City of Joyful Dread

I caught a fever, a holy fire

Month: December, 2015

Books I read in 2015

Fluffya 014

Because no one asked.
Organized by category, because I own a used bookstore (only with more than the usual 1-2 cats, and the hours are irregular, and I buy but never sell).

Raising Expectations (and Raising Hell): My Decade Fighting For the Labor Movement, Jane McAlevey
An Injury To All: The Decline of American Unionism, Kim Moody
We Shall Be All: A History of the IWW, Melvyn Dubofsky
Labor Law for the Rank and Filer, Staughton Lynd & Daniel Gross
In Dubious Battle, John Steinbeck
Overview: Big Unions and the law de-radicalize the labor movement and defeat workers’ interests, management and their plutocratic supporters are worse, and the only answer is “never to submit or yield” (Milton, by way of Steinbeck).

In Spite of the Gods, Edward Luce
The Village of Waiting, George Packer
Pity the Nation, Robert Fisk
India, Togo, and Lebanon.  I only read about 20% of Lebanon, which is still a few hundred pages; it’s enormous (the book anyway).

POLITICS (for lack of a better category)
Waiting to Land: A (Mostly) Political Memoir, 1985-2008, Martin Duberman
Homage To Catalonia, George Orwell
Iraq: The Borrowed Kettle, Slavoj Žižek
In A Time of Torment, I.F. Stone
Accompanying: Pathways to Social Change, Staughton Lynd
Wobblies & Zapatistas: Conversations on Anarchism, Marxism & Radical History, Staughton Lynd & Andrej Grubačić
Rules for Radicals, Saul Alinsky
Somehow I never read Homage to Catalonia during the preceding 42 years.  I only read the 66 actual pages of Iraq, not the 113 page appendices (it’s Žižek).  With all due respect to the fine work of AK Press and PM Press, two of the Lynd books I read in 2015 (Wobblies and Labor Law) were free PDF downloads (I won’t name the website).  I am not now nor have I ever been an Alinskyite (I agree with this) but he’s still essential reading for both the left (full disclosure #1: Tom Sugrue was my former History of the 60s professor) and the right.  Duberman’s “memoir” (part 3, taken from notebooks and diaries) is non-essential reading compared to his Cures (memoir part 1), Paul Robeson, and Black Mountain.

Muhammad: A Prophet For Our Times, Karen Armstrong
Because now I know more about Islam than Ben Carson.

Leaving the Atocha Station, Ben Lerner
Ordinary Mayhem, Victoria Brownworth
Woman on the Edge of Time, Marge Piercy
In Dubious Battle, John Steinbeck
I rarely read novels anymore and even more rarely novels from the past 40 years (unless written by Steve Erickson).  Some of these are more and other than novels; Lerner is a poet writing a novelized memoir about a poet; Brownworth’s novel about the horrors of the real world includes the real horrific experiences of others she met as a reporter (full disclosure #2: she’s also my former writing instructor).  I wasn’t aware of this at the time, but In Dubious Battle is also on Obama’s list.

The Legend of the Holy Drinker, Joseph Roth
My dead half-brother was a fan (so I’m told).  It’s a tragedy of sorts, although its ending is less unhappy in many ways than that of its author.

Anyone else have any recommendations (or warnings)?

p.s. Films I’ve seen in 2015: Trumbo, a week ago.  (Good review and spoiler alert here.)  I don’t get out much.


Scenes from a Fluffya (2015 holiday edition)

Me, enunciating to waitress across a room full of screaming Eagles fans at Chickie’s and Pete’s on Packer Avenue in South Philadelphia: “I’ll have a glass of wahter.”
Her: “One wooder.”


Manager at Pep Boys: “What’s the year on your Subaru?”
Me: “2002.”
Manager: “How many miles?”
Me: “175,000.”
Manager: “Whoa! That’s a lotta trips to the liquor store.”

(Two girls walk in, one wearing a wool Eagles cap)

Manager: “Eagles? Di’in’t they useta play football?!”

Ayelet Shaked

Enough with the oblique references. This is a war.
Words have meanings. This is a war.

pioneers & defenders,
we made deserts BOOM BOOM


Further reading: “Netanyahu appoints Ayelet Shaked—who called for genocide of Palestinians—as Justice Minister in new government”

Umberto Eco on Donald Trump

Ur-Fascism grows up and seeks consensus by exploiting and exacerbating the natural fear of difference.  The first appeal of a fascist or prematurely fascist movement is an appeal against the intruders.  Thus Ur-Fascism is racist by definition.

Ur-Fascism derives from individual or social frustration.  That is why one of the most typical features of the historical fascism was the appeal to a frustrated middle class, a class suffering from an economic crisis or feelings of political humiliation, and frightened by the pressure of lower social groups.  In our time, when the old “proletarians” are becoming petty bourgeois (and the lumpen are largely excluded from the political scene), the fascism of tomorrow will find its audience in this new majority.

To people who feel deprived of a clear social identity, Ur-Fascism says that their only privilege is the most common one, to be born in the same country.  This is the origin of nationalism.  Besides, the only ones who can provide an identity to the nation are its enemies.  Thus at the root of the Ur-Fascist psychology there is the obsession with a plot, possibly an international one.  The followers must feel besieged.  The easiest way to solve the plot is the appeal to xenophobia…

–Umberto Eco, “Ur-Fascism,” New York Review of Books, June 22, 1995

Malcolm X 2016, Making America Great Again

Kelefa Sanneh misses the mark in his recent New Yorker profile of Ben Carson:

When Carson mentions racial uplift, he often adds a quick disclaimer, noting that his policies are meant “not only for African-Americans but for everybody.” Sitting on the bus, though, he advocated a kind of economic separatism. “If we would learn how to turn our dollars over in our own community, two or three times, before you send it out—that’s how you generate wealth,” he told me. “That’s how the Jews did it. That’s how the Koreans did it.” Half a century earlier, Malcolm X made a strikingly similar argument, saying, “If we try and establish some industry in our own community, then we’re developing to the position where we are creating employment for our own kind.” Of course, Malcolm X’s entreaty was accompanied by a caustic corollary that probably would not impress the Republican electorate. “Once you gain control of the economy of your own community,” he added, “then you don’t have to picket and boycott and beg some cracker downtown for a job in his business.”

No, you’d have a good chunk of the Republican electorate (and most of the Republican Establishment) at “you don’t have to picket and boycott;” they would be willing to overlook the “cracker” part if it means Blacks would leave, form their own businesses, and not unionize yours or theirs. It’s called “black capitalism” (or “community self-development”); Richard Nixon among others was a supporter. In fact, if this were the entirety of Malcolm X’s political platform, he could very well win the 2016 GOP presidential nomination, all else being equal. (He’s dead, but that helps too= he’s been “self-deported!”)

Roland Barthes on the Velvet Underground

The writerly text is a perpetual present, upon which no consequent language (which would inevitably make it past) can be superimposed; the writerly text is ourselves writing, before the infinite play of the world (the world as function) is traversed, intersected, stopped, plasticized by some singular system (Ideology, Genus, Criticism) which reduces the plurality of entrances, the opening of networks, the infinity of languages…[T]he goal of literary work (of literature as work) is to make the reader no longer a consumer, but a producer of the text.
–Roland Barthes, S/Z

The Velvet Underground’s first album only sold a few thousand copies, but everyone who bought one formed a band.
–Brian Eno (maybe)