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Just when you thought it was safe to go to the beach … 

April 6, 1988

Fun and frolics reigned at Haulover Beach again this past weekend, as scores of chowderheads ignored posted warnings and plunged straight into a dangerous riptide.

If that weren't enough excitement, a mob of male high-school kids attacked several teenage girls, ripping off all their clothes, grabbing their breasts and genitals and chasing them down the beach. When one of the Haulover lifeguards tried to shield one of the girls, he was kicked repeatedly.

"She was naked and they were grabbing her. I just wanted to get her out of the crowd," said the lifeguard, Ken Chouinard. "It made me sick, and it also made me fearful for the people who come out here."

Some of these festivities were captured on tape by a WTVJ-Channel 4 news crew and should be recommended viewing for anyone who is considering a leisurely family outing at Haulover.

For years this has been a trouble spot, though the parks department doesn't advertise the fact. Keeping the beach safe apparently is a low priority in the budget, as evidenced by the minimal way in which the county polices the area and staffs its lifeguard crews.

"We get the same consideration as macrame classes and kickball games," says Lt. David Battenfield, a Haulover lifeguard for the past 15 years. "This county is providing people access to this beach, but it's not providing their protection."

For a long time, the lifeguards have been trying to get someone to pay attention. The near-riot this weekend, combined with the perilous surf conditions, portend a disaster in the making—an expensive one.

Currently, Haulover Park has 11 full-time lifeguards on staff. Part-timers are hired to fill out the shifts, though many are not trained as emergency medical technicians, as the full-time lifeguards usually are.

Haulover Beach is about 1.4 miles long, but almost 43 percent is out of immediate range of a lifeguard tower and basically unguarded. The biggest stretch between towers measures 810 yards—a long way to run, if somebody's drowning at the other end.

The last accident took place March 23. Lifeguards got there swiftly and pulled the 42-year-old tourist out of the water, but he died later.

The miracle is that it doesn't happen more often. During the past week or so, strong winds and spring tidal conditions have made Haulover particularly treacherous, with invisible run-out currents sweeping many swimmers out toward the open water. Lifeguards officially closed the beach on three days, but plenty of idiotic showoffs hopped in anyway.

On March 27, Haulover lifeguards logged 10 rescues. On March 29, the number was nine. On March 30, it was 15. Business peaked again this past weekend with 19 rescues on Saturday and 28 more on Sunday.

While the park is much more crowded than it was in 1975, there are five fewer full-time lifeguards now. During last year's budget crunch, the county proposed cutting back even more on the staffs, but the lifeguards successfully argued against it.

Today the lifeguards meet with county parks officials to plead—again—for help in making the beach safer. They aren't asking for salary hikes; they want more lifeguards, more towers and better lifesaving equipment. They also want a regular and visible police presence.

Saturday's clothes-ripping melee took place with a Metro crime suppression team nearby. Still, the teenagers ran wild. "A combat zone," Battenfield said. No arrests were made at the scene; police say they are trying to identify the assailants.

On the bright side, at least nobody took a bullet.

On March 26, startled Haulover beachgoers watched as one man pulled out a machine gun and shot another, while still a third drew his own pistol and popped off a few rounds. A bystander was shot and wounded as he walked his three children out of the park.

Just another day at the beach. If the undertow doesn't get you, the snipers will.

Let's crow for Hialeah cockfighting

April 17, 1989

Let freedom ring!

Three dozen men cradling live chickens appeared at the Metro Justice Building the other day to demonstrate in favor of—don't laugh—cock-fighting.

The men were members of a Hialeah "social club" raided last week. Police arrested 186 people, seized 86 birds and grabbed $40,000 in gambling money.

The club offers live music, rides for the kiddies and a restaurant. But the main attraction is a i^o-seat fighting pit where grown-ups sit and cheer while two dumb barnyard animals mutilate each other. Can you think of a nobler cause for demonstration? Raise your placards high, boys.

How dare the police shut down such an enriching pastime! My goodness, if they strip us of our right to torture God's hapless creatures, then what next?

Granted, an organized cockfight isn't really an act of nature. Under normal farm conditions, most roosters are too busy chasing the hens to stop and disembowel each other.

But with a little human guidance and just a touch of inbreeding, a rooster becomes a ferocious fighting machine.

I know what you're thinking: chickens. Gamecocks are basically just chickens in drag. And how fierce can a chicken be?

Plenty fierce, especially if you attach razor-sharp spurs to its scrawny yellow legs. These devices are made of honed steel, bone or fiberglass. The purpose is to replace the rooster's natural spur with something slightly more effective.

Otherwise a cockfight is about as thrilling as a Foghorn Leghorn cartoon. Without artificial spurs, the birds just hop and squawk and pull each other's feathers out. Where's the drama in that?

But add those nasty little can-openers, and cockfighting becomes a macho life-or-death spectacle. In fact, matches often do not officially end until one of the two birds expires of its wounds. That's when the big money changes hands.

We're talking rich tradition. Dueling poultry goes back to the days of ancient Persia and Greece, before video games, when people were forced to amuse themselves with whatever was handy. Given the abundance of chickens, and the relative ease with which they could be dragooned, it was only natural that a mindless blood sport would evolve.

Popular among English nobility (what wasn't?), cockfighting was soon introduced in colonial America. Among its ardent fans was the highly cultured Andrew Jackson. Always controversial, cockfighting was outlawed in Great Britain and Canada. Massachusetts banned it in 1836. In recent years, the legality has been debated from Maryland to Louisiana to Key Largo.

In some places, cockfighting remains legal provided that the birds are not fitted with sharpened spurs, and that no gambling is allowed. This, of course, takes all the fun out of it. If the roosters can't slash each other to shreds, and if the spectators can't bet on it, where's the pleasure?

The argument from animal-rights sissies is that cockfighting is cruel, even sadistic. They like to mention that big raid in West Dade a few years ago, when police found live roosters with their eyes missing. It happens, sure, but at least they didn't wind up as fried nuggets in a Col. Sanders


Most of those arrested last week at the Hialeah pit were accused of misdemeanors, although a few face felony charges that carry possible five-year prison terms. In Florida, it's illegal to promote, stage, attend or gamble on an animal fight.

Now's the time to take a stand against such government intrusion.Tell those pointy-heads in Tallahassee that enough's enough—what goes on between a man and his chicken, well, that's a sacred and private thing.

And who's to say these gallant birds don't relish the tang of fresh blood on their beaks! Why, you should see their tiny eyes light up when those spurs are strapped to their shins. There is no finer moment in sports.

So cheer those crusaders who carried their killer roosters to the courthouse steps, for justice comes to those who crow the loudest. Free the Hialeah 186!

Land snakes! Pythons seem to like it here

October II, 1989

Finally, some good news about Florida wildlife.

The panthers might be vanishing, but the pythons have arrived.

You know all about Big Mama, the 20-foot beauty that was living comfortably under somebody's house in Fort Lauderdale.The neighborhood kids kept telling their parents that they'd seen this monster subterranean serpent eating raccoons and opossums, and naturally their parents didn't believe a word of it.

Once captured, Big Mama has gone on to become a star of local and national media. If you're in the TV biz, there's no video like snake video.

Then, just when you thought it was safe to be a raccoon again, along comes Junior, another semi-humongous python who turned up last week at a local construction site. Though measuring only about 17 feet, Junior was nonetheless stretched out and posed with every TV reporter in the tri-county area. The next day the poor creature died from internal bleeding. Such is the price of fame.

The authorities want us to believe that these two snakes were freaks in our midst and that their discovery within weeks of each other was just a wild coincidence. They want us to swallow the notion that these pythons were family pets that either escaped or were abandoned. But how many people do you know who own a 20-foot snake? Or even two 10-footers?

No, these carnivorous beasties had been loose for some time, doing what pythons do best—eating, sleeping and making lots of baby pythons (females lay up to 100 eggs).

Wildlife experts say there's nothing to worry about, but they said the same thing about Bufo toads, and look what happened. And parrots—every neighborhood now has its own flock of screeching parrots. Were all these birds somebody's pet? Not unless they staged a mass breakout. More likely, they've simply adopted South Florida as their new home and are merrily reproducing in the tops of our banyan trees.

Same goes for the pythons. They're here to stay. Both Big Mama and Junior were an exotic species called the reticulated python, which happens to be the longest snake in the world. Here are the most commonly asked questions about our newest tropical neighbor:

Where do they come from?

The reticulated python is native to Southeast Asia, Indonesia, Burma and the Philippines.

How big do they get?

Commonly growing to 25 feet, the largest known specimen was killed in 1912 on the north coast of Celebes.The snake measured 32 feet, 9 1/2 inches.

What do they eat?

Pythons prefer to dine on small mammals, although the larger specimens will gobble the occasional deer or goat. In one of the few documented cases of its kind, a 31-foot reticulated python is known to have eaten a 14-year-old boy on the island of Salebabu, in Indonesia. The attack happened several years ago, and there's no reason to suspect that this particular python has migrated to South Florida. Yet.

Are pythons swift, clever and keen-eyed?

No, pythons generally are slow, dull-witted and myopic. In stalking prey, however, they have the considerable advantages of stealth, camouflage and about 300 pounds of sheer muscle. They also love to climb trees and swim rivers.The good news is they're not poisonous. The bad news is they kill by brute constriction.

How do I know if one is living under my house?

If you haven't seen your poodle for a few days, it might be a good idea to check around. Fortunately, a python such as Big Mama only gets hungry every couple of months. The rest of the time they just sort of curl up and grow.

What do I do if I find a 32-foot python in my yard?

The one thing you don't do is try to kill it with a rake. Rakes work fine on pesky little garter snakes, but not pythons. All you do is get them incredibly ticked off, which is a bad idea. As any professional reptile trapper will tell you, the ideal python is an unperturbed python.

You said these things climb trees! So what happens if a giant python falls out of a tree and lands on top of me?

Then you can kiss your sorry asp goodbye.

Send in clowns—and book them, of course

January 9, 1991

Busted again.

Performance artist Kman (no hyphen), AKA Art Kendallman, AKA Monkey Joe, AKA the Missile—collared during the Orange Bowl parade.

Intercepted as an unauthorized clown.

"I was just parading like I do every year," Kman says. "They said the director didn't want me there."

Kman loves a parade. He waits all year for the Orange Bowl. Usually he tags along with the Ringling Brothers clowns, but this year the Ring-ling clowns didn't participate so Kman was pretty much running solo.

His costume was, well, distinctive. The green jump suit with the red dots wasn't too gaudy, especially for a clown. The sneakers with the flashing lights weren't so peculiar, either. It was the rest of the outfit: "I have a helmet with goggles and a mask. My mask is like a hawk pilot. I'm a hawk! Yeah, and I have a helicopter on my head."

That's what seems to have caught the attention of police.

"It's motorized and everything," Kman says of the helicopter. "It's a great chopper. It's a Huey. I found it at Toys-R-Us, amazingly enough. A scale-model Huey!" So he was whirlybirding down Biscayne Boulevard toward the grandstand and the network TV lights when a Miami policeman stopped him. Kman didn't have a permit to be there.

He told the cop he hadn't missed an Orange Bowl parade since 1984. He explained how the Ringling clowns always welcomed him into their formation. Kman says the cop told him OK, get with the Ringling guys. But there was no sign of them, so Kman loosely hooked up with some clowns from the phone company.

This is how he describes his act: "Basically I'm flying this helicopter on my head and basically running around. I do different stunts, turns and spins. I'm a dancer, so I dance while I do this."

He was just warming up, revving the chopper, when the same cop spotted him again. "I also was walking really slow, and that had something to do with it," Kman theorizes.

At any rate, he got arrested for trespassing. The police report straightforwardly describes the suspect as a man "adorned with a helicopter" who "did not belong in the show."

As he was hustled out of the parade, some of the spectators booed the cops. Kman spent five hours in custody. "They had great fun with me," he recalls. "They had me posing with officers and taking pictures." Kman relates the story with annoyance but no bitterness. He's been arrested before. Once he was riding the Metrorail as Monkey Joe—that is, dressed as a monkey and squatting on his haunches like a monkey and occasionally making noises like a monkey—when he was busted for wearing a mask in a public place.

On the day the pope visited Miami, Kman was arrested again for refusing to remove his goggle mask. At the time, he was riding a bicycle with the scale model of a Hercules military transport plane mounted on the front. He is uncommonly fond of miniature war toys; he once appeared in public as a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.

Says his lawyer, Glenn Terry: "He's a harmless guy who's trying to say something, though I don't know what it is."

Police say Kman wasn't causing any problems at the Orange Bowl parade, except that he refused to go away.The parade folks say it's unfortunate that Kman was arrested, but say he should've got a permit like all the other clowns.

"We had Captain Crime Stopper, and the World's Fastest Clown," notes Gene Cokeroft, director of production for the parade. "My gosh, we'd never say no to a clown." He added that Kman's whirling helicop-ter-on-the-head routine sounded very entertaining.

Next year, Krnan promises, he will go through the proper clown channels. As for the theme of his performance, the message of his art: "Fly in peace," he says. "Whatever."

No peace for movie ushers who want quiet

June 26, 1991

AMC Theaters has announced a crackdown on customers who yak during movies: Violators will be ejected after one warning.

This ought to be fun, especially in South Florida. We've got the loudest, surliest, burliest, most well-armed movie audiences in the hemisphere. A verbal warning might only provoke them.

What prompted AMC's new policy was a national survey in which 71 percent of those interviewed named "disruptive behavior" as the reason they don't go to the movies more often. Like AMC, Wometco and General Cinema are attempting to discourage talkers by showing on-screen warnings before every film. The test will be trying to back up those threats with serious muscle.

AMC says it will order its ushers to patrol the aisles vigilantly. I didn't even know they still employed ushers! They've got plenty of uniformed young men whose job is guarding the uniformed young women who make the buttered popcorn, but these fellows are under strict orders never to leave the refreshment stand. You seldom catch them inside the theaters.

Say you scrounge up some ushers crazy enough to take on a South Florida movie audience. Training them will cost a fortune. Start with a basic martial-arts course, then six weeks on the firing range, nightscope training, wilderness survival school, hostage negotiations, and so on. Those who don't wash out of the program still won't be prepared for the teeming hellpit that is your average early-bird matinee in, say, West Broward. There's one sure way to see if an usher is combat-ready. Put him in the aisles during a Woody Allen movie.

Allen is a literate and witty screenwriter. His movies are full of clever lines, exquisitely timed. Enjoying the dialogue, unfortunately, requires that one be able to hear it. That's simply not possible in many local theaters.

The problem is chronic and insurmountable. Woody Allen sets most of his pictures in New York. Many South Florida moviegoers are from New York, or have relatives there, or once visited there on vacation. Thus they cannot restrain from exclaiming, at the most crucial moment of the movie:

"Look, there's the Chrysler Building! We were there with your cousin, remember? Back when she had that terrible gout!"

At which point, the wife is likely to say (in a voice like a diesel): "That wasn't the Chrysler Building, it was the World Trade Center! And it wasn't gout, it was gallstones!"

Other Manhattan landmarks that send moviegoers into clamorous eruptions are Radio City, the Empire State Building, Macy's, the Plaza Hotel, any Broadway marquee, and of course Central Park. Whenever there's a scene in Central Park, you might as well go buy some Raisinets and relax in the lobby, because you won't be able to hear a word of the movie. Audience members will be trading moldy Central Park anecdotes for 15, 20 minutes easy. Another perilous situation for ushers is Terminator-type films, which rely on spectacular methods of incineration, dismemberment and organ removal. In other parts of the country, such scenes evoke normal shrieking and groans of disgust. Here in South Florida, though, they inspire long esoteric debates about technique—for example, is a grain thresher more effective than a circular saw? How long do human body parts keep in the refrigerator?

Only the boldest of ushers would interrupt such a conversation with a "Sssshhhh."

Once a customer defies the warning, the challenge is subduing the noisy culprit and removing him or her from the movie. Many of these babblers are quite huge, much bigger than your average usher. Nothing short of a flash fire is going to budge them from their seats.

AMC's solution is to offer a refund if they'll get up and leave peacefully. That'll probably work fine in Tulsa, but extra coaxing may be required here in Miami.

We're talking stun guns and grappling hooks.

Miami politics a sticking point for voodooers

February 20, 1992

Miami City Hall, usually likened to a circus, is now a chamber of the occult. Goodbye, Ringling Brothers. Hello, Addams Family.

Commissioner Victor DeYurre's office is being plagued by eerie happenings. A miniature coffin, containing hair, appeared on an assistant's desk. A door was defaced with a cross drawn in blood. Two of the commissioner's aides recently received anonymous voodoo-style dolls, with pins protruding from the tiny torsos. Each of the dolls wore a noose.

Maybe this stuff goes on at all city halls, but I doubt it. Even by Miami standards, a punctured voodoo doll is worthy of concern. DeYurre has downplayed the creepy incidents and remained calm. However, three veteran aides have abruptly departed his staff for other city jobs.

We don't know if the mystery doll-impaler was aiming his ire at DeYurre personally, but the possibility must be addressed. Criticism of politicians takes many forms, and a miniature coffin undoubtedly deserves more attention than a telegram.

South Florida's multicultured society offers a rich selection of hexes, spells and curses that could be unleashed on local officeholders. I can understand why disgruntled citizens might resort to blood scrawls and the like. Nothing else seems to work. Say Metro approves an ugly shopping center for your quiet suburban neighborhood. Say the swing vote on the zoning change was a commissioner who ignored all even-tempered letters and phone calls. How do you repay such betrayal? You either wait for the next election and vote the rascal out of office—or lay a heavy-duty hex on him now.

Buy a voodoo doll (about $5 at curio shops) and dress it up to resemble the offending politician. For authenticity, you should costume the doll with as much detail as possible. (For instance, if the target of your spell is Mayor Steve Clark, the doll should have a tiny little five-iron in its hands.)

The next step is choosing an appropriate curse. Hexing a governor or senator will require bigger medicine than hexing, say, an assistant city manager in Hialeah Gardens. For dosage information, amateur conjurers can consult many modern texts. A good one is Voodoo and Hoodoo by Jim Haskins, who culled centuries of folklore to document popular hexing customs.

A favored technique is to cut open the voodoo doll and sprinkle cayenne pepper inside. Sew the doll up with black thread. Then you tie its hands and place it in a kneeling position in a remote corner of the house. Says Haskins: "You may subject it to other indignities—kick it, blindfold it. Corresponding problems will befall the victim." More somber rites involve a small coffin, a black cat, a chicken and a glass of whiskey. Details are too gross to mention here, but suffice to say that the chicken and the cat get the worst of the deal.

A word of caution: When attempting black magic, please don't harm any innocent creatures. Not even a slug should lose its life because of Victor DeYurre, or any politician.

Most homespun spells are designed for wicked landlords, wayward spouses and greedy relatives. Improvisation is necessary to make them effective at city hall. Don't waste time sticking pins into your mayor-doll's back. Stick them into its pockets, to discourage graft.

Experts don't know if voodoo will become a potent political force in South Florida, but its use might be more widespread than suspected. Haskins writes of a tested ritual to cause mental confusion and temporary insanity:

"Obtain a piece of the intended victim's hair and singe it lightly over an open flame. Then bury it deep in the ground to cause him to lose his mind."

This one already has been tried, with obvious success. See for yourself. Visit the next Miami commission meeting.

Modern world puts evolution into reverse

July 6, 1995

Scientists are advancing a theory that human beings have stopped evolving because we've interfered with natural selection.

Thousands of years ago, the fittest of the species endured, while the weakest stumbled into tar pits or got eaten by saber-toothed tigers. That doesn't happen much anymore, and consequently—these experts assert—humans are actually devolving, getting dumber and less fit.

The hypothesis is bolstered by the popularity of daytime talk shows and psychic hotlines. More empirical evidence is supplied every Fourth of July, when alcohol and explosives are freely distributed among the populace.

It would've been an ideal day for geneticists and naturalists to have visited Dade County, where a water crisis became a startling biosocial experiment.

Here's what happened. Runoff from recent heavy rains dumped hazardous levels of fecal bacteria and other nasty microbes into the Oleta River and Biscayne Bay. Health officials quickly detected the contamination, and warned people to stay out of the water.

It was not a precipitous announcement. Swimming in sewage is dangerous, especially for children. Bacteria enter the human body through any orifice of convenience, and commence to make you sick as a dog.

A Ph.D. in microbiology is not necessary to grasp the concept: Clean water is good. Poopy water is bad.

Local newscasts aired the pollution warnings for days, and displayed detailed maps showing which areas were unsafe for swimming. By dawn's early light on July 4, it was reasonable to assume that almost everybody was aware of the problem, and had relocated their picnic plans to a safe beach.

Out of fairness, though, let's say a few sheltered souls remained clueless. Perhaps they didn't have a TV or radio.

Fair enough. You pile the family into the car and head across the Rickenbacker Causeway. You park along Hobie Beach, unload the coolers, smear on the sunscreen, dash for the water … and there it is.

A sign. DANGER, it says, in English and Spanish. Don't swim here. The water's contaminated!

Now comes the moment of truth. You can almost hear Darwin's ghost. Surely these morons aren't going swimming in THAT crap! Not with their kids! Not with a warning sign right in front of their face!

Wrong, Charlie baby.

Into Biscayne Bay they wade by the score, splashing among the playful E. coli germs. TV stations featured the footage as part of their upbeat Independence Day coverage.

To a scientist, the scene would seem irrefutable proof that the new theory is true—the human race is backsliding toward the primordial bog. At the very least, those swimmers should've been dragged from the water to have their chromosomes counted.

Eons ago, when man lived in caves, dumb moves were often fatal moves. The quick and the smart survived, the slow and the dimwitted didn't. If one member of the tribe ate a berry and died, the others henceforth avoided those darn berries.

Over time, humans advanced and grew sturdier.

Not anymore. Now we've got seat belts, air bags, antibiotics and stomach pumps to save fools from their own mistakes. That's all right. Caring for others is one of the nobler traits of our species.

The result, ironically, is that the genetic future of mankind isn't so rosy. Stragglers once culled from the herd now (in the absence of saber-toothed tigers) operate motor vehicles, watch Jerry Springer, cavort in pollution and even breed.

Darwin would be truly worried. The evolutionary gap between the bacteria and us is closing.

Give macho dogflghters real taste of action

January 18, 1996

As this is being written, a group of strangers—scientists, bystanders and tourists—are treading chilly water, trying to save some sick dolphins that beached near Stock Island at Key West.

The urge to help weaker creatures is one of the nobler traits of human beings. Unfortunately, the kindness gene is not omnipresent in mankind. In a few notably stunted specimens, a cruelty gene remains dominant.

Witness the arrests last weekend of 12 men at a filthy, makeshift dog-fighting arena in West Dade. Metro-Dade police say the fellows were festively gathered to watch pit bull terriers tear each other to shreds.

"One of the most disgusting things I've seen in my life," said Sgt. Gary Shimminger of the Crime Suppression Team. "Despicable, really horrible.You're looking at these poor helpless dogs, and one of them had no face. Just gums and teeth."

In case you're not aware of how dogfighting is conducted: The animals are turned loose against each other until one is either dead or so mangled it can no longer bite back, at which point the fun apparently goes out of the match.

Bets are placed on the pit bulls before and during the battle, which customarily is accompanied by rousing shouts, heavy alcohol consumption and uncontrolled drooling (by both man and beast).

The longer the fight continues—and the bloodier it becomes—the more cash changes hands. Thus it becomes profitable to prolong the carnage, and the suffering of the dogs.

Although quite illegal, pit-bull fighting remains a popular pastime in certain circles of beetle-browed mutants and mouth-breathers. It's also a markedly masculine affair, torrents of testosterone being needed to get drunk and watch two simple-minded creatures maim each other.

When police raided the dog pit last Friday, they found n injured terriers, which had been bred specifically for viciousness and biting tenacity. The animal whose face had been chewed off was euthanized right away. The same sad end awaits the others.

As for the "sportsmen" apprehended at the scene, most face misdemeanor charges. Two of the defendants, allegedly caught holding bloodied dogs in the ring, are accused of baiting or fighting animals, a felony that carries a top fine of $5,000 and five years in the slammer.

Should these fellows be found guilty, let me suggest that our prisons are too crowded with ruthless criminals to accommodate a couple of lowlife dog abusers. Let me also suggest that prison is far too good a place for them.

I propose alternative sentencing—one that would make dogfighting less of a spectator sport and more of a true macho test. As a bonus, very little in the way of taxpayer resources would be required:

1. Upon conviction, immediately put the two defendants in a squad car and return them to the dog pit.

2. On the way, make a brief detour to Pet Warehouse and purchase approximately three dozen cans of Alpo. Either beef or chicken will do fine.

3. Once the sportsmen are back at the pit, tether them to short leashes. Stake the leashes firmly into the ground.

4. Open cans of Alpo.

5. Smear chunks of Alpo on the sportsmen. Baste generously.

6. Now reunite sportsmen with their surviving pets.

7. Leave them in privacy for, say, eight or nine minutes.

8. Return with Hefty bags and a WetVac to clean up.

Oh, I almost forgot: No betting would be permitted on the terriers. However, modest wagers would be accepted on whether or not the defendants will ever again be eager to attend a dogfight.

Dead shark nothing but a sound bite

January 9, 1997

Nothing chums up the media like a big, dead shark.

It happened again this week when a commercial fishing boat hauled in a rare great white in the waters off Key Largo. For nearly two days, Miami TV stations went wild with the story. Some news programs even provided "team coverage."

Team coverage of a dead fish.

Depending on which channel you watched or which newspaper you read, the shark's length was either 16 feet, 17 feet, 18 feet or 20 feet. Its weight was reported variously between 1,000 and 2,000 pounds.

The only facts of which you could be certain were:

1. It was huge.

2. It was deceased.

3. It was a shark.

It's easy to blame Steven Spielberg for the inane frenzy that accompanies the killing of a great white, but it's the media that have turned a fright movie fad into a dockside ritual.

The phenomenon is exaggerated in tropical locales such as Florida, where (with the recent decline of tourist homicides), we're always on the lookout for new things to terrorize winter visitors. I'm all in favor of this, but not at the expense of the beleaguered shark.

There was nothing mythic or Hemingwayesque about the capture of the great white near Pickles Reef. Longline fishermen laid out miles of hooks in deep water. The shark glomped one of the baits and became entangled.

No epic battle occurred between man and beast. The fish was already stuck when the fishermen checked their rigs. A mechanical winch cranked up the line.

The whole episode was no more heroic than a tow truck dragging an Oldsmobile out of a rock pit. Incredibly, the shark still was alive after being pulled back to the mainland, where it soon died. The swarms of gawkers were thicker than the flies.

Traffic snarled. Cameras clicked. The media was alerted.

A giant shark is a spectacular thing, without a doubt. A great white is one of those creatures that stirs in humans the most primitive of fears, even though we are statistically far more likely to die from a lightning bolt, a bee sting or a bowl of bad oysters.

Still, nothing livens a sluggish news day like one of those razor-toothed leviathans, hanging by its tail in a marina. (Photographers adroitly avoided showing the regurgitated stomach.)

Around the dead-shark shrine in Key Largo, the standard media question to wide-eyed onlookers was: "Does this make you afraid to go in the water?"

Correct answer: "No, but I'll think twice about slathering myself in squid blood and dangling off a size 9/0 hook overnight in the Gulf Stream."

As breathtaking as the sight of a dead i6-foot shark might be, the live ones are infinitely more awe-inspiring. They do not, however, hold quite so still for pictures.

Even in the "team coverage" it was seldom mentioned that sharks, an essential marine predator, are disappearing from our oceans. They're being slaughtered disgracefully for their fins, which are sold for big money to Asian markets.

The great white killed off of Key Largo was hoisted into the bed of a truck and hacked into pieces. Its dorsal and pectorals will someday season an expensive bowl of soup, consumed by a wealthy businessman hoping to bolster his sexual stamina.

An even less noble end awaits the remainder of the fish. Its jaws were sold to a collector, and a few hunks of flesh went to bystanders. The carcass had been lying around for so long, without ice, that a seafood house in Tavernier didn't want any part it.

Much of the great shark probably will turn up as chum, or as bait in crab traps.

But you won't see that part of the story on the news. Dead meat doesn't rate, without the jaws.

Corruption: Our growth industry

May 3, 1998

Miami civic leaders seem shellshocked by the announcement that Knight Ridder, parent company of the Herald, is moving its headquarters to Northern California.

I say: Adios, corporate weasels. Who needs you?

Oh, we really don't want to go—but we need to be in Silicon Valley with all that nifty, cutting-edge Internet technology.

Yeah, right. The truth is, Knight Ridder's gone soft. Thrown in the towel. Turned yellow. It isn't tough enough to handle Miami anymore.

So good riddance, cyberweenies. Enjoy your vineyards and your "majestic" redwoods and your scenic Pacific Coast Highway. We'll be just fine down here in the oppressive heat and the gunfire.

For too long South Florida has done back flips to impress major firms, only to have them desert the place or go bankrupt (sometimes more than once). It's time to focus more positively on a steady, dependable, homegrown enterprise.

I'm talking about corruption. That's the wave of the future. That's where the jobs are.

Example: The U.S. attorney's office in Miami is doubling the size of its anti-corruption unit. The troop increase comes after a wave of scandals involving the County Commission, the Building Department, the Miami City Commission, the Miami elections and the Port of Miami.

Some say epidemic corruption is bad for our image—in fact, it's cited as a reason many companies won't relocate here. And it's true that almost every institution, from the cops to the courts, has been stained by serious scandal in the past decade.

But why not make the best of it? What's bad for a community's image isn't necessarily bad for the job market.

A proper corruption investigation requires a massive law enforcement infrastructure, which means more employment opportunities—and not only for agents, prosecutors and judges.

Think of each breaking scandal as its own job fair.

Bugging the phones of crooked politicians, for example, will require hiring extra wiretap technicians. That means extra typists to transcribe the wiretaps, and extra clerks to photocopy the transcripts, and extra repairmen to replace the toner in the photocopy machines, and so on—all the way down to the extra process servers and bail bondsmen needed as the indictment draws near.

Unlike newspapers, corruption is a growth industry. Knight Ridder's pullout will cost the area fewer than 150 jobs, a blip compared to what would be lost if there were no bribery and racketeering to fight.

Think of the many millions of dollars trickling into the local economy as a result of every corruption probe—gas for the undercover cars, videotapes for the surveillance cameras, file cabinets for the plea-bargain agreements. And don't forget those hefty hotel and restaurant bills run up by conspirators, co-conspirators and snitches.

Those who winced at the Knight Ridder headline Wednesday probably winced at this one Friday: "Port funds diverted to Democrats." The story: $120,000 mysteriously got funneled from the Port of Miami to the Democratic National Committee. The feds are on the case.

Bad for business? Tell that to the FBI agents flying down to the Caymans to track seaport cash, or to the local travel agent who booked their flights, or to the cabbie who drove them to the airport, or to the local defense attorneys who will represent the accused.

No, don't fret over the departures of Knight Ridder, Southeast Bank and Blockbuster. South Florida can be booming, in spite of them. When you're talking graft, you're talking jobs.

Indicted? Act indignant

August 23, 1998

A new and entertaining South Florida custom is the pre-indictment press conference. The purpose is to declare one's innocence, in advance of arrest.

Last Thursday, such an event was staged by two honchos of the Cuban American National Foundation. They're about to be charged in Botched Plot No. 4,877 to kill Fidel Castro.

CANF President Francisco "Pepe" Hernandez and director Jose Antonio Llama sat before reporters to denounce their pending indictment, and indignantly blame it on pro-Castro sympathizers in the Clinton administration.

(The appearance of indignation is vital to all pre-indictment press conferences. Equally important is cooking up a lurid conspiracy theory to explain why you are being singled out for prosecution.)

Hernandez and Llama are in hot water because of what happened last fall off the coast of Puerto Rico. A 46-foot boat, La Esperanza, was boarded by the Coast Guard after reporting mechanical problems. A search turned up ammunition, bipods and two .50-caliber sniper rifles.

One of the Cuban exiles on the boat reportedly admitted they were on their way to the Venezuelan island of Margarita to shoot Castro. The Cuban president was going there for the Ibero-American Summit.

At first it seemed like just another bungled assassination plan. People are constantly plotting against Castro, and often the schemes end up on some broken-down boat, loaded with incriminating ammo.

What made this one different was that the boat was owned by "Tofiin" Llama, and that one of the .50-caliber sniper rifles belonged to Pepe Hernandez. Both men have high-profile roles in CANF, the dominant anti-Castro lobby that claims not to support violence or terrorism.

La Esperanza's fateful voyage began at a private dock in Coral Gables, one of many things that attracted the curiosity of U.S. authorities. Shortly after the exile crew was arrested, a San Juan grand jury began taking testimony. Indictments of Hernandez and Llama are expected Tuesday.

At least that's the word from their attorneys, who did all of the talking at the pre-indictment press conference. One, the ubiquitous Jose Quinon, said the case against his clients was "politically motivated."

Another lawyer, Manny Vasquez, elaborated: "The enemies of the embargo [against Cuba] are behind this action. When Castro snaps his fingers, our government jumps."

It's a fabulous crock, of course, but even the flimsiest of conspiracy yarns appeals to some Castro haters and talk-radio addicts.

Notably missing from the CANF leaders' pre-indictment press conference was a plausible counter-explanation for the suspicious facts of the case. On matters of evidence, the indignant attorneys and their indignant clients remained mum.

How, for example, did Llama's boat come to be used in this screwball mission? Was he in the habit of loaning it to heavily armed pals for leisurely excursions to South America?

And how did Hernandez's .50-caliber sniper rifle get aboard La Esperanza? Why does he even own such a ridiculous weapon—it's a tad excessive for plugging deer or squirrels, and the bulky bipod makes it impractical for everyday self-defense.

Maybe it's all innocent coincidence—the boat, the sniper guns, the trip timed to Castro's arrival. Or maybe unnamed "enemies of the embargo" somehow orchestrated the whole fiasco-at-sea. But how?

These and other questions that weren't answered at the pre-indictment press conference could be asked at trial—or again even later, if there's a post-conviction press conference, which is also becoming a South Florida custom.
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