Archive for May, 2015

Charlie Hebdo nº 1189, 6-05-2015

Charlie Hebdo nº 1189, 6-05-2015

The American Freedom Defense Initiative, co-founded by Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer, that is. The Russian-American libertarian writer Cathy Young has a great piece in TDB (May 10th) on these two whack jobs and their publicity stunt in Garland TX last Sunday, “In Pam Geller’s world, everybody jihads.” The lede: “Pam Geller and Robert Spencer are being viewed as free speech champions for their ‘Draw Muhammad’ contest, which turned tragic in Dallas last week. But once a moderate Muslim begins speaking, they quickly turn into what they hate.” Despite Pamela Geller’s trying to wrap herself in the mantle of Charlie Hebdo, she and her bigoted crackpot associates have nothing whatever to do with the irreverent Paris weekly.

Charlie Hebdo, for its part, has rejected any affinity between it and the Garland event, or the respective shootings at the two. On page 3 of its latest issue, dated May 6th, is a column signed by Sol, “‘Charlie’ n’est pas Texan” (not online, except the cartoon above that heads it). The lede: “Le hashtag #WeAreGarland, qui a surgi après l’attaque du centre culturel de Garland, dans le Texas, est une escroquerie à l’esprit Charlie.”

See the fine comment (May 5th) in Huff Post by Stephen Schwartz, a convert to sufi Islam and executive director of the Center for Islamic Pluralism, “Malice in Dallas.” Also the salutary tribune in TDB (May 4th) by comedian Dean Obeidallah, “Muslims Defend Pam Geller’s Right to Hate.” The First Amendment. Of course.

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The UK election

generalelection-575738 Daily Express

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Je suis dégoûté. Really disappointed, mainly as the outcome wasn’t expected. After the US midterms, the Israeli vote, and now this one, I don’t think I can take any more such unanticipated election results. What next? An AKP landslide in Turkey on June 7th, giving the president-sultan there his super-majority to rewrite the constitution as he sees fit? What an unpleasant thought. On the misfiring of the UK pre-election polls, Nate Silver, in his live blogging last night, opined (at 9:54 PM) that “the world may have a polling problem,” with accurate polling posing increasing challenges.

Also having a problem—and a big one—is the Labour party and, more generally, center-left/social democratic parties of government that have moved to the center over the past two decades. As political scientists Johannes Karreth and Jonathan Polk argued on WaPo’s Monkey Cage blog two days ago—and with data to back it up—”Moving to the center can be costly for left-wing parties.” The era when embracing neoliberalism looked to be the right electoral strategy is now past.

On Labour’s debacle, journalist John Lanchester, in a post today on the LRB blog—in which he confesses that he did not see the result coming—writes

First-past-the-post is not especially fair, but it is supposed to deliver clear outcomes. In 2010, it didn’t. This time, against all expectations, it did. Lots more detail will come in over the next weeks as the data are analysed and the political scientists do their thing, but for me, a couple of things really stand out. If Labour had retained all of their 41 Scottish seats, the Tories would still be the majority government. So that must mean Labour got creamed in England, yes? Actually, no. Labour’s share of the vote in England went up by 3.6 per cent. That’s more than the Tories: their share of the English vote only went up by 1.4 per cent. Labour could even claim that they won the English campaign, in the same sense that the British army could claim it won the Charge of the Light Brigade.

So what did happen in England? The Tories smashed it in the marginals. In the battleground constituencies Labour were down on their 2010 performance by 0.7 per cent. Labour’s overall improvement in England was driven by success on their own turf: 3.5 per cent increase in the North East, 6 per cent in the North West. Where there was a genuine contest with the Tories, the Tories did better. People sometimes say that election campaigns don’t matter, but that is manifestly not the case this time. The Tories out-campaigned Labour in the places where they needed to.

Writing in The Telegraph, blogger Tim Stanley, who was apparently a Labour person in the recent past, says “No tears for Ed Miliband, please. He was the reason Labour lost.”

On first-past-the-post vs. proportional representation, LSE political scientists Jack Blumenau and Simon Hix had a pre-election post in Monkey Cage asking “What would Britain look like under Proportional Representation?

That question today is neither here nor there but it nonetheless merits mention that, under straight PR—and with voters voting the way they did—the LD yesterday would have netted 50 seats (instead of 8), SNP 30 seats (and not 56), and UKIP a full 82 (as opposed to its measly one). The likely coalition outcome: the Tories with UKIP and the (very right-wing) Ulster Protestant DUP. Anyone still for PR?…

On the (trashy) British media coverage of the election campaign, which was flagrantly biased in favor of the Tories and against Labour, see journalist Peter Jukes’s piece, “The British press has lost it,” which has been the most read article on Politico.eu’s website today. The British press, as I wrote some four years ago, is terrible (and far worse than the American or French).

The main concern for me personally in this election—and the reason why I so wanted the Tories to lose—was David Cameron’s insane promise to hold a referendum on the UK’s membership in the EU, which, if it takes place—and it now will—will likely result in a vote for Brexit, the consequences of which will be calamitous for Europe—and for the UK as well, as a pro-EU Scotland will demand—and necessarily be granted—another referendum on independence, and which, this time, will succeed.

My idée reçue on this, however, may not be warranted. As Politico.eu’s Tunku Varadarajan argues, the decisive Tory victory now means that “Britain’s membership [in] the EU is safe

The Tories have seen off the UKIP threat in the short-to-medium term. Their backers in the City of London and in industry would rather die than endure the calamity of ‘Brexit,’ and Cameron knows this. Cameron’s silence on the subject of the EU during the election campaign made it plain that his promise of a referendum was tactical. A referendum there will be, of course, but it will be one in which only UKIP campaigns for an abrogation of EU membership. Cameron’s pro-EU price in Brussels will be a promise by the European Council to renegotiate some treaty terms. It is unlikely that Brussels will refuse. If the prospect of Brexit is unbearable in the City of London, it is equally unbearable in Brussels.

On Cameron’s demand to renegotiate EU treaty terms, I’ve been assuming that such will be met by the European Council with a fin de non recevoir, but again, maybe I’m mistaken. Bernard Guetta, in a commentary on France Inter this morning, thinks it likely that Brussels will end up making the necessary concessions to keep the UK in the EU (and which will thereby allow for the formal creation of a two-speed Europe, as dreamed for by France; listen here).

As for Scotland, numerous journalists and pundits are certain that independence—a hypothesis I am totally hostile to, as I explained here last September—is only a matter of time, e.g. Ben Judah’s Politico.eu report last weekend from the campaign trail, datelined Edinburgh, in which he asserted “Make no mistake: It’s ‘bye-bye Britain.’” With yesterday’s SNP sweep, the sentiment that Scotland will quit the UK has only been reinforced. I’m not convinced. The SNP may have won a big victory but the impressive 30 point increase in its popular vote score, to 50% north of the border, merely aligns it, more or less, with its score in the 2011 Scottish parliamentary elections—and its result in last September’s referendum. And while every last voter who favors Scottish independence voted SNP yesterday, a small number of the latter’s voters no doubt remain unionists at heart. So pro-independence sentiment is not (yet) in the majority.

In point of fact, Scotland can only gain independence if the UK prime minister allows the organization of a referendum, and there is no reason for Cameron (or his successor) to do this in the absence of a game changing situation, which can only be a Brexit victory in the UK-wide EU vote. Moreover, if such a referendum for Scotland is eventually held, the rules imposed by London may be different from those last time, e.g. stipulating a super-majority (say, 55%) or allowing all persons born in Scotland, but residing elsewhere in the UK, the right to vote in it. So Scottish independence is not a done deal.

Also, the fact that the SNP will have the third largest group of deputies in the House of Commons also changes the game. The SNP’s participation in Westminster will significantly implicate it in national politics and likely temper its demands for a referendum on independence, particularly if a new federal or confederal arrangement is negotiated with London (if Cameron is going to make demands on Brussels for the UK to stay in the EU, it stands to reason that he will concede to Edinburgh to keep Scotland in the UK). So at the end of the day, the SNP may ultimately transform itself into a regional federalist party, as the PQ has, in effect, become in Quebec, as has the Lega Nord in Italy.

One good analysis I’ve read today on the election is University of Georgia professor Cas Mudde’s “A disunited kingdom,” in OpenDemocracy. The lede: “While the Conservative victory is remarkable, it is a mere incident in the fundamental transformation of British politics that is being played out in at least four important chapters. British politics is dead.”

The most gratifying result from the election was certainly the defeat of the unspeakable George Galloway, in his Bradford West constituency, and to a Pakistani-origin female Labour candidate. That warms the heart.

UPDATE: Author Richard Seymour—who is solidly on the left—has a good post-election analysis on the Jacobin website, “The end of Labour.” The lede: “Yesterday’s British election was about the collapse of the Labour Party — and where we go from here.”

2nd UPDATE: Cambridge University political theorist David Runciman has some interesting “Notes on the election” on the LRB blog.

3rd UPDATE: David Frum, the well-known conservative Canadian-American pundit—who is presently chairman of the UK think tank Policy Exchange—has a post-election commentary in The Atlantic worth linking to, in which he tells US Republicans “What [they] can learn from British Conservatives.” The lede: “Several of the world’s center-right parties have modernized in ways the GOP hasn’t.”

The conservative leaders Frum mentions are mainly in the Anglosphere: in addition to David Cameron, Canada’s Stephen Harper and Australia’s Tony Abbott. Now these latter two I find particularly unpalatable but Frum’s point—that the GOP could learn from them—is well-taken. E.g.

Center-right parties in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom have all made peace with government guarantees of healthcare for all. These conservatives do not abjectly defend the healthcare status quo; they attempt to open more space for competition and private initiative within the health sector. But they accept that universal health coverage in some form has joined old-age pensions and unemployment insurance in the armature of an advanced modern economy. In this, their American counterparts are the true outliers.

The difference between the American right and the rest may, I think, be summed up in one name: Ayn Rand. If her ideas have ever found a receptive audience elsewhere in the Anglosphere—or anywhere else in the world—I am not aware of it. As for the receptiveness to Ayn Rand in the US, this has ideological roots—e.g. in late 19th century Social Darwinism—but that’s a whole other discussion.

4th UPDATE: Peter Oborne, associate editor of The Spectator, has an opinion piece in Politico.eu on “The ruins of Labour,” in which he says that a return to Blairism is not the answer to Labour’s woes.

5th UPDATE: Peter Hall, the Krupp Foundation Professor of European Studies at Harvard University—who’s very smart; I’ve read and used his academic writings over the decades—has a piece in WaPo’s Monkey Cage on how “English voters were influenced by the politics of fear.”

In this vein, the post-election commentary by The Nation’s London bureau chief D.D. Gutterplan also asserted that “Fear wins big in Britain.”

And also in Monkey Cage is an instructive piece by Kieran Healy, associate professor of sociology at Duke University, on “What the runners-up tell us about Britain’s election.” Reading this, it seems pretty clear that the UK needs electoral reform, to replace FPTP with STV or some variant of PR.

6th UPDATE: John Prescott—former Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, former UK Deputy Prime Minister, and current Sunday Mirror columnist—argues that “Labour lost the election five years ago” and explains why. The reason: Ed Miliband and the Labour leadership failed to defend Labour’s past economic record.

7th UPDATE: Jim Messina, President Obama’s former deputy chief of staff and campaign manager, who was an adviser to the Tories and David Cameron’s campaign, has a piece in Politico Magazine (May 17th) on “Why the GOP can’t get no satisfaction.” The lede: “My British experience—including advice from Mick Jagger—taught me that the Republican Party could end up like Ed Miliband.” N.B. Messina’s piece is about the British election, not the GOP or American politics.

8th UPDATE: Stanley Greenberg, the CEO of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner and pollster for the Labour Party (as well as the Zionist Camp in Israel during the last campaign there), explicates, in Politico.eu (May 17th), the reasons for the Tory victory, in which it is asserted that “Right-wing wins come at too high a price.” The lede: “I watched overseas as Britain and Israel’s leaders did long-term harm to their countries.”

9th UPDATE: Simon Wren-Lewis, who teaches economics at Oxford University, has a post on the election reblogged in Social Europe (May 18th), in which he puts Niall Ferguson and his “triumphalist Tory tosh” through the shredder.

10th UPDATE: Ross McKibbin, an emeritus research fellow at St John’s College, Oxford, has a lengthy piece in the June 4th issue of the LRB (posted online on May 21st) on “the Labour Party’s most recent demise.”

11th UPDATE: David Held, who teaches politics at Durham Univesity, has a column (May 22nd) in OpenDemocracy, in which he poses “10 questions for the Labour Party.”

12th UPDATE: Patrick Wintour, political editor of The Guardian, has a lengthy piece (June 3rd) on “The undoing of Ed Miliband – and how Labour lost the election.” The lede: “It was Labour’s most stunning defeat since 1983. This exclusive account, based on unique access to the party leader’s closest aides, tells the inside story of what went wrong.”

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While awaiting the results of the British election, here’s an essay one may read by Paul Krugman, published in The Guardian last week, “The austerity delusion: The case for cuts was a lie. Why does Britain still believe it?” Hopefully the election will show that enough voters have stopped believing the lie, or at least no longer wish to go along with it.

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Charlie Hebdo Editor-in Chief Gérard Biard & film critic Jean-Baptiste Thoret

Charlie Hebdo Editor-in Chief Gérard Biard & film critic Jean-Baptiste Thoret

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One may have heard about the brouhaha over the PEN American Center’s honoring Charlie Hebdo with its annual Toni and James C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award—the gala ceremony happening last night—and the open letter protesting this that was signed by six—then 204—PEN members: nitwits, dupes, and/or ignoramuses all of them (on this particular question, at least). On the stupidity of the 204, Charlie Hebdo’s Philippe Lançon—who was seriously wounded in the January 7th attack—got it exactly right in a commentary, in the latest issue (just out today), on the PEN controversy and the protesting writers

Ce n’est donc pas leur abstention qui me choque; c’est la nature de leurs arguments. Que des romanciers d’une tell qualité—Peter Carey, Michael Ondaatje, Francine Prose, Teju Cole, Rachel Kushner, Taiye Selasi—en viennent à dire autant de stupidités mal informées en aussi peu de mots, avec toute la vanité des belles âmes, voilà qui attriste le lecteur que je suis. Même si ce lecteur sait, par expérience, qu’un bon écrivain n’est jamais rien de plus, ni de moins, qu’un bon écrivain: un type qui sait bâtir quelque chose de beau, de surprenant et d’intelligent, mais qui, en dehors de son art, peut hélas penser et écrire à peu près n’importe quoi.


I’m so bored arguing about Charlie Hebdo. I’ve said everything I have to say on the matter—in numerous posts on this blog and debates on social media—and don’t feel like repeating myself. So in lieu of doing that, I will link here to a few commentaries on the brouhaha that I found particularly good (and which do not include anything by Glenn Greenwald):

Todd Gitlin, “PC Thought-Bots Embarrass Themselves With PEN Boycott,” in Tablet (May 4th).

Nick Cohen, “Charlie Hebdo: The literary indulgence of murder,” in The Spectator (April 29th).

Adam Gopnik, “PEN Has Every Right to Honor Charlie Hebdo,” in The New Yorker (April 30th).

James Kirchick, “Weaker than the Sword: Charlie Hebdo, PEN, and writerly cowardice in the face of armed aggression against free speech,” in The Walrus (May 4th).

Michael Moynihan, “America’s Literary Elite Takes a Bold Stand Against Dead Journalists,” in The Daily Beast (May 5th).

Robert McLiam Wilson, “If you don’t speak French, how can you judge if Charlie Hebdo is racist?,” in the New Statesman (April 29th).

Arthur Goldhammer—seeking middle ground, overly so IMO—, “PEN America, Charlie Hebdo and the virtue of self-restraint,” in Al Jazeera America (May 4th).

N.B. The PEN debate has been a purely Anglo-American one. It has been noted in France but nothing more. The latest (brewing) Charlie Hebdo debate here, which caught everyone unawares over the past week, is around the incendiary pamphlet—due out tomorrow—by the polymath dilettante, intellectual bomb thrower, and illuminé extraordinaire Emmanuel Todd, Qui est Charlie? Todd’s pamphlet is less about Charlie Hebdo than the January 11th marches and the four-odd million people across France who participated in them. After reading the interview with Todd in last week’s Nouvel Obs, in which he laid out his argument, I was so beside myself with ire that I declared right there and then that I would never read another word by the S.O.B. and, moreover, be sorely tempted to commit an act of aggression against his bodily person if our paths were to cross in public (and, pour mémoire, I have had not bad things to say about Todd’s writings in the past). Listening to (the insufferably arrogant, imperious) Todd on France Inter on Monday morning was the clincher. Perhaps I’ll come back to this subject.

UPDATE: Paris-based Russian-American writer Vladislav Davidzon has an excellent, bull’s-eye commentary in Tablet (May 5th) “In Paris, PEN Boycott Makes Americans Look Like Crude Provincials.” The lede: “Why the political and cultural battles being fought here [in the US] have nothing to do with what happened over there.”

In his commentary Davidzon links to two pieces on Charlie Hebdo by the Paris-based philosopher Justin E. H. Smith: “Charlie Hebdo and literature,” published on Smith’s blog (May 1st); and an essay from the April issue of Harper’s, in which he discussed the CH killings and the response of the Anglo-American left, “The Joke.”

2nd UPDATE: Charlie Rose interviewed Charlie Hebdo’s Gérard Biard and Jean-Baptiste Thoret, in New York for the PEN gala, on his show (on May 4th), which may be watched here. Their English is good!

3rd UPDATE: TNR senior editor Jeet Heer has an interesting critique of Charlie Hebdo (May 8th), “The Aesthetic Failure of ‘Charlie Hebdo’.” The lede: “The French satirical magazine refuses to evolve, using a stale artistic strategy from the 1960s.”

4th UPDATE: Following an exchange (July 22nd) with a friend about Emmanuel Todd’s book, I am linking here to all the critiques I’ve seen of it—critiques that, taken together, reduce Todd’s crackpot arguments to smithereens (the one by Mayer & Tiberj is, from a social scientific standpoint, the most important); for the record, I have seen not a single review or op-ed that outright defends Todd; on social media, “Je ne suis pas Charlie” people have linked to Todd but without commentary and refrained from engaging in a full-throttle defense of his theses when confronted with contradictory arguments (e.g. from the likes of me); no one, or so it seems, wants to go out on a limb and take Todd’s side:

Hubert Heurtas, “NON, le 11 janvier ne fut pas une imposture,” in Mediapart (May 1st).

François Héran, “Un esprit de système caricatural,” in Libération (May 3rd).

Daniel Schneidermann, “Charlie: débarrassons le livre de Todd de sa gangue de «portnawak»,” in Rue89 (May 4th).

André Burguière, “Le professeur Todd nous prend pour des charlots,” in L’Obs (May 6th).

Joseph Macé-Scaron, “Emmanuel Todd, intellectuel zombie,” in Marianne (May 7th).

Jean Matouk, “Emmanuel Todd: mieux vaut croire qu’il est malade,” in Rue89 (May 9th).

Henri Tincq, “Non, Emmanuel Todd, je ne vous suis pas dans votre portrait de la France religieuse,” in Slate.fr (May 12th).

Nonna Mayer & Vincent Tiberj, “Le simplisme d’Emmanuel Todd démonté par la sociologie des «Je suis Charlie»,” in Le Monde (May 19th).

5th UPDATE: Hudson Institute research follow Benjamin Haddad has a scathing review in The Daily Beast (October 18th) of the English translation of Emmanuel Todd’s screed, “New Charlie Hebdo book blames victims: An inane essay by a left-wing French writer claims supporters of Charlie Hebdo are essentially Islamophobic fascists.”

Nº 1179, 25-02-2015

Nº 1179, 25-02-2015

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Baltimore & The Wire

Poot, Bodie, D'Angelo, and Wallace

Poot, Bodie, D’Angelo, and Wallace

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Paul Krugman’s column today, “Race, class, and neglect,” is on Baltimore, in which, entre autres, he cites “the great sociologist” William Julius Wilson and expresses dismay at the reaction of “commentators,” i.e. conservative commentators. Krugman here rather obviously has a fellow NYT columnist colleague in mind (whose initials are DB). As usual, Krugman gets it precisely right.

In following Baltimore over the past week, I naturally thought right away of ‘The Wire’, the greatest show in the history of television and Baltimore’s TV claim to fame. I am, of course, only the 750,000th—or maybe the 7,500,000th, or whatever—person to make this assertion. In addition to being brilliant television ‘The Wire’ is brilliant social science, and is consequently taught in numerous college courses, including William Julius Wilson’s at Harvard. Everyone knows by now that, during its 2002-08 run on HBO, it was Barack Obama’s favorite TV show—and that Omar was his favorite character—isn’t he everyone’s?—as Mr. Obama reminded ‘The Wire’ creator David Simon in a conversation between the two this past March, which may be viewed here. Say what one will about Obama, he is without question the most thoughtful president the US has had in a very long time.

As for David Simon, he weighed in last week on “Baltimore’s anguish” in an interview with The Marshall Project’s editor Bill Keller. Also last week, The Guardian reposted an excerpt of a talk Simon gave in 2013 in Sydney, Australia, “‘There are now two Americas. My country is a horror show’.”

Fans of the ‘The Wire’ are, in their great majority, liberals and leftists, though a few conservatives also appreciate it. One of these, Francis Fukuyama—who’s one of America’s smartest and most interesting public intellectuals—wrote a particularly good essay on the series, “Down to The Wire,” in the September-October 2012 issue of The American Interest. Money quotes:

The most impressive achievement of The Wire, however, is the way it humanizes an entire segment of American society that most white Americans would just as soon ignore (and generally do). By humanize, I do not mean sentimentalize or whitewash. Many of the drug dealers, as well as some of the cops, are vicious people, and the viewer gets to watch them inflict unspeakable cruelties on their victims in ugly detail. But we soon come to realize that most of the characters living in the bad parts of Baltimore are trapped there by the simple bad luck of where and when they were born

And this

One of the fundaments of American political culture is the notion that North America started out as a terra nullis, an empty land to which settlers could come and make new lives for themselves. Americans accept instinctively the Lockean notion that the “industrious and rational” will combine their labor with the mere things of nature and create private property and wealth for themselves, while the “quarrelsome and contentious” will not. Democratic political and legal institutions were constructed to protect what James Madison called the “diversity of the faculties of men” and their consequent unequal ability to acquire property. Americans thus distinguish between the deserving and the undeserving poor in a way that Europeans, schooled in the historical reality of class differences, generally do not. The idea of social mobility is fundamental to both America’s self-image and to its ongoing success: I may be poor today, but through ability and hard work I can ensure that my children or grandchildren will have better lives. Americans therefore care much less than Europeans about actual socioeconomic inequality; what they care about is a level playing field that allows for intergenerational social mobility. As the experience of countless immigrant groups to the United States has demonstrated, this myth has also been the reality for very many Americans.

The one big exception to this happy immigrant story has always been African Americans, who did not come to North America voluntarily and who, up until the Civil Rights era in the 1960s, were subject to overt legal discrimination in many parts of the country. Blacks were the only social group that faced caste-like barriers to mobility. Their social and economic liberation and subsequent advancement required political power to achieve, first in a Civil War that ended slavery and left more than 600,000 Americans dead, and then in a long struggle against legal segregation whose end required strenuous enforcement by Federal authorities.

The Tea Party ideology that glorifies individual self-help and points to the dangers of an overweening national government conveniently forgets this history—or perhaps some of them do remember it, which is why they are so opposed to the Affordable Care Act, many of whose beneficiaries would be black. Even for those not on the libertarian Right, there tends to be a view that the end of legal segregation leveled the playing field, that government efforts like the Great Society’s War on Poverty were a counterproductive failure, and that there is little more that can usefully be done with regard to inner-city social policy.

What The Wire does so effectively is to remind us that while individual ability and talent do matter, and that our character and moral choices matter as well, we are nevertheless very much products of a social environment over which we as individuals have very little influence. (…)

My wife and I watched all five seasons of ‘The Wire’ in fall 2008-winter 2009 (a big thank you to Stathis Kalyvas for informing me of its existence and pressing me to check it out). Since then I’ve lent my DVD set to several people—including a work colleague at the present moment—all of whom have gone through the entire series and given it the thumbs way up. I think we’re due to watch it a second time.

UPDATE: The Nation’s Dave Zirin has a post on his Nation blog (May 4th), in which he describes how he was a fanatical fan of ‘The Wire’ but now says that he is “Reconsidering [the show] amidst the Baltimore uprising.” In a nutshell, he is not sure if the series had a politically progressive message after all. Zirin’s post is followed by a lively—and high-quality—debate in the comments thread, most of whose contributors take strong issue with him. The comment by “Steve” is particularly good, and which I am taking the liberty of copying-and-pasting into the comments thread here.

2nd UPDATE: Adam Shatz—a ‘Wire’ fan—offers his thoughts on Baltimore in a post (May 7th) on the LRB blog.

3rd UPDATE: Orlando Patterson, the brilliant Harvard University sociologist, has an excellent, must-read op-ed (May 9th) in the NYT on “The real problem with America’s inner cities.”

Bunk & McNulty

Bunk & McNulty

Omar & Brother Mouzone

Omar & Brother Mouzone

Stringer Bell & Prop Joe

Stringer Bell & Prop Joe

Clay Davis

Clay Davis

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Marilyn Mosby, Baltimore, May 1st  (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Marilyn Mosby, Baltimore, May 1st (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Watch here Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby announcing the indictments of the six police officers for the homicide of Freddie Gray. Very impressive. Her political future will be brilliant if she wins convictions. POTUS in 2032 maybe?

Max Rodenbeck of The Economist has passed on to me a most interesting article by Richard Rothstein of the Economic Policy Institute, posted April 29th on the EPI’s Working Economics Blog, on how the black ghetto in Baltimore (and everywhere else in America) got to be that way, “From Ferguson to Baltimore: The Fruits of Government-Sponsored Segregation.” Money quote

Baltimore, not at all uniquely, has experienced a century of public policy designed, consciously so, to segregate and impoverish its black population. A legacy of these policies is the rioting we have seen in Baltimore. Whether after the 1967 wave of riots that led to the Kerner Commission report, after the 1992 Los Angeles riot that followed the acquittal of police officers who beat Rodney King, or after the recent wave of confrontations and vandalism following police killings of black men, community leaders typically say, properly, that violence isn’t the answer and that after peace is restored, we can deal with the underlying problems. We never do so.

On the 1968 Kerner Commission report, see the piece in Politico Magazine (April 30th) by Bruce Western, of Harvard’s JFK School of Government, “The Man Who Foresaw Baltimore.” The lede: “Nearly 40 years ago, the Kerner Commission warned us of all this. We didn’t listen.”

In his post Richard Rothstein links to an article by Rutgers University-Newark history professor Beryl Satter, “Race and Real Estate,” published in the July-August 2009 issue of Poverty & Race, that is definitely worth the read.

Louis Hyman, who teaches history at Cornell, has an article in Slate (May 1st), which gives food for thought, on “Why the CVS burned.” The lede: “The rioting in Baltimore wasn’t hooliganism. It was a protest against the depredations of the ghetto economy.”

Emily Badger, an urban policy reporter at WaPo’s Wonkblog, has an informative Wonkblog post (April 29th) on “The long, painful and repetitive history of how Baltimore became Baltimore.”

Gracy Olmstead, an associate editor of Patrick Buchanan’s The American Conservative, has a post (April 30th) on Baltimore—in which she sounds like some bleeding heart liberal—rhetorically asking “Have conservatives lost their compassion?” The question presupposes, of course, that they had this to begin with.

And Julia Blount, a Princeton alumna who teaches middle school, has an open letter on her Facebook page and republished in Salon (April 30th), “Dear white Facebook friends: I need you to respect what Black America is feeling right now.” Salon’s lede: “To those rushing to judgment about what’s happening in Baltimore: Please stop and listen before you say any more.” (h/t Michelle S.)

À suivre.

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The Baltimore protests

Baltimore, April 22nd (photo: Samuel Corum, Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Baltimore, April 22nd (photo: Samuel Corum, Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

I was initially going to title this post “The Baltimore riots” but then thought that wouldn’t be right, as there has been a protest movement underway in Baltimore since the death of Freddie Gray two weeks ago—who, we now know, was murdered by the police—but there was only one several hour stretch of actual rioting (last Monday) and which wasn’t that big of a deal (the disturbances last Saturday, so far as I’ve read, fell short of a full-blown riot). Sure, it was a big deal for the individuals whose property was looted or vandalized but, with a total of 144 vehicle fires and 15 structural fires, and a few stores looted—and not a single death—the Monday trashing and burning was, compared to the many previous riots in contemporary US history, just not (a big deal). I mean, we’re not talking about Detroit or Newark 1967, Washington or Baltimore 1968, or L.A. 1992 here. And white American punks frequently riot but whose actions are not labeled by the media or larger society as such.

What happened in Baltimore earlier this week—which did not start in the way the broadcast media reported—looked a lot like a typical riot or disturbance in France, which usually begins as a protest by youthful members of visible minorities enraged at the behavior of the police, with the two clashing—hurling projectiles, tear gas, etc—and the looting and arson committed by apolitical opportunists and profiteers joining the melee to steal or just raise hell (I’ve written about French riots here, here, and here; and the 2011 London rioting here). Protesters and looters/arsonists are not the same. And the ultimate responsible party—the culprit—in setting off the events is almost always the police.

On L.A. 1992, Steve Lopez of the L.A. Times had a column the other day on the “Baltimore riots and the long shadow of 1992 Los Angeles,” in which, entre autres, he discussed the “Third World conditions” in the United States. On the rioting, he had this to say

There’s no excusing the looting and torching we’ve seen in Los Angeles and Baltimore, and people understandably want to know how it makes any sense to destroy your own neighborhood.

It doesn’t. Some of it is just plain thuggery.

But some of it is an angry response to a system that appears to be rigged. When you become convinced that justice and opportunity are available to some and not to others, and that nothing changes from one generation to the next, it doesn’t take long before mob mentality takes over.

On protesters vs. rioters, Babson College political scientist Stephen Deets, in a piece in the WaPo’s Monkey Cage blog, “Baltimore is not Ferguson,” wrote

Very quickly the divide between the “protesters” and the “rioters” became apparent. Freddie Gray’s death may have provided the structural opportunity for the riots, but it seems the individuals involved were largely different than the protesters. As a result, Monday afternoon and evening the protester leaders, mayor, and police were cooperating to calm the streets.

For those who didn’t look at the NYT yesterday, check out Johns Hopkins history prof N.D.B. Connolly’s op-ed, “Black culture is not the problem.”

Examining the view from the right, The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf has a spot on essay on how “Few conservatives take police abuses seriously.” The lede: “There is overwhelming evidence of widespread civil-rights violations and unlawful brutality. Yet the movement’s reflex is still to ignore or deny the problem.”

Indeed. The right has precious little to say about the behavior of the police. On the question of police violence—or thuggery, if you will—journalist Nathalie Baptiste has a piece in TAP in which she says that “In Baltimore, [this] is the real violence problem.” The lede: “An unarmed black person is six times more likely to be killed by police than is a white person who carries a weapon.”

If one missed it, see my post from last month, “Killed by police.” If any conservatives out there wish to comment on this, feel free.

There has, of course, been some boneheadedness and stupidity on the far left, which the well-known lefty political scientist Stephen Zunes called out yesterday in a social media status update:

One thing that bugs me almost as much as the white conservatives who condemn poor black inner city youth for rioting are the white leftists who cheer it on. The empirical evidence has demonstrated that strategic nonviolent action (strikes, blockades, occupations, etc.) is far more effective in advancing social justice than smashing storefront windows and throwing projectiles at cops. Those of us in privileged positions should neither impose moral judgement on nor encourage counter-productive tactics by the oppressed.

Very good, Stephen. I entirely agree.

À suivre.

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