Wandering Eye: Omar and the ACLU, WaPo on Yahoo, Russ Smith on Charles Street, and more


Back in 2005, when HBO was considering canceling "The Wire" after season three, City Paper published a "top 10" piece listing reasons not to do so. No. 3 was Michael K. Williams' character, Omar, with the list deeming him "arguably the show's single greatest achievement." And back when then-U.S. Sen. Barack Obama was running for president in 2008, he called Omar his favorite character on his favorite show. Given the show's focus on criminal-justice themes, it seems appropriate that the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has made Williams the group's "celebrity ambassador for ending mass incarceration," and Williams tweeted yesterday that he's "proud" while posting his "Ambassador" card on Instagram. He joins a host of other ACLU ambassadors, including Harry Belafonte, Melissa Etheridge, and Cindi Lauper, who advocate for reform by using social media, appearing at news conferences, and talking to lawmakers. (Van Smith)

The Washington Post has 1,500 pages of new revelations about how the U.S. government forced Yahoo to hand over data to its huge spying database in 2008. Unsealed for the first time (in 2009 a highly redacted version was released), the documents outline Yahoo's battle with the National Security Agency (NSA) over the PRISM program that Edward Snowden leaked last year. Under PRISM, pretty much everything you do on the innerwebs is fair game for collection.

The feds threatened Yahoo with a $250,000-per-day fine, WaPo reports. And once the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court—that's the secret panel of judges that oversees the NSA and the Central Intelligence Agency's activities, without input from any surveillees' lawyers—deemed the NSA's request legal, the agency used it to persuade all the other big internet companies to comply with the requests as well. Most of this ground has been plowed already, albeit in less detail. But it is worth noting, perhaps, that in this case, at least, the internet giants were not villains. WaPo:

"Yahoo, which endured heavy criticism after The Washington Post and Britain's Guardian newspaper used Snowden's documents to reveal the existence of PRISM last year, was legally bound from revealing its efforts in attempting to resist government pressure. The New York Times first reported Yahoo's role in the case in June 2013, a week after the initial PRISM revelations." (Edward Ericson Jr.)


City Paper co-founder Russ Smith oversees Splicetoday now, a website that combines original writing with feeds, and yesterday Smith posted a piece discussing "Baltimore's blighted North Charles Street." It's a legitimate urban-policy critique of the city's preference for giving large incentives to massive waterfront projects over spurring a small-business revival along its "5th Ave. writ small," as Smith refers to North Charles, which he says has descended into "increasing dilapidation."

What's significant about the piece, though, is not so much its wisdom, but its inspiration: a walk. Like, outside, in the actual world. Smith has tended over the years to armchair his observations, typing out 10,000-word screeds based on what he's been watching on TV and arting up the copy with photographs of, that's right, his TV screen—making him a visionary, in a sense, given how journalists now do essentially that all the time in order to feed the demands of today's hyper-vacuous media environment by bouncing what they're seeing on their computer or smartphone screens. But this piece resulted from Smith leaving his seemingly cloistered existence, and it shows the value of taking the time to get out and about. (Van Smith)