Podcasts of the Week Ending October 12


BackStory :: Darkness Over the Plain

The history of the bison in America, their demise, revival, and symbolism.

Decoder Ring :: Bart Simpson Mania

Hop in a time machine to the early 1990s when an animated character of a 6-year-old became  the center of  social and political debate.  I’d totally forgotten about the bootleg Black Bart t-shirts.

Lost at the Smithsonian :: Dorothy’s Ruby Slippers

This new show hosted by Aasif Mandvi explores different objects at the Smithsonian Institution.  Many people visit the Smithsonian to see the ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz, but did you know that there are at least six pairs of slippers and the Smithsonian has a mismatched set?


 

Running tally of 2019 Podcast of the Week appearances:

Podcasts of the Week Ending September 28


Code Switch :: The Original Blexit

Black Americans have never been fully supported by any political party, but after the Civil War, Black voters typically supported the Party of Lincoln.  Starting in the 1930s, many Black voters began switching their allegiance from Republicans to Democrats, a shift that was thoroughly completed by the 1970s.  Code Switch explains why and how that happened.

1619 Project  

This podcast debuted in August to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in what would become the United States.  The 1619 Project, created by the New York Times and hosted by Nikole Hannah-Jones, explores how the legacy of slavery, segregation, and inequality have shaped American history.  There are 4 episodes so far and they are all excellent.


Running tally of 2019 Podcast of the Week appearances:

TOMORROW 9/24: Boston Preliminary Election #BosPoli #GOTV


All my readers who live in the city of Boston, please set aside the time to vote in the Boston Preliminary Election at your local polling place between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. Candidates are running for Boston City Council for At Large offices and in Districts Five, Seven, Eight, and Nine.  The other districts are sadly uncontested.  Your vote tomorrow will help decide which candidates advance to the General Election on Tuesday, November 5, 2019.  If you need help determining were to vote use this handy online tool.

Municipal elections are often overlooked in Boston allowing candidates who don’t represent the best interests of Boston’s people to gain off.  Please take the time to participate and make sure our city gets the best representation possible.  If you’re not sure who to vote for – and lord knows the local news media doesn’t help – here are some resources I’ve found with the candidates’ statements on various issues (note: I’m sharing these for informational purposes and not as an endorsement for any candidates).

If you find this post useful, please share it on social media, and encourage everyone you know to Get Out The Vote!

Podcasts of the Week Ending August 3


On the Media :: Repairing Justice: The Prosecutor

Prosecutors wield enormous power in the criminal justice system, contributing to racial inequality.  Can progressive prosecutors help with criminal justice reform?

Throughline :: Milliken v. Bradley

The effort to end school segregation by way of busing lead to this Supreme Court case decision that still affects our schools and communities to this day.

Throughline :: Huey Long vs. The Media

Louisiana’s most famous politician was loved and hated in equal measure. A populist who favored social programs, he also ruled in a dictatorial manner and carried out a long war against the free press.  Long seems to be an odd combination of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, and a fascinating figure in American history.

Tiny Desk Concert :: Lizzo

An electrifying performance at a tiny-ass desk by the great Lizzo.

Twenty Thousand Hertz :: 808

The story of the drum machine that changed popular music.

 

Running tally of 2019 Podcast of the Week appearances:

Podcasts of the Week Ending February 2nd


It’s all Boston politics this week!

Radio Boston :: In Boston, Is This A New Era For Criminal Justice?

For the first time in Boston’s history, all of the top law enforcement officials are people of color.  Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins, Boston Police Commissioner William Gross and Suffolk County Sheriff Steven Tompkins discuss how they will address criminal justice in Boston.

We Need Some Milk :: Bak 2 School w/ Kristin Johnson

An interview with one of Boston’s top parent activists for public education.


Running tally of Podcast of the Week appearances:

Book Review: Greed and Glory by Sean Deveney


Author:  Sean Deveney
TitleGreed and Glory: The Rise and Fall of Doc Gooden, Lawrence Taylor, Ed Koch, Rudy Giuliani, Donald Trump, and the Mafia in 1980s New York
Publication Info: Skyhorse Publishing (2018)
Summary/Review:

Sean Deveney follows up his book about New York City in the 1960s through the lens of local politics and sports, Fun City, with this book about New York City in the 1980s through the lens of local politics and sports.  Fun City focused on two figures, Mayor John Lindsay and Jets quarterback Joe Namath, both handsome, young men who rose to prominence alongside the 60s youth culture and offered the promise of a great future (for themselves and the city) but also had hubris that lead to colossal failures.  Greed and Glory, as evident by the extraordinarily long subtitle is not so focused.  Greed and Glory cuts from storyline to storyline with no clear theme, and often is not even arranged chronologically.

The sports angle is covered by the 1986 World Series champion New York Mets and 1987 Super Bowl champion New York Giants.  Star players Dwight Gooden for the Mets and Lawrence Taylor for the Giants each struggle with their celebrity in New York and each end up with cocaine addictions that mar their careers.  But Deveney just can’t seem to focus on these two players and what they mean to the larger story of New York in the 1980s, and instead spends a lot of time describing the experiences of other Mets and other Giants and play-by-plays of important games in their championship seasons.  And while this kind of narrative can be interesting, there are whole other books dedicated to these teams’ champion seasons, whereas this one promises and fails to tell a more relevant story of Gooden and Taylor in 1980s New York.

The other storylines focus on New York mayor Ed Koch as his third term is rocked by scandals among the Democratic party leaders throughout the city.  Future mayor Rudy Giuliani makes his mark as the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York by aggressively pursuing cases against the Mafia as well as the political corruption in the Koch administration.  And Donald Trump carries out a convoluted plot to get a NFL team and a domed stadium in Queens (paid for with other peoples’ money, naturally) by suing the NFL on behalf of the USFL.  The plan fails, but he somehow redeems himself by restoring the Wollman skating rink in Central Park.  Pretty much every sketchy detail of his character (and lack thereof) was evident in the 1980s, but for some reason people still decided to make him famous and then elect him President.  Ugh!

These storylines – if the Mets/Giants stories were excised – could almost make a good book, but there’s still too much and it just comes out messy. Granted, the 1980s in New York were a mess and it’s still difficult to make any sense of it.  Deveney doesn’t make a dent in that mess, but I will give him credit for at least making it a pageturner of a read, if ultimately too fluffy for its own good.

Recommended books:

  • The Bad Guys Won! A Season of Brawling, Boozing, Bimbo-chasing, and Championship Baseball with Straw, Doc, Mookie, Nails, The Kid, and the Rest of the 1986 Mets, the Rowdiest Team Ever to Put on a New York Uniform–and Maybe the Best by Jeff Pearlman
  • Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx Is Burning: 1977, Baseball, Politics, and the Battle for the Soul of a City by Jonathan Mahler
  • Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney
  • New York Calling : From Blackout to Bloomberg edited by Marshall Berman and Brian Berger.

Rating: **1/2

Book Reviews: A Colony in a Nation by Chris Hayes


Author: Chris Hayes
TitleA Colony in a Nation
Narrator: Chris Hayes
Publication Info: Recorded Books (2017)
Summary/Review:

Riffing off a phrase from Richard Nixon’s nomination speech, journalist Chris Hayes writes a series of essays about how African Americans have in fact become a “colony within a nation” in the decades since Nixon stressed the importance of law and order. The “colony” within the United States is denied the right people enjoy in the largely white “nation” and the nation is built on exploitation of the colony.  Issues covered include police violence against Black Americans, and systems of police enforcement driven by drawing revenue from largely Black populations, the War on Drugs, the militarization of police, white fear, and Broken Windows ideology. Hayes notes that the “nation” requires that the “order” part of “law and order” be prioritized and thus law is often used as a blunt instrument rather than a tool of justice.

Hayes’ strongest writing comes in the analogies he uses to explain his ideas.  The life for Black Americans in the colony is similar to Colonial Americans who rebelled against British rule.  While unjust taxation is often credited with starting the American Revolution, Hayes traces the history of excessive force used by the British in an attempt to stop smuggling and make the Colonials pay tariffs being the real source of division.  White fear that drives police officers and white gun owners to shoot Black people without thinking is similar to the siege mentality of early colonists living among Native Americans and slave owners who lived in constant fear that they’d be victims of violence from Native Americans and enslaved Africans.  The idea of how community policing may work in comparison with the increasingly militarized and punitive policing in America today is demonstrated by how college campuses are policed. Colleges have a considerable amount of disorder and a high level of law breaking that is tolerated and even encouraged in a way that is opposite of how a poor, urban neighborhood is treating.

This is a well-written and thoughtful book and a good one to read to reflect on current events and how we can change things for the better.

Recommended booksNobody by Marc Lamont Hill, Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander, When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors, The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein, and Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond
Rating: ****

 

Book Review: Fire on the Prairie by Gary Rivlin


AuthorGary Rivlin
TitleFire on the Prairie : Chicago’s Harold Washington and the Politics of Race
Publication Info: New York : H. Holt, 1992.
Summary/Review:

Harold Washington, the first Black mayor of Chicago, is center to this narrative of big city politics in the 1970s and 1980s.  Rivlin establishes the background by detailing the rise of machine politics under long-time mayor Richard J. Daley.  The Chicago machine makes what I know of similar operations in Boston and New York look like amateur hour, and machine politics persisted in Chicago under Daley decades after it died out in other cities.

While Daley was responsible for perpetuating the segregation and inequality of Black Chicagoans, he was also wise enough to bring leaders from Black wards into his machine, thus making it difficult for a reform candidate to gain support among Black voters.  In 1979, Daley protege Jane Byrne ran an anti-machine campaign for mayor and upon election turned her back on reformers and the Black community.  This set the stage for Harold Washington to make his historic run in 1983.

Rivlin details the ins and outs of the Democratic primary among Washington, Byrne, and the young Richard M. Daley, running for the first time to follow in his father’s footsteps.  After Washington squeaks out a primary victory, the Democrats failed to support his campaign in the general election, with many white voters rallying to lift up the previously moribund campaign of Washington’s Republican opponent.  With a massive turnout of Black voters and the help of Latin and some progressive white voters, Washington once again eked out a victory.

Jesse Jackson is an interesting figure in all of this as the most prominent African American leader in Chicago.  He proves to actually be somewhat unpopular among Black Chicagoans both for his shameless self-promotion (several times he tries to get himself into a prominent spot to be seen on tv with Washington during the campaign) and his lack of knowledge of local concerns.  Jackson actually performs poorly in the 1984 Democratic primary in Chicago compared to other Black Democratic cities.

The celebration of Washington’s victory was short as a block of 29 city councilor’s organized to oppose his every proposal.  The Council Wars dominate much of Washington’s first term. Many of the strategies used to disrupt Washington’s agenda are very similar to what Republicans would later do to Barack Obama.  The Black community is also frustrated by Washington’s commitment to reaching out to white Chicagoans and being “fairer than fair” rather helping them take the share of the spoils they’d been so long denied.

Nevertheless, Washington is able to make some progress and win a second term in 1987.  Sadly the momentum and the council majority were cut short by Washington’s sudden death in November 1987.

I was a bit disappointed that this book largely focuses on the political horse race.  I would’ve liked to learn more about Washington, his accomplishments, and legacy in Chicago.  Nevertheless, this is a compelling narrative of city politics and the racial conflicts of Chicago.

Recommended booksThe Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson, The Third Coast: When Chicago Built the American Dream by Thomas Dyja, and Eyes on the Prize by Juan Williams
Rating: ***1/2

MASSACHUSETTS: VOTE NOVEMBER 6th (or earlier)!!


Once again, I’m sending out a message to my fellow Bay Staters to get out and vote in the upcoming elections.  A Senate seat, congressional representatives, the governorship, and numerous state and local positions are up for the vote this year. We will will also be voting on three ballot measures.

  • Make sure to Register to Vote by October 17th!!!!
  • Visit My Election Information to see the candidates on the ballot in your district and find out where your polls are located.
  • Consider taking advantage of Early Voting. Early voting in Boston runs from October 22nd to November 2nd, and will be available in other Massachusetts’ communities as well.

When you get to the polls, please consider voting for Jay Gonzalez for Governor.  He is a progressive and will advocate for bold ideas to challenge great amount of inequality in the Commonwealth.  He is focused on supporting public education, repairing and expanding public transportation, improving healthcare (and cutting healthcare costs), and addressing serious environmental problems that contribute to climate change. As the national political scene deteriorates, it is ever more important that “blue states” mobilize to do what needs to be done to protect our people locally and be a model of progressive values.

Which is why Massachusetts definitely cannot continue under a Republican governor.  Charlie Baker is often presented as a moderate and is inordinately popular with Massachusetts Democrats, but he is still a Republican whose conservative ideology benefits the wealthy at the expense of the most vulnerable. Baker has refused to take a stance against the Trump Administration’s worst offenses, and in fact continues to fund raise money for Republicans that is funneled to Trump.  His “reform before revenue” plan for the MBTA has done nothing but allow public transit to further deteriorate.  His Board of Education chair Paul Sagan made illegal campaign contributions to efforts to privatize public education.  And Baker used taxpayer money to make a deal with General Electric, a company whose stock value is crashing and may never build their headquarters in Massachusetts, but will still cash in on Baker’s sweet deal.  Baker is not good for Massachusetts, don’t vote for him!

I also encourage you to vote YES on all three ballot measures:

  • Question 1 – Sets limits on the number of patients a nurse can be assigned to.  It is important that patients receive quality care and attention in Massachusetts’ hospitals and that nurses are not overextended.  I know a lot of nurses – some of the hardest working and compassionate people I know – and they all say to vote YES ON 1.
  • Question 2 – Creates citizens commission to advocate for changes to the U.S. Constitution regarding political spending and corporate personhood. It’s vital to begin to reverse the trend toward oligarchy and make our state and national government “of the people, by the people, for the people.” Vote YES ON 2.
  • Question 3 – Maintains a 2016 a law prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity. We shouldn’t ever have to vote on the basic human rights of any group of people, but since this question is on the ballot, I implore you to defend equality, dignity, and livelihoods for transgender people by voting YES ON 3.

Happy voting! Let’s all get out and vote for a better future for Massachusetts!

Book Review: The Poisoned City by Anna Clark


AuthorAnna Clark
TitleThe Poisoned City: Flint’s Water and the American Urban Tragedy
Publication Info: Metropolitan Books (2018)
Summary/Review:

I briefly knew Anna Clark when I used to volunteer at the Haley House in Boston and she was a member of the intentional community that lived there. Ever since she moved to Michigan I’ve followed her journalism career from afar.  She seems the perfect person to bring together a passion for social justice and the skills of journalism to documenting the water crisis in Flint, Michigan.

Clark tells the story from the perspective of the local activists who brought the problems with the water to light and the health and science experts who verified that the water was dangerous.  So much of the Flint water crisis is rooted in greed and indifference. The decision was made by the city’s emergency manager who was appointed by the governor to “run the city like a business” (a practice carried out in many Michigan cities leading to 53% of Michigan’s African American population living under non-elected local government).  The switch from Lake Huron water via Detroit to the backup system of the Flint River was purportedly to save money until a new regional water authority came online, although it is questionable if money was saved at all considering the costs of updating the local treatment plant.

While it’s often reported that the Flint River water is unhealthy, it turns out that water in the river and when it left the treatment plant was in fact clean.  But the different chemistry of the river water compared to lake water had a corrosive effect that leeched lead from the city’s ancient pipes and also promoted growth of infectious diseases.  The water authority failed to use the proper anti-corrosives to help prevent this from happening.  But the real scandal is that when residents complained of discolored and odoriferous water and the bad health effects, especially among children, the city and state officials refused to help and continued to claim there was no ill effects from the water.

In addition to thoroughly documenting the crisis, Clark also provides the historical background that shows why the water crisis inordinately affected Flint’s poorer residents, especially black and brown people.  The prosperous Flint of the mid-20th century was heavily segregated, with the effects of redlining and housing segregation still felt today. The movement of prosperous white families and corporations out of Flint was funded by disinvestment in the city itself.  And while medical experts have been aware of the poisonous nature of lead for centuries, that did not stop industry from making efforts to use lead – whether it be in gasoline or water pipes – and promote it as safe.

Poison City is a well-written book, and a very important book to read as Flint’s crisis is one that is happening or could happen in various ways in cities across the country.  It’s hard not to read this book without feeling rage, yet Clark finds hope in the community activists who fought to bring this issue to international attention, and continue to fight for clean water in Flint.

Recommended booksThe Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein, The new Jim Crow : mass incarceration in the age of colorblindness by Michelle Alexander, and Foul Ball by Jim Bouton
Rating: ****1/2