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Monday March 26, 2007

Some images of the Anna Gaskell installation at Viscaya.

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On 'Critical'

When the whole Carnival Center thing happened, I remember being sneeringly asked something like, “what qualifications do you have to be a critic, anyway?” Well, for the record, I have none (nor do I agree that writing about thing should be left for so-called qualified professionals). But the question has stuck with me, and from time to time I’ve introspected about what I meant by the word ‘critical’ when I named this site. It really breaks down into about four distinct meanings, which I consider to have the following order of relative importance:

  1. There is an almost slang-like sense in which the word was used in the late-80s/early-90s to mean ‘important.’ See also “crucial.” It turns out that this corresponds roughly to the first definition of the word in Webster, but for me the word still has a casual connotation. Also, to the extent that critical=important, it’s writing about important things — or things we pretend are important because they’re fun to argue about — not that the site itself is supposed to be important.
  2. The critical thinking sense. In other words, writing for the sake of the fun of picking apart ideas. Plus: “How can I know what I think until I see what I say,” a quote so good it variously gets ascribed to W.H. Auden, Raymond Carver, Oscar Wilde, Richard Hugo, Winston Churchill(!), Graham Wallas, and E. M. Forster (the latter is apparently correct). I hadn’t gotten to write a whole lot since college, and picking localness as a subject gave me a wide field of topics to work with. (Well, and plus there was no Miami omniblog at the time — had SotP been around, I doubt I’d have started.)
  3. The “writing negatively about things” sense. Because it’s fun to criticize things, even if you couldn’t do it any better yourself. Heck, sometimes it’s important to. I think this is the sense that people get first when they hit the site — note the Metafilter link, and the Destination Blog kiss-off: “not critical enough.” Hmph.
  4. Finally, the “writing judgmentally about cultural stuff” sense. I actually try to tread lightly when I do this, and again, I don’t claim any particular qualifications. But what’s the big deal, anyway? We all go look at, listen to, and do stuff, and it’s only natural to talk about whether we liked it or not, and why. There’s no persuasive reason why this should be left to professionals.

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Wednesday March 21, 2007

Downtown adventure

Downtown!

This is what happened last Friday. To set it up, let me tell you that I’m usually a flake about things like returning phone calls, paying bills, and renewing my car registration. But this year I was determined to be better, so when I got the paperwork in the mail, I went right to the web site. I typed all my info in, and got some generic “we can’t process your request right now” type of message. I figured I was too early, so I let it go, and tried again a couple of times. Finally, a couple of weeks ago I realized there was some problem and I wouldn’t be able to renew my registration online. Somewhat irritated, I went to the courthouse on my lunch break Thursday to do it in person. They told my I had a parking ticket hold on my renewal! Now, I live on South Beach, so parking tickets are a part of life, but I’d paid all 3 outstanding tickets on the Clerk’s website over a month ago. Wtf?!

Well, it turns out that payment didn’t go through. Obviously I didn’t print the confirmation page, but I’ll just assure you that it sure looked like it went through. Whatever. But now I have exactly one day to fix the parking tickets and renew my registration before leaving the country until the next month, when I’m eligible for parking tickets even if I park legally on account of having expired tags. I wake up extra early on Friday and head downtown, armed with the address of Courthouse East, where the parking tickets can be sorted out: 22 NW 4th St: Easy!

Somerandomgovernment

Here’s where I parked, and if you understand Miami’s street name system, you’ll know that I was very close to my target address. Except that I wasn’t, and here’s where my own stupid mistake came to bear, because — duh — click the address above and you’ll see that I wrote it down wrong. I was a few blocks away from the real Courthouse East, but it’s a long few blocks when you’re wandering around and asking every 4th person for directions (including the parking attendant for the police station while unmarked cars are trying to get into the lot). I might also point out that “Courthouse East” doesn’t help with shit, because there are about four distinct court buildings in Downtown, most of them arranged in a North-South line!

Courthouse East

Courthouse East! (Which, in all fairness, is just east of the old, original, courhouse building.) Now we’re getting somewhere. I sure hope my parking meter doesn’t run out — it sure would suck to get a parking ticket while paying four overdue parking tickets. And don’t ask me where the 4th one came from; as far as I’m concerned they made it up.

Illegal photo!

I’m irritable, and snapping photos to relax myself. You see the security guard through the glass in this one? He came out and yelled at me that I wasn’t allowed to take pictures. I told him fine, but he seemed unsatisfied and asked me what I was doing there. I told him I was trying to pay a parking ticket. I also asked him if it was against the law to take photographs, but his English wasn’t so hot, because he exclaimed, “No! You’re not allowed to take photographs!” I dropped it. The people upstairs didn’t seem to have a problem with my photographing, but now the next thing — the parking department doesn’t take checks OR credit cards! That’s right — your government only takes cash!! I think the parking department, homeless bums, and my drug dealer are the only three institutions I deal with that I need cash for anymore.

Government Business!!

Now I’m wandering around Downtown looking for an ATM, and here’s the one I found (the lady at the parking dept gave me directions, but I’m not sure if this is the one she was talking about — they were sort of convoluted). So I pay up. Oh, can I renew my registration here while I’m at it? Of course not. Miami courthouses don’t renew vehicle registrations, but she’s happy to direct me to a nearby tag agency. No thanks. I’m heading back up to Broward, where the courthouse can help me. Blah, Miami.

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Monday March 19, 2007

Year two wrap-up

I’m off to Bogotá for a couple of weeks, and even though the two-year CM anniversary (cotton!) is a month away, let’s do a recap of the more prominent articles some newer readers may have missed. Chronological:

Whew! I guess I need to do that more often then once a year. Here is the previous list (and yes, Haardvark is going on 4 years without getting updated). Other then that, don’t worry, there are a few articles pre-written and scheduled for the next two weeks. Otherwise, I’ll see you on April 4th.

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Sunday March 18, 2007

Heavy weather

I love Miami weather. This was around 10 am Friday, I-95. After an hour or two everything cleared up, and the afternoon was calm, cool, and wonderful.

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Saturday March 17, 2007

Steve eats Pizza Rustica.

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Friday March 16, 2007

Website weekend

mn

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Thursday March 15, 2007

Water restrictions go into effect March 22. But nice people start early on this. In fact, nice people don’t water their lawn during the dry season!

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There’s a plan floating around to swap property taxes for an increase in sales tax. This amounts to a regressive tax — taking money from the poor to give to the rich, because the poor use a higher percentage of their money to purchase stuff and are less likely to own property. Here’s a list of how much the plan would save a few different lobbyists.

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Correction: madebythem says: “You mention a space that had a big opening with a boy with neon orange briefs. I would like to let you know that that space as well as the show was is in no way related to the Moore Space. My friend and I wrote a proposal to get the space and decided to have a show with no theme, flyers, invites or any sort of publicity. It would be great if you could correct your update in order to prevent any sort of misunderstandings with the good folks at the Moore Space.”

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Let's charge for high-speed lanes on I-95

I-95

OK, let me see if I understand this correctly. We take the HOV lane on I-95 and turn it into a toll lane. Actually, two toll lanes. Then you make the toll variable, and increase it such that a car on those lanes can always travel at 50 mph.

Where to start with this one? OK let’s put aside the “What?! You can easily add an extra lane? Why didn’t you fucking morons do that about two decades ago?!?!” and concentrate on the larger questions this proposal raises. Now, I ride I-95 daily (against the traffic, and at off-peak hours, thank Jesus), so I see the hell that downtown 9—5ers go through. I also see their cars, and rest assured that a good number of these people are comfortable enough in terms of salary and uncomfortable enough in terms of traffic frustration that I think a lot of them are going to be willing to jump in to this program.

And a lot of them jumping in is going to mean that traffic in those two lanes is going to slow down. Raising the toll. How high will it go? In 2002, I-95 in Miami served 260,000 cars per day (most recent data). It’s generally about 5 lanes each way. If you instead have 4 regular lanes + 2 toll lanes, the toll needs to be such that 20% of the drivers are willing to pay it just to break even on the non-toll lanes. But common sense suggests that 20% of I-95’s traffic spread across two lanes is going to travel much slower then 50mph. This means that tolls will need to be so high that less then 20% of commuters will not be able to afford them even under traffic conditions worse then they are today. How much would you be willing to pay? $2.50 (roughly the cost of a similar trip on the Turnpike)? $5? $10? And how much would the richest 15% of commuters be willing to pay?

Let’s do the math with the most conservative figures we have. If we assume that traffic is still 260,000 cars per day, and if 15% of those cars across 2 lanes results in 50mph, and if $5 is the most those 15% are willing to pay (i.e. the folks in the 16th percentile are unwilling to pay), and assuming 50 5-day work weeks per year, you’re looking at around $50 million in revenue per year, and you’re starting to get an idea of what the actual motivation behind this suggestion might be. Charge for high-speed lanes on I-95? Let’s not and say we did.

Homework: An interview with Reid Ewing (pdf), in which he describes in some detail how ass-backwards South Florida’s transportation system is, and what we could actually do about it.

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Wednesday March 14, 2007

The TM Sisters are in Moscow! Congrats on getting into the Moscow Biennale, and watch out for that crazy Russian secret police and the even crazier Russian mob!

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Spam All-Stars

Spam All-Stars

Spam All-Stars

Miami’s house band, the Spam All-Stars, have been playing all over the place lately; here they are on Ed Bell’s show on WLRN a couple of weeks ago. They look like the Hipster Village People and they sound like . . . hmm, I guess they sound like Miami — a little of everything. Le Spam’s beats and Tomas Diaz’s percussion ridiculously very well, retaining the thump of a beatbox and the organic quality of live drumming; it’s only seeing them play live that it’s possible to tell where how exactly the sounds fit together. Guitarist Adam Zimmon delivers funk, reggae, and rock riffage without making the it sound like a “guitar band.” And they have this neat trick where LeSpam drops a beat, lets it go for a few bars, and silences it exactly at the moment the horn section comes in, which sounds impossibly like a perfectly mixed dance record.

The horn section is (left to right) Mercedes Abal, AJ Hill, and Chad Bernstein (there are a couple of other members that weren’t there that day), and they’re all great in a soul, not really a jazz, sort of way. They have an effortless quality about them that comes from playing together for almost 15 years, and a box-full of little tricks (at one point Chad jammed out on two conch shells). Most of the members contribute little vocal flourishes here and there, but mostly it’s instrumental jams, which is why this is more of a dance band then anything else — Hoy Como Ayer is the place to see them (they play there most Thursdays). You can download their new album from their site for 99¢/song, or grab some older stuff for free.

By the way, this is in Studio 1 at WLRN (that’s Ed taking pictures in the bottom photo). Here’s Ed (a one-time contributor to CM) rocking the mic, and here is a pretty lousy picture of Studio 2, where most of the live shows get recorded. Behind that is the control booth. The building is owned by the school board, and it shows, but different parts of the building feel, alternatively, like a corporate office, like a dorm room, and like a slick modern lounge.

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Tuesday March 13, 2007

Is this the bottom?

Wow! A UF study just found that Florida’s residential housing market may be bottoming out. Before we get all exited, let’s keep in mind that this is state-wide, not specific to Miami, and that the condo market is still in mid-tank. However, Housing Tracker for Miami confirms an increase in median home sale price for the last month (+0.8%), the first positive bump in over two years. By my reading, though, the accumulation of housing inventory is accelerating in the same time period, so keep your champagne corked for the moment. Update: Sorry, the link works now. Read BB’s comment, and venture a guess — if this report is BS, then when do you think the housing market will bottom out? (Critical Miami’s prediction: another 12  –15 months.)

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The City of Miami has a tree master-plan

tree canopy

It wasn’t always this way, but Miami-Dade has an abysmal tree canopy. The usual scapegoats are Hurricane Andrew and the Citrus Canker eradication program, but the former was 15 years ago, and the latter included cash reimbursements, so the more likely culprit is neglect and apathy. County-wide, the tree canopy is somewhere around 10% (the equivalent of 5 large trees per acre), one of the worst in the nation.

Now comes the City of Miami’s Tree Master Plan, proposed by Manny Diaz in February. I got a copy, and I also talked to Stephanie N. Grindell, the City’s director of Public Works, who had a hand in writing the plan. Here are the highlights:

But yadda-yadda — here’s the whole plan (.doc) for those interested. And now for the bad news. First of all, the plan uses wishy-washy language throughout. Not “the city will have 30% tree canopy coverage by 2020,” but “The plan . . . will be used as a framework to coordinate efforts to restore and enhance the City’s tree canopy with a goal of a minimum of 30% . . .” (emphasis added). “It is the city’s goal to have a certified arborist . . .” and so on.

Maybe that’s just how public documents are written. What’s worse is that the 30% goal is actually low. American Forests itself recommends 40% coverage for cities everywhere except the dry Southwest (in which we ain’t). And in its two years of existence, 80% of the Tree Trust Fund has not been spent on tree replacement; in fact the program is just now really getting going (Ms. Grindell chuckled when I asked about the plan before explaining).

Don’t get me wrong — it’s great that there’s a plan, and it’s not too late. But it is too little. There’s some indication of City/County partnership in this thing. I say let’s get our new strong county mayor involved, and adapt the plan to the whole county. And let’s set a hard goal, not a soft one. And let’s go for the 40% — flying over Miami in the 1980’s was like flying over a forest (ok, sort of), and it can be like that again.

Thanks to Steve for the American Forests link.

Update: Other interesting links: TREEmendousMiami, and America’s urban forests: growing concerns, a 10-year old article in American Forests.

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Monday March 12, 2007

An update on the Carlos Miller case. The attention seems to be on the charges filed against him, rather then charges against the police. And how’d Homeland Security get involved?!

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This just came up: there are 32 Cities in Miami-Dade. Don’t click yet — write down as many as you can from memory first!

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Yikes: Miami is #98 out of 100 on a list of the most walkable cities in the US. The main criteria was the percentage of people who walk for exercise. Contrast with an older study (no date) which looked at people who walk to work — Miami was #79 there. (via TM)

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The Café at Books & Books gets four green hearts on Meatless Miami.

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Robert goes to Carnival Center for Swan Lake and has some interesting analysis of ticket prices and comparative value. He concludes that even the worst seats in the house are pretty good, and the prices are reasonable. See my Carnival Center review for more, including a photo from the opera house’s worst seat (about 2/3 of the way down the page). The legroom issue is interesting, since of course each additional inch of legroom means you sit further away depending on how many rows are in front of you.

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Saturday gallery hop + more

Tachmes

Pictures from Saturday night, and yes — mixing images of art with unrelated photos of the evening. Here are Abner Nolan’s found negatives at Leonard Tachmes Gallery.

DSC_2621

AA spot in the Design District I can never seem to catch the name of (Update: it’s an annex of the Moore Space Update #2: madebythem says: “That space as well as the show was is in no way related to the Moore Space. My friend and I wrote a proposal to get the space and decided to have a show with no theme, flyers, invites or any sort of publicity.”), a big exhibition involving live dogs in uncomfortable-looking costumes, video, a lawn-sized patch of live sod, copious piles of broken furniture, an altar, and at least one boy in neon-orange briefs.

Green

This is not art. Actually, I don’t think I was supposed to be upstairs, as the whole floor was linoleum-recently-removed sticky.

Tarot card altar by l’elk!

Blue

I am sometimes asked to explain the difference between the Design District and Wynwood. They are adjacent art districts, with roughly separated by I-195. The Design District has some notable architecture and history, and contains several non-profit art spaces, along with high-end furniture showrooms.

Redundancy

Wynwood is mostly old warehouses, many of which have been occupied by the hottest commercial galleries in town. (There are also a few private collections and the MoCA annex.) There used to be a rivalry of sorts, but I think the DD folks largely gave that up when they changed their gallery walk to second Saturdays to coincide with Wynwood’s.

DSC_2691

Sara Stites at the Buena Vista Building.

DSC_2684

A Jen Stark peephole piece at the Bas-Fisher Invitational.

Kerry Ware

Kerry Ware at Dorsch.

Erika

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Friday March 9, 2007

Priceless: “While hundreds of U.S. law enforcement agents intercepted imaginary Cuban migrants during a massive training exercise in south Florida, two boatloads of actual Cubans sneaked ashore on Miami Beach on Thursday.”

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Manola Blablablanik has her debut sex column in this week’s CityLink. Congrats Manola! (Hopefully they’ll fix the link to her blog at the bottom — who you got working in the control room over there, Dan Sweeney??)

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The New Times is worth picking up this week for the glossy pull-out “Menu Guide.” (Not to be confused with the online Menu Guide or the online Restaurant Guide.

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Calle Ocho Weekend

c8

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Thursday March 8, 2007

“Meanwhile, Buffalo Barf hoists himself up and staggers to the men’s room to dump his fetid stew, only to return to his corner and repeat his rosaries. The horrid stench works its way through the refrigerated waiting room.” Steve Klotz visits the Memorial Hospital in Hollywood.

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“Instead of having the mayor and commissioners name a [Miami-Dade charter] review team, Ms. Sorenson now wants experts and community organizations to nominate members.” Full steam ahead!

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Wednesday March 7, 2007

Subtropics: Fluxus Day, FIU New Music Ensemble, and Jan Williams

Subtropics: Fluxus Day

Subtropics: Fluxus Day

Subtropics: Fluxus Day

Subtropics: Fluxus Day

Fluxus Eve was lots of fun. Clockwise from top right: George Brecht, Motor Vehicle Sundown Event (for John Cage), Larry Miller, Remote Music (for Keyboard), fire piece (not sure of title), and Alison Knowles, Onion Skin Song. Most of these pieces are around 50 years old, and Knowles and Miller were on hand to perform their compositions and add some character (not to mention gravitas) to the performance — both were great. Note that they have these corridors that run through the Carnival Center that are wide enough to drive a car through — and they did!! Also, the highlight of the evening was when Knowles took off one of her shoes, explained where she got it and why she liked it, and invited audience members to share about their shoes. Tigertail’s Mary Luft: “These are Birkenstocks. I’ve never liked Birkenstocks, and I only bought these because they match my silver toenail polish.” Yeah!

Subtropics: FIU New Music Ensemble

I saw the FIU New Music Ensemble a couple of years ago performing the music of James Tenney and Christian Wolff at the Wolfsonian, and remembered being extremely impressed, so I had misplaced expectations of greatness for their Subtropics performance. Maybe the Earle Brown pieces were intended to sound hesitant, creaky, and atonal, but even if so I’m convinced that the performers enhanced those qualities with their natural tendencies (re. which: “Sit up!”). Yes, they’re students. But I’m not going easy on them — someone obviously thought it was a good idea to include them in the festival, and people paid the same money to see them.

Their musical director apologized because they couldn’t perform the first movement of Lou Harrison’s Varied Trio (because of a “missing microphone” — wtf??), but didn’t see fit to mention anything about a missing clarinet player that is listed for the two of the pieces which thus became quartets instead of quintets. Pianist Marta Milosevic showed the most promise out of the group, but her solo performance, of a propulsive John Cage prepared piano piece, was marred by sloppy page turning — she actually had to pause because fool turned two pages at once.

Subtropics: Jan Williams

Jan Williams performing Pickup Sticks by Gustavo Matamoros (1998). The snare drum is microphoned and connected to a Powerbook, triggering digital sound/noise sequences whenever the player makes a mistake and disturbs the snare head. So yes, the point is to make as little sound as possible, and Williams looked genuinely frustrated whenever he messed up (but he was probably pretending). Another composition consisted of whole notes played on a muted gong for what I seriously estimate was 45 minutes and nothing else. This was more interesting then it sounds, but only slightly. I didn’t realize it was a La Monte Young young piece, and I think if I had I’d have heard it differently.

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Tuesday March 6, 2007

It's all the readers' fault

Carl Hiaasen says and Bob Norman agrees. That the Anna Nicole Smith incident is revealing some sort of new low in our culture. “But this is the new New Journalism, which is steered by a core belief that people would rather be smothered by seedy gossip about dead ex-Playmate junkies than be bothered with the details of North Korea’s nuclear program.”

I call bullshit. That people are more interested in trivial gossip than weighty news is as old as humanity. I see no evidence that the internet is intensifying this whatsoever — 30 million people mentioned Anna Nicole Smith. Big deal — most of those hits were probably from blogs mentioning her in passing (like I just did). She’s an interesting celebrity, and she just died — what does Hiaasen expect?

This is just a newspaper guy frustrated by the fact that his industry is dying and blaming it on readers’ alleged preferences. The truth is that readers skim the Smith article and then they skim the North Korea article, and they know the difference. The real problem is the newspapers. I picked one up yesterday (the NYTimes, actually), and boy was it a disaster. The content is great, but the delivery system stinks. A big heavy clump of wood pulp gets dropped on your lawn every morning, and you’re expected to flip through hundreds of huge flimsy pages, skimming articles to try to find what’s of interest to you. Stories jump around from page to page, making you unfold, flip, refold, and generally wrestle with the stupid thing.

And newspapers’ web sites are no better — the Herald’s front page gives you a hint of what’s behind the link for exactly two stories. For anything else you have to navigate to sub-pages or guess from short cryptic headlines. Navigable archive pages are non-existent, searching is rudimentary, and all articles disappear behind a paywall after a few months. The Herald has a mess of blogs that don’t integrate with its regular site, and many are on Blogspot. I’ve repetedly implored the Herald to look for new ways to use the internet, and it’s just not happening. The NY Times has a new state-of-th-art website, but it’s chosen to put its columnists behind a paywall, so I’m not sure how much of a leader they’ll be.

Look, there’ll always be a demand for serious news, and there’ll always be news organizations to meet the demand. The only question is whether today’s newspapers are smart enough to make the changes to become those organizations. But their blaming their audience for their troubles suggests they are not.

Update: In the comments, Dan Sweeney just proved that Hiaasen isn’t just wrong about his conclusion, he’s wrong about his facts, too. Herewith, a series of graphs demonstrating that Anna Nicole Smith wasn’t the biggest news story the week she died by a long shot.

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Holy guacamole: it looks like they’re serious about building the Port of Miami tunnel. The contract may be awarded as soon as May; the construction could take 35 years. Update: The construction will take an indeterminate amount of time. The company that builds the tunnel will run it and collect tolls for 35 years. Who sets the tolls? (dík, Honzo)

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“[David] Barnes also used nearly $900,000 budgeted for witness protection to build a firing range in the Miami federal courthouse . . .” (via SDoF)

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Monday March 5, 2007

Miami-Dade PD's new MySpace page

MDPD myspace page

Miami-Dade PD’s new MySpace page. Via Rick, who perfectly sums up how stupid this is.

Update: OK, so the rationale is that if parents allow their kids to use MySpace on the condition that they add MDPD as a friend, it might give predators pause. Maybe that makes sense?

Update: Actually, no, it doesn’t. This is completely ridiculous. Heck, it looks like something somebody did as a joke! Pimp-my-profile? Really??

And the more I think about it, the more I suspect that in practice this will be used to bust kids for inappropriate activity revealed by their MS pages much more often then it’ll nab a predator.

I have no idea how much money was spent on this page, but if you think they just had someone whip it up in an afternoon think again. I have a MySpace, and you don’t get all that over-the-top crap happening in an afternoon. This is serious business: they obviously either hired someone who knew how to use MySpace, or trained someone, and the page is part of that person’s permanent job (updating the page, adding friends, reading messages, etc.). A consultant was probably hired. Meetings of top-level staff. A PR campaign. Remember — this is the government at work.

I recognize that the police needs to deal with MySpace, and the internet generally. But this is just security theater. And bad theater at that.

(And look what I just noticed: The MDPD’s regular web page is completely down and/or broken right now — it redirects to a Miami-Dade County error message! Maybe they phased out the regular department’s website because MySpace is the future?)

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Strawberry fields forever. Frances Nash visits the pick-yourself fields in Homestead. The usual great mix of gorgeous photos and idiosyncratic commentary.

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What's up with new billboards?

Billboards

This is southbound on I-95, just south of the Golden Glades. There are at least four of these billboards in a row, all currently painted black. Brook Dorsch claims that these are all brand new (like, in the past year). Can anyone confirm or deny, and if so, wtf, we have too many billboards already?

Speaking of Dorsch, he was just profiled in OceanDrive magazine. And another thing: Subtropics was hosted at the gallery last year, before the Carnival Center opened. This year the festival was in the center’s studio theater. Does that make Dorsch Gallery the second best venue for experimental music in town?

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Saturday March 3, 2007

“Homosexuals are going to hell.” Annoying people on Ocean Drive. Note how this gets stranger and stranger as it goes.

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Friday March 2, 2007

Arguing with Rick about who’s comment system is more broken has left me so starved for intellectual discourse that I just left a 500 word comment on Artblog.net (#2) about whether or not pink is a color.

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Eye on Miami has a post titled “Miami housing crash bubble” about every day, but this one is worth reading.

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Merce Weekend

merce cunningham Ocean performance

This weekend is probably the peak of the season. Get your butt out there and do something… but bring an umbrella just in case. Weather looks like it’ll be gradually cooling off, but possibly rainy.

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Merce Cunningham' s Ocean

Merce Cunningham - Ocean

Thanks to the good people at Carnival Center, I finally got my taste of Merce in Miami. To wit: the 90 minute 1994 piece Ocean.

Intended to be performed in the round, with the dancers on a circular stage surrounded by the audience, and the audience surrounded by the orchestra, the piece was a brave, if imperfect, fit for the Knight Concert hall (my second favorite room in the city, second only to my living room, and it would even upstage that if they got rid of the bizarre fabric hanging in the middle behind the stage — teal and with a pattern that doesn’t go with anything else in the building — in fact, it sort of looks like a “it was on clearance at the fabric store” type of situation — what gives?).

Oh shit sorry for the digression. Anyway Merce Cunningham sort of invented Modern (with a capital “M”) Dance in the 1940/50s, and his work comes across as stark and formal to this day. This is hardcore, rigorous choreography, with no allusion to an external story, or even to regular human interaction.

Basically, Cunningham is to dance what the abstract expressionists were to painting — a reduction to the essence of the art, with references to outside phenomena (i.e. human story-lines) minimized. This is pure movement, and it’s not for everyone.

The piece builds slowly over exactly 90 minutes, the musicians and dancers synchronized by large digital timers clearly visible to the audience. At 1:29:59 the last of the dancers disappears from the stage and that baby is over. That is preceded by a gradual and methodical development (Supposedly the piece is divided into 19 sections, though I read it as maybe 7.) — we begin with very stiff movements, and angular relationships of bodies, which gradually become more organic and energetic. The piece builds to a sort of crescendo (pictured) of movement and color, much more satisfying then what the beginning sections promise. There are dazzling moves, unexpected relationships, and novel ideas at every turn.

What I’m getting at is that it was spectacular. Cunningham (who attended the performance) was 75 when he put Ocean together, and he’d mastered the art of working the crowd — the piece starts out difficult, and gives off hints of beauty grudgingly at first, then introduces new ideas and variations, never allowing the attentive viewer a moment of boredom.

Or does it? I noticed a beautiful review by Jane Simpson of a true in-the-round performance of the piece, and she had some issues with it (go read, she’s great). But the Carnival Center performance of the piece was I guess the polar opposite to what Simpson saw — the musicians sat on the upper level of balconies, far from most of the audience, and the round mat on the stage hardly masked the fact that most of the audience were, in fact, seeing the performance from roughly a single perspective.

Reservations aside, this is a masterwork by the founding father of modern dance. It’s the culmination of Merce in Miami, which is exactly the sort of thing that Carnival Center should be doing — the sort of thing that makes all the heartache surrounding its construction worth it. It’s being performed again Friday and again Saturday, and anyone who loves dance, or likes to challenge their aesthetics, should get down there.

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Thursday March 1, 2007

Take two minutes now to take a quick and easy step to help secure state arts and cultural funding. An initiative for $2.47 per capita for the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs.

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Michael Lewis is right: making positions such as county property appraiser and elections supervisor electable offices is absurd. This is just the County Commission trying to fight the strong mayor proposal again, and Commissioner José “Pepe” Diaz should be ashamed.

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