Celebrating Pete Seeger, America’s Troubadour, on his 94th Birthday
by Randy Shaw‚
May. 02‚ 2013
Pete Seeger, arguably the person most responsible for the revival and popularity of folk music in the United States, turns 94 on May 3. Seeger’s unparalleled life led him to engage in nearly all of the leading social movements of the 20th century, including the labor sit ins in the 1930’s, the economic justice campaigns of the 1940’s, fighting the blacklist and promoting peace in the 1950’s, the civil rights movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s and the environmental movement that began in the 1970’s. Fortunately, Seeger’s extensive writings are now available in a new book, Pete Seeger: In His Own Words, selected and edited by Rob Rosenthal and Sam Rosenthal. The book offers unusual insight into Seeger’s motivations, and for his relentless optimism in the face of adversity. Seeger has spoken the truth for nearly 100 years, and his writings offer inspiration to all those working for peace, justice and for a better world.
The Occupy Movement and Revitalizing Democracy
by Randy Shaw‚
Apr. 04‚ 2013
The Occupy Movement altered if not “revolutionized” how Americans view income inequality and the hijacking of democracy by “the 1%.” David Graeber, who was on the ground with Occupy from the start, has now written, The Democracy Project: A History, A Crisis, A Movement, to assess the movement’s broader meaning. Graeber, author of the widely praised Debt: The First 5000 Years, sees Occupy’s “horizontal,” consensus driven process as exposing the profound lack of democracy in the United States. He addresses the prospects for real social change in the U.S., the police role in suppressing activism, and strategies for increasing democracy. While I disagree with many of Graeber’s arguments, he deserves praise for raising big picture issues that progressives often overlook as they focus on the next election or legislative campaign.
How the Catholic Church Shaped 20th Century San Francisco
by Randy Shaw‚
Mar. 21‚ 2013
San Francisco has long been known as a “wide open town” prioritizing individual freedom and tolerance over social control. Yet less recognized is the power exerted by the city’s Catholic Church throughout much of the 20th Century. As William Issel describes in his new book, Church and State in the City: Catholics and Politics in Twentieth-Century San Francisco, the Catholic Church helped build the city’s labor movement and fostered social activism. Issel shows how even secular leaders like former Mayor Joseph Alioto sought to govern according to what they saw as Catholic values. While the book ends before the Church’s disconnection from “San Francisco values” on gay rights, abortion and economic justice issues reduced its political relevancy, it restores the Catholic role in San Francisco’s development through the 1960’s to its rightful place in the city’s history. [more]->
How the Right Seized the Republican Party---And Then Failed
by Randy Shaw‚
Feb. 07‚ 2013
The widely-accepted narrative of United States politics since 1964 highlights the role of race, religion and social issues in transforming the Republican Party into the voice of the nation’s extreme right wing. Richard Nixon’s “Southern Strategy,” Ronald Reagan’s mantra that “the government is the problem,” and the Party’s over two decades of unrelenting opposition to new taxes all played critical roles. But as Geoffrey Kabaservice shows in his thought-provoking book, Rule and Ruin: The Downfall of Moderation and the Destruction of the Republican Party, From Eisenhower to the Tea Party, Republican moderates had greater and longer influence on the Party’s direction than is commonly thought. Jacob Javits, Mark Hatfield, Charles “Mac” Mathias and other Republican Senators played key roles in implementing what today would be viewed as a very progressive agenda; yet their impact is forgotten amidst the story of the right’s rise. Also often overlooked is that a movement driven by a hatred of Eastern elites and Wall Street bankers has achieved its greatest political success in enriching both---while failing to deliver on its core social agenda.
The Death and Life of Smaller American Cities
by Zelda Bronstein‚
Jan. 24‚ 2013
One of the most irritating terms in the current discourse of civic boosterism is “world-class.” It’s a phrase bandied about by many public officials, including the mayor of my city—as if Berkeley (pop. 113,000), should (or could) vie with New York, London and Tokyo. In her 2012 book, Small, Gritty, and Green: The Promise of America’s Smaller Industrial Cities in a Low-Carbon World, historian and journalist Catherine Tumber presents a welcome corrective to “the cult of giantism”: environmentally grounded “civic modesty.” Her argument is doubly provocative, drawing its examples of sustainable, smaller-scale urbanism from places long since written off by cosmopolitan sophisticates: midsize industrial cities of the Rust Belt.
By “midsize” or “smaller,” Tumber means cities “that at their peak in, generally, 1950, had populations of roughly 50,000 to 500,000 souls, and whose numbers today have dropped (though not universally) by at least 20 percent.” She has a firsthand acquaintance with such places, having grown up in a farming village outside Syracuse and spent most of her life in Syracuse and Rochester, as well as Albany and Detroit. [more]->
Revisiting Herb Caen, San Francisco’s Chronicler
by Randy Shaw‚
Jan. 10‚ 2013
If you lived in the San Francisco Bay Area during 1936-1996, you almost certainly read San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen. For many, Caen was the chief reason they picked up the paper. For decades he was both the chief source of “inside” scoops about the city’s movers and shakers, and the leading daily chronicler of the city’s downtrodden and working class. Over the recent holidays I read three of Caen’s books and one written about him, and have now read all of his works. They are remarkable. They are worth reading not simply for their depiction of the city’s largely forgotten past, but rather for the insights he provides about San Francisco in 2013. Reading Caen reminds us that our rental housing crisis is nothing new, that Market Street has long been a traffic planner’s nightmare, that racism exists just below the surface of our “we all get along” city, and that people have felt that San Francisco is changing for the worse since at least the 1930’s. Caen’s books preserve the insights of his daily columns, and could not be timelier today.
Our Ten Favorite Books of 2012
by Randy Shaw‚
Dec. 13‚ 2012
I read some great books in 2012. I reviewed many nonfiction works, but since Beyond Chron rarely covers fiction I rely on this end of year list to promote worthy novels. My favorites include books I read in 2012 that may have been published earlier. I also limit my list to books whose attraction goes beyond a specialized audience. My favorite novel in 2012—hands down---was Jess Walter’s Beautiful Ruins. I never wanted the book to end and think Walters could have expanded its length and still kept reader interest. It is a jewel that deserves all the accolades it has received. Here are my other nine favorites.
Remembering Bill Veeck, Baseball’s Greatest Owner
by Randy Shaw‚
Nov. 29‚ 2012
The late players' union pioneer Marvin Miller was correctly credited this week with shaping baseball more than anyone else over the past four decades. From the 1930’s through the 1970’s, this honor goes to Bill Veeck. Veeck was baseball’s preeminent racial pioneer who made Larry Doby the American League’s first African-American player, and who gave Satchel Paige his first major league chance. He put players’ names on the backs of their uniforms, planted the ivy and installed the scoreboard at Wrigley, pioneered exploding scoreboards, gave 34-year old Tony La Russa his first big league manager’s job, and owned two of the only three American League teams from 1947--1964 that beat the Yankees for the pennant. Yet much of Veeck’s enormous contributions have been obscured by his putting a little person up to bat, and by a “disco demolition” night in Chicago that was not his doing (it was his son's idea). Fortunately his remarkable accomplishments are now chronicled in Paul Dickson’s new book, Bill Veeck: Baseball’s Greatest Maverick.
How the Circus Transformed America
by Randy Shaw‚
Nov. 15‚ 2012
In early October I visited an extraordinary exhibition at the Bard Graduate Center in New York City, “Circus and the City: New York: 1793-2010.” Its title aside, the exhibition is less about New York circus history and more about the rise of popular culture, advertising, and popular entertainment in the United States. The exhibition runs through February 3, 2013, and is very highly recommend. For those unable to attend, and those whose visit whetted their appetite for more, there is Matthew Wittmann’s accompanying book, Circus and the City: New York: 1793-2010. Published by the Bard Graduate Center and Yale University Press, Wittmann’s work is less a book than a treasure. It includes photos of all the exhibits and much, much more, leaving readers spellbound examining P.T. Barnum’s legendary posters, Weegee’s photographs of circus attendees, and a vast collection of circus memorabilia. This book brings to life the days when the circus was at the heart of an emerging American popular culture, rather than a mere sideshow, and restores the circus to its rightful place as the progenitor of the nation’s entire entertainment industry.
Will Home Care Unionism Survive?
by Steve Early‚
Oct. 25‚ 2012
A review of Caring for America: Home Health Workers in the Shadow of the Welfare State by Eileen Boris and Jennifer Klein (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012) 295 pp.
America’s growing workforce of home-based care-givers has provided the labor movement with its main source of recent membership growth, in a period of overall union decline. Some of these gains were rolled back last year in states like Wisconsin, Ohio, and Michigan. There, Republican governors have un-done the union organizing deals, made by their Democratic predecessors, that created new bargaining units composed of state-funded home health aides or child care providers. As a result, tens of thousands of newly organized workers have lost their precarious toehold at the bottom rung of public employment. In other states, where funding has been reduced and direct-care jobs curtailed or eliminated, low-income Americans have suffered both as workers and clients. The predominantly female, largely non-white labor force that cares for young, old, and disabled people continues to get organized where political conditions permit. In Connecticut, for example, 11,000 Medicaid- paid personal care attendants and state-funded day care workers won union recognition earlier this year from labor-friendly legislators and new Democratic Governor Dan Malloy.
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