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Not So Simple Simon

Posted 12/4/2002

Brian Morton's "Simon Says" is a somewhat confused attack on David Simon's writing that evades the important question: What drug policy, and what advocacy of it, will be good for Baltimore (Political Animal, Nov. 27)?

Morton begins with a conflation of medicine and drug addiction, mentioning his own therapeutic "Keith Richards-sized dose of morphine," an "anesthesiologist and his snow-bunny girlfriend" doing a few lines in Vail, Colo., and "coke-sniffing plastic surgeons" in "treatment programs at Sloan-Kettering" (a little odd as an idea, since Sloan-Kettering is a cancer-treatment center).

He apparently wants to juxtapose the light treatment of these erstwhile offenders with the draconian laws that imprison the poor and the minority communities. Unfortunately for his argument, Morton's article contains an appropriate rationale for the disparate treatment of junkies and middle-America drug users, when he describes how "I had to subdue a junkie who broke into my house" and that he still finds "needles and vials" behind his home.

Well, that explains why we think that street drug users should go to jail and a soccer mom with a Percocet habit shouldn't--'cause one of them breaks into your house, and the other doesn't.

The important issue for Baltimore is that, as David Simon chronicles, drugs have created an alternative, desperately violent, and dangerous society in the city. Simon is doing no more than adding personal description to the analysis put forward by William Julius Wilson in The Truly Disadvantaged, where he forecast the increasing concentration of the poor, with a concomitant rise in intensity of social pathologies--a process that owes as much to out-migration of the successful as the ills of the poor.

Whatever Morton may think about the PR aspects of Baltimore's failings, the fact remains that they exist, and they are killing the city. How many people will move families into neighborhoods--even when they have some of America's best real estate at inexpensive prices--when they find "needles and vials" behind their house? There is no mystery behind the process at work here--policy analysts have been describing for decades the process that is at work (see, for example, Peter Szanton's Baltimore 2000: A Choice of Futures, 1987).

It's worth considering that in the not-too-distant past, we had a civic leader who tried to get both Baltimore and America to address these issues: Kurt Schmoke. Mayor Schmoke's attempts to develop a "harm reduction policy" to address drug addiction and the associated blight inspired enthusiasm in . . . no one.

Rather than chastising Simon, who is merely describing what exists, Morton might profitably devote his energies to understanding why a cerebral former prosecutor with powerful allies was able to garner so little support for an approach that seemed (and still seems) to make so much sense.

Alex Polsky

Hood Rats

I find the attitudes of Adam Meister and his "rybbies" disturbing (Mobtown Beat, Nov. 20 ). Beyond being the dumbest name for a movement, it's the same breed of American genocidal bullshit that this country's cowboy pioneers had toward the Native Americans. I'm all down for folks living in abandoned buildings and fixing them up but . . . Adam, man . . . you need to adjust your attitude about emptying the suburbs back into the city! It's just not like that; you just can't appear and plop your culture in the middle of another one. If you can't live and grow in a neighborhood by yourself, it might be a good sign that maybe you shouldn't be moving in.

There are realities of living in certain areas. Yes, the drug trade is sometimes overwhelming and depressing, but until drugs are legalized you can't stop them from being sold on the street. And pushing the pushers away solves nothing for the people caught in those cycles--they need real opportunities. Invading a pre-"up-and-coming" neighborhood doesn't help anyone except you and the property developers, who will drive up prices and taxes, forcing the locals and their burdens to migrate further away. I personally don't mind the kids peddling drugs, burnt-out abandoned houses, and all the wonderful eyesores this city has to offer. Like it or not, Baltimore is the future of America: blown-up, blown-out, gritty, handmade, illegal, loud, dirty, honest, tough, and beautiful. In case you haven't noticed, we like it that way--it keeps the yuppies in the suburbs.

James Harper

Pot Party

I was disappointed with the Nov. 13 Political Animal, "The Smoke Clears". The article was a sad capitulation to the conservative agenda on drug policy without any acknowledgement of a legitimate reform position.

Brian Morton thinks that pursuing the decriminalization of pot is irresponsible. The article was inspired by the apparently fortunate failure of several progressive ballot measures around the country. After all, mind-altering substances wreak plenty of havoc as it is, why make it worse? Liquor kills, and illegal drugs are too easy to find. And our beleaguered system would only suffer under the weight of so many new users-turned-addicts.

Everybody seems agreed that the Democratic Party is ideologically barren, and this article was a good example of why. Politics is about business, of course, but parties can't subsist on marketing alone. The Democratic Party is losing ground precisely because it doesn't stand for anything tangible anymore. In attempting to shape a discourse appealing to everybody, it has allowed the terms within which the discourse is conducted to be redefined by the right. Now, the "left" has become the just-right-of-center, leaving the right free to anchor itself firmly to a near-fascist reactionary idealism, and leaving the actual left marginalized, disenfranchised, and dreaming of European or Canadian citizenship.

For Political Animal to write an article against decriminalization based on the consequences it would cause when it comes into contact with other symptoms of our cultural train wreck (a Medicare system that gets as much priority as a corpse at mealtime, poorly regulated corporate insurance, insufficient drug treatment, too much jail time, and a childish abstinence-only approach that simply disarms people who must eventually face complex choices on their own) is to already cede the ideological field to the right.

It is not as if there is a shortage of viable leftist thought and discourse. In fact, there exists a coherent reform ideology, loudly (yet inaudibly) espoused by the far left, which recognizes that our unprecedented access to information and experience has given rise to a new and complex cross-pollinating society that can only be contended with by a new approach.

In the case of narcotics, if you want to talk about root problems, what the left should talk about is responsibility and education; accessibility and admonitions from the pulpit are the right wing's shtick.

Sadly, the Democratic Party has chosen to ignore this. Perhaps sadder for us here in Charm City, a writer fortunate enough to have a prominent voice for leftist ideology doesn't seem to have any real fire for reform, at a time when what the left needs most is credible articulation of what has been marginalized as an extremist position.

Mat Costanzo

Jerry's Kids

Although currently based in Los Angeles, I am a Baltimore native. Since the early '70s, I have worked closely with the Rouse Co. setting up the street-performing programs in Baltimore (Harborplace), Miami (Bayside), Boston (Faneuil Hall), as well as the short-lived programs in Tampa, Fla., and Nashville, Tenn. I have also helped start several performing programs throughout the United States, including Pier 39 in San Francisco and Universal CityWalk here in Los Angeles.

I've been familiar with Jerry Rowan's act for more than 20 years and feel lucky to have watched him grow into the marvelous comedic performer he is today (Mobtown Beat, Nov. 13). I have also had the opportunity to book Mr. Rowan at various times throughout his career. Besides his obvious comedic talent, he has always exhibited extreme professionalism both onstage and off. He is a master of his craft and a superb comedy entertainer.

Upon hearing of Rowan's dismissal, I flew to Baltimore in early November to meet with Ms. Adair Fogarty, Harborplace's marketing manager. My intention was not to compromise her authority, only to facilitate artist and management communication. She refused to meet with me or to discuss the matter. She politely referred me to her legal department.

In my humble opinion, this is not a matter of political correctness or questionable comedy. It is simply a matter of power and politics. Ms. Fogarty found Mr. Rowan unmanageable and dismissed him--it's as simple as that. She may have done it under the guise of being PC, but the reality is, she did it for herself. She is not out to protect anyone else, certainly not anyone in Mr. Rowan's audience.

There is an old saying, "If there is no victim, there is no comedy." This certainly holds true no matter what your ethnic persuasion might be. I'm sure it's tough to do comedy and not offend anyone, but it seems to be even more difficult to not abuse what little power you might have over others.

Robert Nelson
Venice, Calif.

Discovery Channels

In response to your article "Hold Your Nose and Vote," I was surprised and disappointed that you singled out Port Discovery as an organization that should not receive funding support from the city. I realize that the elections are now over and this is all in hindsight, but I do believe there is a misconception of what Port Discovery is, who we serve, and what our funding supports. And I would like to take this opportunity to explain this to your readers.

Port Discovery, the Kid-Powered Museum, is a nonprofit organization dedicated to educating children and igniting their imaginations in an environment that encourages exploration, discovery, and learning through interactive play. Since we opened our doors in December 1987, we have welcomed 1.2 million visitors, serving well over 250,00 students and teachers through our school and after-school programs.

Since 1998, Port Discovery has developed and implemented two successful after-school programs, "Dream Catchers" and "Afternoon Expeditions." In March 2002, we launched our third program, "Art Ventures," an after-school program for students in third through fifth grade, which uses cultural arts as the method to approach literacy development, including West African dance, drum circles, interactive storytelling, arts and crafts, and traditional games. Without additional financial support from the city to offset the museum's capital-improvement costs, we would be unable to offer special education programs, like "Art Ventures," to the community.

The Maryland Science Center, the National Aquarium, and the Baltimore Museum of Art were also included in the city Bond Bill. These institutions, like Port Discovery, are not only valuable to generating revenue for the city through tourism, but contribute to the quality family programming and culture that make Baltimore so unique. Shouldn't Port Discovery have the same opportunity as these institutions to make improvements to our establishment as well? Port Discovery is a symbol of Baltimore's investment in its children. Our staff, board members, sponsors, and partners continue to support the museum and our mission of serving families in our community, and since the bill did pass, it is clear our city and the community support us as well. It is our hope, now that you have insight into what our role is, that you too will support us as so many others do.

Bryn Parchman
Port Discovery Chief Operating Officer

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