Monday, January 31, 2011

Yeah, but is it art?

Photograph of the piano in a Florida sandbar by Nicholas Harrington

Sixteen year-old Nicholas Harrington's Biscayne Bay piano is now sitting in storage somewhere; "rescued" last Thursday by Miami musician Carl Bentulan.

Some are comparing Harrington's "Piano in the Bay" to Christo's 1983 "Surrounded Islands."

It's easy to see why some would comapare the two.

Harrington put his piano on a sandbar that's just a stone's throw from some of the 11 spoil islands that Christo surrounded with six and a half miles of pink fabric.

Harrington has said that he "wanted to create a whimsical, surreal experience." Those words were also used to describe Christo's "Surrounded Islands."

But, for many, that's where the similarity ends.

Harrington's "work" came about after a raucous and drunken New Year's Eve party.

Christo - according to a 1983 Miami Herald article - was allowed to wrap the isands only after "obtaining 10 permits, enduring seven public hearings, meeting challenges by scores of environmentalists, and making numerous court appearances during 30 months of preparation."

One footnote: before Christo proceeded, his workers removed 42 tons of garbage from the bay.

But, the comparison of Harrington to Christo intrigued me.

In a town where a guy like Romero Britto can make a comfortable living selling "art" that looks like something you might see in a child's coloring book and where giant, molded pink snails are deemed "art," is a piano on a sandbar art?

Well, is it?

Yesterday I emailed a dozen or so people in search of an answer.

Many of their responses surprised me.

CRAIG PITTMAN: Environmental reporter, St. Petersburg Times. Author of two books including "Manatee Insanity, Inside the War Over Florida's Most Famous Endangered Species."
"As long as the piano's provenance was a mystery, it was art in the best sense -- it forced people to think about the role of humans in the natural world, and our relationship with both found and manufactured objects. Once the mystery was solved by the kid coming forward, it became nothing but a prank -- a bit of bizarre Floridiana but not Cristo by any means. Still, I enjoyed how the whole story played out, not least because it reminded me of one of my favorite music videos from back when MTV used to show videos: "Close to the Edit" by Art of Noise. Maybe we could round up a squad of prominent Miamians to take the grand piano back out the bar and take it apart in a grand way, while someone else tries to play a song on it. You could call it deconstruction...or, if you prefer a musical pun, decomposing."
BRIAN SMITH: Former Miami Herald photographer, now a celebrity photographer. Smith's book, 'Art & Soul,' featuring portraits of celebrities paired with their handwritten testimonials about the importance of the arts is due out this October.
"Is it art? Without a doubt. The act of artistic creation is not limited to canvas or clay. That the artist intentionally chose to place a piano on a sandbar in the bay as an artistic statement makes this art rather than littering...Art raises questions. Art can make you smile. The artist has successfully done both."
PHILIP BROOKER: "Brooker is an artist, illustrator, furniture maker, filmmaker, and the founder and director of the Miami Poster Project. He was the art director and an illustrator for The Miami Herald for 23 years."
"Most things can be called art. (that's another topic.) Squiggles that go for millions thrill art lovers everywhere, but they are just squiggles...So I think the answer to your question "is the piano on the beach art?" is, everything can be called art, yes. But it's more in the happening kind of art. (Never my favorite.) More to the point is it good art? And my answer is No! It's a fun, silly, very Miami. A piece of nonsense, not unlike Art Basel."
JIM MORIN: Miami Herald editorial cartoonist, Winner of a 1996 Pulitzer Prize.
"That the question of whether or not this is "art" is even being considered goes to show how pathetic and idiotic the "art" world has become. If this was considered an art project as opposed to an innocent prank, it would be as trite and unoriginal as much of what passes for "art" in this town. Learn how to draw. Learn how to paint. Learn how to sculpt. Learn how to write. Then use those skills to communicate the inexpressible using your own unique voice. That's the way it's been done for thousands of years. If you think it's going out of style, you're wrong."
MICHAEL PUTNEY: WPLG Channel 10's senior political reporter.
"Any comparisons between a prankish high school student and Christo are absurd. Christo is a world-renowned, remarkable artist. I had the privilege to cover “Surrounded Islands” and think it was one of the most exciting public art experiments ever conducted in this country. And quite beautiful. Putting a movie-prop piano on a sandbar has a cuteness factor, but it ain’t art. Art is what an artist does. Nick Harrington is an appealing kid, but he’s not an artist. Not yet anyway."
"RICK": Publisher of the South Florida Daily Blog.
"Excuse the cliche, but I'm of the opinion that art is truly in the eye of the beholder. I see it as art. A piano sitting out in the middle of Biscayne Bay with the Miami skyline behind it....very cool."
ALFRED SPELLMAN: Producer, Rakontur Films.
"I loved it, thought Miami got a lot of great media coverage. I don't know if I'd call it art. I'm sympathetic to the environmental managers' concerns and have no idea how they'll prevent copycats. But it's a lot cooler than trying to call a parking garage a work of art".
GENE WEINGARTEN: Columnist, Washington Post. Former editor of the Miami Herald's Tropic Magazine. Winner of two Pulitzer Prizes. Weingarten won his first Pulitzer in 2008 for his essay about commuters' reactions to seeing a world-class violinist playing outside a busy Washington subway station at rush hour. Wrote Weingarten: "In a banal setting at an inconvenient time, would beauty transcend?"
"Well, Duchamp sort of established it CAN be art. Ooh, someone should reverse Duchamp: Put a grand piano into a crappy public mens' room, near the urinals. You can have that for free."
NICK SPANGLER: Former staff writer, Miami Herald, now at Newsday in New York,
"I don't know much about art or its history but as soon as I heard about this I thought of Duchamp and the "readymade," mass-produced objects exhibited in gallery space.

The piano could be understood as an inverse phenomenon -- a crafted art object placed in natural space -- with a similarly jarring effect.

While Duchamp put a made-up name on the most famous readymade, the urinal, I think people knew pretty early on who was responsible for it; on the other hand, the "authorship" of the piano was, for a while at least, a neat mystery, along with the question of how the heck it got there.

People's responses to the mystery-- the theorizing and news stories about theorizing -- were at least as interesting as the sheer spectacle of a piano in the middle of Biscayne Bay.

If you don't think something like this is funny and you don't like someone littering the bay, you call it a prank; if you like it, you call it conceptual art."

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Nip it in the bud!

Miami-Dade marine patrol Sgt. Marvin Freels and an unidentified Dept. of Environmental Recources official conduct surveillance on my candelabra on Jan. 27.

"We are not responsible for removing such items. Even a car can become a habitat for wildlife." -Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officer Jorge Pino, Miami Herald, Jan. 24, 2011

"The intent of these kids was certainly not to go out there and litter, per se. It was to create some sort of an art project." -FWC officer Jorge Pino, Miami Herald, Jan. 27, 2011

“The officers asked me, ‘Should your mom get arrested? Or should you get arrested?’” -16 year-old Nick Harrington quoted by the New York Times, Jan. 27, 2011

"The bottom line is that this is completely against the law. People caught doing it will be arrested." -FWC officer Jorge Pino, Miami Herald, Jan.29, 2011

What a difference a week makes. Along with some national news coverage.

When the Miami Herald first reported the mysterious appearance of a piano on a Biscayne Bay sandbar, officials shrugged it off. A spokesman for the state's Fish and Wildlife Commission went so far as to call the piano a "habitat for wildlife."

But that was then.

Less than a week later officials have adopted a no-nonsense stance against...well, nonsense.

On Friday, a day after the piano was removed from the bay, the Herald reported that "a café table and two chairs -- complete with tablecloth, place settings, a bottle of wine" appeared on the sandbar.

FWC spokesman Jorge Pino now says people caught doing this sort of thing will be arrested.

Get in a boat and cruise along Biscayne Bay and you'll see miles of shoreline littered with trash and garbage.

But Pino wants everyone to know there will be no artistic expression in the bay on his watch. Like Barney Fife, he plans to "nip this in the bud!"

I experienced first-hand the government's ham-fisted approach to art when I tried to take a few pictures on Piano Island last Thursday.

A police officer and county environmental official showed up as I was preparing to shoot pictures of the piano.

They looked on in bewilderment as they inspected some props my crew and I had placed on the piano. The police officer even demanded to see my identification!

Later in the afternoon, they were still talking about me.

Annabel Harrington, the mother of the boy who put the piano in the bay, told the Herald that "an FWC officer told her that someone had placed a candelabra atop the piano. A photographer had also hauled out fashion models for a photo shoot."

Actually, they weren't fashion models, Jorge. They were mermaids! There's a difference, you know.

So to all of you who are plotting the next random act of art; you've been warned.

Friday, January 28, 2011

A day with the world's most famous piano

Elvis has left the building.

On Thursday I spent a few hours on Piano Island.

My timing was great.

The piano was dismantled and moved late Thursday afternoon from the Biscayne Bay sandbar that was its home for the past month..

You can read my story at and see some of the last photographs taken of the world's most famous piano!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Biscayne Bay piano mystery solved!

The Miami Herald has solved the mystery of the Biscayne Bay piano!

The Herald's Chuck Rabin reports that teenagers and liberal amounts of alcohol played a part in getting the piano to where it sits today: a sandbar in the middle of Biscayne Bay.
[T]his past New Year's Eve, as a crowd of about 100 gathered at the Harrington home in Miami Shores, the chants to burn the piano got louder and louder.

The crowd was obliged: The heavy piano was lowered by davits into a canal next to the Harrington home, and set ablaze. The next day, after cooler heads prevailed, the piano was gently lifted onto the family's 22-foot open fisherman. Then Harrington, his two sons and a neighbor set out for the sandbar -- where they set the piano ablaze, again.
Random Pixels ventured over to the scene of the crime Wednesday afternoon and we came back with these images:

Of course no crime scene is complete without a Channel 7 reporter providing live coverage.

Wednesday morning a photographer swam out to the piano with a waterproof camera and made this image.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Miami TV anchor rubs elbows with President Obama...literally

CNN reports that Miami resident Maria Elena Salinas scored a choice seat Tuesday afternoon as she joined a select group of TV anchors for an "intimate lunch" with the president.
President Obama hosted a hush-hush lunch with television anchors to spin them before he delivered his State of the Union speech.

Who rubbed elbows with the president during the intimate lunch in the Family Dining Room? NBC's Brian Williams and Univision's Maria Elena Salinas. Who might have had to strain the most to see Obama from their seat? MSNBC's Chris Matthews and Telemundo's Jose Diaz-Balart.

This long-standing luncheon tradition to brief television anchors precedes President Obama's administration. It's a coveted invitation – White House reporters don't even get invited - and invitees are under strict orders not to tweet, blog or talk about the off-the-record lunch until the president delivers his address.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Getting married in a parking garage

For many, the parking garage at 1111 Lincoln Road epitomizes what South Beach has become: an elitist, overpriced destination.

Parking is 4 bucks an hour, $3 more than what they charge at the municipal parking garage just a few blocks away.

But for your $4, you also get to tell your friends you parked your 13-year-old brown Toyota in a world-renowned work of art.

But when Nina Johnson parked her car at 1111 Lincoln one day, she knew it was much more than a parking garage.

She saw it as the perfect place to get married.

Johnson, owner of Gallery Diet in Wynwood, knows art when she sees it.

The New York Times reports today - on page one - that over the weekend, Johnson married her fiance Daniel Milewski on the top floor of the garage.
For her wedding over the weekend, Nina Johnson had worked through a predictable checklist of locations in town: hotel ballrooms, restaurant halls and catering outfits.

In the end, though, she opted for the most glamorous, upscale and stylish setting she could find — a parking garage.

“When we saw it, we were in total awe,” said Ms. Johnson, 26, an art gallery director. “It’s breathtaking.”

Parking garages, the grim afterthought of American design, call to mind many words. (Rats. Beer cans. Unidentifiable smells.) Breathtaking is not usually among them.

Yet here in Miami Beach, whose aesthetic is equal parts bulging biceps and fluorescent pink, bridal couples, bar mitzvah boys and charity-event hosts are flocking to what seems like the unimaginable marriage of high-end architecture and car storage: a $65 million parking garage in the center of the city.

They are clamoring to use it for wine tastings, dinner parties and even yoga classes. Or taking self-guided tours, snapping photographs and, at times, just gawking.
But in case you're thinking - "Hey, what a great idea, I wanna get married there too!" - you should know that it costs $12,000 to $15,000 to rent the top floor of the garage for an evening.

And why not? Isn't that what South Beach is all about?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Random Pixels Saturday night commercial rewind

Time to make the donuts - Dunkin Donuts - 1983

Great balls of poop!

A couple of things occurred to me as I looked at this picture of Zoo Miami's Ron Magill on page 1B of of today's Miami Herald.

1: There's apparently nothing Magill won't do to get a story on the Zoo in the paper.

2: This is the first and possibly the last time you'll see the words "pachyderm balls" used together in a sentence in the Herald.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Keith Olbermann and MSNBC part ways

One day after the Comcast / NBC deal goes through, Keith Olbermann announced late Friday night that he was doing his last show.

from Bill Carter of the New York Times:
Keith Olbermann, the highest-rated host on MSNBC, announced abruptly on the air Friday night that he is leaving “Countdown with Keith Olbermann” immediately.

The host, who has had a stormy relationship with the management of the network for some time, especially since he was suspended for two days last November, came to an agreement with NBC’s corporate management late this week to settle his contract and step down.

In a closing statement on his show, Mr. Olbermann said simply that it would be the last edition of the program. He offered no explanation other than on occasion, the show had become too much for him.

Mr. Olbermann thanked his viewers for their enthusiastic support of a show that had “gradually established its position as anti-establishment.”

In a statement, MSNBC said : “MSNBC and Keith Olbermann have ended their contract. The last broadcast of ‘Countdown with Keith Olbermann’ will be this evening. MSNBC thanks Keith for his integral role in MSNBC’s success and we wish him well in his future endeavors.”

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Neil Rogers...the lost tapes!

Thanks to Random Pixels reader Larry for sending along some links to YouTube featuring a Nov. 1988 "press conference" announcing the signing Neil Rogers to a contract at WIOD. Worth listening to if only to hear the cackle of Glenn "The Bird" Hill one more time.

Also, below are two clips of a classic Phil Hendrie bit where he pretends to be a drunk Neil Rogers.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

50 years ago...

The Miami News, Jan. 20, 1961

"The torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans, born in this century..." -John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Jan. 20, 1961

From NPR:
University of Miami president Donna Shalala was a 19-year-old freshman with a lot of options.

"I could go to graduate school, I could go to law school," she says. "Before I heard the speech I was thinking of being a journalist, a war correspondent as a matter of fact."

But Kennedy's speech changed all that.

She remembers feeling like Kennedy wasn't addressing the nation, he was addressing her. And "he was talking about public service," she says.

She'd never considered public service until that day, until his words hit her "like a splash of water."
From Leonard Pitts:
We were so young on that snow-filled day.

This was before we learned that Kennedy was fooling around with Marilyn and anyone else in a skirt. It was before we knew he was debilitated by bad health. It was before the riot in Watts, before the plumbers burgled that DNC office in the Watergate complex, before a helicopter plucked our people from a rooftop in Saigon, before we were held hostage at an embassy in Tehran, before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. It was before the Ambassador Hotel, the Lorraine Motel. It was before Dallas.

More to the point, it was before we learned to lower our expectations and wear cynicism like armor into an often disappointing world. We have come a great distance from that snow-filled day half a century ago. We are young sometimes, still.

But we have never managed to be quite that young again.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The way we were

Miami...a century of change.

1910 - "Biscayne Bay through the cocoanut trees"

1908 - looking east on 12th Street (now Flagler Street) at Avenue D (now Miami Avenue) in downtown Miami
On the right is E.L. Brady, Grocers and CW Schmid's Restaurant, regular meals and ala carte.

Detail of previous photograph showing grocery store delivery wagon.

Skyline, 1939.

Skyline photograhed from Watson Island, late 70's or early 80's.

Skyline from Warson Island, mid-80's.

Present day I-395 eastbound near Biscayne Blvd.

Downtown and Brickell  Avenue seen from I-95, 2010.

Skyline as seen from Miami Beach, New Years Eve - 2009.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Random Pixels presents: How not to get your ass kicked by the police

Almost four days have passed since the contentious meeting at Miami city hall where Mayor Tomas Regalado and Commissioner Richard Dunn presented "evidence" they believed would show that Miami police chief Miguel Exposito should be fired.

Actually. the only person with the power to fire Exposito is the city manager and he hasn't said what he's going to do. The chief's job is safe for now.

Regalado, who picked Exposito as chief in 2009, has long since grown disenchanted with him.

Dunn wants Exposito gone in the worst way. He's not happy with the police crackdown last summer in some of Miami's crime-ridden neighborhoods that left four men dead in six weeks.

Dunn apparently believes that cops shouldn't be so quick to shoot when they're confronted with criminals carrying guns. Or something.

Last August Dunn told the Miami Herald that he "is praying police show sensitivity, and that youth on the wrong path change their ways.

"But most of all,'' said Dunn, ``we're going to pray that the violence ends."

Good luck with that commissioner.

So far this year, Miami cops haven't shot anyone

But Dunn's prayers don't seen to be getting the job done stopping violence and bloodshed in the 'hood.

Just three days into the new year, a 52-year-old father of four was gunned down in broad daylight near NW 61st Street and 12th Avenue.

In the meantime, Miami police haven't given any indication that they will be looking the other way if they see someone walking down the street brandishing an AK-47.

With that in mind, Random Pixels offers these 8 simple tips - via Chris Rock - on how not to get your ass kicked - or shot - by the police.

You can thank me later!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Random Pixels wants to hear from you

A note to Random Pixels readers.

Just a reminder that many of the stories that I post on the blog were initiated by emails from readers just like you.

Some recent stories prompted by reader emails include:

-The Miami Herald's Twitter gaffe.

-The Miami Herald's fixation on Broward county stories and the exclusion of news of interest to Miami subscribers.

-Legendary snake man Bill Haast turns 100.

-List of 3300 Miami-Dade employees who make over #100,000 a year. Yes, the story that had everyone talking last November started with an email from a Random Pixels reader.

So, if you've got an idea for a post here at Random Pixels, just drop me a line. You'll find the link to my email in the right-hand sidebar. And remember, anonimity is guaranteed.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Journalistic objectivity suspended briefly at Miami Herald

The Miami Herald's journalistic objectivity was suspended briefly Friday when a tweet was sent out that looked like it was written by a 14 year-old school girl rather than an objective journalist.

"It was deleted less than 4 minutes after it was first posted, but has been retweeted repeatedly -- lucky me, I got a screencap!," writes a sharp-eyed Random Pixels reader.

A few minutes later an adult took charge of the Twitter feed and sent out this correction:

Regalado /Exposito feud makes the NY Times

The cage match between Miami mayor Tomas Regalado and police chief Miguel Exposito has gone national.

Friday's New York Times carries a dispatch by writer Michael Barbaro that boils down the feud for the paper's national audience. A feud that we're all too familiar with here in the Banana Republic.

Barbaro - who's filling in at the Times Miami Bureau temporarily - doesn't offer his readers much historical context in his reporting.

But veteran Miami watchers know that friction between Miami's police chiefs and city hall is nothing new.

Nevertheless, John Timoney - a guy who knows a thing or two about being an embattled police chief - demonstrated that he hasn't lost his sense of humor, telling the Times, “Nobody that I know, and I know lots of people, has ever seen or experienced anything like this.”

The story appears on page 12 of today's Times.

I'm guessing the Herald will put the story a little closer to the front page in Friday's paper.

The Herald's Chuck Rabin reports that Exposito's job is safe for now.
Miami Police Chief Miguel Exposito's job is safe for now, but only after two hours of political theater Thursday the likes of which have been missing at historic City Hall at Dinner Key for well over a decade.
At Thursday's meeting Miami Commissioner Richard Dunn told a packed commission chamber, "I have no confidence in the chief's ability to lead the city of Miami Police department."

And Rabin reports that "at one point Dunn likened the friction between police and the historically black Overtown community to that of Fidel Castro and Cuban exiles."

But last August, Dunn and Regalado were singing a different tune as they stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Chief Exposito as he announced a crackdown on crime in the 'hood.

Commissioner Richard Dunn and chief Miguel Exposito in happier times

However, the question both the Times story and the Herald story fail to answer is, how did we go from this..... this in 5 short months.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Let's open the Random Pixels mailbag

Here's an email I got today from a regular reader of Random Pixels. A reader, who still gets home delivery of the Miami Herald.
Bill, I know this is old news I can't get over how little local coverage we're getting in the Herald. Check out today's local section and see how many of the reported stories have a Miami-Dade dateline. You could go back for six months and see similar results. What do I care about Margate or Pembroke Pines? Please don't use my name if you write about this, which you probably won't since it is, as I say, old news.
Dear reader, you are correct. With the exception of a locally-focused column by Jackie Bueno Sousa, the remaining three stories on 1B originate in Broward, including one written by a Sun-Sentinel reporter.

But aren't you being a little too critical? Just because the middle name of our hometown paper is "Miami" doesn't mean they always have to cover Miami.

By the way, did you see the nice photo of the woman walking her dogs in the fog in Miami Springs?

Click image to enlarge

Stuff we like

A great morning TV moment courtesy of Eric Deggans of the St. Peteresburg Times who writes:
NBC News anchor Brian Williams once again proves why he's the funniest standup comic not onstage, devouring a plump jelly doughnut during an appearance on a segment of the Today show where every guest was supposed to show up doing a cardiovascular workout.

In one smooth move, he satires the whole silly process of Hoda Kotb and Kathie Lee Gifford sweating through interviews on elliptical machines, noting, in-between bites, that he really admires "this stuff you're doing."

Watch in awe at a news anchor who can play along with a cheesy TV gimmick and make fun of it -- without offending the hapless participants -- in one fell swoop.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

That was funny Eric. But as long as we're on the subject of news anchors doing schtick, let's revisit this classic moment.

Sarah Palin resurfaces

Sarah Palin has resurfaced.

Four days after the murderous rampage in Tuscon, Palin finally issued a statement today on the carnage that claimed 6 lives and injured 14.

Did Palin make her statement before cameras, live microphones and journalists? Of course not.

Did she use calming words to comfort the victims and a nation reeling from a senseless act of violence? Of course not.

In her statement, which was videotaped and posted online, Palin seems to imply that she's the 21st victim of the shooting.

Sitting before an American flag and wearing an American flag lapel pin and trying her best to look presidential, Palin, at first expresses sympathy for the victims.

But a minute and a half into the 8 minute video she accuses journalists and others of inciting hatred.

From the New York Times:
Sarah Palin, who had been silent for days, issued a forceful denunciation of her critics on Wednesday in a video statement that accused pundits and journalists of “blood libel” in what she called their rush to blame heated political rhetoric for the shootings in Arizona.

“Especially within hours of a tragedy unfolding, journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence that they purport to condemn. That is reprehensible.”
All this coming from someone who has built a national following, almost exclusively based on her use of incendiary rhetoric.

It's still early, but Palin is already facing criticism for use of the term "blood libel." From
“The blood libel is something anti-Semites have historically used in Europe as an excuse to murder Jews – the comparison is stupid. Jews and rational people will find it objectionable,” said Hank Sheinkopf, a New York-based Democratic political consultant and devout Jew. “This will forever link her to the events in Tucson. It deepens the hole she’s already dug for herself… It’s absolutely inappropriate.”
One New York Times reader weighed in this morning on the paper's website:
This woman gets nothing but bad advice on communications. She should have been in front of live TV cameras, within hours of the event, expressing her sympathy for the victims and making it clear that violence is not the answer to political debate.

Issuing canned video, days later, with largely self-justifying outrage at how SHE has been treated is just stupid.
Another reader wrote:
So let me get this straight; "Talk show hosts" like Palin and Beck get to brag about their large following when it serves them well. Then they get to distance themselves from the mob they created when things go sour. Sounds like a good deal to me.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Sarah Palin burrows underground

Sarah Palin, Alaska's chronic whiner, habitual Tweeter, half-term quitter-in-chief and former reality TV star has all of a sudden become very silent.

Palin, who couldn't name one magazine or newspaper she read regularly when she was John McCain's running mate, now communicates entirely via a Facebook page and Twitter feed.

But six days after the horrific shootings in Arizona, Sarah Palin is nowhere to be found.

Palin, who seems to have an inane opinion on everything, hasn't posted on Facebook or Twitter since Saturday. All of a sudden she's at a loss for words.

Visit her pages now and there's nothing but the sound of crickets.

And MSNBC's Chris Matthews thinks he knows why.

Palin, it appears, is the one who now finds her herself in the "crosshairs."

Matthews also points out that for as long as Palin lives, her name will forever be linked on Google with that of Gabby Giffords and the Tuscon murders.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Is there some 'bling' in Jose 'Pepe' Diaz's future?

Is there a perp walk in Pepe's future?

Is the Florida Department of Law Enforcement getting ready to present Miami-Dade commissioner Jose "Pepe" Diaz with a pair of shiny silver bracelets?


A check of visitors to my blog today shows that someone from the FDLE in Tallahassee landed on Random Pixels after Googling "Pepe Diaz Miami-Dade County Commissioner."

Click image to enlarge

While it's still early, it's safe to say that Diaz showed up on the FDLE's early warning system after someone at the agency read the excellent piece last November by Miami Herald reporters Matthew Haggman and Martha Brannigan on Diaz's ethically suspect employment by a contractor that does business with the county.

Herald oolumnist Jackie Bueno Sousa called Diaz an "expert" when it comes to skirting ethics rules.

And if the FDLE is investigating Diaz, it wouldn't be the first time that the commish has been targeted by law enforcement.

In 2007 the Herald reported:
When Miami-Dade County Commissioner Jose " Pepe " Diaz championed a zoning change for land owned by developers Sergio Pino and Armando Codina -- without disclosing that he'd flown with Pino on his private jet to Cancún -- he may have violated the federal law at the heart of the case against famed Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Andrew C. Lourie -- the federal prosecutor who oversaw the investigation that sent Abramoff and U.S. Rep. Robert Ney to prison last year -- is now in South Florida running the Diaz investigation. Interviews with lawyers familiar with the case, and subpoenas sent out by Lourie, suggest he is again pursuing an "honest services fraud" investigation.

Under the federal statute, prosecutors don't have to prove a direct bribe -- that is, a gift for a specific favor. Instead, they only have to demonstrate "a scheme or artifice to deprive another of the intangible right of honest services" from a public official.
In 2008, the Herald's John Dorschner reported:
Miami-Dade Commissioner Jose " Pepe " Diaz received $20,000 in 2004 from what federal prosecutors describe as a shell company used to conceal fraudulent proceeds from a hospital kickback scheme -- a payment the commissioner says was a legitimate bonus.

The company, Kaufman Medical Products, was cited in a document filed in federal court Tuesday about healthcare fraud charges against Carlos and Jorge de Céspedes, owners of bankrupt Doral medical-supply firm Pharmed.

Diaz listed on his 2004 public disclosure form that he had received $19,795 from Kaufman. Diaz said Wednesday the money was a bonus for work performed for the de Céspedes brothers' venture capital firm, Astri Group.

In an e-mailed statement, Diaz said: "I, like most Miami-Dade county residents, have known Carlos and Jorge De Céspedes to be successful businessmen and philanthropists who always gave back to this community.... In 2004, I received a bonus in the amount of $19,795 as compensation for my work with the Astri Group. I accepted and properly disclosed the bonus as income. It was the business decision of my employers to pay me through this company (Kaufman) and I had no reason to question that decision."
In Jan. 2009, Carlos and Jorge De Céspedes - whom Diaz described as "successful businessmen and philanthropists who always gave back to this community" - were sentenced to 9 years in for defrauding a South Florida hospital. According to the Herald, "U.S. District Judge Patricia A. Seitz said the brothers had been "two-faced for too long" in bilking Kendall Regional Medical Center out of $5 million in a fraud that lasted 14 years."

If I were you "Pepe," I'd be calling my attorney. Now might be an excellent time to schedule that lunch with him that you've been putting off for so long!

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Neil Rogers remembered

Question: How many "chronics" showed up for Neil Rogers' memorial service Friday in Wilton Manors?

Answer: Quite a few.

If you are a Neil Rogers fan, you know what a "chronic" is.

If you weren't a fan, "chronic" was Neil's term for someone who called his show too often or a listener whose life revolved around the show.

Many of the stories on Neil following his death last Dec. 24 mentioned that he had no immediate family.

That's not entirely true.

Neil had a big family which was made up of the tens of thousands of listeners who tuned in daily to his show.

And I'm here to report that if Friday's turnout was any indication, many in Neil's extended family appear to be rejects from the King Mango Strut.

The crowd which numbered at least 200 - maybe more - filled up the main room at the Center for Spiritual Living in Wilton Manors.

The Sun-Sentinel's Tom Jicha - a long-time friend of Neil - filed this report on the service.
Neil Rogers' memorial service Friday played just like his radio program: raucous, bawdy and free-form.

The irony is the legendary talk-show host, who died Christmas Eve at 68, disdained events such as the one at the Center for Spiritual Living in Wilton Manors.

As his friend and attorney Norman Kent said, "Who else would have taken a week's worth of calls on whether he should go to his mother's funeral?" Rogers didn't go.

The memorial was a trip down memory lane for South Florida radio buffs. Rogers' long-time producer, Jorge Rodriguez, came with a video tribute. Rodriguez rebutted a favorite saying of Rogers' that South Florida is a bedroom town with no sense of community or cohesion. "Neil created cohesion."

Rick Shaw spoke fondly and eloquently of Rogers, who harangued him unmercifully for years until they finally met and became friends. "He turned out to be so kind and gentle. I was really surprised." Shaw said he didn't think "anyone could have brought this august group together except Neil."
Duff Lindsey, a program director at WQAM during Rogers' run there and now a DJ at WFLL, AM 1400, was taken aback at their first meeting by how quiet he was in a social setting. "Jorge did most of the talking."

Lindsey quickly learned Radio Neil was a different person. "You didn't program Neil. He programmed you." Lindsey dreaded the occasions when he would get a memo from upper management saying, "You have to talk to Neil about …"

Bob Green, a program director of WIOD when Rogers was there, recalled that he and Neil had a good relationship "most of the time."

WIOD of old also was represented by Teri Griffin, a news and traffic reporter at WIOD, "or I was until Wednesday," and Roger Magolin, who was the late Mike Reineri's producer for many years.

The shocker of the day was the appearance of Boca Brian, who produced the hundreds of brilliant musical bits that brightened the "Neil Rogers Show." Boca Brian is actually Boca Brittany.

Here are a few shots I made during the service.

"Boca Brian" and the Miami Herald's Ellie Brecher

L to R, former WIOD program director Bob Green, Neil's producer Jorge Rodriguez and "Boca Brian"

Neil's friend and attorney Norman Kent

Attorney and friend Norman Kent eulogizes Neil

Neil's long-time producer Jorge Rodriguez speaks

L to R, the Sun-Sentinel's Tom Jicha, David Hine, friend of Neil for 25 years and  Norman Kent watch a video tribute to Neil

The crowd at Neil's memorial reacts to the video tribute

L to R, long time Neil Rogers friend David Hine, attorney Norman Kent and  Miami Herald reporter Steve Rothaus watch video tribute to Neil

Tribute to Neil included video clips

Tomás Regalado: Just the latest in a long line of Miami city hall nut cases

Miamians awoke Friday morning to the news that Mayor Tomas Regalado was ratcheting up his feud with Miami police chief Miguel Exposito, accusing him of putting him and a city commissioner under surveillance.

The chief responded this afternoon by explaining that "Regalado and his driver had been dodging a process server who was trying to deliver a letter from the chief," the Miami Herald reported in a story posted late Friday on its website.

Headlined "Miami's police dramas: the chiefs vs. the bosses," the story rehashes political spats between past Miami police chiefs and their city hall bosses.

Regular readers of Random Pixels will recognize it as the same story we reported on the blog in great detail last December 16.

Regalado's increasingly erratic actions don't come as a shock to longtime observers of Miami's weird brand of politics. After all, he's a guy who once raised money for an accused terrorist in the early 80's.

Others might say that Regalado is just carrying on the long, proud tradition of strange and screwball behavior by Miami mayors.

Who can forget Xavier "Mayor Loco" Suarez, who once made an unannounced late night visit to a little Havana woman who had criticized him in a letter?

Miami Herald columnist Carl Hiaasen described her reaction in a March 1998 column: "Alarmed at the knocking on her door, the woman (who obviously did not live in the same world as Suarez) picked up a handgun and peeped outside. Luckily for the future ex-mayor, the woman recognized him and held her fire."

In January, 1998, the Herald reported that Suarez "threatened to cancel all city advertising contracts with The Herald unless the newspaper starts 'to be a lot nicer to me, my people, my citizens and my city.' "
Suarez left a message Monday evening on the voice-mail box of a Herald advertising manager whose office processes the city's legal ads. The message was forwarded to Herald President Joe Natoli, who oversees the paper's day-to-day business operations.

``This is the mayor of Miami,'' Suarez said during his minute long message. ``I note that we are subsidizing you and your newspaper with ads related to official notices of the city.

``If that's the case, I strongly suggest you tell your maximum leader of the free world for the publishing company and I believe that's Joe Natoli that he better tell his maximum leader of the publishing side of the newspaper, that is to say David Lawrence, to be a lot nicer to me, my people, my citizens and my city,'' Suarez said.
And then there was mayor Joe Carollo, who Carl Hiaasen dubbed "Crazy Joe." "He's ruthless, paranoid, demagogic, divisive and unabashedly bankrupt of conscience," wrote Hiaasen.

Back to the present day...sure Regalado is nutty as a fruitcake. But is anyone surprised?

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Miami New Times sets new high standards for South Florida journalism

Last November, Gus Garcia-Roberts at Miami New Times inaugurated a new feature on the paper's blog Riptide 2.0 which he called "Mugshots Friday."

Featuring booking photos from the Miami-Dade County jail, the first installment went viral almost immediately because of the inclusion of one particularly bizarre mugshot.

Today Garcia-Roberts continues his quest to raise the bar for journalists in South Florida with another bizarre offering from the digital cameras at Miami-Dade Corrections.

That's 24 year-old Jorge Mario Aguirre, who's a diminutive 5'4" and 115 lbs. Aguirre was picked up by police last August and charged with possession of a controlled substance.

Garcia-Roberts critiques Aguirre's artwork:
He's got the title of an obscure Robert Downey, Jr. film where his eyebrows should be, a Ricky Martin song for a moustache, and an area code for a goatee. Then there's an oil tower (?) for a nose, the rest of his face is covered in what look like gangsta versions of those tiny little puffy stickers of unicorns and pots of gold our sister used to put on our bunkbed, and his torso and arms are scrawled with random slogans and doodles. His skin resembles the high school notebook of a kid with artistic talent and a critically severe case of ADD.
On his Facebook page, Garcia-Roberts says, "This guy's face is an optical illusion. Stare at it long enough and you'll see an airplane taking off."

Not sure about that, but Aguirre's mug is definitely a work in progress.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

The way we were

April 20, 1898

The United States and Spain are just days away from declaring war.

Key West has filled up with troops as America prepares for the outbreak of hostilities.

But not all in Key West are happy to see some of the troops.

The Miami Metropolis recounts a tense encounter between the police and some "Negro soldiers" in this dispatch from the April 22, 1898 edition of the paper.

Stuff we like

My Blackberry Is Not Working!

Where am I?

OK, here's a little photo quiz.

I shot this picture of an egret Sunday. But I wasn't in the Everglades.

Where was I? Leave an answer in the comment section or email me.

Today's history lesson

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it"
-George Santayana, American philosopher

The Miami Herald has another story in today's paper on the growing discord between Miami mayor Tomas Regalado and Miami police chief Miguel Exposito.
The latest in a series of fatal police shootings proved a tipping point for Miami City Hall on Monday, where black community leaders and a city commissioner joined the mayor in criticizing embattled Police Chief Miguel Exposito.

Exposito, meanwhile, held a rare get-together with reporters to answer questions about the New Year's Day shooting in Overtown. But he refused to discuss a private meeting with Mayor Tomas Regalado, days after firing off two letters in which he accused Regalado of being in bed with illegal gambling interests.

The shooting death -- the sixth of a black male by Miami police since last summer -- prompted an angry neighborhood rally Saturday night and increased pressure against Exposito, whose first year in office was marked by public missteps.

But the cascading dissatisfaction with Exposito did not lead to his ouster, as some had speculated could happen Monday, the first day on the job for new City Manager Tony Crapp Jr.

Unlike most department heads, the city charter says the police chief can only be fired for cause -- and only by the manager. Crapp, who was sworn in Monday, said he needs time to meet with and evaluate Exposito before making any decisions.
So while Exposito may be going down, he's not going down without a fight. From the Herald:
Last week, Exposito wrote letters blasting [Regalado] for what he called ``interference'' in police investigations of coin-operated gambling machines in cafeterias and bodegas. The chief demanded a meeting with Regalado, who denied he had meddled in the probes. Regalado did sponsor changes to city laws regulating the machines, but said the changes were for the better.
It's not the first time Regalado has interfered with the police.

Dealing with the police in 2000 as a Miami city commissioner during the Eliam Gonzalez crisis, he exhibited behavior unbecoming of someone in a position of authority. At other times his behavior can best be described as unstable and disruptive.

Here's a little history lesson for those of you whose memories may be short.
Friday, January 14, 2000

Heightened passions over little Elian Gonzalez shifted Thursday to Miami City Hall, where the commission chamber was packed for a showdown between Commissioner Tomas Regalado and the Miami Police Department over Regalado 's charge that officers used brutality in arresting protesters last week.

The atmosphere grew tense, particularly after Regalado demanded an answer from Miami Police Chief William O'Brien about who was responsible for the late-night police order to clear several hundred people from Flagler Street and Southwest 57th Avenue on Jan. 6. The demonstration was protesting an Immigration and Naturalization Service ruling that would send Elian back to Cuba.

``I gave the order to clear that intersection,'' O'Brien replied forcefully, his top brass standing behind him. The crowd erupted in cheers and jeers, and several minutes later, two men stood up and yelled in Spanish that O'Brien was a liar. Police officers escorted them out of the chamber as four photographers and six TV camera operators captured the action.

But in the end tensions cooled, and the commission unanimously approved a watered-down measure proposed by Regalado. It calls for the creation of a special seven-member committee to study ways to prevent a recurrence of the late-night street clash, at which police pushed people back from the intersection, fired tear gas and arrested 48 protesters.

The vote came after Regalado assured everyone that he was not attempting to put the police department on trial. ``It's about what transpired last week,'' Regalado said.

The controversy began earlier this week when Regalado released a letter attacking the police for ``excesses'' and ``abuses.''

Tony Rodriguez, president of the police union, responded with a letter saying Regalado had ``unjustly'' attacked the department. Rodriguez called on off-duty police officers to attend Thursday's meeting.

At City Hall on Thursday morning, someone anonymously distributed a 1994 letter from the U.S. Navy commander of the Guantanamo military base that criticized Regalado.

In the letter, Commander J.F. Boland Jr. told Regalado that he was banned from the base for six months for having encouraged Cuban rafters held there to ``initiate extreme protests including acts of violence and aggression against military personnel.'' Regalado , not yet a Miami commissioner, had visited the base in his capacity as a Radio Mambi reporter.

Regalado blamed Mayor Joe Carollo, his bitter rival, for making public the letter. ``It's CBI on the move,'' he said, referring to a phrase he coined last year, the ``Carollo Bureau of Investigation.''

Regalado also said a second military letter, written a short time later, exonerated his actions at the base.

An aide to Carollo, Bobby Navarro, said Carollo was ill and had nothing to do with the letter's distribution.

By the time the commission took up Regalado 's measure, police officers filled nearly half of the commission chamber's 125 seats, and police critics occupied most of the remaining seats.

Regalado started off as if he were spoiling for a fight with the police department. His strident words prompted O'Brien to respond that he was responsible for the late-night police order.

But a few minutes later, Commissioner Arthur Teele Jr. intervened, sensing that his close commission ally was heading toward a clash with the police.

`` Tomas , I believe you're about to get set up,'' Teele said.

Indeed, O'Brien was ready to air a videotape that he said would show Regalado on Jan. 6 grabbing a police officer in an attempt to prevent an arrest.

But after Teele spoke, O'Brien only briefly expressed his belief that Regalado had interfered with the arrests and did not show the videotape.

Rodriguez, the police union president, also chose not to attack Regalado when he was given the chance to speak, instead defending his men for showing ``a tremendous amount of restraint.''

And here's a Jan. 17, 2000 Miami Herald editorial that doesn't mince words calling Regalado's behavior "reckless" and "thuggish":

If there is one lesson that this community might embrace today while honoring the memory of Martin Luther King Jr., it is to learn to disagree with others while respecting their viewpoints. That is a fundamental pillar of a civil society - and something that too many of Miami-Dade's leaders and some of our colleagues in the media discard in times of high emotion.

Especially disappointing last week were the words of Hialeah Mayor Raul Martinez and the inexcusable actions of Miami City Commissioner Tomas Regalado. As elected representatives, and thereby opinion leaders, Mayor Martinez and Commissioner Regalado must be held to high standards of public performance.

But instead of calming the already-roiling emotional waters that continue washing over this community because of the crisis involving Elian Gonzalez's case, both men recklessly stirred them further.

Mr. Martinez's dereliction came last Wednesday during one of his appearances on a popular Spanish-language radio program where he slandered Attorney General Janet Reno beyond the bounds of fair criticism and issued what some overwrought listeners could interpret as a veiled threat to her future safety. The Hialeah mayor said that the attorney general's decision to uphold the Immigration and Naturalization Service's order to return Elian to his Cuban father was rooted in what he alleged were her anti-immigrant, anti-Cuban and anti-Caribbean-black views. He implied that she had a drinking problem, which he claimed had been hidden from the FBI when she was investigated prior to winning appointment to the post seven years ago.

Although it is within Mr. Martinez's right to question Attorney General Reno's decision, it is outrageous that he would resort to scurrilous personal attacks - not a single one of the charges backed by a shred of evidence. He was also out of bounds to comment during the program that, when Ms. Reno's tenure in Washington, D.C., ends a year from now, she won't be welcome in her native Miami-Dade. Although it was surely intended as nothing more than ironic observation, Mr. Martinez should know others may take his words as an invitation to violence.

Commissioner Regalado's problems, meanwhile were as much physical as oral. His attacks on the Miami police department's handling of the street demonstrations 10 days ago are severely undermined by news videotape showing that he was not only a provocateur - refusing to help police restore order - but that he is lucky not to have wound up in jail for assaulting a policeman.

Police efforts to work out a compromise wherein the protests could go on without blocking traffic were nullified by Mr. Regalado - a dereliction of his own duty. He then compounded his thuggish behavior by taking to the City Commission dais and trying to push his colleagues into organizing a witch hunt against some officers. They wisely refused.