Green Party candidate for Senate killed in bike/car accident

Posted on: Wed, 09/22/2010 - 00:51 By: Tom Swiss

I recently mentioned Natasha Pettigrew, the Green Party candidate for the U.S. Senate here in Maryland. In fact, I was planning on voting for her. (No worries about "throwing away your vote" on a third party candidate here; for good or for ill, Democrat Barbra Mikulski has the race all but sewn up.)

According to the Washington Post, Natasha Pettigrew was struck by a car early Sunday morning while she was biking, training for a triathlon. She died Monday night.

Shockingly, the driver of the SUV that killed Pettigrew didn't realize it for perhaps as long as an hour:

State police said the driver apparently thought she had hit a deer or another animal and realized what had happened only when she arrived home and found Pettigrew's bicycle trapped under her car. Pettigrew was not dragged by the vehicle but suffered severe injuries, police said.

The driver, who police identified as Christy R. Littleford, 41, called Prince George's County police sometime before 6:30 a.m. on Sunday to report the crash. County police then relayed the information to state police, who were on the scene.

"She had driven to her home and called from her home," said Greg Shipley, a Maryland State Police spokesman. "The initial indication was that she thought she may have hit a deer or an animal in the roadway. . . . When she arrived home and saw the bicycle, she assumed it was something else."

That, folks, is how careless drivers can be.

Brian Bittner, Maryland Green Party co-chairman, expressed the loss felt by those who worked with her in the party, saying that Pettigrew had "incredible potential as a future leader for this party and this state...We all looked forward to working with Natasha for years to come."

Maryland elections: there are alternatives

Posted on: Tue, 09/14/2010 - 00:35 By: Tom Swiss

While a lot of Marylanders will be heading to the polls tomorrow to select the Democratic (not "Democrat", if you can't get the grammar right you disqualify yourself from being taken seriously) and Republican candidates for the upcoming general elections, there are some other alternatives.

The Maryland Green Party is running Maria Allwine and Ken Eidel for Governor/Lt. Gov and Natasha Pettigrew for the Senate. They've also got candidates for Anne Arundel County Executive, and for the Montgomery County Council and the Washington County Commission.

The Libertarians (who generally don't understand the meaning of the word, having stolen it from socialist anarchists, but I'll cut them some slack) have Susan Gaztañaga and Doug McNeil for Governor/Lt. Gov, and candidates for most of the Congressional seats and several down-ticket races.

There's also a Maryland chapter of the nutjob Constitution Party (link deliberately omitted), who believe that the U.S. was founded "on the Gospel of Jesus Christ" and wants to "restore American jurisprudence to its Biblical foundations" -- showing that, like a lot of folks on the far right making a lot of noise about the Constitution these days, they have failed to read and understand it. Sort of like the barbarians in that Star Trek episode whose "holy words" were "E pleb neesta"; it took Captain Kirk to come along and teach them about "We the People" and the Preamble to the Constitution.

Frank Zappa monument dedication and concert

Posted on: Fri, 08/27/2010 - 16:24 By: Tom Swiss

September 19 will be Frank Zappa Day in Baltimore -- featuring a stretch of Eastern Avenue being marked as "Frank Zappa Way", the dedication of a bust of Zappa (a gift from a Lithuanian fan club), a talk at the Creative Alliance by Gail Zappa, and a free concert featuring Zappa Plays Zappa", Plus an after party at the Creative Alliance with Big In Japan, Telesma, and DJ El Suprimo.

Event details at (Warning: most annoying website I've seen this year. Their design team -- indeed, any design team producing a Flash-based site for anything but games or video -- needs to be keel-hauled.)

"Manly Arts Day"

Posted on: Fri, 08/20/2010 - 10:35 By: Tom Swiss

On September 19 (it's a Sunday), noon to 4pm, the Hampton National Historic Site (535 Hampton Lane, Towson, MD) will be hosting its fifth Manly Arts Day, with Western martial arts (fencing, boxing, etc.) lectures and demonstrations.

According to Park Ranger Victor Markland, "This year the theme is 'Up Close and Personal'. We will look at the seemingly more intimate quality of danger in the 19th Century compared to 21st in both military and civilian contexts. Lots of fun. Internationally known expert instructors Steve Huff and Mark P Donnelly."

why the people of Baltimore don't trust cops

Posted on: Sun, 06/06/2010 - 23:45 By: Tom Swiss

I've previously touched on the malfeasance that runs rampant in the Baltimore City police department -- thousands of meritless arrests made each year, the lack of public trust in the force, incidents like people being arrested for asking for directions.

But if you need the most vivid possible example of why, as a general rule, no one can or should trust city cops, the off-duty Baltimore City cop who killed an unarmed man outside a Mount Vernon nightclub Saturday morning -- firing at him thirteen times -- is about as clear an illustration of what sort of scum all too often manages to get hired onto the force as could ever be provided.

Tyrone Brown was a Marine who served two tours of duty in Iraq and came home safely, only to find that the city police harbored a violent lunatic, Gahiji Tshamba -- a 15 year BCPD veteran -- who would prove more of a threat than Iraqi insurgents.

Brown apparently made a pass at a woman accompanying Tshamba, and the two had words. Tshamba pulled out his city-issued sidearm and fired 13 times from close range, striking Brown with six bullets.

Now, here's the best part: Tshamba was "disciplined" by police department five years ago for shooting a man while intoxicated. That's right: a Baltimore cop shot a man while drunk and they let him keep his job. The BCPD's line was that the earlier shooting was justified because Tshamba was threatened; if you believe that, I've got a bridge to sell you.

Of course not all city cops are as insane as Tshamba. But too many are willing to cover up for the true scumbags, and too many are willing to engage in less serious abuses.

Theseus's ship, emptiness/no-self, and a Baltimore landmark

Posted on: Thu, 05/13/2010 - 13:48 By: Tom Swiss

The puzzle of Theseus's Ship is an ancient philosophical head-scratcher, that ask us to ponder this question: over time, all the timbers and parts and pieces of a ship are replaced. Is it still the same ship? (I recall hearing this asked about the ship of Ulysses/Odysseus, but apparently Theseus's boat is the canonical example.)

I've found that if you chase this question around and around enough, you eventually see that it's meaningless. We can agree that it's the same ship, or not, for different purposes. The sailor who says "I've sailed on the same same for twenty years!" is right, but so is the helmsman who complains "This is not the same ship since we replaced her rudder and sails and keel!" "Same" is an idea of convenience, a mental construct for sorting out the buzzy spiky world of sensory experience, not a deep truth.

This is, I think, essentially the Buddhist idea of sunyata ("emptiness").

The famous Heart Sutra tells us that everything is "empty", that Avalokitesvara (a.k.a. Kwan Yin, Kannon, Kanzeon, Kwan Seum Bosal) saw this and "overcame all pain". In his commentary The Heart of Understanding (which I cannot recommend highly enough), Thich Nhat Hahn points out that we have to ask, "Mr. Avalokita, empty of what?" The answer is that all things are empty of a separate self, empty of an existence separate from the rest of the world. The ship does not have a "self" separate from the boards and nails and rigging and crew -- and these elements are always changing.

And -- this is the really radical part of Buddhism, as I understand it -- the same is true for our "selves". This is the idea called anatman, "no self". I go around with the idea that there's a "me" separate from my body and my mind, that remains constant even as body and mind change, but 'tain't so, any more than there's a ship separate from the bits that make her up. If that sounds depressing, trying looking at it from a different angle: if there is no self separate from the Universe, that doesn't mean that you are nothing, that means that you are one with the whole Universe.

Consult your local Zen master for further enlightenment, because I want to move on to a fascinating example of Theseus's ship: that good old boat that every local kid visits on a school field trip, that National Historic Landmark, that Baltimore class-A tourist attraction, the USS Constellation.

There was a frigate, authorized in 1794 and launced on September 7, 1797, called the Constellation. This ship went to the Gosport Navy Yard in Norfolk, Virginia in June 1853, where it was "broken down". In 1854, a corvette (or "war sloop") called the Constellation came out of that same shipyard -- according to some sources, using timbers from the broken-up frigate.

Apparently, the question of whether the 1854 ship is the "same" as the 1797 has been tossed around for decades. Defenders of the "same!" theory point out that the frigate was never stricken from the Naval Vessel Register — a wooden, sailing man-of-war called Constellation was continuously listed from 1797-1955. Defenders of the "different!" point of view say that the sloop was a new design and was planned to be built even if the frigate had not been around.

I suppose a salty sea-captain Zen master might say, "If you say these ships are the same, thirty lashes with the cat o' nine tails! If you say they are different, thirty lashes with the cat o' nine tails!"

B'more cops arrest couple for asking for directions

Posted on: Mon, 05/03/2010 - 21:52 By: Tom Swiss

Joshua Kelly and Llara Brook came from Chantilly, Virginia, to see the O's beat Kansas City at Camden Yards. They were having a fine time, until they got lost leaving the stadium on the way home. Unaware of the high proportion of thuggish authority freaks that infest Baltimore's guardians of law 'n' order, they made the mistake of thinking that a cop might help, and ended up getting arrested for trespassing -- on a public street:

Collins said somehow they ended up in the Cherry Hill section of south Baltimore. Hopelessly lost, relief melted away concerns after they spotted a police vehicle.

"I said, 'Thank goodness, could you please get us to 95?" Kelly said.

"The first thing that she said to us was no -- you just ran that stop sign, pull over," Brook said. "It wasn't a big deal. We'll pay the stop sign violation, but can we have directions?"

"What she said was 'You found your own way in here, you can find your own way out.'" Kelly said.


"(Brook's father) was in the middle of giving us directions when the officer screeched up behind us and got out of the car and asked me to step out. I obeyed," Kelly said. "I obeyed everything -- stepped out of the car, put my hands behind my back, and the next thing I know, I was getting arrested for trespassing."

thuggery by Maryland's forces for law 'n' order

Posted on: Mon, 04/19/2010 - 11:47 By: Tom Swiss

Two recent bits of thuggery by police in Maryland:

  • Prince Georges County police were caught on video assaulting an innocent UM student. The victim suffered a cut on his head that required eight staples to close, a concussion, a badly swollen arm, and various bruising. The scumbags cops them filed false charges against their victim.
  • Anthony Graber was apparently being a dangerous jerk on his motorcycle, and got pulled over by a Maryland state cop. Ok, so far, fine. Problem is, the cop was in plainclothes, and did not make a legitimate traffic stop -- he was in an unmarked car with no siren or lights showing, when he cut Graber off (there was a marked car behind Graber, but so far I as I can see in the video, no siren or lights). The cop jumped out of his car without displaying a badge or immediately identifying himself as a police officer -- and with his gun in his hand. That's outrageous behavior that would justify a civilian drawing a weapon on him or taking other defensive action that a reasonable person might take when confronted by an armed person who must be assumed to be a violent criminal.

    It should at least earn the cop in question a suspension until he's been sent back to training and learned how to behave himself.

    But the "best" past here is that Graber was wearing a helmet camera which caught the incident on tape. (Er, on memory card, presumably.) When Graber posted the video to Youtube, hilarity ensued when Joseph Cassilly, State’s Attorney for Harford County Maryland, threatened to prosecute Graber for violating Maryland's wiretap law, a felony carrying a penalty of up to five years. As the analysis at Popehat points about, there's not even the ghost of a legitimate case here, as the law only applies to private conversations, and an arrest occurring on a public street is not a situation where an expectation of privacy arises. Indeed, I'd have to say that no action taken by a police officer in the course of his duties ever has an expectation of privacy about it.

    This is pure intimidation for daring to embarrass a cop gone wild. Graber's computers and his camera were seized, and according to a comment on the Popehat story he was arrested.

    I'm sure that scumbag cops would love for it to be a crime to collect evidence against them, but we haven't reached that level of police state. At least not yet.

Joe Gans, Baltimore's original boxing champ

Posted on: Fri, 03/19/2010 - 13:37 By: Tom Swiss

Joe Gans was the first black American to win a world boxing title. He was the lightweight boxing champion from 1902 to 1904 and 1906 to 1908 -- and many boxing historians claim he actually held the title straight through 1902 to 1908. (The records are not clear.) The 1906 fight in which he defended or regained the title went for 42 rounds!

H.L. Mencken called him "probably the greatest boxer who ever lived"; Jack Johnson (the boxer, not the musician) said Gans moved around the ring "like he's on wheels up there." Madison Square Garden has a statue of him, and there's a painting of him in The National Gallery of Art.

(110-year-old film footage of Gans most controversial fight, in which it's alleged he took a dive, is on YouTube.)

But Gans has largely been forgotten, even in his native Baltimore. Baltimore's City Paper covers Kevin Grace's attempt to rectify the historical injustice a bit:

As the 100th anniversary of Gans' death on Aug. 10, 1910, approaches, some fans and boxing historians are trying to resurrect his story. A Gans biography came out in 2008 and another is set for release in the next year or two. At least one screenplay is looking for a home, and rumors are afoot about a documentary film. But Joe Gans' most vocal booster isn't a writer or a filmmaker or even much of a boxing fan. He works in ground operations for Southwest Airlines at BWI.


And so began his campaign to resurrect the boxer's legacy. For months, Grace made phone calls, filed papers, knocked on doors, and leveraged friendships in the hopes of waking Baltimore--and the world--up to Joe Gans. He sought support from local boxers, City Council members, and community organizations; learned the bureaucratic channels that lead to street namings and city sculptures; and put together a short documentary about Gans to accompany his pitch. He had business cards made for the Friends of Joe Gans, an organization with a membership of one. He dreamed of grand gestures like a commemorative stamp, a statue, historical markers, and an honorary street naming. Grace is matter-of-fact about his unusual dedication. "I don't have a vested interest," he says. "I'm just a concerned citizen, and if I don't do it, nobody will."

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