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[ 38 ] December 23, 2014 |

I know how much some of you love shaving.



Your Official Candidate of the 2016 Beltway Punditry

[ 178 ] December 23, 2014 |

Get ready for the Jim Webb wave! The Fred Thompson of 2016 has arrived!

Toy Guns

[ 56 ] December 23, 2014 |

The decline of toy guns seems like it would be an absolute positive. The decline of toy guns so cops don’t mistake them for real and shoot kids means it isn’t. But I’ll go ahead and fool myself into thinking that maybe this, over time, will lead to less of a passion for real guns. I can dream, can’t I?

On Police Unions

[ 151 ] December 23, 2014 |

While I have linked many times to incidents of police violence, I have very little to say about the actions of police unions, largely because I don’t care about them since they do not show solidarity with other workers, or any other cause I believe in. I will say this–the leaders of police unions may be horrible human beings. But a) they should have the right to collectively bargain and I categorically reject the idea that the police should not be unionized, b) getting rid of police unions will do nothing to reduce police violence nor will it preclude other police officers’ organizations from presenting the same positions, and c) there is no evidence I have seen suggesting that non-unionized police are less effective in promoting these positions than unionized police forces. So criticize the actions of police unions all you want to–I certainly won’t say anything against that. But I don’t think articulating the position of anti-unionists will help.

A New Gilded Age Christmas

[ 21 ] December 23, 2014 |

A company called Gilded Age Greetings is creating Christmas cards for the New Gilded Age:

Just when you thought Christmas couldn’t get any more expensive… a card company has started making greeting cards decorated with pricey jewels.

The luxury company are producing bespoke Christmas cards which take over a month to create, are decorated with rubies and cost up to $10,000 (£6,395).

Card company Gilded Age Greetings, based in Florida and New Jersey, USA pride themselves on their luxury cards, which are handmade with designs painted on calfskin vellum- a type of medieval parchment.

A spokesperson from Gilded Age Greetings said: ‘Our most expensive cards have been custom commissions, which are original works of art and one of a kinds.

‘We use gemstone accents and real gold leaf or platinum gilding.’

I know we don’t want to believe this, but the company is real enough. And it has been promoted by the website of New Gilded Age taste purveyor Martha Stewart.

American Companies and Cuban Claims

[ 56 ] December 22, 2014 |

It goes without saying, to me at least, that American companies should have no right to receive compensation for their Cuban property seized in 1959. Making corporate claims a major bargaining chip in dealing with Cuba is a very bad idea for a number of reasons, including the imperialistic origins of those properties that will just remind Cubans of their historical status vis-a-vis the U.S., the potential to derail legitimate negotiations over a sideshow, and the fact that it will give Americans a chance to remember how awful specific corporations have been in their history. Seems to me it is the best interests of the corporations to let it go.

However, if companies like Chiquita, formerly United Fruit, wants to make these claims, it will give bloggers like myself a lot of good material.

Lynch and the Media

[ 101 ] December 22, 2014 |

This is a good piece on Marshawn Lynch’s refusal to talk to the NFL media. The journalists are furious at him for this. And the piece gets it right–it’s not because they expect to hear anything interesting from Lynch. It’s that they want canned cliched quotes to make their jobs easier and fill word counts. Lynch rightfully doesn’t care about this–nor does he care about the NFL business model–and does what he wants up the point of incurring fines for his behavior. Note that this is not bad behavior. He just doesn’t want to talk and wants to be left alone. There’s nothing wrong with this except that it’s not what the billionaire bosses want.

It’s an entirely reasonable frustration. Reporters have to play this game, even if they realize how dumb it is, and they rely on athletes to play their roles in the ecosystem. Sure, no one’s life would be better this morning if they knew that Marshawn Lynch understood the importance of giving 110 percent, or that the Seahawks were taking things one game at a time. But the writers’ lives would have been easier, their stories 50 words closer to their word counts.

It’s an institutional failure. In other sports, there are long histories of reporters traveling with teams, entering open clubhouses, actually getting to know players. In football, there isn’t really such a thing as a beat reporter, at least not to the same extent as in an everyday sport; every writer is a war correspondent parachuting into a strange country where they’re not particularly welcome. Blame it on the weekly schedule, or the centralized league control, or the fact that every game is national, but the only interactions most writers have with star players come in these unfruitful group scrums, where the best they can hope for is a quote so good that it’ll wind up in every single story.

This isn’t an insurmountable condition. There are good reporters, and there are sometimes great quotes and great insights waiting to be mined. In the “yeah” presser, one asked Lynch a specific, tactical question about the Seahawks’ blocking schemes. That reporter was genuinely curious, and if Lynch had answered, it might have helped readers better understand the game. That ought to be the platonic ideal of an interview question.

Instead, Lynch receives a string of lazy “talk about”s and “tell me about”s, and after dealing with that multiple times per week, every week, for the entirety of his adult life, his frustration is every bit as visible and as justified as reporters’. Neither the writers nor players have easy jobs, but I’ll always have more respect for Lynch’s reaction in this spat. After all, he’s the only one who’s not just going through the motions.

Besides, doesn’t Richard Sherman talk enough for the whole Seahawks’ team. Just get him to talk about how Patrick Peterson is a bad cornerback. How many more quotes do they need?

Transgender Worker Protections

[ 14 ] December 22, 2014 |

I neglected to mention this last week, but let me say a quick word lauding the Obama Administration for extending workplace protection rights to transgender people, at least in the public sphere. This is a move toward applying the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to this category of people who have long faced discrimination. An important advance.

Charts of the New Gilded Age

[ 45 ] December 22, 2014 |

The always valuable Economic Policy Institute has its top 10 charts of 2014. They mostly say the same thing in different ways–there is an enormous crisis in income inequality and wage stagnation that is concentrating wealth in the 1% while leaving the rest of us either stagnant or in economic decline. There are real policy solutions to these problems–higher tax rates on the rich, wage increases, making unionization easier, a greater social safety net. But the bipartisan belief that Wall Street is ultimately right–a belief backed up with loads of cash in the post-Citizens United era–makes it hard to see significant legislation fixing these problems in the near future.

Beast Mode

[ 79 ] December 22, 2014 |

Beast Quake 2


Screaming at the Sky

[ 93 ] December 21, 2014 |

Remind me never to turn on Meet the Press, even for 2 seconds. I do today, or more accurately my wife is watching it because as a Latin American historian who has traveled in Cuba, she is following the events of the last week closely. Of course Marco Rubio is on. And in conversation, Chuck Todd and Rubio compare the left-wing dictatorship of Cuba to the left-wing dictatorship of Venezuela.

Except of course that Venezuela is not a dictatorship. They have elections that are relatively free and fair. Which is, you know, the opposite of a dictatorship. But the right-wing can’t win because even though the Chavistas are ineffective at this point, the open contempt of the Venezuelan elite for the poor gets in the way. But hey, we don’t like Venezuela so they are a dictatorship. Never mind that words have meanings.

Book Review: Gregory Wood, Retiring Men: Manhood, Labor, and Growing Old In America, 1900-1960

[ 15 ] December 21, 2014 |

Gregory Wood’s Retiring Men examines the intersection between masculinity, work, and retirement in the first six decades of the twentieth century. He argues that the crisis over retirement in a changing economy shaped connections between manhood and work during these years, an issue of real importance in the unstable economy of the New Gilded Age.

At the core of Wood’s book is the desperation of older workers in the American workplace of the early twentieth century. Work has long been at the center of identity for American men. Men have long held the single-income household dear, however fleeting in reality. Even more dear is the ability to support oneself and not have to rely on family or charity. But as industrialization became more intensive and mechanized in the early twentieth century, with faster machines and larger factories requiring hordes of young, strong workers, older men found themselves out of work. That included men as young as 40. And there was simply nowhere for many of them to go. Wood’s book is filled with the words of desperate men, despairing over their economic plight. With work considered the proper state for men, the lack of work meant the lack of manhood. The many letters and statements Wood quotes from the aging and unemployed are heartbreaking. Railroad conductor MS Thornton was finished at 47. He told a reporter, “Premature white hair told heavily against me. At 35 I was gray and at 40 I suppose I looked like a man of fifty.” His boss fired him and gave his job to a younger man. Some men dyed their mustaches and hair, but in this period, the quality of dyes were so bad that they could damage the skin or poison you. In 1902, the Los Angeles Times published a letter on a hair dye ingredient. It included “sugar of lead,” “tincture of cantharides,” “lac sulphur,” ammonia, and other fun things.

What did older workers, men and women, want? The ability to live on their own. To not have to burden their children. To maintain their dignity. The 1920s saw the rise of welfare capitalism that to some extent attempted to deal with these problems, but quickly the emphasis moved to the states. As we typically should expect from state-level welfare programs, they were inconsistent, poorly funded, and varied greatly between states. The problems of older workers would require federal attention. Poorhouses did find work for older people but were demeaning and often forced men to do traditional women’s labor like sewing, which further undermined their sense of manhood.

With the rise of successful working class politics in response to the Great Depression, the requirements of older workers became central to both the labor movement and government policy. On the latter, the most important manifestation of older workers’ needs was the Social Security Act of 1935. Yet it’s important to remember in the modern Affordable Care Act-era how disappointing the Social Security Act was for many older workers. No one received a dime until 1940 (and this was after FDR changed it from the original 1942). For older workers already struggling to find work, it did nothing. The time it took to build a Social Security account worth having meant a lot of work for older workers who couldn’t find it. The age 65 cutoff also excluded a lot of workers who were too sick or feeble to work until that age. The SSA was a huge compromise with established interests and fell well short of the hopes many workers placed in the Townsend plan, but was still popular in the short-term and hugely successful in the long-term.

Second, the importance of seniority to the new CIO unions came out of the old age workers’ woes. Usually, we think of seniority clauses in union contracts, to the extent we think of them at all, as either the fairest way of dealing with layoffs since it takes away employers’ prerogative about who gets laid off, or, negatively, as protecting older and less productive workers. But for CIO workers, seniority meant dignity. It meant still having a job at age 50 regardless of what new machinery or predilection for young male bodies bosses had. It meant life.

By the 1950s, the rise of pensions and retirement culture changed the national conversation on manhood and retirement. The lack of work still challenged workers’ manhood, but the response moved more toward organized activities like golf and jokes (and not only jokes but real issues) about gender roles in the retired household. Older men didn’t necessarily appreciate forced retirement ages, the watches they received at awkward retirement parties, being forced into women’s space in the home, and the lack of structure in their post-retirement lives, but growing consumerism found some outlet for this.

While this is a good book overall, there are a couple of weaknesses worth noting. First, despite the powerful stories Wood tells about the crisis of aging in the early twentieth century, the stark shift to middle-class work and the office after World War II papers over the tenuous nature of this type of employment for a lot of people who had suffered greatly earlier in the century. Given that so many of the retirees he talks about in this era had long histories in the working-class culture of the pre-war period, building those connections and talking more about the tenuous nature of retirement in the post-war period for many workers would have been helpful. Some of this critique is mitigated by the fact that Wood consciously centered his study in how retirement and masculinity was portrayed in the dominant culture and certainly in the postwar period that did shift to the middle class.

Second, I really wish this study hadn’t ended in 1960. Wood provides a brief conclusion, but there is a real story bringing this through the 20th and early 21st centuries with the end of the guaranteed comfortable retirement a pension was supposed to bring. Instead, in the aftermath of the post-1973 economic stagnation and decline of both the working and middle classes, the end of industrial work through outsourcing and automation, and the power of the corporate conservative movement repealing the economic gains of the twentieth century, the idea of the respectable retirement has increasingly disappeared in American culture. While I am somewhat less concerned than Wood about the impact of this on masculinity per se, how this unease and poverty reshapes American culture is a powerful question that deserves more study.

Overall however, Retiring Men is a valuable addition to our understanding of agism and work in American history, an important subject that should help us focus on these issues in the present.

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