Saturday, December 31, 2011

My Books of 2011

It's the time of the year for "top " lists:  Russell Arben Fox's most intellectually stimulating books, Norm Geras presents 12 books he won't be reading in 2012 topping Keiran Healey's list of books not read in 2011, Salon's best tv episodes, Dave Adler's top jazz picks, Rolling Stone's top 50 albums, and many competing political gaffes lists.

Like last year, I've come up with a list of my top 10 books of 2010. The listing is not a a rank listing.

  1.  John Nichols, The "S" Word: A Short History of an American Tradition...Socialism

    Nichols has written a persuasive case that socialism is as American as apple pie.  From the forgotten radical economics of founding father Thomas Paine and the utopian socialists who founded the Republican Party to Victor Berger, the socialist Congressman from Milwaukee, who opposed WWI to Michael Harrington it is a great read.

    The subtitle is a little misleading.  Nichols leaves out some important topics that even a short history should contain: the Populist movement of the 1890s and the most successful Socialist Party of the Debs era--the Oklahoma socialists, discussed brilliantly in Jim Bissett's Agrarian Socialism in America: Marx, Jefferson, and Jesus in the Oklahoma Countryside, 1904-1920.

  2. John Quiggin, Zombie Economics: How Dead Ideas Still Walk among Us  

    A prolific Australian social democratic economist takes on influential, but dead wrong economic ideas.  Be aware that there is another book out with the ZE title and be advised that the forthcoming paperback edition will contain an extra chapter refuting austerity economics. 

    From the coverslip:

    Killing vampires and werewolves is easy enough. But how does one slay economic zombies--ideas that should have died long ago but still shamble forward? Armed with nothing but the truth, John Quiggin sets about dispatching these dead ideas once and for all in this engaging book. Zombie Economics should be required reading for those who would dare reanimate the economic theories that brought us to the edge of ruin."--Brad DeLong, University of California, Berkeley.

  3.  Joe Burns, Reviving the Strike: How Working People Can Regain Power and Transform America

    Carl Finamore reviewed it on Talking Union
    a valuable contribution to resurrecting fundamental lessons from the neglected history of American labor.
    As the title suggests and as he emphasized to me, “the only way we can revive the labor movement is to revive a strike based on the traditional tactics of the labor movement.”

    But he doesn’t stop there. The author reviews for the reader the full range of tactics and strategy during the exciting, turbulent and often violent history of American labor.Refreshingly, he also provides critical assessments normally avoided by labor analysts of a whole series of union tactics that have grown enormously popular over the last several decades.

  4. Jay Walljasper,  All That We Share: A Field Guide to the Commons

    Walljasper is a former editor of UTNE Reader and this book is written (compiled, might be more accurate) in a similar style. There are lots of sidebars, interviews and the like.

  5. Louisa Thomas Conscience Two Soldiers, Two Pacifists, One Family--a Test of Will and Faith in World War I

     Even though I've read two biographies of Norman Thomas, this book by Thomas's great-granddaughter greatly added to my knowledge and appreciation of Thomas.  

    Alan Riding's review in the New York Times seems on the mark

    Louisa Thomas, who never knew her great-­grandfather, might well have chosen to write his biography as a way of meeting him. Instead, in her first book, “Conscience: Two Soldiers, Two Pacifists, One Family — A Test of Will and Faith in World War I,” she has been far more daring. In fact, the lengthy subtitle is a bit misleading. Yes, Norman and his brother Evan were pacifists and their brothers Ralph and Arthur joined the Army. And yes, Evan was jailed as a conscientious objector and Ralph was wounded in the trenches. Yet the thrust of this enthralling book lies with its title: through the experience of her forebears, Thomas examines how conscience fares when society considers it subversive.

    At issue is not Norman Thomas’s socialism: it barely enters the picture because he joined the Socialist Party only a month before the end of the war. Instead, we are shown the “making” of a socialist, formed not by Marx but by the Bible.
    Also recommended is Mark Johnson's review and interview of Louisa Thomas on the Fellowship of Reconciliation blog.
  6. David James Smith, Young Mandela: The Revolutionary Years

    This biography covers Nelson Mandela's early years up to his imprisonment in 1964.  Smith's discussion of Mandela's private life seems to depend too much on suppositions and speculation.  What is interesting to me is the ANC's move from non-violence to armed struggle and the close, working relationship between the ANC and the South African Communist Party.

  7. Bruce Watson, Freedom Summer
  8. Raymond Arsenault, Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice  

     Two outstanding books on critical episodes in the civil rights movement: the 1961 Freedom Rides to confront the segregation of interstate bus terminals and the 1964 Freedom Summer to register  African Americans in Mississippi.  Watson is the author of an excellent book on Sacco and Vanzetti (which I have read) and one on the 1912 Bread and Roses strike. Aresensault's book is a long one, but there  is an abridged version and a DVD of the PBS documentary based on it.

    9.   Philip Dray, There is Power in the Union

     I bought this at the bookstore at the 2011 Netroots nation and found that it lives up to its subtitle "Epic Story of Labor in America." It is now out in paperback.    There are other recent general  histories of US labor (Mel Dubofsky's Labor in America: A History and Nelson Lichtenstein's 2003 State of the Union: A Century of American Labor, A.B. Chitty's 2002 From the Folks Who Brought You the Weekend, and the 2007 two-volume Who Built America).  They might be preferred by academics or labor studies professionals, but for the general reader, union activist, or occupier, There is Power in the Union is highly recommended.

    10. Barbara Clark Smith, The Freedoms We Lost:Consent and Resistance in Revolutionary America

    This is an eye-opening study of the real-life freedoms in revolutionary America. In a post on the History News Network, Smith brings out the huge differences between today's Tea Party and the original. If you find that post  intriguing, you might want to check out the book.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Ron Paul

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Holiday Music That Doesn't Suck # 9

The influential bluesman Charles Brown sang two Christmas classics--"Please Come Home for Christmas" and "Merry, Christmas Baby."

Friday, December 23, 2011

Holiday Music That Doesn't Suck #8

Amos Milburn "Christmas Comes But Once a Year." Recorded in 1960 on King Records as the "b" side to a cover of Charles Brown's "Please Come Home for Christmas."

Thursday, December 22, 2011


Holiday Music That Doesn't Suck #7

Miles Davis and Bob Dorough "Blue Xmas (To Whom It May Concern)"

In 1962, the brass at Columbia Records wanted to include a selection by Miles Davis in a Jingle Bell Jazz holiday compilation album.

Miles turned to the singer, pianist, and songwriter Bob Dorough, who would later write many songs for Schoolhouse Rock.

Blue Xmas has been described as the Christmas song for everyone who hates Christmas or the excess of Christmas.

"When you're blue at Xmas time
You see through all the waste
All the sham, all the haste
And plain old bad taste
It's a time when the greedy
give a dime to the needy."

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Holiday Music That Doesn't Suck # 6

Merle Haggard's "If We Make It Through December" is one of the Hag's great songs. It describes the too common real holiday experience of too many Americans--when the lack of a paycheck or an insufficient paycheck puts the gift-giving and holiday festivities out of reach. Not only is this remarkable song far different than the usual holiday fare, it was a hit, topping Billboard's country chart for four weeks in December 1973 and January 1974, and ranking number two in the 1974 year-end chart.

Holiday Music That Doesn't Suck # 5 says of Canadian singer Holly Cole "her smoky voice is sultry, yet she's ironically humorous and candid while reshaping traditional standards and pop classics. Jazz is her bedrock, but not exclusively." She has recorded two holiday CDs that are well worth a listen: Santa Baby,Live in Toronto and Baby, It's Cold Outside.

There's a video of Cole doing "Santa, Baby" from the Toronto show. The 1953 song was co-written by Joan Javits, the niece of Sen. Jacob Javits and a huge hit for Ertha Kitt. It has been covered by many, many artists. Cole's version is one that doesn't suck.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Holiday Music That Doesn't Suck #4

Charlie Parker "White Christmas" Kenny Dorham (tp) Charlie Parker (as) Al Haig (p) Tommy Potter (b) Max Roach (ds) Recorded at "Royal Roost", NYC, December 25, 1948

Worth reading

Russell Fox say Time got the person of the year right

Lawrence Guloyta's review of Manning Marable's Malcolm X biography discusses the relationship between Malcolm and African-American democratic socialists like A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin.

Michael Berube. the Left and Libya

With Sober Sense (Marxist-Humanist Initiative) Beware of Leftist Anti-Semitism

Mark Engler analyzes military spending as a jobs program and finds it lacking.

         It is a good piece but I wish that in addition to discussing Paul Baran, Paul Sweezy, Michael Kalekci, and Seymour Melman, the early contributions of third camp socialist T.N. Vance/Walter Oaks to the theory of the permanent arms economy had been mentioned.

Jonathon Bernstein at Political Animal on the end of the Iraq War

the war ended because citizens, acting mainly through the Democratic Party, ended it. Democratic Party actors - activists, policy specialists, politicians, campaign operatives, and eventually just about everyone, many of whom were not politically active before the war - made it clear that a pro-war candidate could not be safely nominated, eventually, for any federal office. And the other point is that it took just forever to get that done, and it was never certain; had the economy boomed the Republicans might well have won in 2008. Is that undemocratic, given that the war polled badly for some time? I’d argue no: after all, at no time did a solid majority of all voters not only oppose the war but consider it a high priority, a critical voting issue. In those situations, it’s never quite clear that there is only one clearly democratic policy outcome. Instead, what we get are a wide variety of possible legitimate democratic outcomes. And what matters is which set of people care enough to try to get it done, and then are successful enough at politics that they can eventually get their preferred outcome.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Holiday Music That Doesn't Suck #3

Denise LaSalle "Santa's Got the Christmas Blues"

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Holiday Music That Doesn't Suck #2

Louis Armstrong, "Zat You, Santa Claus?" This tune has been covered by lots of folks.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Holiday Music That Doesn't Suck #1

There is lots of Christmas and holiday music that sucks.  Sacchrin, commercial, routine are adjectives that frequently apply. . Even great artists too often make terrible Christmas albums.  Bob Dylan's Christmas in the Heart is my pick for the most most disappointing holiday album, though Aretha Franklin's This Christmas is another recent effort that fell short.

On the other hand, there are lots of bargain holiday CDs in the stores and I have found some enjoyable CDs after a patient search.  For 2011, I'm doing some searching on You Tube.  I'll share some of my faves in the coming days.

I'm starting with a group I had never heard of--The Sonics, a 1960s Seattle garage band, contemporaries of The Kingsmen, Paul Revere and the Raiders, and others, and a influence on NIrvana and the White Stripes.

"I Don't Believe in Christmas" is a take off of Chuck Berry's Too Much Monkey Business., which was the source for Bob Dylan's Subterranean Homesick Blues

Saturday, December 10, 2011

“The New Nationalism” Theodore Roosevelt

Speech in Osawatomie, Kansas
August 31, 1910

Theodore Roosevelt at Osawatomie, August 31, 1910
We come here to-day to commemorate one of the epoch-making events of the long struggle for the rights of man—the long struggle for the uplift of humanity. Our country—this great republic—means nothing unless it means the triumph of a real democracy, the triumph of popular government, and, in the long run, of an economic system under which each man shall be guaranteed the opportunity to show the best that there is in him. That is why the history of America is now the central feature of the history of the world; for the world has set its face hopefully toward our democracy; and, O my fellow citizens, each one of you carries on your shoulders not only the burden of doing well for the sake of your own country, but the burden of doing well and of seeing that this nation does well for the sake of mankind.

There have been two great crises in our country’s history: first, when it was formed, and then, again, when it was it was perpetuated; and, in the second of these great crises—in the time of stress and strain which culminated in the Civil War, on the outcome of which depended the justification of what had been done earlier, you men of the Grand Army, you men who fought through the Civil War, not only did you justify your generation, not only did you render life worth living for our generation, but you justified the wisdom of Washington and Washington’s colleagues. If this republic had been founded by them only to be split asunder into fragments when the strain came, then the judgment of the world would have been that Washington’s work was not worth doing. It was you who crowned Washington’s work, as you carried to achievement the high purpose of Abraham Lincoln.

Now, with this second period of our history the name of John Brown will be forever associated; and Kansas was the theater upon which the first act of the second of our great national life dramas was played. It was the result of the struggle in Kansas which determined that our country should be in deed as well as in name devoted to both union and freedom; that the experiment of democratic government on a national scale should succeed and not fail. In name we had the Declaration of Independence in 1776; but we gave the lie by our acts to the words of the Declaration of Independence until 1865; and words count for nothing except in so far as they represent act. This is true everywhere; but, O my friends, it should be truest of all in political life. A broken promise is bad enough in private life. It is worse in the field of politics. No man is worth his salt in public life who makes on the stump a pledge which he does not keep after election; and, if he makes such a pledge and does not keep it, hunt him out of public life. I care for the great deeds of the past chiefly as spurs to drive us onward in the present. I speak of the men of the past partly that they may be honored by our praise of them, but more that they may serve as examples for the future.

Blues on a Saturday: Leon Russell "Big Boss Man"

A classic Jimmy Reed song performed in the early 1970s by Leon Russell and friends.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Blues on a Saturday: Muddy Waters Long Distance Call

Now that the holidays and my holiday music that doesn't suck series is over, it is time to resume blues on a Saturday. Here is Muddy Waters backed by Junior Wells on harmonica, Pinetop Perkins on piano, and Michael Bloomfield on guitar. The tune is Muddy's "Long Distance Call" . My favorite version of the song is on the 1969 Fathers and Sons album. I got it the same day as the Beatles' White Album. Played them back to back. Last day I was a rock fan.

Blues on a Saturday: B.B. King:

Here's a very nice solo by the master.