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Blowing Up the Apple 

Week of July 23, 2003

Blowing Up the Apple
Calling them as he sees them: Congratulations to D.J. Wilson for his beautifully crafted reporting in "Demolition Man" [July 9]. The article was as gutsy, well-documented and enlightening as any I have read in a local newspaper, including the Post-Dispatch, for some time now. Wilson captured the turmoil and conflicting emotions, facts and allegations triggered by the hiring of Bill Roberti, business expert and problem solver, and his firm Alvarez & Marsal, to massively overhaul the heavily indebted St. Louis school system. The firm could realize $4.8 million, with Roberti serving as interim school superintendent, in effect.

The headline on Wilson's article reads: "To save St. Louis public schools, Bill Roberti and his band of hired guns plan to blow things up. Who'll pick up the pieces when they're gone?" How fair is the headline? To my way of thinking, Wilson does a credible job of documenting his conclusions. In the process, he is clearly critical of Mayor Francis Slay and former mayor Vincent Schoemehl and the majority members of the new school board. The board, Wilson says, "moved with great haste in ceding operational control to the outside consultants within a month of being elected. Slay's slate...engineered the hiring of a private firm to virtually take over the district for a year."

And Wilson adds, "When the mayor's four candidates campaigned on a school-reform platform, they never told voters they'd turn over the job to outside consultants. And they never said they'd exclude key constituencies involved in public education -- such as teachers, district employees and parent groups -- from the decision-making."

Whether you agree with Wilson or not, that is calling the shots as he sees them.
Lou Rose, reporter (retired)
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
St. Louis

What about the education part? D.J. Wilson's fine, comprehensive review of the current effort to revive and save the effectiveness of public education in the city of St. Louis touched all the bases. The plan has some promise, but the administration ought to have the good sense of its own limitations and listen to the able, public welfare-oriented critics mentioned in the article, like Amy Hilgemann and radio-talker Lizz Brown.

Not a word appeared in the article about the need for the knowledge and effectiveness of teachers, education and training skills. When I went through schools, from first grade in 1918 through grad school in 1962, teachers knew more effectively how to introduce young minds to the skills of reading, writing, speaking, thinking, calculating. If teachers don't know, from their philosophy of education, what children are essentially, they cannot train them effectively. Clarity, and the priority of teacher skill is first.
Cyril Echele
St. Charles

Department of clarification: D.J. Wilson's fine article on the public schools said I refer to the new members of the St. Louis Board of Education as "nazis." The full phrase I use is "board nazis" -- a little less severe, and funnier. It has always been true. Now it's more true and it's not funny any more. They have proposed hiring a sergeant at arms to physically remove Rochell Moore (and me?) from the meetings if we're "out of order."

This in the face of two court decisions in the past four years prohibiting us from disciplining our members in such a way, especially for such a subjective offense and clearly designed to stifle public dissent. This will inevitably lead to physical violence, and is totally unnecessary. These are very dangerous people, and they have to go, whether by lawsuit for their breach of the public trust and fiduciary duty or by walkout of those who love the children and employees of the district.

Mayor Francis Slay, school board member Vince Schoemehl, Slay's education liaison Robbyn Wahby and the Bryan Cave law firm (Vince's unpaid advisors) should not be running the district. Mussolini got the trains to run on time, but that didn't make him a great leader.
Bill Haas, member
St. Louis Board of Education
St. Louis

Good "Evidence"
How many more? "Best Evidence" was disturbing and very scary [Geri L. Dreiling, July 2]. After reading it, I was paralyzed with disgust for the system. I began to think that maybe Governor Ryan of Illinois might be on to something with a moratorium on the death penalty. After hearing the accounts of this case, the question becomes: How many people like George Allen Jr. are in similar situations, with no one to argue their case?

Thanks again, and keep the public posted on the conclusion of this case -- otherwise the powers that be might be able to just sweep the atrocities under the table.
J.J. Polk
St. Louis

Let's Hear It for Arkansas!
Who's embarrassing whom? Having read about the police clampdown on citizens in Randall Roberts' June 25 cover story "Meet the Anarchists," I read Unreal's "MO No-Blow Law Is No Mo'" [July 2]. For some reason, the writer attempted to compare green, friendly Missouri with the death-penalty capital of the world, Texas.

Writing from Little Rock, one of the top creative-class cities of its size in America, I wonder how Missouri and Texas could consider Arkansas to be the "embarrassing border state," rather than the other way around.
Stephen Koch
Little Rock, Arkansas

Bombing Byron: I generally don't read the RFT unless I'm in a restaurant waiting for a table to open up and I've already looked over the menu a couple of times. However, I did happen to catch a blurb called "Death from Above" by some guy named Byron Kerman [ Urban Experience, July 2]. It was funny. It made me laugh. Does this guy actually draw a check? I guess if you can't dis an air show over the Fourth of July while injecting a "liberal" dose of self-important sanctimoniousness, then it's just no fun being a left-wing writer for a left-wing shopper.

Kerman writes that cities have recently been clogged by the bodies of war dead, so how dare we sit back and enjoy an air show? (Clogged? Sigh. The self-appointed social conscience begins by piling it high and deep.) Or that military aircraft on parade are just visual reminders that "human order is maintained by threat and punishment and death." Gee, Byron. Maybe in your world, but not mine. I'd like to think that order is maintained by ideas found in Locke's social contract, or possibly even in the Golden Rule. Your comment about keeping people in line does, however, smack of the Ba'ath Party playbook, so you might want to scrape that dogshit you've stepped in off of your shoe now.

Tell you what, chief. Next time, you just print the times and schedules for the air shows and leave the morality trips to the better qualified. I realize that it's every liberal writer's dream to get noticed by the Village Voice, or (ack!) Mother Jones, but next time just send them a résumé and don't worry so much about manufacturing drivel for your tear-sheet collection. But then again, I guess when you're just the calendar editor, you have to try that much harder.
Dan Zoernig

Anarchists Again
It's a racial thing: The sort of condemnation Randall Roberts writes about in "Meet the Anarchists" [June 25] happens all the time. The motivation is just as political as the one involving Bolozone. Throw in a handful of racism, and you have "Project 87," a special partnership between the St. Louis building division and the police department. Most of the condemnations happen to African-Americans living in less-than-trendy neighborhoods. The usual scenario is: The occupants of a housing unit -- say, one unit in a four-family flat -- are suspected of drug activity. The police arrive with Mr. McEnulty and a board-up crew in tow. Mr. McEnulty enters under threat of intimidation or force of arms and finds enough violations to condemn sometimes the entire structure, not just the unit occupied by the suspected offenders. Now the occupants of the other units are homeless as well. They may have no association with the suspects and may even be the ones calling the police in the first place. No evidence need be found; no one need be arrested. The building is the offender. People are not allowed to live in a building condemned for occupancy.

I will admit that these condemnations have made my neighborhood quieter and safer, usually only temporarily. Even though my household has benefited by such condemnations, I have always felt uneasy with the process -- or rather, the lack of due process. My neighbors and I have been at our wits' end. We have witnessed extreme antisocial behavior, including assaults, robbery and shootings. Some of my neighbors view a boarded building as a victory. All I see is a failure of government, business and the economy. Making people homeless cannot repair these failures. The situation only gets worse. African-Americans are usually the victims in these condemnations. This smells of racism. There has been little attention to this in the press. This lack of attention reeks of racism. When the same thing happens to a few young European-Americans, the press is in an uproar. This uproar smacks of racism. Those arrested in the Bolozone case spent some time in jail and most probably had places to stay upon their release. Being a part of a collective means having support system. The truly poor and disenfranchised have no such system.

I do not wish to diminish the Bolozone victims, only to point out that their case is in no way a special one. These condemnations happen nearly every day, and almost always because someone perceives that there is some kind of threat either to public safety or, in this case, corporate freedom. These condemnations are a political football. The good people demand them, the politicians make them possible and the victims suffer in silence.
Mark Davis
St. Louis

To know them is to love them: Despite 26 years in the military, seven of those in command, I've somehow found myself associating with several of the folks Randall Roberts wrote about in "Meet the Anarchists." I've found these young people to be anything but the evil and aimless waste I'd had pictured in my head. I'm finding that I have been wrong about many commonly known "facts" -- the kind that "everyone" knows to be true and that you must avoid experiencing at any cost. I still find myself bewildered by the dissonance between what I so deeply believed and what my own direct experience is now showing me. I've come to the point where I no longer feel the need to either fear or repress what they are doing or what they represent.

On the other hand, the unprofessionalism displayed by a percentage of St. Louis police officers does cause me grave concern. Condoning unprofessional and even criminal behavior against those who are simply labeled as dangerous or deviant is not only wrong but un-American. Why do we allow this type of behavior? When will it become expedient to label the rest of us? At what point will the few become the many?
Thomas E. Sandidge
St. Louis

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