Litz on Mencken
Editor: On July 25, 1989, it was my pleasure to interview the late Francis A. Litz, Ph.D. Spanning almost 70 years, his career centered around Johns Hopkins and American Universities. Dr. Litz, who was in remarkably good health when we spoke, was most proud and fond of his relationship with H. L. Mencken.
Recommended to Mencken for his proficiency in English and Latin, Dr. Litz subsequently translated into English two Latin lectures, delivered by Mencken's ancestor, Johann Burkhard Mencken, in 1713 and 1715 at the University of Leipzig. They were entitled "The Charlatanry of the Learned." Mencken had discovered the Latin treatises at a book store in Europe and was amused at the similarity of his own intentions: taking the inflation out of pretenders.
Among the many fascinating anecdotes about his two-year association with Mencken (he would visit Mencken at his home in the evenings and chat sometimes until 1 A.M.), Dr. Litz fondly recalled one visit when Mencken asked if he would mind listening to a recital of "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner." Barely skipping a beat, Mencken recited the long poem by memory. "It was incredible just to be a witness to this event," said Dr. Litz.
What was most memorable about Mencken? "He was a phrase-maker, a frank reporter. What I remember most was his general knowledge about all sorts of things and his interest in things political and literary. I found out that he had a tremendous amount of reserve knowledge. Evidently, he had been a reader all his life and he kept it up in his later years until his eyes went bad. It must have been very difficult for him. The lack of eyes for a reader just cuts the world in more than half."
Was he a pessimist? "It wasn't pessimism, but realism. Honest in what he said, while observing worthwhile things."
Reading about the recent unsealing of Mencken's memoirs, I couldn't help thinking sadly, how curious and excited Dr. Litz would have been about the occasion. He had something better, however - an informal, intimate friendship with the "Sage of Baltimore."
Ease the Pain, Patriotically
Editor: Since this war has finally been acknowledged to be, primarily, about petroleum, perhaps those dead-set against it should curtail their use of petroleum products. Ever wonder how many anti-war people have solar water-heating systems, ride bicycles, or do something positive to eliminate the need for petroleum products?
And since this war is costing a bunch, perhaps those in favor of it should contribute directly to the U.S. government rather than buy another flag -- perhaps support the effort directly and not wait for additional taxes to pay for it.
Although we have no argument with the poor Bedouins who must follow their idiotic leader, at least some reparation must come from Iraq itself when the war ends. Rather than make the people of Iraq pay with their lives, make their government pay, and pay and pay, until just compensation (if such a thing exists) is achieved. The pain from the pocketbook is a long-lived lesson, and although it will not ease the pain of those who have lost loved ones in the war, it will ease our own pocket-book pain somewhat.
Richard Durham III.
Editor: I was very interested while watching and listening to the resounding no votes cast by our extinguished senators from Maryland concerning the Persian Gulf resolutions.
However, it was more interesting to learn how quickly they rushed to get on the bandwagon after the vote.
What a turnabout!
Editor: In your effort to promote the provisions of the Linowes commission (The Sun, Jan 20) you headline "simplicity and equity." Let me add to your descriptors two important companions, accuracy and fairness.
If you want to sell the equity issue to the property owners in Montgomery County, make sure the data used is accurate and portrays a real picture of property tax impacts. Begin by comparing property tax rates accurately. The average property tax rate in Montgomery County for the county tax bill paid in 1990 was $2.797, not $1.936. The $2.797 figure does not include trash removal charges, about 3.4 cents, which the $5.95 Baltimore rate does.
The second issue relates to property values in various parts of the state. The article left the impression that Montgomery's lower tax rate compared to Baltimore was the only difference worth considering. What should have been added to the equation is that a couple in Montgomery County able to find a two-bedroom row house valued at $64,070, like the Dundalk example used, would be enshrined in National Geographic's Explorers Hall. A house of that size here might be found for around $100,000.
Higher values and sales prices are important factors in the cost of living and in taxes paid. Your Dundalk example means a one-year county-only tax bill increase from $561 to $584, using the 1990 tax rate and the 4-percent Baltimore County cap.
In Montgomery County, the same property valued at around $100,000 and with a 10-percent cap, using the 1990 tax rate, means a one-year county-only property tax bill increase of from $800 to $880. The difference between the two jurisdictions is almost $300 per year.
In fairness, just noting the high Baltimore City rate and the increasing value of property in Baltimore County does not automatically mean that their property tax hits are higher or more oppressive than those on Montgomery County residents. In order to encourage a reasoned debate on the commission report, you have a responsibility to give your readers all the relevant information.
Louis H. D'Ovidio.
The writer heads the office of Montgomery County's Public Advocate for Assessments and Taxation.
Go After Waste
Editor: While reading R. Robert Linowes' article of Jan. 31 defending the need for increased taxes, I was astounded to note the following: "That is why the commission's proposals insist on a system that links performance and accountability to the designated assistance."
I would sincerely hope that state government has and always will insist upon such linkage in all its programs and operations without prodding from a commission. To do less would be a grave injustice to the taxpayers.
Incidentally, Mr. Linowes wrote at great length about the urgent need for additional tax revenue, but curiously failed to make a single reference to an equally urgent need for the termination of existing outmoded, wasteful or inefficient programs.
Maybe we need a follow-up commission to study ways in which spending can be reduced.
William W. Hartman.
Editor: I was dismayed by your harsh editorial condemning Baltimore County School Superintendent Robert Y. Dubel's proposed budget as "patently unrealistic" and "politically absurd."
What is "patently unrealistic" about a budget which requests no additional money for books, instructional equipment and supplies? What is "politically absurd" about a budget which requests no increase in funding for much-needed maintenance projects?
Perhaps you label as unrealistic a budget which requests additional teaching positions to cope with a projected enrollment growth of 4,000. Or maybe you call absurd the only program enhancement included in the budget proposal -- a request for a modest expansion of the pre-kindergarten program. Please consider the difference between being unrealistic and leading with vision. What could be more visionary than retaining reasonable class sizes or accommodating children in need of a special start in schooling? What could be more important to the future of Baltimore County than the educational development of its children?
Yes, I agree that a "taxpayer revolt" was "evidenced in last year's elections." This is one taxpayer who would like to think that she is not alone in her revolt against leaders who lack vision and integrity. When we find a leader who possesses these traits, please, let us offer encouragement and a helping hand, not condemnation and a slap across the face.
The Need for Censorship in War
Editor: The rising chorus of complaints from the press about restrictions on news coverage in the Persian Gulf is unseemly and irresponsible.
The Bill of Rights is as precious to me as it is to any journalist. Freedom, however, is but one side of a coin; responsibility is the other. Freedom of the press is not absolute; there are legitimate restrictions.
We are told that all news from the Persian Gulf is censored, but some of the information published is of considerable military value to the enemy.
For example, one reporter told of U.S. efforts to monitor Saddam Hussein's "electronic fingerprints" to facilitate identification and location. Has it not occurred to anyone that Mr. Hussein or his security staff has also seen this report and will now change their transmitters or their electronic communications patterns?
The success of combat operations and the need minimize U.S. casualties require a certain amount of secrecy. The need for military commanders to protect these secrets far outweighs their responsibility to provide the press with information.
This is especially true when such information is almost instantaneously transmitted around the world and the audience is known to include enemy commanders.
Until someone devises a way to present information to the U.S. public without simultaneously divulging valuable information to our adversaries, the press must either restrict itself or be restricted.
Continuing complaints from the press about restrictions seem to indicate that at least some journalists are not yet ready to assume the responsibilities that a free press requires.
W. A. Heidecker.
Editor: Isn't it ironically revealing that on the same day the Department of Education releases its report on the poor condition of education in Maryland, the general manager of a local television station, in reference to an equal opportunity suit over the enormous salaries paid to television personalities, broadcasts a written statement defending the station's "principals" of fairness and equality?
F. de Sales Meyers