Review: Brecher’s Strike!

Ed Note: This review was orginally written for a now long defunct livejournal account. I’m reposting it here as part of a project to collect all my various writings in one place.

Jeremy Brecher
Strike! is one of those texts that is much better as a research aid than it is as something to actually sit down and read. It is, in my understanding, the most exhaustive history of labor unrest in the U.S. available as a popular publication detailing wildcat strikes both small and large. The breadth of the work, and the sheer number of actions covered gives you a real sense of how pervasive autonomous militant labor activity was in the U.S. especially in the tumultuous 1920s and 30s.

Though exhaustive in scope, the book is just not that well written and I found part of it a real slog. At times it reads like a laundry list. In Flint, a sit down strike; in Akron, a lock out; in Seattle, a general strike, etc etc etc. Before reading this I wouldn’t think you could turn out a history of labor in America that is so lacking in life. Those were exciting times, but reading Strike! I sometimes had difficulty staying awake.

If you’re interested in the American labor movement, you’re going to want this one on your shelf, though perhaps not to read cover to cover.

Recommended for the enthusiast.

*Note I read Strike in a now out of print edition (I think the same edition from which this pdf was made). It is now available in a new edition from AK Press, which, for all I know, might be better.

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Review: Kant’s Ground Work for the Metaphysical

Ed Note: This was orginally posted to a now defunct livejournal in 2007. I’m moving it and over 100 other reviews over to this site.
Kant: Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals (Cambridge Texts in the History of Philosophy)
Immanuel Kant

If you’re interested in Kantian ethics, and you’re going to read one like this. The man himself is, in my opinion extremely difficult to muscle through. Kant’s ethical ideas when distilled down are actually straight forward and clear. But getting there from his writings is real work.

Still, if you’re going to wrestle with Mr. Obtuse, then this, or the preface to the Critique of Pure Reason, are where you should turn.

Anyway, this one is like Mill. What’s there to say about one of the most important philosopher’s in history? His ethical theory is pretty hard to argue with (you know the drill, don’t use people as tools; universalize ethical maxims and see if they create a contradiction, etc) and seem almost self-evident on first impression. Of course, in practice, they’re impossible for anyone to live fully and are subject to manipulation (i.e I can frame the ethical maxim to allow for exceptions to my own behavior; I can frame my use of another person as assistance, not exploitation).

But isn’t that true of all ethics?

I’ve never seen a fool proof guide to an ethical life. Kant comes pretty close.
Recommended for the Enthusiast.

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Review: The Davinci Code

Ed Note: This review originally appears in a now defunct livejournal account in 2007.

The Da Vinci Code
Dan Brown
challenges, to forget. Sometimes what you need after a hard week is Jack Reacher setting the world right and getting the girl. There is nothing to be embarrassed about in enjoying that. There may, however, be something embarrassing about having read the Da Vinci Code.

It is horrible. The writer is awful, the characters poorly drawn and the plot so out-of-this-world unbelievable that not even I, reader of monsters in space science fiction, could stomach it. .

I suppose part of the reason this became such a phenomenon was the conspiracy angle.. Here you’ve got the Jesus, you got the blasphemy and pervy S&M monks bent on world domination. Maybe that’s the appeal – to read about something that transgresses basic Christian belief yet it so incredibly implausible that no one would give it any credence.

By now you know the basic plot of the book – Jesus married! His descendants live! It’s a conspiracy theory that’s been around for whole. In fact, much of this is taken from Holy Blood, Holy Grail a book I read as a teenager that left a strangely deep impression on me. (Holy Blood, Holy Grail is also not a very good book, by the way, but I’ll take it over this trash any day. ) Its juicy stuff, and could be done much, much better in the hands of oh, say, Umberto Echo. But here’s its played for cheap thrills and pushed forward with the worst sort of “as you know Bob” explanation. It’s really unforgivable that this thing was a bestseller.

America, I will never understand thee.

Not recommended.

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Review: Mill’s Utilitarianism


John Stuart Mill

How do you review a basic text of every undergraduate ethics course*? It seems silly.

“Utilitarianism – pretty decent if you’re into canonical texts of the western philosophyical tradition”

Look, if you want to be well read, you have to read this one, kids. You don’t have to like it, but you have to read it. I like Mill. I like the rigor and clarity of his writing and though not a perfect man he was way ahead of the curve on individual rights, and I’m pretty into individual rights.

A personal note: utilitarianism, as a personal philosophy, was very popular amongst my hyper practical fellow Brooklyn College* philosophy students. Anything that could be seen as a calculation designed to get maximum benefits for the maximum number of people resonated with them. Of course Utilitarianism can lead on to some awful conclusions (you know the drill, toss 100 babies in the ocean to save 101 babies for example), but those kind of arguments and the fact that, at base, utilitarianism isn’t really a ethical theory, but rather a prescription for running an orderly society and (perhaps) a precursor to fascism, didn’t bother most of my classmates. That it didn’t bother them drove my Kantian ethics professor up the fucking wall. That was amusing. It can be enlightening to read philosophy at 8 o’cocl at night on a Tuesday with a room full of grown-ups desperate for a degree and pay raise. Puts a unique spin on things.


*A personal note: I went to college, at night, at the City University of New York, in my late twenties.


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Review: Sedgwick’s Against the Modern World: Traditionalism and the Secret Intellectual History of the Twentieth Century

Ed note: this review was written years ago for a now defunct livejournal account.

<a href=””>Against the Modern World: Traditionalism and the Secret Intellectual History of the Twentieth Century</a><img src=”; width=”1″ height=”1″ border=”0″ alt=”” style=”border:none !important; margin:0px !important;” />

Mark Sedgwick

I never said I had refined tastes. Anytime a book has got “secret” and “intellectual history” in the subtitle, I am definitely interested. Hell, I’ll even overlook pretty poor writing if the subject matter is worthwhile.

Traditionalism is an interesting idea. Basically it’s a combination of the sort of standard new age idea that all the world’s religions share a single basic kernel of truth coupled with a fascistic hatred for the corruption of the modern capitalistic world and a distrust for the average person. Add in a bunch of masons and western sufis, and it makes for an interesting mix.

As with most of these fringe intellectual movements, there’s a kernel of truth in their somewhere (indeed fairly mainstream thinkers like Huston Smith could be aligned with teh movement). But, as is often the case, that kernel is deeply buried under horrific politics (Julius Evola, a writer some closely aligned with the movement has been a major figure in post-war fascism) and bad personal behavior (you get the whiff of personality cults surrounding a number of the major players here).

All in all, its an interesting if ill defined movement. And this is an interesting read — if out-there intellectual movements are your thing. They’re definitely my thing and I enjoyed it. That said, it need to be noted that the writing is pretty poor. Sedwick identifies far to many people as “pivotal to the history of traditionalist thought” and way to many ideas are “key”.

Paragraphs tend to wander and the point can sometime be hard to pull out. However, as anyone who read much on a fringes knows, poor writing is the price we often pay for coverage of the murkier edges of intellectual life.

Recommended for the enthusiast.

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Totals for the Week Ending 8.30.2015

Run Miles for the week: 42.4 in 7:12:40
Run Miles for the year: 995.6
Projected total run miles for the year: 1495.4
Weekly/Daily Average to reach 2k miles 58.5/8.4
Run Streak: 0
Did I hit every session of 18/55? N
What did I miss? One easy recovery run
Runs that were one stupid mile: 0
Days until I beat my old run streak: n/a
Prospect Park loops for the week: 6
Prospect Park loops for the year: 72
Bike Miles for the Week: 0
Bike Miles for the Year: 440.7
Projected total bike miles for the year: 662
Weekly/Daily average to reach 2k bike miles: 90.3/12.9
Swim Meters for the Week 1750
Swim Meters for the Year 8200
Body Weight Work: 0
Total Exercise Time: ~7:12:00
Average Weight: 175
Books Finished: 2 (The Argonauts, Maggie Nelson; Vegan Before Six, Mark Bitmann)
Books by Women: 1
Total Books for the Year: 37
Total Books by Women: 16
Percentage of total books by women: 43.24
Books per week to reach 52 ~.8

Notes: I missed a number of these, which sucks. But here were are. About 8 weeks out from New York and feeling pretty good, all things considered. Did a hard workout on Saturday 16 miles, 10 at marathon pace, which left with me a bit of heat exhaustion and/or dehydration. Either way, I was wrecked. This week is a scheduled cut back week. I intend to do some more easy cycling and finally once again work in a bit of body weight work. After this easy week, it’s the height of marathon training. Excited.

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Review: Lewis’s The Money Culture

The Money Culture
Michael Lewis

I love me some Michael Lewis, and I have confessed here before a pleasure in the business tell all book. Michael Lewis wrote one of the genre, Liar’s Poker. This collection of pieces written right before and after Liar’s Poker is all right, but not his best work.

I have a high tolerance for bad writing if I am interested in the subject manner, but even I had a hard time getting through some of the early pieces in here about the excesses of Wall Street or the inherent stupidity of American Express. Perhaps Lewis had to get all this poor sophomoric writing out of his system before he could write decent sophomoric books. If Money Culture is what it takes to get to Moneyball, so be it.

Don’t bother with this one, read Liar’s Poker and his book on baseball Moneyball. They won’t change your life or deeply inform how you relate to the world, but they are more worthy of your time.

Not Recommended. 

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