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You got 'em, but you can't smoke 'em '


Memo to Nathan Thomas Welder, the 27-year-old Pasadena man who really, really wanted a cigarette but got four months in federal prison instead:

Smoking is bad for you.

It's especially bad if you do it on an airplane, punch the flight attendant who takes away your cigarette and try, while another passenger is restraining you, to light up again.

It's also a bad idea, once you've landed and been taken into custody at BWI, to tell the cop processing you that your phone number is "1-800-KISS-MY-[bleep]."

Of course, you found all that out the other day, when U.S. District Judge Benson E. Legg sentenced you in Baltimore.

What you're probably wondering now: Can you smoke in federal prison?

Nope. Not inside anyway. Some wardens let inmates light up in outdoor areas of their prisons, but others ban smoking altogether.

You'd better hope the Bureau of Prisons places you in a smoker-friendly pokey. Because if you couldn't make it from Miami to Baltimore without a drag, that four months is gonna feel like life.

If God is merciful ...

Sign in front of St. Mark's Evangelical Lutheran Church in lower Charles Village: "Lord, keep your arm around my shoulder and your hand over my mouth."

Do gays have clout, or are they without?

A few days after Baltimore Circuit Court Judge M. Brooke Murdock ruled that gays should be allowed to marry in Maryland, this message appeared on an e-mail list called GayBaltimorePolitics:

"We have been asked by both the O'Malley and Duncan campaigns for contacts in the LGBT community who may want to work on either campaign," wrote Cathy Brennan, a local lawyer and gay-rights activist who maintains the list. "This is a good opportunity to get in on the ground floor of these campaigns. As you no doubt know, the LGBT community represents a powerful force for social change and a rich source of votes - so make the campaigns responsive to your issues."

Two days later, Brennan sounded considerably less sanguine about LGBT political influence. She posted another message, along with a Washington Post story headlined, "Democrats in Md. Try to Limit Fallout of Gay Union Case."

"OK, THE DEMS ARE AT IT AGAIN - Let's scramble because we Dems clearly don't know how to act, and we particularly don't know how to treat gay folks with even a modicum of decency. ... Don't screw us over again like you did after the 2004 presidential election."

Mr. and Mrs. Benson go house-hunting

Anna Benson threatens to knock out Molly Shattuck as Baltimore's most-talked-about wife, and she has never even set foot in Charm City.

But she's about to.

She and husband Kris, the Mets pitcher just traded to the Orioles, are expected to come to Baltimore today for a whirlwind house-hunting tour.

"We're going to take the train in and look for a place to stay," Benson said by phone from New York earlier this week. "I just know I want it to be close to the stadium because we might like to walk back from the stadium."

The family will continue to live in Atlanta, where Benson's three children - 12, 9 and 5 years old - are in school. But they want a place to stay in Baltimore during the baseball season.

Benson said she doesn't know much about the city. But what she knows, she likes.

"I know that you've got a lot of good crab. I like that," she said. "I like seafood a lot, and I guess y'all have a lot of boats and water and stuff, and I like that, too.

"Y'all will see me a lot," she added.

More on Mrs. Benson : another recruit for homeland security

Anna Benson is coming to town. That's good news for:

A) Dirty old sports columnists (especially those whose names are double double-entendres)

B) The Block

C) The local fight against terrorism

D) All of the above

Answer: I'm tempted to say D, but the wife of the newest Oriole probably isn't likely to resume her stripping career, unless her husband's pitching really takes a dive. Kudos if you guessed A and - believe it or not - C.

You'd expect the flamboyant Benson to be good for sportswriters. But homeland security?

After Sept. 11, she established a charity "dedicated to fighting terrorism through local police, fire, and public safety organizations," according to her Web site. Called Benson's Battalion, group raises money for equipment such as computers and bulletproof vests.

"I feel the government is really tapped out with this war in Iraq," Benson told me the other day. "Maybe we should treat public safety groups almost on a charity level and not expect that the government will take care of every little thing."

Sounds a little like Martin O'Malley's homeland security schtick, though when the mayor says it, he's complaining that the federal government has left cities in the lurch. Benson seems to have accepted the situation. Does that make her a Republican?

"I don't claim either one of those parties," she said. "I'm at a point where I'm voting for the best candidate. ... I always thought maybe one day I'd make my own party."

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