For a better life, we should resist call of the lawn

The Sun's editorial "The call of the lawn" (June 4) makes clear the absurdity of America's infatuation with the obligatory green patches by our houses. They do, indeed, soak up time and money, contaminate the environment, fill our weekends with the noise of mowers and squander precious water. All true.

But the editorial missed the opportunity to nudge us into a saner attitude toward our gardens.

Our state has a rich variety of plants that could be used to replace the abominable lawn with a tiny woodland or meadow. Communities where many people adopt this approach would be quieter on weekends, cooler on hot summer days and do less damage to our stressed environment.

Baltimore could save thousands of dollars and cut greenhouse gas emissions by changing some of our parks from mowed meadows under mature trees to native woodlands.

This process was begun about 20 years ago in Stony Run Park.

Largely maintained by the community, this tiny urban forest now has a great diversity of wildflowers, native shrubs and trees that provide a cool and quiet woodland for the many enthusiastic walkers and runners who visit.

I await anxiously the day when tree-hugging entrepreneurs discover the fortunes to be made in eco-gardening.

I would be happy to see them become rich as they free us from our addiction to lawns and steer us to a healthier environment.

Michael Beer


The writer was a co-founder of the Jones Falls Watershed Association.

Cost, inconvenience keep us home alone

The Sun's article "Home alone, but entertained" (June 5) seemed to miss at least two important points regarding why attendance may be decreasing at events in the area.

It lays almost all of the responsibility for "fractured" social activities on the general public. This oversimplifies the problem. And at least two issues were not mentioned in the article that should have been noted - infrastructure and cost.

If there is a decrease in attendance at social events, a major contributor is the lack of infrastructure to support crowds of any size.

Items such as the following are increasingly lacking at social events in this area: facilities for even the briefest of rests, e.g. benches or chairs; adequate restroom facilities; adequate staff to handle clean-up or repair; and adequate parking or public transportation services to get people in and out of the event area safely and relatively quickly.

Considering just this short list (there are many more things that could be added), it's not very difficult to understand why attendance may be dropping at public events.

People commute about 45 minutes or so to work every day in this area. They battle through traffic just to get to and from home. Why go through so much hassle in their free time?

Cost is another important factor in planning to go to an event, but it was only mentioned briefly in the article.

My family of three has to pay almost $50 just to get into the Renaissance Festival for one day; we pay about $30 just to go see a movie; an Orioles game costs close to $30 just for three of us to sit in upper-deck seats, and better seating can easily cost $60 or more.

Combine such entrance fees with the cost of parking, of fuel to get to the event and of refreshments at the event and it's not very difficult to determine why attendance may be dwindling.

People can't afford to attend, plain and simple.

The choice usually boils down to: Should I buy tickets for event X for the family for one day, or spend the same money on cable or satellite TV or Internet services, telephone services and the like for one month?

That's a real choice for a non-trivial number of people in the area.

Steve Frost


Internet opens up new forms of contact

There's no need to worry about people staying home to socialize on the Internet; the Internet has actually added to the quality of my family's social life ("Home alone, but entertained," June 5).

We live in an area without public transportation, so my daughter and her friends cannot easily visit each other. They do, however, socialize together through a Web site geared to young people.

Not only does my daughter get to talk to people she already knows, but she also meets kids from all over the world. She talks about their school lives in Japan and England, and how they differ from hers. This experience has had an enriching impact.

And my son keeps in touch with his college buddies while he's home for the summer.

I can feel parents' concerns as I write this. And, yes, just as you would teach your child to recognize hazardous social situations in "real life," you must teach them to do the same thing on the Internet. But children are becoming more savvy in this regard.

For myself, I belong to a local Internet group of artists that discusses many issues, aesthetic and political (not to mention practical).

We also meet a few times a year, and we run into each other at local arts-related functions. This has led to some professional collaborations that might not otherwise have happened.

Technology is changing the means by which we socialize, but it is also expanding our possibilities.

Nicole Fall


States should scorn the 'Real ID' Act

With the passage of the Real ID Act, the government will be able to track each citizen's movements with accuracy unparalleled to date ("'Real ID' rules may mean longer wait at the MVA," May 31).

You will need your Real ID to fly, to open a bank account, to purchase firearms, to obtain employment, to check out a book at a library, to surf the Internet or to do anything else the Department of Homeland Security thinks might brand someone as a terrorist.

The National Governors Association (NGA) opposes the Real ID Act as an unfunded mandate. I say it's just another unconstitutional demand placed on the states.

The Constitution is a detailed plan that lays out distinct things the federal government is allowed to.

The 10th Amendment says that the powers not delegated to the federal government were reserved for the states.

The Real ID Act amounts to a de facto national ID card paid for by the states.

If the NGA really wanted to cut the power of the federal government and put a halt to the myriad of unfunded mandates thrust upon them, the governors should band together and refuse to enact these unconstitutional laws.

That would mean the loss of federal funding for some projects. But if the states became united in their cause, they would benefit in the long run.

Michael Dobak


Bush undermined U.N. peace efforts

The ongoing investigation of John R. Bolton confirms that President Bush deceived the American people into the war in Iraq ("Bolton ran afoul of U.N. in '02 dispute," June 5.)

President Bush insisted that war was necessary to enforce U.N. resolutions and added that Saddam Hussein could avoid war by complying with those resolutions, in particular by cooperating with U.N. inspectors looking for weapons of mass destruction. Now we know that the Bush administration was working to undercut the very U.N. resolutions it claimed to be enforcing.

The head of the agency that enforces the treaty against chemical weapons was trying to get inspectors into Iraq.

Rather than supporting him, the Bush administration launched a campaign to remove him. The administration worried, a former official admits, that bringing back inspectors would undercut their rush to war.

The Bolton revelations and the "Downing Street memo" prove that the reason for war had nothing to do with U.N. resolutions or with weapons of mass destruction.

Mr. Bush offers no apology for that deception. Instead, he has nominated Mr. Bolton - a point man on the anti-inspections campaign - to be U.N. ambassador.

Apparently, Mr. Bush sees a need for an ambassador with experience sabotaging the United Nations and misleading America and the world.

Matthew A. Feigin


Suspending rights threatens us all

Our Founding Fathers built our legal system upon a foundation with safeguards so that the scales of justice would be balanced. Once upon a time, our legal system upheld the idea that one is presumed innocent until proved guilty of a crime.

The writer of "Guantanamo holds worst of the worst" (letters, June 7) speaks with an authority that presently appears alien to those in charge of our representative form of government.

In fact, the Guantanamo prisoners have not been charged with a crime. Yet the letter writer categorized them as terrorists, as has our government.

These should not be the tactics of those who represent our democratic government.

The writer continued by cynically labeling as "bleeding hearts" those who value the checks and balances in our legal system.

But some of us understand that once legal rights are arbitrarily suspended for some, they can just as easily be suspended for others.

Geraldine Wright-Bey


Wars' real casualties were caused by lies

The writer of the letter "Partisan attack dishonors dead a nation reveres" (June 2) accused The Sun of partisan politics because it dared to question the Bush administration and its war based on lies in its Memorial Day editorial ("The real casualty," May 30).

I write as a spouse of a retired career military officer and Vietnam veteran. I not only found The Sun's editorial exactly on target, but I also commend The Sun for having the courage to tell the truth.

It's a quality that is sorely missing in the mainstream media today and, I believe, a contributing cause of the Iraq war.

Had the media the courage to question this administration, the 1,800 Americans who have died in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan might be alive today.

Their lives were lost because a president and his administration lied to Congress and the American people, and the mainstream media, with the exception of The Sun and a few other outlets, never challenged those lies.

The writer also said that he is appalled, as a Republican, by The Sun's partisan attacks, and that The Sun was exploiting the deaths of soldiers for partisan reasons.

It was a combined Congress of Republicans and Democrats that supported the Iraq war. I hold both parties accountable. However, it was a Republican president who exploited Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman to serve his own ends.

Let me make it clear that those men and women who died in Iraq did not and will not die protecting The Sun's right to free speech or anyone else's, as the writer suggests.

They died because our president and his administration lied to start a war that was not really based on weapons of mass destruction or 9/11 but planned from the moment the president took office.

To paraphrase the writer, it is incomprehensible that any intelligent person could consider the Iraq war a just war or this administration a compassionate, honorable or honest one.

Paula Baranowski

Havre de Grace

Rules on slots, wine make little sense

Although Maryland has historically been a progressive state, I am amazed at the stubbornness in Annapolis when it comes to the slot machine debate for the racing industry in Maryland and the direct shipment of wine to and from the state.

It's amazing that we were one of the first states to launch a state lottery system, and right at Pimlico and Laurel racetracks you can place bets on horses all day. But for some ridiculous reason, we draw the line at placing coins in slot machines.

It's really pretty simple: The Maryland horse racing industry can't be competitive without slots when Delaware, West Virginia and Pennsylvania have approved slots.

The Preakness is a gem, similar to the Indianapolis 500 or the Super Bowl, and we'll lose it if the racing industry in Maryland is not competing on a level playing field.

Maryland also has a budding wine industry, with vineyards and wine-making operations throughout the state.

The Sun reported recently of a landmark Supreme Court decision that would allow for wine shipments direct to consumers from places such as Napa and Sonoma counties in California and New York State ("Md. left empty as justices OK wine shipments," May 17).

Our local wineries had been eagerly tracking this Supreme Court case for nearly a year, only to have their hopes dashed by the state, which is continuing to take a hard line when the rest of the country is leveling the playing field for their in-state wineries ("Uncorking the bottle," editorial, May 18).

The fact is that direct shipment of wine in and out of Maryland would help our wineries compete, tax revenues would continue to be collected and there would be no negative impact on our local retailers.

This is another example of Maryland being way behind other states and not supporting local industries.

Charles Rosenberg


Beilenson's efforts set the right example

Dr. Peter L. Beilenson's resignation after 12 years as commissioner of Baltimore's Health Department should make us pause and reflect upon his admirable record as that rare public servant with practical ideas who has effectively implemented them ("Beilenson resigning post to run for House," June 7).

Everyone knew Baltimore needed more addiction treatment; Dr. Beilenson made it happen, measured the results and proved that treatment was effective even for those most difficult to serve.

Plenty of public officials lamented the high number of Marylanders without access to health care; Dr. Beilenson used his position to help organize the largest statewide coalition of business, nonprofit and community leaders in the nation dedicated to increasing access to health insurance.

Countless public officials decried the deaths of homeless men and women found frozen during the coldest months; Dr. Beilenson implemented a "Code Blue" emergency response system that dramatically reduced the number of our neighbors who die homeless on the streets each winter.

We admire Dr. Beilenson for his refusal to shrug his shoulders at the most difficult social problems of the day and label them "intractable."

Here's hoping his leadership inspires a new generation of public servants with the passion to believe that good ideas can yield even greater results.

Jeff Singer


The writer is president and CEO of Health Care for the Homeless Inc.

New city trail offers recreation, security

Thanks for the recent articles about the new Gwynns Falls Trail ("Bicycle Baltimore, hike history," June 4, and "Eager few pioneers roll, stroll on new city trail," June 6).

I was also on the trail Sunday and saw several people navigating the trail with the map published in The Sun.

However, one correction to the map The Sun published on June 4 is that the part of the trail from the Interstate 70 Park and Ride stop to Winans Meadow will not open until 2006, as this additional mile of trail has not yet been constructed.

But 14 miles of trail - from Winans Meadow to the Inner Harbor and then on to Middle Branch Park - are open.

On Sunday, I was delighted at the number of people on the trail as I visited every trailhead. I spoke to many people and passed out maps and got their reactions. All were very pleased with the trail, and none expressed concern about their safety.

Many of the trail parking lots were 50 percent to 90 percent full. I estimated there were about 350 to 400 people on the trail Sunday.

Readers should know that the trail is patrolled by a special unit of the Baltimore Police Department and that since 1999, when the first section of the trail was opened, no serious safety incidents have occurred. The trail and surrounding parks have greatly benefited from the presence of the city patrol officers.

I did encounter some folks who were confused about directions, although each trailhead has a large trail gap and guide posted on a kiosk.

Anyone who wishes to get a trail map and guide can download a map at the trail's Web site or call (410) 448-5663, ext. 135.

Guy W. Hager


The writer is director of Great Parks, Clean Streams and Green Communities for the Parks and People Foundation.

Save Rochambeau from wrecking ball

As a member of the Mount Vernon-Belvedere Association, I strongly oppose the proposed demolition of the Rochambeau apartments by the Archdiocese of Baltimore ("Church, preservationists in historic battle," June 2). This beautiful building is at the doorstep to Mount Vernon, and its destruction would undermine the area's economic resurgence.

One of the goals of my association is to bring more taxpaying residents and businesses to Mount Vernon without jeopardizing the historic character of this special neighborhood.

The destruction of the Rochambeau would have a negative impact on our neighborhood by reducing the number of nearby residents who would patronize local businesses and cultural institutions. By doing so, it would also reduce the income and sales taxes that go to the city of Baltimore.

The demolition of the Rochambeau would be an act of cultural vandalism aimed at our architectural heritage.

G. Byron Stover


Because of its ornate architecture and accoutrements, the Rochambeau pleads to be spared from the wrecking ball. Its unique character is not likely to be replicated again in an era in which stark buildings lacking any aesthetic quality are the order of the day.

The Archdiocese of Baltimore would like to tear down this grand dame in order to establish a prayer garden in its place. Yet the church has spent millions of dollars in the restoration of the adjacent Basilica of the Assumption.

Does not the basilica itself not provide a more appropriate, and far less distracting, atmosphere in which to pray?

Polly Thornton


The Archdiocese of Baltimore's plan to raze a landmark that is part of the city's architectural patrimony "to further the church's religious mission" is a lamentable one.

The basilica is a building of great historic importance, but to demolish the handsome Rochambeau to better display it would be an unconscionable act.

I urge city officials to deny the demolition permit.

Janet Heller


The writer is a member of the board of the Baltimore Architecture Foundation.

I say this to Sean Caine, the spokesman for the Archdiocese of Baltimore: The Archdiocese was fully aware of the economic burden that it put on its own back when it purchased the Rochambeau in 2002. If it was not prepared to maintain the building, the Archdiocese shouldn't have bought it.

For the Archdiocese to now assume that its plans for the property should override the ongoing struggle to preserve historic structures in this city is presumptuous.

Daniel A. Kuc


When the Archdiocese of Baltimore purchased the Rochambeau Apartments, it certainly knew that the building was part of the Cathedral Hill National Register District, and was located in a special preservation district under the city's Central Business District Urban Renewal Ordinance. So it should come as no surprise that every historic preservation organization, from the National Trust on down, is opposing the building's demolition.

The Archdiocese paid $3.5 million for the Rochambeau, and contends it would take millions more to renovate it. But investing that money would result in an income-producing property on one of Baltimore's most fashionable and historic streets.

In contrast, if the Archdiocese destroyed the building for a "pocket park," it would lose the $3.5 million it paid for the structure, plus another $3 million in state historic preservation tax credits for its basilica restoration project.

Archdiocese spokesman Sean Caine is quoted as saying, "The Archdiocese isn't in the business of buying property in order to give it to developers to operate."

But apparently the Archdiocese has no problem being in the business of throwing away its contributors' money.

Richard Chambers


Shame on the Archdiocese of Baltimore for using the name of Pope John Paul II and the concept of religious freedom in an attempt to justify its plan to destroy the historic Rochambeau apartments.

By resorting to such tactics, the Archdiocese is squandering any good will it has gained from its Basilica of the Assumption restoration project.

It can only recover it by finally seeing the light and saving the Rochambeau.

John Maclay


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