BOOK REVIEW: In “10 Strikes”, Erik Loomis demonstrates how American labor history is inseparable from American politics

Your short takeaway should be that A History of America in 10 Strikes is a good book in all the ways a history book can be good. You should buy it. You should read it. You should gift it to your friends and family, and stuff extra copies in Tiny Libraries you come across.

The author Erik Loomis is a professor at the University of Rhode Island and regular contributor to the politics and culture blog “Lawyers, Guns, and Money“, and he’s been writing his This Day In Labor History” series for some time. It’s not surprising that he was able to bring the same sort of conversational brevity to this full-length work as he managed on Twitter threads, but it’s impressive he was able to tie almost two centuries of history all together so coherently.

Now, Loomis has a point of view, and he states it outright and upfront: almost everyone in the United States is a worker, and labor unions have been the only force for workers in the past two centuries.

What’s enlightening is his thesis, hammered in time and again, that “the fate of labor unions largely rests on the ability to elect politicians that will allow them to succeed.”

Continue reading “BOOK REVIEW: In “10 Strikes”, Erik Loomis demonstrates how American labor history is inseparable from American politics”

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BOOK REVIEW: It’s a lot easier to kick someone out into the rain than fix your own leaking roof

You’ll often hear, in reference to current events, that the Republican Party has its origins in the anti-slavery movement of the mid-19th century.

This is, strictly speaking, true, but bowdlerized.

The best an abolitionist Liberty Party candidate ever did for president was 2.3 percent of what was then the popular vote in 1844.

The Free Soil Party was anti-slavery but only in so much as it disliked enslaved people. It got 10.1 percent in 1848.

The Know Nothing Party didn’t care for slavery but what really got it going was anti-immigrant nativism, contemporarily aimed at Irish and German Catholics. In 1856, it got 21.5 percent of the vote, still only good for third. By then, the Republican Party was competing on a slogan of “Free soil, free silver, free men.”

Abraham Lincoln won the presidency as a Republican with less than 40 percent of the popular vote four years later.

Continue reading “BOOK REVIEW: It’s a lot easier to kick someone out into the rain than fix your own leaking roof”

BOOK REVIEW: “How to Democrat in the Age of Trump” by Mike Lux is a suspiciously good read

You always ought to be wary of any point of view you consume at length where you find yourself agreeing with it completely, where it anticipates every question that pops in your head and answers it, to the point that at the end you can identify no daylight between your thoughts and its own.

The effect is something like riding to the airport after you’ve doublechecked everything you meant to pack and finding it was actually all already there. There’s no rational reason for you to be unsettled rather than comforted, but somehow you are.

Mike Lux has a written just such a book: How to Democrat in the Age of Trump, and it’s worthy of being recommended to anyone on the Left trying to find a way forward.

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BOOK REVIEW: In the future of “Unscaled”, AI will keep the rich different from you and me

“The rich are different from you and me.”

“Yes, they have more money.”

No exchange like that between F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway ever took place, but it’s a lot more fun to imagine that it did. The initially curt put-down contains within it the germ of a much more intense concurrence the more you think about it.

Unscaled by Hemant Taneja, or “How AI and a New Generation of Upstarts Are Creating the Economy of the Future” manages to embody both readings of that exchange.

The multimillionaire venture capitalist’s book often reads like a literal vanity-press product, talking of its subjects as an excuse to brag about all of the occasions Taneja’s investments thus far have paid off. That includes investments you’ve heard of like the temporary-messages app Snapchat as well as those you probably haven’t, like the “consumer digital health company“, Livongo.

In that way, the experience of reading Unscaled is very much like anyone who’s ever been cornered at a house party by someone you’ve just met, quite sure everything they do will be as interesting for you to hear as it clearly is for them to recount.

But, the rich are different from you and me, and what interests Taneja versus what does not is almost like reading an alien species talk about the implications of technology for the future.

Continue reading “BOOK REVIEW: In the future of “Unscaled”, AI will keep the rich different from you and me”

BOOK REVIEW: “Activism, Inc.” and the sin of ideals procrastinated

There’s never a good time to tell people about how their sausages are made, but Dana R. Fisher’s “Activism, Inc.” came out at just about the worst time possible for its message to be heard.

Part research, part hunchy anecdote, this short work is largely a post-mortem on the failures of paid, third-party canvassing operations, especially as connected to the Democratic Party and progressive Left that used them during the 2004 Presidential Election between John Kerry and George W. Bush.

Democrats relied on paid—but still highly intrinsically motivated—mostly young canvassers working out of temporary offices around the country to mobilize voters quickly. Meanwhile, Republicans tapped more permanent civic institutions for mobilizations, such as white evangelical churches.

For Democrats, Fisher concludes, “very few enduring connections remain at the local level after campaigns are concluded that can be used in the next campaign cycle”. Unlike volunteers, people who rely on wages to do election work can’t be expected to show up when the money isn’t there.

Continue reading “BOOK REVIEW: “Activism, Inc.” and the sin of ideals procrastinated”

BOOK REVIEW: “The Storm Before the Storm” and the seduction of lessons from history

We have a tendency to look at the past as a mirror, to see ourselves reflected in it rather than recognize the past as a foreign country — even when, indeed, it’s both.

This leads to methods of historical divination that try to read the past closely and thoroughly enough that the present is entirely recognizable and therefore the future will be foreseeable.

Sometimes this is presented merely in aphorism (“history repeats”, “it rhymes”, “people repeat history”); sometimes pseudo-scientifically (“these are the six economic indicators that will predict the next president”). Previous societies would sacrifice animals on an altar and from their entrails suss out messages they already wanted to find. We’re much more advanced nowadays, so we substitute cherry-picked data in place of viscera.

Roman history, though, is especially at risk for this sort of confirmation bias because there is so very much of it and it influenced so many successor states, all of whom could reasonably claim to have inherited part of its legacy.

As much as anyone, the United States has intentionally drawn those same parallels since our very founding.

Rejecting absolutism, we were a republic with the highest ideals of personal liberty, representation, and equality under the law. Yet, like the Romans, we only cared to extend this to some, and freedom didn’t preclude seizing territory by conquest or wiping out whole peoples. In Rome’s Italian territory, perhaps a quarter of the total population was enslaved at its height. In the Deep South, it was more like half.

When hobbyist podcaster, now graduated to a professional popular historian, Mike Duncan set out to write his 2017 book The Storm Before the Storm, he admits he went into it with an eye toward resonant parallels between Rome and the United States. Continue reading “BOOK REVIEW: “The Storm Before the Storm” and the seduction of lessons from history”

BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Bone and Sinew of the Land’ recovers some American history that actually has been erased

When it so happens—more regularly now than before but never yet regular enough—that a cheap zinc or bronze cast of some semi-famous slaver is yanked from its pedestal in the middle of a city night, or when a suburban school board in broad daylight votes to no longer compel students to adorn their bodies with the name and imagery of a particular child trafficker, invariably there rises the cry:

“You’re erasing history! You’re censoring our Confederate past! You’re rewriting collective memory to sanitize it!”

This, of course, is worse than nonsense and akin to defending the maintenance of NAMBLA-installed plaques to Jerry Sandusky. It should be regarded as such whether it’s an argument being made by angry, open bigots in Facebook comment sections or under the auspices of the National Review.

But some worthy portions of our history have indeed been buried, erased, and minimized. Harvard’s Anna-Lisa Cox’s latest book The Bone and Sinew of the Land is an example of what it actually looks like when that sort of history is excavated for a popular audience, and what a positive effect that can have.

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