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SATURDAY MAILBOX

The Baltimore Sun

Court leaves families stuck in legal limbo

The cruel and incomprehensible decision of the Maryland Court of Appeals to uphold the 1973 marriage statute hurts thousands of gay and lesbian Marylanders and their children and families ("Decision stuns plaintiffs," Sept. 19).

It denies them equal civil rights and maintains their second-class status under the law.

It leaves these very real and loving families in legal limbo.

And where is the justice of this decision? Who did it help?

When the cause of minority civil rights is taken up, one expects our judiciary to work to make life better for all Marylanders, not worse.

Is there anyone out there who can honestly say that his or her quality of life is better today thanks to this sad ruling?

Judge Glenn T. Harrell Jr. justified the ruling by arguing that the state has "legitimate interests in fostering procreation and encouraging the traditional family structure."

Really?

If Judge Harrell truly believes that argument, will the Court of Appeals next rule that couples past childbearing age, couples who are infertile and couples who choose not to have children may not legally marry?

I would offer two images for the judges who ruled against civil marriage equality to ponder as they live with the consequences of their decision: that of plaintiff Lisa Polyak tearfully explaining how she and Gita Deane, her loving partner of 25 years, would break the sad news to their daughters that the state of Maryland does not consider them a family, and that of virulently anti-gay Del. Donald H. Dwyer Jr. gleefully proclaiming Tuesday to be "a wonderful day."

Rob Lance

Columbia

The writer is on the steering committee of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays of Columbia-Howard County.

Valuing the life of each unique tree

It was heartening to read that tadpoles are returning to Stony Run following the restoration of the stream bed, and that more trees, bushes and flowers will be planted there this fall ("Frogs hop back into Stony Run," Sept. 17).

Without grinding anyone's face in the fact that a large number of mature trees were destroyed - many unnecessarily - during the restoration of the stream bed, I would like to suggest that planting new trees does not fully make up for killing established ones.

Many of the trees excised during the Stony Run restoration had been there for decades, some for a century or more.

While there is no reason to believe trees have feelings, as humans and animals do, they do live. And we need to respect the kind of life trees have.

We need to value individual trees, not just the "tree canopy," because trees have unique existences.

They start life at a given point in time, grow in a certain place and respond to the capriciousness of sun, rain, wind, cold, heat, drought and disease, as well as the hostile encroachments of civilization.

Trees may not witness history, but they do co-exist with it and often outlast it.

They are a part of our world, and we need to acknowledge them as living participants in it.

Rene J. Muller

Baltimore

Age is wrong basis to judge candidates

Steve Chapman's assertion that Sen. John McCain is too old to be president is, indeed, unpleasant ("Unpleasant but true: McCain is too old to be president," Opinion

Commentary, Sept. 10). It is also untrue and unfair.

Judging a person's ability to perform any job based solely on his or her age is the very definition of age discrimination.

In fact, more and more Americans continue to work well into their traditional retirement years, and employers (and voters) are embracing the experience, knowledge and skills older workers possess.

The Census Bureau reported last week that the share of people ages 65 to 74 who were still working jumped from about 20 percent in 2000 to about 23 percent in 2006. And the percentage was even higher in the Washington region, where almost one-third of people in that age range continued to work.

Winston Churchill was 65 when he led Great Britain into World War II, and since 2006, all European Union nations have been required to have anti-age-discrimination laws.

Mr. Chapman would do well to judge the candidates based on their ability to address this country's crises in health care and financial security instead of pointing fingers and calling people "too old."

Erwin Sekulow Joseph DeMattos Jr. Baltimore

The writers are, respectively, the state president and state director of AARP Maryland.

Reschedule city vote to boost turnout

Several theories have been advanced as to the causes for the low voter turnout for the Baltimore primary election - in which only 31 percent of registered Democrats voted ("A troubling malaise," editorial, Sept. 13).

But much greater voter turnout could be achieved if our city elections were timed to coincide with the elections for governor and other statewide offices, members of the General Assembly and members of Congress.

And the city and the state would save money because of the elimination of separate elections in the city.

Because the state government controls the timing of primary elections in Maryland's counties and in Baltimore, it would take a change in state law to alter the city's election cycle.

Bills have been introduced in the General Assembly in recent years to do so. But they have failed, largely because of the opposition of Baltimore officials who want to retain the advantage of being able to run for state office without losing their city position.

When the 2007 General Assembly considered legislation to have Baltimore elections at the same time as the gubernatorial election and the voting for other offices, the fiscal note for the bill estimated that it would save Baltimore $3.1 million and the state $492,000 if the city's 2007 elections were eliminated.

With the prospect of savings of this magnitude and of increasing voter turnout for city elections, I hope the 2008 General Assembly will pass legislation to change the timing of city elections.

Millie Tyssowski

Baltimore

The writer is a former president of the League of Women Voters of Maryland.

Arundel voters need a better explanation

Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold's meager defense of his recent $100,000 fundraiser should leave county residents demanding a better explanation ("County isn't aiding special interests," letters, Sept. 19).

Mr. Leopold first defends his record of fighting special interests for 30 years. However, Mr. Leopold then attempts to play victim by saying the "stark reality" of politics is that one needs to raise money to win campaigns.

Mr. Leopold presumably will not face another political campaign for at least three years. So one wonders why he needs to raise so much money now to win an election in 2010.

Mr. Leopold also concentrates on the most insidious part of campaign donations - the notion that they result in quid pro quo treatment - which, of course, Mr. Leopold, like any politician, denies will ever happen.

But the problem with special-interest money in politics isn't necessarily quid pro quo treatment. The problem is access.

It would take a fool not to realize that one who cuts a $4,000 check to a politician is going to get his or her concerns heard a little faster than Joe or Jane Citizen who can't afford to attend a tony dinner with the county executive.

I don't belive Mr. Leopold is a fool, not with 30 years of political experience behind him. He is a seasoned career politician who should know better.

He should be more honest with the citizens of Anne Arundel County about what these donors will get in return.

Those of us who are merely county citizens and cannot afford $4,000-a-plate fundraisers deserve better.

Stephen W. Thibodeau

Gambrills

The writer is a member of the Democratic Party's State Central Committee.

Scottish Rite Temple can be asset for city

Having attended the Baltimore Preservation Committee meeting on designating the Scottish Rite Temple as a historic site, I want to commend The Sun for its accurate reporting on that hearing ("Panel votes to protect Masons' site," Sept. 12).

And I would like to reiterate a few points made when I testified at the meeting on behalf of preserving the building.

The Masonic temple is a stunning building. It was designed by the architect of the National Gallery of Art and the Jefferson Memorial. If this building does not qualify for historical landmark status, what building does?

It was clear in the meeting that there is an incredible love for this building - from the community and from the Masons who attended.

There is an incredible spirit of volunteerism in Baltimore, which is evident in the quiet way so many of our parks and trails are maintained by volunteers. With the wealth of creativity and talent that this city has, it would be an easy matter to find the ideas and means to finance the upkeep of this building.

Also, we should be expanding the options for tourism in the city and encouraging visitors not just to spend a day on the waterfront but also to make a further stay to check out the symphony, the Baltimore Museum of Art and the kinds of cultural events we could create at the temple.

So I urge the citizens of Baltimore, the Planning Board, the City Council and the mayor to include the Masonic temple in their vision of what Baltimore can become.

John Held

Baltimore

Don't let governor pick superintendent

Gov. Martin O'Malley has recently suggested that he and his successors should have the power to appoint the state superintendent of schools ("Patience and politics," editorial, Sept. 12). But I think we need to leave education policy to career educators, not to the political whims and agendas of elected officials.

Education is too important to be politicized. And it would be dangerous to move to a system in which the state schools superintendent could be pushed to put what is politically right before what is best for students, teachers, parents and communities.

Every child deserves an equal chance at a high-quality education. This has been the guiding principle of our state superintendent, Nancy S. Grasmick, and others who believe public education can and will work for all students.

Giving the political system more control of the Maryland State Department of Education would not ensure quality education; rather, it would benefit those concerned with their election or re-election.

I worry that the motivation behind the governor's proposal is not a desire to improve the quality of education.

And I believe the governor's unprovoked, divisive attacks on Ms. Grasmick spring from the worst motivations - ego, arrogance and obsession with power - not a desire to help the next generation.

Brady Walker

Snow Hill

The writer is a senior at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and a former intern for the Maryland State Department of Education.

Helping students NCLB leaves behind

In his column "Revamp NCLB to fulfill its promise" (Opinion

Commentary, Sept. 16), Brian Stecher relies on data from research to come to the obvious conclusion that the No Child Left Behind law - which has dramatically altered the everyday lives of students, teachers and school administrators - itself needs to be altered.

As a special-education teacher in the Anne Arundel County public school system, I fully agree with the concept that this law needs to be revamped if not altogether rewritten.

If society believes that enforcing some form of accountability for school systems will enhance the education of its children, then let accountability ring across the land - as long as it is a sane method of accountability.

I do not have the grounding in research Mr. Stecher does. What I have instead is an eyewitness point of view of how the NCLB law is depriving my students of an education that will prepare them for an independent life in the real world.

You see, I teach the kids who make schools fail.

My students fall into one of those sub-groups of students that create nightmares for principals because no matter what intervention is offered to help these kids, they will fail standardized tests simply because of who they are.

But these children need not be "failures." They can be great success stories - if their individual education plan fits their strengths and builds into a transitional plan so that when they leave high school as young adults, they have a skill that enables them to create an independent life.

At one time, this was called vocational education. But that was then, and this is now, the time of accountability by standardized tests.

Now my days are a constant struggle to take these children who are at a second-grade level and prepare them to take a test that is at a seventh-grade grade level, or to teach children who cannot unlock a combination lock to unlock the wonders of factoring a trinomial.

My children will fail again and again in their effort to conquer the standardized tests, which will leave them behind.

But these children can succeed in many other ways when taught skills that they can process and learn. And these children's future is being sacrificed to the altar of accountability by testing.

The suggestion I am offering to end this insanity is to exempt my kids from the horrors of standardized testing and seek other value-added methods (such as tracking these children after they graduate and become young adults with steady jobs) of ensuring that these kids of mine will have a future as bright as that of any American kid.

Robert M. Jones

Arnold

Sweatshop schools send wrong signal

I am writing to agree with the letter writer who wrote of the "appallingly hot conditions" at some Baltimore County and city schools ("Some local schools the real sweatshops," Sept. 12).

I worked as a teacher in Baltimore County for many years, usually in Title I schools with many "at-risk" students. And conditions in such schools can become deplorably hot as soon as the humidity kicks in and the temperature rises.

One warm spring day, I took a thermometer into several rooms in my school at 10:30 a.m.

The temperature in the cafeteria, empty at that hour, was already 100 degrees. There were two walls of high windows in the cafeteria, but only about four of these windows actually opened. The others were stuck shut or covered by heavy plastic.

Soon, that cafeteria was filled with almost 100 students, as well as steaming trays of hot lunches the students threw out because it was too miserably hot to eat hot food.

The classrooms were little better. For security reasons, teachers were not allowed to open exterior doors or the windows adjacent to exterior doors. Fans are little help in classrooms crowded with sweaty students.

My friends are generally shocked to learn how many county elementary schools are not air-conditioned.

We teachers would love to see the central office administrators, in their three-piece suits, try to teach hot, restless students for a few hours, but that won't happen.

And unfortunately, it seems that our poorest and neediest students are the ones in the hottest schools.

It is very difficult for learning to take place in such conditions. And what message do they send about how we value these students and teachers?

Susan O'Connor

Catonsville

More critical needs than renewing malls

Last week, The Sun carried - on the center of the front page - an extensive article about the revamping of area shopping malls ("Malls no more, centers looking to sell lifestyle," Sept. 13).

I saw in the article that $100 million is slated to be spent on the renovation of Westfield Annapolis Mall, $70 million for Mondawmin Mall, $76 million for Towson Town Center and undisclosed amounts planned for renovating Laurel Commons and Harford Mall.

That likely means that more than $300 million will be spent to help make the shopping of Marylanders a more pleasant experience.

Statistics show Maryland to be the richest state in this rich nation, and perhaps businesses feel more compelled than ever to encourage our shopping appetite for anything at all, whether we need it or not.

But in the same newspaper, way back on Page 15A, there was a very tiny article about 13,500 children in central and southern Somalia at risk of starvation and 83,000 children there who are considered to be malnourished, according to UNICEF and the World Health Organization ("Somali children facing starvation," Sept. 13).

Add to these disparities the well-publicized budget shortfalls in this state and one wonders where the priorities are for our generation.

Among wealthy countries, the United States devotes one of the lowest percentages of its GNP to humanitarian aid, while it continues to be one of the most voracious consumers of the Earth's resources.

"Shop till you drop" may be a cute and funny cry for some Marylanders as they head off to the mall. But the cry in Somalia is very different, and the "drop" part is not from shopping.

The money that is planned to upgrade malls could go a long way toward feeding and clothing hungry children and buying medicine.

Edgar C. Ludwig

Baltimore

Is Israel abusing Palestinians' academic freedom?

I am offended by the willful blindness George Bisharat shows in "A double standard on academic freedom in the Middle East" (Opinion

Commentary, Sept 17).

Significantly missing from his column is the content of Palestinian education -- which often preaches sheer hatred and glorifies murder and violence.

It is to deal with the consequences of that hatred that all these Israeli impediments to the Palestinians' freedom of travel exist.

Mr. Bisharat's objections to the Israeli-imposed travel limitations -- which, incidentally, affect the supply of paper -- deliberately ignore the security climate caused by this indoctrination to violence.

If the Palestinian community had dealt with Israel the way Mohandas Gandhi dealt with Britain, an independent Palestinian state would now be celebrating its 30th anniversary.

Mordecai Glicksman

Baltimore

The column "A double standard on academic freedom in the Middle East" contains numerous distortions.

Author George Bisharat complains that a lack of textbooks for Palestinian children in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip will darken the future of thousands of children. However, he fails to mention that the textbooks distributed by Hamas often contain exhortations to children to join its terrorist war against Israel and become martyrs for its jihad.

Mr. Bisharat also objects to Western opposition to the democratically elected Hamas government. Yet Hamas' lack of commitment to democracy can be seen in the way in which it violently squelched the Fatah opposition in Gaza.

Hamas does not seek to resolve the Middle East conflict by establishing two states.

Rather, Hamas has openly declared that it seeks the conquest and destruction of Israel.

Frank B. Cahn

Baltimore

Thank you for publishing George Bisharat's column on the plight of Palestinian children.

The silence concerning Israel's numerous offenses against international law, as well as its callous treatment of a people whose trade it can control, is deafening.

We should all think long and hard about why our country continues to support such preposterous behavior from Israel or from any country.

This support only makes the Middle East more of a powder keg, and displays for all to see that the United States has become a self-serving and, I am so ashamed to say, monstrous country.

Suzanne Moorman

Orefield, Pa.

George Bisharat's column "A double standard on academic freedom in the Middle East" is an appeal to our love and care of children that totally ignores reality.

It is also false in its basic premise.

Hamas rockets aimed and fired daily into Israel in hopes of murdering Israeli schoolchildren -- not Israeli actions or inactions, or the world's "indifference" -- are the cause of Palestinian shortages, including those of school supplies.

Jerome Glazer

Lutherville

George Bisharat's anti-Israeli diatribe fails to address one fundamental question: What is the obligation of Israel, whose existence as a state is not recognized by Hamas, to facilitate the printing of textbooks for children ruled by Hamas, when Hamas' textbooks often do not mention Israel and have maps that identify Israel as part of Greater Palestine?

Leslie J. Polt

Baltimore

Finally, a major U.S. newspaper has allowed the truth to be spoken about the terrible human rights violations that Israel inflicts on the Palestinians each and every day.

These violations have been ignored so pervasively by the mainstream American press that this must come as news to many, even though it has existed now for decades.

The Sun may now be vilified by people who don't want the truth to be told about the violations of Palestinians' human rights and who believe Israel should never suffer any consequences for these abuses. But it is high time it did have some consequences.

Thank you for printing Mr. Bisharat's important column.

Richard Greve

New York

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