article. My discussion of rock mining in the lake belt began long before the July 23 meeting with industry representatives referenced in the article. In fact John Renfrow, director of the Department of Environmental Resource Management (DERM), and I had several discussions regarding the legality of denying mining permits without proper scientific analysis.

For the past two years DERM has been working with representatives from the U.S. Army Corps, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, and the rock-mining industry to determine the appropriate conditions for inclusion in federal, state, and county permits. All three levels of government include language that expressly prohibits most mining in close proximity to the county wellfield until an agreed-upon, three-year review is performed. This review will include DERM and United States Geological Survey modeling and risk-assessment studies that are ongoing.

The article failed to mention that in 2001 a study was conducted to determine an acceptable setback distance for rock mines. The study was done because DERM recognized that the increasing number of lakes around the wellfield could add to the risk of pathogens entering the drinking-water supply. The study was inconclusive, and DERM is proceeding with additional studies to determine what role filtering plays in the aquifer and how that will affect rock-mining setback boundaries. Once this evaluation is complete, DERM will propose a rock-mining setback ordinance based on the findings. As a result of the two meetings I attended with numerous industry representatives (not an individual lobbyist as referenced in the article), county staff worked with the industry to provide additional safeguards not originally agreed upon, including more restrictive language and a limited-term permit.

The draft ordinance mentioned in the article is only one of several options the Board of County Commissioners will consider if our staff concludes that additional precautions are necessary. Before I recommend a responsible solution, which may include additional fees, all the necessary reviews must be completed. The commission deserves the benefit of all the information available from my staff. Once we have determined a proper course of action, I will make the appropriate recommendations, in consultation with all these professionals.

New Times posed the following question: "Why assess a fee on the rock miners?" The simplistic answer: "Because their industry poses a threat to our drinking water." The fact is that we do not have enough compelling evidence to leap to that conclusion. The dynamics of this issue are very complex and there are many factors that will eventually influence the outcome. It is unacceptable folly for anyone to suggest that the county set a precedent of imposing ordinances, taxes, and fees on any industry (or private citizen, for that matter) without proper scientific analysis and diligent thought.

Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to set the record straight. If your readers ever have a doubt of my administration's intent, have concerns about a particular issue, or have suggestions on how we can improve our services, please feel free to contact me directly at I can also be reached at the office at 305-375-1032 or at home at 305-246-5409.

Steve Shiver, manager
Miami-Dade County


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