Shiny, happy blimps
Shiny, happy blimps
Ivylise Simones

Stone Gets Spanked

Stone Gets Spanked
Filed under: News

In 2003 HBO yanked Comandante, Oliver Stone's puff-piece documentary about Fidel Castro. Bad timing, according to HBO: The Cuban dictator had just jailed 75 dissidents and executed three others.

Now Stone is in hot water over Cuba once again. On December 1, the Department of the Treasury announced that Ixtlan — Stone's Santa Monica-based production company — will pay $6322 in fines for violating the Cuban embargo. The violations happened between February 2002 and May 2003.


Oliver Stone

After HBO pulled Comandante, Stone returned to Cuba and reinterviewed Castro. The result was Looking for Fidel, which aired on the network in 2004. In an interview for Slate the same year, Stone didn't hide his admiration for Castro.

"I would compare him more to Reagan and Clinton.... They were both tall and had great shoulders, and so does Fidel," Stone said. "I'm totally awed by his ability to survive and maintain a strong moral presence."

Journalists can legally travel to Cuba under U.S. Treasury rules. But as Stone told Slate: "My role here was not as a journalist. It really was as a director and filmmaker."

Neither Stone nor his publicist could be reached for comment. In a 2004 interview with the BBC, Stone waxed poetic about The Bearded One: "Castro is isolated in the hemisphere, and for those reasons I admire him, because he's a fighter." Never one for modesty, Stone continued, "I think honestly, without blowing my horn, he did respect me. Part of the reason he respected me was that I had been in combat. He had done guerrilla war for years, and he feels that there is a truth in combat, that we can talk as men, as equals." — Tamara Lush

Balloon Man
Filed under: Culture

Tugging a fifteen-foot-tall, helium-filled, egg-shape blimp that's floating twenty feet off the ground for twelve blocks along the South Beach shoreline isn't as easy as it looks.

I had been eavesdropping on blimp maker Joel Mangrum's sober instructions to the dozen or so handlers assembled to guide the float. It was one of eighteen giant balloons created by artists as part of the "Skywalkers" parade, held this past Thursday in association with Art Basel. Then I was suddenly invited to take hold of a rope on one of the blimps for the journey down the beach.

Who declines an invitation to march in a parade? So I grabbed ahold and waited.

The procession was led by the Hialeah Senior High School marching band and a tricked-out green Scion xB (the automaker sponsored the event) with three-foot-high tires and a drummer on the converted flatbed. The band played an original tune composed for the occasion by jazz trumpeter Arturo Sandoval. His son Arturo Sandoval III and Sam Borkson constitute Friends with You, the art collective that curated the jubilantly frivolous parade.

Most of the floats, including a 30-foot volcano, were done up in primary colors. There was also a whale, a rabbit, and some unidentifiable creatures. Our egg was black, plastered with black eyes.

Jeremy Chestler, executive director of ArtCenter/South Florida, which helped organize the event and led the drive to assemble nearly 200 volunteer blimp handlers, was the "captain" of our squad, which also included most of Sam Borkson's family: Jane and Ray Caragher (Sam's mom and stepfather); Elliot and Mindy Borkson (dad and stepmother); Marla Borkson (youngest sister); and 78-year-old Bunnie Branston, Sam's grandmother.

Sam's other sister, Emily, couldn't be there, because she had given birth to Sam's niece, Camille Roslyn, the night before. Upon meeting her new granddaughter, Jane had told her the parade was being held in her honor. The newborn's mom replied, "So you're lying to the baby already!"

Jeremy prepared for the walk by perusing a cheat sheet printed with commands, including several safety-related instructions: "Break" (stop, should someone stumble); "Cut" (if the wind was too much, Jeremy would slash the balloon with a box cutter; and "Loose" (meaning "let it fly.... It's expensive, but it's not worth someone getting hurt," Mangrum said).

Mangrum untied the ropes, and pretty soon we were off. The walk down the beach was stop and go, and more tiring than you might expect, owing to the heat, the effort of walking on sand, and the strain of holding the float in place. It took about 90 minutes to travel from Seventeenth Street to Fifth Street.

A throng gathered around the 200 or so volunteer marchers from one end of the parade to the other. Dazed beachgoers and sweaty joggers squinted up at the row of dirigibles. One man, seeing the volunteers' white T-shirts with red circles, asked if the parade had something to do with Pearl Harbor Day.

"I was hoping the press wouldn't pick up on that," Jeremy said.

Whoops. — Frank Houston

Squeeze Play
Filed under: News

Kathleen Cuartas used to have a view of Biscayne Bay from her Twenties-era bungalow in the Edgewater neighborhood. Now Cuartas, her adult children, and her two preschool-age grandkids look out onto a 300-foot-high concrete slab and a parking garage. Concrete chips, plywood pieces, cinder block chunks, bricks, metal fittings, and the occasional hammer rain down on her property, poking holes in the roof and covering the family's cars in concrete splatters. Cuartas's grandchildren aren't allowed in the yard during the day.

Politically connected megadeveloper Willy Bermello is erecting a 27-story condo tower literally around Cuartas's single-level house. The building, to be called Onyx, became a major problem for Cuartas this past summer when her then-tenants threatened to sue her over the danger posed by the work site. After they moved out, Cuartas moved in with her extended family and tried to get the situation under control. "I was going to fix it, I thought," she says.

After an independent engineer confirmed the "unsafe situation" in a report this past July, the developers agreed to halt work directly above the house and install safety-barrier netting for debris. They bought covers for the family's cars and offered to wash the weekly concrete buildup. But the safety netting wasn't large enough, leaving a frequently used outdoor staircase exposed. Cuartas claims the rain of debris has continued and she's found no help from federal, state, or local agencies.

"The contractor has assured the inspector that they will take all precaution necessary in order not to create a hazard for the neighbors," Hector Lima, director of Miami's building department, wrote in a recent e-mail to Cuartas. Ken Hawkins, a partner at Bermello Ajamil & Partners, referred questions to MK Contractors. Jody Ratner, MK's assistant project manager for Onyx, would say only that the company had "tried to accommodate all [of Cuartas's] wishes and demands," and that the project is "in full compliance and there are no violations." According to the city's building department, the site has no code violations.

Onyx has had its share of woe lately. A would-be sister building two blocks away, Onyx 2, was to have been the tallest residential building in Miami. The planned 50-story project, launched to celebrity fanfare (Tara Reid was there) this past July, went belly up before construction could begin.

Cuartas wasn't shedding any tears for the developers. "After 2 1/2 - 3 years of experience," she wrote in a recent e-mail, "I can say with conviction that the system is broken for its citizens and öfixed' for the powerful building industry." — Rob Jordan

And Now for a Little Self-Congratulation
Filed under: News

This past week, New Times staffers picked up four awards from the Florida Society of Professional Journalists, for newspapers with a circulation of more than 100,000: Emily Witt won first place for general reporting for her story "Band of Outsiders"; Chuck Strouse won first place for serious column writing; Rob Jordan won second place for business reporting for his story "Deconstruction"; and Joanne Green won second place in investigative reporting for her story "Rough Love."


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