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SATURDAY MAILBOX

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Guard members ought to protest unjustified war

As a patriotic American and a supporter of the Maryland National Guard, I was disappointed that not one word of protest over the war in Iraq could be found in The Sun's article "The wait now turns to war" (June 11).

The sentimental swill of baby-kissing, pregnant wives, stuffed animals and American flags needs to be replaced with honest observation as to why these men and women are being deployed in the first place.

Folks joined the National Guard to assist their communities in times of disaster or when our nation faces genuine peril. They did not sign up to drive supply trucks in a deadly region for President Bush and his friends.

When I see pictures of Maryland National Guard volunteers being sent into harm's way on a fool's mission, I weep.

The American people, Congress and the mainstream media have been lied to about weapons of mass destruction and Iraq's involvement in the events of Sept. 11, 2001.

Military recruitment is down, and this bodes ill for the future security of our nation.

We may bring democracy to people who have no concept of its meaning, but we are destroying ourselves in the process.

Yet the greatest tragedy is the way American citizens swallow the deceit of this administration with such complacency.

Rosalind Nester Ellis

Baltimore

Respecting rights validates our ideals

Send Thomas Sowell to the back of the class for his answer to "How will future Americans judge our response to terrorist threat?" (Opinion Commentary, June 9).

He predicts they will denounce our preoccupation with "treating captured cut-throats nicely," condemn us for being "paralyzed by a desire to placate 'world opinion,'" lament our failure to build more Guantanamo Bays and rebuke us for not wielding our "power to destroy" even more countries.

Mr. Sowell's misrepresentation of history, however, is where he really earns a failing grade. For instance, he asserts that World War II-era Americans "understood then that the Geneva Conventions protected people who obeyed the Geneva Conventions, not those who didn't - as terrorists today certainly do not."

This is either a shocking misreading on Mr. Sowell's part or a poorly executed con job. In either case, he demeans our "greatest generation" by asserting they extended the conventions' protections merely as some calculated quid pro quo.

When did the Nazis or Imperial Japanese ever obey the Geneva Conventions?

Yet Americans at that time fulfilled the promises their predecessors (and ours) made to all captives we take in conflict, because that's what makes us different.

In honoring that promise, they modeled an America that lives up to its highest principles, for which we owe them a debt of gratitude.

Yes, that was the same generation whose fear built Japanese internment camps, but just as we regret today how they thus failed Japanese-Americans (and us all) then, surely future Americans will regret how Guantanamo Bay will stain our history.

My fear is that the legacy early 21st-century Americans leave will be Guantanamo Bay's indefinite detentions, the disgraces of Abu Ghraib, open-ended wars of "liberation" and an America forever shamed by what we do now.

Brian D. Wells

Baltimore

Unreliable account of scientific scruples

When one asks a scrupulously honest group of people a survey question that combines acceptable and unacceptable behaviors (such as, "Have you ever bought a newspaper or robbed a bank?"), they will answer honestly ("Yes, I have"). But reporting the percentage of "yes" responses does not provide insight into the extent of wrongdoing.

A similar circumstance is found in the article "Many scientists confess to sin of misconduct" (June 9).

The final survey question - to which the greatest number of scientists answered "yes" - asks whether the scientist has ever "changed the design, methodology or results of a study in response to pressure from a funding source."

But while changing the "results" of a study in response to pressure is always wrong, changing the design and methodology is not only acceptable, but often highly desirable. In fact, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the largest single source of biomedical research funding in the United States, has a mechanism to encourage just such behavior.

An application to the NIH for research funding is often returned to the applicant with suggestions for changes in design and methodology. The suggestions are made by NIH review groups or NIH staff.

Scientists most often respond to this "pressure" by changing the design or methodology and resubmitting a revised application - a process that often improves the study.

So, as a biomedical research scientist myself, I wish to confess: I have "bought a newspaper or robbed a bank." I have also "changed the design, methodology or results" of a study in response to pressures from a funding source.

And while I do not know the extent of misconduct among my scientific peers, the assertion that 33 percent "misbehave" based on the questions reported in this article is most surely unreliable.

Ronald L. Schnaar

Baltimore

The writer is a professor at the Johns Hopkins University's School of Medicine.

Report distorted drug-related deaths

The recent Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration report on drug-related mortality indeed suggests, albeit erroneously, that Baltimore's rate of drug-related deaths is higher than those of other major metropolitan areas ("Area posts highest rate of fatal drug overdoses," June 8).

A closer examination of the report reveals, however, that it does not contain an "apples to apples" comparison.

Baltimore was one of a handful of participating metropolitan areas that reported data from surrounding counties and the urban center.

Comparable metropolitan areas with similar or greater substance abuse problems - such as Chicago, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and San Francisco - did not report city data. Instead, they submitted numbers from only the suburbs, which have historically lower rates of drug deaths caused by overdoses.

Not surprisingly, those localities that submitted inner-city medical examiner reports (including Baltimore, Albuquerque, N.M., and Salt Lake City) seemed to show higher rates of drug deaths.

Dr. Peter L. Beilenson

Baltimore

The writer is Baltimore's health commissioner.

Group home fiascoes show liberals' errors

It was very upsetting to see that children placed in group homes often do not get the care they need ("Group home executive resigns his post," June 9).

It is also upsetting to see that the state pays some homes $104,000 per child per year for this treatment.

How many families have that kind of money to support their entire family?

Every day there is some article or television or radio discussion about the lack of health care and other services people need. Many rush to say that government should take charge of these services.

But when one sees price tags like the one above, doesn't anyone think that money given to the government is money wasted?

We conservatives are constantly being called insensitive an uncaring.

Liberals want people to believe that the only way to help others is to give them our money or spend it on the "Program of the Month."

Someday, they may find that we conservatives are caring people who do want to help our fellow man. It's not the helping we object to, it's the "keep-throwing-money-at-it" attitude.

Certainly every child should have a home and be cared for.

But giving $104,000 a year per child to a place that cannot even meet state regulations is an example of why I balk at increased taxes or more government intervention in my life.

Carl S. Bice

Bel Air

Funding for transit can curb congestion

Drivers often complain that a portion of toll revenues is used to pay for public transit and other transportation options and suggest all the money should go into highway maintenance and expansion ("Other transit needs aren't so expensive," letters, June 4).

These citizens may not understand that reducing congestion involves more than building new roads and travel lanes.

For every car taken off the road, there is less wear-and-tear on the streets and one less vehicle to clog the roadways. This reduces the need for some of the road-building and repair paid for from toll revenues.

And if more people choose transit because it is convenient and reliable, congestion will not increase as rapidly.

Studies show that as road speed and access increase, miles traveled often increase, too, because drivers make more trips.

For example, if you drive to the post office and congestion leads to a slow or stressful trip, you might go on that errand and then go home.

On the other hand, if you can travel quickly, you might stop at the cleaners and the grocery store somewhere else and a friend's house on the way home.

Thus building more lanes does not reduce congestion - it often makes it worse.

As Maryland plans to use more tolls to build more lanes and more roads, the state should consider putting some of that toll revenue into transit and other options for travelers.

The fewer cars and the fewer miles they travel, the less air pollution and congestion - and the better off all of us will be.

J. Howard Henderson

Baltimore

The writer is chairman of the Baltimore Regional Partnership.

Victims overlooked in debate over death

The Sun should be aware that the racial disparity referred to in "Court to hear bias challenge against Md. death penalty" (June 6) is not quite what it seems.

Recent Sun articles have noted the appeals of several black death-row inmates ("Death-row inmate's lawyer makes case to appeals judges," June 8).

They claim racial bias in the use of the death penalty primarily because of the differences described in a 2003 University of Maryland study.

That study analyzed 1,311 death-eligible cases murder from 1978 to 1999. Seventy-four percent of the offenders were black and 24 percent were white.

The study stated that "the probability that a death notification will be filed given a death-eligible case is .24 [24 percent] for black offenders and .37 [37 percent] for non-black offenders (over 90% of whom are white)."

With the heightened concern about a handful of convicted murderers on death row, we seem to have forgotten about the victims.

But from 1978 to 1999, there were about 6,000 murder victims in Maryland.

I just hope that some of the organizations so deeply concerned about the death penalty will show a similar interest in the thousands of families who have lost loved ones.

Tim Walsh

Baltimore

Sources protected; witnesses menaced

Deep Throat - a.k.a. Mark W. Felt - is very lucky he didn't witness a murder or drug deal in Baltimore.

He had more protection of his rights and civil liberties as an anonymous source than do citizens in Baltimore and other places who witness crimes and help the police.

The courts often protect the rights of unnamed informants, as well as the right of reporters not to succumb to pressure to reveal their sources. Yet our courts and police cannot seem to protect witnesses to heinous crimes that infest our city.

When they try to do the right thing, these witnesses are often threatened, attacked and even killed.

Because an accused criminal has the right to face his accuser, many of these witnesses become targets.

Thus many of them basically forfeit their rights of freedom and speech in hope of staying alive.

In the court of public opinion, you can remain unnamed and protected and still bring down the bad guys.

In the court of law, you are open to attack and harm if you testify.

The lesson is this: Witness a crime, call the media and become an unnamed source.

Where is the justice in that?

Peter Shafer

Baltimore

New height rules threaten city's charm

When I moved to Maryland, I visited many neighborhoods in the Baltimore area. I finally decided to live in Mount Vernon because of the restoration efforts under way by many residents to preserve its architectural richness and because of the comfortable community feel of its low-rise buildings.

Therefore, I cannot but believe that adding huge buildings from 10 to 20 stories high would alter the historic character of this neighborhood and obliterate it uniqueness ("Development groups praise new Mount Vernon height limits," June 8).

I gather that the city is agreeing with the developers and business interests primarily for economic purposes.

This seems quite short-sighted, for it is the fine preservation of this neighborhood that lures many tourists to visit Baltimore to spend their money.

This neighborhood is also one of the main reasons that the film industry has chosen to film here and contribute to the economy of the city.

That industry is attracted to the European feel of the streets of Mount Vernon.

If we are to still call ourselves "Charm City," let's try to keep some of the city's charm and not destroy it for short-term gain.

Jane McConnell

Baltimore

Tea, too, falls victim to corporate cutting

As always, trends in Great Britain run neck and neck with those here in the states. And so it is in the world of tea drinking ("Black tea getting weaker in Britain," June 9).

What it all boils down to (pardon the pun) is quantity vs. quality - or, more simply put, tea sales vs. tea flavor.

I'm convinced that there's a distinct undertaking in the tea industry today to sell more tea bags by simply putting less tea flavor into those tiny paper pouches.

I've even heard that some tea brands on the market today are little more than grassy, cellulose filler with artificial tea flavorings sprayed onto them, at the factory, no doubt, the overprocessed dregs of the instant tea and iced tea industries.

I like tea, and I too have noticed a distinct weakening in its flavor. And I say that the loss of tea flavor is characteristic of the tea industry as a whole, not only in Great Britain but also here in the United States.

Like everything else these days, tea is a victim of corporate economic planning.

Tea is produced by an industry - so long at the focal point of this age-old world custom - that has come to sacrifice flavor to the allure of boosting sales.

My advice to all those tea lovers out there, with their oversensitive tastebuds and ideals: Just put an extra teabag or two ... or three ... into the boiling pot whenever you get the urge to drink some tea.

Jim Clark

Baltimore

RFK Stadium notable for the man it recalls

The Sun's editorial "Fond of the future" (June 11) situates the cultural and historical importance of RFK Stadium primarily in its architecture. Although it may well be that the stadium stands as an excellent example of a design style that was popular during the 1960s, this emphasis on architecture misses the deeper symbolism of the stadium.

RFK Stadium's value as a physical reminder of that decade is found not it its structural design, but rather in the person for whom it is named, Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

After all, its "Age of Aquarius" design is not all that different from stadiums that were built in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati in the late 1960s and early 1970s. All those stadiums have been demolished with nary a whimper of protest from fans, who long ago tired of their cookie-cutter dimensions and plastic, antiseptic surroundings.

What differentiates RFK from the stadiums mentioned above is its name.

The editorial grants a nod in this direction when the writer states that the stadium is "a reminder of all the high expectations and painful consequences of that seminal decade. What might have happened is the implicit question it asks today (starting with its name)."

Unfortunately, however, most of the editorial focuses on RFK Stadium's importance as some sort of architectural icon of the 1960s.

For many Americans, the 1960s ended symbolically not in the muddy fields at Woodstock or on the violent infield at Altamont, but on the cold, hard floor of the pantry at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles in June 1968, where Mr. Kennedy was felled by an assassin.

It is the juxtaposition of the human desire for progress with the deep despair that comes with that desire going unmet that made Mr. Kennedy such a tragic figure in the late 1960s, and that lends the stadium that bears his name its historical and cultural importance today.

Leonard Robinson

Delmar

Trolleys can enhance city life

As a business owner in Charles Village who is passionate about Baltimore's future, I am very excited about the plans to bring trolleys back to the Charles Street-St. Paul Street corridor from the Inner Harbor to 33rd Street ("Trolley travel could be in city's future," June 10).

This would not only bring visitors to areas that few have had the opportunity to experience, but also give area residents, students and professionals who now have to drive the advantage of being able to use the trolley to commute to work, go to dinner and attend entertainment venues.

This would be a win-win situation for the economy of Baltimore and give the Charles Street corridor the enhancement it is long overdue.

I can already envision the sidewalk cafes, restaurants, antique shops, boutiques and other business development opportunities as the area grows into an economically vibrant and safe place visitors would not want to miss.

If the ribbon-cutting were tomorrow, it would not be too soon.

Richard Burnham

Baltimore

The writer is a co-chairman of the Old Goucher Business Alliance.

As a long-time Mount Vernon resident, I would love to see a trolley added to the landscape of this beautiful neighborhood. I would also welcome more tourists to what I believe is one of the most undervalued neighborhoods in the city.

Mount Vernon has so much to offer tourists who don't venture north of Pratt Street.

It has great restaurants, beautiful architecture, monuments, parks and museums. It also offers an alternative to the Power Plant Live for night life.

I'm a fan of public transportation, and I also walk to the Inner Harbor from my Mount Vernon home.

But I would definitely take advantage of a nice trolley ride.

Aimee Darrow

Baltimore

It is exciting to read about plans to resurrect trolley service along the Charles Street corridor, the cultural spine of Baltimore. But I wonder whether it might be better to consider using such a service as a showcase for newer transportation technologies, such as electric buses.

To make such a service exciting for riders, why not promote a contest for artists to decorate the buses?

Why not also connect this service with a local Wi-Fi zone and promote area attractions on monitors in the vehicles?

Such a service would both pay homage to Baltimore's past and celebrate its high-tech, creative future.

Rory Turner

Baltimore

The proposed trolley line along Charles Street is a fantastic idea, and I encourage the city and state leadership to get behind this proposal immediately and see it though.

I was terribly disappointed in Baltimore's transit system when my wife and I moved here last year. I expected much more than one subway and one light rail line that do not connect with one another and a bus system that doesn't go where I need it to.

I grew up in Charlotte, N.C., a sprawling, car-centered city where public transit had always been an afterthought - until the late 1990s, when the city's leadership finally realized it just couldn't keep building new roads.

A mix of grass-roots support and far-seeing leaders pushed to start a rapid-rail system, eventually winning a referendum to actually raise sales taxes by a half-cent to help fund the system.

Imagine that. Notoriously stingy, car-obsessed Charlotteans voted overwhelmingly to tax themselves to build a rail system.

This provided the momentum to get the state and federal leadership on board. Construction begins this year, and the system is expected to be complete by 2020.

Think what a compact, transit-friendly city such as Baltimore could accomplish if our leaders took transportation seriously.

Ryan Sniatecki

Baltimore

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