Ask gamblers if compulsion is a mere myth
At first blush, Richard Vatz's assertion that compulsive gambling is a myth appears convincing ("The compulsive gambling myth," Opinion
Commentary, Dec. 5). We believe, correctly, that most individuals are able to exercise good judgment when indulging in gambling, whatever their game of choice.
But to maintain that compulsive gambling is a myth by virtue of the absence of "legitimate" symptoms is inaccurate.
While both the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual and the American Psychiatric Association's (APA) criteria may lack rigor, the impact on the compulsive gambler's emotional, physical and work life and his family can be devastating. The fallout related to gambling is also progressive and can be fatal if left unchecked.
Does the APA need proof of the existence of compulsive gamblers?
Then just interview a few of the folks who present a simple truth: the quality of their personal, family and work life is far superior now that they have quit to what it was when they were gambling.
We do not need any more studies to confirm the obvious fact that compulsive gambling is a reality for a portion of those who gamble. Mr. Vatz and Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. are precisely correct that there is no excuse for these folks -- they don't need any.
What they do need to do is recognize this progressive and potentially devastating condition for what it is and take the appropriate steps to stop the behavior.
Joseph S. Lemmon
The writer is a consultant who helps companies work with employees with behavioral health issues.
Missing the point on gambling issues
Richard Vatz's column "The compulsive gambling myth" (Opinion Commentary, Dec. 5) misses the point on two major fronts. One is whether compulsive gambling is a legitimate psychiatric illness; the other is whether we should expand gambling in Maryland to include slot machines.
The fact is that the American Psychiatric Association already recognizes compulsive gambling as a psychiatric disorder, as Mr. Vatz notes. This classification allows treatment and recognition for people with this horrible problem.
Simply saying that gambling is an "adult decision" (echoing the governor) does not negate the millions of people who borrow, steal and basically cause their lives and those of their families and friends to descend into an economic and mental hell because of compulsive gambling.
Much the same was said of alcoholism for many years, yet few today would argue that the millions who suffer with that problem simply require a better adult decision.
Mr. Vatz also fails to address the distinction between a lottery ticket and slot machines. But anyone who has played the slots will tell you the instant feedback, lights and sounds of slot machines are very exciting, and that it is difficult, if not impossible, to simply play one game.
The fact is that these machines are extremely fun and can become addictive for some people.
My mother, for instance, loves to play slot machines but does not want them in Maryland. She likes that she has to travel to Delaware a couple of times a year -- otherwise she knows she could never keep within her entertainment budget designated for slots. She knows the dangers and wants slots kept at a distance.
And I have personally played slots and enjoyed them. But I do not want them in Maryland, at least without strict safeguards to prevent them from changing the state's way of life.
State is improving 911 phone service
The Sun has properly raised the issue of enhanced 911 phone service both in news articles ("Pinpointing origin of cell phone calls slowly moves ahead," Dec. 1) and editorials ("A call for help," Dec. 8).
Marylanders should know, however, that the General Assembly and the governor took action on this issue during the 2003 session by passing legislation that provides for funding, implementation and accountability to bring this critical service online.
Over the next few years, our counties will be upgrading their 911 phone service so that wireless emergency callers can be immediately located. This will make it possible for rescue personnel to arrive promptly.
All key stakeholders -- the state, counties, emergency personnel, wireless companies and legislators -- worked together to ensure this important step in public safety.
Daniel K. Morhaim
The writer represents Baltimore County in the House of Delegates.
Some public records must be withheld
The Sun's editorial "The public's record" (Dec. 1) rightly points out instances where requested records that were unquestionably subject to disclosure under Maryland's Public Information Act were not provided. However, I feel compelled to clarify a few other issues the editorial raised.
Its most glaring omission was any mention of the fact that while many records maintained by the Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) are subject to disclosure under that law, numerous other records are not.
In fact, the disclosure of many records, particularly those containing personal information regarding a person's identity, is prohibited by state and federal privacy protection laws and regulations.
The law provides several exceptions to this prohibition, allowing specifically designated persons or entities, including law enforcement officials and others who need the information, to obtain it.
Persons requesting protected information must of course present acceptable evidence to support their request before receiving protected records. The law gives the MVA up to 30 days to evaluate their request.
That said, I apologize for our employees not providing information that could and should have been provided. We have initiated an effort to reacquaint all employees with the requirements of Maryland's Public Information Act and state and federal privacy laws and regulations.
The MVA also has assigned supervisory personnel familiar with these requirements to all of our offices to resolve any questions that may arise with regard to these issues.
David H. Hugel
The writer is administrator of the state's Motor Vehicle Administration.
Democrats deserve some of the blame
KAL's Dec. 9 editorial cartoon depicted President Bush signing the Medicare bill, passing it on to seniors for them to read, and then the seniors passing the $400 billion price tag on to the next generation. The facts are accurate; the implication is deceiving.
Democrats were the main advocates for the idea of a prescription drug benefit, which would have cost future generations at least $400 billion even if the bill signed by the president hadn't amounted to a huge corporate handout.
The bill the president signed was rightly criticized for favoring drug companies and HMOs. But that didn't change the cost.
It's unfair to imply that President Bush alone passed on a huge cost to future generations.
Indeed, had the Democrats had their way, the price tag probably would have been much larger.
Loyola brings people, money to the region
A recent letter writer's characterization of Loyola College as "a force that must be stopped" was unfair and unfounded ("Loyola threatens region's open space," Dec. 5).
Loyola is growing both in size and relevance to the Baltimore region. This growth does require more space, but it also offers tangible benefits to our communities.
The great majority of Loyola's students come to Baltimore from other parts of the country. I'm from Buffalo, N.Y., originally, but I'm from Baltimore now. A good number of my friends from my undergraduate years stayed in Baltimore, too -- for the great neighborhoods, the job opportunities and every quirky thing this region has to offer.
That is to say, Loyola students come to Baltimore and spend (collectively) millions of dollars every year. And we would not be here if Loyola were not an attractive option for a college degree.
Loyola should be allowed to develop, in a responsible way, the necessary resources for its continued health.
The writer is a member of Loyola College's Class of 1999.
Sustainable design proves practical
For many years, building to higher standards has seemed like a good idea, but not very practical when it comes to cost. However, as The Sun's article "Buildings save when friendly to environment" (Nov. 30) suggested, we are seeing a number of factors that are changing that situation.
The article touched on one important factor, the impact the federal government has had on the evolution of sustainable design. Departments such as the General Services Administration and Naval Facilities Engineering Command have taken the potential economic as well as ecological benefits to heart, and made sustainable systems a part of their design requirements.
Maryland has also been a leader in promoting sustainable design. This year, the state has implemented a new tax credit for projects built in accordance with Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) guidelines.
It is widely hoped that this will work much like the state's historic tax credit program, which was instrumental in the revitalization of many "Main Street" commercial areas.
Last year, Del. Daniel K. Morhaim and Sen. James Brochin sponsored legislation to promote sustainable design. Although their bills did not pass, they paved the way for further legislative discussion.
As a result, this year, the Taskforce to Study Efficiency in Procurement has recommended that the state consider the benefits of sustainable design for future buildings.
This recommendation has been made with an eye to the overall reduction in operating expenses for state buildings in the future. The fact that it may also have a positive impact on worker productivity, student test scores and, of course, the environment is a bonus.
It has been estimated that the building industry is responsible for approximately half of all U.S. energy consumption. By beginning to build more efficiently, we can make a huge impact on the demands on our natural resources.
The writer is chairman of the American Institute of Architects of Baltimore's Committee on the Environment.
War is wrong way to stop terrorism
Speaking for Veterans for Peace, I would thank Gregory Kane for joining Women in Black in braving the "driving rain and freezing cold -- with occasional brisk winds adding insult to injury" to cover the Dec. 5 vigil Mr. Kane refers in to in his column "At corner of Pratt and Light, a group holds out for peace" (Dec. 6).
But I hope The Sun will give us a chance to rebut at least one of his assertions.
Mr. Kane asks: "Would it be fair to dismiss [the protesters] as a bunch of left-wingers who figure the appropriate response to the deaths of 3,000 civilians from a terrorist act would have been for us all just to take a Valium?"
I would reply: No one ever suggested Valium. That comment is an intentional mischaracterization and a distraction.
What we do insist is that attacking Iraq had nothing to do with responding to Sept. 11. Counterterrorism operations are properly conducted through international cooperation in intelligence and police work, not by the pre-emptive use of the weapons of war against states not associated with the terrorist threat.
In the present instance, the attack against Iraq was launched by an administration obsessed with another agenda and unwilling to do the work really necessary to counter the threat posed by Osama bin Laden and his sympathizers.
Peter D. Molan
The writer is a public relations officer of Veterans for Peace of Baltimore.
Let districts decide about kindergarten
Let me understand this: My husband and I have made sacrifices to avoid having our children out of our care for extended periods each day before first grade, but now our youngest may go to a day care for part of the day for all-day kindergarten ("Md. schools chief offers kindergarten alternative," Dec. 8)?
Freedom Elementary, in Carroll County, the school our oldest son attends, is 50 years old and already lacks enough space and air conditioning, although it does not lack students who can read at grade level.
However, under the Thornton legislation, kids in this school district will be forced into all-day kindergarten whether they need it or not and may have to attend part of the day in a day care because of the lack of classroom space.
Meanwhile, the older kids at Freedom and schools like it will not have the benefit of resources that will go to pay for all-day kindergarten but could buy them smaller class sizes and other interventions that have also proved beneficial to learning.
I understand that all-day kindergarten is beneficial in some circumstances, and I am happy to see my tax money used to fund it where and when it is needed.
But school districts and parents should have the discretion to decide whether all-day kindergarten makes sense for their school population and their children, respectively.
Restoring meaning to hollow holiday
I totally agree with Cal Thomas' column "Christmas trampled into hollow holiday" (Opinion
Commentary, Dec. 3). I wonder if someone visiting this country for the first time would even have a clue that it was built on the Christian values and morals of a group of folks who wanted to worship God freely.
In a time when a few are successful in having God taken out of our schools, when it's illegal to display the Ten Commandments in a public place, when the president lies openly about reasons for war, when an atheist wants to remove "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance, when the God-created union of marriage between man and woman is reduced to a man-made law condoning same-sex marriage, and the nation runs to prayer only during a horrific tragedy such as Sept. 11, it is refreshing that someone has the guts to mention that Jesus is the real reason for this season.
Too many people have forgotten the origin of Christmas, and the fact that it has absolutely nothing to do with elves and Santa and mistletoe and all the other outward trimmings in which we get so wrapped up.
It's all about the birth of the most famous man in the history of the world, Jesus Christ.
Bobette T. Watts
Visionary museum helps the homeless
I thank the writer of the letter "'Goddesses' need a dose of reality" (Dec. 3) for giving me a chance to set the record straight.
If she had read "Goddesses-A-Go-Go" (Nov. 25) more carefully or investigated the American Visionary Art Museum's (AVAM) history, she would have seen that the money raised by the "Goddess" trip to New York went to benefit the museum. And everything that could be donated in kind for the bus trip benefit was gifted.
As to the writer's advice that the trip participants should take "a reality trip to a soup kitchen," perhaps the following should be considered:
Of AVAM's 19 full-time employees, two came to us directly from a homeless shelter. Today, they own their homes but continue to mentor shelter residents and help us employ them as event staff.
In the last two months, AVAM has hosted three large benefits to aid efforts to help the homeless.
Such community partnerships have been our policy since opening eight years ago. AVAM's first 1997 Grand Goddess award went to Bea Gaddy. We donated a portion of proceeds from our "LOVE" show to benefit the House of Ruth. And for six years, we have been the art sponsor of a music program the fabulous Billy Kemp conducts in the Baltimore City Women's Detention Center.
Our "Goddess" trip to New York included a visit to Manhattan's only Girl's Club. We brought with us 150 gifts for their Lower East Side girls most in need.
Our national museum exhibitions have shared more art created by people who are homeless, disenfranchised and disabled than any national museum in the country -- sharing their words and stories alongside their art.
Last year, more than 6,000 recovering addicts attended our exhibition on addiction as honored guests.
For eight years, AVAM has employed disabled adults from the Association for Retarded Citizens. We have kept our budget nearly flat during all that time. I have never drawn salary as director.
We truly know just how many terrific causes out there also need and deserve charitable help, and we fight extra hard to make miracles happen each year with every penny we are gifted or earn.
Rebecca Alban Hoffberger
The writer is the founder and director of the American Visionary Art Museum.
Don't remove rehired teachers
Lost amid the controversy involving the teacher retire-rehire law is awareness that there is a need to continually improve "successful" public schools ("Lawmakers poised to toughen retire-rehire rules," Dec. 8).
Faced with an increasingly competitive environment for recruiting quality students and teachers from private schools, and the demands of the federal government's No Child Left Behind Act to hire and retain "highly qualified teachers," leaders of public school systems in Maryland cannot afford to lose the quality veteran teachers who have been an integral part of the success.
Granted, there is a desperate need for more experienced and quality teachers at the low-performing schools.
Teachers in low-performing schools face a variety of educational, social and emotional challenges, and finding alternative methods to improve teacher and administrator retention rates in such schools should be investigated and continue to be a high priority.
But must "successful" schools also sacrifice progress by purging the human resources necessary to ensure continued improvement?
Many of the rehired teachers have come back to help raise SAT scores, teach college-level Advanced Placement courses and serve as mentors to the next generation of quality instructors.
Without these exemplary professionals, the ability of the students in "successful" schools to qualify for academic merit scholarships and gain admission to highly selective colleges and universities would be severely compromised.
And a major shortcoming of the retire-rehire law is the premise that the teachers with more than 30 years experience will be most effective working with at-risk youths in low-performing schools.
While that may be true of those who have been teaching in low-performing schools for more than 30 years (and those are few and far between), most retirees lack the experience and training to meet the needs of at-risk populations.
And more recently, teacher education programs in the colleges and universities have begun to focus on the types of classroom management techniques and strategies that work effectively with students in underperforming schools.
Findings from many of studies analyzing teacher effectiveness in low-performing schools indicate that the mid-career teachers tend to have the most effective combination of training and experience to foster better results in academic performance and social adjustment.
Let's hope The Sun's investigation doesn't lead to a witch hunt throughout public education systems that creates a "brain drain" that could be devastating at a time when performance standards and competition for post-secondary education placement and funding is escalating rapidly.
Narrowing the achievement gap between "successful" and "low-performing" schools should not be accomplished by allowing "successful" schools to slowly disintegrate toward mediocrity.
The students in the public schools in Maryland deserve the best, and if that means we have to pay a relatively small number of educators a decent salary, so be it.
Kevin L. Ensor
The writer is a college counselor at Hereford High School.
I am a junior at a fairly successful school in Baltimore County. Some of my teachers are retire-rehire teachers, and generally these are the better teachers at my school -- the ones who either really connect with the students or teach in a way few others can.
However, if some lawmakers in Annapolis get their way, these teachers won't be available to me and to students at other schools.
But there is no reason to think that because a teacher has experience, he or she would be better suited to a poorly performing school -- the poor performance of which may or may not be related to the teachers.
Poor performance often is a result of apathy from students, and it would be unfair to take good teachers who currently work at a good schools, teaching interested students, and put them in front of students whose prime concerns lie far from the classroom.
The writer is a student at Hereford High School.