Friday, December 31, 2010

My books of 2010

Here is my list of the most memorable books I read in 2010.  I've included only recently published books and minimized duplication with a list of best books for union activists that I'm working on.  

  1. John Atlas, Seeds of Change
Peter Drier writes "No group was better at kicking ass than ACORN. That’s the story that John Atlas tells in his fascinating new book, Seeds of Change: The Story of ACORN, America’s Most Controversial Antipoverty Community Organizing Group,.."

Essential reading for social change activists.

2. Ian Fletcher, Free Trade Doesn't Work
Fletcher popularizes the fundamental flaws in the free trade model that have developed in the economics profession over recent decades. Absent highly unrealistic, but often unstated, assumptions, free trade theory falls apart. Jettisoning this misleading and economically destructive theory is essential to constructing a just economy.
A small book that makes the ethical case for socialism based on a camping trip metaphor.
  1. Sally Jenkins and John Stauffer, The  Sate of Jones
In 1863, a poor farmer deserted the Confederate Army and began a guerrilla battle against the Confederacy. Newton Knight refused to fight a rich man's war for slavery and cotton. It is a fascinating history that blows apart the traditional myth of the Confederacy as a heroic and unified Lost Cause.
  1. Tony Judt, Ill Fares the Land
The late historian analyzes what has gone wrong in Western democracies over the last three decades.  An eloquent defense of social democracy, the public sector, and progressive politics.

  1. Dennis Lahane, The Given Day
Dnnnis Lahane is one of the country's most successful mystery-crime writers. His novels featuring private investigators Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro have been made into movies (Mystic Rivers and Gone, Baby, Gone). The Given Day is a departure is subject matter and style. It is an epic historical novel with the 1919 Boston police strike as its central pivot. It features Aiden "Danny" Coughlin, a Boston Police patrolman and Luther Laurence, a talented African-American amateur baseball player from Columbus, OH. Babe Ruth plays a recurring role.

Radical followers of John Brown applied the values of democracy and racial equality in the Federal Army of the Frontier. Mobilized and inspired by the idea of a Union that would benefit all, black, Indian, and white soldiers fought side by side, achieving remarkable successes in the field.
Benjamin Ross and Steven Amter have written a fascinating and eye-opening history of the companies, institutions, and policies that have created our chemically altered environment over the last century.

If Earth Day or the Love Canal tragedy were the events that brought the environmental crisis into your consciousness, then you owe it to yourself to read The Polluters. Even more so, if it was Global Warming or the BP oil spill.

Killer smog in LA and mass zinc poisoning in Denora, Pennsylvania are two dramatic events, just after WWII, covered by Ross and Amter. But there is also the story of DDT and leaded gasoline. The coverups by companies and the obfuscations of industry-influenced scientific groups are constants in the story.

Government has rarely been an effective regulator. The chemical industry in pursuing its own pecuniary interests has promoted and exploited an ideology of market fundamentalism, which has helped to negate and undermine efforts at regulation.

Jim Stanford, an economist in the research department of the Canadian Auto Workers, thinks economics is too important to be left to economists. So, he wrote this concise and readable book to provide nonspecialist readers with all the information they need to understand how capitalism works – and how it doesn’t.
Published to mark the 100th anniversary of the NAACP, Sullivan sheds new light on the history of America's leading civil rights organization. 
  1. Eric Olin Wright, Envisioning Real Utopias
Encyclopedic in its breadth, daunting in its ambition, Envisioning Real Utopias is the culmination of Erik Olin Wright’s revamping of Marxism. Dispensing with ruptural change and laws of history, Wright restores the social to socialism. He keeps alive alternatives to capitalism by exploring real utopias—their internal contradictions, their conditions of existence and, thus, their possible dissemination. Only a thinker of Wright’s genius could sustain such a badly needed political imagination without losing analytical clarity and precision. (Michael Burawoy, UC Berkeley )

Hugely rich and stimulating, Envisioning Real Utopias is many books in one: an incisive normative diagnosis of the harms done by capitalism; a masterful synthesis of the best work in political sociology and political economy over the past thirty years; an innovative theoretical framework for conceptualizing both the goals of progressive change and the strategies for their achievement; an inspiring survey of actually existing challenges to capitalism that have arisen within capitalism itself; and a compelling essay on the relation between the desirable, the viable and the achievable. Anyone interested in the future for leftist politics has to read this book. (Adam Swift, Balliol College, Oxford )

    Wednesday, December 29, 2010

    The joy of fonts

    List of Microsoft Windows fontsImage via WikipediaHere's an interesting post from Kieran Healy on Crooked Timber on "Cognition and Comic Sans"

    setting information in hard-to-read fonts, including Comic Sans Italic, led to better retention amongst research subjects because of “disfluency”. When you have to work harder to read it, you remember it better.
    Abstract: Previous research has shown that disfluency – the subjective experience of difficulty associated with cognitive operations – leads to deeper processing. Two studies explore the extent to which this deeper processing engendered by disfluency interventions can lead to improved memory performance. Study 1 found that information in hard-to-read fonts was better remembered than easier to read information in a controlled laboratory setting. Study 2 extended this finding to high school classrooms. The results suggest that superficial changes to learning materials could yield significant improvements in educational outcomes.
    Enhanced by Zemanta

    Wednesday, December 22, 2010

    Charles Brown's Christmas Masterpieces.

    Bluesman Charles Brown wrote two Christmas classics: "Merry Christmas,Baby" and "Please Come Home for Christmas."

    And he performed them at the perfect tempo in flawless arrangements that fit the mood of the songs. Enjoy.

    Influential left-wing ideas--Bob from Brockley's take

    Bob from Brockley is one of my favorite British UK democratic left bloggers.  He has new post up discussing "influential left wing ideas."

    He discusses five good ideas, five bad ideas, and five not influential enough.   It's an insightful and thought-provoking list.  I'm not sure I'll come up with my own list.

    The Good Influences: social justice, internationalism, one-state solution, open source, strangers into citizens.  Bob has a distinctive conception of the one-solution, but I still don't agree and would put it in my bad influeces group.

    I do like what Bob says about open source, though I've been a fan since I first heard of the movement.

    Open source – I remember thinking it was one of the sillier elements of the Euston Manifesto that it filled a whole clause (no.14 if you're interested) with open source software: a complete distraction, I thought, from the real issues. But since then I’ve changed my mind as I’ve watched the rise of creative commons licensing, free and open source software, participatory media, citizen journalism and citizen scholarship. If you use Firefox or Wikipedia, for example, you will have experienced small-c communism in practice: voluntary co-operation and mutual aid on a massive scale, at the most sophisticated level possible, to achieve, well, not a common goal, but an endless multiplicity of projects, completely outside the logic of the market or the state.

    The bad influences: 1) national sovereignty 2) Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions 3) Blood for oil/the Israel lobby/the shock doctrine, 4) foreigners are stealing our jobs, 5) second campism.

    Never heard of second campism?  Here is what Bob writes
    Imperialism was one of the great evils of the last few centuries, so it is to its credit that the left has historically opposed it. But nowadays, the power cartography of the world has been so re-calibrated that the whole notion of imperialism makes little or no sense, and the concept of anti-imperialism becomes more and more attenuated. It seems to me that most self-proclaimed anti-imperialism these days is better described as Second Campism – that is, supporting the other camp over one’s own. Thus leftists once flocked to Cuba and the Viet Cong as the enemies of Amerikkka; now they flock to “anti-imperialist” dictators who have even less connection to the left’s core values, simply because they are the enemies of Amerikkka.
    I like this statement.  

    Not influential enough:1)  Mutualism, co-operatives, self-management, 2) small government, 3) no borders, 4) class analysis, 5) agnosticism.
    Class analysis – This used to be one of the most influential ideas on the left. Far too influential, arguably, as the trad left was blind to anything other than class: blind to sex and sexuality, to culture and morality, to psychology, to the sacred, to other axes of identity like gender and race, to patriotism and kinship... But the post-1968, has gone too far the other way. Only the most tedious and dogmatic of leftists talk about class these days. But without that anchor, the value of social justice goes adrift, and the left just surfs every passing wave, from Third Worldism to identity politics, from Gaia to Wahhabism.

    Enhanced by Zemanta

    Saturday, December 11, 2010

    Union of Their Dreams author visits Watermark Books

    Rep Delia Garcia, Joe Ewers (IAM),
    Miriam Pawel, Sandy Nathan

    On October 25, author Miriam Pawel gave a talk at Wichita's Watermark Books on her new book Union of Their Dreams: Power, Hope, and Struggle in Cesar Chavez's Farm Worker Movement. The book is not a biography of Cesar Chavez or a history of the United Farmworkers. Rather it is a collective biography of eight people who jointed the farm workers movement and played important roles in the movement.

    They include Eliseo Medina who was recently elected Secretary-Treasurer of the SEIU, making him the highest ranking Mexican-American in the US labor movement.

    Another of the eight was actually at the reading: Sandy Nathan, who worked on the legal team for the UFW. Today, he works as a labor lawyer and serves on the Moundridge School Board. He continued a California-based practice and in the decades since has represented practically all kings of workers, except for farm workers.  He is married to Kirsten Zerger, a Kansas native who was also involved in the UFW. She is now director of education and training at the Kansas Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution at Bethel College, where she founded a community mediation center. She also teaches courses in mediation, negotiation, law and restorative justice. According to Pawel, “the biggest legacy of the UFW today is a generation of lawyers, activists, and organizers who learned in the UFW.”

    Pawel described the United Farm Workers as “last great social movement in the country, it changed live in the farm workers in the field and those who worked in the movement...” She added “one of Chavez's great achievements was to bring visibility to a class of workers who had before been invisible, excluded from all labor law legislation. His crusades and boycotts brought them into public consciousness.”

    Her book tells the story of how Chavez imposed techniques from the human potential movement, especially the controversial “game” from the controversial Synanon group and demanded that the UFW remain a movement powered by volunteers. Others, including Eliseo Medina, wanted the UFW to concentrate on bread-and-butter union issues of winning better wages and working conditions and empowering rank-and-file union members.

    The path chosen by the charismatic Chavez, in Pawel's view, led to the stagnation and decline of the UFW. “The UFW today if a very small union, which is really more of a Hispanic lobbying organization,” Pawel said

    “Chavez has never been examined in his totality, he has been relegated to a saintly position that does neither him or the cause any good... there are lessons about what to do if you are in an organization and there is something going wrong when do you speak up, how do you preserve democracy in an organization and still get things done,” Pawel said.

    Pawel said that she hopes the stories in Union of Their Dreams will inspire and inform a new generation of activists for farmworkers. She pointed to the current exciting work by FLOC (Farm Labor Organizing Committee), an affiliate of the AFL-CIO, and the Coalition of Immakolee Workers.

    A Union of Their Dreams is one of the best books about workers that I have read in recent years. To learn more about the book and for additional materials, including historical photos and recordings, be sure to visit the book's website.
    Enhanced by Zemanta

    Friday, December 10, 2010

    RIP, James Moody

    The great saxophonist James Moody died today.  His recording "Moody's Mood for Love" is one of the great artistic statements of the 20th century.  Here in an interview with Camille Cosby he tells the unexpected story of how the classic came about.

    And here is the original recording.

    It's such a great melody, spontaneously created that King Pleasure and Eddie Jefferson come up with lyrics and produced a vocal classic. Here's Amy Winehouse.