No wood? Walk the plank

The governor wants the wife fired. And now Lou Grasmick has another headache that threatens the family finances.

Politics, once again, plays a part. But the new trouble also turns on Brazilian rainfall, a weak U.S. dollar, and a hardwood called ipe, which sounds like "e-pay," but in this case, the money's not on the way.


Ocean City, N.J., canceled a $1.1 million contract with Louis J. Grasmick Lumber last week because the company missed a deadline to deliver wood to rebuild a block of boardwalk.

But the lumber magnate, like his state schools superintendent wife, is not easily dismissed.


"Our intention is to supply this project," said Ron Leubecker, chief financial officer at the lumber company. "We have a contract. They cannot legally rescind this contract."

Leubecker contends that the city has caved in to environmental protesters, who have questioned whether the lumber was harvested from a sustainable forest. (The wood has green certification, but some environmentalists have questioned its validity.)

Ocean City says that the lumber company breached the contract by failing to deliver 15,400 pieces of wood by Dec. 15. Leubecker conceded that the company missed the deadline. Only about 10 percent of the wood has been delivered to date. But he said the contract lets the firm off the hook for "delays beyond our control."

What could possibly be out of Lou Grasmick's control?

Weather, for one. There's been a drought in Brazil, so rivers are low, making it hard for barges to float logs down to the sawmill, Leubecker said.

And then there's the exchange rate. South American mills don't always honor American contracts if they've "got European buyers who are willing to pay in euros," Leubecker said.

But Ocean City Council President Keith Hartzell wasn't buying the excuses.

"We depended on them, and they failed us," he told the Press of Atlantic City. "I wouldn't buy a Popsicle stick from them."


What are you calling quirky, you philistine?

Grammy-winning saxophonist Brian Sacawa has organized a concert that will mix conventional instruments with video from President Bush's State of the Union address, a "turntablist" known as DJ Dubble8 and a percussionist who plays his body.

It sounds like another offbeat bit from the guy who's also behind a tongue-in-cheek blog once featured in this space - - devoted to "the beauty of the omnipresent plastic accessories that adorn the trees of Baltimore, MD."

But the concert, Tuesday night at Baltimore's Contemporary Museum, is no joke.

"We're serious about this," said Sacawa, who lives near Patterson Park. "This isn't a joke or quirky. Baltimore has enough quirky things."

What the city doesn't have enough of, according to Sacawa, is "new music." By that, he means modern classical music, primarily by living composers, that has an "underground vibe" and certain "rawness" and "energy," as opposed to "icy" and "academic" modern pieces. In other words, "the indie rock of classical music."


The program will feature Frederic Rzewski's "Coming Together," Steve Reich's "Come Out," Louis Andriessen's "Workers Union," Erik Spangler's "Iraq Mix" and Vinko Globokar's "?Corporel."

And yes, the question mark really is part of the title for that last piece. It's the one that Cornell University percussion professor Tim Feeney performs with just his hands and the rest of his body. That might sound like a light-as-pattycake performance piece, but Sacawa said parents with small children have been known to flee the room.

"It's kind of disturbing in a way," Sacawa said. "The way he does it, it's kind of frightening. The percussionist, he is rubbing his skin to make the noises and scratching his hair and hitting himself. It kind of makes me think of a prisoner of war or some kind of interrogation."

Your request is noted, is pending

Someone called The Sun on behalf of the National Security Agency last week with good news: The agency was making progress on the paper's request for documents under the Freedom of Information Act.

What request was that?


You know, the FOIA filed by The Sun's Neal Thompson, seeking documents related to CIA-officer-turned-Russian-spy Aldrich Ames. Thompson filed it in February 1999.

Under current law, the NSA has 20 days to respond to FOIA requests. (Officials there thought the deadline was about the same in 1999, though no one could remember that far back.) Then as now, the agency can take more time under some circumstances - but nine years?

"We had many other requests," said Lee Schroyer, a private contractor processing the request for the NSA.

I asked when somebody - Thompson's last byline for The Sun was in 2001 - could come pick up the papers. Seems I was getting ahead of myself.

The documents aren't actually ready. The NSA has gathered "a stack of stuff," but someone still has to go through it to make sure it's "responsive" to the request, Schroyer said. After that's accomplished, the materials will have to be reviewed by other government agencies to make sure they don't contain any state secrets.

Schroyer was just calling to make sure, before going to all that trouble, that The Sun was still interested in the stuff.


You bet. We hope it's ready before 2017.