Misbehavior of athletes should not be defendedAs...

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Misbehavior of athletes should not be defended

As Milton Kent cites examples of former athletes' misdeeds ("Action against Sprewell unfair," Dec. 14) he makes the best case against himself. That athletes continue to perform unthinkable acts against symbols of authority is proof that the former punishments were not severe enough.

I give NBA Commissioner David Stern a huge "bravo" for taking a stand against this behavior. Finally, we have someone in the system with some backbone who doesn't cave in to rich players and owners.

Our society is gradually becoming a state of lawlessness, as people act as they feel, then expect to get off with little punishment. This should certainly not be the trend in the athletic arenas, which does set the example for many. Columns like Mr. Kent's, which argue for leniency and little punishment for bad behavior, will promote this state of lawlessness.

Julia Edwards

Baltimore

Milton Kent's "Action against Sprewell unfair" in the Dec. 14 Perspective is not surprising for the tone it takes. Any time an athlete gets into trouble, there is no need for a lawyer as the sports reporters will go to bat to defend them.

To a sports reporter, an athlete can do no wrong, but if he does, just look the other way or slap him on the wrist. "Naughty, naughty."

As Mr. Kent points out, there has been a long string of unsportsmanlike conduct cases on the field (as well as the immoral, if not criminal, off the field) by athletes. Omitted from the equation is the fact that youngsters grow up to idolize these false gods who set bad examples.

Perhaps, the NBA commissioner came to the conclusion that enough is enough and is setting an example for the future for athletes that there is a point where being a superstar will not buy you a cup of coffee (or can of beer) when you misbehave.

Richard L. Lelonek

Baltimore

Need better plays, not new theaters

I enjoyed Gilbert Sandler's retrospective on Ford's Theater ("Baltimore glimpses," Dec. 16). I had the pleasure of seeing Patty Duke and Anne Bancroft in "The Miracle Worker' at Ford's in the early 1950s.

I use the term "seeing" loosely, as my Girl Scout troop could only afford tickets in the last row of the second balcony and I didn't have my new glasses yet. But I could still feel the magic, even up there in the nosebleed seats.

The performance was so powerful that, more than 30 years later, I still get the shivers thinking about it.

At the time, Ford's Theater was almost 100 years old and rapidly deteriorating. But it was the play that held us spellbound.

Rather than ask if Baltimore needs a new theater, let's find some plays that are on par with "The Miracle Worker."

J. K. Walden

Baltimore

Why did Miller ignore Young's problems?

Let me get this straight. Maryland Senate President Thomas Mike Miller says he finds the dealings of Sen. Larry Young "disturbing," yet as early as last summer knew of at least some of Mr. Young's questionable business affairs and did nothing about it.

Why Mr. Miller did not "focus intently" on complaints from other legislators at that time is puzzling, to say the least.

For him to say, "I've got to have a charge or a signed affidavit to bring in someone" is either a blatant cop-out or a stunning display of political ineptitude.

The ethics committee needs to "focus intently" on this and expand its microscope even further. Thank God we have The Sun acting as a public watchdog.

John Craten

Towson

Reagan's legacy lives and breathes

As a meaningful national memorial to former President Ronald Reagan, may I suggest naming all the nation's sidewalk heating grates after the man who did more to provide homeless, mentally-ill tenants for the grates than any person in America.

Leftover plaques could be used for other habitats -- gutters, boarded-up buildings, troll-spaces under bridges -- that are frequented by survivors of Reagan's most profound legacy.

Linda C. Franklin

Baltimore

'Reading by 9' series barking up wrong tree

Your "Reading by 9" series is one of numerous media reports that coincided with the vote by the U.S. House of Representatives and subsequent passage of the so-called "Reading Excellence Act." This bill, if approved in the Senate, will use federal funding to severely restrict the freedom of school systems, teachers and parents to decide on the range of reading programs that might benefit the students in their communities.

Instead of promoting a public dialogue on the potential impact of the "Reading Excellence Act," the media have committed a grave injustice to the children of Maryland by undermining public confidence in teachers, local school systems and teachers' colleges.

Based merely upon conjecture, rather than fact, The Sun blames the "whole language" approach for our reading woes and presents intensive systematic phonics -- the position of the "Reading Excellence Act" -- as the great solution.

The media blitz has created a climate of crisis ripe for relinquishing local, community control of education to state and federal governments and strait-jacketing all of us into a government-mandated, one-size-fits-all method of teaching reading.

Bess Altwerger

Columbia

The writer is associate professor of elementary education at Towson University.

The truth about banking mergers

Michael Olesker's Nov. 23 column, "Bankers' words ring hollow," excoriating First Union Bank and our chairman, Ed Crutchfield, distorts the issues and leaves out major facts which put a much different light on the acquisition of Signet and plight of its employees.

I formerly worked for Maryland National Bank and experienced its acquisiton by NationsBank. I left voluntarily when a better

opportunity arose with First Union.

I hold no grudge against NationsBank. It is not the moral obligation of a larger, acquiring company to assure the acquired company's employees a job. It was not NationsBank's fault that my banking alma mater made $1.8 billion in bad real estate loans.

It is also not their fault that they had an employee in a similar position to mine. I could have chosen a lesser job and worked back up the ladder, or left for a better opportunity. I chose the latter.

I mention this so that Mr. Olesker may come down from his pompous moral perch and learn how the real world works. The facts are that the banking industry is terribly inefficient and overpopulated.

Similar to the health care industry, which has too many hospitals, we have too many commercial banks. If one takes a long-term, strategic perspective, it is better for commercial and consumer customers to have larger, more sophisticated, more diverse banks to choose from.

Those desiring smaller banks, can choose from Mercantile Bank to Columbia Bank or, God forbid, Ed Hale's First Mariner Bankcorp.

Where Mr. Olesker crossed the line from misinformed rhetoric to borderline slander is when he agrees with Ed Hale's quote that Ed Crutchfield was "lying through his teeth."

First of all, and I was at the press conference, Mr. Crutchfield was alluding to the long-term effect. Initial job displacement occurs due to employee overlap. However, as has been proven in our former regional headquarters in Roanoke, after a few years it is not uncommon for more jobs to be created as the bank grows.

Mr. Olesker left out perhaps the most important fact. We are granting six weeks plus two weeks for every year of service as severance pay to every Signet employee not offered a job, an outlay of an estimated $100 million.

I have been there, and it is not a pleasant experience to see friends lose jobs. However, this is more generous than any bank merger I have seen, and equal to the most generous severance package in the United States. Mr. Olesker can validate that, if he cares, with any competent compensation consultant.

Mr. Olesker asks, "They think we're idiots, dont they?" Not exactly. I think he is clueless about financial market dynamics. Perhaps he should try a night business course.

In his quest to pin blame, Mr. Olesker should lay it on a Congress which kept commercial banks from competing on equal footing with foreign banks, investment banks and investment management companies for over 50 years.

In the past five years or so, commercial banks have finally broken through and are playing catch-up. This has caused a wave of consolidation, and as painful as it is in the short run, the market efficiencies are taking hold.

Thomas M. Neale

Richmond, Va.

The writer is senior vicce president and corporate banking sales manager at First Union Bank.

Shipbreaking series story, photos hailed

Please pass along congratulations to reporters Will Englund and Gary Cohn and to photographer Perry Thorsvik on their outstanding job on the shipbreaking series.

The articles were exceptionally well-written and the pictures unforgettable. Etched in my mind are images of Thakkar, the lawyer, with his red-stained mouth, spitting out betel nuts as he shouts to the reporters. Also unforgettable was the body of Ram, the worker, wrapped in a filthy orange shroud, floating out to sea just like another piece of discarded waste from a shipbreaking operation.

As a business school graduate student, I found the examination of the shipbreaking industry's dynamics fascinating. I shared the articles with some of my peers here who served in the Navy before returning to Michigan Business School. All of them, with their love of ships, were disheartened.

"We used to refer to shipbreaking as the Navy's dirty little secret," one remarked. Continuing, he said that he didn't know it was so bad as The Sun series reported, but acknowledged that reform was badly needed.

Steven L. Pessagno

Ann Arbor, Mich. The Sun inexplicably missed an opportunity recently to write a story about one of the most important emerging trends in the United States -- the trend toward Smart Growth.

For three days, Dec. 2 to Dec. 4, more than 700 people from across the nation gathered at an Inner Harbor hotel to discuss innovative ways to improve development patterns in this nation.

This conference was a manifestation of a Smart Growth movement that is suddenly springing to life throughout mainstream America as we near the end of the 20th century. From Georgia to Virginia, from Indiana to Colorado -- speaker after speaker, environmentalist and builder alike, talked of the need to preserve our rapidly vanishing rural lands, to redevelop our abandoned cities and towns, and to make communities more liveable again.

If for no other reason, the "Partners for Smart Growth" conference was noteworthy because of its unlikely co-sponsors -- the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Urban Land Institute. Those two national organizations brought together environmentalists, public officials, homebuilders, developers, architects, planners and others who share a dream that this nation can find more cost-effective and aesthetically pleasing ways to grow without destroying our environment or ruining our quality of life.

Those who attended this conference arrived with practical, on-the-ground experience and an eagerness to exchange their ideas with others on how we can build better to live better.

An array of the nation's leading speakers on growth and land use issues were featured: Pat Noonan of The Conservation Fund; syndicated columnist Neal Peirce; "new urbanism" architect Peter Calthorpe; Bill McDonough, the dean of the University of Virginia's School of Architecture; and Kentlands' designer Andres Duany, to name just a few.

There was even a local hook. Maryland's Smart Growth and Neighborhood Conservation initiative was highlighted throughout the conference and Gov. Parris N. Glendening, who delivered the keynote luncheon address on Wednesday, was hailed as a national leader in the Smart Growth movement. But neither his remarks nor those of any of the other speakers were reported.

Too bad, because this is an issue that affects all Americans. As Oregon congressman and Smart Growth proponent Earl Blumenauer observed, "Building livable communities is what Americans want."

John W. Frece

Annapolis

The writer is Special Assistant to Governor Glendening for Smart Growth.

Medical report on life expectancy is criticized

One senses a strange complacency about The Sun's Dec. 4 report that Baltimore's men are living in a "pocket of low life expectancy," their lives as short as those of men in India and Bolivia. Why such complacency about men who are dying too soon in our city, an American capital of health care and medical research?

Dr. Georges Benjamin, Maryland's deputy secretary for public health, wasn't surprised to hear that the average life span of men was short in Washington and Baltimore. He ascribed this to cardiovascular disease, cancer, HIV (AIDS) and diabetes in relatively large minority populations with high mortality rates.

He was not puzzled by Baltimore's having more deaths than other cities where there are many minority males, high crime rates and problems with control of chronic diseases. Yet these are ailments that can be prevented, treated or ameliorated.

For years, higher death rates among male children have been documented. These include deaths even before birth and in the first year of life as well as in adolescence, during which older boys are more successful in suicide attempts than girls. Men are also more likely than women to die from homicides, many injuries and some diseases.

Nevertheless, reports like this one from Harvard are particularly exasperating in their seeming accuracy and specificity. For better understanding, one should know the sources of data being examined, when the numbers were collected, how they were verified and what changes in the figures had occurred when compared with previous reporting years.

A more nearly complete report should show which age groups suffer early death and from what diseases. What is also not a little infuriating is the use of a public forum to release an on-going, incomplete study without opportunity for a knowledgeable response from local jurisdictions.

The data should have been made available to Baltimore at least in summary form, so that a clear statement could have been made by the city's health commissioner.

Statistical reports like this one should never be funded without consideration of the cost of responsible corrective or remedial action by the political subdivision in which the danger is occurring. No mayor or health department chief should be given a problem of this size and complexity without a promise of funding and other assistance to correct it.

Just as in personal care it is axiomatic that one should have a remedy at hand when screening or searching for a personal ailment, so it should be in public health. Funds for a detection of a public problem should not have been provided without an offer of funds and help for its cure.

John B. De Hoff, M. D.

Cockeysville

The writer is a retired city health commissioner.

Pub Date: 12/20/97

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