Recalling MenckenThe much awaited H.L. Mencken book...


Recalling Mencken

The much awaited H.L. Mencken book edited by Jonathan Yardley (based on writings Mencken required to be sealed for 35 years following his 1956 death) should contain, as most of Mencken's writings do, both extensive observation and praise for the city he loved more than any other in the world: Baltimore.

The book is supposed to be released early next year, but many people are speculating that it might be released in December in time for the book industry's very profitable Christmas trade promotions. Baltimoreans should keep an eye out for this book. Much of it is likely to be about their town.

One great way to prepare for maximum appreciation of the new Mencken book is to attend the annual Mencken Day activities scheduled at the Enoch Pratt Free Library on Saturday.

It's the only day of the year when the H.L. Mencken Room at the Pratt is open to the public.

The library's impressive staff of Mencken experts and librarians will be on hand to answer even the most obscure questions visitors may have about Mencken.

Mencken memorabilia on display include his diploma from the Baltimore Polytechnic Institute (Class of 1896.)

Mencken was first in his class at the ripe old age of 15. The diploma is signed by every teacher who taught Mencken, which was the custom of the time.

David Roger Allen


The writer is a Baltimore County librarian and volunteer tour guide at the Mencken House Museum in Baltimore.

Minority Needs

I was extremely pleased to read the reactions of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, State's Attorney Stuart O. Simms and Del. Elijah E. Cummings, chairman of the Governor's Commission on Black Males, to the recent saturnine and bleak report of the National Center on Institutions and Alternatives (N.C.I.A.) germane to young black males in the age range of 18-35.

I strongly believe, as Messrs. Schmoke, Simms and Cummings stated, each in his own distinctive way, that a holistic or comprehensive approach is needed to address criminal and violent-assaultive behavior in the Monumental City and throughout our nation, especially in large urban centers.

Mr. Simms expresses the point cogently, directly and aptly: "The real solution lies at the front end -- through prevention, education, job training, new housing." Huzzah!

The great tragedy today is that there is a growing mind-set of widespread incarceration without the benefit of rehabilitation 11 through education, training and concentrated treatment for drug and alcohol addiction. And there is an egregious failure to address Depression-like levels of unemployment-underemployment of black and minority youths.

It is clear (as depicted in a number of national reports such as the Kerner Commission report and recent reports on the upheaval in Los Angeles) that black and Hispanic youths, in particular, are disproportionately arrested or involved in the nation's criminal justice system.

Current penal statistics indicate that blacks represent 50 percent of all persons incarcerated. Hispanics represent 10 percent of all persons incarcerated. Blacks and Hispanics, respectively, make up 12 percent and eight percent of our nation's population. The level of their incarceration represents a colossal national disgrace.

The clearest way to prevent criminal activity is to provide a basis for hope and equality of opportunity for all 250 million Americans.

As a nation, we have not, even with abundant fiscal and human resources, made this commitment.

Samuel L. Banks


Families and Values are Diverse

At the Republican National Convention the words "family values" were brandished to such an extent one would think that the word "values" must essentially have the prefix "family."

Children's values are molded today by numerous factors -- family, peers, the print and television media, schools, community and government play roles to varying degrees.

The crime on the streets and the fall of education are not due to the breakdown of family alone. The irresponsibility of government, the commercialism of the media and the fractionation of communities are also responsible for the mayhem on the streets.

The word "values" comes with a variety of prefixes. There are individual values, community values, national values and cultural values. There are concrete tangible values and intangible vague values.

Families by their very nature are hotbeds of comfort and conflict, warmth and heat. From the time of Abel and Cain, perfect families have been cocooned in the myths of our wishful minds.

But families energize mainly because they are flawed. Because of the renegade uncle or the philandering sister, the cackling aunt, or the drunken brother, the garrulous mother, or the grunting father, families are microcosms of the world.

Here as everywhere else the good comes with the bad. Sibling rivalry, hate and greed are balanced by sibling camaraderie, love and sacrifice. A family whose values are all good would be static, plastic and dull.

The kind of family the Republicans extolled at the convention could well be the birthplace of sterile aseptic children who could not tell great stories or paint passionate pictures.

Some children develop decent values because of their families and others despite their families. Some parents with noble values may be faced with children who are bereft of morality in spite of sincere parental efforts.

The Republican Party, which currently seeks to glorify God, must realize that many who serve God do so in non-traditional family settings.

Nuns, priests and Buddhist monks are examples of people who renounce traditional family life to embrace service. The Great Buddha himself abandoned his family in search of enlightenment. Traditional family values are not the essential pathway to salvation, goodness, or greatness.

Families and values are fluid. The wilderness was family to Henry David Thoreau and his prime value was communicating with nature. To a person living alone with a dog, family values could boil down to a lick on the nose. And why not? Republican rhetoric does not shape or define American families or values.

Politicians at conventions seem to skirt the issues of political and national values. Is our political value "freedom and democracy?" If so, why have we stood by and watched the mutilation of Sarajevo?

Is our national value "honesty in public affairs and integrity in government?" If so, why are there so many corruption scandals?

Good values are often not the sole determinants of behavior or action.

Since our leaders are not paradigms of virtue, they should stop blathering about family values.

Usha Nellore

Bel Air

Drop Channel One

In response to the editorial in The Sun on Channel One (Aug. 21) I would like to express my staunch support of your position that the Baltimore City schools should abandon the venture.

In "Baltimore, Channel One Is No Bum Deal" (Letters to the Editor, Aug. 31), Chris Bailey uses the word innovation twice in a response that disagrees with your editorial.

Innovation in education is not television. Innovation in education is the fostering of a highly interactive and nurturing environment which teaches children speaking, listening, reading and writing skills.

Innovation is providing students with experiences -- because without experiences a student has no concepts, and without concepts students often have poor attention spans and poor communications skills. Innovation is teaching students to think.

Innovation in education in American society should be constantly at odds with degraded exposure to language and the passivity that television exposes children to. Even television's advocates admit that viewing is a receptive, passive experience which does not promote interaction or conversation.

Since the average American child now spends more time watching television or playing video games than any other activity, the last thing schools need to do is actively promote television by bringing it into the classroom in the form of Channel One.

True innovators in education are working hard to counteract the powerful effects television has on children's brains. Let's not make the task any harder. Instead of 12 minutes of Channel One each day, students could be involved in any number of activities which promote thinking.

Last but not least, let's ask ourselves, "Who is Channel One going to really benefit the most?"

Television is not good for children. Anything that isn't good for children does not belong in the schools.

Anne Werps

Perry Hall

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