Letters Column 

Week of March 2, 2006

Feature, January 26, 2006

Stolen Moments

Take it from an ex-con: There is so much wrong with Kristen Hinman's "Trick or Treatment" that to save a tree, I'll just point out the obvious. The whole reason for alternative sentencing is that the system up to that point — probation, prison, parole — was, and in fact still is, irreparably broken. Probation without any sort of guidance, just the perfunctory monthly "'S'arright?" "'S'arright!" five-minute visit with a probation officer, is just a waiting game for the offender to reoffend, which they almost invariably do. Then it's on to prison, affectionately referred to by convicts as "college."

And believe you me, from my personal experience (Missouri State Penitentiary, Class of '85, '86, '87), prisons are exactly what the convicts are implying: institutions of higher learning in the criminal arts. And with funding for prison programs for education and career training constantly under attack by the twisted right and conservacrats like the aforementioned author, they're only getting worse. And bigger. And there are more and more of them, because here in the Land o' the Free we imprison more of our citizens per capita than any free society on Earth. And more than most of the dictatorships to boot. Parole's failure is made glaringly evident by the rate of recidivism, currently just over 50 percent.

So into a system with a 50-plus percent failure rate, someone decides that alternatives must be introduced. It's either that or have the army guard a wall built around a medium-large state (think Wyoming, maybe) and redefine the term "state prison."

Maybe someone should look into skimming a little off the billions being spent to build more and more bigger and better (better being a relative term here) prisons and investing it into better alternative programs and some sort of oversight of the programs in place. Because nothing is a bigger waste of time and money than the warehousing of humans in the hate factories our prisons have become.

On a personal note, Kristen, when you leave the RFT office some evening, maybe hit the Loop for a drink or two at the Red Sea or Blueberry Hill, stay a little too long, have one too many and then get pulled over by Officer Heartless who doesn't care that you're an otherwise responsible, upstanding, hard-working taxpayer who only made a little mistake this one time, and tickets you for DWI, even though you're only just a little buzzed, five bucks says that rather than a Class D felony and a one-year license revocation, you'll be right there in Miss Carol's class again, coveting your own certificate of completion with no complaints about the cost.
Bradley Veltre, St. Louis

B-Sides, January 26, 2006

Shake That!

Discovering Groovethang: All right, what gives? How could I possibly have lived in St. Louis for the past ten years and never come across this band Groovethang before [Kristie McClanahan, "Shake Your Groovethang"]? Their tribute to Steely Dan and the Doobie Brothers at the Pageant to benefit the Leukemia Foundation was fantastic.

I read in McClanahan's story that the singer compares what they do with the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra. And at first I thought, "Wow, that's a bold statement!" I mean really now, a cover band likening themselves to a symphony? But as I thought about it, it did make perfect sense. I enjoy the music of Steely Dan, and though I wouldn't consider myself a big fan, I can appreciate the timelessness of their classic music. So what the heck? I showed up to the Pageant tribute not really knowing what I would get but with my curiosity certainly piqued.

The place was packed! And before the show began, I overheard conversations about how people had seen them many times before and that last year they had also done a tribute to Earth, Wind & Fire (another classic favorite of mine).

Let me just make this point: These guys are not from this planet! What I witnessed was not a "cover band" simply playing hits from days gone by. I thought they were certainly some kind of polished touring band that couldn't possibly be from St. Louis. But I've since come to find out that they are indeed. Not only did the music sound like the "real" Steely Dan, but incredibly the lead vocalist sounded exactly like the recording. This guy wasn't just talking shit about how they reproduce the original sound; that's exactly what they do. The whole place erupted in thunderous applause after each song, like I have rarely seen from many shows at the Pageant.

To top it all off, my $25 got me all the food I could eat from Russo's Gourmet Catering! I was literally stuffed with great food and awesome music. Compare that with the over $250 I spent the night before at the Rolling Stones concert at the Savvis Center. Though the Rolling Stones are living legends and I am glad I got to see them, there is no doubt that the Groovethang tribute gave me way more bang for my buck. I would love to know more about this band and how they've come to do what they do. Bravo, Groovethang!
Jacob Savage, south St. Louis County

news real, January 12, 2006

Off Centre

A downtown IKEA! That's the ticket! I read with great interest Mike Seely's story regarding the future of St. Louis Centre ["Paint It Black"]. I've often wondered why such an attractive interior space connected by sky bridges to one of the largest office towers in downtown sits nearly vacant. Having volunteered as a local ambassador to the thousands of tourists in town for the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, I can say that I wouldn't have sent someone to St. Louis Centre if they begged me to tell them where it was!

I have long contended that the reason St. Louis Centre failed is due to the fact that it offers nothing you can't find elsewhere in the metro area. Why would a typical suburban shopper want to shop at a downtown mall where they would have to navigate confusing one-way streets, pay to park, deal with the drunks and panhandlers on the street, smell urine-soaked sidewalks and tolerate rundown stores with close-out merchandise and surly employees, when they can stop at any one of the malls in their own neighborhood?

What St. Louis Centre needs is a major retailer to occupy a good amount of its space with goods you can't get anywhere else in this region. Doing so would force suburbanites to come downtown to shop if they want to purchase something from that particular retailer. IKEA would be a fantastic choice, though I'm not certain how willing a participant they would be. The closest IKEA to St. Louis is suburban Chicago, and the two times I've visited that store, I've run into people I know from St. Louis! If not IKEA, certainly there is another retailer with broad regional appeal that hasn't yet tapped the St. Louis market.

Kudos to Barry Cohen for doing his part to save the Centre, but artists taking over the third floor won't attract me to do anything more than browse. Browsers don't pay the bills and generate the tax revenue the city needs from that location. A visitor to St. Louis for the figure-skating championships was shocked to learn that downtown offered no place to see a movie. Thankfully, I had a copy of the RFT and was able to give MetroLink directions to both the Chase and Tivoli.

If St. Louis expects tourists and locals to give downtown another chance, city leaders and developers need to start thinking on a bigger and broader platform. I don't think the average tourist is interested in a four-story downtown mall featuring an array of starving-artist kiosks, beauty-supply and pager stores, payday loan counters and "Everything's a Dollar" shops.
Chris Dunaway, St. Louis

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