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Tuesday July 31, 2012

Sorry, I just couldn’t hang with the minimalist view, and in a tear of resizing the last few weeks of images and reverting the last few weeks of changes last night, we’re back to … something. I need to fix the photo-story view, and I think I’m going to widen out the column ala B&F and fiddle with fonts over the next few days, but otherwise here we are. Comments welcome.

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Friday July 27, 2012

Metrorail weekend

My girlfriend and I are staying cooked up inside in front of the TV watching the Olympics all weekend, so this is for y’all. (Actually, it’s almost August. Does anyone go outside this time of year? The other day I got sweaty driving somewhre in my air-conditioned car. Anyway.)

Image: Curbed Miami.

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Wednesday July 25, 2012

What's up with housing prices?

edgewater development

First, a quick recap: here’s what I said on February 13, 2006:

Privately, I’ve been advising home-owning friends and family thusly for the last six months or so: find a moment (and find it soon), to sell your house, put your stuff in storage and rent an apartment for a year (maybe two or three), then buy your house (or one similar) back, for a maybe $200,000 profit. It remains to be seen whether my advice is worth anything (to date, everyone has emphatically ignored it), but for the first part, housing prices are finally starting to crash.

Then, on January 14, 2009, writing at Buildings and Food but in the voice of Critical Miami, I said this:

Now, listen carefully: it’s time to go shopping. Remember the factors that led to the bubble? Idiotic interest-only mortgages, gross overbuilding, and what seemed like terrifying hurricane seasons as far as the eye could see. The picture today? (1) mortgage idiotics universally recognized and being dealt with to the tune of trillions of dollars from the federal government, (2) overbuilding spectacularly finished, and (3) relatively calm winds for the last two seasons. To boot, (4) an incoming president that everyone seems to think Can Fix Things.

So here we are, another three years down the road, and time to check in and see what’s up. Heres the graph for housing inventory, which tells an interesting story:

housing stock in Miami

But for an even more vivid look, check out the plot of housing prices for the last 6 years. Both are from our friends at the Department of Numbers:

asking prices for Miami Florida

Yup: housing prices dropped steadily from 2006 to 2009, at which point they began to level off. The actual bottom came in the second half of 2011, and prices have been recovering fairly sharply since. For the record, anyone who sold when I said and bought when I said really did stand to pocket between $150 and $200 thousand. But so where are we now?

We’re at a very interesting time. Florida’s unemployment rate has dropped from over 10% to 8.6% over the last half year. (Not amazing I know! But an improvement over 11.4%, which is where we were in 2010.) From where I sit in Edgewater, development appears to have started up in full force. There’s one condo at the end of my block that was recently finished and is now selling, one across from me that’s being finished up, and an empty lot behind me where construction is just starting. A response to the low inventory I realize, but just a few blocks away is Paramount Bay, a positively huge building completed in 2009 that, judging by the number of lights on at night, sits over 90% empty. Drive around Miami and you see the same everywhere: construction cranes.

This suggests that a steep rise in prices, anyway, is not forthcoming. But remember that for the time being we’re in a world where the subtleties of European international relations will determine whether the world’s economy will recover or re-crash. (As evidenced, e.g., by this random news story from the NY Times. Oh, and since you’ll ask, here’s the Times’ resident Sourpuss’ most recent missive on the European economy. Grim, kids.)

So, what the hell is going on? Why are condos being built and sitting empty when inventory is relatively low? Peep this:

Interest is particularly strong from Venezuelans and even Argentinians, [Luis Marin, vice president of TSG Realty] said, because shifting government policies in their home countries makes investing in properties there more tricky. Basically, it’s a way for the wealthy in those countries to protect against domestic political uncertainty. “The good thing about investing in South Florida, you’re investing in the first, best country,” Marin said. “You have more security fiscally; you’re not going to have trouble.”

Could it be true that South American investors are buying up Miami condos to protect their investments? Believe it or not, South America is in the middle of “an economic boom.” Meanwhile, 65% of housing sales in Miami have been all-cash transactions (that’s 77% of condo sales and 46% of house sales).

So where does all this add up? If you bought a house in 2009 or 2010, give yourself a pat on the back. Otherwise, I’d be careful right now. Officially, prices are still low. But the condo market makes me weary. And Europe could collapse at any moment, sending us into the double dip that the Sourpuss has been promising us for years, just as Romney is taking office. On the other hand, Europe has been promising to collapse for months and hasn’t (despite pretty close to the worst case scenario w.r.t. Greece). It could shore itself up through the magic of German bonds and we could be in a rosy economic picture just as Obama takes his second oath of office. See? Uncertainty.

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Monday July 23, 2012

Stolen Matisse recovered in Miami

stolen matisse on the left

Whoa, a newspaper getting cute with a headline? SHOCKING.

Anyway, the picture above left is a Matisse stolen from a museum in Caraces, Venezuela over 10 years ago and replaced with the fake on the right. I suspect that difference in how the two were photographed is contributing to how different they look — the fake is darker overall, but more digitally saturated and color balanced differently. Or so it seems. What happens if we try to bring the photos into digital allignment? It’s a tricky business, because unless you photograph the two pieces in the same light and with the same camera they’re going to look different. But anyway, I fixed it, and I suspect this is closer to reality than the Associated Press’ reproduction:

matisse fixed

Now the fake looks a little better. Let’s give the forger some credit (and the people at the museum, who apparently didn’t notice the swap for years).

Anywho. You always wondered what happens to stolen art. No collector with self-respect would buy it, and if they did they’d risk being reported by anyone who saw it and knew enough to know their thing was stolen. You’d have to be a criminal low-life, and only associate with other criminal low-lives? Well, this particular fake Matisse ended up in Miami, where the thieves thought they had a potential buyer. Turns out the buyer ratted them out, there was a sting, and now the painting is recovered.

I hear that most stolen artworks end up in the collections of organized crime bosses, and more importantly are often used as payment, collateral, and gifts in the big-time criminal underworld, because the pieces have a relatively well-known high value and are easier to move around than truckloads of cash.

One other Miami connection with this theft. When I said the painting was stolen “over 10 years ago” what I mean is that’s when they first noticed it was switched. Who noticed? According to the Daily Mail it was Genaro Ambrosino (as in Ambrosino Gallery), who heard in 2002 that someone was trying to sell the painting and contacted the folks in Venezuela. (The Venezuelans, for their money, “suspect” that the painting was swapped during a loan to Spain in 1997, but if you ever check a painting in your collection against the photo you have on record, wouldn’t it be when it comes back from an overseas loan?)

And now for some fun links: here is a dumb ABC News report on the incident, and here is a book written about the heist in 2009, which you should click through just to look at the cover.

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Friday July 20, 2012

Critical weekend

sausages

Are we doing weekend to-do roundups again? I don’t know. Maybe. It’s a pain in the ass, and so many people are doing it … but they’re doing a shit job (unless you know of a good one, in which case let me know ‘cause I have better things to do with my Friday morning), so let’s at least try.

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Thursday July 19, 2012

Film review: Shut Up and Play the Hits

Shut Up and Play the Hits

It would be extremely easy to overstate the importance of LCD Soundsystem, the musical project of James Murphy. He makes dance and pop music. It’s very very good dance music that grooves with the best of them while hitting all the pleasure centers available to pop music. It’s epic and casual, bombastic and primitive, and arty and absolutely straightforward, but towering over all of that is Murphy’s knowledge of the history of the music he cares about and his extreme self-consciousness about his position in it. In conversation, stage persona, and appearance, he comes across as modest, and he’s managed to convince himself and the world that his centrality to the music he makes is unconnected to his ego. Famously, Murphy creates almost all the music on LCD Soundsystem’s albums himself, and while his live shows are joyous and free-seeming, the large group of talented musicians he’s assembled to perform the songs have little musical freedom.

Continue reading this article

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Wednesday July 18, 2012

Shut Up and Play the Hits, the L C D Soundsystem film, is playing tonight only at Tower Records, and as of right now there are still tickets available for the 9:30 pm showing. If you miss this you will be very sad watching it on your VCR or whatever.

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Monday July 16, 2012

the national conversation, facebook edition

The National Conversation, Facebook Edition. Honk if you agree. Or better yet, post this to your own Facebook profile. Feel free to cut’n‘paste, or click the graphic and it should take you to my post on FB, where you can re-share. Blurgh.

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Friday July 13, 2012

Hey y’all: The iTunes link for the Critical Miami podcast is up. Subscribe now! Listen and de-cogitate! Full steemz ahead!

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Pride, Greed, Sloth, and general incompetence

7 Deadly Sins This week in local cultural malice, incompetence, and shoddiness, sung to the tune of the seven deadly sins. I’ve only got four this week, so I guess we’re not doing so bad

Sloth

I am sure that the Florida Cultural Alliance does important work, and deserves all the support we can muster for them. But when I saw the email they sent out yesterday, I just had to share it as an example of the worst kind of corporospeak, and the worst in online interaction design. Try — just try — to have any sense of what the purpose of the email is and what they want you to do after reading it just once. Not possible. I’ve ready if about a half donzen times and I get it now, and it’s stark. The FCA has apparently submitted SUGGESTIONS to a Florida State government entity. They want you to familiarize yourself with the state program they’re addressing, read their dense PDF suggestions, write a letter indicating your support for their suggestions and fax (Yes. Fax. In 2012.) it to the number provided TODAY BY 5 PM. Doesn’t say who you’re faxing it to, and doesn’t say why it has to be today. But hey — this was dated 1:25 pm, so they’re giving you more than three hours. Get on it.

Oh! And as an afterthought, yeah, you can submit your suggestions for the Five-Year Strategic Plan. Oh wait no, that’s for the Six-Pillar Framework. You do it by clicking into a PDF (this one created by the State) that takes your comments and has a “email this form” button which to me looked suspiciously like just a text box with no functionality.

Pride

It’s not in my nature to wipe lipstick off a pig, but the Jewish Museum of Florida couldn’t hack it anymore and signed it’s buildings and collection to FIU. And that’s fine. The Wolfsonian certainly seems to be thriving under FIU’s wing. But tacking the initials of the university to the organization’s name, which henceforth will be “Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU”, is galling. It makes perfect sense from the institutional ego perspective, but would have been overruled by typographic aesthetics and all-around sanity at a classier organization.

Envy

While Googling around for the previous article, I perchanced to click on a link to a Sun Sentinel article. You will probably not get it, but here’s what I saw:

sun sentinel screenshot

“Hey, you found a link to one of our articles in a search engine! Can we interest you in a home-delivery subscription to our newspaper?” Look at your statistics Sun Sentinel — this is not helping your subscription rates. And I guarantee you that it’s hurting your readership and credibility. And while we’re on it: I understand why your pages need to be choked with ads, but spam popover links? Really?

Greed

Next February, the Arsht Center is hosting a concert tribute to Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane. It’s part of a series of six concerts, half of which are these condescending “tributes” to Jazz Names You Recognize, which in my opinion are demeaning to the performer, the legendary figure, and the audience. But something (and I’m assuming it’s actually not the Arsht Center’s people) has sunk to a particularly odious level with this, which I received in yesterday’s email:

thelonious monk

Thelonious Monk is died in 1982 after a heartbreaking final few years. He is a hero to musicians and creative people everywhere. And while this concert does include his son, using the man’s name and image like this is repugnant. There is a special place in hell for the people that did this, where they can hang out with the folks behind the John Lennon shirts

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Tuesday July 10, 2012

What's up with Pit Bulls?

pit bull miami referendum

“Shall the ordinance repealing the county’s 23 year old law prohibiting the ownership of pit bulls as a dangerous breed of dogs become effective?”

That’s on the ballot for Miami-Dade residents on August 14th. We’ve got one of the oldest of the municipal bans on pit bulls in the country, and now it’s up for reconsideration. Let’s put aside the typically idiotic language of the ballot and consider the the matter. Despite the blowhard arguments made by some pit bull advocates (see image), it seems to be not obvious what the right thing to do here. Banning anything is an invasive government action, and it needs to be well justified before it can even be considered. Are pit bulls more dangerous than other breeds? And if so, is a ban the correct response?

Statistics

Here is a report of dog bite statistics by breed covering almost thirty years. Scrolling through the list is sobering. For “attacks doing bodily harm,” most dogs are in the single digits. Some are notably higher: Boxers, 48; German Shephards, 89; Labradors(!), 45. But pit bulls stand head and shoulders above them all with 1970 attacks. But wait, there’s also information about the percentage of the dog population some of the breeds account for, and pit bulls, at .033, are actually very high up in that sense. Well, luckily I’ve crunched the numbers for you. Here’s a handy dandy Excel spreadsheet (csv) which includes only the breeds for which the species percentage is given, sorted by the score (column H) that weighs the number of attacks against the prevalence of the breed. According to this chart, Rottweiler’s are far and away the most dangerous breed, followed by Wolf hybrid, followed by Pit bull terrier, Bull mastiff, Akita, Boxer, and Chow. Labradors, German Shepherds, and Great Danes round out the top 10.

But even within the top 10 there is a fast and significant drop-off. A pit bull is 10 times as likely to attack a human as a German Shepherd. A Rottweiler is 13 times as likely to attack as a Boxer. Taken on its face, the statistics show that the top few breeds are indeed much more dangerous than all other dogs, per individual animal. Together, pit bulls, Rotweilers, and Wolf hybrids account for 77% of attacks that induce bodily harm.

There are two big problems with these numbers. First, they don’t take into account total populations. They compare breeds against each other, but say nothing about how dangerous, statistically, a given animal is. If you’re confronted by a pit bull, what are your chances of being harmed? Or to put it another way, for an individual pit bull, what are the chances that it will bite a human in its lifetime. 1 percent? A tenth of a percent? A thousandth of a percent? It seems crazy to consider banning anything without this information. Perhaps just as important, the statistics are compiled in a way that’s not quite scientific. They’re based on media reports. That means they’re subject to all kinds of bias: people underreporting bites by smaller or less “threatening” species, people assuming that a dog was a pit bull in part because it bit someone, and other issues concerning identifying a breed. The Center for Disease Control has pointed out that these studies are unreliable.

Owners

And yet those studies are the best information we have. They may be substantially flawed, but it’s hard to believe that they’re so flawed as to invalidate the basic trend they point to. Let’s address a few of the other arguments that get made in this debate

Q. “It’s not the dog — it’s the owner!” Any species of dog can attack a human, and most of the so-called “dangerous” dogs are perfectly loving and well-behaved companion animals. Some people raise dogs either incompetently, or in a way that makes them deliberately aggressive. Don’t punish the dogs and the vast majority of responsible owners.

A. We’ve tried punishing the owners. In some cases, owners have been fined as much as $7 million, and any dog that seriously bites someone is destroyed. We’ve tried education. And yet attacks by pit bulls and other dangerous breeds are on the rise, despite laws banning and restricting the dogs in areas around the country. It may be the owners’ fault, but that’s just as much of a reason to ban the dangerous breeds.

Q. “Pit bull isn’t even a real breed” The term can refer to a number of different breeds, and legislation usually adds the phrase “and similar dogs.” How can you pass a law when the situation is such a mess?

A. All dog breeds are a human construct. Some are better defined and some less well defined. Strictly speaking, when we talk about pit bulls, we usually are talking about the American Staffordshire Terrier, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, The English Bull Terrier, and the American Pit Bull Terrier. You identify a pit bull the same way you identify a more strictly defined breed: a casual identification by sight, and verification by DNA test.

Q. Here, let me show you some tragic stories of children maimed and killed by pit bulls Isn’t any death tragic?

A. Of course it’s tragic. But we’re trying to have a society here, and we’re dealing with lots and lots of people. Look at how many people die in car accidents. What if it turns out you could save more lives by banning car radios (on the logic that car radios distract drivers and contribute to accidents)? What if it turns out you could save more lives by banning the use of car radios just on Sundays from 2 to 5 pm?

Think of the doggies

Neither side in this debate makes a good case. The pro-species-specific bans throws out deeply flawed and incomplete statistics and emotional accounts of individual cases. The pro-pit bull side argues that most dogs are harmless, and spend time refuting “myths” that nobody actually believes and ignoring the evidence that some breeds are more likely to bite, and more likely to injure and kill when they do bite.

In the end though, the conclusion is simple. 207 people were killed by pit bulls in the study we cited (the study from DogsBite.org, a pro-ban website). That’s 11 people per year, in a country of 300 million. Your chances of dying in a dog bite in a given year are somewhere in the range of 1 in 27,000,000. But actually there’s more to it than that: 75% of dog attacks occur on the owner’s property. Only 1% involve pit bulls being walked on a leash in public. Don’t like pit bulls? Don’t go to people’s houses that own them, and call the police when you see someone walking one without a leash.

The Miami referendum

The referendum to lift the Miami-Dade pit bull ban is worded terribly. It’s a result of the State of Florida threatening to overturn the ban, which is pretty irritating. And it may seem counterintuitive — even if the ban is wrong, it’s been in place so long, so why lift it now? But the ban was wrong when it was enacted, a knee-jerk reaction to news events. Lifting the ban is the right thing to do.

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Monday July 9, 2012

I’m just over at this post Eye on Miami, debating whether Native Americans have the right to use the term “White Man” pejoratively.

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Thursday July 5, 2012

The camera solution

Last week, Marco described more or less the exact problem I’ve been having: we both have an amazing camera. In fact, we have the same one: the Canon 5D Mark II. But we’ve both found ourselves using an iPhone as our primary camera. The reason is simple: modern iPhones have very good cameras build in, and the 5D is a beast to carry around all the time. Marco has been going back and looking carefully at his photos, and realizes that, “photos from the iPhone 4, and even from the 4S, don’t hold up. They look fine on a 3.5-inch screen, but they look terrible on my big desktop monitor.”

I’ve got an additional problem now: a blog that benefits from me having a decent camera with me all the time. The iPhone camera works fine for certain kinds of blogging (I took the downtown school board banner photo with it), but it just doesn’t have the same level of detail, is useless in low light or backlight, and is pretty much impossible to crop and end up with something usable. I actually went back to Pinecrest Gardens with my 5D for this post.

Marco’s solution is to make a concerted effort to use the 5D more. That may work for him, but I’ve made that effort plenty of times, and it just doesn’t work. It’s really heavy for something that you carry around in addition to everything else. Pancake lens or not, it’s too big to fit into the medium-sized bag I carry most of the time. Too, it’s hard to shoot with in places where people are iffy about cameras, not only because of the size but because of the prominent shutter sound. No way you’re sneaking it into a concert. (I actually have a pocket camera that I’ve used for this. It is small enough to carry around all the time, but it makes photos that are on par with the iPhone. The only advantage it has is a wide-angle zoom.)

So what’s the solution? A new camera of course. Something that’s small enough to carry around all the time, big enough to demand to be used over the iPhone, and that’ll take top-notch photos. I give you the Fujifilm X100. It’s got a large sensor, a non-zoom lens, 12 megapixels, and it’s bigger than a pack of cigarettes but smaller than a sandwich. Depending on your monitor, this picture may be about actual size (it’s just under 5 inches wide). At almost two years old it’s a bit long in the tooth and in danger of being replaced with something better in a few months. But I got a good deal on it. We’ll see how it goes. With any luck it’ll be small enough to wear around the neck or in a bag almost all the time, easy to sneak into places, able to be operated without the screen being on, silent, and take amazing photos. Hopefully I’ll be able to get into the habit of carrying it everywhere and using it instead of reaching for the phone. Stay tuned.

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Wednesday July 4, 2012

The 4th

Every year on the 4th we watch this video of Marvin Gaye singing the Star Spangled Banner. Usually I also write some sort of anti-patriotism rant, but I am too bummed out by the Islamist destruction of African historical sites. Perhaps you would enjoy reading one from a few years ago.

I think you would be better off reading a profile or Rachel Maddow in Rolling Stone (subscription only unless you have this magic link). And here is a list of fireworks displays in Miami if you are so inclined.

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Tuesday July 3, 2012

Concert review: Al Green

al green at hard rock live

Any article about Al Green written in 2012 is required to mention that the president recently sang one of his songs at a public event. With that out of the way, you’d be surprised at the altitude of the average age at Hard Rock Live last night. For better or worse, the youngs have not gotten the memo on Al.

Which is a shame, because and to answer the question that will be foremost on your mind, the man has still got it. Al belongs to the group of singers, including Antony Hegarty, Tom Waits, and Sinead O’Connor, for whom musical talent and imagination, however great, always seem secondary to the physiology of their throat and lungs. Al Green was given an incredible instrument, and at age 66, it’s still there. He is careful to save his voice, frequently dropping lines in his under-90-minute set, and he occasionally makes oblique references to his age. But when he brings it, which is often, the voice is all still there. The first time you hear it it’s a relief, but that melts away. It’s a thrill. Just as it was for me some 20 years ago discovering his music, and just as it must have been 20 years before that when he was rising to fame, hearing Al sing is sublime and transportive.

Now let’s talk about the thing that was exactly as important as Al’s voice in the magic of his early music, the band. The pairing of Al’s singing with Willie Mitchell’s production resulted in a perfect musical partnership. The Hi-Records band and recording setup is warm, rich, and satisfying in a way that nothing was before or since. (Others recorded with the same house band, but they clearly were saving their best licks for Al.) The drumming of Al Jackson Jr. and Howard Grimes is particularly iconic.

So, how does his current touring band stack up? Well, they’re at a significant disadvantage for having to be playing in a big shoebox-shaped arena and with a sub-optimal mix. That said, they do pretty well. Three horns, bass, guitar, drums, percussion, backup singers (two of whom are Al’s daughters), and two keyboard players (who handle the original piano and organ tracks as well as the string parts). The bass player was particularly good. The keyboard players had few opportunities to shine but held everything together spectacularly. The guitar player had the unenviable position of having to play a couple of Claptonesque solos, which he did not execute with much finesse (and which would had been out of place even done well). But the one truly glaring weakness was the drummer. Who, let us stipulate, had the almost impossible task of matching the parts, sound, and feel of the aforementioned masters Jackson and Grimes. Well, he matched them note for note, but seemed not to even try to replicate the feel, going instead for a laid-back arena hired gun ease. A bummer, but not bad enough to detract too much from the overall effect.

Al is a showman. He comes out and has a pile of long-stemmed roses to pass out to the women in the front rows. He dramatically removes his jacket and throws it away during key moments in the show. He delivers the world’s shortest sermon midway through. And he performs a somewhat silly medley of soul oldies midway though the set, including Sitting on the Dock of the Bay and My Girl). And he shows off his voice, yowling, purring, and scatting almost like it was 1972.

Update: And here’s the New Times’ review of the same show.

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Monday July 2, 2012

There goes Bimini

Bimini, 1990

Bimini is a tiny island about 55 miles east of South Beach. It’s about as far as driving to Boca, way closer than any other of the Bahamian island. A perfect day trip for South Florida boaters and pilots, it’s nontheless a different world. Bimini is extremely tiny: a long noodle shape just a couple hundred yards wide at some points. You can walk the length of it in an hour.

I could tell you all about the endemic species of Bimini, or how Ernest Hemingway lived there for a couple of years during the Great Depression, working on To Have and Have Not but really mostly fishing. But I went to Bimini for a part of a day as a kid, and I remember it well. It’s basically a sleepy little village in the middle of the Atlantic. There are some extremely poor people there, and some extremely rich people, and not very many in the middle. But that’s not for long, because big greedy developers are of course about to build a casino resort complex there. 10,000 square feet, $20 million in construction costs, that sort of thing.

A few of the people living there now will get slightly richer working demeaning service jobs servicing Miami tourists while not getting the benefit of US labor protections. All the important jobs will be done by Americans, who will have the benefit of US labor laws. And we’ll have yet another place where we can go gambling, this one a 90-minute high-speed ferry ride away. A place that will allow the sort of no-limit poker, dwarf-tossing blackjack, or whatnot that wouldn’t have been allowed at the Miami site even if gambling had passed, which for now it hasn’t.

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Who are you going to be?, from the book Avoid Disappointment and Future Regret, which you should totally buy, and featured in the latest issue of Bomb magazine, which you should totally subscribe to.

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