Maryland

Calling out the militia in Maryland in 1942

At the always interesting blog "The Volokh Conspiracy", David Kopel has dug up a 1942 decree by Maryland governor Herbert O’Conor calling on armed citizens to serve in a reserve militia to defend the state against Axis "parachute troops, saboteurs, or organized raiding parties" or the actions of "enemy sympathizers within our State". It's notable for its plain statement that volunteers would be expected to provide their own weapons and would be expected to have basic competence with them -- even at this relatively recent date when the standing army was well-established as a tool of American imperialism and the foundations of the military-industrial complex had been laid.

This is what the "well-regulated militia" in Amendment II means -- a citizen body familiar with the use of arms is necessary for the security of the nation. ("Well-regulated" here does not have the meaning of "subject to extenisve regulatory law" but rather "effective and precise" -- in the same way that a mechanical timepiece is "regulated". In order to have people familiar with arms, it is necessary for the people to have them. Therefore, the Second Amendment tells us, the new nation shall not interfere with the vitally important -- not just for individual liberty but for the security of the nation -- natural right of the people to arm themselves.

Catonsville gets 11 acres of open space from Baltimore City, & 23 more from Rails to Trails

From the "life is great in 21228" department, here's some nice local news: Baltimore City is donating 11 acres in Catonsville to Baltimore County. (For readers outside the region, I should note that Baltimore is an independent city, not part of the county.

Valued at $110,000, the land had been owned by Baltimore City since the 1920s, but the city apparently lost track of it for some time. The space is near Frederick and Rolling Roads; the county will use the land either for a park or a garden, or leave it as a natural area.

This follows on the heels of last month's transfer of 23 acres from Catonsville Rails to Trails to the county, which will ensure that the Short Line Trail will remain open space for years to come.

Occupy Baltimore

When i first heard of the "Occupy Wallstreet" idea a few months ago, honestly, I thought it was silly, that about 20 people would show up.

On this one, I am glad to be wrong.

Tonight, I'm in Baltimore's McKeldin Square (Pratt and Light Streets) for the first night of Occupy Baltimore. I couldn't make it down before 10pm, and I don't know what I'll be able to do over the next few weeks; but I thought it important to be here tonight and do what I can.

I went to the planning meeting at 2640 on Sunday -- there were about 200 people there. Certainly the largest meeting I've seen run by a democratic/semi-consensus model.

So why am I here? I'm tired of three decades of worsening economic injustice, of the L curve getting worse and worse. I'm tired of the suppression of democracy by monied interests. I'm tired of a socioeconomic system that pretends that poverty and homelessness and lack of access to medical care is some sort of natural force, and not the result of human political decisions about how we share and allocate natural and human resources.

I'm here because I want to see some economic justice, and the reinvigoration of democracy. While I'd eventually like to see the dawn of a Thoreau-ean Zenarchy, in the mean time I'd like the constitutional democratic republic they told me about in school instead of the corporate authoritarian militaristic plutocracy in which I find myself.

Join us. See Occupy Baltimore or the Facebook page , or Occupy Together around the world.

anticlimactic list of crimes

I recently received a flier from the local neighborhood watch group, "Westchester Citizens On Patrol". I don't have anything against neighborhood watches, but I almost had to chuckle about the list of local crimes in this flier:

1. Assault and trespassing off of Norhurst Way

2. Motorcycle stolen at gunpoint off of Stonewall.

3. Murder on Meyers Drive.

4. Large rock thrown through car windshield near St. Paul’s Church and on Meyers Drive.

5. Alert from Wilkens Precinct regarding a spike in vehicle break-­‐ins

6. House egged on Norhurst Way North
...

I'm sure that folks having their house egged found it a mess and quite upsetting. But to put that in the same list with a motorcycle-jacking and a murder...that's a bit anti-climactic, to say the least.

leadership and William Donald Schaefer

There have been many articles about William Donald Schaefer in the past few days, but I found this piece by Ray Jenkins particularly interesting. This is because Jenkins, a distinguished journalist who was a special assistant for press affairs to President Jimmy Carter and the editorial page editor of The Evening Sun during Schaefer's tenure as mayor, lays out a general theory of what it takes to make a leader:

...[T]he elements of political leadership are not really all that complicated. Three things are required: vision, courage, and tenacity — the capacity to see solutions to the problems that afflict mankind everywhere; the courage to stand before one's fellow citizens and say, "Let me lead you"; and an unflinching determination to see the job through. Once elected, a politician's constituents do not expect perfection, but they do expect two additional qualities: competence and honesty — sound judgment in performance, and a reasonable confidence that the leader always acts in the public interest and not out of some secret private gain.

This is a model I'm going to try to keep in mind as my on-the-job training in small-scale political leadership continues.

R.I.P. William Donald Schaefer

By the end of his tenure as Comptroller of Maryland, William Donald Schaefer had overstayed his time in politics; and some people may remember him just as that cranky old man, and for his sexist, homophobic, and anti-immigrant remarks. But as Mayor of Baltimore, Schaefer helped birth the first Baltimore Renaissance; and as governor of Maryland, he supported public schools, the University of Maryland system, and the Chesapeake Bay. Rest in peace, Willy Don.

dead birds and fish mean OMG the end of the world! Or, not.

People panic as in a matter of weeks, large numbers of dead birds are found in Texas, Austrailia, and Russia, and hundreds of thousands of dead fish are found in California.

Whoops! Sorry, had the Guardian of Forever showing me the wrong year. That was 2007. This year, it's dead birds in Italy, Sweden, Kentucky, Arkansas, and Louisiana, and dead fish in Maryland and dead crabs in England

Mass bird and fish kills are not unprecedented. This is the third year in a row for the English crabs, while the Maryland Department of Environment counts 2,900 mass fish kills between 1984 and 2009. Forteans have have collecting stories of birds falling from the sky for decades.

It's certainly possible -- though I have no evidence either way -- that the frequency is increasing, due to pollution, climate change, and the generally shitty way we're treating our planet's life support systems. And that's a very legitimate concern.

But the current spike in observed mass deaths is partly a result of increased information and reporting. A century ago, the news of such an incident would be a local story. Even just four years ago, many fewer us us were rocketing stories around Facebook and the like. But now, thanks to the web, a dozen dead birds in a small town somewhere can fuel panic around the globe. And then once we're primed to look for them, every incident that would have passed with little mention just months ago becomes Part Of The Pattern. (It's a Law Of Fives sort of thing.)

So let's turn down the end-of-days talk and the deep-conspiracy-theory nonsense, okay? Then maybe we can look with a clear and level head at our impact on the planet. Thanks.

RIP Erica Hinson Denny ("Artfisch")

photo by Jeff Dicken

It's a common trope in fiction that "primitive" people believe that photographs will steal your soul. I don't know if anyone actually ever believed that, or if it's just some writer's plot device that went viral. Crazy Horse never let anyone take his photo, but it seems to me that might be more because he didn't like the way white photographers portrayed his people than out of any fear of soul-stealing.

I don't believe that the camera can steal your soul, of course; as the son of a shutterbug, I wasn't allowed to develop any camera shyness. (My dad joined the Air Force with the intention of getting trained in photography -- of course, they made him an AP instead and sent him over the Vietnam to walk patrol around an airbase. Never believe military recruiters, kids!) But I believe that a good photographer, rather than stealing it, can show a person sides of their own soul that they didn't know were there. A good photographer, in other words, can be a spiritual guide -- a shaman of sorts.

Baltimore has lost a shaman.

GOP health care hypocrisy part XVII: Andy Harris

Andy Harris is an incoming GOP Representative from Maryland's Eastern Shore. He defeated Democrat Frank Kratovil in part by campaigning against the health care reform act (even though Kratovil had twice voted against it), telling voters that "the answer to the ever-rising cost of insurance is not the expansion of government-run or government-mandated insurance but, instead, common-sense market based solutions that ensure decisions are made by patients and their doctors."

As a member of Congress, of course, Harris will now get government-subsidized health care. But he's upset that it doesn't start soon enough -- he was outspokenly upset to learn that his new insurance will take effect on February 1, 28 days after he's sworn into office.

“He stood up and asked the two ladies who were answering questions why it had to take so long, what he would do without 28 days of health care,” said a congressional staffer who saw the exchange. The benefits session, held behind closed doors, drew about 250 freshman members, staffers and family members to the Capitol Visitors Center auditorium late Monday morning,”.

“Harris then asked if he could purchase insurance from the government to cover the gap,” added the aide, who was struck by the similarity to Harris’s request and the public option he denounced as a gateway to socialized medicine.

I love that last bit: yes, I think the option of purchasing insurance from the government -- a.k.a., the public option -- would be a fine idea. Funny how Harris came around to it real quick when he saw that he might have a gap in his coverage, isn't it?

Harris's spokeswoman Anna Nix later said that Harris wasn’t being hypocritical, heavens no, he was just pointing out the inefficiency of government-run health care.

For the record, members of Congress get the same health insurance options that other federal employees do, with a range of private plans including a popular Blue Cross Blue Shield PPO. But unlike my friends who work at the Goddard Space Flight Center, for example, Congresscritters and Senators can get taxpayer-subsidized treatment -- including free (to them) outpatient procedures -- by top docs in "VIP Wards" at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the National Naval Medical Center (rather different care, we must note, than most wounded vets get there.)

Maryland court upholds citizens' right to record cops on the job

The Sun reports that a Circuit Court judge in Harford County (Maryland) has dismissed wiretapping charges against Anthony Graber.

I've previously mentioned Graber's story: he was (apparently) being a dangerous jerk on his motorcycle, and got pulled over by a Maryland state cop who made a illegitimate traffic stop, cutting Graber off in an unmarked car (no lights or siren either) and jumping out his his car with his gun in his hand. Graber was wearing a helmet camera which recorded the incident. When Graber posted the video to Youtube, Joseph Cassilly -- State’s Attorney for Harford Count -- threatened to prosecute Graber for violating Maryland's wiretap law, a felony carrying a penalty of up to five years. It was in an act of pure intimidation for daring to embarrass a cop gone wild.

In yesterday's ruling, Circuit Court Judge Emory A. Plitt Jr. quite sensibly noted that "Those of us who are public officials and are entrusted with the power of the state are ultimately accountable to the public...When we exercise that power in a public forum, we should not expect our activity to be shielded from public scrutiny." He added that the incident "took place on a public highway in full view of the public. Under such circumstances, I cannot, by any stretch, conclude that the troopers had any reasonable expectation of privacy in their conversation with the defendant which society would be prepared to recognize as reasonable."

Jackass Cassilly claims the ruling "will make it more difficult for the police to do their jobs"; I can only interpret this to mean that he thinks that cops' jobs include intimidation and abuse.

According to the Sun's coverage, cops throughout the state have been using the wiretap excuse to seize people's cameras; a Baltimore cop threatened to arrest an amateur cameraman recording the arrest of a woman at Preakness, telling him, "It's illegal to record anybody's voice or anything else in the state of Maryland."

Recognizing our right to watch the watchers is a small, but important, step to get our out-of-control police forces to respect citizen's rights.

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