Commentary: Posts by Subject

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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On Police/Crime On the Drug War The Wire

Mr. Bealefeld’s Come-To-Jesus Moment

Embedded in a recently published interview of former Baltimore commissioner Fred Bealefeld is an extraordinary utterance — something that would and should be a lot more heralded if America were paying sufficient attention to the growing costs and failings of its drug prohibition: “Professionally,” declares Mr. Bealefeld in a brief interview with the Baltimore Sun Magazine,  “I think our war on drugs has failed…We invested a lot of this country’s blood and resources and didn’t achieve the results. Developing real educational and job opportunities for somebody would have been much more meaningful in neighborhoods than some of the work we built into putting people in jail. That’s why I think it was so misguided. We wound up alienating a lot of folks in building this gigantic jail system in our country.” The former commissioner also credited a strategic de-emphasis of the drug war with enabling his department to focus on violent crime:  “I always...

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Policy & Law Posts by Subject

Dirt Under The Rug

This is the dry story of a statistic. By which, I mean to say, it is a story that today’s newspaper is no longer equipped to cover very well. And it is certainly not a story that could be easily gleaned by anyone who hasn’t at some point been a full-time beat reporter, a veteran who has covered an institution like, say, the Baltimore Police Department or the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office for year after year, learning to look behind the curtains, knowing enough not to accept a stat at face value. You’re reading it here because I once covered crime in Baltimore for a decade and a half, and because I still live in Baltimore and still spend time now and then with detectives and lawyers in that ville. And after years of shared experience, some still talk freely enough in my company. I have no doubt that a few simplistic souls will note that this is appearing on a blog, and that I am therefore, technically, a blogger. And if the story itself finds any...

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Politics Posts by Subject

Kwame Brown: Another federal case, another Head Shot.

I was driving my daughter to her grandmother’s house today, and I heard a panel on WAMU’s Kojo Nnamdi Show waxing righteous about the rather meager charges against D.C. councilmember Kwame Brown.  Now, I am not focused on Kwame Brown.  He may indeed be a corrupt politician.  He may be Jimmy Stewart in “Mr. Brown Goes To Washington” for all I know. This isn’t about him. The only federal charge that the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington could bring against Mr. Brown was for bank fraud.  He falsified statements to a federally-insured bank while seeking a loan, claiming more income than he had received.  A misdemeanor charge for violating campaign financing rules was also filed in local court, and Mr. Brown will apparently plead guilty.  But the larger charge has nothing to do with his public function or with public business. Now lying to a bank on a loan application or providing false information in a loan application is wrong of course.  It is also...

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Journalism On Newspapering and Journalism

Columbia Journalism Review: Free For All

For the last few days, I’ve been heartily engaged in the comments section of a couple CJR items that originated from the New Orleans Times–Picayune‘s travails.  I advocate for the industry-wide adoption of online pay walls to sustain high-end journalism. Others regard this as a disastrous suggestion. As the comments began to pile up, I saw some insight and a lot of argumentative fallacy.  People do love to call names. But I kept at it, hoping to draw others into the fray.  Maybe even get CJR to use their publication to revisit at this moment the idea of news as a product and whether that product can — in any environment, and under any conditions, not merely today’s dystopic newspaper dynamic — command a price commensurate with its cost, or much of its cost  (residual advertising revenue still being present  both on- and offline).  The New York Times just reported that Wall Street analysts are saying subscription revenue from the paywall adopted by...

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The Wire

Wire! The musical…

The Wire: The Musical with Michael Kenneth Williams from Michael Kenneth Williams I woke up this morning to an email from Michael K. Williams, with this video linked  Hilarious.  Just great. Felicia’s turn alone is worth the time.  Ya hair look good, Snoop. Someone hand me a burner and Sondheim’s number. Share this:FacebookTwitterLinkedInRedditEmailPrint

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End of Treme 3 filming

Back home in Baltimore after a long, involved shoot. How long, you ask?  How involved? Well, if you must know, the following figures were compiled by fellow producer Joe Incaprera.  They were delivered to the crew after the last shot of season three, outside a warehouse in Algiers amid champagne and cake. Share this:FacebookTwitterLinkedInRedditEmailPrint

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Memoriam Music

The Great Chuck Brown Has Passed

Just heard the news that the father of D.C. go-go has died.  He was 75. Having heard Big G, The Backyard Band and the Soul Searcher horn section bring their funk to New Orleans last Friday, the news lands strangely.  The guys on the stage of Tipitina’s last week are very much the proud children of Mr. Brown and his Soul Searchers. This man, who invented a musical genre and grooved so hard and for so long, is not yet in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame.   The Dave Clark Five, however, are comfortably settled in the shrine. Argument enough to burn that motherfucker down to the Lake Erie waterline. Share this:FacebookTwitterLinkedInRedditEmailPrint

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Mariano Rivera

The video of Yankee closer Mariano Rivera being carted off the field after tearing his ACL and, perhaps, ending his magnificent career, stays fixed in the mind, perhaps because of the open, earnest smile that Rivera flashes to his teammates as he rides the cart back to the training room. The look on his face is so benign, so genuine that in a single image, it seems to summon everything about the man. Okay, I’m an Oriole fan.  And before I moved to Baltimore, I grew up in D.C. with the Washington Senators.  The Yankees — damn them — are my lifelong bete noir.  And I have seen Mariano Rivera go lights out on the home team in so many one- and two-run games that I should rightly be unable to summon anything more than a basic, casual amount of empathy at the idea that at forty-two years of age, with Cooperstown dusting a spot for him, he might not to be able to do it anymore. Except that warm, sheepish smile — as if he’s embarrassed this happened while shagging outfield...

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Notes from Jazz Fest in New Orleans, 2012

Told myself I wasn’t going to battle the crowds to see Springsteen close out the first weekend.  No disrespect to Springsteen, but I usually hover around the smaller stages at the fest, hoping to see music in a more intimate setting. But it happened by degrees.  First, my son lured us closer to the Acura stage with lurid talk of strawberry shortcake from the vendors nearby. Then, following that shameful little spectacle, we noticed that Al Green wasn’t on the Congo Square stage for another forty minutes. “Let’s check Springsteen out for half an hour, and then catch Al Green.” So we waded into the sea and found ourselves somewhere in the great, white mass of Bruce fans, feeling as if Al Green was receding in possibility with every step. Wondering where we might stand without offending anyone behind us,  we were suddenly clasped on the back.  I turned, expecting to be challenged by a couple trespassed-upon mouth-breathers from, say, East Rahway, New Jersey...

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No man is a hero to his 17-year-old son

So I am vegetating on the sofa with my kid and a Domino’s Pizza ad comes on the tube.  The Domino guys offer up their analysis of the national crisis in cheese-bread quality: “Undercheesing is rampant,” they declare. My son repeats the phrase, mulls it for a second, then: “That should be the name of your blog.” What? “Undercheesing is rampant.”       Share this:FacebookTwitterLinkedInRedditEmailPrint

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The Wire Treme

HBO’s TREME vs. THE WIRE Battle of the Bands at Tipitina’s

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE—In a coals-to-Newcastle spirit of brave provocation, an East Coast musical contingent associated with the HBO drama The Wire is coming to town – and challenging two of New Orleans’ sturdiest and funkiest ensembles to a Wire-versus-Treme battle of the bands. A charity fundraiser for two key charities in the New Orleans music community, the May 11th event at Tipitina’s Uptown pits Galactic and the Stooges Brass Band against Baltimore’s funk-jazz pioneer Lafayette Gilchrist and Washington D.C. go-go icon Anwan Glover & The Backyard Band. “Who brings music to New Orleans?” said David Simon, producer of both HBO dramas.  “Who comes here and throws down against badass outfits like Galactic or the Stooges?” Originally from Baltimore-D.C. but familiar with the New Orleans music community, Simon insists that the evening could prove epic.  “I tried to warn them about New Orleans, I tried to hold ‘em back.  But Lafayette and Big G won’t be told.  They’re coming. ...

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Oh, Baltimore…

Returning to Baltimore this weekend, and the wife went down to the Royal Farms Store on Key Highway early on Saturday morning.  Two mallards were hanging by the store entrance, all twitchy and hopping, trying to blend with the pigeons. They looked really nervous, like white kids trying to cop off a westside corner. Nice to be home. Share this:FacebookTwitterLinkedInRedditEmailPrint

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Music People Treme

Levon Helm

I can’t even begin to get good words around how much this man’s voice and musicality meant to me,  and how much his work colored my sense of American music.   From West Helena, Arkansas to the world. We’re now filming the last episode of the third season of Treme.  In the original beat sheet for that episode, there is a story arc in which one of our characters performs with Helm and his band in Woodstock, at one of his legendary Midnight Rambles.  Helm himself had conversations with one of our producers about the possibility.  And having had the chance to attend one such Ramble in his barn there, I wanted it to happen badly.  Those homemade concerts were pretty damn magical, and I relished the thought of using the drama to cast a little more light on Helm and what he meant to roots rock’n’roll. A couple months ago, we got word that Helm had again stopped singing, and, too, we had exhausted a good chunk of our travel budget for the production.  We...

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The Awards Culture Revisited

It seems that a stray reporter did something unthinkable within the established and calcified hierarchy of the New York Times.  He up and put his own work in for a Pulitzer Prize and then, as an additional affront, he managed to win the award for international reporting. When the Pulitzers were announced earlier this week, Jeffrey Gettlemen had won for the Times with his reporting on famine and conflict in East Africa, a corner of the globe routinely ignored as a matter of course.  A petulant Times foreign editor, Joseph Kahn, was quoted in the paper’s own coverage as noting that “while some reporters might have felt his editors knew best” about the nomination, Jeffrey put himself forward for the Pulitzers — and for that, Jeffrey, bless your heart.” What arrogance.  What narcissism.  What ego. Not Mr. Gettlemen, mind you.  But rather Mr. Kahn in as much as his words represent the prize-culture temperament at America’s last great newspaper. All in...

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Drug War The Wire

I meant this, not that. But yeah, I meant it.

An unarmed black teenager was shot to death in Florida recently. You probably read about it or caught the controversy on the tube.  A lot of people are saying that the kid deserved it, that he attacked the fellow with the gun, that he was a thug, that he’d been suspended from school, that he wasn’t so innocent as people think.   Others are saying the gunman is racist, that he’s a self-appointed vigilante, that he had no business trailing the kid, that he’s kind of a nutcase. And day after day, as the case winds toward a trial date, this beast that we have for a modern media culture will parse it  with a few more shards of information and rumor, true and false. Trayvon might have shoplifted the Skittles.  Zimmerman had no visible injuries.  Zimmerman had injuries but they didn’t show on camera. Trayvon smoked pot. It’s what we do. It’s all that we do, really. If we can manufacture a good guy, we can exalt him. If we can manufacture a bad guy, we can degrade him.  If we...

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My Books

Green sheet: Terry McLarney rates the intern

Behold the wit and wisdom of Det. Terrence Patrick McLarney, philosopher-king and comic provocateur of the Baltimore Police Department: Green sheets are the semi-annual performance evaluation forms undertaken for all officers by their direct supervisors. Halfway through 1988, the year I spent as a police “intern” following one homicide shift, I walked into roll call to find a completed green sheet in my mail box.  My listed duties:  “In-house armchair quarterback.  Kibbitzer.” It scans poorly so allow me to quote some of the best parts: “…Intern Simon generally shows up to work though his schedule remains something of a mystery.  He is an avid reader and since he has no actual function or responsibility he has become quite adept at telling the rest of us what is going on around here.” “Intern Simon never acts as O.I.C. as there are others more qualified.  He has been observed in the company of females on several occasions.  However, the...

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On Television The Wire

Best Deleted Scene from The Wire Fifth Season

Reprinting with permission, The CityPaper, Baltimore, Sept 19, 2007 We received the below in an e-mail from The Wire co-creator/executive producer/writer David Simon on Labor Day, the Monday after shooting for the show’s fifth and final season concluded the previous Friday. It’s a four-page insert scene the writing staff intimated was coming on the penultimate day of shooting, adding more work to an already packed final production day. According to Simon, rumors of the additional pages started seeping from the production office to the set, instigating some minor grumbling about cramming yet more scenes into a final episode that Simon suggests is already about 50 percent longer than ordinary. But everybody reacted professionally to the schedule changes–assistant directors inquired about what the actors needed, production managers ordered additional film, cast members were told where they needed to be to work on dialogue. And then the pages arrived and as cast and crew...

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My Books

Bunk’s Retirement Ticket

Every now and then a drawer or a file cabinet yields some small treasure.   Reproduced here is my ticket to the retirement party of Oscar “The Bunk” Requer, a veteran of the Baltimore Police Department’s homicide unit who, yes, was the inspiration for the character that Wendell Pierce made his own over five seasons of The Wire. And yes, Wendell went with me to the party.  Bunk squared, as it were. Share this:FacebookTwitterLinkedInRedditEmailPrint

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