Monday, March 31, 2008

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

THE WIRE Finale, 2

Two great articles appeared during the week after THE WIRE finale. One was in American Spectator, the other in the Wall Street Journal. I've been trying to write this post since then and it just has not gelled for me in any sort of satisfactory fashion until this afternoon. The articles quoted below resonated with me because they highlighted the chameleon-like nature of THE WIRE and its ability to appeal to a broad range of viewers regardless of their ideological positions.

Conor Friedersdorf wrote in "The Wealth of Baltimore" in American Spectator on 12 March:

The Wire is a show that one can throw on after a politically mixed party, confident that Republicans, Democrats, and libertarians nursing nightcaps will all find scenes that seem to them to confirm their worldviews; art that expertly mirrors society reflects its disagreements too.

I argue that this pan-political appeal arises from the fact that the show's creators are old newspapermen from a time when papers -- and the media in general -- despite political allegiances, felt a much stronger obligation to tell the story straight.

Friedersdorf contiuned, that that the liberal press seemed to have misunderstood THE WIRE:
What's bizarre, as the show comes to a close, is the preponderance of commentators who agree that The Wire is a searing attack on capitalism, for that analysis -- echoed in Slate, the New Yorker and the Atlantic, among many other places -- is plainly wrong. The Wire is brutal in its critiques, as any viewer knows. Its most thorough dissections, however, concern the least capitalistic institutions in Baltimore.

Julia Vitullo-Martin wrote in "Urban Decay" in the 14 March WSJ that:
. . . conservatives may see in it a lesson that liberal viewers are unlikely to take to heart. Set, written and produced in Baltimore, "The Wire" aired 60 episodes, with each of its five seasons focused on a different subject -- drug trafficking, the port, local politics, public schools and the city's newspaper. From the series' opening sequences filmed in "The Towers" -- huge public housing projects whose courtyards serve as drug bazaars -- through its depiction of the continuing devastation of neighborhoods by violent crime and unemployment, the Baltimore of "The Wire" becomes the poster child for six decades of failed urban policy.

She quoted disheartening statistics about Baltimore and crime:
. . . Surpassed only by Detroit in CNN/Morgan Quinto's 2006 ranking of the country's most dangerous large cities . . . With 282 homicides last year and a population of about 641,000 . . . a homicide rate six times that of New York and three times that of Los Angeles . . . highest per-capita heroin consumption in the country . . . . public schools deteriorated, graduating less than half their students.

THE WIRE was a work a rare work of art that drew you in, regardless of your viewpoint or politics, compelled you to both watch something that was not pretty and to think about it. What you took away was directly connected to your personal politics/world view, but it started a dialogue amongst its aficionados about causes of the problems that afflict urban America and possible solutions.
It strikes me that season 5 seemed to be screaming the question: What if the modern press just told the story? Erstwhile City Editor, Gus Haynes wanted his writers at the fictionalized Sun to write their stories well, beautifully, tightly, interestingly, and, finally, truthfully. While I and others may not agree with the liberal take-away of the show, and the liberals with mine, at least we're talking about it because we were informed by beautiful, tight, truthful storytelling.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Good Stencil

Canal St Boston

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


The tulips and daffodils are sprouting in one of my side beds.

The forsythia and magnolias have really large buds and are ready to burst.

Some mornings I can smell the earth again.

I can smell my composter when I'm near it.

One of the neighborhood crows had a big stick in its mouth for a nest.

The Juncos are less frequent visitors to my feeder.

Red Winged Blackbirds returned to the feeder today.

The sun is actually warm even though the air is not particularly so, right now.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

THE WIRE: The Finale

Sunday night marked the series finale of The Wire on HBO. It did not disappoint. They compressed a tremendous amount of action into 90 minutes and tightly, nicely and neatly tied up the story line that had been building all season, but that had really begun 5 seasons ago. There were times this year, I must admit, where I felt that the show had jumped the shark. The whole serial killer story line didn't ring entirely true nor did the fact that McNulty and Freamon could work the system as they did -- though after the plan was hatched and had matured over a couple of episodes it became more plausible.

Last night's episode tied it all together. It ended as I anticipated it had to -- a systematic effort of butt-covering, deal-making and political machinations. It played true and validated the entire season (the whole series, really). Much of what I read about prior to this season said it was all about the media, newspapers in particular. The media, and the Baltimore Sun in particular, played a much larger role in this season and it helped to round out the portrayal of the power-players in the modern urban environment.

Whether depicting street level dealing, working class woe or faltering schools THE WIRE was always about "The System." The way The System works is ugly, and THE WIRE shone a bright light right up its backside. The show never delivered the expected -- in terms of mass-media-entertainment-consumer expectations -- resolution because that would been neither real nor logical. The creators once said in an interview that the logic of the story must be played out; and, it was each week, and brutally so. Favorite characters got done -- both at the business end of a gun and by The System.

THE WIRE was a show with a POV -- it was angry, it pulled no punches and it didn't always tell you what you wanted to hear. Unlike most shows it didn't lionize one political party over another; it didn't offer bromides that everyone and everything will be OK if you believe in yourself; it did not get behind one solution over another. It was a show that was descriptive rather prescriptive. As show creator David Simon mentioned in a letter on HBO, dated 10 March, 2008:

We tried to be entertaining, but in no way did we want to be mistaken for entertainment. We tried to provoke, to critique and debate and rant a bit. We wanted an argument. We think a few good arguments are needed still, that there is much more to be said and it is entirely likely that there are better ideas than the ones we offered. But nothing happens unless the shit is stirred. That, for us, was job one.

The problems that grip Baltimore, as depicted in THE WIRE, are the problems that afflict many American cities. The problems appear intractable given the self-sustaining nature of The System and the human beings who comprise it. To truly clean up The System and make things right, would compel the players to give up much of what they have striven for -- corners, donations, stars on collars, literary prizes. Each of these things translate into power, and power is the name of the game within both the world defined by THE WIRE and ours.*

Dealers deal. Police police. Lawyers lawyer. Politicians politic. Media reports. Each feeds off of the others, and requires the others to survive. The System is a system because it perpetuates itself. There will always be someone to fill a void created by the departure of another -- whether mortal, or merely physical. That is why, in the coda, as the theme song played and McNulty gazed out on the Baltimore skyline, Daniels stood as a Public Defender, Pearlman sat in judge's robes, Michael became a stick-up boy, Dookie tightened the strap and loaded his spike, Slim Charles sat with The Greeks, and Bubs . . . Bubs sat at the table with his sister and her child to eat (the only happy ending in the series).**

The episodes always started with a quote and from what I can observe and recall the previous 59 quotes came from the episode itself. The finale's quote came from Baltimore's own H.L. Mencken:

"... the life of kings."

It seems that Mencken is a fitting a patron saint for this show that laid bare the structures of power, money, ambition and ultimately human weakness that shape and mold the modern, American, urban experience. THE WIRE told the story of a great American city, and the people who live in it honestly, openly and with great verve. The characters were human, fallible and venal but they were not all bad even when they were monstrous. They characters knew and played their role in The System, even when it required them to be their worst. Baltimore is any city, and the people who occupy The System live in every city, and the people who stand by and watch live in every city. Never before, and perhaps never again, will we, the TV-watching-public witness such an honest depiction of ourselves.

*See Peggy Noonan's column last week for a related view on power.

**The show synopsis on contains a similar litany, I wrote this before I read that -- I was looking for the quote on the wall of the Sun offices that appears when Gus & Alma are speaking as Alma clears out for Carroll County. This may be over-think, but my academic background compels me to credit sources/mention similarities to the thought of others, even on my unread blog.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

A Couple of Things to Note

I was kicking around today over on BlackFive, and found a couple of interesting things.

Woodrow W. Keeble: Medal of Honor Recipient
I found this story on the blog, BlackFive. It's the story of the
Woodrow W. Keeble, the first and only Sioux to be awarded the MOH.
He received the award for gallant service on 20 October, 1951 near
Sangsan-ni Korea. Definitely read the citation, and the background, they are amazing. The presidential comments are interesting too.
The medal was awarded 3 March, 2008 . . . how come I didn't see this
in the papers?

BlackFive post

173rd Airborne Brigade

Also on BlackFive, but via Michael Yon, I saw this call for support for the members of the 173rd Airbirne Brigade, currently serving in Afghanistan, and recently suffering a hatchet job in the NY Times. You can send a letter of thanks/support to them via this email address (adjusted in an attempt to avoid spammers): skysoldiers173rd[at]gmail[dot]com

BlackFive post
Michael Yon

Monday, March 03, 2008

Fast Tracks

Last Wednesday night a healthy dusting of light fluffy snow fell on the Quarter Acre. In the morning there were quite a few animal tracks in the yard and Child One and I followed some cat, rabbit (C1 identified them before I did) and crow tracks before heading off to school. The cat and rabbit tracks went from the back yard to the front, and the crow's tracks were especially entertaining and loopy on the sidewalk. In the afternoon I took both Child One and Child Two into the yard to follow the rabbit and cat tracks some more. We also saw the tracks of a frenetic small bird on our patio.

My interest in tracks was piqued when I found some coyote prints in the back yard the week prior. Though I didn't show them to my kids I made a mental note to bring them out and look for tracks after a snow. Mother Nature obliged and so did our wild and semi-domesticated neighbors. Both kids got a big kick out of our investigation and it was a fun way to kill some time on a cold winter day.