Archive for category: Blog

Interview in Spain with regard to the proposed Abraham Lincoln Battalion project.

16 Apr
April 16, 2018

Asked some questions by Spanish journalist Toni Garcia, I replied in writing. Some respondents have replied to me with various translations of my answers that do not entirely comport with the language that I used or the facts I intended to convey.  I’m not suggesting any willful intent by Mr. Garcia to simplify or deconstruct my own words, only that perhaps translation is sometimes problematic. So to be clear I am going leave the entire text of my replies right here:


—–Original Message—–

From: Toni Garcia
To: David Simon
Sent: Mon, Apr 9, 2018 12:57 pm
Subject: A few questions (and if there’s anything you wanna add)


thanks a lot.
You can’t imagine how it’s been with this news around here, people got crazy…
I’d love to publish asap, so when you have a minute, tomorrow is also ok. Thanks!
So, a few questions:
1) Anything you can reveal from the plot? I guess there is not a script yet.
It will generally follow the narrative of the Americans in the International Brigade from their arrival in 1937 until their departure from Spain two years later. It will be consistent with the unit histories of the Lincoln and Washington battalions.
2) What’s the exact involvement of Pelecanos and Lehane? Any of you guys coming to Spain for a while for research or something?
The plan is for us to write the six-part miniseries together. George and I have outlined the work and are awaiting full funding of the project by Mediapro and other producerial elements in the United States before we commence writing scripts with Dennis. I toured the major battlefields and key locations as a guest of Mediapro last year.
3) Why do you think a part America was so heavily involved in the spanish civil war? What was the main reason in your opinion?
We were no more heavily involved than other nations who took sides in the conflict. Certainly, the U.S. embargo on military assistance to either side was crippling to the loyalists, given that American corporations continued to supply the military revolt. And of course, the German and Italian fascists were more fully engaged on the side of the Francoists, as Stalin eventually engaged the Soviet Union and international communism on the side of the republican government. By that standard, the arrival of American volunteers in the republican ranks was notable, but not of a scale commensurate with that of other nations. And left-leaning volunteers came from Italy, Germany, England, Ireland, Canada and a dozen other places. The Quintana Brigada was truly an International Brigade.
4) What’s the rol of Mediapro on this? They finance the whole thing? Is there a third party involved?
They are funding a portion of the budget and seeking European backers for additional money. Other U.S.-based producerial elements are working with Blown Deadline to secure U.S. participation.
5) What was the spark for trying to move this project forward?
Mediapro came to us with a commitment to fund a certain minority share of the budget and a commitment to obtain other funding from European entities. That was a good faith gesture and it got me and my coproducer Nina Noble on a plane to begin meeting people and visiting Jarama, Brunete, Belchite, and the Ebro. Some location scouting was accomplished and the perameters of a workable budget were agreed upon. Meanwhile, in the United States, producer Mark Johnson, who I worked with on NBC’s Homicide years ago, and who has become enamored of the project, is attempting to find backers in my country.
6) You aware of the current political situation in Spain? Any thoughts?
I am neither a supporter of a united Spain nor of Catalan independence. It is a question on which an American — and particularly an American with no familial or historical roots in your part of the world — should rightly leave to those who must live in their own future. I have said that I do not think the matter can be solved with arrests or prison terms or riot police. I believe that much. Reference points such as French Canadian separatism and the Scottish-English question seem to suggest that the most practical means of resolving such historical moments involves open-ended negotiation, accommodations to both sides and a fundamental willingness to allow and tolerate critical elements of home rule. If that can’t happen or doesn’t happen, then the center won’t hold. Or it will hold only by force. And force, if it is only force, has its limits. So as a bystander, I hope both sides know how to talk and to say some things that the other side needs to hear. But again, I am merely a bystander. And save for the 80-year-old fault lines that underlie modern Spain — and which are there whether we tell the story of the Lincolns or not — all of what I just said is not actually the point or purpose of the planned narrative.
7) How was the process of selling this project to Mediapro? (I know some things off the record, but I’m not publishing anything without your permission).
Actually, they approached me, and Toni, I think you know the story better than most. A few years back, I attended a film festival in Aviles and you interviewed me for El Pais, and you asked me, open-ended, whether I had ever been to Spain before or whether I had any people in Spain. I replied that no, this was my first trip, and no, my people were from Hungary and Russia. But after a considerable amount of Asturian cider, I did acknowledge that one of my mother’s first cousins, Isadore Lebowitz, had attempted to reach your country to fight for the republicans in 1937. Izzy had joined the Lincolns and boarded a ship that docked in Rotterdam, only to be arrested by Dutch authorities and sent back to America. It seems my mother’s aunt, the formidable Aunt Nanye — who ran the Brooklyn bakery at which Izzy was employed as a driver — had no intention of allowing her nephew to die fighting Franco. So, with Jewish-mother-on-steroids determination, she had a Brooklyn alderman wire an arrest warrant for her nephew ahead to Rotterdam, claiming he had stolen money from the bakery. The rest of the Lincolns on the ship traveled over the Pyrennes to the civil war, and Izzy — furious at his aunt — was hauled back to America. I told you that story in jest.
You then asked me if there was anything I hoped to do on my first trip to Spain and I replied that I had hoped to dine at El Celler de Can Rocca in Girona but in typical fashion, I had not worked that problem months in advance so I was out of luck. Your article ran, and apparently, in honor of Isidore Lebowitz’s thwarted-but-genuine effort on behalf of the Spanish republic, the Rocca family had managed to clear a table for a seating. Later on that same trip, I was contacted by the folks at Mediapro who asked if I had ever considered writing something on the Lincolns or the Civil War.
 At a lunch with Mr. Roures and others from the company, I replied in no uncertain terms that any filmed narrative about the whole of the Spanish Civil War required Spanish writers and filmmakers leading the effort and that I would be loath to undertake such a task in any circumstance. A tight narrative about the experiences and history of the Lincolns could be plausible, if funding could be found. And so we began to consider such a project.
8) Why do you think this project is relevant nowadays? (as spanish myself I know it’s more relevant than ever but I’d love to know your opinion).
If you look at the retreat toward totalitarianism that is now evident in my own country as well as in Russia, Poland, Hungary and many other places were nationalism has become a rallying cry against pluralism, ethnic and religious minorities and the essential tolerance for dissent that is required of any democracy or republic, you understand that the history of the 20th Century is unfinished business still. Spain was indeed a dry run for a war between authoritarianism and democratic principle that is still being funded and fought by proxies all across the globe, and democracy, at this moment, is not winning. As it did not prevail in Spain. And of course the purchase of governance by unrestrained capital has only accelerated in my country and elsewhere. I do not regard capitalism itself as anything more than a tool to generate mass wealth; as that it has proven remarkably dexteritous, moreso than any example of state-run economic models. But it is an amoral tool. Untethered to greater goals as to how that wealth is shared within a society, or to the general health of the commonweal, it can be a source of anti-democratic initiative and vast human suffering. And worse, if it is allowed the opportunity to purchase the means of our self-governance, as has clearly happened in my country. The Spain of 1936-1939 is a microcosm for all of that and it stands as an example of what can happen if we don’t reconcile our governance to actually represent us in the most fundamental ways.

City of Immigrants: A Night of Support – SOLD OUT

08 Feb
February 8, 2017

For eventbrite final

The event is sold out.

There will NOT be tickets available at the door. A ticket is required for entry.

Not attending? Please consider making a donation to the organizations we are supporting:
ACLU of MD, National Immigration Law Center, Tahirih Justice Center, International Rescue Committee.

Click here to make a donation through our online page. Donations made online and at the event will be matched up to $100,000 by Blown Deadline Productions.

The event will be livestreamed by the Washington Post.


Blown Deadline Productions & Tech Solidarity

Date & Time:
Monday February 13th, 2017
7:00 – 8:30pm
Doors open at 6:15pm

Tickets are required for entry. Please bring your printed ticket with you or be prepared to show it on your phone. A reminder that a very small number of tickets will be released at 4pm tomorrow (Sunday) afternoon.

Beth Am Synagogue, Baltimore, MD

About the event:
Baltimoreans united against fear, nativism and the immigration ban will gather on Monday, February 13 at Beth Am Synagogue in Reservoir Hill to hear speakers as varied as Beau Willimon, Deray McKesson, David Simon, Taylor Branch, and others urging religious and racial inclusivity. The program will conclude with singer-songwriter Steve Earle adding his voice and guitar.

Admission is free with a ticket and donation to groups assisting visa holders and refugees: ACLU of MD, National Immigration Law Center, Tahirih Justice Center, and International Rescue Committee.


Donations made through the event’s donation page and at the event will be matched up to $100,000 by Blown Deadline Productions, the Baltimore-based television production company that created The Wire, Treme and Show Me A Hero.

Tech Solidarity works to better connect tech workers with the communities they live in. Our emphasis is on regular in-person meetings, volunteer assistance to organizations serving the vulnerable, and the creative use of labor law in pursuit of an ethical agenda.

Additional Speakers:

  • Leana S. Wen, M.D., MSc., FAAEM – Health Commissioner, Baltimore City
  • Nancy Kass, ScD – the Phoebe R. Berman Professor of Bioethics and Public Health, in the Department of Health Policy and Management, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Deputy Director for Public Health in the Berman Institute of Bioethics.
  • Marielena Hincapié – Executive Director, National Immigration Law Center
  • Ruben Chandrasekar – Executive Director, International Rescue Committee, Maryland
  • Kristen Strain – Executive Director, Tahirih Justice Center Baltimore
  • Sonia Kumar – Staff Attorney, ACLU of MD

Old faces and fresh dishonor

25 Nov
November 25, 2015

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Save for the image of a six-year-old Hungarian girl which I do not possess — these are the photographs of 10 of the 11 members of my family who did not escape from Europe in the critical prewar years, when the path for refugees fleeing fascism narrowed, then disappeared. Fear of these people — their otherness, their politics, their faith — was sufficient to close borders and deny safe passage to America and elsewhere. The first six photos are an extended family on my mother’s side lost at Auschwitz, the last four a branch of my father’s clan slain in the woods outside the city of Slonim, in what is now Belarus.

The facelessness of the hundreds of thousands fleeing our time’s great cruelty is in some basic way part of their undoing. In their anonymity, the Syrian refugees running from Assad or the Islamic State appear in our political discourse as mere numbers, abstract and enormous. Save for the occasional photograph of a child’s body on a beach or some video footage of an exhausted woman in a rail station, these lost souls exist for us as an amorphous collective. To our minds, they are a vast multitude of disordered humanity, victims and victimizers, terrorists and those terrorized. Sorting them will be exhausting and imprecise and burdensome. There will be costs. And risks.

And yet every time I begin to listen to someone explain to me the social or political problem of opening our country to this breaking wave of humanity, every time some sonofabitch summons fear or prejudice or uncertainty, I am steadied and restored by my own familial history. Yes, populations are vast, uncontrollable, threatening. Their swell and weight are great enough in our frightened minds to overwhelm systems, or resources. But people are people. Our precious singularity, when at last acknowledged, makes the cowardice of our worst politicians and the fear of those who respond to their rhetoric that much more craven and shameful.

For me, I just have to turn the page of the family photo album and stare at these faces. The people of my blood, the lost branches of my tree — Esther and Solomon, Fanci and Gitel, Leo and little Batia and the others — ordinary mothers and fathers and children who an entire world failed to see as completely and irreplacably human. They, too, were a feared and unwanted wave of chaos and risk, confusion and otherness. And they were butchered on the short end of someone else’s geopolitical equation.

Knowing that much, I can’t look at these lost faces and then succumb to the worst imaginings of a Trump or a Cruz or a Carson. It would be an affront to the memory of my tribal dead, and to the fortunate journey, too, of all of those in my mother’s and father’s family who got out, who got here, or to Palestine, or Australia.

This, now, is the same moment, with the same stakes. Soon and forever, many more families will have nothing left but names and photographs over which to grieve, just as the names and images of others — today’s Tafts and Coughlins and Lindberghs — will be stained and dishonored by what they say or do in this time. These are men and women who wish to claim the mantle of moral leadership, yet would trade innocent lives for any and all chance for an abject and equivocal safety, or worse, for some immediate political gain. Tether yourself to their ugliest fears and you, too, can embrace the shame that this moment offers.

Or be more.

But know for certain that the history that is happening today — right now — will judge us all.

Grievous assimilation on the streets of New York

28 Oct
October 28, 2015


“Plain bagel, heavy on the mayonnaise.  And Brad, could you trim away the crust on it?  Thanks.”

Some brief correspondence regarding the Chicago Cubs

22 Oct
October 22, 2015

Email from James Yoshimura, because he is A Northsider, at October 21, 2015, 6:09 pm:

“Sisyphus ain’t got shit on me!  Go Cubs, Yosh.”

Email from David Simon, because he is A Giver, at October 21, 2015, 6:17 pm:

“All America is with you.  Except for about 80 million of the assholes.”

Email from James Yoshimura, still A Northsider, at October 22, 2015, 9:22 a.m.

“All of America can go fuck itself. And if it’s looking for Sisyphus, the
prick’s drinking with me and will until next spring training.”

God help Yosh and all the others laboring in the deep bowels of their dark, forbidding mine.  The Cubbies are relentless.  They are an anvil, with another anvil tied to them for weight.  God help you good people.