Wandering Eye: Unpacking 'My Own Private Baltimore,' Texas braces for an Obama takeover, and more

Derek Thompson's "World Without Work" and Chrystia Freelan's "The Disintegration of the World" combine to get close to—but never quite say—the obvious: In a culture that privileges innovation and profit over all else, those who assume that civilization's infrastructures require no maintenance or attention will eventually prove wrong. Business leaders (and most politicians) have made this fallacious assumption for several generations now, and it's going to take more than an ISIS or a Putin to bring them around. "The job market appears to be requiring more and more preparation for a lower and lower starting wage," Thompson observes, as if this has not been the case already for 30 years. He finds a professor, John Russo of Youngstown State University, to say the obvious: "Youngstown [Ohio]'s story is America's story, because it shows that when jobs go away, the cultural cohesion of a place is destroyed. The cultural breakdown matters even more than the economic breakdown." Freeland, who ran Thompson-Reuters' "consumer news" division before a successful run for parliament in her native Canada, specializes in the kind of uncomfortable hand-wringing one might expect from a person who wishes to maintain her annual Davos invite: "Not long ago those who worried about inequality were accused of partaking in the politics of envy. In the past year this concern officially became mainstream as voices from the Pope to Christine Lagarde to President Obama cautioned of its impacts. The mounting consensus: left unchecked, economic inequality will set back the fight against poverty and threaten global stability." The "fight against poverty"? What "fight against poverty"? (Edward Ericson Jr.)

 

On Saturday, The New York Times published an opinion piece titled "My Own Private Baltimore" written by former City Paper contributor Tim Kreider. The title is apt, since the piece is essentially an account of Kreider's time spent in Baltimore, mostly at dive bars, more than a decade ago. However, the article attempts to act as a window into Baltimore life, without fully recognizing the distortion that comes with a long period of separation, not to mention the inevitably narrow perspective of one voice. Kreider briefly touches on the extreme racial segregation of the city, without any mention of Freddie Gray or the recent uprising, and then continues to wade through hungover memories of sketchy characters, drunken bro-downs, cartoonish Baltimore eccentricities, and the decline of the city.

"H. L. Mencken once wrote that Baltimore was known up and down the East Coast for the excellence of its food, the pulchritude of its women and  the genteel charm of its domestic life — all of which, sadly, reads like a joke now." For one thing, Kreider clearly has not visited Baltimore's kitchens and restaurants in a long time. And, in the spirit of speaking for a community, I'll take the opportunity to say "fuck you" on behalf of my fellow Baltimore women—to both Kreider and Mencken.

Kreider goes on to write "The city is ideally positioned between New York and Washington so that all the ambitious people are siphoned off — the ones who crave wealth and fame to the north, the ones who lust for power to the south — leaving the lazier, saner remainder in peace to enjoy low rents, cheap beers and a life undisturbed by the clamorous egos of the driven. There were a few ambitious go-getters in Baltimore, but in that city they always seemed somehow ludicrous to me, like Machiavellians on the P.T.A. If they were really so ambitious, why were they in Baltimore?"

In defense of his claim that Baltimoreans are unambitious, Kreider notes the difference between ambition and creativity, that creativity in Baltimore is "without an agenda." It feels more accurate to say that more people, creative or otherwise, are actually staying or even coming into Baltimore, where they (they, of course, meaning the white community Kreider refers to) can pursue their goals without the crippling high cost of living while remaining in proximity to both D.C. and New York—and many do, in fact, intend to be paid or at least recognized for their work, or have clear social or political agendas.

Perhaps the only nugget of wisdom Kreider provides is this, one that compares to performer Abdu Ali's reflections of trying to make it in Baltimore, then Brooklyn, then Baltimore again: "Compared with Baltimore, New York feels like a city-themed theme park. The difference between the two places is the difference between affectation and insanity, the eccentric and the grotesque." (Maura Callahan)

 

On July 4, The Washington Post published an interesting story on a right-wing conspiracy getting major traction in the heart of Texas. In short, a large-scale military exercise is seen as a plot by President Obama to take over the deeply red state. One chair of a county Republican Party says this of the president: "in the minds of some, he was raised by communists and mentored by terrorists." The military stoked the conspiracy flames when it released a map for the exercise, named Jade Helm, that labeled the Lone Star State as "hostile." As a spokesperson explained at one community meeting, the large chunk of the southwestern U.S. being used is supposed to represent a fictional country where the military might try to help restore democracy. But a former mayor of Bastrop, a town right near the heart of the operation, says the reason for all the heated rhetoric is plain and simple. "The truth is, this stems a fair amount from the fact that we have a black president." (Brandon Weigel)

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