Before there can be any rational discussion about necessary "fixing" or "fine-tuning" of affirmative action, the truth must somehow emerge about what it is and what it isn't.
Cal Thomas ("Action that Affirms," July 26) does not help by distorting the concept in his self-serving paean to perseverance on the hackneyed theme "I made it on my own."
Having served as an affirmative action officer for a major state agency in the Midwest in the heyday of such efforts, I recall clearly that AA is not about quotas.
Judicial remedies are about quotas if an entity ignores minority under-representation and attempts no good faith effort to remedy it through recruitment that results in the hiring on merit of greater numbers of those who have been left out despite their hard work of preparation.
The current problems began when many covered entities -- public and private -- became lazy and began to boost their representation of minorities not through assiduous recruitment of well-qualified members of underemployed classes but through indiscriminate hiring, regardless of merit, to make themselves look compliant -- in reality, mostly in defiance of the law.
The Urban League has begun a campaign to repair the damage through dissemination of correct information. I hope it can effectively counter the sort of distortion represented by the Thomas column.
The specter he raises is like the ubiquitous but really quite rare "welfare queen": Everybody has a horror story that relies largely on stereotypes that we don't need to perpetuate, especially in print.
Henry Berge, Baltimore sculptor and second generation member of a well known family of professional artists, expressed his disappointment with the Babe Ruth statue in a July 10 letter to the editor.
His comments remind me that across the nation much contemporary outdoor figurative sculpture is being produced by unqualified individuals. Yet those who create these works, whose lack of craft and knowledge is apparent, should not be blamed.
The fault lies with the groups who select them. Frequently, with the arrogance of inexperience, committees composed of people devoid of informed knowledge of figurative sculpture somehow imagine themselves qualified to choose a competent artist.
Because the committee knows little of anatomical proportions or the logic of the laws that govern the many differing aspects of folds in diverse materials, they select someone whose knowledge is as limited as their own.,
The resulting disaster is a very expensive and clumsy bronze. Unfortunately, it will remain long after we are gone, and it will represent us to future generations, a permanent demonstration of ignorance in action.
Tylden W. Streett
The writer is a professor at the Maryland Institute, College of Art, and a professional sculptor for 38 years.
An Affirmative Action Supreme Court
By razor-thin 5-4 majorities, the Supreme Court has taken a backward step in the matter of college scholarships, composition of voting districts and government contract awards. All of these areas are loosely covered by the umbrella term, "affirmative action."
Race and gender were taken into account when remedies for past discrimination based on race and gender were enacted. Now the remedies, despite continued racial and gender discrimination, are being abandoned.
One does not have to delve too deeply into the Supreme Court appointment/confirmation process to realize that an affirmative action orientation was chiefly responsible for the seats now held by Justices Sandra Day O'Connor and Clarence Thomas one because of gender and the other because of race. Few people question this reality.
Thus, it is ironic, disconcerting and indescribably tragic that these two justices are leaders and spokespersons for the opinions that are dismantling the very remedies that were responsible for their elevation to the positions that give them such immense and final power over all of us.
Lost in all of the furor or glee that the recent decisions unleashed, however, is the plain historical fact that every Supreme Court appointment has, in reality, been an affirmative action appointment. Until the elevation of Justice Thurgood Marshall, all court appointments were of white males a 100 percent affirmative action set-aside for them.
Another 100 percent affirmative action set-aside has been given to lawyers. The requirements for appointment to the court do not include legal training, but every appointee has been a lawyer.
What a shame. Our lives need not be so controlled by the legal profession, according to law. Perhaps this is where we indeed need to make a change. It would be most refreshing to broaden the makeup of the final arbiters of the decisions that govern our lives and not be caught up in the penchant lawyers have for hair-splitting, narrowly-constructed, ideology-driven opinions.
For those who are skeptical about the suggestion that non-lawyers be appointed Supreme Court justices, I offer the following:
* Our Constitution was not drafted or prepared exclusively by lawyers; nor were the original signers and those giving approval at the states all lawyers.
* Even with legal training, we have many split 5-4 decisions. So legal training does not lead to identical conclusions when lawyers consider the same information.
Fair-minded, intelligent and well-educated lay persons couldn't have a more agonizing split on the important matters that are being decided by the barest of majorities.
A representation on the court of an able historian, philosopher, economist, educator or sociologist, for example, could not result in more diametrically opposite votes than those of the current court of 100 percent legal scholars who vote 5-4 on many matters of momentous import.
* According to President Bush, Clarence Thomas was the most qualified person in America to be considered for appointment to the court. That, indeed, was a sad commentary on the entire legal profession, the only profession considered by the maker of the statement.
Certainly, other professions had persons eminently more qualified than the person who now comes across as one-sided and narrow-minded.
* On an earlier occasion, a lawyer-nominee yearned for appointment so that he could enjoy an intellectual feast through his involvement in the deliberations of the court. I, for one, don't want anyone feasting, intellectually or otherwise, on my rights.
Making such an arrogant, public statement displayed, in my view, the person's disdain for good taste and judicial restraint.
Meanwhile, as we revisit the appointment process, it is predictable that the next justice will be of Hispanic origin -- also, an impending affirmative action appointment.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in common vernacular, is a two-fer -- being a woman and a Jew (no disrespect intended). To her credit, she has not forgotten our nation's history or her heritage, and I admire her for her obvious commitment to justice and fairness.
While not well across-the-board, affirmative action is very much alive. It is more obviously alive in appointments to the Supreme Court itself. Nominating and confirming authorities (presidents and senators) have been using affirmative action set-aside practices without apology or remorse for more than 200 years.
Benjamin C. Whitten
AH Light Rail Tickets
Anyone wishing to keep tourists away from Baltimore must have been greatly heartened by Richard Williams' letter.
A visitor from Massachusetts, Mr. Williams was slapped with a $270 fine for thinking he could buy his light rail ticket on the train and not noticing the ticket vending machines.
Having made this mistake myself, along with several other first-time riders shortly after the light rail opened, I count myself 00 lucky that I did not encounter a transit officer with attitude as did the unfortunate Mr. Williams.
Two hundred seventy dollars seems an outrageous price to pay for an honest mistake, especially as it is more than twice the amount a speeder is fined for driving 25 mph over the speed limit and endangering lives.
Mr. Williams' plight reminded me of the young man who was arrested outside Camden Yards some weeks ago for "scalping" tickets.
It seems he was trying to resell his Orioles tickets for the price he had paid for them, including the Ticketmaster service charge, and didn't know this was illegal. Naturally he was hauled away to a police lock-up.
I'm sure we can all feel safer walking the streets knowing that such "criminals" are dealt with swiftly and severely.
I read with interest a letter July 14 by Richard Williams, concerning his arrest while riding the light rail. As a visitor to Baltimore he was unfamiliar with the ticket system and made an honest error, which cost him a fine of $270.
I recently rode the light rail for the first time and, fortunately, was with a friend familiar with the system. A novice can find it very confusing.
The placement of the machines which dispense tickets has not been planed with common sense. The machines are all on one side of each station.
If a prospective passenger arrives on the side of the station without ticket machines, as the train is coming, he has to cross the tracks to purchase a ticket, forego that train, wait until it passes, cross the tracks, purchase the ticket, and then return to the other side and wait for the next train.
At least one ticket machine should be on each side of the tracks. Ideally, one should be able to purchase a ticket on the train.
When the train is in the station and one is anxious to get to work on time, or too tired to wait for the next train after a long, hard day, it is very tempting to get on the train without a ticket.
There is a definite need to post more obvious instructions on how the system works and revise the system of ticket sales.
!Sonia Looban Greenspon