Big Brother can keep his prying eyes off my meter

October 26, 2003|By DAN RODRICKS

I GOT ONE OF those "you're-never-home-when-our-meter-reader-comes" letters from BGE. Flushed with guilt, I made an appointment to have some kind of high-tech gadget placed on my gas meter so that it could be read from outside the home, or from outer space, or by Attorney General John Ashcroft. The conversion would have taken place Tuesday afternoon ... but no one was home at the time.

That was no coincidence. I've had second thoughts. Call me paranoid, but if they can read our gas meters from outside the home, what's next? Our e-mail? Our television viewing habits? Our vital bodily fluids?

Others can allow their privacy and freedom to erode, one techno- logical breakthrough at a time. Big Brother doesn't get my gas meter. It's that simple.

Too-candid cameras

Oh, and don't be surprised if you see a sign in your athletic club that says, "No cam-phones in locker rooms." (This new, hot-selling technology is prime for voyeuristic use.)

If you see someone speaking on a cell phone, and holding it at an odd angle, while standing in the shower of your fitness club, grab a towel, or call the vice squad. You could end up on a cam-phone Web site, if you're not there already.

The updated forecasts

The old shall be new again: The 207-year-old Hagers-Town Town and Country Almanack is now available on CD-ROM.

A truly mixed message

I love the woman in Abingdon, Harford County, who wears a sweat shirt that says, "J. Christ" and "You Must Believe" while holding up a sign protesting the opening of a shelter for the homeless. Life around here doesn't get more ironic. This is a case where NIMBY trumps WWJD.

An arguable tactic

Sounds like Ira C. Cooke, the indefatigable Maryland lobbyist, has a pretty good lawyer - and a real quick study in people - to represent him in that California criminal case. He's Timothy Lemucchi of Bakersfield, and he showed his chutzpah the other day in trying to portray his client as a man who could be easily duped into a scheme:

"Mr. Cooke never got any money out of this that he wasn't entitled to. Ira Cooke is a victim, a fall guy. He's being used."

Yeah, well, we'll see.

Old-fashioned ethics

The Baltimore City Hall is a block from the old courthouse where Spiro T. Agnew - sleazeball Baltimore County executive who became sleazeball Maryland governor who became the sleazeball vice president of the United States - pleaded no contest to tax evasion in 1973, and yet the lesson of Agnew's fall seems to be lost to history, or to 30 years of car fumes on Guilford Avenue. Lost into the ether!

Listening to members of the City Council belly-aching about an ethics ruling that they shouldn't hire relatives or take gifts from companies that do business with the city - on the grounds that no one ever told council members it was wrong until now - reminds those of us who lived through the glory days of Maryland corruption of the old Spiro plaint: "They changed the rules on us!"

Agnew and his apologists (Frank Sinatra, for one) somehow never caught on that it was wrong for him to be taking cash from various bagmen - right up until his days in the vice president's office - even if kickbacks on government contracts had always been the norm.

You'd think members of the City Council wouldn't need an ethics tutorial to smell the ole integrity casserole burning. I mean, hiring your sister - who in public life thinks about doing this anymore?

Even the mayor of Baltimore got defensive on behalf of City Council members, suggesting that hiring relatives was a time-honored tradition, and why didn't someone tell these poor schnooks it was wrong?

"I think the ethics board needs to be investigated," chimed in Councilwoman Pamela V. Carter, who had her brother on the city payroll.

Spiro, Frank - they're singing your song.

A fine future lesson

Let me just say that, as a taxpayer in this great pothole they call Baltimore, I am thankful for the service of Mr. Stanley J. Milesky, chief of the Bureau of Treasury Management.

Mr. Stan, as the kids in his neighborhood call him, managed the city's recent two-day parking-ticket amnesty shindig, to which I was invited. It was a lovely affair, though next time cocktails and finger food for those of us waiting in line would be nice.

Before amnesty, some 200,000 motorists owed the city about $113 million in outstanding fines and delinquency penalties dating back to the reign of Don Donaldo as mayor. How this happened, we're still not sure. In the past, parking-ticket deadbeats weren't allowed to renew car registrations without paying their tickets within two years.

So the city ended up with all this uncollected revenue. And the City Council decided to forgive all us deadbeats and welcome us home.

Expectations were low. With all penalties forgiven, the city expected to collect about $14 million. But it ended up collecting only $3.6 million.

What is the lesson?

If you get a parking ticket, don't pay it and don't worry. Take a chance you'll slip through the cracks. Wait for amnesty. See you in line in 2013.

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