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Reduce, Reuse, Reply

Posted 4/5/2006

Regarding Herman Heyn’s letter on recycling (“More Trash Talk,” The Mail, March 29), it seems to me that Baltimore City makes recycling easy for everyone. It seems the easy-to-understand calendar is a big part of this. If the numbers are not larger, that is not the fault of the city. That is the fault of the citizens not wanting to take the time to recycle.

The only way you will increase the numbers would be through force, and if that occurred Mr. Heyn would whine about that.

Mark Schechter

There have been a number of letters and articles in City Paper in recent weeks indicating dismay in the apparent low recycling rate in the city of Baltimore. None of these discusses the issues of why we should recycle, or whether it makes sense to do so. In some cases it does make sense to recycle—but not always.

I believe that I know a bit more than most about this subject due to my prior years’ efforts as a research professor, author of papers, and speaker at the Center for Plastics Recycling Research at Rutgers University, and officer of the Maryland Recyclers Coalition.

Prior to the mid 1980s, household trash was either incinerated crudely or inexpensively landfilled in a haphazard way. At that time, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency finally noticed that harmful leachate leaked from unlined landfills and contaminated ground waters, and crude incinerators polluted the atmosphere. New rules were therefore promulgated, which led to the closing of many landfills and incinerators. Waste disposal thus became much more expensive and a “new” wave of recycling of household wastes came into use, and many people pushed recycling to protect the environment and save resources.

Unfortunately, this is not always the case. While paper is made from trees, it is usually made from trees farmed for that purpose. If paper is landfilled, it at least puts carbon obtained from atmospheric carbon dioxide back in the ground, thus reducing to some extent the greenhouse gases in our atmosphere. In the city of Baltimore, much of our household trash is incinerated at the BRESCO waste-to-energy facility, generating useful steam and electricity. Were this not the case, the same needed steam and electricity would have to be generated by the burning of fossil fuels. That is something that the country would like to reduce as much as possible. So, why should we recycle paper in Baltimore?

Plastics, particularly polyethylene, are probably the best clean-burning fuel available to a waste-to-energy incinerator. They also cannot be recycled economically, without costly “free” collection by the city. So, why do we want to recycle plastics in Baltimore?

Bottles and cans, on the other hand, have no fuel value and are not consumed in an incinerator. Steel from cans is recovered from incinerator ash and beneficially used. Not much benefit from recycling steel cans. Aluminum cans are another story. Aluminum is costly, and recycled aluminum is useful and valuable. Smelting aluminum from ores takes a lot of energy. Recycling aluminum uses relatively little energy. So recycling aluminum cans makes economical and environmental sense.

Bottle glass is not very valuable, and incinerated glass ends up in ash landfills where it takes up space. There are some uses for recycled glass. So, perhaps it is worthwhile to remove glass from the waste stream by recycling.

Recycling paper, bottles, and cans is therefore not as beneficial as many believe it to be. Mainly, I believe, it makes us feel good and provides jobs. I am sure that the Baltimore Department of Public Works would recycle more aggressively if it had good reason to do so. Merely bigger numbers are not an adequate reason.

Dr. Sidney Rankin

Hobbled Prose, More Like

Edward Ericson, Jr. (is that high school junior?) apparently considers anyone past 25 as “hobbled.” (“Rhymes With ‘P’ and Stands for Pool,” Quick and Dirty, March 29).

While we seniors appreciate your paper’s interest in the gambling issue at senior centers in Carroll County, I personally expect an apology from young Mr. Ericson for his age-discriminatory characterization of my movement as “hobbled.”

Benjamin Blye

Edward Ericson Jr. responds: I apologize; it was indeed a whippersnapperish lapse.

Parole Violation

I am writing to clarify a statement attributed to me in the March 29 article concerning parolee Gilbert Sapperstein (“Quick Release,” Quick and Dirty). If a parolee commits a crime while on parole—including a misdemeanor housing code violation—the parolee is in violation of the parole condition that requires parolees to obey all laws. As a practical matter, misdemeanor housing code violations usually come to the Maryland Parole Commission’s attention only if the parolee is fingerprinted in connection with the housing code case.

In this instance, the commission has become aware of Mr. Sapperstein’s upcoming criminal case through other means. Accordingly, the commission will monitor this matter.

David R. Blumberg
Chairman, Maryland Parole Commission

Death Sentence

High and Inside” (March 22) is an article that told the truth like it’s never been put out there before as to the life and death conditions at the Maryland House of Correction (better known as “the Cut”).

Now who will care? The governor? Any lawmaker? Or will this story be forgotten as the young men who have died in the Cut have been forsaken and forgotten?

Baltimore has too long been referred to as the “capital of heroin” in our “great nation.” I ask our government to answer me—who will die next in the “heroin chambers”?

I miss my son, Michael Rabuck, so terribly much.

Amy Stealey

Power to the Incarcerated People

The article “High and Inside” raised an important question. I would like to offer a solution. First let me put the solution in a historical perspective. Prisons have been breeding grounds for political activism of a revolutionary nature. First of all there’s the political prisoner. History is replete with examples. There’s Sacco and Vanzetti, the Rosenbergs, Erica Huggins, Marshall “Eddie” Conway, and Mumia Abu-Jamal. Then there are prisoners who have become politicized in jail. George Jackson is a good, well-known example. Other examples are Clyde Young, Joe Veale, and Carl Dix. (Carl is from Baltimore.) They are three-fourths of the RC4 speakers, from the Revolutionary Communist Party, on a nationwide speaking tour.

These prisoners who go to jail for various reasons (Carl was a G.I. resister) get a fuller understanding by coming in contact with more revolutionary prisoners, or by reading revolutionary literature.

The Revolutionary Communist Party, through its press, has established the Revolutionary Prisoners Literature Fund. Through this fund, the party sends subscriptions to Revolution, its official newspaper, and books by party chairman Bob Avakian. It also sends copies of classic Marxist-Leninist-Maoist writings. This literature helps transform the outlook of prisoners so that they can play a vital role in fighting oppression. The revolutionary prisoner and the revolutionary ex-prisoner can play important roles in the liberation /social justice movements happening today.

We all remember the question Thoreau asked a colleague who came to visit him in jail: “What are you doing out there?” The question still has an urgency to it. If you would like to shine the light of revolution behind the prison walls, you can send non-tax-deductible donations to: the Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund, P.O. Box 3486 Merchandise Mart, Chicago, IL 60654.

Alan Barysh


We live in a strange time. Maryland Republicans want to increase the budget to help ex-offenders, state Democrats oppose spending money in this way, and City Paper goes out of its way to write stories that criticize a “more social-worker oriented” program to “turn imprisoned, drug-addicted criminals into productive members of society.” Sounds like just the thing City Paper should attack (note sarcasm).

In his second article on RESTART (“RESTARTing From Scratch,” Quick and Dirty, March 22), Edward Ericson Jr.’s main point seems to be that research on other programs like RESTART shows mixed results. Maybe so. The fact is, research is almost always, at best, mixed on the success of social programs, because one size never fits all. One of the reasons why a program like RESTART may show mixed results is because it has never been fully implemented. The governor’s budget seeks to expand the program so that it can help ex-offenders just as they prepare to leave the institution. If we don’t do this, there is a strong possibility that the potential positive impact of RESTART will be lost as ex-offenders wait months to be released without services. Poisoning the program this way may give Mr. Ericson and other critics an “I told you so,” but it would do nothing to help the 12,000 inmates who get released from Maryland prisons every year.

The reality of running social programs, whether within government or outside, is that you don’t have the luxury of waiting for a perfect solution that has undisputed positive results for everyone it touches. It may not be coming anyway. Instead, you have to put together services to help real people at your door who desperately need assistance. Twelve thousand people need assistance right now. RESTART is a sensible, research-based approach to help them. Let’s stop the politics and give it a chance to succeed by providing sufficient funding so that it is available to those who need it most.

Jason Perkins-Cohen
Executive director, Job Opportunities Task Force

History’s Black and White

I enjoyed the article about Marcy Evans-Crump (“The Side Hustler,” Arts & Entertainment, March 22), but the piece of it that amazed me the most wasn’t any of the back-story about how she parlayed an e-mail list into a career, but that her commentary about the flesh tones of a couple of historical figures went completely unchallenged by the writer, not to mention uncorrected or clarified by the editorial staff.

I don’t get up in arms when it is suggested that depictions of Jesus Christ should, at the least, reflect a skin color and physical features more closely resembling modern-day Middle Easterners than modern-day Midwesterners . . . besides being factual, it’s just common sense, if you’re not a bigot. I don’t even care if she prefers black Santa Clauses; I’d bet he isn’t white in Mongolia, either.

But for Ms. Evans-Crump to state that her friends and acquaintances at Virginia Union University were uneducated or uninformed because they didn’t know that Ludwig van Beethoven and Pierre Charles L’Enfant were “black” is not only condescending, it’s flat-out wrong. Beethoven was born into a family of Flemish/Dutch musicians and instrument makers in Bonn, Germany; his mother was of Slavic ancestry. Many portraits of Beethoven exist, and none of them make him look to be of African descent. L’Enfant was French-born, and while I don’t know as much about his heritage, I’ve seen his portrait, too. Everything about him, from the pigment used by the painter for his face to the shape of his features to the style of his hair, says “white guy.” And given the time and the sensibilities (or lack thereof) of his era, it seems highly unlikely that a black man would have been granted the commission to design the United States’ capital city. Perhaps not as unlikely as if the city had been designed in the 1860’s, but it’s still a pretty fair bet that a Southern slave-owner (George Washington himself) wouldn’t have chosen an Afro-French-American to be in charge of this particular bit of urban architecture.

The other students at Virginia Union weren’t completely uninformed or uncultured. But they probably were too polite to tell Ms. Evans-Crump that she was wrong.

Jean-Marc O’Connor
Gwynn Oak

Editor Lee Gardner responds: Indeed, most historians say Beethoven and L’Enfant were both “white.” That said, Beethoven was described as being a “Moor” or “black Spaniard” by some of his contemporaries (see The Straight Dope, May 25, 2005). Also, L’Enfant’s surveyor for the D.C. job was mathematician Benjamin Banneker, who was black, which might explain Ms. Evans-Crump’s statement.

From Bad To Verse

In the review of my book of poems Into It (Imprints, March 15), Makkada B. Selah writes that the World Trade Center’s “towers’ kaleidoscopic crumbling act” is in the book’s “subconscious; in the foreground is—what else—sex.” “As the towers fall and burn to the ground,” according to Selah, “the poet and his lady friend with tanned legs are out painting the town vermillion.”

Selah’s statement is hideously false. The only reference to “tanned legs” in Into It is in the poem “What Do You Mean, What?” It is a reference to a woman journalist who is interviewing a multimillionaire businessman, in a poem that speaks of “individual and collectivized looting.” To read it as in any way referring to a “lady friend” of mine is a misreading beyond any plausible intepretation of the poem. That I and this “lady friend” are “as the towers fall . . . out painting the town vermillion” is certainly not expressed or suggested in any poem or in the poems in the book. It is totally fabricated. In fact, on the morning of Sept. 11, during the bombings of the World Trade Center, I was at work in Queens, unable to contact my wife of 30 years, who is actually the “lover” identified throughout the poems in Into It, who was trapped in our apartment located a block from Ground Zero. The reality of that separation is actually expressed in several poems in the book.

The poems in Into It are poems about the world that we live in, a world that includes terrible violence and war, and about love and the writing of poetry, which exist in the midst of it, and resist it. That is how every reviewer of the book has more or less read it. No reviewer—no one I know of—has identified “sex” as even an imaginable subject of the book—only Selah has, to the extent of fabricating malicious untruths. “Sex” as a dominant subject of the book exists in Selah’s mind only. It does not exist in the book.

Lawrence Joseph
New York

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