Maryland

"Backpack Ed": Rest In Peace

There's something about this area where I live, the Patapsco Valley around Catonsville and Ellicott City, that's special. Call it the genius loci, call it the kami of the river and the forest, call it cultural geography, ley lines, whatever, but somehow there's a cluster of interesting people that have ended up around here. Some of them are just a little off (perhaps I should include myself there and say some of us!); some are kooky but functional, like the always interesting musician and activist Bob Pyle, subject of Sara Michener's short film Bobumentary (can't find a link right now but hope someone will give one in a comment); and some are vagrants, living in the woods around the river valley.

Even the vagrants aren't just random homeless people; you get the impression that in a slightly different world, a saner and more humane one, they would be artists or shamans -- or perhaps even Emperors.

One of these was a man known as "Backpack Ed".

If you spent time in Ellicott City, you probably saw him walking the streets or hanging out in Tiber Park. I didn't really know him, but he was a familiar face, and I'd nod and say "hi" whenever I passed. A lot of locals, though, knew him pretty well.

Last night, Ed was struck and killed by a train. I've walked along that stretch of track. We'll probably never know, but it is hard to believe that someone could be struck accidentally.

Sara wrote a moving note about him:

He was the town's Gollum; Everyone who knew him well enough, knew things couldn't possibly end well for him. He didn't have the support network that other vagrants in town had. And everyone who knew him more closely, shared with that feeling the hope that he would one day surprise us. But the eerie feeling last night among the townspeople that I spoke with was the death also of that hope. Both for himself, as he may have chosen to lay on those tracks rather than deal with an impending snowstorm with no place to stay, and for us, who were always pulling for him.

That's a hell of a thing to think about, that we live in a society where some people make a million dollars a year, and others are so desperate and hurting that rather than face a harsh winter they will lie down on the tracks. This is not due to some inviolate law of nature, it is not a consequence of physics or chemistry. It is because we have chosen to organize our society in this way.

I don't have any easy answer as to how to change that. All I can do right now is say, rest in peace, Ed.

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upgraded recycling program coming to Baltimore County

According to the Baltimore County government website, we're going to get an upgraded "single stream" recycling program starting next year. Not only will booth bottles and cans and paper be collected together every week, but an expanded array of materials will be recycled, including plastic bottles of types 1 to 7, wide-mouth plastic containers (like yogurt containers), rigid plastics, spray cans, aluminum foil, and milk and juice cartons.

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man killed in Catonsville bar fight

I don't know if the recession is making violent crime more common, but this was sobering:

Sunday, a man was beaten to death in a bar on Catonsville's main street. This wasn't in a bad neighborhood or anything -- I walked by this place just a few days ago and had noted that they featured live music and were looking for people to play.

And Monday night, while I was at Leadbetter's in Fells Point, a fellow came in trying to find witnesses to the beating he had suffered in front of the bar the night before. I've seen a few scuffles there over the years (and jumped in to break them up) but it's rare that things go beyond the pushing match, or the one punch, stage.

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spending cuts threaten Maryland Summer Centers for Gifted Students

An open letter to:

Delegate Steven J. Deboy, Sr. steven.deboy@house.state.md.us
Delegate James E. Malone, Jr. james.malone@house.state.md.us
Senator Edward J. Kasemeyer edward.kasemeyer@senate.state.md.us
Governor Martin J. O'Malley http://www.governor.maryland.gov/mail/

Dear Delegates, Senator, and Governor:

For 42 years, the Maryland Summer Centers for Gifted Students have run programs that have enriched the lives of academically talented young people.

I was one of those kids. For four summers in the early 1980s, I got to attend the "Center for Advanced Studies" program held at Western Maryland College. It was at this academic summer camp that I took my first computer programming class, setting me on the road that led to a master's degree and a successful career. (Which, I might point out, has resulted in some significant tax payments to Maryland over the years!) I got to learn about philosophy and logic and psychology; a quarter-century later I still reflect on some of the things I learned those weeks.

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fake license places and speed cameras


Montgomery County high school students have been "pimping" spped cameras
by creating duplicate license plates of people they're pissed off at, taping the on cars, and whizzing by automated speed traps. According to the Montgomery County Sentinel, the automated traps started in March; cameras are set up in residential zones and near schools, and a $40 ticket is mailed to the owner of a car that trips the machine.

Not the driver, mind you, in the usual gross violation of basic due process, but the owner. Or rather, as this "prank" the owner of the car with the license plate bearing the number that

Might I suggest that an excellent protest of this bit of nonsense would be to duplicate the license plates of the Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett and County Council President Phil Andrews and zip by a few speed cameras?

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Back River sewage plant to generate electricity from methane

From the Baltimore Sun: "Baltimore officials activated an energy generation plant at the Back River Wastewater Treatment Facility this morning, extinguishing the 20-foot flares burning the methane gas that will now provide 20 percent of the plant's electricity."

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letter to the editor, Baltimore Sun: Giving the state its micrograms of flesh

Letter to the Editor, Baltimore Sun:

What strange world does Governor O'Malley inhabit, where the state taking flesh from citizens is "noninvasive" ("O'Malley urges DNA collection", February 14, 2008)? Ignoring for the moment the massive privacy concerns that DNA collection raises, there is a much more fundamental issue here: the sovereignty of the state ends at my skin. The government has no legitimate authority to compel citizens who have not been convicted of a crime to undergo any medical procedure, however minor.

Jesus of Nazareth had a pretty good take on the question of how far the legitimate authority of government goes: "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's; and unto God what is God's." Our bodies may or may not be "temples" of some deity, but they certainly are not Caesar's, for him to demand any amount of flesh from us, for any purpose.

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psychedelic music at the sports bar...

Just went to see Telesma over at the ESPN Zone. Sort of a funny combination, psychedelic world music band at a sports bar; joking with one of the guys in the band, I said it was a sort of outreach program. Yes, he said; save the meatheads from themselves...

Interesting week last week. Our server developed disk problems, and we had to switch over to our backup. Fortunately, I'd been working on a "hot spare" setup; unfortunately, the work is not complete. I worked 16 hours last Thursday on the changeover (plus a session at the Well and teaching karate). So much for taking the day off to clean the house and get ready for Saturday's Emperor Norton party.

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Shame on the Maryland Court of Appeals

Usually I'm pretty proud to be a Marylander. Not today, though, when our state's highest court hands down a irrational and homophobic ruling, overturing a Baltimore Circuit Court that found that the state's law restricting marriage to heterosexual couples was unconstitutional and discriminatory.

Instead, the Court of Appeals found that claimed that the state has a legitimate interest in maintaining heterosexual marriage because it allows procreation and the traditional family structure. How that squares with allowing elderly or infertile people to marry is beyond me. And the "traditional family structure", as we all know, is where a man buys a woman from her family with a dowry. Is that what Maryland law is supposed to encourage?

Shame on the Maryland Court of Appeals.

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