Immigrants always preferred own language
There is much argument, pro and con, concerning bilingualism and the adoption of English as the official language of the United States.
Americans are very much aware, and some quite annoyed, by the pervasiveness of foreign languages in the media today, with foreign-language programs on radio and television and foreign-language print material available in most big cities.
One of the most frequently heard comments is, "My grandparents came from Europe and they had to learn English." That isn't quite the whole story. Immigrants to the United States today must learn to speak English in order to be granted citizenship. The rule is no different than it was a century ago. Contrary to popular impression, many adult immigrants of 50 to 100 years ago never learned English fluently -- and didn't need to.
The "my grandparents" crowd likes to point out that the federal and local governments today spend, literally, millions of taxpayer dollars to provide foreign language translations of documents and signage relating to everything from labor laws to Medicare to income taxes.
I am a grandson of non-English-speaking immigrants who came to the United States at the end of the 19th century. As a senior citizen now, I was a contemporary of many non-English-speaking immigrants in the late 1920s and and early '30s.
I want to point out that back then in most big cities in the eastern United States, including Baltimore, there were newspapers printed in German, Polish, Yiddish or other languages. One could walk for blocks through neighborhoods where English was not heard on the streets and the signs on shops were in the language of the ethnic group that was living there.
Most Lutheran churches, like Old Otterbein in Baltimore, had services in German. Of course, the Roman Catholic mass was in Latin and equally incomprehensible to all parishioners.
There was no TV and little radio, but the classic entertainment was opera -- in Italian. Enrico Caruso could be heard singing in Italian on phonograph records everywhere.
Until the mid-1920s, movies were silent and audiences speaking a dozen different languages could sit side by side and understand what was going on.
Immigrants today are just as eager and willing to learn to speak English as the immigrants of a century ago. The problem lies in the flood of regulations and paperwork generated by our society. At the turn of the century, there was virtually no paperwork required of residents of the United States. In most states there was no such thing as a driver's license. Social Security did not exist until Roosevelt's New Deal.
There were no applications for unemployment, no food stamps, no significant labor laws that workers were required to understand. Until 1913 there was no federal income tax, hence no income-tax forms. Many immigrants were paid in cash, and had no bank accounts.
About the only official documents people had were birth certificates and death certificates, and they were not personally involved in their creation in either case.
No Social Security numbers, no telephone numbers, no credit card numbers. For the first 150 years of our history, long before the advent of our supposed "paperless society," the United States was, in large part, paperless as far as the average citizen was concerned.
Today we must deal with a myriad of forms and laws so complex, and some so poorly devised, that even a native English speaker has trouble understanding them. Don't blame the immigrants.
Herbert S. Wilcox
The writer is a member of the Catonsville Community College adjunct faculty, an adviser to the International Students Club and a volunteer tutor for adults learning English as a second language.
Traffic stop case violates our freedom
I'm writing this in reference to the "traffic stop" case that the U.S. Supreme Court is currently reviewing.
If police officers are allowed to make passengers exit a vehicle that is stopped for a minor traffic violation, many people are going to find themselves unnecessarily detained and humiliated.
Something as trivial as a burned out license plate lamp could permit a police officer to order the occupants out of the car. Hostile reactions by those who have illnesses, tight schedules, or just a bad day are likely to cause bad police-community relations.
Who is kidding whom? This only gives law enforcement officers an opportunity to closer examine occupants of a vehicle to look for probable cause for search of the vehicle and occupants.
This probably will not save the lives of any police officers. I would think it difficult to attack a police officer from inside a car unless he is shot or hit by a thrown object. If this is the case it will happen before he convinces anyone to exit the vehicle.
This won't happen systematically of course, but one time will be once too many. Anyone who watches TV or reads the paper knows that poor judgment by police officers is common.
I respect our police officers and appreciate the job that they are doing. However, our right to go about our business without undue interference by government was paid for by many lives through the years.
Law enforcement is a dangerous occupation, as is working in a convenience store, fire-fighting and many other jobs. We should do what we can to ensure their safety, but we should draw the line at infringing on hard-earned constitutional rights.
The recent argument presented to the Supreme Court by U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno and Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. is another attempt to mangle the Fourth Amendment and strike at the very spirit of our system.
The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution has two parts. The first protects us from "unreasonable" searches and seizures. The second demands that search warrants be granted only upon showing of probable cause, and that warrants particularly describe the place to be searched and the things to be seized.
The Fourth Amendment is the most important provision of the Constitution. It is more vital to our freedom than all the rest. Without it, we would have no protection whatsoever. Our possessions, our persons and our homes would no longer be secure.
If we lose our right to be secure and our protection from unreasonable searches and seizures without "probable cause" and allow government intrusion into our lives, the integrity of the judicial system is jeopardized.
Every citizen should be very concerned with the outcome of this case before the Supreme Court.
If by some fluke Ms. Reno and Mr. Curran should prevail, the Fourth Amendment would be further diluted and police power would be broadened. As University of Baltimore Professor Byron L. Warnken said, "You can't give standardless, limitless discretion to law enforcement officers."
The key to protecting ourselves from crime and unsafe streets lies in superior police work, not in turning over all of our rights to the state.
Frank W. Soltis
Critics of light rail are on the wrong track
Well, I like light rail. I walk to the light rail station from my Linthicum house. I ride the streetcar to work at my office in Baltimore. And then light rail brings me back home each evening. My work often takes me to Annapolis. I would love to be able to ride light rail there; i.e., right on down to the State House.
At neighborhood association meetings, I have spoken in favor of light rail. That often makes people mad at me. It seems that the current in vogue thing to do is to criticize light rail. People seem to enjoy saying things such as, "It's noisy." Well, that's not true. Then they say, "It's dangerous. Thieves and crooks get off light rail to rob us and to break into our houses."
A friend of mine said that at a neighborhood association meeting. "Were they caught?" he was then asked. "Yes, it was a teen-ager from the next street over" my friend answered.
Well, that is not exactly somebody from somewhere else coming on light rail to our area to rob, steal and burglarize.
I went to a recent light rail public hearing at the Pascal Senior Center in Glen Burnie. Everyone was emotional. Everyone hated light rail. Everyone said things about light rail that scared everyone else. And yet some of the speakers seemed to be enjoying being frightened about light rail. Some of the speakers were saying rather outrageous things about light rail and were smiling, almost grinning, while they were saying those things. It was a total harangue.
So now I understand a comment from former Gov. William Donald Schaefer. I saw him at the State House shortly before the end of his second term. "Governor, you've done a lot. Too bad you didn't get light rail to run down here to the State House. Why did you stop light rail on the north side of Glen Burnie?" I asked him. "Our problem was Glen Burnie," he said. "We were told that there was no way that we could run the streetcars through Glen Burnie."
Perhaps I understood that when he said it to me. I certainly understand it now.
So here is the solution. Leave the present light rail line as it is and call it the Baltimore line. But, also build a second light rail line. Call it the Annapolis line. Let the north terminus of the Annapolis line be somewhere on the south side of Glen Burnie. And let the Annapolis line run to Annapolis and south into Southern Maryland. Build it that way. Operate it that way. And then after a decade or so of there being a Glen Burnie gap between the Baltimore and Annapolis lines, consider a Glen Burnie connector route. Maybe, by then, the fright and falsehoods will have gone away. And the parochial selfishness as well.
Are expensive improvements to C&D; Canal really needed?
I am responding to the Dec. 1 article, "Stormy days at the canal" by Suzanne Wooton.
It fairly presented some of the concerns of Cecil County residents over the proposed dredging of the C&D; Canal, but there are several points I would like to address.
The problems of the Maryland Port Administration are larger than just the width and depth of the C&D; Canal.
Some of us in the northeastern part of the state are concerned that all this money will be spent to "improve" the canal, but it will be in vain. We already know that the MPA spent $300 million for the Seagirt terminal, which still is significantly underutilized. Why continue to throw good money after bad?
Tay Yoshitani of the MPA said: "It's vital that we keep it accessible, particularly with steamships becoming larger and larger." The proposed $84 million project calls for deepening only and no widening of the canal.
Will a deeper-only channel support the larger steamships now on the drawing boards? What additional widening and deepening will be required? What changes to the four bridges spanning the canal will be necessary to support the new ships?
From a recent article in The New York Times, it appears that even the Panama Canal is not sufficient for the new ships on the drawing boards.
It is my understanding that there are considerable efforts under way to find a new method of passage other than the Panama Canal. I would venture to guess that there will be a user fee for whatever system is built.
According to an Oct. 13 article in The Virginian-Pilot, Baltimore dock workers are less productive than their counterparts in Virginia.
The economics of the foreign shippers will certainly not support the additional labor costs.
The article also presents an interesting analysis of the strategic plan of the port, stating that the strategic focus of the port is switching from container traffic to break-bulk cargoes that will not necessarily require tremendous additional capital dollars. Of the 10 goals cited in the strategic plan, container-business growth is seventh.
The impending merger of Conrail and either CSX or Norfolk-Southern will not bode well for increasing the port's container traffic.
Norfolk-Southern can handle double-stack containers to the Midwest and has certainly worked closely with the port there to generate traffic.
Conrail can serve the Midwest with double-stack containers out of either New York or Philadelphia.
In order for Baltimore to handle the rail traffic as efficiently, there are significant improvements that must be made to the rail lines serving the area, improvements that the railroads may not be willing to make.
Why is the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers undertaking a proposal that possibly benefits only the Port of Baltimore.
What national interest is being served by the "improvements" to the C&D; Canal?
I believe that in order to determine the true national interest here, it would be important for the corps to determine relative total shipping costs from the various deep-water ports to the areas where the container traffic is delivered.
The analysis should include factors for all of the incremental "improvements" that are required, rather than a piecemeal approach which has existed so far. The railroads and highways are supported through taxes or direct user fees.
This is not true for the C&D; Canal. Users are not asked to support the operations and maintenance of the system, not to mention capital improvements.
The Suez Canal and the Panama Canal both charge transit fees. They are the only canals that see more activity than the C&D; Canal.
I appreciate the article that explains some of the arguments for caution in spending taxpayer dollars for a project that may not have been fully thought out.
I hope there will be further examination of all sides of the issue prior to any further expenditure.
Parents should decide on kids' schooling
Mark M. Wolkow (letter, Dec. 16) described school vouchers as a violation of the separation of church and state. He ought to remember whose tax dollars these are in the first place.
They belong to you, me and any other citizen whose income is raided by the government, which then gives them back to us as funds for public education but attaches strings as to where we can send our children.
Let the parents decide where their children should be educated and what type of education they are to receive.
Get the government out of our personal lives.
Youngster knows drunken driving kills
On behalf of AAA Maryland, I applaud 13-year-old Emily Foy of Street (letter, Dec. 12).
Witnessing the destruction caused by drunken driving, Miss Foy rebukes people who senselessly choose to sit behind a steering wheel after drinking alcohol.
Most of us know someone who was injured or killed by a drunken driver. In Maryland alone, 238 persons died as a result of a drunken driver, up from 233 in 1994 (according to the State Highway Administration).
Especially during this season of heavy celebrating, we all can learn from Miss Foy's apparent early wisdom and maturity. Hopefully, she will continue to spread the message to those around her who may fail to use good judgment.
The writer is public affairs manager at AAA Maryland.
Glendening can't get something for nothing
When Gov. Parris Glendening tells Marylanders he will cut taxes, give unions bargaining rights, give away millions for stadiums and support new entitlements for higher education, his prior record as Prince George's county executive should resound across the state.
Taxpayers need only remember Prince George's $108 million deficit, "Pensiongate" and educational condition before they board this train to hell. Simply recollect that for 12 years, Mr. Glendening stoked the same fires in P.G., and one of the highest taxed counties with some of the poorest services in the state resulted from the flames.
My mama told me if a deal sounds too good to be true, it's probably lower than the devil's tail and skepticism should rule final judgment. Get smart. When was the last time you got something for nothing from a politician?
Drugs and math are a difficult mix
Now, did I get this straight?
In reporting plans to combine the chemical dependency treatment programs at Greater Baltimore Medical Center and Sheppard Pratt Hospital (business section, Nov. 28) you cite a treatment figure of 250 outpatients per year for each of the two programs; a total of 500 patients with a combined staff of 12; and a combined loss of $250 million per year.
That figures out to $500,000 per patient, and more than $20 million per staff member. Per year?
That's $1,400 per day per patient, $54,000 per day per staff member. And that's loss, over and above income? For outpatient care?
Somehow, I find that very hard to believe.
Franklin T. Evans, M.D.
Death of a loved one remains in the heart
How does a grown man hide his tears while munching out at the mall and reading Susan Reimer's column, "Pretending the family is together at Christmas"?
She wrote about a soft spot in my heart as I'm sure in other readers', sharing her experiences of death this past year. My own grief comes from the death of my dad a few years ago and that of my mom years earlier.
What I've found is that life is forever changed with the death of a loved one. And although time can dull the pain and we respond differently as time passes, the ache is always there.
So what does a grown man do? I just let them trickle down my face and into my pizza slice. Thanks. I feel better now.
Jim Antal Sr.
Pub Date: 12/21/96