Joe Kenehan Center

Saturday, January 04, 2003
Coach Chait

Anybody who reads much of New Republic editor Jonathan Chait’s writing on politics and economic policy is well aware of his consistently on-target analysis.

But who knew Chait could out X and O the college football puditocracy? While most of the pre-Fiesta Bowl debate was preoccupied with arguments over just how badly Miami would beat Ohio State, Chait countered with this piece in Slate boldly (and as it turned out, correctly) pointing out that Miami was thoroughly vincible.

Speaking of the New Republic . . .

Their anonymous blogger had this to say about Steven Greenhouse’s New York Times profile of former Teamster official Bill Hogan.

Wednesday, January 01, 2003
Debating How to Rebuild

The new Labor Notes includes several responses to Stephen Lerner’s suggestions for rebuilding the union movement in the United States. Cornell professor Kate Bronfenbrenner’s is the most interesting. UPDATE: Teamster reform activist Ken Paff's response is also well worth reading.

O Brother, Ralph Stanley’s On The Grammys

Echo, an “music-centered” online journal published by UCLA, has a new issue that focuses on the folk/bluegrass revival touched off by the surprisingly successful O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack.

Now that record store bins are clogged with hastily compiled bluegrass compilations -- all straining to work the words “Brother” or “Mountain” into their titles -- Echo’s essayists take a critical look at what this means for the music.

Rachel Howard, writing from the perspective of a long-time fan, contributes a nice assessment of how it feels to watch music you’ve quietly loved suddenly become the big new thing. (Full-disclosure: Rachel is my long-time significant other.)

Notable Books 2002

Fiction: If you’ve read any of Robert Boswell’s books before, you saw some familiar themes in his most recent novel, Century‘s Son. But because I love Boswell’s clear, elegant prose and his ability to create such compellingly human characters, I can’t begrudge him much for returning to those ideas.

Readers of this blog will take interest in Century’s Son because of Morgan, one of the novel’s main characters. Morgan is a former union organizer who later returned to his rank-and-file job. He was a sanitation worker in a Illinois town who helped organize his local in the ‘70s (probably with AFSCME or SEIU, but Boswell doesn’t specify) and then became a much-respected leader of his local union. But after the tragic death of his son, Morgan returns to his job driving a garbage truck, struggling to move ahead with his life despite constant reminders of the loss of his son.

It’s hard to think of another recent American novel that contains such a rich and unstereotyped portrait of a “union guy.”

Fact: Given that so much of the political debate nationally (and in Washington State, locally) is dominated by tax issues, I highly recommend The Great Tax Wars: From Lincoln to T.R. to Wilson: How the Income Tax Transformed America by Steven Weisman.

I thought it would be a chore to get through this one, but Weisman actually makes the topic interesting. In many ways the book is really a short economic history of the U.S. after the Civil War, and it helps explain how grassroots support for a fairer tax system gained strength in the early years of the 20th century. Smart progressives should take a look at how that happened in the first place.

(If you have any interest in buying these or any other books, make sure you get them at Portland, Oregon’s, which is both the best book store in the country and an ILWU shop.)