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Pyling On

Posted 2/9/2005

It’s good to know that Baltimore County and the nation are safe enough that the police and FBI have hours to waste harassing a local artist for having an eccentric sense of humor (“In Detention,” Mobtown Beat, Feb. 2). Bob Pyle is one of the most creative and talented people it is my pleasure to know. A 20-second review of his Muslim News satire would be sufficient for anyone with an ounce of common sense to see that it was a gag—if perhaps an offbeat and bizarre one.

It ought to be noted that the “Kill Bush!! Bastard!” line mentioned in City Paper’s story is, like the whole content of The Muslim News, a comment from a fictional Iraqi insurgent. We do still understand the concept of “fiction” in this country, right? Fictional characters say and do all sorts of things that their creators have no intention of doing; Johnny Cash never shot a man in Reno just to watch him die, nor would any sane person ever think he intended to do so. Nicholson Baker wrote an entire novel about a man planning to assassinate Bush II, and no one ever thought that Baker was going to hurt anyone—so is this just discrimination based on the humorously low production values of Bob’s “newsletter” or what? In context that line from The Muslim News is clearly no more to be taken seriously than the crudely and obviously doctored photos. And have we really reached the point of paranoia and ignorance where people suspect a washtub bass of being some sort of weapon? Maybe that’s how Saddam Hussein hid those weapons of mass destruction. Quick, start searching for Iraqi jug bands!

But what I’d really like to know is who made the phone call reporting Bob as a “suspicious person.” If Kinko’s is in the habit of snooping on what its customers are copying, I think I’ll just start saving up to buy my own photocopier for my home office.

Tom Swiss

Reading your “In Detention” piece in the Feb. 2 Mobtown Beat made be both laugh the hardest I have in a long time and, at the same time, want to cry. I have known Bob Pyle for about 20 years and cannot believe that both the Baltimore County Police and FBI seriously saw him as a threat to our homeland. Any sane person with a sense of humor today would simply read the words “Holy Jihad Declared Against Jordan’s Steakhouse” on the front page of Pyle’s Muslim News and know that it was a satirical newsletter. And if you spoke to Bob for just a few short minutes, you’d have to figure out that he’s a natural-born jokester with a very kind heart. It scares me to believe this is how our taxpayer dollars are being spent on making our communities safe. Perhaps these same officers could be transferred to my neighborhood a few blocks away from Johns Hopkins University’s Homewood campus, where drug trafficking is clearly visible on a daily basis, gunshots are commonly heard in the evenings, and police presence is infrequent.

Debra Wasserman

I was quite dismayed and incensed when I read the article about Bob Pyle and his recent run-in with the authorities surrounding the events of his recent detention. It is a given that freedom of speech and the freedom of the press are two rights that should be fervently protected. To have these rights infringed upon by the police is an outrage. In fact, I would assert that the police should be required to protect these rights instead of restrain them.

The spirit of satire is something that is essential to our concept of liberty and freedom as a nation. Benjamin Franklin often wrote biting works of satire criticizing the oppressive nature of the British government. As Americans, we look to Mr. Franklin as a hero. To infringe upon Mr. Pyle’s right to pen satire is contrary to the spirit of freedom, liberty, and patriotism. In my opinion, writing prose poking fun at our government sits at the heart of liberty itself. In what other kind of a society except a free society can someone write scathingly about the government and still have their rights protected? No other nation except a free nation would allow this. To inhibit someone in Mr. Pyle’s position is acting in an unpatriotic manner and is against the principles of the Constitution. Society is so quick to throw around the words “defending freedom” these days. How can one defend freedom properly when it is being trounced upon like a resilient cockroach here in our country?

Barry Maddox from the FBI is quick to mention that no one’s rights were violated because no one was arrested. He argues that the Constitution is still respected by the FBI. When someone is detained without counsel and is interrogated for several hours, it might not be an infringement per se. I would argue, however, that any reasonably minded person would think their rights are infringed and they are being detained in a manner similar to that of a criminal. Additionally, since Mr. Pyle was not arrested, his ability to get access to a lawyer might be severely hindered. This sounds like a violation of rights to the highest degree. I do not know about the FBI as a whole, but it sounds like the officers in the incident were disrespectful of the Constitution. They simply should have realized that it was a joke and let the matter go, regardless of whether they agreed with Mr. Pyle’s jokes. Perhaps they and the police were being overzealous. The so-called “War on Terror” would have been won by now if the authorities took this zeal and utilized it to fight the real terrorists in this nation instead of using it to quickly detain and lengthily interrogate a man who writes gossip rags and plays the washtub.

Thank you for bringing this matter to the attention of your readers.

Brockston Smuck

Hooray for Dead Thugs!

Bravo, Alexander D. Mitchell IV! I agree with his letter (“Bring Back Context, Please,” The Mail, Feb. 2). I’m glad all the thugs are killing each other off in Baltimore. Now the city can tear down those areas and rebuild for Baltimore’s children who still “believe.” Funny how those of use who don’t deal or steal aren’t getting robbed and murdered.

Sharon Wright

“Toll” You Once . . .

Not to continue to stir the pot, but I feel compelled to speak up in regards to the letter published in last week’s paper that was written by Greg Kelley (“Bowlin for Insensitivity?” The Mail, Feb. 2). Mr. Kelley clearly did not read my “essay” (as he called it) very carefully.

Where in my letter did I write that anyone deserves to live in poverty? Where did I write that America is an Equal Opportunity Employer? I clearly stated that there is plenty of institutional racism is this country. I clearly stated my support for programs that help combat this. What I do not support, however, is the notion that I should automatically feel sympathy or go out of my way to help people who have never demonstrated the urge to help themselves.

The point of my letter was not to try to convince Terrell Fowlkes and others like him that they should leave their lucrative but illegal jobs to go flip burgers at a fast-food joint (“The Toll,” Jan. 19). The only idea I wanted to convey was that if Mr. Fowlkes and the other people featured in the article were making an active choice to live the “street life” then they were also making the active choice to accept the consequences of such a lifestyle. Some of those consequences, among others, are the continual perpetuation of certain black stereotypes, prison, police harassment, and probable violence. I understand that Mr. Fowlkes may not have an easy life, but selling drugs is still a choice he makes every day.

Mr. Kelley took issue with my use of the word “they.” “They” simply refers to the people written about in the article. There is no racial implication or attempt to set myself apart from the people interviewed. I would have used the word “they” if the article was about a bunch of whiny white people who seem to think they are owed something just for existing.

In addition to my disappointment in Mr. Kelley for not carefully reading my letter, I am also disappointed at his huge assumption about my life and background. Mr. Kelley wrote that I need to understand what utter hopelessness feels like. How does he know that I don’t? And why does the fact that I am white and have gone to college make it so that I should lack common sense or be blind to the complete ridiculousness described in Anna Ditkoff’s article?

Mr. Kelley implied that my view is racist. But there is nothing more racist than coddling someone based solely on his or her race, which is what he seems to think I and everyone else should do.

Mr. Kelley ended his letter by saying I should not “perpetuate stern indifference through letters to newspapers.” Perhaps he should not perpetuate complete idiocy and broad assumptions through the same medium.

Lindsay Tyler Bowlin

“Performance” Review

On behalf of the members of the Fells Point Corner Theatre, I would like to thank City Paper for the cover article in the Jan. 26 issue, “Performance Anxiety,” that examined the role of community theater in Baltimore. As one who has been involved in the activities of the theater since its onset, I would like to add my thoughts.

Baltimore is home to two of the oldest community theaters in the United States: Vagabond and Arena Players. Corner Theatre was established in 1965 and Fells Point Theatre in 1969. Fells Point and Corner theaters came together 18 years ago. Today, FPCT is a home where people of all ages, cultures, and special needs can study, perform, and collaborate in the life-fulfilling world of theater. We provide theater classes for children and teens from our neighborhood and other areas. No one is denied this opportunity. FPCT parents and board members raise the funds to make scholarships available. FPCT nurtures all theater artists, including writers. The Baltimore Playwrights Festival has its home at FPCT.

Yes, there is “performance anxiety,” but how can we achieve what we love and desire without the challenges that goad us to do our very best.

Performance itself is pay enough. Theater lovers sweating and struggling together to bring live theater onstage is an addiction of the soul.

Community theater opens doors for the possible to be explored and shared in an atmosphere of constructive criticism. The rewards of community theater are high pay and high glory for those of us giving precious time and talent (not to mention “blood, sweat, and tears”) to guarantee its long life.

Beverly Sokal
President Emeritus, Fells Point Corner Theatre

An Uphill Struggle

I commuted by bicycle from Radnor-Winston in North Baltimore to various jobs downtown for about three years. Despite two accidents, I loved it. It felt great arriving at work with the heart pumping; felt great not having to pay to park in a garage; felt great to zip over to the harbor for lunch on the first warm day of spring.

What didn’t feel so great—at least when I started—was the end of the day. Geographically speaking, downtown is at the bottom of a bowl. Climbing out in the afternoon is tough on the lungs, even in places like the Falls Road bike trail where you’re separated from traffic and exhaust fumes aren’t a big deal.

So, Godspeed to those lobbying for bike paths (“Pedaling Influence,” Quick and Dirty, Jan 26). When I move back to Mobtown, I’ll join you. But getting the paths put in may prove to be the easy part; getting people started on ’em may be tougher still.

Jamie Hunt
Grantham, N.H.

Correction: The photograph of the Royal Theater in 1949 we ran on our cover and in the first part of “Street of Dreams” last week was mistakenly credited as being courtesy Rosa Pryor-Trusty. In fact, the photo should have been credited as coming courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society. City Paper regrets the error.

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