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Archive for December, 2016

What is (was?) rock music?

[ 223 ] December 31, 2016 |

This TNR piece presents itself as a tentative obituary for . . .  what exactly I’m not sure.

The genre hasn’t been this irrelevant in ages,” writes Alex Shepard.  (My emphasis). His piece concludes:

And then there was Desert Trip, derisively and accurately labeled “Oldchella,” the mega-concert featuring Dylan, The Rolling Stones (who incidentally released their first good album in three decades in 2016), Paul McCartney, Roger Waters, The Who, and Neil Young. In one respect, Oldchella was a fitting jewel in the crown of 2016: a testament to rock’s decaying influence.

Rock music has not been this irrelevant since the late 1950s and early 1960s, when its momentum was stalled by Elvis joining the Army, Buddy Holly crashing into an Iowa cornfield, and Chuck Berry being sent to prison for violating the Mann Act. Very little can be said for Don MacLean’s saccharine and embarrassing “American Pie,” a song which persists entirely because baby boomers are especially prone to a particularly smug version of nostalgia. Rock came back from the dead once before, when it was brought back to life by four young men from Liverpool. But this time it looks like it may be gone for good.

(On a side note, the sentence about “American Pie” reads like something that got inadvertently left in after a bunch of other text was cut in the edit.  At least I hope that’s what happened, because otherwise it’s just weird).

The trouble with this kind of argument is that it’s been a long, long time since the phrase “rock music” described anything that could be even loosely described as a coherent musical genre, if indeed it ever did.

If “rock music” means “music written and performed by people who are recognized by general cultural consensus to be rock musicians,” it covers everything from “Sweet Little Sixteen” to “California Dreamin’,” to “I Wanna Be Your Dog” to “If You Leave Me Now” to “The Revealing Science of God (Dance of the Dawn)”, to “Punk Rock Girl,” to a whole lot more. Hell  let’s just do this with one band —  a band many would consider the archetypal representative of the purported genre:

Get off of My Cloud

When Tears Go By

2000 Light Years from Home

Prodigal Son

Moonlight Mile

Fool to Cry

Faraway Eyes

Etc. etc.

All of which is to say that “rock music” (formerly rock and roll; a semi-interesting question is when it got shortened), to the extent it exists as a cultural category at all, does so more or less along the lines of Potter Stewart’s famous definition of obscenity:  You know it when you (or somebody) hears it as such.  In that sense I doubt it’s dying, or even can.





I Can Haz Shower?

[ 29 ] December 31, 2016 |

We returned home to a cat who had been cruelly and capriciously denied access to the shower.

But let it not be said that we are deaf to cries for justice.

Happy New Year!

Must see TV!

[ 48 ] December 31, 2016 |

The continuing saga of the KKK documentary that wasn’t would make a great program. They could call it Finger-Pointing Peckerwoods or something.

The subjects of a TV documentary series about the Ku Klux Klan abruptly canceled last week by A&E allege to Variety that significant portions of what was filmed were fabricated by the producers.

Some KKK leaders divulged that they were paid hundreds of dollars in cash each day of filming to compel them on camera to distort the facts of their lives to fit the documentary’s predetermined narrative: tension between Klan members and relatives of theirs who wanted to get out of the Klan.


The KKK leaders who were interviewed by Variety detailed how they were wooed with promises the program would capture the truth about life in the organization; encouraged not to file taxes on cash payments for agreeing to participate in the filming; presented with pre-scripted fictional story scenarios; instructed what to say on camera; asked to misrepresent their actual identities, motivations and relationships with others, and re-enacted camera shoots repeatedly until the production team was satisfied.

Not included in this article: Why the Klan volk couldn’t tell the producers to take their cash and shove it.

“We were betrayed by the producers and A&E,” said Nichols. “It was all made up—pretty much everything we said and did was fake and because that is what the film people told us to do and say.”

Good Christ these people are so fucking dumb I wonder if they understand fire. Claiming betrayal because the footage was edited without his knowledge to distort what he and the other Klanites said would make sense. Claiming betrayal because he took cash ($600 a day, by his account) and followed directions is 100% white supremacist. Bad thing happened, grab big word and scream. Perhaps a better title for the show would be Whiny, Witless & White.

What prompted Nichols to share his life with TV viewers was a solicitation via email from a TIJAT producer, which he summarized as saying, “We want to show everyone the real truth about the Klan.”

As an aside – I took this to mean that the reporter hadn’t seen the email, which made me wonder if editors are still a thing at large publications.

At any rate, the chances that anyone will ever know who said/paid what to who for what are about even with the chances that a planet-killing meteorite will show up and end 2016 and everything else with a final and fitting bang (sorry).

Production company TIJAT also issued a statement in response to the allegations, which suggested participants are being intimidated into tarnishing the show.

“We take these allegations very seriously and in partnership with A&E we will be looking into them fully,” a portion of its statement read. “We have been told that participants in the series have received threats and coerced into speaking out against the authenticity of the show.”

Why? The show is as dead as a Confederate soldier.

But sources close to the production also cast doubt on the testimony of KKK leaders, describing them as inveterate liars motivated by an agenda to scuttle a series that could make them look bad if it ever aired and prone to confusing being manipulated with aggressive questioning from producers.

Next on A&E: We Are Easily Dominated Liars! These are two traits one would naturally expect from a group of people who think the world should give a shit because they’re more prone to sunburn, and a little research (10-30 seconds) would confirm this hunch, so I hope no one on the production team was surprised.

And this guy.

Of the leaders of the four Ku Klux Klan groups featured on the TV series, only one denied receiving payments for his participation. “I was never paid a dime but I wished they did,” said Steve Howard, Imperial Wizard for the North Mississippi White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, on Dec. 24.

But on Dec. 26, Howard lashed out on his Facebook account demanding $100,000 payments from A&E and the film production company for money he said was promised and owed him. “Tomorrow by 11 I start singing. So someone better take care of it. I want lost wages,” wrote Howard. “They can buy me out or I start singing.”

Howard took down his Facebook posts less than 24 hours later.

Dude! Stick to the script.

Can Chuck Schumer be a Wartime Consigliere?

[ 102 ] December 31, 2016 |


Here’s another random event that could substantially alter the course of American history:

Reid appears significantly older than his 77 years. A horrible exercise accident on New Year’s Day in 2015 — when an elastic band he was using in his suburban Las Vegas home snapped and he tumbled into some cabinets — broke bones in his face, as well as his ribs, and left him blind in one eye. It was his declining physical condition that ultimately led him to decide not to seek reelection in 2016.

Sorry, that should be “exercise accident.” The lamestream media will never get to the bottom of the conspiracy very plausibly identified by Time magazine’s erstwhile Blog of the Year.

At any rate, it’s very possible that had Reid not been injured we would have a Senate minority leader who is 1)exceptionally good at his job, 2)would understand the necessity of a laser-focus on keeping Trump as unpopular as possible, and 3)would understand that this is accomplished by not collaborating with him. The one we’re getting instead? Well:

But the job that Reid had in mind for Schumer when he anointed him as his successor isn’t the one Schumer will actually be doing. “Schumer would be a very good majority leader under President Hillary Clinton, and that’s what he thought he was signing up for,” says one prominent Democratic strategist, noting how aggressively Schumer waded into several Democratic Senate primaries in 2016. “He made the calculation that he wanted to win the Senate with people who were easily tamable and then he could be a majority leader like LBJ, just ramming things through.” As a minority leader with a Republican in the White House, however, Schumer will have a very different task — and there’s concern among some Democrats that he might not be cut out for it. “Chuck will go to the ramparts on an issue when it’s polling at 60 percent, but as soon as it gets hairy, he’s gone,” says one senior Democratic Senate aide. “Chuck wants issues to have no negatives, but it’s the Trump era. He’s looking at polls ­showing 60 percent for the Carrier deal” — in which Trump persuaded the company to keep a furnace plant in the U.S. in exchange for $7 million in tax breaks — “and thinking to himself, Maybe we should support that.”

Indeed, in the days immediately after Trump’s victory, Schumer sought common ground with the president-elect. Other Senate Democrats soon followed suit. Even Elizabeth Warren, who had spent the presidential campaign taunting Trump, pledged to work with him on increasing economic security for the middle class. Much of this was, presumably, typical morning-after posturing, but Reid was nonetheless alarmed. Three days after the election, he released a statement branding Trump “a sexual predator who lost the popular vote and fueled his campaign with bigotry and hate.”

It’s not inevitable that Schumer will screw this up — the fact that he’s Reid’s protege hopefully will mean that Reid retains some influence. Democrats have no choice but to assume that Schumer is persuadable and act as hard as they can to persuade. But I can’t say I’m very optimistic either. We could well end up looking back as Reid’s exercise accident as the flap of the butterfly wings that gave us a second term of Donald Trump (and, hence, a near-total evisceration of the welfare state, decades of a median Supreme Court vote that would have to turn to the left to see Antonin Scalia, soaring economic and racial inequality, escalating environmental catastrophe, etc. etc.) in 2021.

The Post that May Finally Get Me Kicked Off the Masthead: Atlanta Brisket

[ 63 ] December 31, 2016 |
Don't hate me

Don’t hate me

As some of you may remember I recently reviewed one of America’s Test Kitchen’s latest cookbooks: The Make-Ahead Cook. When I last reviewed it I’d only made two dishes but had been impressed with the range and simplicity of recipes. Since the first post I’ve made two more dishes from the book and I remain incredibly impressed. So far I’ve had a 100% success rate. That’s unusual.

The Slow-Cooker Texas-Style Chili was packed with flavor, and while it had a few more ingredients than many of the book’s recipes, it was easy to assemble.

However, I want to talk about the recipe I made for our holiday dinner–an Atlanta Brisket. I was tired of the same old traditional ham or turkey and I needed an option that would allow me to “set and forget” the main dish; brisket fit the bill. The recipe couldn’t be simpler and I’m going to tell you about it, but I must warn you–it’s simple, home-cooking, and it contains copious amounts of ketchup. (Erik, please turn away now.)

Basically, the sauce consists of an extremely generous amount of fresh onions, some onion powder, ketchup and…cola. Sound disgusting? Yeah, it’s not sophisticated. But the ketchup/cola/onion/juices from the meat cook down to what is essentially a BBQ-adjacent (perfectly cooked, tender) brisket…with a very sweet, tangy sauce. It was a huge hit with the fam.

And with that I will bid you all adieu!

Best Albums of 2016

[ 29 ] December 31, 2016 |


As I have done for at least the last couple of years, here is my best albums of 2016 list. Of course, I can’t listen to everything so take it for what it’s worth. And each year this gets slightly harder to do because I have a huge list of albums from the last couple of years that I want to listen to and haven’t had time to yet (159 at this moment) and so all the new albums from 2016 go there first unless it’s one of my favorite bands. 2017 won’t be any easier. Anyway, here we go.

1) Darcy James Argue, Real Enemies

As the majority of jazz albums don’t have lyrics, the number of them that have really come to represent the poltiics and society of a particular moment are relatively few. Some of the standouts are Archie Shepp’s Attica Blues, Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra, and Abbey Lincoln and Max Roach’s We Insist! Real Enemies is in this fine class. Taking as its theme the conspiracy theories that have become so prevalent in American life, this incredibly compelling album combines Argue’s great big band compositions with political speeches and recordings of conspiracy theorists over the past half-century or so. Of course, when he set out to write this album, he could not have known that its subject would become the theme of 2016.

Darcy is a long-time friend of the blog, but this rating would be the same if I had never heard of him before. This is an astounding album and I hope it wins the Grammy it is nominated for.

2) Margo Price, Midwest Farmer’s Daughter

The best country album made in some time, Price has a great voice, is a compelling performer, and writes very honest lyrics. She’s well within the traditional country vision, but also rejects all the gross Nashville bullshit in favor of a musical palette that combines what is great about the country tradition with a vision of directness in writing and music. She also put on the best show I saw in 2016, right after the election in Boston when her and the band were suffering as much as the rest of us. Just a fantastic record.

3) Drive-By Truckers, American Band

Now that it’s happened, it seems inevitable that DBT would go full protest band as Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley enter middle-age. This is the most stripped down DBT album in a long time and also the best. Taking on the NRA and the Confederate flag, supporting Black Lives Matter, writing songs about the massacre of students in Oregon and the meaning of southernness, and closing with a lament for the death of Robin Williams, this is a consummate album of 2016. And a great one.

4) Kate Tempest, Let Them Eat Chaos

Another masterful album from the British poet and rapper, who imagines a world of insomniacs and their struggles. And if the other albums on this list have strong connotations with 2016 in the United States, “Europe is Lost” is the Brexit version of this.

5) Mount Moriah, How to Dance

The North Carolina Americana group created its most sophisticated album to date, with more of a band feel that allows Heather McEntire’s incredible vocals to flourish in a collaborative setting. “Baby Blue” is also my favorite song of 2016.

6) Lydia Loveless, Real

The country-punk songwriter adds a serious shot of pop music to her repertoire for her latest album, which complicates the music usefully and shows an artist still growing while not compromising on her songwriting. Very enjoyable music.

7) Rhianna, Anti

This is an album of liberation through sex and marijuana, which might seem pretty cliched and maybe in some ways it is, but the vocals are great and at some point in this horrible, don’t we need an album of simple liberation, especially from someone who has legitimately been through a lot of terrible things?

8) Robbie Fulks, Upland Stories

Fulks’ best album since Georgia Hard. He is still using the folk/bluegrass instrumentation of his last, slightly disappointing album, and that’s always worrying for a fan of country music given that a move to bluegrass-influenced folk is so often a sign of an artist without all that much left to say. But Upland Stories is a pretty great set of songs, some with the humor Fulks is known for (although not with his more offensive side which he has tamed more in the last decade) and some in the very serious and dark mode in which he often writes.

9) Blood Orange, Freetown Sound

This British artist has plenty to say about the racism toward black people that never ever went away but has had a disturbing resurgence around the world in the last few years. With songs directly referencing the murder of Trayvon Martin and other racial issues across the pond. Blood Orange has plenty to say to us.

10) Parquet Courts, Human Performance

Another fine album from this Brooklyn rock band, combining longer and profound songs with short one-offs that provide a lot of variation on a very interesting work.

Other good albums from 2016, in a vague order of how much I like them

11) Case/lang/Viers

Always skeptical of supergroups, but Neko Case, k.d. lang, and Laura Viers sound great together.

12) Cuong Vu Trio Meets Pat Metheny

I’m not a fan of Pat Metheny generally. His work always seemed uninteresting and geared toward more of an audience not too excited new sounds. But the trumpeter Cuong Vu has made some really interesting albums since leaving Metheny’s band. And this reunion works very well, with Metheny doing his best work in years. This pushes the envelope with the rest of the trio, Stomu Takeishi on bass and Ted Poor on drums, into some really interesting places. Metheny is of course a great guitar player so to hear him push himself into new sonic territory is refreshing. Really solid album.

13) Wussy, Forever Sounds

The noise is great. The songs are disappointing for a band with such a great pedigree of writing fantastic songs.

14) Laura Gibson, Empire Builder

Solid set of songs about traveling the nation and discovering oneself.

15) Joanna Newsom, Divers

There’s no point arguing about Joanna Newsom. You either like her or despise her. I tend toward the former. But after an overwrought triple album a few years ago, her comeback is solid and relatively tight for her.

16) Taylor Ho Bynum, Enter the Plustet

I love a big sound on a jazz album and this huge band provides it. Highlights include Bynum’s frequent collaboration Mary Halvorson; both had great years on the many albums they appeared on.

17) Chvrches, Every Open Eye

This is a confident sophomore album from the indie pop band. It has an optimism in the lyrics that I really need right now and is catchy and hooky as can be. And while I will never truly love this level of synth, the overall quality of the album makes it more palatable than it usually is for me. I don’t love this, but I can see listening to it every now and then when I need something a little more upbeat than my usual fare.

18) Freakwater, Scheherazade

Any new Freakwater album is welcome and after a long time off, this is a solid attention to a solid catalog.

19) Mary Lattimore, At the Dam

A beautiful set of compositions by this harpist.

Finally, a few albums by great artists that really disappointed:

Frank Ocean, Blonde

This did almost nothing for me, a significant step down from Nostalgia, Ultra and Channel Orange. The best part of the album is his mom leaving him a phone message to stay off the weed. Not a bad idea really, maybe more sobriety would lead to more happening.

Sturgill Simpson, A Sailor’s Guide to Life

Overwrought and overproduced without very many good songs. Even seeing him live, a good show for sure, was a bring down because he basically played his catalog in order and the last 1/3 of the show did not hold up to the first 2/3, i.e., once he played the new album.

PJ Harvey, The Hope Six Demolition Project

It’s not a bad album per se, but as a cut-rate version of Let England Shake, it does not hold up to her best work.

A Historian’s Reading List for 2016

[ 27 ] December 31, 2016 |


Above: Free Angela Davis poster, Havana, 1971

I start each and every day by reading a couple of chapters of a history (or related) book. I do this primarily to keep up on the literature, making it possible for me to know what I’m talking about when I write my own work. Of course, I’m not reading the way most of you would read. I largely don’t care about the details and am mostly uninterested in the factual material except as it pertains to my own work. So I’m not always reading these books particularly closely like I would read a novel or a piece of literary nonfiction. But all of these books help me to build a structure that I can draw upon in the future, knowing I can revisit and read more carefully when they are relevant to whatever I happen to be working on at a given time. I provide this background so that people understand why this list is so long. Obviously this reflects my own interests in labor, environment, and capitalism, as well as my need to teach the Civil War course at my institution.

Here is every history I have completed in 2016. I put an asterisk after the works I would most recommend to general readers.

1. Darlene Rivas, Missionary Capitalist: Nelson Rockefeller in Venezuela
2. Matt Garcia, From the Jaws of Victory: The Triumph and Tragedy of Cesar Chavez and the Farm Worker Movement*
3. Chad Montrie, Making a Living: Work and Environment in the United States
4. Robert Johnston, The Radical Middle Class: Populist Democracy and the Question of Capitalism in Progressive Era Portland, Oregon
5. Stanley Aronowitz, The Death and Life of American Labor: Toward a New Workers’ Movement
6. Elizabeth Faue, Communities of Suffering and Struggle: Women, Men, and the Labor Movement in Minneapolis, 1915-1945
7. Carol A. MacLennan, Sovereign Sugar: Industry and Environment in Hawaii
8. Alan Taylor, The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832*
9. Doug Rossinow, Visions of Progress: The Left-Liberal Tradition in America
10. James J. Lorence, Palomino: Clinton Jencks and Mexican-American Unionism in the American Southwest
11. David R. Farber, Age of Great Dreams: America in the 1960s
12. Judith Stein, Pivotal Decade: How the United States Traded Factories for Finance in the Seventies*
13. Graham White, Henry Wallace: His Search for a New World Order
14. James Whorton, Before Silent Spring: Pesticides and Public Health in Pre-DDT America
15. James Green, The World of the Worker: Labor in Twentieth-Century America
16. Richard Peterson, Creating Country Music: Fabricating Authenticity
17. Elizabeth Jameson, All that Glitters: Class, Conflict, and Community in Cripple Creek
18. Steven Conn, Americans Against the City: Anti-Urbanism in the Twentieth Century*
19. Kathryn Newfont, Blue Ridge Commons: Environmental Activism and Forest History in Western North Carolina
20. Willie Lee Nichols Rose, Rehearsal for Reconstruction: The Port Royal Experiment
21. Landon R.Y. Storrs, Civilizing Capitalism: National Consumers’ League, Women’s Activism, and Labor Standards in the New Deal Era
22. Margaret Garb, Freedom’s Ballot: African American Political Struggles in Chicago from Abolition to the Great Migration
23. N.D.B. Connolly, A World More Concrete: Real Estate and the Remaking of Jim Crow South Florida*
24. W.E.B. DuBois, Black Reconstruction: An Essay Toward A History of the Part Which Black Folk Played in the Attempt to Reconstruct Democracy in America, 1860-1880
25. Randi Storch, Working Hard for the American Dream: Workers and Their Unions, World War I to the Present*
26. Andrew Arnold, Fueling the Gilded Age: Railroads, Miners, and Disasters in Pennsylvania Coal Country
27. Carl J. Bon Tempo, Americans at the Gate: The United States and Refugees during the Cold War
28. David Halle, America’s Working Man: Work, Home and Politics among Blue-Collar Property Owners
29. Sven Beckert, Empire of Cotton: A Global History*
30. Cindy Hahamovitch, No Man’s Land: Jamaican Guestworkers and the Global History of Deportable Labor*
31. Gunther Peck, Reinventing Free Labor: Padrones and Immigrant Workers in the North American West, 1880-1930
32. Kris Paap, Working Construction: Why White Working-Class Men Put Themselves—And the Labor Movement—In Harm’s Way
33. Stepan-Norris and Zeitlin, Left Out: Reds and America’s Industrial Unions
34. Deborah Rosen, Border Law: The First Seminole War and American Nationhood
35. James Barrett, William Z. Foster and the Tragedy of American Radicalism
36. Allen Isaacman and Barbara Isaacman, Dams, Displacement, and the Delusion of Development: Cahora Bassa and Its Legacies in Mozambique, 1965-2007
37. Michael Todd Lands, Northern Men with Southern Loyalties: The Democratic Party and the Sectional Crisis*
38. Erin Royston Battat, Ain’t Got No Home: America’s Great Migrations and the Making of an Interracial Left
39. Timothy Messer-Kruse, The Haymarket Conspiracy: Transatlantic Anarchist Networks
40. Joseph Crespino, In Search of Another Country: Mississippi and the Conservative Counterrevolution
41. Brian DeLay, War of a Thousand Deserts: Indian Raids and the U.S.-Mexican War*
42. Seth Garfield, In Search of the Amazon: Brazil, the United States, and the Nature of a Region
43. Thomas Klubock, La Frontera: Forests and Ecological Conflict in Chile’s Frontier Territory
44. Nancy Woloch, A Class By Herself: Protective Laws for Women Workers, 1890s-1990s
45. Ira Katznelson, Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time*
46. Bruce Levine, The Fall of the House of Dixie: The Civil War and the Social Revolution that Transformed the South*
47. Michelle Brattain, The Politics of Whiteness: Race, Workers, and Culture in the Modern South
48. Shannon Elizabeth Bell, Fighting King Coal: The Challenges to Micromobilization in Central Appalachia
49. William Bauer, We Were All Like Migrant Workers Here: Work, Community, and Memory on California’s Round Valley Reservation, 1850-1941
50. Thavolia Glymph, Out of the House of Bondage: The Transformation of the Plantation Household
51. Matthew Frye Jacobson, Barbarian Virtues: The United States Encounters Foreign Peoples at Home and Abroad 1876-1917
52. C.J. Hawking and Steve Ashby, Staley: The Fight for a New American Labor Movement
53. John Cumbler, Reasonable Use: The People, the Environment, the State, New England, 1790-1930
54. Kyla Wazana Tompkins, Racial Indigestion: Eating Bodies in the 19th Century
55. Bruno Ramirez, When Workers Fight: The Politics of Industrial Relations in the Progressive Era, 1898-1916
56. Gary Gerstle, Working-Class Americanism: The Politics of Labor in a Textile City, 1914-1960
57. Jacqueline Vaughn Switzer, Green Backlash: The History and Politics of Environmental Opposition in the United States
58. Dorothy Sue Cobble, The Other Women’s Movement: Workplace Justice and Social Rights in Modern America
59. Christopher Jones, Routes of Power: Energy and Modern America
60. Richard Rajala, “A Dandy Bunch of Wobblies” Labor History 1996
61. Walter Johnson, River of Dark Dreams: Slavery and Empire in the Cotton Kingdom*
62. Michelle Mitchell, Righteous Propagation: African Americans and the Politics of Racial Destiny after Reconstruction
63. Russell McClintock, Lincoln and the Decision for War: The Northern Response to Secession
64. Tera W. Hunter, To ‘Joy My Freedom: Southern Black Women’s Lives and Labors after the Civil War
65. Sonia A. Hirt, Zoned in the USA: The Origins and Implications of American Land-Use Regulation
66. Robin Kelley, Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists during the Great Depression*
67. Peter Levy, The New Left and Labor in the 1960s
68. Brian Allen Drake, ed., The Blue, the Gray, and the Green: Toward an Environmental History of the Civil War
69. James Patterson, America’s Struggle Against Poverty, 1900-1994
70. Ahmed White, The Last Great Strike: Little Steel, the CIO, and the Struggle for Labor Rights in New Deal America
71. Jefferson Cowie, The Great Exception: The New Deal and the Limits of American Politics*
72. Thomas Devine, Henry Wallace’s 1948 Presidential Campaign and the Future of Postwar Liberalism
73. Michael Williams, Deforesting the Earth: From Prehistory to Global Crisis
74. Natalie M. Fousekis, Demanding Child Care: Women’s Activism and the Politics of Welfare, 1940-1971
75. Rolf Peter Sieferle, The Subterranean Forest: Energy Systems and the Industrial Revolution
76. John Russo and Sherry Lee Linkton, eds, New Working-Class Studies
77. Chad Berry, Southern Migrants, Northern Exiles
78. Mark Hanna, Pirate Nests and the Rise of the British Empire, 1570-1740
79. Paul Greenough and Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing, eds., Nature in the Global South: Environmental Projects in South and Southeast Asia
80. Clete Daniel, Culture of Misfortune: An Interpretative History of Textile Unionism in the United States
81. Daniel Schneider, Hybrid Nature: Sewage Treatment and the Contradictions of the Industrial Ecosystem
82. Christopher Gunn, Workers Self-Management in the United States
83. E.A. Wrigley, Continuity, Chance, and Change: The Character of the Industrial Revolution in England
84. Bruce Baker and Brian Kelly, eds., After Slavery: Race, Labor, and Citizenship in the Reconstruction South
85. Carole Boyce-Davies, Left of Karl Marx: The Political Life of Black Communist Claudia Jones
86. Elizabeth McKillen, Making the World Safe for Workers: Labor, the Left, and Wilsonian Internationalism
87. Paul Buhle, Taking Care of Business: Samuel Gompers, George Meany, Lane Kirkland and the Tragedy of American Labor
88. Lara Vapnek, Breadwinners: Working Women and Economic Independence, 1865-1920
89. Phoebe Kropp, California Vieja: Culture and Memory in a Modern American Place
90. Kenneth Warren, Wealth, Waste, and Alienation: Growth and Decline in the Connellsville Coke Industry
91. Kim Phillips Fein and Julius Zelizer, eds. What’s Good for Business: Business and American Politics since World War II
92. Robert Rotenberg and Gary McDonogh, eds., The Cultural Meaning of Urban Space
93. Pratt, Melosi, and Brosnan, eds., Energy Capitals: Local Impact, Global Influence
94. Alejandro Velasco, Barrio Rising: Urban Popular Politics and the Making of Modern Venezuela
95. Stacey Smith, Freedom’s Frontier: California and the Struggle over Unfree Labor, Emancipation, and Reconstruction
96. David Stradling, Smokestacks and Progressives: Environmentalists, Engineers and Air Quality in America, 1881-1951
97. Stephen Kern, The Culture of Time and Space, 1880-1918*

Nonfiction Open Thread

[ 137 ] December 30, 2016 |


Our esteemed colleague howard (Further research shows it was Patricia and not howard and I thank you very much!) recently purchased for me the first volume of the Library of America collection of the science writer Loren Eiseley. I am immediately enchanted by his amazing writing. Someone else (was it also howard? I can’t remember now, sorry!) Patricia also bought for me not too long ago the LOA collection of the African-American essayist Albert Murray, which after reading The Omni-Americans, completely blew my mind with its razor sharp critique of race in 1970, including a contempt for social sciences that far surpasses my own skepticism (this was right after the Moynihan report and between Daniel Patrick Moniyhan and Stanley Elkins, this was an infuriated response).

Anyway, this all made me realize that I need to expand my reading a bit into good quality literary nonfiction. And while I can find all the US history you can want (see tomorrow’s post listing my reading from 2016), what else should I be reading from the last 50 or 75 years? Could be something published last week or it could be some great piece from 1946. So consider this an open thread on non-fiction for a Friday evening.

On Perez/Ellison

[ 273 ] December 30, 2016 |


I think Jeff Stein gets it right. To summarize:

  • This is not an ideological dispute. Both Ellison and Perez are solidly on the left of the party, and anyone who thinks Perez is a neoliberal is an ignoramus and/or a massive dumbshit. (Yes, yes, Perez nominally supported the TPP. But leaving aside the idiocy of defining a public official’s politics based on One True Issue — a process by which you can conclude that anyone is a heretic — all this means it that he was a member of the Obama administration. The Secretary of Labor doesn’t set trade policy.)
  • Both would, at worst, figure to be massive improvements over Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, admittedly for a position many people seem to think is vastly more important than it is.
  • There are two obvious points in Ellison’s favor for this particular job: his experience as an elected official and the fact that he’s already shown an ability to unify diverse factions within the party. Perez was an outstanding Secretary of Labor and should have been Clinton’s VP nominee, but I don’t see what he would bring to this particular job that would overcome those advantages.
  • So while Perez would be good, Ellison seems like the best choice.

…and, now, the strongest reason for supporting Ellison:

Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz said Friday he’ll leave the Democratic Party if Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) is appointed the next chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC).

“I’m going to tell you right here on this show, and this is news – if they appoint Keith Ellison to be chairman of the Democratic Party, I will resign my membership to the Democratic Party after 50 years of being a loyal Democrat,” Dershowitz told the Fox Business Network.

“You Know, You’re a Nasty Guy.”

[ 136 ] December 30, 2016 |


David Farenthold, one of the few national campaign reporters who could emerge with his or her held high, one what it was like to cover Trump properly.

The fact that the Clinton Foundation — a philanthropic organization that has saved millions of lives and entailed no significant misconduct by the Clintons despite the very real potential for conflicts of interest — received considerably more sustained critical coverage than the Trump Foundation — a straight-up grift — is, in a nutshell, the story of the coverage of the 2016 campaign. Whether it was motivated by animus towards Clinton, an implicit assumption that Clinton should be treated as the president-elect, or the need to find false equivalence, a lot of vulnerable people are going to suffer because most campaign journalists failed massively. Kudos to Farenthold for actually practicing journalism.


[ 507 ] December 30, 2016 |

Greenwald and Carlson, having established to their mutual satisfaction that reports of Russian interference in the election should be viewed with extreme suspicion, moved on to the question of just why it was that the Post would publish such a scurrilous report. “It is so weird that Russia is the focus … ” mused Carlson, “and yet, all of a sudden, Russia seems to be villain number one. Why is that? It seems strange.” The obvious response —Russia is the focus because it interfered with an American presidential election — had already been dismissed, so Greenwald supplied a different explanation for why Russia was suddenly the object of tough coverage in the media. Greenwald explained that Democrats ginned up hostility to Russia entirely for political reasons:

“One of the really interesting things is, in 2012, when Mitt Romney ran against Barack Obama, the Democrats mocked Romney mercilessly for depicting Russia as the number one geopolitical threat […] And throughout the Obama presidency, he tried accommodating Putin, he didn’t arm anti-Russian factions in Ukraine, he tried cooperating with him in Syria, it was really an election-year political theme that the Democrats manufactured out of whole cloth, that the Russian, that Putin posed some existential threat to the United States, that they’re our enemy […]”

It is true that, in 2012, the Republican Party had staked out a more hawkish stance on Russia than the Democrats. But the Democrats were hardly praising Putin’s regime. The dispute between Obama and Romney was a relatively narrow one centering on whether Russia was literally America’s number-one enemy, or whether that distinction belonged to Al Qaeda. In his 2012 convention speech, Obama said, “You don’t call Russia our number-one enemy — not Al Qaeda, Russia [Laughter.] — unless you’re still stuck in a Cold War mind warp.”

Greenwald presents Obama’s chilly relationship with Russia as nothing but an election-year ploy. He omits any mention of the event that changed the tenor of U.S.-Russia relations: the Russian attack on Ukraine. Obama responded to the invasion by imposing sanctions on Russia in 2014. That event, not some election-year need to gin up a foreign bogeyman, is what generated tension between Obama and Putin. For Greenwald to depict the administration’s chilly stance toward Russia as “an election-year political theme that the Democrats manufactured out of whole cloth” is a complete fantasy.

Carlson agreed that there was “only a political motivation” to explain Obama’s criticisms of Russia.

After this point was agreed upon, Greenwald went beyond merely questioning the certainty of the Post’s reporting and denounced “wild, elaborate conspiracy theories.” “To sit here and sort of suggest that Vladimir Putin lurks behind every American problem, to concoct these wild, elaborate conspiracy theories, to try and convince Americans that Russia is this grave threat to the United States … ” he explained, “I think it’s incredibly dangerous.”

Note that, at the beginning of the segment, Greenwald was just asking questions about how solid this reporting really was, and by the end of it, had described the Post’s reporting of a finding shared by the CIA and FBI as “conspiracy theories.”

“That’s the way it seems to me!” agreed Carlson. “So, it’s great to hear you say that, it makes me feel less crazy.” And the creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already, it was impossible to say which was which.

Asked for his opinion of Breitbart News, acclaimed journalist Glenn Greenwald praised the news site’s editorial integrity and said the site was “very impressive in terms of the impact they’ve been able to have.”

While Greenwald was clear that Breitbart contains content he “sometimes find repellant” and Breitbart writers and articles he’s highly critical of “just on political grounds,” he gave Breitbart News high marks for “giving voice to people who are otherwise excluded.”

Note that second link is to Breitbart.

This Day in Labor History: December 30, 1970

[ 14 ] December 30, 2016 |


On December 30, 1970, a coal mine exploded on Hurricane Creek, near Hyden, Kentucky. Thirty-eight miners died that day, yet another example of the terrible safety conditions of coal mining, even at a late date. This was the worst mining disaster in the United States in two years. That this happened after major federal legislation to prevent these accidents and in the face of indifferent or even hostile union leadership to fixing these problems fed into the larger democratic unionism roiling the United Mine Workers and many other unions during the 1970s.

One miner survived the explosion. A.T. Collins was thrown out of the mineshaft by the force of the blast. Eighteen miners died instantly. Twenty others were deeper in the mine and died before they could be rescued. The dead were brought out and taken to the nearest school gymnasium so they could be identified.

This accident happened one year to the day after Richard Nixon signed the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act into law. The law mandated greater safety standards in the mines, thanks to inspections conducted by the Bureau of Mines in the Department of the Interior. The Bureau was supposed to close mines where workers’ lives were in danger. But it did not. It had found many violations at the Hurricane Creek mine in the previous months but had taken no meaningful action, thus leading to the death of the 38 miners. On November 19, an inspector visited the mine, finding large amounts of coal dust in the air and a lack of trained personnel for maintaining electrical equipment. The mine owner was ordered to fix the violations by December 22. But with the holidays, no one showed up to make sure they had been fixed before December 30.

But the ultimate responsibility for the law’s lax enforcement came from the top. Richard Nixon, the World’s Last Real Liberal Unlike that Neoliberal Sellout Barack Obama, only signed the law reluctantly. He had no interest in regulating the mines and believed the states should do it. Mine owners constantly complained that the Bureau of Mines was too aggressive in enforcing the new law, even though it did very little. Given the indifference of Nixon and his administration, the law was ineffective in its first year, leading to the deaths outside of Hyden.

Angry miners also faced a lot of problems in their own union. Earlier in the year, UMWA president Tony Boyle had ordered the murder of his rival Jock Yablonski. In addition, Boyle had been utterly indifferent over workplace safety and health, both in terms of mine accidents and in fighting black lung. He relied upon retired miners having full voting rights, as well as open corruption, to stay in power. This had already led to the growth of the Black Lung Associations in 1969 to put pressure on both the West Virginia statehouse and the federal government to pass new legislation. It also openly challenged Boyle and pushed for the election of Yablonski.

So when the mine exploded, there was significant discontent at the grassroots and attention at the national level. Ralph Nader called for a congressional investigation into the missed December 22 safety inspection. The Bureau of Mines filed a report noting that high levels of coal dust and the improper use of explosives caused the disaster. It vaguely claimed that it would seek to file charges against unnamed parties. But the miners believed it was the Bureau that held the ultimate responsibility. UMWA Local 5741 wrote to Congressmen Carl Perkins of Kentucky that this was proof that small mines “get away with murder.” It went on:

They holler that they don’t have enough Inspectors, FOOEY [sic], They inspected this mine [Hyden] and found severe violations, didn’t they? Why wasn’t it corrected before he was allowed to operate again. If they had a MILLION INSPECTORS it wouldn’t help any, if, after an inspection and severe violations were found and nothing was done to correct them

The Labor Subcommittee in the House of Representatives generally agreed with the miners, noting in its report that the Bureau:

should have been on notice as to the dangerous atypical conditions in the mine, should have inspected it with greater frequency, carried out more complete inspections and perhaps most importantly, been present to insure that cited violations were actually abated when required.

The miners then pushed for a new black lung bill, but Nixon resisted this strongly, believing it would cost too much. But the pressure did create more urgency in the Bureau of Mines to do its job and inspect the mines. In 1971, the number of mine inspectors increased from around 250 to around 1000 and mine accidents fell compared to the year before. With Tony Boyle now under indictment for his many crimes, the angry miners involved in protesting the Hurricane Creek explosion turned to Miners for Democracy to reform their union. MFD made rank and file concerns like mine safety and black lung central to its platform, running Arnold Miller to be union president against Boyle, still fighting to stay out of prison. But while Miller did win, his administration did not really fix the health and safety issues to the extent rank and file miners hoped it would. This was for two primary reasons. First, Miller wasn’t all that good at his job and second, the real emphasis of MFD was rooting out the corruption in the UMWA that extended back to the beginning of John L. Lewis’ long presidency. The newly reinvigorated union did put more pressure on the companies, who complained, noting their long-friendly relationship with Boyle on these issues. But there wasn’t that much it could do to truly transform safety in the coal mines.

In recent years, with the UMWA a shell of what it once was and automation combining with the widespread move of the coal industry to Wyoming, it can do little about these health and safety issues. Mine owners like Don Blankenship murder workers without concern and only get prosecuted if they leave an extreme level of evidence, as he did. Coal mining remains a tremendously dangerous job today.

This mine explosion was memorialized in Tom T. Hall’s song “Trip to Hyden,” off his outstanding In Search of a Song album from 1971.

Long before I ever heard of this mine disaster, I drove through Hyden. This was the late 90s. The entire town was literally festooned with memorabilia from its most famous resident, Tim Couch, savior of University of Kentucky football and the Cleveland Browns. Not so sure that’s the case there today.

This post borrowed heavily from Richard Fry’s article, “Dissent in the Coalfields: Miners, Federal Politics, and Union Reform in the United States, 1968-1973,” published in Labor History in 2014.

This is the 204th post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

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