Recommended reading / viewing / listening

This week: Genius procrastination / Democrats face themselves / Women explain their abortions / Bittersweet breastfeediing / Future of Democracy

This week: Genius procrastination / Democrats face themselves / Women explain their abortions / Bittersweet breastfeediing / Future of democracy

Most of these great items come from my social media networks. Follow me on Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, LinkedIn, and Facebook for more fascinating videos, photos, articles, essays, and criticism.

1. Many Creative Geniuses May Have Procrastinated — but That Doesn’t Mean You Should
By Casey Lesser | Artsy.net | July 2018
“Some believe in a form of procrastination that fosters well-being and creativity, but others argue that certain types of behavior, in which someone intentionally delays their creative work, don’t actually constitute procrastination at all.”

2. A Watershed Moment in American History
By Matt Ford | The New Republic | July 2018
“Trump nominee Brett Kavanaugh will deliver Republicans a majority on the Supreme Court. Will he also prompt a reckoning among Democrats”

3. ‘I Couldn’t Tell Anyone’: Women Around the World Reveal Intimate Stories of Abortion
By Josephine Sedgwick | The New York Times | July 2018
“When we invited readers to share their own stories, more than 1,300 responded from over 30 countries, showing the vast range of reasons, means and outcomes for abortion.”

4. Why breast-feeding is a mix of joy and suffering
By Maya Uppaluru | The Lily :: Washington Post | July 2018
“Is breast-feeding anti-feminist”

5. Reporting Is Ugly
By Barry Petchesky | The Concourse :: Deadspin | October 2015
“It is invaluable and messy and it not only doesn’t diverge from the most basic principles of journalism, it exemplifies them.”

6. The Democratic Coming Apart
By David Runciman and Joshua Cohen | Boston Review | July 2018
“Democracy … could either fail while remaining intact or evolve into something different — and possibly even better.”

7. And Now, Some Little-Known Facts About Texas
By David Courtney | Texas Monthly | July 2018
“In our new video series, David Courtney takes you into some of the weird, whimsical, and lesser-known aspects of our beloved state.”

8. Is Punching Nazis Impolite
By Barry Purcell | Arc Digital | July 2018
“Exploring the limits of civility”

9. The Americanization of Alfredo Corchado
By Sergio Troncoso | Texas Monthly | June 2018
“By telling his own story, the widely admired Dallas Morning News reporter reveals how Mexican Americans have changed the United States — and how the United States has changed Mexican Americans.”

10. What does ‘normal’ mean in abnormal times
By Steven Poole | The Guardian | April 2018
“From Donald Trump to Syrian bombs — in modern political times, ‘normal’ carries an extra moral nuance”

Recommended reading / viewing / listening

This week: Obama is back / Celebrating Fiesta in San Antonio / Adrift commanders / What ‘The Last Jedi’ might destroy / Intellectual Trumpism / Man Booker Prize shortlist / The fading Rockefellers

This week: Obama is back / Celebrating Fiesta in San Antonio / Adrift commanders / What ‘The Last Jedi’ might destroy / Intellectual Trumpism / Man Booker Prize shortlist / The fading Rockefellers

Most of these great items come from my social media networks. Follow me on Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, and Facebook for more fascinating videos, photos, articles, essays, and criticism. Learn more about me on Academia.edu and LinkedIn.

1. Obama making first public appearance of post-presidency in Chicago
By Jordan Fabian | The Hill | April 21
“It ends a three-month period of relative silence since Obama left office on Jan. 20, much of which he has spent on vacation in Palm Springs, Calif., on a Caribbean island with English billionaire Richard Branson and at an exclusive resort in French Polynesia.”

2. Cascarón Confusion? Your Guide to All Things Fiesta
By Jessica Elizarraras and Bryan Rindfuss | San Antonio Current | April 20
“Aside from urging you to hydrate, stock up on sunscreen and cash, here’s a quick explainer on what you should know about San Antonio’s largest celebration which runs from April 20-30.”

3. Trump Unleashes the Generals. They Don’t Always See the Big Picture.
By Eric Schmitt and Helene Cooper | The New York Times | April 20
“Taken together, the episodes illustrate how even the military’s most seasoned four-star field commanders can fail to consider the broader political or strategic ramifications of their operational decisions, and some current and former senior officials suggested that President Trump’s decision to unshackle the military from Obama-era constraints to intensify the fight against terrorists risked even more miscues.”

4. The Knight’s Move
By Gideon Lewis-Kraus | The Nation | April 19
“Can a new Trump-inspired intellectual magazine transcend its contradictions?”

5. The Man Booker International Prize 2017 shortlist announced
The Man Booker Prizes | April 20
“The settings range from an Israeli comedy club to contemporary Copenhagen, from a sleepless night in Vienna to a troubled delirium in Argentina. The list is dominated by contemporary settings but also features a divided Jerusalem of 1959 and a remote island in Norway in the early 20th century.”

6. Science confirms the incredible story of Lithuania’s Holocaust escape tunnel
By Sarah Birnbaum | The World :: PRI | April 19
“Shortly after the Nazis invaded Lithuania in June 1941, they started bringing groups of Jews from the nearby city of Vilnius, known as the Jerusalem of Lithuania, to the Ponar forest. The Nazis lined them up, shot them at close range, and tossed the bodies into pits.”

7. Will The Last Jedi destroy everything we think we know about Star Wars?
By Ben Child | The Guardian | April 19
“Was Yoda just an old fool? And why is Luke Skywalker calling for an end to the Jedi? Rian Johnson, director of Episode VIII, is veering into dangerous territory”

8. With the death of a patriarch, have the Rockefellers lost their power?
By Michael Kaplan | The New York Post | April 2
“When former New York governor Nelson Rockefeller passed away in 1979 of a heart attack, it was allegedly after having made love to his secretary. Steven Rockefeller shocked everyone by marrying Anne-Marie Rasmussen, his family’s housemaid, in 1959. In 1951, Winifred Rockefeller, great-niece of John D. Rockefeller, killed herself and two of her children inside their Greenwich, Conn., home. Ten years later, in 1961, while hunting down art in New Guinea, 23-year-old Michael Rockefeller was supposedly eaten by cannibals.”

9. Inspired by nature: the thrilling new science that could transform medicine
By Laura Parker | The Guardian | October 2016
“Jeffrey Karp is at the forefront of a new generation of scientists using nature’s blueprints to create breakthrough medical technologies. Can bioinspiration help to solve some of humanity’s most urgent problems?”

10. Party Hopping
By Dave Mann | Texas Monthly | May 2017
“As they lose sway among Texas Republicans, big businesses should try something radical: an alliance with Democrats.”

Recommended reading / viewing / listening

This week: The Democrats’ future / James Webb Telescope / The Internet Archive / Lincoln’s legacy in Mexico / 10 Arab philosophers we need

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This week: The Democrats’ future / James Webb Telescope / The Internet Archive / Lincoln’s legacy in Mexico / 10 Arab philosophers we need

Most of these great items come from my social media networks. Follow me on Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, LinkedIn, and Facebook for more fascinating videos, photos, articles, essays, and criticism.

1. Liberal activists, new DNC chief face a Trump-era reckoning
By Bill Barrow | Associated Press | Feb. 26
“Perez has embraced the idea of a more aggressive, populist identity for the party, even if he hasn’t convinced activists he can deliver on it. He said throughout the three-day DNC meeting ahead of the vote that he would work to align party resources with the energy of groups from Black Lives Matter and Swing Left to Indivisible, Resist Trump Tuesdays, Knock Every Door, Rise Stronger and Sister District.”

2. How the baby boomers destroyed everything
By Bruce Cannon Gibney | The Boston Globe | Feb. 26
“In 1971, Alan Shepard was playing golf on the moon. Today, America can’t put a man into orbit (or, allegedly, the Oval Office) without Russian assistance. Something changed, and that something was the boomers and the sociopathic agenda they emplaced.”

3. What will the James Webb Space Telescope reveal about the newly discovered exoplanets?
By Nick Lavars | New Atlas | Feb. 23
“Poised to take the reins from Hubble as NASA’s premier orbiting telescope in 2018, it will boast seven times the light-collecting capacity of its predecessor and will be sensitive enough to spot a single firefly one million kilometers away.”

4. Where to find what’s disappeared online, and a whole lot more: the Internet Archive
By Mary Kay Magistad | Who’s Century Is It? :: PRI | Feb. 23
” Since the Internet Archive started in 1996, its staff — now, about 140 people — have digitized almost 3 million books, and are aiming for 10 million.”

5. When A Woman Deletes A Man’s Comment Online
By Ijeoma Oluo | The Establishment | Feb. 22
“I’m not debating those who show up wedded to bigotry”

6. Could Pluto Regain Its Planethood?
By Mike Wall | Space.com :: Scientific American | Feb. 23
“A proposed new definition for what constitutes a ‘planet’ could reinstate the demoted icy world”

7. Why Abraham Lincoln Was Revered in Mexico
By Jamie Katz | Smithsonian Magazine | Feb. 23
“As a young Congressman and later as the nation’s leader, the first Republican president proved to be a true friend to America’s neighbor to the south”

8. 10 Arabic Philosophers, and Why You Should Know Them
By Scotty Hendricks | Big Think | November 2016
“Of the stars that have proper names in common usage, most of them have the names given to them by Arabic astronomers. We use the numeral system they devised, including the zero. They set the standard for the scientific method for hundreds of years. It is impossible to fully understand western thought without understanding the ideas of these thinkers.”

9. What a Kansas professor learned after interviewing a ‘lost generation’ of journalists
By Deron Lee | Columbia Journalism Review | September 2016
“When Scott Reinardy began studying the state of morale in newspaper newsrooms more than 10 years ago … [he] didn’t know the industry was about to enter a traumatic period of upheaval that would deplete the ranks of journalists around the country and force newspapers to reassess their mission.”

10. The Gang That Always Liked Ike
By Michael Beschloss | HistorySource :: The New York Times | November 2014
“The Gang played bridge, golfed and shot skeet together, ate steaks barbecued by the president, offered advice on politics and the economy and chuckled at his private aphorisms. (He maintained, for example, that the ‘two professions in which amateurs excel’ are ‘prostitution and the military.’)”

Recommended reading / viewing / listening

This week: The Associated Press and The New York Times offered special reports on Obama’s legacy. Here are a few selections from their analysis series.

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This week: The Associated Press and The New York Times offered special reports on Obama’s legacy. Here are a few selections from their analysis series.

Most of these great items come from my social media networks. Follow me on Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, LinkedIn, and Facebook for more fascinating videos, photos, articles, essays, and criticism.

1. The Obama Era
The New York Times | 2016 and 2017
“The Obama Era [explores in six parts] the sweeping change that President Obama has brought to the nation, and how the presidency has changed him.”
Also see: Obama enters the final weeks of his presidency

2. Obama racial legacy: Pride, promise, regret — and deep rift
By Sharon Cohen and Deepti Hajela | Associated Press | Jan. 4
“[H]is presidency did not usher in racial harmony. Rather, both blacks and whites believe race relations have deteriorated, according to polls. Mounting tensions over police shootings of African-Americans prompted protests in several cities and the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement.”
Also see: Some key moments related to race during Obama’s presidency

3. As Obama accomplished policy goals, his party floundered
By Lisa Lerer | Associated Press | Dec. 24
“The leadership of the one-time community organizer and champion of ground-up politics was rough on the grassroots of his own party. When Obama exits the White House, he’ll leave behind a Democratic Party that languished in his shadow for years and is searching for itself.”
Interactive: The Obamas’ legacy in race, civil rights, social media, and more

4. Michelle Obama: A first lady who charted her own course
By Darlene Superville | Associated Press | Dec. 26
“As she navigated her way through, the woman who grew up on the South Side of Chicago discovered a talent for television and a comfort with Hollywood A-listers, haute couture and social media. And she used all of those elements to promote her causes — childhood obesity, support for military families, girls’ education — with at least some success.”
Also see: For girls, Michelle Obama is an empowering example
Also see: Michelle Obama: Life’s ‘greatest honor’ was being first lady

5. Michelle Obama loved fashion and the fashion world loved her
By Jocelyn Noveck | Associated Press | Dec. 26
“[U]nlike some past first ladies who favored one or two big-name designers, Mrs. Obama has spread her fashion choices among a huge stable of them — often promoting lesser-known names, and taking care to promote American designers at such high-profile events as inaugurations, conventions and state dinners.”

6. Obama makes his mark as first ‘social media’ president
By Kevin Freking | Associated Press | Jan. 6
“Obama’s two terms in office played out like a running chronicle of the trends of our times.”
Also see: President ending reign as pop culture king

7. 8 ways the US job market has evolved over Obama’s 8 years
By Christopher S. Rugaber | Associated Press | Jan. 6
“The unemployment rate is 4.7 percent. Jobs have been added for 75 straight months, the longest such streak on record. But many other trends, not all of them positive, have reshaped the job market over the past eight years. …”

8. In realist foreign policy, Obama found limits
By Bradley Klapper | Associated Press | Dec. 24
“Over eight years, Obama ushered in a new era of diplomacy, re-establishing the United States as the driving force behind fighting climate change and reducing the threat of nuclear weapons.”

9. Handing Trump a broad view of war powers
By Josh Lederman | Associated Press | Dec. 5
“After eight years as a wartime president, Barack Obama is handing his successor an expansive interpretation of the commander in chief’s authority to wage war around the globe. And that reading has continued to grow even as Obama prepares to pass control to Donald Trump.”

10. A quiet mission to export gay rights oversea
By Josh Lederman | Associated Press | October 2016
“The U.S. has deployed its diplomats and spent tens of millions of dollars to try to block anti-gay laws, punish countries that enacted them, and tie financial assistance to respect for LGBT rights. … Yet the U.S. encountered occasional backlash, including from some rights groups that said public pressure by the West made things worse.”

Recommended reading / viewing / listening

This week: The best pieces on Cuba, the United States, the Castros, and what the future holds.

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This week: The best pieces on Cuba, the United States, the Castros, and what the future holds.

Most of these great items come from my social media networks. Follow me on Twitter, Tumblr, LinkedIn, MySpace, and Facebook for more fascinating videos, photos, articles, essays, and criticism.

1. No word yet from Fidel amid historic US-Cuba shift
By Anne-Marie Garcia | Associated Press | Dec. 19
“Everyone in Cuba is talking about the startling turn in relations with the United States, with one notable exception: Fidel Castro.”

2. Without Washington as its enemy, what will define Cuba?
By Tom Gjeten | The Washington Post | Dec. 19
“Both governments are gambling that this new world will suit their respective political interests. In this negotiation, however, there is no win-win: One government or the other is likely to lose.”

3. Cuba’s cash boon for GOP
By Kenneth P. Vogel and Tarini Parti | Politico | Dec. 19
“[W]hile polls show that most Americans favor normalization, wealthy donors for whom the issue is a top priority overwhelmingly oppose engaging with the Castro regime. …”

4. Why Congress Hates Your Cuban Rum
By Tim Mack | The Daily Beast | Dec. 19
“Havana Club or ‘American’ Havana Club? How untangling decades of Washington’s embargo politics could start a rum war among the world’s most powerful alcohol companies.”

5. The Revolution Fidel Castro Began Evolves Under His Brother
By Damien Cave | The New York Times | Dec. 18
“At a moment described by many as an equivalent to the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the absence of Fidel Castro … spoke volumes. For many Cubans, it confirmed that Fidel, perhaps by his own design, is slipping further into the past, into history, at a time when his approach to the United States seems to be fading as well.”

6. A Historical Perspective on the Cuba-U.S. Relationship
By Jason Steinhauer | Insights :: The Library of Congress | Dec. 19
“Let’s start with this: soon after Fidel Castro’s rise to power, the U.S. viewed Cuba as a security threat. What was the basis for that viewpoint?”

7. Detente Scrambles Political Calculus in Latin America
By Reed Johnson, Ezequiel Minaya, and Kejal Vyas | The Wall Street Journal | Dec. 18
“The Detente Between the U.S. and Cuba Has the Potential to Redraw Political and Economic Alliances Across the Hemisphere”

8. Cha-Cha-Cha: Obama’s On a Roll
By John Cassidy | The New Yorker | Dec. 19
“If you doubted that President Obama’s decision to normalize relations with Cuba was a political and strategic masterstroke, you only have to look at the reaction it has engendered to see otherwise.”

9. A Cuban who sold his beachfront home says he might regret that move
By Marco Werman | The World :: PRI | Dec. 19
“Yuro is part of the generation of Cubans known as the ‘lost generation.’ The ones who came of age after the fall of the Soviet Union — and the loss of all those Russian oil for sugar subsidies.”

10. The US Breaks Ties with Cuba
Witness :: BBC | Dec. 18
“It was in January 1961 that the USA first broke off diplomatic relations with Cuba. Wayne Smith was one of the last diplomats to leave the US embassy in Havana.”

11. Cuba: A Reading List
By John Williams | ArtsBeat :: The New York Times | Dec. 18
“[W]e asked editors at The Times to suggest books that offer the best looks at Cuba’s history and its relationship to the United States. Here are a few of their recommendations:”

12. Americans, here’s what you’ve been missing in Cuba all this time
GlobalPost | Dec. 19
“A new era in US-Cuba relations could see a travel ban lifted. Here are some of the sights US citizens could be visiting soon.”

13. U.S.–Cuba Agreement: Diplomacy At Its Best
By. John Parisella | Americas Quarterly | Dec. 18
“Just as Nixon went to China and Truman set up the Marshall Plan for Europe in the post-World War II era, Obama knew that he had to do something different with a nation just 90 miles off the U.S. shore.”

14. Pope Francis bridged gap between U.S. and Cuba during secret talks
By Paul Richter and Tom Kington | The Los Angeles Times | Dec. 18
“The pope’s secret role in the back-channel talks was crucial because, as a religious leader with the confidence of both sides, he was able to convince the Obama and Castro administrations that the other side would live up to the deal. …”

15. Topic: Cuba
By Ted Piccone and Richard Feinberg | The Brookings Institution | Dec. 2014
“See what they and other Brookings experts have to say about the measures and their impact on the two countries moving forward.”

16. Baseball in Cuba: A looming brain drain
By D.R. | The Economist | Dec. 18
“Cuban veterans represent the last remaining loophole in MLB’s regulation of players’ entry to the league, which helps to maintain competitive balance between rich and poor clubs.”

17. Opening Cuba and Closing Gitmo?
By James Stavridis | Foreign Policy | Dec. 19
“Havana will be pushing hard to shut the naval station at Guantanamo Bay — but Washington shouldn’t give in.”

18. Cuba’s Christmas Surprise for Caracas
By Daniel Lansberg-Rodriguez | Foreign Policy | Dec. 18
“Despite Maduro’s self-serving rhetoric, future U.S. tourism dollars, increased remittances, and access to foreign markets could easily replace the resale value of Venezuelan oil. Cuba’s wily leaders have made it clear that they’re more willing to offend Maduro than to risk being left standing when the salsa stops.”

19. The Democrats’ risky Cuba bet
By James Hohmann and Kyle Cheney | Politico | Dec. 17
“Will Florida’s changing demographics offset a backlash among older Cuban-Americans?”

20. As Obama opens to Cuba, China experts remember benefits from U.S. engagement
By Simon Denyer | The Washington Post | Dec. 19
“China has become a partner with the United States in some ways but also a powerful rival, geo-strategically and economically. Its leadership remains deeply suspicious of Western values, even as it pursues a deeper relationship with the United States.”

The Disco Pall

The mirage inspired the working class and their tenuous allies toward distant horizons of hope, unaware that only predators awaited them in the night.

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The mirage inspired the working class and their tenuous allies toward distant horizons of hope, unaware that only predators awaited them in the night.
A review essay by Fernando Ortiz Jr.

Discussed in this essay:

Stayin’ Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class. By Jefferson Cowie. New York: The New Press, 2010. Pp. 464. $19.58

*****

Jefferson Cowie illustrates in Stayin’ Alive a sad era of American labor’s political and economic strife. The book recounts 40 years of corporations, political figures, and labor’s own leaders undermining, defusing, or ravaging the postwar economic opportunities of working-class Americans, who gradually lost every ally gained during the New Deal era. The working-class identity at the beginning of his story captures their pride and belief in a better future. Their identity at the end is strangled, stabbed, and ground down into a pitiable symbol of social irrelevance, political isolation, and self-absorbed psychic catatonia.1

Cowie divides his story into two sections: “Hope in the Confusion, 1968-1974” and “Despair in the Order, 1974-1982.” He begins with vivid accounts of labor’s role as “junior partners” in a New Deal coalition to re-engineer American capitalism and of a younger generation’s struggles against calcified labor leaders in the 1960s to improve their economic standing. He then moves into the chaos of the 1968 presidential campaigns. Public uproar over the Vietnam War left President Lyndon B. Johnson exhausted. He refused to run for another term, leaving the desiccated corpse of the presidency for Democratic contenders to rip apart like starved hyenas. Vice President Hubert Humphrey emerged from the violent Democratic nominating convention as the last man standing, with only the labor machinery at his side, Cowie writes, making labor the “big boss in the Democratic Party.”2

Labor’s support of the Vietnam War, Cowie explains, meant no alliance with anti-war Democrats. Patriarchal labor leaders rejected civil rights and social movements, which poisoned any relationship with social liberals, women, and minorities. Humphrey’s nomination triumph and labor alliance amounted to little more than a Pyrrhic victory when Richard Nixon, leading a Republican resurgence against divided Democrats, won the election. The cracks in the Democratic lines would also lead to complete political failure in 1972 when Democrat George McGovern challenged then-President Nixon and was obliterated.3

The tragic and foreboding theme of division overshadows every working-class ambition, and Cowie highlights its importance at every turn. The compromised aspirations of the 1935 National Labor Relations Act and Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act are two of his best examples. Both aimed for “occupational justice.” The former enabled union formation and opened economic opportunities to immigrants. The latter ensured non-white, non-male, and non-Christian workers would not face workplace discrimination. The former was rooted in the hopes for economic equality. The latter was rooted in the hopes for cultural and gender equality. Some victories required the exclusion of black rights.

Others required the exclusion of women’s rights. Inherent tensions between the governmental and political forces that achieved both victories doomed the unity needed to face foes in the 1970s and 1980s, who exploited “an unbridgeable chasm” between allies fighting over race or over class. Cowie is at his best when he explores these key flaws in the coalition the unions depended upon throughout the postwar decades.4

Nixon cynically targeted that central cultural-vs.-material dichotomy in the workers’ outlook. He lured them into his New Majority, his own coalition of Republicans, conservative Democrats, and white workers disgusted by the civil rights or other social movements. He emphasized his empathy with their frustrations, and he shared their disgust for “effete” Northern elitists and antiwar protesters. He anesthetized their doubts or shame over their support for a Republican with dazzling themes of shared patriotism. Once working-class Democrats were numbed to their own political transformation and suffocated by the rhetorical American flags in which he wrapped them, Nixon added their votes to his victorious totals, laughed at their seeming blindness to his manipulations, and then subsequently did little to justify their support.5

Cowie ends the book’s first half with the convincing contention that in 1973, after years of high earnings and low unemployment, labor’s prospect for further prosperity began to fade. That year was a turning point, he writes, when “a troika of disasters” began to unfold: an oil embargo, the spread of suffocating stagflation, and the Watergate scandal that led to Nixon’s resignation in 1974. Nixon, Cowie argues, “was the last [postwar president] to court labor seriously.” Instead of playing on the old New Deal chessboard, Nixon simply invented a new game with new rules. After 1974, labor faced threats it was no longer armed against, on battlefield on which it had no effective allies, and fought for a place in an economy that no longer valued its contribution or importance.6

If the book’s first half sees the working class feel the unstable shoreline crumble under their feet, the second half sees them slide helplessly into the shark-infested water. Nixon’s successor, Gerald Ford, defeated Ronald Reagan for the 1976 presidential nomination. Democrat Jimmy Carter then defeated Ford in the general election. Nixon’s and Ford’s defeats emboldened Democratic liberals, and their triumph blinded them to Carter’s limitations as a labor ally. At first, liberals and labor saw new hope in the new president, who could potentially fuse old George Wallace supporters, Southern Democrats, Northern workers, and minorities into a new coalition. Cowie points to hopes for new legislation that would generate more jobs, improve labor laws, and begin a national health insurance. But Carter had little regard for liberal dreams, and his career was not beholden to labor’s support. His narrow and principled vision focused only on particular priorities, and his stiff rudder rarely moved to accommodate labor’s needs.7

Labor needed help more than ever before. Companies laid off workers and moved production overseas. Plants closed. Industries gravitated to regions that rejected union activism, instituted right-to-work laws, and promised tax incentives and low regulation. The general economic malaise acted like a drought, drying up what little hope remained for labor to find economic or political rejuvenation in the Democratic Party’s empty and neglected fountains. By 1980, Cowie explains, “a unionized manufacturing job … had become a rare and coveted source of security” -– a stale scrap from the corporate table crowded with conservative allies.8

Cowie’s pursuit of working-class identity throughout the postwar decades is a powerful intellectual feature of the book. He also argues that working-class identity found itself reflected in TV shows like All in the Family, in ballads from Bruce Springsteen and Devo, and in films like Saturday Night Fever. But the musing quickly turns into bloviating and regrettable tedium. Much of what he wanted to say could have been condensed from two chapters into one, or incorporated into the photos section with enriched captions. The attempt to casually expound on entertainment diminishes the power of Cowie’s serious and informative history.9

Republican Ronald Reagan won the presidency in 1980. By then, Cowie laments, the “redefinition of the working class beyond its New Deal form” had failed. Postwar attempts to maintain workers in the middle class failed. Conservative enemies torpedoed their legislative and policy accomplishments. Carter and a new generation of liberal Democrats had no shared history with labor and little inspiration to court their rusted and scarred loyalties.10 The working classes had nowhere to go but inward in their search for a credible identity. Ironically, that desperation left them open to another round of Nixonian seduction. Reagan’s New Right vision promised a return to a revitalized America built on the rubble Carter and his Eastern elites had left behind, one nation under God, ruled by white Christian men just as they ruled in their own communities.

The potent, sickening sweetness of Reagan’s nostalgic platitudes — Cowie calls it “symbolic sanctuary” — mesmerized workers who hungered for a time when they mattered to American society. Reagan swung the final major blow to the remnants of the labor movement when he shattered the Professional Air Traffic Controllers (PATCO) union strike in 1981. Cowie calls Reagan’s decision “one of the boldest acts of his administration.” Cowie could have added details of the administration’s decision-making process, internal debates, or recollections from Reagan advisors. Instead, the incident, which signaled to the corporate world how weak and vulnerable the union community truly was, is barely explored in a rush to finish the second half of the book, which ends in 1982. By the 1990s, a globalized economy of union-free service workers emerges, ruled by a conservative coalition descended not solely from conservative victories, Cowie argues, but also from liberalism’s failures and shortsighted divisions.11

Cowie’s sad and fascinating story points to the “internal weaknesses” of the working class when explaining why labor movements failed to sustain cohesion and strength long enough after the New Deal to pose a significant challenge to “[m]arket orthodoxy.”12 Perhaps, he argues, their noble alliance was little more than a “conceptual unity” that never truly existed. The mirage inspired the working class – enthused by their New Deal identities — and their tenuous allies toward distant horizons of hope, unaware that only predators awaited them in the night.


1. Jefferson Cowie, Stayin’ Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class (New York: The New Press, 2010), 9-11.
2. Cowie, 9, 29, 83.
3. Cowie, 41, 84.
4. Cowie, 236-237.
5. Cowie, 122-124, 132-133.
6. Cowie, 12, 164.
7. Cowie, 14, 266.
8. Cowie, 15.
9. Cowie, 209-210, 357-369.
10. Cowie, 366.
11. Cowie, 362-364.
12. Cowie, 18.

Recommended reading / viewing / listening

Hayes v. Tilden: Real dirty politics / E.O. Wilson on life / The best documentary on the Vietnam War / A review of the Democratic convention

Most of these great items come from my Twitter feed or Facebook news feed. Follow me on Twitter and on Facebook for more fascinating videos, articles, essays and criticism.

1. Why do we procrastinate so much?
By Rowan Pelling | BBC News Magazine | Aug. 27
“As autumn approaches people finish off vital DIY, get ready to start a new job or prepare for school. At least, they would do if they weren’t in the grip of procrastination. …”

2. Is it a bird, a plane? No, it’s Putin, human crane
By Gabriela Baczynska | Reuters | Sept. 5
“Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has tracked a Siberian tiger and posed with a polar bear, on Wednesday took his love of wildlife to new heights by flying with cranes — to lead them on a migration route.”

3. Have Americans turned inward?
By Bruce Stokes | Global Public Square :: CNN | Sept. 7
“Foreign policy is the forgotten stepchild of the 2012 U.S. presidential election.”

4. Reviewing the political theater of the party’s convention
By Peter Marks | The Washington Post | Sept. 6
“Despite its agonizing interminability and waning relevance, a national convention still can be a star-maker. …”

5. Living in the Era of Megaterror
By Graham Allison | The New York Times | Sept. 7
“Today, how many people can a small group of terrorists kill in a single blow?”

6. Vietnam: A Television History
American Experience :: PBS
“From the first hour through the last, the series provides a detailed visual and oral account of the war that changed a generation and continues to color American thinking on many military and foreign policy issues.”

7. E.O. Wilson on saving life on Earth
TED | April 2007
“As E.O. Wilson accepts his 2007 TED Prize, he makes a plea on behalf of all creatures that we learn more about our biosphere — and build a networked encyclopedia of all the world’s knowledge about life.”

8. Hayes vs. Tilden: The Ugliest, Most Contentious Presidential Election Ever
Past Imperfect :: Smithsonian.com | Sept. 7
“For Rutherford B. Hayes, election evening of November 7, 1876, was shaping up to be any presidential candidate’s nightmare. Even though the first returns were just coming in by telegraph, newspapers were announcing that his opponent, the Democrat Samuel J. Tilden, had won.”

9. General Hancock’s Hour
By Glenn David Brasher | Disunion :: The New York Times | May 8
“Thanks to the information gleaned from runaway slaves, Winfield Scott Hancock’s chance to prove his merit came on May 5, with the Battle of Williamsburg.”

10. Trouble on the Triple Frontier
By Christine Folch | Foreign Affairs | Sept. 6
“The Lawless Border Where Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay Meet”

Recommended reading / viewing / listening

Guide to pliars / True sexuality in film / Dems fundraising / Zuckerberg still the boss / A Watergate reunion

Most of these great items come from my Twitter feed or Facebook news feed. Follow me on Twitter and on Facebook for more fascinating videos, articles, essays and criticism. Read past recommendations from this series here.

1. The Skin Storm: Sex In Great & Meager Film
By David D. Robbins Jr. | The Fade Out | Feb. 2
“Is there a film that encompasses the erotic, the rich tapestry of thought, the complexity and introspective nature of it all?”

2. Pliers: A Modern Man’s Guide to Tools
By Jesse Stern | Primer | February 2012
“While man was blessed with nimbler, stronger gripping hands than most animals, they’re not quite small, or strong, enough for many jobs around the house. Enter: pliers.”

3. Dems outraised GOP majority in 2011
By Alex Isenstadt | Politico | Feb. 2
“Republicans aren’t panicking yet. Independent analysts estimate that if the election were held today, Democrats would be far short of winning the 25 seats they need to retake the House.”

4. Zuckerberg Remains the Undisputed Boss at Facebook
By Somini Sengupta | The New York Times | Feb. 2
“Zuckerberg’s success is an object lesson in what works in crowded, competitive Silicon Valley: Remain in charge, stave off potential predators and expand the company so quickly that no one can challenge the boss.”

5. The Storytellers of Empire
By Kamila Shamsie | Guernica | February 2012
“Captivated by an image of an atom bomb falling on Japan, Pakistani novelist Kamila Shamsie asks American writers why, ‘Your soldiers will come to our lands, but your novelists won’t.’ ”

6. John Dean has unexpected Watergate reunion at Nixon Library
The Reliable Source :: The Washington Post | Feb. 1
“John Dean was in Southern California for a legal symposium when he and a friend decided to check out the library’s exhibits. ”

7. A Symbol of Democracy Is Criticized as Undemocratic
By A.G. Sulzberger | The New York Times | Feb. 2
“Those in favor of the caucus format, in which party members typically attend meetings at a set time to vote, are worried that additional problems will further undermine a traditional system that has been in declining use, as more states move to the comparative convenience and reliability of a primary.”

8. The 9/11 decade
Al Jazeera World | October 2011
“A special three-part series taking an in-depth look at the post 9/11 ‘war on terror’ ”

9. This much I know: America Ferrera
By Megan Conner | The Observer | November 2011
“Actress America Ferrera on the origins of her name and what follows Ugly Betty

10. The Big Sleep
By C. Claiborne Ray | Q&A :: The New York Times | December 2011
“Ever since childhood, I have needed more sleep than most. Why do some people need so much more sleep than others?”