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The Inevitable

Posted 9/26/2001

I generally enjoy Wednesdays when City Paper comes out. And I can understand why any of your correspondents might be off their game during the week following Sept. 11. But your Best of Baltimore issue seemed to demonstrate a casual commitment to accuracy.

Brahms did not write three violin concertos--only one ("Best Classical Concert Programmer"). And Jamal Lewis did not catch a 5-yard pass from Trent Dilfer that went for an over-90-yard touchdown in a playoff game--Shannon Sharpe did ("Best Raven"). And why would you trash the light rail ("Best Repository of Bad Traffic Karma"), which has experienced a 38 percent increase in ridership in the past five years despite Maryland, until recently, having the highest farebox rule in the nation (50 percent)?

Unless Tom Scocca (whose column I enjoy, specifically when he kept excoriating Will Clark) was comatose, he would have been able to clear up the matter involving Dilfer. On the others matters, I would advise getting an informed classical-music critic and public-transit correspondent.

Paul Schlitz Jr.

Tom Scocca responds: I was comatose. My bad.

Tonie Joy??? "Best Baltimore Rock Legend"?! Aw, Christ, I think I'm gonna puke.

Paul Flum

Had you not mentioned "vegan" in the "Best Pizza for the Lactose Intolerant" listing my point might not be valid. But I must mention that I have yet to find a soy cheese product that is 100 percent dairy-free. All contain either casien or calcium caseinate, which is a milk derivative. Any vegan who eats soy cheese is more than likely eating dairy.

Chris Couture

I was surprised at the strong put-downs of WJHU and it's "current talent" ("Best Solution to WJHU's Ownership Crisis"). I don't believe Marc Steiner's intelligent, fair discussions of relevant issues can be matched by some of the people doing this kind of work on the national scene. I like Andy Bienstock's overnight jazz show and "Media Matters." The announcers are good. And, of course, WJHU is the local source for various NPR programs. I depend on WJHU.

Lutz Mayer

Tunnel Visions
Your feature article "Hot Line" (Sept. 12) qualifies as an exceedingly poor dose of scare-mongering and propaganda masquerading as journalism. Although Van Smith raises a fair question, nowhere in the article do I see any interviews, or remarks about declined interviews, with railroad-industry officials or transportation-industry consultants. Instead, we see large photos of blackened and charred railroad cars, which have no direct association with the actual topic at hand.

If you had indeed taken the trouble to ask those in the rail industry, you would have discovered that full-scale tests on nuclear flasks have indeed been carried out. I refer you to the Sandia National Laboratories' Web site, which includes reports of full-scale crash tests conducted in 1977 for the Atomic Energy Commission and the Department of Transportation, which include a locomotive smashing into a container. Said locomotive was propelled into the cask at 81.5 mph using rocket engines. Other full-scale tests of nuclear containers are also detailed on the site, and more photos can be found in the October 1978 issue of Trains magazine. The research involved went to improvement in cask design. With new locomotives now costing $1 million to $2 million each, who will foot the bill for new full-scale tests?

The other reality is, no train loaded with high-level nuclear waste is ever likely to be handled in the lackadaisical manner suggested. Past shipments have been in dedicated short trains heaped with special restrictions, moved via circuitous routes during hours of low traffic, specifically to guard against such incidents happening. Short of a massive act of sabotage, the likelihood of a tunnel fire incinerating a nuclear flask, even before the incidents of the past week, is on par with a city bus broadsiding the presidential limousine or a light plane crashing into Air Force One. Indeed, the biggest problem for nuclear shipments--and the only motivation for clandestine shipment--has been nuclear protesters.

I also note that nowhere in your article is an alternative method of transport of nuclear waste presented. Is there any wonder why? Railroads are on average the safest method of transporting any material, and are entrusted every day with chemicals deemed too hazardous for trucks. Would you rather this material be handled on trucks in the Fort McHenry Tunnel or on the Beltway, or on ships in the Chesapeake Bay, or--heaven forbid--by air? No, anti-nuclear activists would just as soon convince you that there is no way to handle it, so let's not create it in the first place. Meanwhile, the acid rain continues to fall, and the petrochemical reserves continue to dwindle. I challenge any anti-nuclear activist to present me with an alternative, long-range strategy that can both sustain the lifestyle humans have become accustomed to and does not involve some form of nuclear power or fantastical science fiction.

Alexander D. Mitchell IV
Glen Burnie

Van Smith replies: The four main experts quoted in the article represented the viewpoints of industry, government, and independent consultants on the issues of cask survivability and nuclear-waste-transportation safety. None of them presented himself as an opponent of nuclear power.

As the article pointed out, no full-scale cask has been subjected to the four sequential tests that make up the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's standards for cask design. Films and accounts of the Sandia tests in the 1970s are used to promote the idea that the casks are strong--and no doubt they are--but the fact remains that full-scale testing under the NRC standards has yet to be attempted.

As the article reported, at this time there is no law requiring the expensive, specialized treatment of nuclear-waste rail shipments that the letter writer describes. If laws are enacted requiring dedicated trains and circuitous routing and prohibiting the use of two-way tunnels--and if the four-part, full-scale cask tests are conducted--many of the skeptics' safety concerns would likely be addressed.

No one in the article said trains should not be used to ship nuclear waste. However, alternatives to rail--both trucks and marine barges--are part of the nuclear-waste transportation plan, and each presents its own safety issues.

Bravo to Van Smith and the City Paper for "Hot Line," the article about the transport of nuclear waste through the Howard Street train tunnel. Like my friend Gwen DuBois, once I heard of the train wreck in the tunnel I wondered if nuclear waste was on the train. I was so concerned that I wrote a letter to The Sun, which was never printed. It appears below:

"The Sun's fine coverage of the rail disaster in the Howard Street tunnel fails to address the transport of nuclear waste. It is my understanding new Department of Energy regulations allow rail cars to carry lethal nuclear fuel.

"The Energy Department is moving closer to advising President George W. Bush on whether to proceed with seeking a license to make the Yucca Mountain site the U.S. nuclear-waste dump. The Constellation Energy Group's Calvert Cliffs nuclear plant will transport its irradiated nuclear fuel, which will be dangerously radioactive for thousands of years, through the tunnel under Howard Street on its way to Nevada. Imagine what would have happened if the CSX train that derailed was carrying atomic waste.

"No corporation or government has the right to endanger not only Maryland's present population but future generations. There is no safe repository or safe means of transport for nuclear waste. Calvert Cliffs should be shut down immediately so that no more nuclear waste is generated. We cannot permit a possible nuclear conflagration in Baltimore. Hiroshima-Nagasaki--never again.

Max Obuszewski

Sticking Things in Bush
The Sept. 12 edition of Tom Tomorrow's This Modern World tries to poke a little fun at our president, and perhaps goes further to suggest that his elevator doesn't go all the way to the top. What does Tom think that charities are going to do with the money, stuff it into pillowcases? Does money spent by the Red Cross not stimulate the economy as much as, say, Tom spending it on bubble gum, Pez, comic books, and such? So let me give Tom some advice before he rips into our President again: Hey, Tom, stick a dick in it.

John Simmons Jr.
Silver Spring

Whose Grooves?
It seems a bit absurd that anyone would question whether jazz is a black musical form (Underwhelmed, Sept. 12, I think composer/musician Archie Shepp summed it up best in his liner notes on his monumental recording Mama Too Tight: "The aesthetic is black, it need not be exclusive. It simply asks to be taken on its own terms. After all no one questions the fundamentally Gaelic attributes of Morton Downey, nor the Romantic origins of pizza, though both have become as domestic as apple pie."

That just about sums it up. Early innovators of jazz were black. Here we are talking about legends such as Jelly Roll Morton and Louis Armstrong. That doesn't mean that musicians/composers like Bix Biederbecke weren't significant voices in the jazz of that era. It has always been true that the vanguard of the innovation has come from black composers/musicians such as John Coltrane, Duke Ellington, Albert Ayler, Charles Mingus, and Mary Lou Williams. That doesn't mean that Carla Bley, Charlie Haden, Roswell Rudd, or Gil Evans, who were white, have not made significant contributions in jazz. It does not diminish the contributions Fred Ho, an Asian, and Jim Pepper, a Native American, have added to the music we call jazz. All it says is that jazz is black music. It needs to be recognized as that.

The Chinese restaurant down the street from me is run by people from El Salvador. The egg rolls I eat there are no less Chinese than the ones I get from a restaurant a few blocks away that is run by folks from Shanghai. The music I hear from Bill Evans is as much jazz as the music I hear from Elmo Hope. The folks who come from El Salvador who cook Chinese food and Bill Evans would agree, however, that the product they create is not one that comes from their "natural" culture.

Alan Barysh

Regarding Sandy Asirvatham's latest column, though I'm not a jazzwoman, I consider myself a twentysomething jazz fanatic. I think people should stop categorizing jazz as "black music." It's music, period. And music is, I believe, universal. I haven't read or heard a lot about Asian jazz musicians/music groups, but three come to mind: Sadao Watanabe, Hiroshima, and Keiko Matsui. Which brings me to the issue of the lack of female jazz instrumentalists. Perhaps the reason behind that is that not enough women have wanted to give it a shot. But then, I could be wrong. Joyce Cooling and Brazilian performer Eliane Elias are two terrific female musicians. I hope there will be more like them in the future, not to say that Diana Krall and the other ladies aren't good--they are! Please, Ms. Asirvatham, don't get discouraged if you're the only lady in Towson University's jazz-performance program. Keep it up! I look forward to hearing you play.

Medina Krause

Heavy D
Regarding Mr. Wiley Hall III's angry diatribe, wherein he describes our former mayor and governor, and presently state comptroller, William Donald Schaefer, as a "quarrelsome, nettlesome, tiresome little man" (Urban Rhythms, Sept. 5 ). This troubles me a great deal. I am privileged in having known this honest and virtuous gentleman since settling in our city in 1958. While it may be true that many people find Mr. Schaefer to be complex, driven, and restless--alternately charming and vulgar, warm and arrogant, childlike and outrageous--he is nevertheless a superstar and always a tyrant for getting things done. From my experience he was and never will be a "little man," but will always remain a colossal and profound leader and a giant among the rest of us--many of whom secretly wish their traits and character could match his.

Frank Novak

Best Corrections: A lot happens in a Best of Baltimore issue, and sometimes things fall through the cracks. So, with heads hanging low . . .

You'd think we'd have it down by now, after giving them umpteen Best ofs, but in the Readers Poll perennial CD-store champ The Sound Garden was not once, but twice listed as "The Soundgarden." Sorry, folks. We know it's a touchy issue.

Baltimore's Best Wine Shop, Roland Park Wines and Liquors, is located at 4032 Roland Ave., and Baltimore's Best Gym, Meadow Mill Athletic Club, is reachable at (410) 235-7000, not the address and number listed for them in the paper.

Our choice for Best Restaurant for Kids, Pisa Pizza, is, well, closed. Guess it's been a while since we've taken the kids out. Thanks for the good times, while they lasted.

Even we can't figure out why we referred to Best Ice Cream Parlor Need Ice Cream as "Need I Scream." But we did. Don't make our mistake.

In the trivial-but-telling department, the essay "You Smell That?" stated that Americans spend $700 million annually on deodorants. Well, turns out we'd all reek a lot more if that were the case. According to the research firm Kline and Company, we slather and spray $2.2 billion dollars worth of odor fighters on our bodies yearly.

Finally, longtime City Paper contributor Jack Purdy's name was inexplicably omitted from the list of Best of Baltimore writers. Fortunately for us, Jack is a good--dare we say, the best?--sport.

Editor's note: Moving from one special issue to another: It's time to send us word about your holiday events so they can be included in our annual Holiday Guide calendar. Any holiday-related happening between Nov. 14 and Jan. 1 is grist for our seasonal mill. Include black-and-white or color photos or slides if you have them (but be aware that, unlike unwanted gifts, they can't be returned). Send to Holiday Guide, City Paper, 812 Park Ave., Baltimore, MD 21201, fax to (410) 523-8437, or e-mail the calendar editor. However you send it, make sure it gets here by Oct. 14.

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