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The Lefty That Ate Baltimore

Posted 11/7/2001

Ooooooooh. Your scariest Living Halloween Mask definitely belongs to Marc Steiner ("Ooh, Scary," Oct. 31). Because it's scary that a National Public Radio station, which should be open to all views and opinions, will become a personal forum for Baltimore's quintessential self-righteous liberal.

Charles Belfoure

Skin Deep
The feature article about Carlos Batts ("Why Is This Man Smiling?," Oct. 24) had the potential to be a compelling commentary about the division between pornography and art, but it failed. Pornography is an issue that has plagued me since my college intro-to-women's-studies class, which rendered me sadly inquisitive at most portrayals of human sexuality. Personally, I am enthralled by movie-rental store back rooms. I can stand there for a long time, becoming slightly amused, often aroused, and eventually disgusted and sorry for the people whose self-concepts must be so damaged by this exploitation. But the coexistence of my enjoyment and my disgust is what keeps me interested and ever eager to find a justification for embracing this strange sect of captured beauty.

This is the justification I hoped to find in the Oct. 24 issue. I wanted to be able to enjoy those pictures. I wanted to be convinced to buy Batts' book and put it on my coffee table, exclaiming, "Long live nude photography!" Carlos Batts' life was fascinating. I'm glad that he had some hard times, people doubted him, but he pulled through and his persistence eventually brought him success. But this wasn't Charmed Life, and I expected a lot more analysis in this piece. The explanation that "Carlos Batts is not a pornographer because he doesn't want to be" was a skeletal response to the essentially unexplored question of what divides art from pornography. Reaching the end of the article, I was not compelled to buy the book; furthermore, and even more devastatingly, I was without any new insights into this plaguing conflict between expression and exploitation.

Stephanie Rieke

Who Let the Fox Out?
Tom Scocca is a genius. I agree with his column "Stupid Like a Fox" (8 Upper, Oct. 31). The Fox TV network believes the general American public is as smart as that kid on the front porch from Deliverance. I cannot tell you how many times, watching my beloved Green Bay Packers, I have had to listen to dribble from a man who should have passed away years ago (John Madden) about who should get the turkey leg, or listen to some other bobblehead explain to me what the field judge was thinking when he got hit in the head by the football. I was extremely pleased to see that I was not the only sports fan to be insulted by that weak attempt at putting up ads on the green backdrop while the batters are trying to hit. It is difficult to get wrapped up in the tension of exceptional October baseball when I am staring at the anorexic neck of Ally McBeal.

Although we sports fans are learning to adapt and gel with the ever-changing formats of sporting events and their presentation on television, there is still a need to watch the game for the love of the game itself, without all the bells and alarms. I believe there are enough of us out in TV Land who have had it with the "Vegasization" of the thrill of watching a touchdown with no time left, or a home run in the bottom of the ninth, or an ace to finish the match, or the final lap of a race. So I say bravo, Mr. Scocca! Keep informing those of us who watch for the pure enjoyment that these executives do not have the better of us.

Justin Stapleton

The Summer of Love and Live Theater
I am a fan of Charmed Life and usually clip it. I enjoyed reading "Brickbats" in the Oct. 24 issue. (I am also very glad that one of my favorite landmarks, the Congress Hotel, is not to fall to the wrecking ball [Mobtown Beat, Oct. 24].) But I have to disagree with Brennen Jensen about the Mechanic Theatre. It was built by an imaginative young man who flashed across the Baltimore scene like a meteor, burning out early (he died of diabetes, after some misfortunes)--Howard Owens.

The Mechanic was not intended to be brutal--it was lighthearted, innovative, a radical departure from the stultifying conformity of the 1950s. In the spirit of "We will have a theater, despite our straitened means," it was built rapidly, and at a bargain price due to the use of less expensive materials and the lack of traditional finishing. (The concrete surfaces left to reflect the knots and texture of the plywood molds struck many as a fresh artistic statement.) For a considerable time, the Mechanic sparked a revival of that area--there was an elegant restaurant, a walkway, some shops; concerts were held there, a fountain played. It was a really wonderful revival, even while boomers were madly moving countyward. I have memories of '60s crowds, flowing through the theater and Hopkins Plaza. Some people regard the '60s and even the '70s as a period when there was a breakdown of manners and mores, but for me it was a period of ferment, of liberation, and of the righting of old wrongs. The great era of civil rights--just think what turmoil the country went through and survived. And the Mechanic, for me, was a symbol of all that.

Elinor Kerpelman

Brennen Jensen responds: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And, admittedly, my Mechanic memories date only to the mid-'90s. However, all of my source materials state that the theater was financed by stage magnate Morris Mechanic (who died before it opened) and designed by Connecticut architect John MacLane Johansen (described in a 1967 News American article as a "pioneer New Brutalist"). Do keep reading and clipping.

Back to the Barricades
We at the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) want to respond to Ed Rothstein's letter about the "softening" of our tactics in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks (The Mail, Oct. 17): We couldn't agree more. Mitch Klein's comments, quoted in the Sept. 26 Nose article, were meant to reflect a temporary situation--we, like most Americans, were shocked by the attacks and forced to evaluate our place. But we also believe that there are thousands of other victims with overlooked and less sensational stories that are tragedies nonetheless.

They are the children of Baltimore without a decent education or library; they are the low-wage workers who never see the benefits of their tax dollars; and they are the homeowners stripped of the equity--and sometimes their homes--by predatory lenders. And as our president suggested, we decided to get back to our daily business. For us that means fighting for social justice.

So when Mayor O'Malley decided to "honor" Household Financial, one of the nation's largest and most notorious predatory lenders, we disrupted his back-slapping party with a group of 75 angry inner-city residents who were fed up with this lender's practices. After our chanting disrupted the $75-a-plate dinner, we were asked to leave under police supervision. As we peacefully left the scene, we discovered that the police had penned in our buses and were threatening our members with arrest--community residents, senior citizens, and children who had simply tried to exercise their constitutional right to free speech and public assembly.

We don't know whether the police acted on orders from the mayor, but we wouldn't be surprised. With his popularity quickly disappearing among community and religious organizations, O'Malley has used a heinous act of terrorism to ignore or discredit any criticism. Look at the hypocrisy in his aide's comment concerning Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development public rally critical of the mayor (quoted in The Sun), that he was surprised that BUILD could even think of politics at a time like this. Meanwhile, the mayor has played politics at full tilt, trying to raise his nationwide profile while ignoring the needs of average citizens.

The predatory lenders have also gone back to their daily business: ripping off Baltimore's homeowners. We need to get back to work fighting for people's rights. In this new post-9/11 era, we all need to remember that what keeps this country great is our constitutional rights to assembly and freedom of speech--not unthinking dedication to our leaders. ACORN has always been committed to nonviolence, and we shudder to see the authorities use this national crisis to intimidate and censor any and all criticism.

Norma Washington
President, Maryland ACORN


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