Four Stories From 2014

I’m taking a page out of Jason Fagone’s book. Here are four articles of mine from 2014 that I liked the most. (And many thanks to the editors who protected me from myself, as well as to the fact-checkers who called me on bullshit.)

4. Welcome to the Uber Wars (Politico Magazine)

Over the summer, Maryland became the first state of these United States to rule that ridesharing company Uber is a transportation company, not a technology company. For opponents of ridesharing, this was a big deal. Maryland was saying, essentially, it didn’t care how “disruptive” a Silicon Valley technology company was: Uber would fall in line with Maryland state laws, or it could get out.

3. Rocket Men (Philadelphia City Paper)

When I was a kid, my dad often took me to Hibernia Park in Chester County, Pennsylvania, to launch model rockets. And while the last time I did that was probably when I was 8 years old (17 years ago now), I’ve had a fascination with model rockets ever since. So driving to a farm an hour north of Philly to watch a group of middle-aged men howl and shout as they launched 6-foot-tall rockets skyward was easily the most fun I’ve had reporting this year.

2. Remington Revival (Baltimore Sun)

For a few years now, new people and businesses have been moving into the blue-collar, working-class Baltimore neighborhood of Remington. So my assigning editor wondered whether Remington was going through a bona fide renaissance—and what people who had been living there for many, many years thought about it. The best part of this story was talking to about 20 people, all of whom are living or working in Remington.

1. The Business of Lacrosse (Baltimore Style Magazine)

Paul Rabil is the first million-dollar professional lacrosse player in the U.S., a feat he’s pulled off with huge endorsement deals, including one with Red Bull. (Not to mention he’s an imposing athlete—built like a linebacker, capable of flinging a lax ball into the net at 110 miles an hour.) This story is probably the first real profile I’ve written since leaving college, and it’s pretty special to me: It was my first magazine cover story.

To Baltimore

The 1700 block of Bolton Street, my home two of the three years I lived in Baltimore after graduating college in 2011.

On May 23, I spent my final night in Baltimore, a city I called home for seven years.* For several reasons I completed a move north the next day to Philadelphia, a city I lived outside of for the first 18 years of my life, and where I’m now seeking my next journalistic challenge with a foray into full-time freelance writing.

A few weeks have now passed, and I’ve had the chance to take stock of this change—one that’s filled me with a great deal of happiness and optimism, even as I’ve processed a profound feeling of sadness brought on by leaving a city I won’t ever stop loving. To the catharsis, then.

Two weeks before I came to Baltimore, my family moved south to Elkton, Maryland, and my home of 18 years—Coatesville, a small city about an hour to the west of Philadelphia—didn’t feel like home anymore.

My father, a native of Long Island, was compelled by a strong desire to be closer to water once again; his father, a former ad-copy man** at J. Walter Thompson, was a fisherman later in life, and he instilled in my dad a deep love for sailing. My mother, a native of Malvern, Pennsylvania, was also sold on the idea of moving to a house on the Elk River, a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay.

But the deciding factor motivating my parents to uproot themselves one year after my brother started college and 14 days before my first day at Loyola College in Maryland was the battle-cry of the Republican Party: taxes. For several years before 2007, the budget proposed by the Coatesville Area School District would have required raising property taxes on district residents by 24 percent. My parents spearheaded a movement against the tax increase. I was in junior high heading into high school at the time, far more worried about growing my hair long and playing drums in my band, but if memory serves, the campaign worked, to a degree—property taxes went up by only 10 percent.

(In some respects, I suppose, my parents were the unknowing harbingers of the 2010 national Tea Party movement. Somewhere in the ether there is news footage of my father strolling into a Coatesville City Council meeting wearing a fireman’s hat that had been adorned with hanging bags of Lipton tea; my mother, a fiery Italian woman capable of kicking your ass with her vocal cords, stood at the lectern at that particular meeting and called the city’s elected officials parasites sucking the life-blood out of the community. No doubt, dear reader, you’ve formed a fond or polemical impression of my parents depending on your political persuasion, but they are my people, and a pair I won’t apologize for having.)

All this, however, is merely backdrop. It’s the setting required to understand why I was now living in a new house only a couple weeks before I began freshman year of college—and why, for every summer following every successive year at college, save for one summer spent abroad in Cape Town, I stayed on campus.

I chose Baltimore because of the money, mainly. My choice at the end of high school was between the College of William and Mary and Loyola (since “re-designated” to Loyola University Maryland, a decision equal parts risible and misguided, if the opinion of the former editor of The Greyhound newspaper means anything anymore). Jon Stewart’s alma mater wasn’t offering any scholarship money; Loyola was. Excitement at William and Mary, I surmised, amounted to colonial Williamsburg and screaming on the Busch Gardens’ roller coasters; excitement in Baltimore, I hoped, was whatever a city could offer.

Baltimore quickly became my new home. I spent that first summer on campus bumming beer from juniors and seniors who were over 21 and heading to Camden Yards by Light Rail and taking the number 11 bus back. I walked to campus from Swallow at the Hollow with my summer roommate after being denied entry. (We were told that the bar wasn’t checking identification that night, which turned out to be false.) In mid-summer I spent several days updating a series of scavenger hunts through four different sections of the city for my job at Loyola’s community service center. I vividly remember walking through West Baltimore, around the Lexington Market area, with a good friend of mine, a black man to whom I quoted—after he asked how it felt to be surrounded by people who didn’t look like me—the Everclear song about being a scared white boy in a black neighborhood.

Over the years, I developed a fondness for Baltimore much in the same way I’ve grown to like country music.*** Which is to say, essentially, that once you realize the majority of people you will meet are friends of utility of the sort Aristotle explains in his Nicomachean Ethics, and that most other people and places and events are mere pit stops on a long journey, you begin to appreciate anything that is overwhelmingly earnest and honest. You want, even for a moment, an emotional connection so strong you can’t help but be nostalgic about it forever. I once had Alec Ross—the former senior adviser for innovation for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton—tell me that Baltimore is “a real city with real people.” At the time, I thought his sentiment was boilerplate. Surely people in other cities, which are undoubtedly not inauthentic, are real, yes? Naturally a D.C. official who lives in Baltimore is going to extol his hometown during an on-the-record interview for a magazine based in Baltimore.

But Baltimore, its salient characteristic an endearing chip on a broad shoulder, a city that both loves and loathes The Wire, is real. You hate it, and you love it. You poke endless fun at the benches that read “The Greatest City in America,” and then you find an excuse to head to Fells Point on a Friday night at 11, not to be a drink-sodden belligerent, but to sit at the benches near Bond Street Wharf and let a summer breeze hit you. I think the happiest nights I had in Baltimore were those when I would walk, just walk, from my apartment in Bolton Hill to the Inner Harbor.

You discover things, like Tommy Joy, a bona fide jazz crooner, playing piano at the 13th Floor. You hear Pete Kanaras pick a guitar at Cat’s Eye. You thank Ron Scott for keeping open a joint like the Caton Castle.

You go back to Lexington Market, not because you want a hometown poverty tour, or because you’d like to lord your privilege-laden “knowledge” of a supposedly obscure neighborhood to fellow white friends, but because you just want the damn shrimp cheese steak.

You can’t go into a neighborhood like Remington spewing the word renaissance without experiencing a gut-check from old-time Baltimoreans, and, thankfully, it makes you feel a little less like a thoughtless 20-something.

And you meet people who do more for Baltimore—who push for housing policy reform, who rehab vacant properties, who teach kids just looking for a chance to be somebody—than you ever could, and it gives you hope.

I know I’m missing many, many elements in what is, admittedly, a woeful summary of a city that can’t possibly be translated into words.

From what I’ve seen so far in Philadelphia, I can tell I’m bound to love it. I won’t say, right now, that I do love it; I fear that would sound too cocksure and more than a tad disingenuous.

But I can say I love Baltimore. I always will.

I think there’s no better way to bring this modest atoning to a close than quoting, with slight modification, the ending to the short story “The Swimmers.” It was written in 1929 by F. Scott Fitzgerald, a man who spent five ill-fated years in Baltimore, a city whose politics and policies manage to rankle its most ardent supporters. Although Fitzgerald’s time in Baltimore was shaped by melancholy, he found in Baltimore something he lacked in his many travels: a home.

And so: New York City is a place. Washington, D.C., is a people. But Baltimore—well, Baltimore is a willingness of the heart.

*I’m certain to travel back and forth between Philadelphia and Baltimore, as the distance between them isn’t overly disagreeable, and there are still articles set in or about Baltimore that I’m still completing.

**The lore passed to me by my father is that his father, during his time at J. Walter Thompson, was responsible for writing some body of election copy for Thomas E. Dewey in 1948. The story, supposedly, is that my grandfather abruptly quit after a superior changed his copy from reading “why Dewey will win” to “why Dewey can win.” I don’t know if that’s true. What is true, however, is that Dewey didn’t win.

***Insert requisite groaning and admonition here.

What I’m Reading

Every Monday evening, five links to what I’m reading this week.

1. Mandela’s Social Failure (via The New York Times): “In South Africa, the miserable life of the poor majority broadly remains the same as under apartheid, and the rise of political and civil rights is counterbalanced by the growing insecurity, violence, and crime.”

2. Silicon Chasm (via The Weekly Standard): “Master and servant. Cornucopian wealth for a few tech oligarchs plus relatively steady but relatively low-paying work for their lucky retainers. No middle class, unless the top 5 percent U.S. income bracket counts as middle class.”

3. Why Are Upworthy Headlines Suddenly Everywhere? (via “The short answer is: People click on them.”

4. Invisible Child: Dasani’s Homeless Life (via The New York Times): “It is no place for children. Yet Dasani is among 280 children at the shelter. Beyond its walls, she belongs to a vast and invisible tribe of more than 22,000 homeless children in New York, the highest number since the Great Depression, in the most unequal metropolis in America.”

5. Whose Sarin? (via The London Review of Books): “Barack Obama did not tell the whole story this autumn when he tried to make the case that Bashar al-Assad was responsible for the chemical weapons attack near Damascus on 21 August.”

What I’m Reading

Every Monday evening, five links to what I’m reading this week.

1. Tech Wealth and Ideas Are Heading Into News (via The New York Times): “Technology and journalism, former antagonists, are about to give bromance a try, with Mr. Bezos and Mr. Omidyar leading the way.”

2. Stanley Druckenmiller: How Washington Really Redistributes Income (via The Wall Street Journal): “[W]hile today’s 65-year-olds will receive on average net lifetime benefits of $327,400, children born now will suffer net lifetime losses of $420,600 as they struggle to pay the bills of aging Americans.”

3. What Is ‘Evil’ to Google? (via “Google doesn’t make immoral choices because moral choices are just choices made by Google.”

4. 20 Minutes at Rucker Park (via “A streetballer’s cross-country journey from the deepest part of hell to take his shot on New York’s most storied basketball court.”

5. Is Google building a hulking floating data center in SF Bay? (via “It looks like Google has been working on an oversize secret project on San Francisco’s Treasure Island.”

Martin O’Malley 2016: The City That Breeds Dissents … Disrespectfully [Q&A]

Evan Siple and Dennis McIver are two of the better-known social media personalities of Baltimore city: Siple is the founder of The City That Breeds blog, an enterprise that takes a snark-filled approach to Baltimore culture and politics, and McIver is Twitter’s DennisTheCynic, a stalwart in the relentless fight to make a delivery mechanism for 140-character messages less like an idiot’s playground.

Since March 2013 the duo has pumped out a weekly City That Breeds podcast. Think about having an erudite discussion about education reform when someone abruptly lets out a loud, long fart, and you have an idea of the general tenor of these City That Breeds podcasts.

Dennis McIver, left, and Evan Siple.

In my role as lead reporter for Baltimore, I interviewed Siple and McIver about the podcast and a host of matters specific to Baltimore. But during our nearly hour-long chat in July, we stumbled upon the subject of whether current Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley will make a run for the U.S. presidency in 2016. Below is what followed.

AZ: What do you guys think about Martin O’Malley potentially running for president in 2016?

Evan: I really hope he does because that will give us the most content in the history of the world. I will un-endingly shit all over his campaign. I can only hope that he runs, and I don’t know. It looks like maybe.

AZ: I don’t know. I think if Hillary Clinton jumps in he’d be wise to stay out.

Dennis: Yeah.

Evan: I think he would do a test run. Test the waters in the primary. If the numbers look right, he’ll run again in another four years.

Dennis: The question for O’Malley is, his term ends in 2014, and so 2016 will really be the best shot he’ll have. Because after that, how do you keep your presence when you don’t necessarily have a podium from which to say your views? I could see him running if Hillary doesn’t. On one hand, he seems to have been angling for this since the early 2000s, you know, since he became mayor of Baltimore.

AZ: So this is why he got into politics in the first place, to your mind?

Dennis: I think he’s been preparing for it. So much of it is dependent on what happens nationally. If Clinton’s not there, he will be. Whether or not he has the ability to win with his platform and his history: I don’t know. He hasn’t polled well, but it’s only 2013.

Evan: What’s so bizarre: I hate him as governor. I stopped liking him as mayor once it was obvious that he was going to be out the door mentally and physically with the gubernatorial thing. But I think as a president, I’d hate him less, because on the national scale, I think the only thing he would do is try as hard as he could to raise taxes on the rich. And whereas you can do that in Maryland and rich people will vacate the state, people can’t move out of the United States, can they? I mean they could, but they won’t.

Dennis: Another aspect of that is the fact that his experience has been in relatively unchallenged waters. When he was mayor he got a completely Democratic city council, so they’re going to support his agenda for the most part. When he became governor he had the House of Delegates and the Senate, both of which were run by democrats and were largely directed by him. When you get to a federal level, if you’re trying to major overhaul just based on the level of strength that they have nationally, I think he’s going to have significant challenges making that transition.

AZ: Yeah, and let’s just assume he were to win in 2016. It’s not like he has a Mike Miller figure in Congress, I don’t think, who would really work with him. Who’d be amenable to working with him?

Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley. Photo credit: Andrew Zaleski.

Dennis: Yeah, [Maryland Senate president] Miller  is your standard conservative-style Southern Democrat. He wanted to get the gas tax passed for years and finally he and O’Malley came together and said we’re going to make this work. He was opposed to repealing the death penalty but finally sort of flipped on it.

AZ: And then, of course, O’Malley is rather pedestrian when it comes to national-level speaking engagements.

Evan: He’s awful.

Dennis: He flopped massively in 2004.

AZ: At the DNC last year, it was uninspired.

Dennis: Yeah, exactly.

Evan: His attempts at charisma are just cringeworthy.

Dennis: There’s also been this degree of hollowing from when he was mayor to when he became governor. Evan made this point to me a long time ago — when he was mayor, he was more dynamic, he was much more engaged. If he was mad about something, he let you know he was mad.

Evan: He even said himself, when he became governor, it was much easier to be the mayor because everything was immediate and local. You can engage people, whereas if he’s sitting in Annapolis and someone out in Garrett County is talking shit about him, he can’t drive out there and talk to the guy.

AZ: Have either of you ever tweeted at him?

E: The only time I ever tweeted at him he was talking about all these Orioles in the All-Star game and he was like, go O’s. I just said, ‘Don’t ever tweet about sports ever again.’

What I’m Reading

Every Monday evening, five links to what I’m reading this week.

1. Meet Your Maker (via “Man is a lousy invention–why do we let the manufacturer off the hook?”

2. The future of media is bright … and it’s here already (via The Kernel): “We are seeing the world of journalism become a bit like the world of sports, with its superstars, and its market, with stars going from one team to the other. But, unlike in sports, it’s possible for players to create their own team, and to be successful in niches.”

3. The Time Gawker Put the Washington Post Out of Business (via “Blogs are killing newspapers. But it’s not by mindlessly cutting and pasting from newspaper web sites. … The bigger threat is that blogs say the things that hidebound newspaper editors are too afraid to let their reporters write.”

4. The Maligned Tea Party (via National Review Online): “The first, and most cynical, is made up of perfidious progressives who, because they oppose the Tea Party’s economic agenda and fear its electoral and political clout, have set out with malice aforethought to destroy the group’s reputation.”

5. Ma’am, Your Burger Has Been Paid For (via The New York Times): “Whereas paying it forward in drive-throughs occurred maybe once or twice a year a decade ago, now fast-food operators said it might happen several times a day.”

What I’m Reading

Every Monday evening, five links to what I’m reading this week.

1. Boomtown Rats on the Lonesome Prairie (via “Under pressure to provide more humane housing for these many thousands of workers, the bigger oil companies have hired logistics companies to build “man camps,” often modular housing moved here from other harsh environments. These sprawling complexes include dining rooms and game rooms and lots of tiny single-occupancy cells with a bed, TV and sink. Toilets and showers are communal. Alcohol, pets, girlfriends and children are strictly forbidden.”

2. Powers, Separate on Purpose (via National Review Online): “Separation of powers is inefficient; it is an obstacle to substantial change; and it will not only “allow” gridlock but it is explicitly designed to encourage it.”

3. Here is every previous government shutdown, why they happened and how they ended (via The Washington Post): “Before some 1980 and 1981 opinions issued by then-Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti, a failure to fund some part of the government didn’t necessarily mean that that part of government would stop functioning.”

4. New Diplomatic Avenue Emerges, in 140-Character Bursts (via The New York Times): “Countries all over the world, dictatorships and democracies alike, have in the last few years sought to tame — or plug entirely — that real-time fire hose of public opinion known as Twitter.”

5. Tax collection errors cost Baltimore $30M or more a year, says Stokes [via Baltimore Brew]: “The chairman of the City Council’s taxation committee says that chronic errors and miscalculations of tax bills are costing cash-strapped Baltimore at least $30 million a year – and maybe as much as $60 million.”

What I’m Reading

Every Monday evening, five links to what I’m reading this week.

1. The Shadow Commander (via The New Yorker): “Qassem Suleimani is the Iranian operative who has been reshaping the Middle East. Now he’s directing Assad’s war in Syria.”

2. Seymour Hersh on Obama, NSA and the ‘pathetic’ American media (via The Guardian): “Our job is to find out ourselves, our job is not just to say – here’s a debate’ our job is to go beyond the debate and find out who’s right and who’s wrong about issues. That doesn’t happen enough. It costs money, it costs time, it jeopardises, it raises risks.”

3. Looting the Pension Funds (via Rolling Stone): “All across America, Wall Street is grabbing money meant for public workers.”

4. The Army of Islam is Winning in Syria (via Foreign Policy): “On Sept. 24, 11 of the rebels’ most powerful Islamist groups, including several FSA-affiliated brigades, pulled the rug from under the political opposition by signing a joint statement announcing that they do not recognize its National Coalition and affirming that they view Islamic law as the sole source of legislation.”

5. ‘David and Goliath’ by Malcolm Gladwell (via The Wall Street Journal): “Gladwell too often presents as proven laws what are just intriguing possibilities and musings about human behavior.”

What I’m Reading

Every Monday evening, five links to what I’m reading this week. We take a day off for Labor Day, hence no post last week; we resume below.

1. The Cowboy of the NSA (via Foreign Policy): “Inside Gen. Keith Alexander’s all-out, barely-legal drive to build the ultimate spy machine.”

2. The conflict in Syria is destroying some of the oldest relics of human civilization (via “Dating back at least 7,000 years, [Aleppo] lays claim to be the oldest continuously occupied city in the world.”

3. Early look at health law’s premiums (via The Associated Press): “The average premium for a silver plan ranged from a low of $203 a month for a 21-year-old in Maryland to a high of $764 for a 60-year-old in Connecticut.”

4. Good and Black (via “But the uncomfortable thread running all through these narratives is the suggestion that we have to be good to be good enough. To be respected, to be human, to be validated in the eyes of White folk.”

5. Facebook is bad for you (via “A study just published by the Public Library of Science … has shown that the more someone uses Facebook, the less satisfied he is with life.”

What I’m Reading

Every Monday evening, five links to what I’m reading this week. For people who care. Caring people defined narrowly as my mother (and even then, it’s a maybe).

  1. Barack Obama’s logic for bombing Syria (via “Given the threat, the humanitarian crisis, America’s standing in the region, and the importance of preserving international norms against the use of weapons of mass destruction, the best option might be to destroy huge chunks of the Syrian military, throw Assad’s regime off balance, and let those on the ground settle the aftermath.”
  2. Warplanes spotted in Cyprus as tensions rise in Damascus (via The Guardian): “If an order to attack targets in Syria is given, Cyprus is likely to be a hub of the air campaign.”
  3. The Internet Cannot Save You (via “The Internet is not magic. The Internet cannot nourish, and it cannot give a homeless person a home.”
  4. The Losses of Dan Gable (via ESPN The Magazine): “Wrestling’s most famous winner is taking on one final battle: To save his sport and all he’s ever been.”
  5. The News vs. The Newsroom: Can One Report Bring a Network ‘to Its Knees’? (via “Comparing the HBO series’ depictions of the investigative reports on ‘Operation Genoa’ and the attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi to what really happened.”
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