Week of November 24, 2004

Bob to the Surface
Beatle Bob, adding a zesty flavor to the Letters page: I'd like to set the record straight regarding Dana Plonka's comments about my impromptu "performances" [Letters, November 17]. Although there was no publicity concerning my appearance with the Trachtenberg Family Slide Show, the idea was initiated by Jason Trachtenberg himself before the show. And while our "between sets" interlude did run a bit long, it did not cut into The Trachtenbergs' set list.

I do agree with Ms. Plonka that neither the performers or club owners think a Beatle Bob appearance onstage dancing, singing or talking is what the concertgoers pay to see. However, unlike your hung-up self, I have absolutely no aversion to witnessing impromptu "performances" by other music fans. Just last week I was totally knocked out by a bevy of beauties shakin' their tailfeathers on stage with the Dirty Dozen Brass Band at the Duck Room; and absolutely energized by the punk-rock kids who joyously belted out background vocals with Ludo at the Creepy Crawl; not to mention Rockin Jake, from New Orleans, who gave us flamekeepers an added thrill by asking some of our finest local musicians to perform onstage with him at BB's Jazz, Blues & Soups. None of these appearances took any attention away from the act's performance; it added a zesty flavor to the already smoldering proceedings.

I would like to thank Ms. Plonka for the underhanded compliment of saying my talking is worse than my singing. With that in mind, darling, catch me before every Rams home game "singing" "Wild Thing" with the Smash Band. It's not impromptu, baby.
Beatle Bob
St. Louis

Keepin' It Veal
Saddened to the marrow: As a trained chef and lover of fine foods, the thought of flouring a veal shank and throwing it in a deep fryer is not only non-traditional and unacceptable, but it also defeats the entire principle of osso buco ["Bone Appétit," November 3]. The whole point of pan-searing the shank prior to braising it is to start to build the sauce. The caramelization of the veal in the pan is the base of flavor for the dish. The process of then adding mirepoix and aromatics prior to deglazing with wine, and then the addition of veal stock, creates the rich sauce that is the backbone of osso buco.

I too dined at Villa Farotto and opted for the osso buco and was thoroughly disappointed at this fast-food treatment of such a classic dish. The "rich jardinière sauce" Renner speaks of did not seem to be present on my plate, but rather a gloppy mixture of what seemed to be canned beef base thickened with cornstarch.

In a city where, unfortunately, our most notable dish was obtained by a chef accidentally dropping ravioli in a deep fryer, I don't think people, especially at Villa Farotto's prices, should have to succumb to such mediocrity. While Michael was "bathing" in the ambiance of the $3 million build-out, he should have been paying a little more attention to what was going on in the kitchen.
J. Tochtrop
St. Louis

Drop the osso buco; hold on to your scruples: What struck me about Michael Renner's review of Villa Farotto was his compassionate words for calves. I thought, "I agree, it isn't fair for those baby animals to make them victims of our appetites." Thank you for mentioning this; very few food writers ever do.

But then the shocker: "Put your scruples aside." I fear our culture and society is paying too high a price for too many who are putting their scruples aside. People suffer, our environment suffers and animals suffer because too many of us put our scruples aside. I believe we are fighting a terrible war because President Bush put his scruples aside. This goes on and on. Until individuals like you and I uphold our scruples, even in minimal ways, our society will continue to degrade.

You are in a position of influence through your writing. I urge you not to put your scruples aside. We don't have to support industries that makes others' lives miserable. There is more than enough tasty food that doesn't cause suffering.
Allison Burgess
St. Louis

Con Man
The defense rests: In response to the several letters complaining about "Geeks Gone Wild," Mike Seely's October 20 article on the science-fiction convention Archon, I have to defend Mike -- but only mildly.

First, any inaccuracies regarding the 1969 WorldCon are not his; as far as I know, they're mine (I even got the year wrong, remembering it as 1968). I attended the con, which was my first, and then joined the club that threw it for a few meetings. Most of what I told Mike came from either my observation or those meetings and may have been wrong, but what better source than the group that threw the event? I still don't know anyone else who went, so I still am, unfortunately, the best source I know. If someone has better info, I would be thrilled to learn it. Feel free to write me.

As for the article itself, yes, it portrays Archon inaccurately, if you've been to any number of the things. And Mike did seem to have a homing instinct for the most outré statements made by anyone he interviewed, rather than their calmer commentary. However, consider the audience, which is the general RFT readership.

What would happen if someone from that audience, inspired by Mike's article, actually went to the next Archon? What would they see? Well, first, they'd see that some people are wearing costumes, of varying quality. Then, after registration, they'd find the dealers' room, and they'd hear about the masquerade (which is outstanding, by the way). They'd see the gaming room and the art show, and then they'd find the all-night party with free beer. For them to find the actual hard SF con that lies underneath that flashy shell, they'd have to be taken in hand by someone who knows the ropes, because the hard SF con is not the flashy con. Instead, it is the kernel of Archon around which the flashy shell has grown.

That being said, Mike did drop the ball. His list of panel titles was inexcusable; he simply took the three most outrageous ones and skipped all the serious ones. And it is in the panels where the serious con outnumbers the party con ten to one. His list of "actual quotes" was also obviously "culled" for maximum shock value. Sigh. Someone who knew the ropes really should have taken him in hand. I wish I had. Since I didn't, mea culpa.
Brock J. Hanke

Health Feud
The other side of the story: I was angered and upset after reading Shelley Smithson's article about St. Louis College of Health Careers ["Bad Medicine," October 6]. I am an instructor employed with St. Louis College of Health Careers since March of 2000. As a journalistic source of information, it is your responsibility to report in an unbiased way and to gather information from all sources available. It was obvious from the people Smithson contacted that this article was meant to be an attack and that you were uninterested in gathering information from current employees. I find it interesting that no attempt was made to contact us.

I have not only worked with everyone that was quoted in the article but have knowledge of the students as well. I would advise your reporters to do a little more background investigation, checking into the credibility of your sources.

I can guarantee you that students and graduates receive an excellent education from myself and my fellow teachers. Every college has a group of students who are unhappy with their education or their inability to find a job. But when you look closer at those particular students, most of them have poor attendance, poor grades or even personal issues which keep them from succeeding. You can only get as much from an institution as you are willing to put in to it. If you are unwilling to put any effort into something expecting a free ride, then you will not learn anything.

It saddens me that you would print allegations and that past instructors would tarnish the diplomas of our students and graduates. How is it fair that students who received excellent educations and are perfect candidates for employment are now questioned because you printed one-sided information? If you have any sense of dignity, you will print a retraction to the biased dirt you worked so hard to dig up.
Rose Herbig (Horonzy)
St. Louis

Gone, but not forgotten: A friend sent me the article about the so-called St. Louis College of Health Careers. I worked there in the 1990s, and what is most depressing -- in an article that is totally depressing -- is how little things have changed. In fact, I think they've gotten worse.

I was particularly interested to read about the practical nursing program. I watched as the woman who had been hired to get the program started and had assembled a top-rate group of instructors struggled day after day to get the necessary equipment, books and supplies. As the article correctly stated, the equipment was often out of date. And I heard over and over from instructors and staff that most of the students were simply unprepared to take on the course- and lab-work.

Occasionally I had to answer the telephones when the receptionist was unavailable. I would estimate that approximately a third of the calls I got were from creditors -- often very frustrated creditors. When Smithson writes about students shivering in an unheated basement, it brings back chilly memories; the heat failed often, as did the electricity.

It is amazing to me that this "college" is still in operation, proof that both state and national accreditation agencies are more than willing to sacrifice the rights and needs of individuals -- almost all of whom are poor, black and female -- in order to protect the owners of this college.
Name withheld by request
New Orleans

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