Commentary: Posts by Subject

Gun Laws Journalism People Policy & Law Politics

Annapolis

Fifteen years as a newspaperman taught me a few select things. One is this: It is the god-given right of every American to resent or even hate his local newspaper. Indeed, it is our birthright to hate any and every news organization, print or broadcast. It is not certain that you will avail yourself of that right, or that you will invoke it consistently if you do, but it is there for you whenever life doesn’t go the way you want. Your hometown newspaper will highlight your most embarrassing utterance at the PTA hearing or detail your company’s bankruptcy, just as it will at some point ignore your daughter’s performance in the school play or miss the zoning hearing at which a porn shop is dropped a block and a half from your son’s middle school. It will herald some political views you abhor and denigrate some politicians you wish to cheer. It will spell your name incorrectly when you are named the Rotarian of the Year and dox you with precision when you are cuffed and processed for...

Read more
Journalism

Fare thee well, scrotelicks.

Once again — and this time with some expectation — I find myself banned from Twitter by virtue of an algorithm that protects, whether by willful intent or by incandescent stupidity, all manner of slander and brutality while policing only deserved insult. On this, perhaps my final go-round with the platform, the offense is as intended: I have, in my very critique of the Twitter rules, insulted its CEO, Jack Dorsey. I told him, in slightly more creative language, to drop dead.  Yes. I told him to take a long walk off a short pier, or grow like an onion with his head in the ground, or go jump out of a plane without a parachute. But in my particular case, I used the Yiddishkeit of my grandfather. I told him to die of boils. That’s it.  That’s what I did. And I will confess I find it harder and harder to believe that Mr. Dorsey or the others engaged in regulating speech on his horror-show of a platform are unaware that their detached and dystopic vision of what is...

Read more
Admired Work

Tony

I was still on the sofa at four in the afternoon, still half-dressed, when I decided that my life could not be complete if I did not somehow become friends with Anthony Bourdain. My son, then a young teenager, also in his underwear, was as inert and transfixed as I was. We were both locked into the ninth or tenth consecutive hour of a Labor Day weekend marathon of Bourdain’s cultural-journey-through-food breakthrough show, “No Reservations.” I remember the exact moment, the exact image: The long, lanky, exquisitely sad-faced visage of a road-worn Bourdain sitting on broken pavement in a South American alley – Buenos Aires or maybe Montevideo, there is no way to be sure when twenty episodes are consumed at once — his back to a stone wall, arms crossed above his knees, watching children play at rag-tag soccer with a deflated ball. And with the older men, he is sharing Siete y Tres, the backstreet concoction of cheap red wine and Coca-Cola. And all this imagery with his narration...

Read more
Admired Work

Bourdain

I am trying to find words for my friend. I will post something here later if they ever come. For now, just know how much Tony Bourdain — for all his wit and sharp edges, for all his grandiose and larger-than-life persona — was a genuinely good man and careful colleague. And that doesn’t begin to express how empty the world feels this morning.   *** Also, I have been banned from Twitter, and as I am at this moment indifferent to removing the tweets they insist are violative of their rules, it is unclear when I will return to that framework.  So I’m hoping that if I post anything remotely meaningful about Tony, others will do me the favor of linking it beyond this digital cul de sac. Suffice to say that while you can arrive on Twitter and disseminate the untethered and anti-human opinion that mothers who have their children kidnapped and held incommunicado from them at the American border are criminals — and both mother and child deserve that fate...

Read more
Film and Television History

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

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) David! 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...

Read more
Drug War

Full text of letter in support of leniency for Marc Henry Johnson

Here is a letter written in support of leniency for Marc Henry Johnson, a fellow producer on “The Deuce” who was involved in the tragic overdose death of a woman in New York last year. The letter was written to the sentencing judge and is part of the court record, and I post it here out of concern that certain news outlets, including the New York tabloids — which did a poor and imprecise job of covering the original incident — are now quoting it piecemeal. As it is addressed to a presiding court, it would be inappropriate to comment beyond the letter itself, but I am going to link to it here so that a full, contextualized argument is available to those concerned or curious about my reasoning: MHJ Letter Final July 2017 updated

Read more
Admired Work

Maybe, He Thought, He’d Wind Up At Entebbe

Forty years ago this week, my father was taken hostage when the Hanafi Muslims, a breakaway sect from the Nation of Islam, took over the District Building, the Islamic Center and the B’nai B’rith headquarters in Washington D.C. As the 56-year-old public relations director for B’nai B’rith, a Jewish service organization, my father was selected by the Hanafi sect’s leader as one of eight older men who would be the first killed if police stormed the building. A young radio reporter was killed at the District Building and a D.C. protective services officer fatally wounded. There were others harmed as well, largely in the initial moments of the siege. Eventually, through the brave intercession of the ambassadors from Egypt, Pakistan and Iran who negotiated by citing the Koran to the Hanafis, all of the hostages were released. My father emerged from his offices and embraced his family after 38 hours, his shirt streaked with the blood of a younger worker who had...

Read more
Admired Work

Remarks on John Waters receiving the 2017 WGA Ian McLellan Hunter Award for Career Achievement

I had the distinct honor of being asked to give my union’s award for lifetime achievement to fellow Baltimorean and film legend John Waters.  These were my remarks, or those that were in the teleprompter, anyway. I may have veered at points: John Waters, who began an improbable career of deep cultural relevance with the equally improbable notion that people from Baltimore should be allowed to put stories on film, is perhaps one of the most influential voices we have. He is laughing at this. I know he is. I am going to look over there to where he is sitting now and see that he is laughing — yes, there he is — laughing at what I just claimed for him. I know that he is laughing because John is perhaps the great modern master of self-effacement and self-mockery. He has gone to lengths to characterize his entire career as a storyteller and filmmaker in terms that purport to show him standing on the outside of the joke, looking in: “Pink Flamingos,” he writes...

Read more
Admired Work

The Book that Changed Me

I was asked by the BBC to write and read an essay about a book that changed me — a request that offered an opportunity to bring more readers to one of the more epic and honorable acts of American journalism. Acquiring “Famous Men” was seminal for me as a twentysomething reporter, and provided both tactical and ethical ballast for the journeys in narrative non-fiction I would soon undertake in a homicide unit and on a drug corner. Have a listen and maybe pick up a copy of Agee & Walker’s masterpiece: BBC Radio 3 | The Essay | The Book that Changed Me David Simon describes how “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men” by James Agee and Walker Evans changed his work as a journalist. The celebrated work capturing the lives of ordinary people during The Depression made him realise the importance of sharing “the simple, raw vulnerability” of lived experience. “Page after page was fully ripe with the delicate work of a thinking journalist who...

Read more
Admired Work Film and Television

What’s My Line?

I wrote this up some months ago, at the time that the “Show Me A Hero” miniseries was broadcast on HBO, but then held the essay back for the simple reason that viewers were still acquiring the narrative. After all, nothing is more distracting to the viewing of any edifice than to stumble through a side door and be confronted by all the interior scaffolding, if not evidence of an architect’s early mistakes and lesser intentions. But as the miniseries has now been airing for six months — and as the DVD release of “Show Me A Hero” is slated for tomorrow — I’m guessing that any little extra attention to detail can only be a good thing. And, oh yeah, SPOILERS: *            *            * Most of the time, writing for film or television – if the writer retains a producer’s title on the set – is a straight, simple negotiation: Here’s the page. Say the lines. Yes, like you mean them, as a good actor would. You’re a good actor, right? Of course...

Read more
Politics

What I did on my humble-brag trip to Western Maryland

For reasons too improbable and esoteric to explain, I was recently invited to a small coterie of vacation shacks in Thurmont, north of the city of Frederick in Western Maryland.  Franklin Roosevelt christened the joint as Shangri-La — in honor of his “Lost Horizon” reference following the Doolittle Raid against Tokyo — and that name stuck until Eisenhower renamed it for his grandson, Daniel or Douglas or whatever. Anyhow, the rule is that what happens at Camp Daniel stays at Camp Daniel.  When you get an invite, they don’t want you to describe the place on social media, or to relate the goings-on. And the Marines at the gate hold your cameras and smart phones so there’s nothing visual I could or should post here. It will have to suffice as humble-brag to say that I drank a couple shots of presidential Jose Cuervo and I played a game of presidential darts and tilted a presidential pinball machine in the game room. Then I threw a couple jumpshots into...

Read more
Drug War Journalism On Newspapering and Journalism On the Drug War Policy & Law

Ain’t no justice. It’s just us.

In light of the frustration that many feel in the wake of this week’s mistrial in the first Freddy Gray prosecution, I thought I’d dig out an old newspaper clip. Written by veteran police reporter Roger Twigg and myself, it is an account of another Baltimorean who died in the back of a police wagon, and the early stages of an investigation that went nowhere once prosecutors, a city grand jury and police union lawyers did their business. In this instance, now nearly a quarter century old, the sustained injuries were not to the victim’s spinal cord, but to his spleen and his ribs. In this instance, the prisoner was also clearly in distress and ignored.  In this case, the wagon man rode the victim around Baltimore not for 45 minutes without medical assistance, but for a full hour. In this instance, the wagon man actually told other prisoners not to step on the prone victim, because, he said, the man had AIDS. And in this case, too, as with Mr. Gray, there was...

Read more
History Politics

Old faces and fresh dishonor

  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...

Read more
Baseball On the Orioles

The frauds of memory, the limits of penitence. And baseball.

The following article was published in the Sports Illustrated of October 12, 2015.  It is reprinted here by the kind permission of those who not only commissioned the article, but helped with the logistics of getting Mike Epstein back to Washington so as to wash the sin from my hands. So, hey, when Judgment Day comes, they at least have this going for them.  Thanks, guys. *      *      * THE STATIC of the broadcast, the AM-band crackle that the cheap transistor spit up every time it swung or bounced—even this I remember. Just as I recall the heat from the water in the hallway fountain, its cooling mechanism never quite functional. And the godawful smell of the secondary wing boys’ room. It is 1971, and I am new to the fifth grade at Rock Creek Forest Elementary School, a few hundred yards north of the D.C. line in suburban Maryland, where everything is perfectly Proustian, perfectly preserved in memory. I have been on the playground, playing strikeout with Firestone and Bjellos...

Read more
Admired Work Film and Television Music

Allen Toussaint (1938-2015)

I woke this empty morning to the sudden departure of a great and good man. There will be many better, more comprehensive tributes today from musicians, music lovers and New Orleanians who knew him well, so don’t stop here without going further to celebrate Allen Toussaint’s life.  I met him on only a handful occasions and then only in a professional setting; others can attest to so much more. But there are a couple of warm anecdotes that I treasure and that ought to be added to the day’s reflections on a gentle, giving soul and one of the finest composers who ever created American music. I had a few rare opportunities to share time and space with Mr. Toussaint during our four seasons of filming “Treme” in New Orleans, on those occasions when he allowed us to portray his person and his music as part of our fictional, post-Katrina narrative. Among other things, “Treme” was our attempt to depict the New Orleans music community as organically as...

Read more
Baseball

Some brief correspondence regarding the Chicago Cubs

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.  

Read more
Admired Work Writing

Probably smarter, possibly funnier.

A letter to the editor that ran in The Washington Post Magazine last Sunday in reply to a profile of me that said I resembled Homer Simpson’s smarter brother:   The Washington Post Magazine Letters to the editor David Simon’s older brother takes umbrage at a description in our story: I read with great interest your piece about David Simon, my little brother. I am 14 years older than David, and I am intensely proud of him. However, I must take great umbrage at the statement that “Simon … looks from some angles like Homer Simpson’s much smarter brother.”  First the implication is that I am Homer Simpson and second, that David is smarter than me. You will be hearing from my attorneys. Gary L. Simon, medical professor, GWU   In a Jewish family, the doctor is always the smarter child.  The TV writer is supposed to advance the funny.  And presently, I find myself routed on both flanks at once.

Read more
Politics

A good day to be an American

Marriage equality and foam in the corner of Scalia’s mouth. Amazing Grace and presidential duende.  And all amid the afterglow of a decision that affirms a successful government initiative that helps millions as claimed. So, this is what a first-rate country feels like.            

Read more
Parenthood Posts by Subject

Father’s Day Redux: Pickles & Cream

A repost in honor of Father’s Day and the redoubtable Bernard Simon, gone these five years but I feel as if I am talking to him still.  This was published in Lucky Peach #4 and while it is food writing, per se, it comes around to my father soon enough.  Yeah, I back into it.  But Dad, I miss you.   I want to embrace the best of the kitchen. But if DNA is destiny, and genetics holds any sway at all over the human palate, then I have much—probably too much—to overcome. The Simons come from peasant stock, and by that I don’t mean the countryside of Alsace or Tuscany or any other place where cuisine makes the days true and beautiful, where gardens and orchards and farms and village butchers conspire for a cuisine both purposeful and ingeniously simple. We are not the progeny of any agrarian ideal worthy of Impressionist paintings. No, my father’s people were kicked-to-the-ground-by-Cossacks peasants, wandering Pale of Settlement Yids who lived with one or two bags always packed...

Read more
Drug War Journalism

Mr. O’Malley’s Bad Math

In 2000, as Martin O’Malley took over as mayor of Baltimore and promised to bring crime under control, there was worry on the part of some in the city that the zero-policing, broken-windows strategies he hoped to import from New York might result in a culture of mass arrest and a dimunition of civil liberties. A year later, after Police Commissioner Ed Norris had trimmed 43 murders to drop Baltimore under the 300-homicide-a-year mark for the first time in a decade, Mr. O’Malley could note  — and did note to the New York Times — that the achievement had come without any corresponding increase in the rate of arrest. “It never happened,” the new mayor said, proudly.  “We turned the murder rate by doing a better job of arresting the hard-core criminals.” And they had.  And though Mr. O’Malley at that time claimed an annual arrest total of 78,000 — it would eventually be recorded as 8,000 more than that — he was justified in...

Read more
Drug War

Not wrong. Not at all.

From an essayist on Bloomberg today comes the claim that because raw numbers of arrests have fallen since Martin O’Malley zero-toleranced his way to the governor’s chair, or because O’Malley, after ballooning the number of minor arrests, brought them down again at the end of his tenure, zero-tolerance and over policing can’t therefore be a fundamental cause of the declining standards of police work in Baltimore, the unprofessionalism of officers, and the lower regard for civil liberties by Baltimore police. “David Simon, creator of “The Wire,” gave an interview recently laying blame for Baltimore’s recent upheaval at the feet of Martin O’Malley, the city’s former mayor and now a Democratic presidential hopeful. Simon charged O’Malley with initiating a policy of indiscriminate “mass arrests” for nonexistent low-level offenses, where officers learned to “roam the city, jack everyone up, and call for the wagon.” This breakdown in good police work and...

Read more
Drug War

Zero tolerance is exactly what it sounds like:

  Intolerance. And a broken-windows policy of policing is exactly what it means: The property matters. The people can stay broken until hell freezes over. And the ejection of these ill-bought philosophies of class and racial control from our political mainstream — this is now the real prize, not only in Baltimore, but nationally. Overpolicing and a malignant drug prohibition have systemically repressed and isolated the poor, created an American gulag, and transformed law enforcement into a militarized and brutalizing force utterly disconnected from communities in which thousands are arrested but crime itself — real crime — is scarcely addressed. To be sure, there are a great many savage inequalities in our society — no doubt we could widen this discussion at a dozen points — but now, right now, overpolicing of the poor by a militarized police-state is actually on the table for the first time in decades. And don’t for a second think that...

Read more
Admired Work Writing

A Maryland Film Festival panel slated

In the wake of last Monday’s unrest, Jed Deitz, who has nurtured the Baltimore-based festival since its inception, called to ask if I knew of anyone or anything that might be added to the event’s lineup that might address some of what has happened here. Centered in midtown Baltimore not far from the epicenter of both the mass civil disobedience that has so energized the city, as well as the site of Monday’s unrest, the festival is opening only days after authorities lifted a curfew and, perhaps, with many Marylanders and out-of-towners hesitant about attending the event. I didn’t have much to offer in the way of screenings.  Episodes of “Show Me A Hero,” an HBO miniseries slated for August, are not yet in final cut.  And, too, that miniseries, while it addresses class and racial segregation in our society, is more about our calcified political processes than directly relevant to the core grievances underlying current events. But a second miniseries...

Read more
Drug War

Baltimore

Note: The following is dated Monday, April 27 as the mass protests in Baltimore were devolving into a riot that lasted until the early morning hours. First things first. Yes, there is a lot to be argued, debated, addressed.  And this moment, as inevitable as it has sometimes seemed, can still, in the end, prove transformational, if not redemptive for our city.   Changes are necessary and voices need to be heard.  All of that is true and all of that is still possible, despite what is now loose in the streets. But now — in this moment — the anger and the selfishness and the brutality of those claiming the right to violence in Freddie Gray’s name needs to cease.  There was real power and potential in the peaceful protests that spoke in Mr. Gray’s name initially, and there was real unity at his homegoing today.  But this, now, in the streets, is an affront to that man’s memory and a dimunition of the absolute moral lesson that underlies his unnecessary death...

Read more
Admired Work Parenthood

Ladies and gentlemen, The Intrinsics: A parental kvell

The young man with the knowing smile above — and trust me, he already knows much more than me about a growing pile of stuff  — is my son, Ethan. He plays piano and keyboards. His professional debut was at Sidney’s Lounge on St. Bernard Avenue in New Orleans, where the estimable Kermit Ruffins, tending bar that night, made him sit and play four songs on the battered upright. He nervously gave up two Fess standards and some Fats Domino. He was fourteen. Somewhere on the internet, if you google Ethan Simon, you’ll find an audition video of him playing bop for admission to an summer jazz camp. He goes to work on Kern’s “All The Things You Are” and Charlie Parker’s “Now Is The Time.” He was seventeen then. He’s now just shy of his twenty-first birthday, and his band, The Intrinsics, of Cambridge, Mass. and whatever parts of greater Boston require the services of a Memphis-style soul outfit, has just dropped its first...

Read more
Admired Work Journalism Memoriam Parenthood

Ted Lippman (1929-2014)

It’s hard to scale the heights of requiem without stumbling into a deep ravine of sentiment and cliche, and I know some will measure what follows against the known place of the old Baltimore Sun in the pantheon of American newspapering. No, we were not a Washington Post of the last late century, with Bradlee’s feet on the desk and Watergate dueling scars adorning a set jawline, or a New York Times for the Middle Atlantic, our paper-of-record certitude enshrining our every effort. We certainly weren’t some rough-and-tumble tabloid squealing about headless bodies in topless bars, or even a Chicago broadsheet or Hearst rag for which Hildy Johnsons might labor with gin on their breath and cigarette burns between their typing fingers. We were pretty staid. Too staid, perhaps, and a little too proud of a noble, grey history. We were often accused by our younger sibling, the Evening Sun, of pretense and pomposity. H. L. Mencken, who we vaguely claimed but who had in fact...

Read more
Policy & Law Politics

American torture

Here’s the sad fucking truth: Our democracy, our republic, is very much weaker than we imagine if this report can only see the light of day after our government first issued preemptory promises not to prosecute the persons that did these things to other human beings in our names, or ordered that these things be done to other human beings in our names. That there are elements of the American government still arguing against this cold blast of truth, offering up the craven fear that the rest of the world might see us as we actually are, or that our enemies will perhaps use the evidence of our sadism to justify violent retribution or political maneuver — this further cowardice only adds to the national humiliation. This is not one of the world’s great powers behaving as such, and it is certainly no force for good in the world.  This might as well be the Spanish national amnesia following the death of Franco, or a post-war West Germany without the stomach for the...

Read more
The Wire

The Wire in HD (updated with video clips)

This tale begins and ends with a fellow named Bob Colesberry, who taught me as much as he could about filmmaking in the three or four years I was privileged to work with him. To those who knew Bob, it will provoke warm memories to say that he was not a language guy; he understood image, and story, and the delicate way in which those elements should meet. Bob spent a too-short lifetime on film sets, working beside real filmmakers – Scorsese, Bertolucci, Pakula, Levinson, Ang Lee – helping to shepherd the ideas of many great directors and eschewing the limelight altogether for the chance. But, hey, if you don’t believe me about how substantial his resume was, go to imdb right now and trace the arc of his career. That he ended up tethered to some ex-police reporter in Baltimore was pure forbearance on his part; for my part, I can just say I got very lucky. It is no exaggeration that Bob had to explain “crossing the line” to me a dozen times, often twice in the same day...

Read more
Drug War Film and Television On Television On the Drug War

The Wire and Baltimore

It seems that despite the most temperate reply possible, I’ve been drawn into another absurdist debate about whether The Wire, or Homicide, or perhaps even The Corner is good or bad for Baltimore.  This time, the righteous indignation about the tarnish applied to my city’s reputation is from a gentleman named Mike Rowe.  A Baltimore native, he is employed elsewhere in this great diaspora of television and he has now assumed the mantle of defender of my city’s reputation. Mr. Rowe marks his displeasure with our work by reductively describing it as a depiction of “drug dealers” and “pimps” that is sufficient to convince anyone that Baltimore is a mere cesspool, certain and fixed.  In this simplicity, he joins, by late count, a few business leaders, several political aspirants and at least two police commissioners in decrying narratives that don’t provide the imagery with which Baltimore wishes to adorn itself. Having been specifically...

Read more
Drug War Gun Laws Policy & Law

The endgame for American civic responsibility Pt. III

Note:  These essays were, of course, written before St. Louis County prosecutors and Ferguson police relented and revealed the identity of the officer sho shot and killed Mr. Brown.  Both the cost to their credibility in the delay inherent in their delay and to the civil peace of that town remains relevant, however.  Moreover, the problem with federal, state and local law enforcement agencies nationally trying to maintain anonymity in such incidents is on the rise. So the essays stand as argument,  regardless.  – DS   August 14, 2014 Mr. Thomas Jackson Chief of Police Ferguson, Missouri   Chief Jackson: Regard this as an open letter in light of your department’s unwillingness to properly identify the officer involved in the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in your jurisdiction this last week. Understand that I am someone with a high regard for good police work.  I covered a large municipal department for a dozen years and spent that time writing in detail on...

Read more
Drug War Gun Laws Policy & Law

The endgame for American civic responsibility Pt. II

Seven years later, from the Baltimore City Paper of February 12, 2009, as the militarization of American police work continued apace, infecting not merely the federal agencies so much less accountible to individual jurisdictions, but municipal police departments that claimed to be directly in the service of specific communities: Police work, it is said, is only easy in a police state.  So welcome to the city of Baltimore, where a police officer who uses lethal force and takes human life is no longer required to stand behind his or her actions and suffer the scrutiny of the public he or she serves, where the identity of those officers who use lethal force will no longer be known, where our communities are now asked to trust in the judgment of those who clearly don’t trust us. A 61-year-old Baltimorean is dead, shot by a Southeastern District Officer Feb. 17. His death may well be a reasonable, if tragic outcome. It may even be good police work, though any veteran city prosecutor will...

Read more
Drug War Gun Laws Journalism

The endgame for American civic responsibility. Pt. I

I’m going to write something fresh about Ferguson, Missouri, and the once-extraordinary notion that law enforcement officers — uniquely authorized, trained and armed as they are to use lethal force against American civilians in peacetime as is necessary to serve the commonweal — need not be identified when they have in fact taken a human life.  The notion that police officers are entitled to anonymity after such an action is not merely anti-democratic; it is, in fact, totalitarian.  The idea that a police department, with all of its resources and sworn personnel, might claim to be unable to protect an officer from retribution, and therefore employ such anonymity to further protect the officer from his citizenry is even more astonishing.  And any police agency showing such institutional cowardice which might then argue its public should continue to come forward and cooperate with officers in police investigations and to trust in the outcome is engaged in little more...

Read more
Admired Work

Robin Williams: A brief encounter

This is a grievous thing to say aloud, much less think, but I wish that the suicide of Robin Williams made less sense to me than it somehow does. I say that with very little real knowledge of the man, his inner being, or the whole of his life. I encountered him only once, twenty years ago, but the memory is distinct. I found Mr. Williams good-hearted, hilarious, talented, and remarkably, indescribably sad. We were in the Maryland morgue on the given day, though the location had little to do with the sadness. Mr. Williams was guesting on an episode of NBC’s Homicide: Life on the Street I had cowritten with my college-newspaper comrade, David Mills. It was the first attempt at a television script for either of us, and until Mr. Williams had agreed to sign on as a guest star, our effort had seemed something of a miserable failure. For one thing, we had originally written the episode for season one of the network drama.  But NBC execs, reading a narrative in which a mother of two is...

Read more
Politics

The nationalist veil

Make no mistake, Vladimir Putin is a thug, a neo-Tsarist xenophobe and complicit in the chain of events that led to Ukranian separatist rebels mistakenly downing a civilian airliner.  He should reflect on his performance and its result, and he should begin to make what amends he can offer.   Nothing that follows mitigates against any of the above. However: “….As of 1993, the United States had not apologized to Iran.  In 1996, the United States and Iran reached “an agreement in full and final settlement of all disputes, differences, claims, counterclaims” relating to the incident at the International Court of Justice, including a recognition of the incident in the form of “…the United States recognized the aerial incident of 3 July 1988 as a terrible human tragedy and expressed deep regret over the Loss of lives caused by the incident…” As part of the settlement, the United States did not admit legal liability but agreed to pay on an...

Read more
People

Within the Acela cocoon

There is something about human beings compacted in a cylindrical tube, hurtling between cities at a high speed, unable to maneuver in any other manner than to, say, grab a beer from the cafe car or visit the rest room. It is lost time. And when you’ve made all your cell calls, and answered the last of your email, and you are still only in Wilmington and another forty minutes from home, the last distractions are the people sitting around you. This fellow was at the four-top table immediately behind me. I clocked him as we left New York, but as he is a busy man, and as most of our previous encounters have been a little edgy, I told myself to let well enough alone. I answered a few more emails, looked at some casting tapes on the laptop, checked the headlines. And still, with all of that done, we were only just south of Philadelphia. I texted my son: “On the southbound Acela. Marty O’Malley sitting just behind me,” then joking, “Do I set it off?” A...

Read more
Journalism On Newspapering and Journalism Writing

Libel per se – UPDATED TWICE

UPDATE:  12 p.m., July 4 I am informed that the Huff Post piece has now removed the reference to my having been fired.  Instead, apparently, my revenge was had upon editors who spiked one of my articles because my writing wasn’t “Dickensian” enough.  They never said anything of the sort to me or anyone else, and that is not actually the reason that particular article was spiked.  I carefully related the actual sequence of events to Dr. Williams in my April memo as a discussion of  that particular article and its fate features throughout her manuscript, but no matter.  With regard to the Huff Post essay at least, I am libeled no more and I thank the author for her apology at the bottom of the essay. A brief word on the non-performance of the Huffington Post in this matter, on their publishing ethic, and on the manner in which this institution conducts its business: The abdication of editorial responsibility in the case of aggregated sites such as Wikipedia or barely...

Read more
Parenthood

It’s carnival time

A carnival season memory from the other night: I am walking with my daughter, just shy of four years, from what we know as the Sugar Store toward the Krewe D’Etat parade.  She has mango sorbet on the tip of her nose as she negotiates a fat cone of the stuff.  Three blocks away, the drum tattoo of a high school band gives way to a passing float and the throw-me-something cheers of a crowd. She squints down the block, sees the lighted float cruise through. “We missed that one.” “There’ll be another.  It’s a long parade.” “Okay.” Long pause. “Can everything stay just like it is now?” “What do you mean?” She examines her sorbet cone, then looks directly at me. “Everybody dies.  You’re going to die.  One day I’m going to die.” My breath leaves me.  Try explaining the ultimate tragedy of life to a four year old.  Try doing it without falling back on the tropes and cliches of theology.  Try...

Read more
Memoriam Music People

Pete Seeger, 1919-2014

  If there is an American who has lived a more honorable and creative life in the past century, the name cannot be readily conjured.  Pete Seeger did everything possible to merge the power of popular song to the very idea of community.  

Read more
Music People

“The highway’s jammed with broken heroes…”

He knew. We can say this now with certainty if we ask ourselves one basic question about human nature:  What good does it do a political operative to screw over the opposition if you can’t then tell your boss about it?  Where is the  joy for any lickspittle hack in the office hierarchy if he or she can’t pull off a dirty trick against a political adversary, then walk down the hall and tell the boss just how well you did on his behalf?  What would be the point? I’ve actually found New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s bluster and anger to be endearing at times, if only for the plain-speaking insistence on results.  I don’t find anger to be a particularly negative trait when that anger is offered on behalf of others, nor do I regard argument as anything other than a worthy endeavor if the argument is actually about something.  I didn’t agree with Mr. Christie on any number of issues, but I found him credible as a public servant.  He reminded me in some...

Read more
Treme

Treme sign-off in the New Orleans Times-Picayune

Offered up in response to an invitation from the editors, who wanted something to “bookend” the series, given that I had written a short primer when the drama premiered.  It’s never fair to declaim on what a story is or isn’t when folks are still absorbing it on their own terms and forming their own opinions, so I kept it to a couple elemental disclaimers and a thank-you to the cultural communities in New Orleans.  I should also mention that the offer of a first round on me is for New Orleanians only, as they have been gracious about the necessary trespass.  If you come up to me with concerns and critiques of the drama in Boston or Barcelona or Baltimore, the first one is definitely on you. *         *         * Four and a half years and 36 hours of television later, I still don’t know what “tu es pocky way” actually means. Or more accurately, I don’t know which to credit among the seven or eight definitions offered us by five or six different Mardi Gras...

Read more
Writing

The Pogues project – clarified

Seems I let a cat slip from the bag in the Q-and-A session after a recent gig in Australia by mentioning some work undertaken in conjunction with a possible stage musical involving the songs of The Pogues.   I was offering an answer to a question about whether I had thought about undertaking work in media other than prose or television.  What has ensued with the Irish press, and then with the likes of Rolling Stone, has been a little surprising, if not entirely premature. To more carefully ground this in fact: I’ve been a fan of The Pogues and their music since the late 1980s.  After we had used some of their songs in The Wire, I had a chance to meet the bandmembers through George Pelecanos, who had been invited to one of their concerts in Washington, D.C.  Shortly thereafter, during some time in London, I was approached by Phil Chevron about the possibility of writing a musical that would utilize the band’s discography.  Interested, I was then introduced to the estimable...

Read more
Film and Television

Shooting Michael B. Jordan

What follows is from this month’s GQ Magazine, which named actor Michael B. Jordan — who we first victimized in “The Wire” — for the breakout performance of 2013.  His fine work in “Fruitvale Station” is wholly deserving and the film is an important one.  I was honored when the magazine asked me to write something for the year-end issue, and it’s reposted here with the magazine’s kind permission.  Congratulations, Michael.  We knew you when. *    *    * Perversely, we are at the edge of creating a hard-and-fast rule of film narrative in which the one assured means by which we can get America to care about young men of color is to shoot Michael B. Jordan. Not Michael, to be fair. But any character portrayed by Michael. The drug war? Stop and frisk? Racial profiling? Black-on-black violence? Our separate Americas? All that is commentary. If you need white folks to actually feel something, it pays to aim a handgun at Michael B...

Read more
Admired Work

And now my emphasis added. (Emphasis mine.)

Maybe it’s because I’ve just journeyed through the funhouse of Brietbart.com where suggesting that the Constitution and the original intent of its authors might not always yield moral perfection is quickly labeled a trashing of the document and all that is American, but I’m beginning to look upon the internet as a place where  any thought so conceived as even a paragraph can not long endure.  It certainly can’t be tweeted. I awoke this morning and chased the coffee with this: David Simon, the creator of The Wire and the author of two of the best pieces of book-length journalism ever written (Homicide and The Corner), really liked 12 Years a Slave. I mean, he really liked it. He liked it so much, in fact, that he thinks it’s literally beyond criticism. Wrote Simon:  [O]nly two kinds of folk will emerge from theaters [after seeing 12 Years a Slave]. The first will be at last awakened to the actual and grevious horror in which the black experience in America...

Read more
Parenthood

A rugged individualist punches into the Disney compound.

Three year old daughter acting up in a restaurant this afternoon.  Child extricated before meal arrives.  Time out on the sidewalk bench in front of the bistro.  Three year old pouting, arms crossed. “You know, you can’t be a princess if you don’t use your manners.” “Why I can’t?” “Because princesses are nice to everyone.  Ariel, Jasmine, Cinderella…they always use their best manners.” “Well, Daddy, I am a mean, mean princess.” “Princesses are good. How can you be a princess if you are mean?  There’s no such thing.” Three year old thinking hard for a long beat.  Then, softly, wearily, as if sad for me: “Silly, Daddy.  You just don’t know princess things.” Oy. In for a bumpy ride with this one.  

Read more

Send this to a friend