Selecting Scripture to sustain an agenda
My response to Jerome M. Segal's article "Yes, teach the Bible - but how?" (July 8) is: Please, not his way.
The idea behind teaching the Bible as literature should be to teach it without religious ideas. But Mr. Segal's treatment involves some profoundly religious ideas that I, for one, would not appreciate him teaching my child.
Once one goes beyond the events related in the Bible, and begins assigning motives to the principal characters, particularly to God Himself, one is preaching one's own ideas about who God is and what His demands on mankind are.
Excuse me, but are those ideas not the essentials of a religion?
The author cherry-picks his way through the Torah, selecting only passages that support his preconceptions.
For example, the article takes great pains to dissect Exodus 5 but totally discounts God's commitment to cherish and provide for the people in the very next chapter.
For that matter, in Exodus 3, it is God who calls Moses to deliver his people, not Moses who calls God to preserve them.
In what way does that constitute protecting the people from God?
As for the idea of an "imperfect God," what, then, are we to make of the whole account in the first book of Genesis, in which God made the whole universe out of nothing?
How, exactly, would an "imperfect God, who needs mankind to evolve," pull off that little trick?
It upsets me when people come up with pet theories that are totally against the tenets of my religion and claim they are "not inherently threatening."
Well, they're not threatening to him.
Mr. Segal can start his own private school that teaches the religion of "Segalism."
But let him keep his religion out of the public schools.
The writer is a leader of the B'nai Avraham Messianic Congregation.
Historical Society consolidates work
The Sun's article "Historical society to shut 2 city museums" (July 3) reported the good news that the Maryland Historical Society has adopted a balanced budget in 2008. However, that news was wrongly ascribed to the decision to close our two satellite museums, the Baltimore Civil War Museum and the Fells Point Maritime Museum.
In fact, the closure of the satellite museums is dictated by a variety of considerations and is only a small part of the comprehensive plan for organizational change we have developed to ensure a long and stable life for the institution.
The Historical Society has engaged in vigorous, wide-ranging strategic planning that has led us to redirect our limited staff and resources to the Mount Vernon campus to focus on extending our programs, services and offerings in the most efficient way possible.
Despite significant financial challenges in recent years, the Historical Society has maintained a long tradition of educating Marylanders on the stories that are at the core of our state's past while caring for collections central to Maryland's history.
The Mount Vernon campus serves more than 90,000 schoolchildren across the state, provides access for research to scholars and library users, and mounts major exhibitions.
Although the satellite museums must close as part of our larger effort, their parts in telling the story of Maryland's history will continue to be part of our efforts.
Conversations are underway in an effort to transfer operations of the Baltimore Civil War Museum to the B&O; Railroad Museum, which would be a logical path given that the Civil War Museum is in the historic President Street railroad station.
The decision to close the Fells Point Maritime Museum follows the completion of a three-year trial period established to test the viability of a collaborative venture in the Fells Point area with the Preservation Society of Fells Point.
The Historical Society plans to bring the artifacts on display there back to its main campus to feature them in a new and more comprehensive maritime installation, which would not be possible given space limitations in the existing satellite facility.
Robert W. Rogers
The writer is director of the Maryland Historical Society.
Monoxide monitors blare much too late
Contrary to a statement attributed to Battalion Chief Michael Robinson of the Baltimore County Fire Department in the article "Carbon monoxide sickens 3" (July 7), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency does not recommend evacuation when carbon monoxide (CO) levels exceed 35 parts per million.
The EPA allows an hourly average exposure to CO of 35 ppm. It does not regulate CO indoors or recommend evacuation at any level.
The only federal agency that recommends evacuation to prevent CO poisoning is the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and it does not recommend evacuation until the level exceeds 200 ppm.
In contrast, the fire departments of Baltimore County and the city recommend evacuation at any level above 35 ppm.
But unfortunately, the Consumer Product Safety Commission does not allow home CO detectors to sound an alarm until they have detected a CO level of more than 70 ppm for one to four hours.
However, by this time, all those exposed will have been at least mildly, if not severely, poisoned.
This is apparently just what happened to the Lutherville family that was saved when its CO detector sounded on July 6: Three people who were exposed had to be rushed to hospitals by ambulance for treatment.
So why are carbon monoxide detectors not required, as smoke detectors are, to alarm instantly as soon as a dangerous level is detected?
And how many more needless poisonings will The Sun report before it investigates this public health scandal?
The author is an environmental health engineer and a certified carbon monoxide analyst.
Shorebirds need crab harvest hiatus
Watermen in Delaware want to suggest that they are an endangered species and that a two-year moratorium on horseshoe crab harvesting would be financially devastating to them ("Harvest pits life vs. livelihood," June 30).
The truth is that few of these watermen rely exclusively on horseshoe crabs for their livelihood. They fish other fisheries, and many have other jobs.
Most of the watermen also don't acknowledge that they put themselves in this predicament by overharvesting crabs throughout most of the 1990s.
It is true that the horseshoe crab population has stabilized and may be recovering. But weather, disease or a major pollution event, such as an oil or chemical spill, could change that situation quickly.
And while the crab population may have stabilized, egg densities remain low, dwindling from 40,000 to 100,000 eggs per square meter in the 1990s to 1,500 eggs per square meter in 2005.
These levels are far too low to support the recovery and maintenance of the endangered red knot shorebirds.
Furthermore, crabs available from other states could be used as bait for conch and eel fishing. There is no need to use horseshoe crabs from Delaware Bay.
Finally, one must acknowledge the economic impact to the state and the region if the red knot and other migratory shorebirds were to decline and become extinct.
The Delaware Bay has become an international attraction for birding enthusiasts who come from all around the world to watch this ancient ecological ritual of migration play out every spring.
Watermen have a choice: They can fish other fish for hardier populations or find other jobs.
The red knot birds do not have a choice.
They depend on horseshoe crab eggs for their survival and the survival of their species.
The writer is conservation chairman for the Delaware Audubon Society and a former secretary of Delaware's Department of Natural Resources.
Cheap food carries very high costs
As The Sun reported in "Anti-obesity initiatives failing to bear fruit" (July 5), the U.S. government has not managed to stem childhood obesity despite pouring millions into programs intended to teach kids to be more healthy.
Sadly, I am not surprised.
Our tax dollars go to fund programs that benefit big business and keep unhealthy food in production.
Americans are also encouraged by the ever-growing number of processed, pre-packaged foods to eat for convenience and price, not health.
Most people don't know what they're consuming when they eat high-fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils or many other food products found in popular foods.
Our bodies don't know how to process the chemicals in the foods, and our hunger is often not satiated by the manufactured junk we can afford to buy.
We eat more food that has fewer nutrients, and our bodies suffer from lack of energy and an excess of chemicals and processed fats and sugars.
The results include heart disease, diabetes, childhood obesity and cancer.
Huge corporate farms - which produce a staggering amount of environmental pollution and human health hazards from chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, hormones and antibiotics - get most of the business from the nation's supermarkets and the support from the government.
Small family farms are closing every year, unable to compete with the industrial-size factory farms.
This has all created a terrible cycle.
Healthy food from local farms usually can't be bought at local supermarkets. Thus money that could go back into the local economy goes instead to big business.
Big business, in effect, pays the government to enact laws that allow it to keep doing what it is doing, and citizens pay the price by eating poor-quality food.
Instead of thrusting bioengineered carrot and celery sticks at students and telling them to exercise more, let's show them where the food comes from.
Let's get kids involved in home or community gardens, take them on field trips to local farms, shop with them at farmers' markets and give them the opportunity to try a variety of fruits and vegetables.
We all need to take a closer look at what we eat, where it comes from and how it gets to us. We need to realize that when we eat cheap food from the grocery store and fast-food restaurants, we are paying in other ways - through the damage to the environment, the local economy and our health.
We need to make better choices and demand that our lawmakers make consumer health a priority.
Crime isn't rising in Charles Village
From its headline to its conclusion, "Unnerved by violence: Fear grips neighborhoods unaccustomed to attacks" (July 2) sensationalizes the perception of a few while ignoring some of the facts.
Crime in the Northern District is down this year compared with last, and Charles Village has seen a decrease this year in almost every category, including homicides, robberies and burglaries.
The article also makes no mention of the constructive actions by residents, businesses and organizations who are working together and with Baltimore's finest to continue to reduce crime in our neighborhood.
The Johns Hopkins University and the Charles Village Community Benefits District have both increased their security presence in recent months. Residents are also participating in meetings to get a realistic picture of problems in the area and to find ways of minimizing their chances of becoming a victim.
Charles Village and its surrounding neighborhoods are thriving communities.
Yes, the usual problems of urban living exist; no one denies that. And we all hope for continued improvement.
But most residents, many of whom have lived in the area for decades and dealt effectively with similar challenges in the past, remain determined to solve the problems, not flee to so-called greener pastures.
Although residents of Charles Village may be more alert because of recent incidents, there is no evidence we are gripped with fear.
Pedestrians walk our streets, residents sit on their porches and in their back yards, and public places are used.
Residents are living their lives as usual, working, shopping, going to school and generally enjoying the many amenities Charles Village has to offer.
The writer is board president for the Charles Village Community Benefits District.
City must do more to control pit bulls
Something must be done to stem the tragedies involving pit bulls in Baltimore ("Bad dogs," editorial, July 2).
Not only do pit bulls pose a danger to innocent citizens but they also are increasingly used by gang members to intimidate others and to make money from gambling on dogfighting.
As a civilized society, we must look creatively for solutions to these public safety and animal cruelty issues.
Enforcement of animal control laws would be a good starting point.
All dogs must have licenses, owners must have a kennel license if they have more than two pets, and all immunizations must be up to date.
But if the city is to enforce these laws effectively, we must have an adequate number of animal control officers.
The Humane Society of the United States has recommended that Baltimore should have a minimum of 28 animal control officers; however, the city has about half that number.
Pit bulls have been likened to guns with legs. As inadequate as our gun laws are, at least we make an attempt to register gun owners and check their backgrounds.
We need to do something comparable to keep track of pit bulls and their owners.
Most important, dog owners must be held accountable for their dogs' actions. Offenders must be prosecuted for reckless endangerment.
As concerned citizens, we must insist that our elected officials fund animal control efforts and that enforcement of animal control laws is a priority.
Unite to support new schools chief
Reporter Sara Neufeld's open letter to new Baltimore schools CEO Andres Alonso compellingly outlined many of the challenges he faces as he begins work ("Big job," July 1).
To be sure, expectations are high among education stakeholders that Mr. Alonso can, as Mayor Sheila Dixon recently suggested in remarks about what she would expect from a new school CEO, end the system's "dilly-dallying" and change the mindset of a school administration that, in Ms. Dixon's words, "sometimes does not get it" ("Ethical query for CEO prospect," May 17).
Based on Mr. Alonso's credentials and achievements, I share the optimism about his prospects for success.
However, there's another mindset in Baltimore that needs adjusting, and it's not housed in the administration building on North Avenue.
While everyone in our community wants to see dramatic improvement in our city's schools, there is no consensus about how to achieve this goal.
In the past, the many and varied factions have had difficulty putting aside their philosophical and political differences to play one of the most important roles required for the long-term success of a public school system - providing a tangible, genuine support system for the CEO outside the school bureaucracy.
If we are candid with ourselves, we will concede that the lack of broad, deep, sustained support from the community - including parents, civic and business leaders, education advocates and politicians - has been a factor in the departures of previous city schools CEOs.
As a community, we must do much more than politely welcome our new CEO and then start the sniping.
First, we must embrace and trust our CEO.
Then we must work together as a community to take some of the burden off the school leader and help him move a positive agenda forward.
We must create a formal network of supporters and advisors who will help Mr. Alonso navigate the political shoals of our city and our state.
We won't always agree. But we should resolve to be open about disagreements, admit mistakes, avoid hidden agendas and solidly back the CEO once a policy decision has been made.
Our city's public school students deserve to be the objects of real community teamwork, not a political football.
Donald C. Fry
The writer is president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee.
No reason to mourn murderous epithet
I'm having a hard time figuring out why the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (an organization I respect greatly and have enjoyed working with) chose to lay the N-word to rest with a proper casket and pall bearers, with a wreath of roses (black though they were) ("NAACP aims to bury the 'N-word,'" July 10).
This word was a killer.
Black funerals traditionally sang spirituals for the life of the dead and extolled his or her rebirth through emulation.
Black funerals helped us, the non-dead, understand our situation through spirituals and the blues.
As a lifelong blues lover, I know of drunks, prostitutes, overworked hired hands, drug addicts, repeat offenders and the destitute who have been immortalized in music. But I cannot bring to mind a single "star" of a blues story who excited people to murder in his or her name or murdered others' self-respect.
A more fitting grave for this word would have been an even plainer wood coffin, or better yet a winding rag, and a short iron stake with a cardboard tag naming its miserable name.
That's how the black paupers were buried on Fairmount Avenue in Towson, not many decades ago.
Yet they were not criminals; their names, now forgotten, did no harm.
May the N-word's soul, unsung, stay buried.
The writer teaches English at Towson University.
Gobbling up harbor's open space
Thanks to Jean Marbella for calling attention to the loss of the Inner Harbor ("There's lots of Inner, but not much Harbor left," July 10). However, she doesn't go quite far enough in describing how much we have lost - notably, the ongoing destruction of views from Federal Hill and views of Federal Hill from boats on the harbor caused by the Ritz-Carlton complex.
The city has so far failed to recognize Federal Hill as a natural asset and tourist attraction and to preserve the views of it.
But we can take steps to preserve and enhance what we have left. Here are a few examples:
The City Council should "just say no" to the HarborView developers who now want to change the standards for midlevel density to build two added towers. These developers have already destroyed sightlines and access to the harbor by maximizing midlevel density units - let's not reward them by changing the rules of the game they knew were in place all along ("HarborView proposal upsets neighbors," June 11).
The city should carefully plan further development south of the harbor along Key Highway to preserve access and sightlines to the harbor. Mayor Sheila Dixon's plan to convert the Fire Department's Key Highway property into open space is a small but good start ("Dixon backs shore park," June 17).
The city should carefully plan the Rash Field parking garage development for multiple uses.
We also must ensure that the city evaluates total traffic and air pollution impacts from all of these developments (Ritz-Carlton, HarborView, Rash Field, south Key Highway development) and plans traffic patterns in an integrated manner.
So far, the city appears to be addressing these issues only piecemeal.
But we can still help preserve what's left of the Inner Harbor and the quality of life in the area.
Bill Van Dyke
This is the time of year I always read about how successful Harborplace has been for the city ("The malling of the harbor," editorial, July 8). I am often asked to make comments, but I decline because I do not celebrate its birthdays happily.
Instead, I get sad remembering a group of people who tried hard to get the information out that this development might not be as great of an idea as we were told it was.
We were portrayed as people who did not want development when all we wanted was to keep the commercialism such a project brings across the street from the beautiful open space that was Inner Harbor Park.
I may be one of the few people who remember this park. But I have fond memories of it as the site for the City Fair and the city's festivals.
This park was very successful in bringing people back downtown without fear of crime. Now the City Fair has ceased to exist. The ethnic festivals are still held, but they are certainly not as successful as they were when they were in the heart of the city.
My citywide, grassroots group was successful in giving the people the choice by putting the question of Inner Harbor development on the ballot.
We tried long and hard to convince people that once we gave up this open space, we would never get it back. But I am not sure any of us dreamed the situation would become as bad as it is now.
Surely by now our representatives should have stepped in to put a halt to some of this development. Instead, the developers run rampant, building on just about every inch of land near the harbor.
To make matters worse, when they run out of land, they build a pier to develop.
Today, I can hardly see anything that remains of my favorite park.
The writer is a former chairwoman of Citizens for the Preservation of the Inner Harbor.