Circumcision curbs spread of HIV/AIDS
As a native of Nigeria and a doctor working for an international health organization affiliated with the Johns Hopkins University, I was very encouraged to read Michael Gerson's column supporting male circumcision as a tool to prevent HIV and AIDS in Africa ("Fight AIDS in Africa with circumcision," Opinion * Commentary, June 4).
JHPIEGO has been working to promote safe, comprehensive male circumcision services since 2003, when it began working with Zambia's Ministry of Health to improve the quality of and access to male circumcision and male reproductive health services in that country.
In March of this year, citing results from three clinical trials that found that male circumcision reduces female-to-male HIV transmission by 60 percent, the World Health Organization and UNAIDS recommended that countries with a high prevalence of HIV begin offering free or subsidized circumcisions.
For those of us working in Africa, our immediate concern is about how to move quickly from research to practice.
We need to provide safe, pain-free and affordable male circumcision services.
We also need to make it clear to men and their communities that this procedure does not provide 100 percent protection - and that they will also need to take other steps to reduce their risk.
Still, male circumcision can become be an entry point to offering other male reproductive health services, such as encouraging safer sex and screening and treatment for sexually transmitted infections.
Mr. Gerson is correct when he says, "When it comes to AIDS, circumcision is the kindest cut."
Let's seize the opportunity to rapidly scale up male circumcision services and get men more involved in HIV prevention and reproductive health.
Dr. Emmanuel Oladipo Otolorin
The writer is country director for Nigeria for JHPIEGO.
Make energy sellers accountable again
Thomas A. Firey's flawed assumptions about energy are akin to those that led to our state's failed deregulation plan in the first place ("'BGE ratepayers, behold the man," Opinion * Commentary, June 1).
Mr. Firey attributes the lower rates in states with regulated energy prices to their reliance on cheaper energy sources.
However, Maryland relies on much the same cheap sources of energy.
We need to take steps now to restore accountability to the electricity market.
The Public Service Commission must require the utility companies to develop long-term plans to ensure reliable electric service at the least possible cost and develop a plan for public power in Maryland.
Fundamentally, we also need to use energy more wisely.
New York Gov. Elliot Spitzer recently announced that his state would reduce energy use by 15 percent from forecast levels by 2015 through improved energy efficiency.
I call on Gov. Martin O'Malley to pledge a 20 percent reduction in Maryland's energy use by 2020 through efficiency and conservation.
Johanna E. Neumann
The writer is a policy advocate for the Maryland Public Interest Research Group.
O'Malley's PSC works just like the old one
Does Fred Mason, the president of the Maryland and District of Columbia AFL-CIO, actually believe that Gov. Martin O'Malley's Public Service Commission will do any better for consumers than former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s did, in light of the fact that Constellation Energy gave large contributions to both the O'Malley and Ehrlich gubernatorial campaigns ("BGE rates arrive quietly," June 1)?
It is unfortunate that liberal groups such as the Maryland Public Interest Research Group, the AFL-CIO and Progressive Maryland seem more concerned with staying on the good side of Mr. O'Malley than in truly fighting for the right of ratepayers to have a regulated or publicly owned market.
Aren't citizens tired of such behavior from folks who are supposed to be on our side?
Cindy Sheehan recently spoke of her sense of betrayal by the national Democratic Party concerning the war.
On the energy deregulation issue, we are seeing this very same kind of betrayal by Democratic Party leaders and followers on the state level.
The writer is a member of the Maryland Coalition to Stop the Rate Hikes and a former Green Party candidate for state delegate.
ABATE is working to make roads safer
The Sun's editorial "Collision course" (May 31) suggests that instead of trying to modify the state's mandatory motorcycle helmet law, groups such as ABATE of Maryland should be "pushing for programs to make the roads safer."
Statements such as this one perpetuate the misguided notion that ABATE members are only "the helmet guys."
However, in fact, ABATE:
Was instrumental in the formation of Maryland's Motorcycle Safety Program, has fought to keep it viable and strongly suggests that all motorcyclists in the state take the course.
Has had some of its board members work with the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration assessment of the Maryland Motorcycle Safety Program.
Has members on the State Highway Administration's Highway Safety Task Force.
Has its own Motorcycle Awareness Program.
Lobbied very strongly for House and Senate bills in this year's General Assembly session that would have increased the penalty for violating the right of way of any user of state roads.
We would also note that although May was proclaimed by the governor as Motorcycle Awareness Month, we saw no mention of that fact in The Sun or signboards or public announcements about this posted by the state.
ABATE's goals are to protect the rights of motorcyclists, improve them where possible and make Maryland as safe as possible for motorcyclists.
Steven P. Strohmier Dundalk
Neal Ackerson Annapolis
The writers are, respectively, the legislative representative of the Baltimore chapter and the state director for ABATE (A Brotherhood Against Totalitarian Enactments) of Maryland Inc.
Whites also victims of racial hatred
In "Racial oppression is a one-way street" (Opinion * Commentary, June 3), columnist Leonard Pitts Jr. states that it amazes him when "white people put on the victim hat."
And then he complains of the "mewling noises from that subset of my white countrymen who feel put upon by big, bad racial minorities."
This apparently is his level of compassion for the victims of "five blacks, one a woman" who carjacked, kidnapped and raped a young white couple whose only crime was driving while white (to put a twist on the normal statement).
As if that wasn't enough, these attackers sprayed cleaning fluid in the woman's mouth and suffocated her in a trash can and shot the man and set him afire.
Unabashed, Mr. Pitts dismisses "a constellation of white supremacists and conservative bloggers" and complains about the media "pulling out all the stops when crime is white on black, as in the Duke lacrosse case."
Mr. Pitts needs to be careful - or he may show himself to be a racist.
The case he described involving the white couple was indeed a hate crime - and hate crimes can be committed by members of any race.
This was not a simple mugging and taking of a wallet and purse. This crime involved cold-blooded, intentional, extended enjoyment of the suffering of people of another race.
Mr. Pitts concludes with four words addressed to "any other white Americans who feel themselves similarly victimized: Cry me a river."
Well, I have four words for Mr. Pitts: "Go promote racial understanding."
Immigration reform harmful to families
The point system involved in the Senate's immigration bill is dangerous and unethical ("Immigrant advocates stage protest," June 3).
From the perspective of ethics, there are two basic justifications for allowing immigrants to enter a Western liberal democracy: family reunification and political asylum.
But this bill provides for little of the former type of immigration and none of the latter.
While the basic principle of a point system is praiseworthy - as an effort to quantify our inconsistent, backlogged and potentially arbitrary system - the distribution of points proposed under this plan is ethically horrifying.
It belittles the importance of family and of exigencies such as conflict-riddled environments while emphasizing what a few elitists perceive as our national interests.
The bill's narrow definition of the family ignores the varied and important roles in child-rearing and group decision-making that the extended family plays in most societies.
Compassion and our nation's assumed mantle as a beacon of multicultural democracy suggest that we should have an immigration system that understands the concept of family from the perspective of those the system will affect.
Under a better approach, a more ethical and fair point system could be applied to those seeking employment visas, while potential immigrants seeking entry on the basis of family reunion or asylum could continue to be reviewed separately - and compassionately.
The writer is an instructor in political science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
Limit our waste, not newcomers
In response to the letter "Immigrants strain natural resources" (May 25), I would suggest that instead of regulating poor immigrants, we should rein in the buying habits of the greedy middle- and upper-class Americans who drive SUVs, live in "McMansions" and consume massive amounts of red meat.
Those practices have a much more negative effect on our natural resources and the environment than the presence of poor immigrants does.
SUVs drain our oil supply, contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and help enable Americans to live far from central cities and thus chew up more forests and open space.
And McMansions, in addition to being inefficient energy and water users, are also often built at the cost of forests and natural habitat.
Finally, our style of meat consumption is extremely bad for the environment not only because of the open space used to raise farm animals but also because of the pollution caused by factory farming and the energy and water used to feed millions of cows and chickens.
Perhaps we need to impose quotas on McMansions, SUVs and meat consumption before we add new restrictions on immigration.
Large-car drivers display selfishness
What the writer of the letter "Small-car drivers should pay more" (June 2) is really saying is that he values his own safety above the safety of others and the welfare of the environment.
According to the writer's logic, we should all be driving huge behemoths because people like him have chosen to do so and have put my safety at risk by their choice.
By this logic, in order to defend myself from injury by large-car drivers (who tend to drive more carelessly because of their sense of invulnerability), I should also buy a large car.
By similar logic, people whose neighbors put in a swimming pool should pay the cost of a fence to keep their children from wandering over into the neighbor's yard and falling into the pool.
In short, by the writer's logic, anyone who, for his or her own pleasure or convenience, makes a legal choice that diminishes the safety and comfort of others should not be held responsible for the effects of this choice on others; rather, those others must bear the costs.
If only the effects of global warming were selective so that only the people who make choices like those of this letter writer were the ones to suffer.
Unfortunately, the people most likely to suffer are those who can't buy any cars at all.
Canceling field trips unfair to students
In response to the article "Kids, parents angry over canceled trips" (May 23), I would say: And Baltimoreans wonder why students don't behave better?
How can one set an example of citizenship and honorable behavior when students receive such unfair treatment?
It isn't a matter of who or what is to blame for the canceled trips; such a blame game matters little to students who can't celebrate what is a milestone for many students - completing the eighth grade.
A new set of guidelines for justifying field trips has been adopted by the school system for legitimate reasons.
But when the school system cancels a "rite of passage" trip at the last moment - after months of happy expectation on the part of the students - that is punitive and unfair.
Many of these students have spent years in city schools without adequate funding for basic necessities such as safe drinking water (or sometimes any drinking water, for that matter), uneven sanitary conditions, lack of textbooks and, most important, lack of adequate teaching staff to accommodate all traditional subject areas and allow art, music, gym and other electives to have a significant place in children's lives.
These field trips are such a small and easy pleasure to give students and show that we value the dedication of those who chose to stay in school.
As a Baltimore citizen, I am disgusted to read about such a mean-spirited decision that reflects our inability to treasure our city's youths and value who they are.
The writer is a community volunteer who teaches in the city schools.
Pastor's new gender no harm to church
Some pastors within the Baltimore-Washington Conference of the United Methodist Church have called into question the ability of my pastor to serve as a leader of the UMC because my pastor has become a man ("Legal ruling sought on church post," May 26).
The Rev. Drew Phoenix was my pastor at Rodgers Forge UMC as the Rev. Ann Gordon. When Pastor Ann left Rodgers Forge UMC, my family ultimately followed her to St. John's Church in Baltimore, a reconciling UMC congregation.
Later, when Pastor Ann announced that she was in the process of changing from female to male, we were supportive.
This change in our pastor's gender didn't change the way our services were conducted - only the gender of the pastor who led them.
It didn't cause our church to do fewer good works; it meant that we were simply led by a man, not a woman, in these works.
As Pastor Drew's change became widely known within the congregation, we all noticed that he seemed more at ease with himself.
He was always an empathetic, effective and easy-to-talk-with pastor; now he is a pastor who is empathetic, effective, easy to talk with - and male.
To me, the issue of whether a transgender person should be eligible for reappointment as a minister is a nonstarter.
It is preposterous to suggest that the fact that the pastor in question has undergone a change in gender is enough to make him (or her) less qualified to be an open-minded, open-hearted leader.
Our pastor is the most open-hearted, open-minded human being you'd care to meet.
He is no less an effective, compassionate leader and pastor as a transgender male than he was as a woman.
In fact, being able to be who he felt he was all of his life may have made him a better pastor.
Transit policy adds to city's congestion
As a volunteer with a Maryland state agency, I come downtown frequently.
The agency will reimburse me for $12 per visit for parking in one of two designated lots.
However, the Metro subway is very convenient to the building housing the agency. And because of my commitment to public transportation, I choose to commute on the Metro.
But the agency is not funded to reimburse me for the $3.50 per day cost for a Metro fare.
The result of this counter-intuitive reimbursement policy is that some volunteers who might use public transportation elect instead to drive.
The results of this policy include:
Exorbitant costs to the state for parking reimbursement.
More cars downtown, and therefore more air pollution.
Increased profits for private parking lots.
A lack of public policy support for the important public transportation system.
Let drugmakers pay for access to doctors
The media, the public, legislators and academic medical leaders apparently deplore any liaison between drug companies and practicing physicians ("Drugmakers woo med students," June 3).
They all seem to agree that it is reprehensible for drug companies to ply doctors with luncheons, dinners, trips and gifts, big and small, and that such bribes brainwash doctors into biased and unethical prescribing habits.
But no one, including the would-be reformers, seems to be exempt from the giant pharmaceutical industry's reach.
The public is influenced by direct marketing, TV ads and free samples. The industry has a big presence on Capitol Hill, and federal and state legislators are quite susceptible to the monetary enticements it holds out.
As for academic medicine, despite all its posturing, it cannot divorce itself from the drug companies that sponsor a lot of the clinical studies undertaken by academia.
Academic institutions, in their turn, funnel important basic science research and biotechnology discoveries to the pharmaceutical companies.
However, the public and the media should be aware by now that doctors do not have the freedom to prescribe any medicines they want to.
In their efforts to contain costs, the insurance and hospital industries have interfered heavily in this area by compiling formulary lists of preferred drugs.
No two formularies are the same, and doctors can go crazy trying to figure out a prescription formula that will work for each patient with minimum side effects and maximum health benefits, while simultaneously taking into account cost-effectiveness and insurance strictures.
Doctors are powerless and feel squeezed among all these competing factions.
Slaves to managed care, chafing under piles of paperwork, we are also squeezed for time, and most of us are therefore unwilling to give away their time to pharmaceutical representatives.
And why should we?
If the pharmaceutical industry wants access to doctors, it must pay for that access. Hence the filet mignon and the cheesecake in the upscale Capital Grille.
To the sanctimonious saps in academic medicine and elsewhere, I say: Relax.
Let us make merry once in a while. That way, we may manage to live long and keep on being slaves.
Neither patients nor the fat-cat pharmaceutical industry will be worse off for our merriment.
Dr. Usha Nellore
The writer is a practicing endocrinologist.
Animal activists can be terrorists
As a physician, I must take strong issue with the opinion expressed by Caroline Paul in her column "My brother, the 'terrorist'? Yes, according to the government" (Opinion
Commentary, June 3) that members of Earth Liberation Front (ELF) and Animal Liberation Front (ALF) are not terrorists, and "have never hurt or intended to hurt a single human being."
First, a number of bombings carried out by ALF members have indeed targeted the homes and cars of people involved in animal research and testing and their families, and in at least one case, people - including children - were present in a bombed home, although fortunately nobody was killed.
Second, a major target of ALF attacks has been medical research laboratories using experimental animals. In one such attack, mice carrying cryptosporidium, an infectious agent potentially deadly to humans with impaired immune systems (such as cancer and AIDS patients) were "liberated" into the surrounding community.
Furthermore, these attacks have interrupted or halted years of research aimed at saving human lives.
And indeed, if ALF were in fact able to achieve its stated goal of permanently stopping all medical research involving animals, the ultimate effect on human life would far exceed the death toll extracted by the terrorists responsible for the atrocities that took place on Sept. 11, 2001.
Dr. Mark Haas
The writer is a professor of pathology at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.
Caroline Paul shouldn't expect much sympathy for her arson-happy sibling.
There are, of course, differences between domestic and international terrorism, but both meet a sensible definition of the word.
Al-Qaida knocked down American buildings because it doesn't like the idea of America, and its goal is to scare us into changing our international habits and priorities.
Jonathan Paul burned down a slaughterhouse building because he didn't like the idea of slaughterhouses.
He announced his handiwork under the name of the Animal Liberation Front, whose goal is to scare ranchers and medical researchers into changing their domestic habits and priorities.
Clearly, some Americans agree with the goals of animal-rights and environmental militants, just as some (incredibly) still agree with al-Qaida's mission.
But using arson and other violence to scare people into granting your political objectives is certainly terrorism.
If it isn't, we all need new dictionaries.
The writer is director of research for the Center for Consumer Freedom, a group representing a food industry coalition that has been sharply critical of the animal rights movement.