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Book Bash

Posted 4/11/2001

Congratulations on having the courage to expose Bibelot owners Brian and Elizabeth Weese's history of deceit and incompetence ("Closing the Book," April 4). The business failed due to their greed, not competition from chain stores. Any retailer who thinks paying employees starvation wages will save money in the long run should examine the Bibelot situation carefully.

I dispute developer William Struever's contention that Brian Weese's failure to spend much time at the Canton store was damaging. I can assure Struever that both Weeses' habitual no-show status only made Bibelot Canton a more pleasant place to work during my two years there.

Perhaps the story should have mentioned those local, hard-working nonmillionaires who keep such stores as Normals, Black Planet Books, Flashback, and the Book Rendezvous operational against all odds. But on the whole, the story did what the mainstream media failed to do, and isn't that what the alternative press is all about?

Jon Swift

Asphalt Bungle
I have lived in Charles Village for 46 years and as far as I am concerned there is nothing wrong with the present configuration of North Charles Street (Mobtown Beat, April 4). For years, the big joke in town has been how Johns Hopkins students, as smart as they are, have not figured out that you must look both ways to cross Charles Street. Isn't Hopkins planning to build a pedestrian bridge in the same location to alleviate its traffic concerns?

But I have two very important additional concerns. Mayor Martin O'Malley just last week called for severe budget cuts across the board but especially in transportation. There is no way that this project can be that important, especially when libraries and city jobs are at stake. When money is more abundant, then we can reconfigure the street. Why now?

But above all, if the city does insist on going ahead with this project, for the love of God do not start on it until after the Charles Street bridge project is completed. The traffic and bus routes are messed up enough in our area, and the start of this project could totally cripple the area.

I feel the money would be spent more wisely on additional police presence and rat control in Charles Village. Or, for that matter, reopen the St. Paul Street library in our neighborhood. Maybe then the neighbors can read some books on pedestrian safety.

Jim Aguirre

The Big Payback
I normally don't respond to race-baiting and demagoguery, but responding to Wiley Hall III's March 28 Urban Rhythms column gives me great joy.

I am one white guy who feels no guilt or shame over the enslavement of blacks. I have never supported the enslavement of others, never enslaved others, or profited from the enslavement of others. Everything I have I earned in my lifetime. I have no inherited wealth, land, position, or title. I worked my way through college. I don't owe anyone anything, and no one owes me anything.

My family escaped from Ireland during the potato famine and worked as wage slaves building railroads in upstate New York. They were heavily discriminated against. They fought as Union volunteers for the New York regiments during the Civil War. Some were wounded, some captured, and some killed. No one in my family ever owned a slave or benefited from slavery. On the contrary, slaves benefited directly from my ancestors' losses. No one owes them or us anything for this; my ancestors made their choices based on their strongly held beliefs.

Black leadership today is obsessed with the past, choosing to paint all whites with the same broad brush. They lead by looking backward and do battle with the dead and blame the living. They can't lead black people into a brighter future because they are to busy leading them back to a bleak past--and forgetting the future. This is reverse leadership. Until Al Sharpton, Kweisi Mfume, Wiley Hall, and other "liberal bigots" see past the past, there will be no future for the black community.

As for reparations, never in history has an entire nation made it public policy to provide advantages to a minority for advancement--minority set-asides, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, affirmative action. It's simply unprecedented. It's also an unprecedented failure. No excuse exists for any black man or woman not to be educated, or at least trained in some skill, and fruitfully employed. Every modern middle-class black, black professional, black educator, black politician, and even Wiley benefited from a built-in advantage, government-sponsored and -enforced. No other group has ever been offered these advantages.

Yet blacks skillfully managed to avoid all government attempts to help them. In fact, they appear to have created a culture of opportunism that abuses and undermines these programs while expressing rage at the society that offered these unprecedented advantages. I can't see any reason for any "conservative bigot" to take blame or feel responsibility for poverty, crime, addiction, grime, or malaise in the black community today. Big government failed, big money failed, policing failed, black leadership failed, blacks and whites failed. Not only can't they help themselves, but they can't be helped. Nothing is left for us to do! If you send me that bill, I will send it back marked "paid in full."

Instead of uselessly race-baiting and attacking "conservative bigots" about the past, how about expressing some indignation at blacks for their failures in the present? It's blacks who should be ashamed of themselves now.

Dennis Lynch

Wiley Hall admits that there are innocent persons who would be harmed by reparations. That, however, is glossed over because Mr. Hall favors reparations even if they bankrupt the nation. How visionary. How creative. How healing. I'd like to ask Mr. Hall where, among the broken glass and ashes, he would be? Perhaps he'd be smugly overlooking the ruins, nodding and saying, "Damn sure showed them, didn't I?!"

This is the same Wiley Hall who gushed embarrassingly over former Mayor Kurt "Bend Over Baltimore" Schmoke and touted the aberrant Alan Keyes as the only candidate in the 2000 primaries who seemed "presidential." (Mr. Keyes was the only African-American candidate, it should be noted.)

Mr. Hall has one position, and only one position--that of the angry, knee-jerk African-American reactionary. Perhaps his column should be renamed Urban Rhythm in deference to his singular point of view.

Thomas N. Platt

Wiley Hall raises the issue of reparations to African-Americans for 244 years of slavery. I don't see how any informed and righteous individual of any race can deny the ethical justification of compensating victims. And African-Americans have been--and continue to be--victims, economically, socially, and politically.

The question is, How can African-Americans, as politically and economically disadvantaged as they are, ever hope to obtain reparations without significant allies?

But don't Hispanics also deserve reparations? The U.S. government literally stole most of Mexico from the Mexicans to expand slavery. How could Mexican-Americans ever be compensated for the thefts of Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Colorado, Utah, and California?

Central Americans, Haitians, and many others have been flocking to this country to escape the murderous torture and terror regimes that the United States finances and arms (in order to keep Third World labor cheap). How could these new arrivals possibly be compensated for all they have suffered at the hands of U.S. imperialism?

Native Americans (the descendants of those few who survived U.S. genocide) could never in a thousand years be adequately compensated for their losses.

What about the humiliation of Japanese-American citizens who were incarcerated during World War II and, upon their return to California, found their farms and stores stolen by Caucasians? The few token millions finally given them was an insult and only helped to salve the guilty conscience of the government.

What about Italian and Jewish immigrants who were severely discriminated against because their religions were different, or because of their swarthy complexions? And dark-skinned Americans are not the only ones due compensation. The Irish in Boston, New York, and elsewhere were often treated worse than black slaves who, at least, had to be fed, clothed, and housed so their masters could exploit their labor. Then there are the hard-working Swedes, Germans, Slavs, and other Caucasians who slaved 12 to 14 hours a day, six and seven days a week, in unsafe factories so that folks like Morgan, Mellon, and Rockefeller could become "philanthropists." And let's not forget the Appalachian whites whose rich bottom land was stolen from them by the slaveholding plantation owners and were forced to eke out a living growing corn on the sides of mountains (or else die like flies in the murderous coal mines for the benefit of coal barons).

As we start adding up those who deserve reparation, we realize that it includes the overwhelming majority of Americans. Who is left to pay such compensation?

A. Robert Kaufman

Uncle Ream Us
Some history for Mr. Wiley Hall's Urban Rhythms column of Feb. 21: The term "Uncle Tom" actually originated during slavery, when there were house slaves and outside laborers. The house slaves were treated somewhat better than the others and therefore attained an attitude--a conceited, arrogant attitude. The house slaves were also spies for the plantation owners and were the most passive. Whenever there was a whipping or a lynching on the plantation, it was because of something a house slave overheard or saw and then went and told the master. Someone needs to inform Mr. Hall that to do that to your own people is not very easy to forget. To this day that same conceited, arrogant attitude is obvious among many middle-class blacks.

Leo A. Williams

Last Call for Milk
"The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore" (Mobtown Beat, March 21) confused many readers, and I would like to attempt to clarify some issues. Is it illegal for women to breast-feed in public in Maryland? Absolutely not. The legislature failed to pass a bill protecting a woman's right to breast-feed in public. However, there are no laws against breast-feeding in public either.

Wouldn't a law protecting public breast-feeding be likely to be misused, causing countless women to use this as a pretext to "whip it out" whenever they feel like it? This is ridiculous. In fact, many breast-feeding mothers go to great lengths to hide what they are doing. In addition, it is far more common for babies to breast-feed in public than people realize. In many instances, a mother breast-feeding her baby looks like a (gasp) fully clothed woman cradling a sleeping baby. To put things in perspective, you'd probably see more breast at a beach or on a Victoria's Secret billboard than you would in a room full of breast-feeding women.

Why can't a mother breast-feed somewhere private, like a rest room? Babies need to feed on demand, which is often several times a day for 15 to 30 minutes or more. If you consider that many public rest rooms are not all that clean and there are, um, limited places to sit, this is not desirable. In short, restricting where a mother can breast-feed her child would be a barrier to breast-feeding.

Why can't a mother feed the baby a bottle of pumped breast milk or formula? Aside from the additional and unnecessary effort, using a bottle with a young baby can interfere with breast-feeding, as many babies develop a preference for the bottle (it's easier to get milk) and therefore may end up weaning early.

So what? What's so important about breast-feeding? The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies receive breast milk for at least their first year of life. The reason for this is that breast-feeding provides many benefits to the baby, such as strengthening the immune system and enhancing cognitive development. Formula is very different from breast milk, and research has shown that babies who receive formula have an increased risk of respiratory illnesses, ear infections, diabetes, intestinal disorders, meningitis, and other health problems.

In Connecticut, where I live, we already have a similar law protecting a woman's right to breast-feed in public and we have had no problems with risqué mothers using this law as an excuse to go topless. If anything, the law reassures women that it's OK to breast-feed their babies wherever they happen to be. This is important, since a mother who is nervous about breast-feeding in public may feel increased anxiety if such a law is absent, which may contribute to early weaning.

More than one-half of U.S. states do provide legislation indicating their support of breast-feeding; I hope that in the near future Maryland will demonstrate that it too is a baby-friendly state.

Diane Kimble Willcutts
Bolton, Conn.

Mercy Killing
The pain, indeed. Just when will The Pain--When Will It End? end?

Roman Kuebler

Editor's note: With this issue, we bid adieu to Ask Isadora. Isadora Alman's column has been a valued part of City Paper since 1995, and we thank her for her contributions. However, after six years we felt it was time to play around with our back-of-the-book mix. (Don't fret, fans: You can keep up with Isadora at her Sexuality Forum) Beginning next week, we welcome to print Think Mink, a compendium of unerring advice from Baltimore-born screen legend Mink Stole (Pink Flamingos, Desperate Living) that has been running in City Paper Online since last fall. (If you're not familiar with Mink's work, you can get a taste here. Enjoy.

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