Commentary: Posts by Subject

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...

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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.   Share this:FacebookTwitterLinkedInRedditEmailPrint

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Admired Work

Kick it over.

Hat tip, my brothers. www.rmcortes.com/books/jury/Jury-Illustrated.pdf Because the drug war needs a better bedtime story. Share this:FacebookTwitterLinkedInRedditEmailPrint

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Drug War Policy & Law

Lost in a symptom: The Nation on marijuana reform

The surest way to ensure the continued abuse of people of color under the auspices of the drug war is to reduce or eliminate any corresponding threat to white Americans.  This seems to me to be such a fundamental of realpolitik in the United States that I’m still a little bit astonished that The Nation, in a recent assessment of marijuana reform efforts and racial bias, can’t see any forest from the trees. Not a single fact about marijuana use and the racial bias that law enforcement exhibits with regard to the drug is askew, of course.  I agree with the article’s author, Dr. Carl Hart of Columbia University, on his entire statistical premise: “Consider a recent report by the American Civil Liberties Union showing that black people are two to over seven times more likely to be arrested for pot possession than their white counterparts, despite the fact that both groups use marijuana at similar rates,” notes Dr. Hart.  “These disparities held up even...

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Admired Work Film and Television

Slavery, a film narrative and the empty myth of original intent.

  I’m fresh out of a theater in Santa Monica, California where I’ve watched 12 Years A Slave for the second time, having seen it several days ago on a laptop screen through a dedicated download.  I’ll be honest.  I wanted to write something after absorbing the narrative and the imagery the first time, but I was so wrought that I didn’t trust myself. Had a film with American participation actually addressed the original sin of our nationhood so bluntly, so honestly?  Was the film really as careful and delicate and dispassionate with the historical reality?  Was the restraint that i felt in the telling really there, or had the punches been carefully loaded as Hollywood is so apt to do? On first viewing, I was simply startled by how genuinely fair the storytelling had been with the subject matter.  Sadism and soullessness was balanced by moments of regret and conscience on the part of white characters.  Accomodation and supplication on the part of Southern...

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Admired Work Memoriam

Elmore Leonard (1925-2013)

A master departs. It isn’t that he merely took a blowtorch to all the affectations and pretenses of genre fiction.  No, he made the lines between genre and literary fiction ridiculous and arbitrary for all time.  Fuck your categorizations:  This guy did some of the best writing in the last half of the Twentieth Century.  He leaves behind narratives that make us think harder about the human condition, not to mention all of our presumptions about how our society actually functions — or doesn’t. I met him once.  I was a newspaper reporter, and so proud of that simple fact that I never wanted to ever be seen “going civilian,” fawning on celebrities or artists or political leaders or whoever.  Good journalists, Mencken said, can write about cats and kings.  The day’s assignment  — and the personages you encounter — shall not adulterate the requisite mixture of detached interest and dry, professional disdain.  Observe everything, admire...

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Admired Work Introductions/Liner Notes

Liner notes essay – Steve Earle’s new boxed set

I had the distinct honor of being asked to write an essay for the recent release of Steve Earle’s extraordinary post-1995 songbook, when he came roaring back from addiction and a brief incarceration to reassert himself as one of our most relevant songwriters.  Yes, Steve is at this point a friend and colleague, having worked with us on “The Wire” and “Treme” both.  But I’d’ve written what follows if I had only the music itself on which to rely.  For those who have not yet savored Mr. Earle and his work, the new boxed set, “Steve Earle: The Warner Brothers Years,” which includes audio and video live performances from that period as well as three essential studio recordings, is a perfect entry point into what has become an extraordinary canon of American roots music. *        *        * I am generally down on the idea of heroes.  We have enough of them in American culture, certainly, yet we are always in the process of tearing some...

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People

Betrayal, thy name is Bourdain.

Okay, I owe Tony Bourdain a good bit of karmatic equity.  The banter in those Treme kitchen scenes didn’t exactly write itself, after all. So I am pretty much trying to say yes to my boy when he calls me and says he’s subbing for Mr. Morgan on CNN and he wants me to guest on a segment with David Carr of the NYT.  I don’t do the talking-head cable shtick often, especially not on complicated issue-talk because the format is too cramped to progress a real discussion.  I’m up for a little nonsense if I have a show that I’m trying to pitch, or if it’s some wordy, hour-long PBS thing where the asides can have asides, but otherwise, no.  And this is quick and dirty.  And I’ve got nothing on air to plug at the moment, and nothing recently published.  But still, it’s Bourdain.  I owe the guy.  And, at the end of the email, noting that the other half of his show is all-foodie talk, he writes: “And cronuts!”Talk about burying the lede...

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Politics

The Koch brothers and The Baltimore Sun

Some nice folk hoping to help craft a better future for my alma mater, The Baltimore Sun, stopped by the office a few weeks ago and asked me some questions about what I thought about the Koch brothers, those politically passioned gentlemen, purchasing the half-empty husks of what remains of the Chicago Tribune newspapers. I replied in detail, but of course, they needed a shorter sound bite: Okay as far as it goes, but I’d like to be a little more clear about why the Koch family isn’t really cut out to be a publisher of American newspapers.  It isn’t that they are rightist libertarians and I am not, honestly.  As I said in my remarks, but which do not convey fully in the edited clip, I’d be as distressed if Ariana Huffington or George Soros wanted to purchase and operate The Sun.  Why?  Because 1) they are engaged in ideological advocacy and 2) they aren’t from Baltimore and their ties to my community are insufficient to guarantee a responsive and locally...

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Gun Laws Policy & Law

Doubling down

Among many, many others of similar passion: pat stevens [email protected]  david simon, I hope a black guy punches you right in the fucking face just for being white.. Michael Bailey [email protected] David Simon A Jewish man… “One less Jew to answer, One less Jew (cont) Willy Scanlon [email protected] @7sMRD313 Then David Simon should leave for Israel with the rest of the Fucking Jews who think that they own this country.   Robert Aguilar Jr. [email protected] David Simon can take the first Asiana flight the fuck out of here too!! My actual words: “Tonight, anyone who truly understands what justice is and what it requires of a society is ashamed to call himself an American.” *        *        * Some random moments in my lifetime when I have been intensely proud of my country: 1.  “Ich bin ein Berliner” and “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” 2.   The arrival of U.S. carriers off the shores of Indonesia after a devastating tsunami. 3.   Standing...

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Gun Laws Policy & Law

Comments on Martin-Zimmerman. To reiterate:

If you go to the original post on the verdict itself, entitled “Trayvon,” you will find more than five hundred posts in which all of the issues regarding the case were debated to the point of repetition over more than 48 hours, after which, as every new comment in the last several hundred had already been addressed, we closed the comments to preserve the give-and-take of the debate — debate becing one of the fundamental goals of the website. The dynamic is explained in greater detail in the subsequent and concluding post, “Trayvon: Calling It.”  Commentary on that post is naturally being limited to a discussion about the debate dynamic here.  A third post stands only as a corrective to the false claim that I was exhorting anyone to riot, and that the reductive medium of Twitter was being so utilized.  Commentary there is being limited largely to a discussion of the claim and the uses or misuses of Twitter. If you have a point to argue about the issue...

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Gun Laws Policy & Law

More proof that twitter sucks. (Updated)

A new top to this, apparently:  A reader has informed me that Mr. Podhoretz has apologized for the mischaracterization of the quote.  That was manful, and direct.  So while this post remains as a means of reaffirming the actual intent of what I wrote, it should be acquired henceforth with the knowledge that Mr. Podhoretz appears to have been unaware of the full context when he tweeted.  Mr. Kurtz remains in the wind, but due respect to Mr. Podhoretz. *       *       * Willful stupidity or rank intellectual dishonesty?  With these two fellows and their output, there is really no third choice that can be legitimately considered:              John Podhoretz [email protected] David Simon says he would have thrown brick at courthouse if he were a person of color in FLA. Why shouldn’t he attack it as a white guy? HowardKurtz [email protected] Ugh: Wire’s David Simon: If I were a person of color in Florida, I would pick up a brick and start walking toward that courthouse in Sanford...

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Gun Laws

Trayvon: Calling it

Went to dinner last night and I’d managed to winnow the comments down to a dozen or so.  Came back and we were back in the hundreds.  Moreover, I read through all of them and, without exception, they are entirely repetitive of arguments that have already been given a full ride. This is understandable in that many fresh posters are not inclined to review pages and pages of previous commentary, but such brutal repetition nonetheless impairs the commentary as a standing document.  Anyone reading at this point will be distracted to find nearly every aspect argued at multiple points. So as with the previous debate on the NSA that generated so much commentary, there comes a reasonable point at which we have to acknowledge that the back and forth is taking us nowhere new. I’d like to genuinely thank the great majority of you for your interest, your passion, your honest rhetoric and your willingness to seriously engage with all facets of this case and the large issue of stand-your...

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Gun Laws

Trayvon

You can stand your ground if you’re white, and you can use a gun to do it. But if you stand your ground with your fists and you’re black, you’re dead. In the state of Florida, the season on African-Americans now runs year round. Come one, come all.  And bring a handgun. The legislators are fine with this blood on their hands. The governor, too. One man accosted another and when it became a fist fight, one man — and one man only — had a firearm. The rest is racial rationalization and dishonorable commentary. If I were a person of color in Florida, I would pick up a brick and start walking toward that courthouse in Sanford. Those that do not, those that hold the pain and betrayal inside and somehow manage to resist violence — these citizens are testament to a stoic tolerance that is more than the rest of us deserve.  I confess, their patience and patriotism is well beyond my own. Behold, the lewd, pornographic embrace of two great American...

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History

The banality of ideology

There’s a fine essay up on the New York Times website reflecting on Hannah Arendt’s “Eichmann in Jerusalem” and the new film about that seminal moment in our understanding of the human capacity for evil. Having read Ms. Arendt once when I was in high school, and then again some twenty-odd years later, I’ve always been at a loss to explain the uncivil meltdown of the New York intelligentsia when it comes to her work. Roger Berkowitz, the essay’s author, is entirely correct in noting that there has been a rush to imply — without real cause — that Ms. Arendt’s assessment of Eichmann and his role in the Holocaust was dismissive or exculpatory, that she was in any way marginalizing his fundamental responsibility. The “banality of evil” was not a phrase created to suggest a mere clerk following orders, but of a man conceding all deeper moral thought to the demands of ideology. He was, indeed, as Ms. Arendt argues, a committed...

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Policy & Law

Chickens, coming home.

What follows is an exchange from the commentary section after I wrote last year that the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office unwillingness to pursue all but the most winnable murder cases — and a corresponding decline in the number of charged defendants by anywhere from 33 to 45 percent, depending on the time frame — would eventually result in a bump in the homicide rate for the city. Beginning with a certain Mr. Darrow, whose moniker suggests that he may labor at the Mitchell Courthouse, though I have no way of knowing, obviously: June 18, 2012 at 10:41 p.m. CLARENCE DARROW says: One question: if what you say here is true, why hasn’t the murder rate in Baltimore skyrocketed? Nine percent seems like it could be a seasonal/sociological blip. June 18, 2012 1t 11:33 p.m. DAVID SIMON says: Of what, exactly, are you skeptical? That the deterrent against repeat violent offenders has been found to have one of the most direct correlations to a city’s crime rate? Sorry...

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Drug War

A good argument demands some rigor.

It’s s simple thing to advance the other fellow’s argument as that which we wish it to be. Shorn of context, with fundamentals omitted, we can, if we squint just so, convince ourselves that we’ve put a real knife to something that matters. I recently argued two distinct things in the same essay: A)  While I oppose the drug war and its immoral excesses, the tools used to prosecute that drug war — indeed for all crime suppression — are not, for the greater part, unconstitutional. Ergo, I oppose the policy of drug prohibition, not the tools used for that policy. The tools are themselves a neutral asset, capable of being used to both good and bad societal effect.  Just as the use of such tools in counter-terror programming, which I believe has more moral legitimacy than the drug war, is constitutional and credible. B)  Given the last forty years of an unimpeded drug war, the sudden, hyperbolic reaction to these same tools used by the NSA in counter-terror...

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Privacy

The “Nigger Wake-Up Call”

The great political comedian Paul Mooney made his bones by laying in the cut between American democratic ideals and American behavior.  A mentor and inspiration to his friend Richard Pryor, Mooney’s stock-in-trade is a canny ability to thread the truth between ongoing and established hypocrisies — to make us see the pathologies that are still at the core of our decision-making and societal array. One of his best routines involves the “nigger wake-up call,” that signal moment when the rest of America finally understands something, and comes to resent and acknowledge that which black and brown America has internalized and tolerated for generations. Well, in the wake of the revelations about data-mining — and  the sudden awareness that the government has legal cause to pay attention not just to criminally-inclined people of color and the dissolute, unreliable poor, but to us and our behavior, that there might actually be thirty to forty years of legal...

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Privacy

Now. And this. And, if true, the time and place to draw the line. (But not true: UPDATE)

UPDATED: So this allegation falls on its ass, and rather quickly, too.  The desire to reach beyond the known facts into the realm of speculation is pretty high in general, but on a spy story it’s even stronger, it would seem.  In any event, I’m leaving this post up regardless.  Lots of good discussion in the comments section, but more than that, it represents the line at which I believe a civil liberties intrusion rises to an unconstitutional and indefensible standard.  This was hyped.  But again, there is no reason not to be wary of government overreach. The original claim, now denied and dormant, is here, followed by my own, earlier comments: In my original post criticizing the hyperbole over the Verizon phone metadata gathering by the NSA and the revelation of a court order for that program, I wrote this: “When the Guardian, or the Washington Post or the New York Times editorial board are able …to show that Americans actually had their communications...

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Privacy

To and Fro. And Real Respect To Mr. Shirky For Checking In, Regardless.

In response to yesterday’s expressed disappointment with a Guardian column that challenged the original post on the NSA controversy here, Clay Shirky, who authored that essay, showed up in the comments section this morning.  That’s a mensch.  All credit there.  I’m going to highlight his comments and my answer to continue to focus my argument here.  And perhaps maybe move the argument off of who is Simon, or Greenwald, or Andrew Sullivan, or Thomas Friedman, or Janet Mayer, or Michael Moore, or Glenn Beck, or certainly, Mr. Shirky himself,  where they come from or what they might or might not know given what we think we understand of their background.  That stuff does not improve argument; it weakens argument.  Content matters.  The arguments themselves matter, not who we think made them or why.  Come to think of it, everyone just now arguing about who Edward Snowden is  might similarly inoculate themselves against the great viral scourge of  argumentum ad hominem...

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Privacy

The Guardian: I Am Straw Man, Reborn

There’s no problem whatsoever with the U.K.’s Guardian reporting the leaked Verizon court order, engaging with Mr. Snowden, and publishing the known details about that NSA program, as well as PRISM.  It is not in committing an act of premeditated journalism that such an august publication entered the realm of self-aggrandizing hyperbole.  The journalism is the job.  It was in the additional editorializing of the lead reporter in telling us exactly how “indiscriminate” the NSA program was.  Such characterization jumps past the known into the argumentative, and actually undercuts the fundamental journalism.  The NSA program involves a great amount of phone data, but it has by no means been proven indiscriminate. And while we have, leaked to us, the court order signed by a federal judge authorizing a re-up of that ongoing program, what we have not seen thus far is the affidavits of the counter-terrorism investigators explaining exactly the goals and uses of that...

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Privacy

Counter-Arguments: Gathered and Answered

I am on a new server, one that claims to be able to handle a bit more volume.  With all the confidence such a claim inspires, it might advance the debate if we take a shot at systematically addressing all of the main criticisms and counter-arguments that resulted from my previous post on the NSA controversy.  For purposes of clarity, let’s do this in the Q&A form. Q.  First of all, you do know that you are a crypto-fascist and naive shill for the burgeoning surveillance state. A.  Yes, apparently so.  Yesterday, I was a neo-Marxist arguing against the totalitarian overreach of the drug war and the need to decouple capital from our governing processes.   You go issue to issue, ignoring all the proper ideological prime-directives, and eventually you wear all the names. Q.  But what?  You love wiretaps?  Is this about the TV show? A.  No.  I was a police reporter covering the urban drug war for about a decade.  I read a lot of Title III affidavits.  I’m fairly comfortable...

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Policy & Law Politics

NSA and FISA commentary: Calling it.

Okay, folks, I want to thank everyone, sincerely, for engaging in what has been for the most part an aggressive, sincere and genuinely relevant discussion of the Verizon data controversy.  At points, I looked around and thought that the debate at this little corner of the web was far more specific and rooted than much of what occupied the op-eds and 24-hour cable channels.  You all brought a lot into the mix.  And with rare exception, everyone stayed largely on substance and avoided ad hominem and other rank fallacy. For my part, I remain convinced that the Verizon call data should be used as a viable data base for counter-terror investigations and that its misuse should be greeted with the hyperbole that currently adorns the present moment.  On the other hand, the arguments of others convinced me that while I still believe the differences between call data and a wiretap are profound, and that the standard for obtaining call data has been and should remain far more modest for law...

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Policy & Law Politics

We are shocked, shocked…

Is it just me or does the entire news media — as well as all the agitators and self-righteous bloviators on both sides of the aisle — not understand even the rudiments of electronic intercepts and the manner in which law enforcement actually uses such intercepts? It would seem so. Because the national eruption over the rather inevitable and understandable collection of all raw data involving telephonic and internet traffic by Americans would suggest that much of our political commentariat, many of our news gatherers and a lot of average folk are entirely without a clue. You would think that the government was listening in to the secrets of 200 million Americans from the reaction and the hyperbole being tossed about. And you would think that rather than a legal court order which is an inevitable consequence of legislation that we drafted and passed, something illegal had been discovered to the government’s shame. Nope. Nothing of the kind. Though apparently, the U.K.’s...

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Writing

James Agee, and the delicate pursuit of narrative non-fiction.

I’ve written on my admiration for “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men” before, and in fact an essay is somewhere on this website.  But now, more on Agee’s great treatise on American poverty from the New York Times: If a greater humanist or more honorable soul ever practiced journalism, I can’t conjure the name.  Agee showed a lot of people not only how to report and write about other human beings, but how to behave while doing so.     Share this:FacebookTwitterLinkedInRedditEmailPrint

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History

A family history as microcosm and our national divide.

My father passed away three years ago. As a kind of prolonged Kaddish for him, I have been gathering the family history — tales that he knew, but I never asked enough about when he was alive. It’s been a labor of love, and of reflection, and I am not yet sure of the overall purpose. But it has connected me to the past in delicate ways. Certainly, ancestor-worship is, for me, a much more solid religious pillar than anything rooted in theology at this point. Anyway, on this Memorial Day, and in that spirit, I gather the following photographs together: A forestry major at N.C. State, Murray Lebowitz was my mother’s first cousin. He left college and enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps a week after Pearl Harbor.  He was killed when his bomber crashed into the sea after take off from Guadalcanal on a flight to bomb Japanese positions on the New Guinea coast in April 1943.   His body, and those of his fellow crew members, was not recovered. ____________________   My uncle on...

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Film and Television Treme

Why I don’t tweet. Example #47

So I am on the way to a nice dinner with wife and child and Mr. Bourdain emails me.  Seems someone named Andy Cohen, who is also involved in this sprawling and relentless medium of television in some important way, has gotten into a back-and-forth with Mr. Bourdain on Twitter.  And out of the blue, though I am minding my own business — which is something for which I rarely get any credit  — Mr. Cohen, defending himself on a matter of interest to himself and Mr. Bourdain, goes out of his way to shit on the HBO production of Treme. I don’t know Mr. Cohen.  I understand he is with the Bravo Network and he was defending their show, “Top Chef,” from some negative publicity that resulted from that production having bartered for some of the BP-oil spill restoration funds as an incentive for filming in Louisiana.   And in contending with Mr. Bourdain’s suggestion that he mitigate that negative publicity by making a charitable donation of the money, Mr...

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Policy & Law

“Do You Know Who I Am?”

I’m not much on tabloid gossip as news content, but Reese Witherspoon’s encounter with an Atlanta police officer, in which she tried to prevent her husband’s arrest during a traffic stop by playing the celebrity card, brings to mind one of my favorite Baltimore police stories. I just gotta let fly. As to Ms. Witherspoon, who has already apologized, I offer only sympathy.  While I understand  it looks horseshit after the fact to be caught wielding fame in such fashion, the more honest and less hypocritical assessment is that all of us will use any card we think we have at the moment that our better half is taking cuffs. We gave to the FOP lodge this year?  A cousin is a state trooper?  A brother in law is a federal prosecutor? You loved Hill Street Blues?  Rodney King deserved as good an ass-whipping as he got?  Admit it, and lose the self-righteous sneer: If you could rightly claim that you were third in line to the British Crown and could get the Secretary of State...

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Gun Laws Politics

Dead children and monied politicians.

What is left to say? A sane man’s contempt for the United States Senate must now be certain and complete. Given the inertia on even the most modest legislative response to the mass murder of schoolchildren, those still credulous enough to believe that our governance is representative of popular will are either Barnum-sized suckers, or worse, tacit participants in tragedies soon to come. An entrenched collection of careerist incumbents, chosen and retained through their singular ability to gather cash from money troughs over six-year intervals — and the unrestrained ability of capital to keep those troughs constantly full — none of this is worthy of any intelligent citizen’s respect or allegiance. Never mind that the higher house of our bicameral farce is one in which 40 percent of the American population choses 60 percent of the representation; that millions of New Yorkers or Texans, say, are represented and served to the same degree as thousands of Montanans...

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Baseball People

Gus Triandos (1930-2013)

Apologies for the lack of activity here so far this year.  As it happened, the filming of the remaining episodes of Treme required my full attention, and following that endeavor, a couple of prolonged illnesses in the family required additional time.  And, well, I owe a lot of script work. If you’ve read the introduction, you know that one of my fears in beginning a blog was that when things got hectic, I would be unable to properly service the damn thing.  Certainly, for the first quarter of 2013, this has been the case. *          *         * What prompts a rapid return is the recent news that former all-star Oriole catcher Gus Triandos has passed away.  There are better remembrances and obituaries of the ballplayer to be had, but I can’t help but provide a small, additional anecdote about the man.  It is a backstage story that deserves some corner of baseball posterity. The tale begins with Richard Price, the noted novelist and screenwriter who was kind enough to grace...

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Gun Laws Journalism

Addendum: The National Review and the deaths of schoolchildren

In the discussions that have followed the Newtown tragedy, I thought myself ready for just how much abstraction and distraction would be offered so that we might avoid focusing on the actual metallic instruments that fire actual projectiles that end actual lives. I’d heard it all before, and I assumed I’d hear it all again.  But no, I just encountered this essay, authored by Charlotte Allen. For real. Are the seeming adults who claim to be in command the National Review so committed to the ideological that they are ready and willing to twist childhood, or the culture and purpose of a classroom, or even the benign and essential role of the grade-school teacher, into something altogether hideous? Read the Review and weep for our pathetic, feminized educator class, devoid of any shred of warrior ethos.  Oh, those ineffectual teachers, thinking they were there to teach young children, when so much more was clearly called for.  They went like Jews to the ovens — unready...

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Gun Laws Policy & Law

Newtown, Conn.

  I’ve sat facing my computer a few times since those school children were massacred, attempting on each pass to write something that expresses anything honest about the slaughter, about this horror show that we call modern, post-millenial America.  Elsewhere, I have read the words of people who are so devastated by this event that they cannot think of what to say, or who to blame, or how to bring our country to some better place.  As if words or ideas are no longer sufficient or useful against something as elemental to our society and culture as firearms. For me, this isn’t the problem.  For me, the struggle goes to an opposite extreme.  Each time I start to write about this tragedy, my head begins to hurt.  And too soon, I sense that all of the contempt and bile I feel for America’s continuing worship of the gun will pour out onto the digital page,  that any meaningful argument I hope to express will be lost in my low regard for those in my country —...

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Film and Television

Entitlement and celebrity, and the work itself

There is much to admire in the talent that is on display in the American entertainment industry. I’ve had the privilege of working with some of the finest actors, of standing on film sets as they use body and soul to turn pages into a careful approximation of the human condition. Some of these great talents I have come to admire, even love. And many have even managed to eschew the American fixation with celebrity and the culture of entitlement that the entertainment industry — and the ridiculous money that is layered over the industry — manages to nurture and exploit. Don’t think it doesn’t require professionalism and strength of character to stay true to yourself and to the work, when from every point on the compass, people are telling you how much more attention and cash and respect you deserve. But just when I am ready to give all credit to those who labor in front of the camera, I find myself on set and I catch a glimpse of the assistant directors directing...

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Policy & Law

A brutal reprise in Florida

In regard to the senseless shooting death of another young black male in the state of Florida, I think that there is little that hasn’t been said already.  How many different ways can we describe the Kafkaesque upending of American jurisprudence through stand-your-ground laws nationwide?  Who has to die before those responsible for this horror show have a moment of self-reflection?  Certainly, someone other than a black teenager.  It’s bad enough that we have become a culture that now codifies its respect for property, or real estate, or human pride above a fundamental and once-paramount respect for human life.  Now, it seems, with the death of Mr. Davis at the hands of Mr. Dunn, we have defenders of the assailant actually suggesting that the right to end an argument about loud music with lethal force has a place under these vile statutes.   To that end, let’s simply repost an earlier essay written for the Miami Herald and archived elsewhere on this website.  The...

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Posts by Subject

Fuss, bother, and then…quiet

Anyone who has stumbled here before knows that the emissions are only occasional, that weeks can pass between all of us venting and frothing and arguing over a post such as the previous few, after which the entire site seems to go into sleep mode. Apologies.  As I explain elsewhere on the site, this is not the day job. And this morning, in New Orleans, the schedule shows writing deadlines, one hard on the heels of the other.  Sure, when Eric or George or someone else has the upcoming episode, it’s all fun and games with the internet.  And who can’t do set coverage and swing an iPad in between rehearsals and takes?  That’s the down time that is made to answer posts, to poke and be poked with the digital stick.  But for now, I have to go to where people pay for copy, and where there is a film crew that will rightly stomp on me if the white pages for episode 404 are late. Thanks to everyone for all the recent banter and discussion and argument.  Is it my imagination or...

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People Politics

Petraeus, On Further Reflection (R.I.P. John O’Neill)

What follows is lifted from the comments to my previous post on this issue.  I’m reposting it simply because as I was engaged in responding to this particular comment, I realized — even to my own surprise — how close the Petraeus imbroglio corresponds to the the tragic story of my old friend and source, John O’Neill.   It’s worth posting on its own, I think. HENLEYTX11 says:(Edit) November 14, 2012 at 8:04 am Churchill famously said “The price of greatness is responsibility”, which is something Clinton has never accepted nor assumed. His presidency was, and his post-presidency is rife with examples of assigning blame to others for his own personal and professional shortcomings. And I’m writing as someone who worked for him in on a national level in his 1992 campaign. As for Petraeus, I have no doubt that Petraeus did not resing but was forced out, and that his September 14th statement in reference to Benghazi was informed and/or prompted by the knowledge...

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Journalism

Stray penises and politicos

I can remember the specific moment when I swore off the sex lives of the famous as journalistic currency.  It was the case of a national sportscaster — I won’t name him, but, alas, most of those old enough will remember the name, which is regrettable — whose sex life had suddenly become the media chow. This man had been involved in a consensual relationship with another adult and for reasons both ridiculous and obscure, the other adult thought it just and meaningful to reveal herself and her complaints, making explicit all of the unique and varied ways in which she and this man had expressed their sexuality.  And my, wasn’t he a weird one.  And wasn’t it funny. When that story broke, I was standing in the newsroom of the Baltimore Sun and I remember my growing distaste watching reporters and rewrite men as they were sucked, joking and snickering, into the breaking news.  And no one had any doubt that it was news.  The man was a national sportscaster, for the love of...

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Politics

Barack Obama And The Death Of Normal

I was on an airplane last night as the election was decided. As the plane landed after midnight on the East Coast, I confess that my hand was shaking as I turned on my phone for the news. I did not want to see dishonesty and divisiveness and raw political hackery rewarded. It is hard enough for anyone to actually address the problems, to move this country forward, to make the intransigent American ruling class yield even a yard of the past to the inevitable future. But going backwards last night would have been devastating. I read the returns in silent elation; a business trip had me traveling in business class and the gnashing of corporate teeth all around precluded a full-throated huzzah on my part. I abhor a gloat. But the country is changing. And this may be the last election in which anyone but a fool tries to play — on a national level, at least — the cards of racial exclusion, of immigrant fear, of the patronization of women and hegemony over their bodies, of self...

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Baseball Posts by Subject

Orioles

Best comment of the night, from my younger nephew, a lifelong Baltimore fan: “I don’t know how to process these feelings.”   Onward.   Share this:FacebookTwitterLinkedInRedditEmailPrint

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Baseball Posts by Subject

Orioles on the SI cover

Friends, neighbors, fellow Baltimorons: (And we can call each other Baltimorons, the rest of you can just back away from the term.) I ask you to put down the torches and pitchforks on this obvious affront to the baseball gods.  When Sports Illustrated called and asked for an essay they said nothing — nothing — about the cover.  It’s a big magazine, with a lot of sports coverage.  And I undertook what amounts to a sidebar-next-to-the-main-baseball-piece.  And, hey, all of that runs inside the mag as a package right? Had I known about the cover, I would have written half as long, and misspelled every other word, and scrawled it in crayon. Yes, I am worried.  Yes, at this instant — if not three days ago — I believe the jinx to be an absolute threat.  An SI editor first mentioned the cover in a phone conversation with me on Monday, late afternoon.  The O’s had won the first game of the Monday doubleheader, they dropped the second.  And then they were...

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Politics Posts by Subject

Union, union, union

Is there a better, more apparent argument for a return of collective bargaining and trade unionism as a core value in American life than the current NFL season?  I say this as a Ravens fan — and a secondary supporter of the Saints.  Have there been games played in which these scab refs haven’t butchered it at key points?  The season is fast becoming an irrelevant measure of anything. And I say that having banked all the emotional equity from last night’s field goal. Seriously.  It pays to go with the union label. Share this:FacebookTwitterLinkedInRedditEmailPrint

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Baseball

Orioles

The Baltimore Orioles major league baseball team.     That is all. Share this:FacebookTwitterLinkedInRedditEmailPrint

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Policy & Law Posts by Subject

You did it, Mr. Bernstein. Now own it.

That elected officials will lie, dissemble and reverse course to avoid a proper public accounting is no remarkable thing.  Politicians, bless their hearts, are very much akin to those fabled pigeons in B.F. Skinner’s boxes.  If they peck diligently at the little metal bar, they expect to receive — every two or four or six years — another food pellet, or failing that, a painful electrical charge. It’s no wonder that such constricted and vulnerable creatures gravitate toward reptilian moments.  Other than to let the lower brain hold sway, how can an elected officials be sure to acquire the certain and scheduled pleasure and avoid the certain and scheduled pain? Often, the lies are nuanced and careful, lodged as they are in relative safety of vague generalities and uncertain facts.  An equivocation works best when there isn’t a long, contradictory reality trailing behind.  But every now and then, someone lets go of something so bald, so shameless that it’s just plain amusing...

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Politics Posts by Subject

Mitt Romney paid taxes at a rate of 13 percent and he’s proud to say so. Redux.

A month back I ventured a brief post on this site in which I expressed my astonishment at the spectacle of a multi-millionaire presidential candidate assuring Americans that he had paid no less than 13 percent taxes.  It generated some commentary back and forth.  But as a startling addendum, we must now consider Mr. Romney’s comments at a private fundraising event at which he didn’t know he was being surreptitiously videtaped, with the tape now leaked to Mother Jones magazine and hitting the internet on several sites: “There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what.  All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it. That, that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote...

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Policy & Law

Fourth and long. Delegate Burns needs to punt.

If you haven’t enjoyed this elsewhere already, here’s the background: Recently, Baltimore Raven linebacker Brandon Ayanbadejo angered State Del. Emmett C. Burns, Jr for publicly speaking in favor of Maryland’s legislation for marriage equality. Delegate Burns wrote to Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti: “I am requesting that you take the necessary action … to inhibit such expressions from your employee.” Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe heard about this.  He penned the following: Dear Emmett C. Burns Jr., I find it inconceivable that you are an elected official of Maryland’s state government. Your vitriolic hatred and bigotry make me ashamed and disgusted to think that you are in any way responsible for shaping policy at any level. The views you espouse neglect to consider several fundamental key points, which I will outline in great detail (you may want to hire an intern to help you with the longer words): 1. As I suspect you have not read the...

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Politics Posts by Subject

Mitt Romney paid taxes at a rate of at least 13 percent. And he’s proud to say so.

Can we stand back and pause a short minute to take in the spectacle of a man who wants to be President of The United States, who wants us to seriously regard him as a paragon of the American civic ideal, declaiming proudly and in public that he has paid his taxes at a third of the rate normally associated with gentlemen of his economic benefit. Stunning. Am I supposed to congratulate this man?  Thank him for his good citizenship?  Compliment him for being clever enough to arm himself with enough tax lawyers so that he could legally minimize his obligations? Thirteen percent.  The last time I paid taxes at that rate, I believe I might still have been in college.  If not, it was my first couple years as a newspaper reporter.  Since then, the paychecks have been just fine, thanks, and I don’t see any reason not to pay at the rate appropriate to my earnings, given that I’m writing the check to the same government that provided the economic environment that allowed for such...

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My Books Treme

DeAndre McCullough (1977-2012)

To remember him as we met him, twenty years ago, is to know everything that was lost, everything that never happened to a boy who could surprise you with his charm and wit and heart. At fifteen, he was selling drugs on the corners of Fayette Street, but that doesn’t begin to explain who he was.  For the boys of Franklin Square — too many of them at any rate — slinging was little more than an adolescent adventure, an inevitable rite of passage.  And whatever sinister vision you might conjure of a street corner drug trafficker, try to remember that a fifteen-year-old slinger is, well, fifteen years old. He was funny.  He could step back from himself and mock his own stances — “hard work,” he would say when I would catch him on a drug corner, “hard work being a black man in America.”  And then he would catch my eye and laugh knowingly at his presumption.  His imitations of white-authority voices — social workers, police officers...

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Places Posts by Subject

Random notes from a summer vacation

So I am standing today with my son outside the cathedral in Pisa, Italy staring at the famous tower and watching it do what it does best in the world.  And my son, who understands hard-science, practical stuff better than I ever will, takes in the spectacle and says, more or less, “Woah, that is truly a mess.  Amazing.” And he smiles, glad to have seen such an oddity. Me?  I’m supposed to be the pessimist.  I’m the guy who is reputedly drawn to a constant parsing of human failure.   The Leaning Tower should be pretty much in my philsophical wheelhouse, right? Instead, I’m standing there thinking of the taller belltower in Firenze, or the Great Fire Monument in London, or the Shot Tower in Baltimore, or the Space Needle in Seattle, or the Chrysler and Empire State Buildings in New York.  I’m thinking to myself, “It’s a Homeric fucking triumph that every other one doesn’t just tilt on over.  It’s a victory for all of humanity...

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Published Elsewhere Treme

Pickles and Cream

The following is reprinted with permission from Lucky Peach #4, published by McSweeney’s.  It is on sale now.  And, yes, payment for this essay will require co-publisher David Chang slaving over a hot stove.   *      *      * 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 and spent the early moments of the last century running ahead of whatever...

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