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Jewish Noir & The Very Dark Egg Cream


 
Mystery Playground
October 2nd, 2015

Kenneth Wishnia, editor of Jewish Noir, and Meryl Zegarek have joined forces to bring us the perfect drink for Jewish Noir, Contemporary Tales of Crime and Other Dark Deeds. Read on...


Description of book:
Jewish Noir edited by Kenneth Wishnia is a collection of new stories by some of the best-known crime writers examining the re-emergence of noir in our culture, with a Jewish point of view. This unique collection has stories by Jewish literary and genre writers including award-winning authors such as Marge Piercy, Harlan Ellison, S.J. Rozan, Nancy Richler, Moe Prager (Reed Farrel Coleman), Wendy Hornsby, Charles Ardai and Kenneth Wishnia. The stories range from noirish literary to pulpier crime stories and examine a myriad of issues. There are also a few stories by non-Jewish writers, illustrating that you don't need to be Jewish to write Jewish Noir.  And you don't need to be Jewish to appreciate our drink.

Why pair this drink and this book:
The stories in this collection explore the question of how Jewish identity produces a particular tendency toward the cynical voice of noir. What could be more Jewish than the egg cream, a creation of NYC’s Jewish immigrant with a shady history. Brooklyn candy store owner Louis Auster is commonly cited as the inventor of the egg cream.  It is said he created it in the late 1890s and would go to great lengths to make the chocolate syrup in the back of his store with the windows blacked out. He even took his secret recipe to the grave! His drink had neither cream nor eggs, and it was an instant hit; on a hot day his shop could sell 3,000 to thirsty customers.

But as with many things Jewish, and noir, there is another side to the story.

Retired professor of sociology Daniel Bell disputes this claim, and argues that his Uncle Hymie invented the egg cream in the 1920s at his candy store on the Lower East Side, and he used both cream and eggs in it, but dropped those ingredients during the Depression to lower the price.

Whoever invented the egg cream, it remains a cherished drink. We have added chocolate vodka to our version, making it dark and ultimately more devious.

Recipe:
Fill a tall glass with 1/3 cup of Fox's U-Bet Chocolate Syrup (of if you can't find U-Bet any quality chocolate syrup)
Add 1/4 cup milk  
Add seltzer to fill the glass to the top
Add one shot of chocolate vodka
Garnish with whipped cream and sprinkles
Stir right before drinking.

Enjoy with a straw, always. Unless you want a white mustache!

(photo above taken by MZPR)

Buy Jewish Noir | Buy the e-Book of Jewish Noir | Back to Ken Wishnia's Author Page




Sport for development and change through activism

By Russell Holden
Idrottsforum
October 1st, 2015

As the worst European refugee crisis since 1945 continues to unfold, one of the few pleasing aspects of the horrors confronting the swathes of humanity advancing westward has been the engagement of increasing elements of European football with the plight of those escaping persecution and economic impoverishment. The displays of solidarity from football clubs ranging in size from Bayern Munich, to Swindon Town and Dulwich Hamlet confirms the view persuasively argued by Gabriel Kuhn in his new work Playing as if the World Mattered, that not all sport, be it team or individually based, is endemically scarred by commercialism, corruption and what he terms reckless competition.

Organised sport has long managed to have both administrators and activists who have sought to use it as a vehicle for promoting social change, dating back to the emergence of the workers’ sports movement in the early twentieth century, whilst more recently utilising the American Civil Rights and the Anti-Apartheid movements as stimuli for generating progressive change. As well as producing larger than life figures, social change has seen sports fans increasingly reclaiming the games they worship from undemocratic associations and national federations as well as greedy owners and corporate interests. However, much work is still needed, most notably within the realms of international football and cricket.

Kuhn’s analysis of how, rather than why, sport is a key social force in shaping political change is based on a three-fold analysis. Yet, by far the most interesting and revealing section is the concluding chapter, which outlines today’s grassroots and community sports movement. His analysis incorporates elements of community organisation, ethics and direct democracy as well as highlighting the increasing weakness of many sport organisations as portrayed by campaigning journalists.

The analysis opens with a retracing of the workers’ sport movement, which he correctly asserts was the most radical attempt at changing the entire characteristics of sports on a grand scale. The movement was not only a key part of the proletarian culture of the time, but it also granted the worker more influence than other worker organisations as it provided real manifestations of the ideals being projected notably through organisations such as The German Workers Cyclists Association. This body became not only one of the biggest workers’ sports organisations maintaining its own bike factory, workshops, inns, cottages and insurance systems; in 1928 it became central to the newly constituted Sozialistiche Arbeiter-Sport-Internationale (SASI). Yet by 1945 its infrastructure had been destroyed and its successor the Confederation Sportive Internationale Travailiste et Amateur (CSIT) never developed a high profile, culminating in its demise with recognition granted by the International Olympic Committee in 1986.

However, at times it is not entirely clear what audience Kuhn is hoping to secure as very specific detail sits alongside some elementary facts.

Kuhn next moves on to portraying the role of sport in the civil rights struggle, demonstrating how athletes, managers, fans and journalists have attempted to influence sport. Whereas chapter one focused largely on organisations, here Kuhn chooses to focus far more on the role of individuals and only latterly on events and institutions. In so doing, he charts the actions of athletes Jackie Robinson and Roberto Clemente and journalists Lester Rodney and CLR James, before considering anti-colonialism and the political and social unrest of 1968 and its impact on the Olympics and Anti-Apartheid movement. Unfortunately this part of the book reads more like a catalogue of information, making the assumption that the reader is lacking substantial basic knowledge, as opposed to taking the opportunity to offer more insight into the repercussions of these key developments.

However, the concluding element of Kuhn’s analysis is the most interesting. The phenomenon of progressive supports culture most notably, though not exclusively evident in football (he quotes instances from hockey) is a key factor for grassroots democracy and healthy community ties in sports as demonstrated in fans efforts in the creation and the emergence of FC United, FC Wimbledon, Austria Salzburg and Hapoel Kaatamon Jerusalem. Evidence of self management, autonomy and the production of a DIY-zines as opposed to blogs helps to guarantee readership in the stands in addition to fan loyalty.

The volume’s immediacy and reach is extended by its use of a large number of full-colour illustrations which give the work a unique selling point . For some, the imagery will be sufficient to generate a purchase whilst opportunities for further engagement and exploration is assisted by an extensive resource list (though no detailed bibliography is evident) thus making this slim, yet enjoyable publication both accessible and affordable. However, at times it is not entirely clear what audience Kuhn is hoping to secure as very specific detail sits alongside some elementary facts. Though it is wise to try to combine the needs of the scholar and the lay reader, both would have benefited from more attention being given to matters such as women’s sport beyond cheerleading and roller derby, as well as to disability sport. Most critical of all is the meagre attention devoted to the actions of player activists such as cricketers Andy Flower and Henry Olonga, rugby footballers David Pocock and Josh Kronfeld, and footballers Socrates and Robbie Fowler.

However, the most pressing exclusion in this publication is the discussion around the discourse of why some sports and some sporting nations are more engaged with activism and the promotion of progressive change, whist others remain either silent, or lack a dynamic purpose in seeking to extend themselves to a wider and more inclusive audience, be it through social justice campaigns such as ridding teams of culturally offensive names and mascots in American sport (Washington Redskins and the Chicago BlackHawks) or in more directly confronting issues such as homophobia.

Although, as Kuhn correctly maintains,the intention is not to weigh down the pleasure and excitement of sport with political and moral baggage, the task of illustrating how sport can weave its magic as a tool for promoting change and fighting tyranny is a message that has to be taken to the masses. Kuhn has provided a very useful starting point, but the key is to ensure that the essence of his agenda is discussed widely within new and old media so that the mainstream sports fan reflects more on the reasons behind why a myriad of migrants and small number of refugees increasingly populate our favourite and least favourite teams, though not their management structures.

Buy book now | Download e-book now | Back to Gabriel Kuhn's homepage




Calling All Heroes reviewed in Upside Down World

 By Ramor Ryan
Upside Down World

October 2nd, 2015

Book Review: Calling All Heroes, A Manual For Taking Power by Paco Ignacio Taibo II, Translated by Gregory Nipper, (Heroés convocados © 1982 by Paco Ignacio Taibo II), Published by PM Press.

On the night of October 2, 1968, 10 days before the Olympics in Mexico, Mexican security forces opened fire on a student demonstration in Tlatelolco plaza, killing and wounding hundreds of protesters. Over a thousand were detained, many of them tortured and disappeared. The powerful protest movement was crushed and the Tlatelolco massacre covered up by the government as quickly as they washed the blood from the streets. In a state of complete impunity, nobody from the ruling administration or the military was ever held accountable.

Paco Taibo’s brilliant novel Calling All Heroes is placed in the aftermath of the massacre and is about coping with political tragedy. Taibo was an activist in the huge civil and student movement demanding democratic change in a country ruled then (as now) by the authoritarian PRI (Institutionalized Revolutionary Party), later described as “the perfect dictatorship.” In a previous book, entitled ’68 (Seven Stories Press, 2004), Taibo presented the events in non-fiction form, but in this volume, the writer employs his creative imagination to pen an absurdist novel merging the melancholy of the defeated participants with a preposterous but satisfying revenge fantasy. Taibo describes the work as “a vendetta, dealing with Power by other means.”

While there is much discourse on the tactics and strategy of uprisings and revolutions, and plenty of literature produced in the wake of successful social movements and popular insurrections, the aftermath of defeat is often neglected. Taibo’s novel, then, dwells in the psychogeography of the space-time of the vanquished.

Thus, two years after the massacre, our protagonist Nestor, like the moribund political movement, lies prostrate on a hospital bed. His mind moves deliriously upon the insurrectionary events of 1968, trying desperately to reconstruct and comprehend all that has happened. Through correspondence and bedside visitors, we learn the fate of Nestor’s former comrades: the political prisoners languishing in the dungeons of Lecumberri, the exiles that fled the ensuing repression, the ones that went crazy, the suicides. And then there are those that went underground, continuing to organize in clandestinity - more of them later.

Nestor recalls the euphoric heights of the student movement—then in the 123rd day of a strike, supported by workers’ and farmers’ unions— when “hope for future fulfillment” seemed immanently possible. And then how the sudden crushing violence of the state forced the activists to “take refuge inside ourselves and in a bleak militancy.” Nestor notes how a few of the students “persist in behaving as if nothing had happened.” Deluded and in denial, they continue “in acting as if things were not in decline. A small militant division has taken over The Movement, and a handful of cadres have dominated a once-broad militancy.” Others are lost and confused: “I am tired of chasing the wind” writes one burnt-out activist. The general mood is despondent and bleak.

All Power to the Imagination

At this forlorn juncture, Taibo’s novel takes off. How to combat despair? Nestor invokes the ‘68 slogan, Be realistic: Demand the impossible! by conjuring up a pantheon of heroes from his youth to put things  right. Soon enough, characters like Sherlock Holmes, Doc Holliday, the Four Musketeers and the Kenyan revolutionary Mau-Mau are arriving in Mexico City and creating havoc for the authorities. This exhilarating leap into the absurd has echoes of the magical realism of other Latin American writer luminaries such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Isabel Allende, a genre that can be hit or miss according to the tastes of the reader. Nevertheless, there is no denying the atavistic sense of satisfaction felt as justice is meted out to the perpetrators of the massacre. Torturers get sliced by Byzantine scimitars, and the antiriot police fall under the hooves of the insurrectionary Light Brigade from the Battle of Balaclava. The Mau-Mau lose themselves in the maze of Tenochtitlan to later emerge and take Lecumberri prison, releasing all the prisoners and hanging the guards. Women don’t figure much in Taibo’s Boy's Own imaginary revolt, but a female hospital assistant does get to heroically save the day as she takes down two secret police attempting to apprehend Nestor.

All this rip-roaring adventure and revenge fantasy serves not only to titillate but also to fill the space of what lies in-between: in-between the defeat, and the resurgence. Nestor recovers, puts on his jacket, and filled with the phantasmagoria of his cast of pantomime heroes, takes off.

Where are you going? they ask him.

Casablanca, he replies.

Why Casablanca?

To return someday, he says.

What Is Left Unsaid

Readers may notice the striking similarities in the prose style of Calling All Heroes with writings of the illustrious scribe of the Zapatistas, Subcomandante Marcos. Marcos is a fan of Paco Taibo, and employs similar literary devices and absurd inventiveness; indeed the two co-penned the political thriller The Uncomfortable Dead (2006). Not one of Taibo’s finest moments, the book nevertheless represents one more intellectual link between the ’68 generation and the contemporary Zapatistas. In Calling All Heroes, Taibo mentions comrades who removed themselves to the city of Monterrey to organize clandestinely. By 1971, the presence of the new guerrilla nuclei, the FLN (Forces of National Liberation) was registered in the city. The origins of the Chiapas-based EZLN (Zapatista Army of National Liberation) lie in the FLN and--we may extrapolate--the ‘68 generation. As Nestor had promised, they would return someday, and this is one manifestation of that.

The themes of revolutionary defeat and redemption in Calling All Heroes resonate strongly with contemporary struggles from Occupy to the Arab Spring, perhaps most poignantly in the aftermath of the Tahrir Square uprising. Within Mexico itself, one can’t help but think of the 43 students from the Rural Teachers School in Ayotzinapa, disappeared and presumed murdered in September, 2014. Like Tlatelolco, it was the state that perpetrated the violence in Ayotzinapa. And like Tlatelolco, the hope is that new powerful social movements will emerge from the carnage.

In between, as Paco Taibo teaches us in this invigorating book, there remains the space for the imagination to take control.

Ramor Ryan is author of Zapatista Spring (AK Press 2011) and Clandestines: The Pirate Journals of an Irish Exile (AK Press 2006).

Buy this book now | Download e-Book now | Back to author homepage




New Forms of Worker Organization reviewed in Labor Studies Journal

By Steve Early
Labor Studies Journal
Vol 40(1)


Ness, Immanuel, ed. New Forms of Worker Organization: The Syndicalist and Autonomist Restoration of Class-struggle Unionism. Oakland, CA: PM Press, 2014. 319 pp. $24.95 (paper).

Reviewed by: Steve Early, TNG/CWA Local 39521, Richmond, CA, USA

In a 2013 speech, AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka declared that our “system of work- place representation is failing to meet the needs of America’s workers.” To address this problem, Trumka endorsed “new models for organizing workers.” He pledged AFL- CIO support for “any worker or group of workers who wants to organize and build power in the workplace,” even if that activity doesn’t culminate in a signed union contract.

As radical historian Staughton Lynd notes in his forward to New Forms of Worker Organization (p. v), “alternative unionism” is now on everyone’s agenda—and not just in the United States. For longtime AFL-CIO critics like Lynd or sociologist Stanley Aronowitz, this represents vindication of a sort. They have long argued that union building should not be defined—or deformed—by legal certification, employer recognition, or post–Wagner Act collective bargaining agreements (never complete without a no-strike clause). Nevertheless, it’s not clear how many of our current “alt- labor” experiments—even those utilizing protest strikes—will actually produce what Lynd calls a “qualitatively different practice” of unionism, based on “horizontal rather than vertical” organizational structures (p. xii).

The strength of this eclectic collection lies in its showcasing of labor organizing, often little known, from around the world. Emmanuel Ness, a professor at Brooklyn College and editor of WorkingUSA, brings together examples of labor insurgency on four continents, some of it fairly large scale. The book’s contributors include shopfloor organizers for the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and many others engaged in alternative union formation or agitation in South Africa, India, China, Australia, Argentina, Russia, Sweden, Madagascar, and Colombia.

In his introduction and a concluding essay, Ness argues that the fight against “bureaucratic unions” is a cross-border imperative, just as important to workers in the former Soviet Union as it is to an increasingly disillusioned South African working class. During the anti-apartheid struggle, black-led unions and the broader liberation movement were long influenced by a Communist Party cadre within the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and African National Congress (ANC). Today, the neoliberal ANC, COSATU affiliates like the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), and their Communist Party allies face a labor revolt from below in mining and other industries.

As Cape Town labor educator Shawn Hattingh documents, South African miners began resorting to wildcat strikes and workplace occupations in 2009. When they pro- tested unfair pay and unsafe conditions, NUM officials joined mine owners in calling for police intervention, which led to the massacre of thirty-four strikers at Marikana in 2012. In response, reports Hattingh, “mass workers’ assemblies and committees have sprung up,” which “ have united workers across unions, drawn in nonunionized work- ers, including the unemployed and community members” (p. 113).

Two of the book’s most timely case studies describe fast food and service worker organizing, where left-led independent unions took the lead. Erik Forman, a young veteran of IWW campaigns at Starbucks and Jimmy John’s, a nationwide fast food chain, provides a vivid account of inside committee building and collective action at nine Jimmy John’s locations in Minneapolis.

Jack Kirkpatrick, an IWW activist in Britain, chronicles London-wide campaigning by building cleaners, many of them immigrants. In his story of “twenty-first century solidarity unionism,” Kirkpatrick similarly provides many inspiring examples of rank- and-file “leadership development through education on the job, empowerment through direct action, and ‘self-ownership’ of that action” (p. 257).

The Forman and Kirkpatrick chapters are, by themselves, worth the price of the book, particularly for organizers involved in Our Walmart, the “Fight for Fifteen,” and workers’ center activity in other low-wage sectors. Readers less enthused about the “syndicalist and autonomist” tradition than Ness and his contributors will still find New Forms of Worker Organization to be an invaluable resource, widening our hori- zons about union models, old and new.

Can recent experiments with alternative forms of organizing, such as worker centers and minority strikes, offer a solution to the labor movement’s long half-century of decline?

Racked by globalization, union-busting, and weak legal protections, unions in the U.S. have fallen from representing 35 percent of the working population in the 1950s to 12 percent today. Other countries have seen similar trends.

An excellent new book, New Forms of Worker Organization: The Syndicalist and Autonomist Restoration of Class-Struggle Unionism, presents examples of present-day organizing around the world—inside and outside of unions.

What these efforts have in common is an approach that editor Immanuel Ness calls “autonomous worker organizing,” which is largely a renewal of an old form of unionism called syndicalism. He promotes it as the best way forward for labor, in the U.S. and globally.

Revival of Syndicalism?

Syndicalism arose in late 19th-century Europe as a more revolutionary alternative to the traditional unions of the time. Its goals were to improve working conditions in the near term, while organizing in the long run to overthrow capitalism.

It’s characterized by a participatory structure, use of direct action in the workplace, embrace of class struggle, rejection of electoral politics, the organizing of general strikes, and advocacy of workers’ control of production. This model rejects any partnership between workers and bosses, and sees the government as on the bosses’ side, not a neutral party.

The new book’s case studies take place in Italy, China, Russia, India, South Africa, Madagascar, Colombia, Argentina, Sweden, Australia, the U.S., and England. Most have a militancy that’s lacking in many traditional union fights. For instance, they use wildcat strikes and occupations. Ness suggests these diverse efforts share some of the core principles of syndicalism, particularly member-initiated direct action in the workplace.

The book’s U.S. example is fascinating: a detailed, firsthand account by a worker who participated in the Industrial Workers of the World fast food organizing campaign at Jimmy John’s in the Twin Cities.

The campaign demonstrates the IWW’s “solidarity unionism” model. Without relying on union staff, workers run their own campaign, developing demands and using direct action tactics to fight for them. Jimmy John’s workers created an organizing committee, listed their demands, stopped work, marched on the boss, picketed and occupied the store, published a campaign website, ran a campaign for paid sick days—and over time, made improvements to wages and working conditions.

They also held a National Labor Relations Board-supervised union election, which they narrowly lost after a union-busting campaign by the boss. This raised questions among workers about the utility of the established procedures for organizing.

Bottom-Up Organizing

In many of the book’s case studies, nonunion workers organized independently because of disinterest or hostility from established unions. In others, though workers were unionized, their unions didn’t offer adequate channels to resolve their workplace grievances, so they had to take their own initiative.

Official unions often did little to help the workers, and sometimes even worked to undermine them. This was true in the chapters about several groups of auto workers—at Honda in China, Ford in Russia, and Suzuki in India. Despite the opposition of the official All-China Federation of Trade Unions, the Honda workers held a successful and high-profile strike for better wages, inspiring actions at many other plants.

When mineworkers in South Africa launched a wave of wildcat strikes and sit-ins, they faced interference from the National Union of Mineworkers on top of severe repression from the government, which killed dozens of workers in the mining town of Marikana.

Workers organizing independently within mainstream unions are covered in chapters on the militant subway workers caucus within the transportation union in Argentina and on workplace takeovers in the construction, garment, and mining industries in Australia. Workers took over the construction site at the famous Sydney Opera House and ran it for over a month—with greater productivity. They won higher pay and shorter hours.

Two chapters discuss autonomous workers’ movements or organizations that cross industries within a country: the Confederazione dei Comitati di Base (Cobas) in Italy and the SAC syndicalist federation in Sweden.

This book provides a great overview of the non-traditional part of the global labor movement, which needs more attention. A common thread: workers are building power in ways that rely on worker initiative and solidarity, not on formal legal certification or union contracts.

It raises crucial questions about the role of rank-and-file power in a union revival, and offers a challenge to traditional union practices.

Much-Needed Spark

To solve the labor movement’s problems, first you have to understand their origins. In the U.S., mainstream unionists tend to believe the era after the 1935 enactment of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) was a golden age for organizing.

That law is seen as a progressive breakthrough that protected workers’ rights to organize and bargain collectively. In this version of the story, our current troubles are the result of a renewed corporate anti-union offensive begun in the ’70s and ’80s, coupled with a lack of enforcement of labor rights.

If that’s true, then the solution is reformed labor law and better enforcement. But Ness ends the book with a compelling essay that critiques this traditional understanding.

He sees the NLRA as a loss for the labor movement. It created a bureaucratized industrial relations system that stifled workers’ initiative and militancy on the shop floor. Unions traded away their disruptive rank-and-file power for an NLRA that shackled unions as contract administrators and eventually enabled their decline.

Ness shares the syndicalist view that disrupting production is what makes employers yield. Empowered workers should be free to stop work at any time, not hindered by the no-strike clauses and multi-step grievance procedures contained in most union contracts. Without this kind of militancy, he believes, there’s little chance of a revived labor movement.

If Ness is correct, the initiatives the U.S. labor movement has developed over the last few decades—more resources for new organizing, better corporate campaigns, increased turnout for elections—will not be enough. Instead, to make room for the widespread, combative workplace activism we need, unions will have to rethink our attitude toward rank-and-file power.

Of course this is risky. Strikes are often hard to win. Workers can usually be fired easily, no matter how organizing is done or who does it. But the resurgence of a participatory, syndicalist approach to organizing could provide a much-needed spark for labor.

Eric Dirnbach is a union staffer and labor activist in New York City.

- See more at: http://www.labornotes.org/blogs/2014/10/review-alt-labor-or-not-it-will-take-rank-and-file-power-revive-us#sthash.pEZlw0kP.dpuf

Can recent experiments with alternative forms of organizing, such as worker centers and minority strikes, offer a solution to the labor movement’s long half-century of decline?

Racked by globalization, union-busting, and weak legal protections, unions in the U.S. have fallen from representing 35 percent of the working population in the 1950s to 12 percent today. Other countries have seen similar trends.

An excellent new book, New Forms of Worker Organization: The Syndicalist and Autonomist Restoration of Class-Struggle Unionism, presents examples of present-day organizing around the world—inside and outside of unions.

What these efforts have in common is an approach that editor Immanuel Ness calls “autonomous worker organizing,” which is largely a renewal of an old form of unionism called syndicalism. He promotes it as the best way forward for labor, in the U.S. and globally.

Revival of Syndicalism?

Syndicalism arose in late 19th-century Europe as a more revolutionary alternative to the traditional unions of the time. Its goals were to improve working conditions in the near term, while organizing in the long run to overthrow capitalism.

It’s characterized by a participatory structure, use of direct action in the workplace, embrace of class struggle, rejection of electoral politics, the organizing of general strikes, and advocacy of workers’ control of production. This model rejects any partnership between workers and bosses, and sees the government as on the bosses’ side, not a neutral party.

The new book’s case studies take place in Italy, China, Russia, India, South Africa, Madagascar, Colombia, Argentina, Sweden, Australia, the U.S., and England. Most have a militancy that’s lacking in many traditional union fights. For instance, they use wildcat strikes and occupations. Ness suggests these diverse efforts share some of the core principles of syndicalism, particularly member-initiated direct action in the workplace.

The book’s U.S. example is fascinating: a detailed, firsthand account by a worker who participated in the Industrial Workers of the World fast food organizing campaign at Jimmy John’s in the Twin Cities.

The campaign demonstrates the IWW’s “solidarity unionism” model. Without relying on union staff, workers run their own campaign, developing demands and using direct action tactics to fight for them. Jimmy John’s workers created an organizing committee, listed their demands, stopped work, marched on the boss, picketed and occupied the store, published a campaign website, ran a campaign for paid sick days—and over time, made improvements to wages and working conditions.

They also held a National Labor Relations Board-supervised union election, which they narrowly lost after a union-busting campaign by the boss. This raised questions among workers about the utility of the established procedures for organizing.

Bottom-Up Organizing

In many of the book’s case studies, nonunion workers organized independently because of disinterest or hostility from established unions. In others, though workers were unionized, their unions didn’t offer adequate channels to resolve their workplace grievances, so they had to take their own initiative.

Official unions often did little to help the workers, and sometimes even worked to undermine them. This was true in the chapters about several groups of auto workers—at Honda in China, Ford in Russia, and Suzuki in India. Despite the opposition of the official All-China Federation of Trade Unions, the Honda workers held a successful and high-profile strike for better wages, inspiring actions at many other plants.

When mineworkers in South Africa launched a wave of wildcat strikes and sit-ins, they faced interference from the National Union of Mineworkers on top of severe repression from the government, which killed dozens of workers in the mining town of Marikana.

Workers organizing independently within mainstream unions are covered in chapters on the militant subway workers caucus within the transportation union in Argentina and on workplace takeovers in the construction, garment, and mining industries in Australia. Workers took over the construction site at the famous Sydney Opera House and ran it for over a month—with greater productivity. They won higher pay and shorter hours.

Two chapters discuss autonomous workers’ movements or organizations that cross industries within a country: the Confederazione dei Comitati di Base (Cobas) in Italy and the SAC syndicalist federation in Sweden.

This book provides a great overview of the non-traditional part of the global labor movement, which needs more attention. A common thread: workers are building power in ways that rely on worker initiative and solidarity, not on formal legal certification or union contracts.

It raises crucial questions about the role of rank-and-file power in a union revival, and offers a challenge to traditional union practices.

Much-Needed Spark

To solve the labor movement’s problems, first you have to understand their origins. In the U.S., mainstream unionists tend to believe the era after the 1935 enactment of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) was a golden age for organizing.

That law is seen as a progressive breakthrough that protected workers’ rights to organize and bargain collectively. In this version of the story, our current troubles are the result of a renewed corporate anti-union offensive begun in the ’70s and ’80s, coupled with a lack of enforcement of labor rights.

If that’s true, then the solution is reformed labor law and better enforcement. But Ness ends the book with a compelling essay that critiques this traditional understanding.

He sees the NLRA as a loss for the labor movement. It created a bureaucratized industrial relations system that stifled workers’ initiative and militancy on the shop floor. Unions traded away their disruptive rank-and-file power for an NLRA that shackled unions as contract administrators and eventually enabled their decline.

Ness shares the syndicalist view that disrupting production is what makes employers yield. Empowered workers should be free to stop work at any time, not hindered by the no-strike clauses and multi-step grievance procedures contained in most union contracts. Without this kind of militancy, he believes, there’s little chance of a revived labor movement.

If Ness is correct, the initiatives the U.S. labor movement has developed over the last few decades—more resources for new organizing, better corporate campaigns, increased turnout for elections—will not be enough. Instead, to make room for the widespread, combative workplace activism we need, unions will have to rethink our attitude toward rank-and-file power.

Of course this is risky. Strikes are often hard to win. Workers can usually be fired easily, no matter how organizing is done or who does it. But the resurgence of a participatory, syndicalist approach to organizing could provide a much-needed spark for labor.

Eric Dirnbach is a union staffer and labor activist in New York City.

- See more at: http://www.labornotes.org/blogs/2014/10/review-alt-labor-or-not-it-will-take-rank-and-file-power-revive-us#sthash.pEZlw0kP.dpuf

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Immanuel Ness's Author Page




Positive Force: More Than A Witness reviewed on Scanner Zine

Scanner Zine
November 10th, 2015

POSITIVE FORCE: MORE THAN A WITNESS {PM Press} Subtitled ‘30 Years of Punk Politics in Action, this 69 minute documentary recounts the story of Washington DC’s branch of the Positive Force collective. Directed by Robin Bell, it expertly mixes vintage footage amidst the story of the activist collective (which exists to aid, from a DIY Punk perspective, issues such as sexism, homophobia, homelessness, globalization and more), this is both an informative and inspiring documentary.

Opening with footage from an infamous homeless march to City Hall, DC in 1993, the documentary constantly fuses sharp, flashing graphics of flyers and pictures into the narrative. It’s a stunning way to start matters and soon we see Penny Rimbaud of CRASS being interviewed. The spectre of CRASS, in terms of politics and ethics, is certainly evident in the early days of the collective. The very ideal of Punk and what Positive Force aims to be is encapsulated in a couple of quotes recounted by one of the Collective’s most vocal founders, Mark Anderson. These are Karl Marx’s "Revolution has to begin in the ruthless criticism of everything existing," and Mikhail Bakunin’s "The destructive urge is also a creative urge."

From there, the film looks at the Revolution Summer movement, the Positive Force House, FBI harassment and the importance of FUGAZI to the continued progression of the collective. What is also apparent is the importance of Anderson throughout the collective’s early stages. It’s stated there were debates about the two polarising polemics of those in the collective - the organise side and the ‘fuck-shit-up’ train of thought. It seems both existed in relative harmony, but Anderson managed to galvanise those ideals into one movement.

Riot Grrrl is discussed in depth and when Punk hit the mainstream the ethical contradictions between corporate Punk and the DIY ethos becomes prevalent. Matters reached a crux in 2005 when some of the founding Anarcho-influenced Punks left and moved to a bookshop, while those remaining with the collective allied itself with ‘We Are Family’ - a group of primarily senior citizens working toward ensuing DC’s elderly are cared for.

Bell’s direction has crammed a lot into the film and his mix of live performances (from the likes of FUGAZI, 7 SECONDS, RITES OF SPRING, SCREAM, SOULSIDE, BIKINI KILL, ANTI-FLAG) and interviews with the Collective and more notable names (Ian MacKaye, Jello Biafra, Dave Grohl, Danbert Nobacon, Ted Leo, Jeff Nelson) works incredibly well. Its narrative is concise and focused yet allows for a range of views from those directly involved, and often those views are contradictory from a personal perspective.

Besides the main film, there is a bounty of extras too. First up is another PF documentary but from 1991. It acts more like a prequel to the main film and lacks its continuity but it does accentuate the residents of the PF house at the time and includes an electrifying, intense FUGAZI performance. Then there is a documentary about the We Are Family group, followed by an outtake from the main film that discusses the debatable importance of Punk Voter that includes some footage of a riot that resulted from an ANTI FLAG gig. The final extra is some live performances from the likes of CHUMBAWAMBA, 7 SECONDS, FUGAZI, BEEFEATER and more.

The main documentary alone should inspire anyone who believes in the positivity of Punk and its power of personal and political change. For those who do not believe in that positivity - watch and be educated. Add on all those extras and you have a DVD that can be viewed many times with each viewing spawning new detail and successive inspiration.

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Sisters of the Revolution: A Feminist Speculative Fiction Anthology review - a diverse celebration

By Keith Brooke
The Guardian (UK)
October 9th, 2015

Editors Ann and Jeff VanderMeer have brought together a fine anthology featuring emerging authors such as Nnedi Okorafor and established voices including Angela Carter and Octavia Butler


As a selection of fiction with an explicit political slant, Sisters of the Revolution runs the risk of being straitjacketed by its agenda. Fortunately, the editors have searched far and wide for source material, turning a collection that might have been worthy but dull into a diverse celebration of speculative fiction. The stories here were written between the 1970s and the present day, with emerging authors such as Nnedi Okorafor side by side with established voices including Angela Carter and Octavia Butler. Highlights include Kelley Eskridge’s tale of an actor equally at home playing John the Baptist or Salome, a story of gender fluidity heavy with desire; James Tiptree Jr’s “The Screwfly Solution”, a chilling account of society falling apart as men’s sexual and violent impulses combine; and Carter’s masterful examination of the Lizzie Borden case, a vivid depiction of life in the 19th century, when three women could be owned by one man through marriage, birth or contract. This is a fine anthology, regardless of genre or politics.

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Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s a Punk History Reading List

By Susie Rodarme
BookRiot
August 11th, 2015

Even though it predates my existence by a few years, I’ve always been drawn to punk. (Are you surprised? Maybe, if you saw my country music reading list.) I’m clearly not the only one; punk has become pervasive in our culture but somehow manages to retain its edge in a day and age when you can see mostly-naked-people and zombies on TV. You can still read about Iggy Pop’s early performances and say, “Whoa, that guy was hardcore.”

I’ve been reading a lot about punk history in the past few years, since I missed experiencing it live (bummer). Here are some rocking good punk history reads:

Histories

Punk History

One of the things about punk is that, if you ask different people what “punk” is, they’re going to come up with totally different answers. There’s NYC punk, LA punk, London punk, Bay Area punk. There’s proto-punk and post-punk and a lot of genrepunks. Thus, there’s no real definitive history of punk tome that one can point to, but a lot of good ones that encompass different movements.

Please Kill Me: An Uncensored Oral History of Punk by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain is a personal favorite of mine; it intertwines music with concurrent art and poetry, which were hard to separate in the beginning of the punk movement. It covers mainly the New York/Detroit scene, but dips into LA/London as well. Both Please Kill Me and Punk Rock: An Oral History by John Robb weave anecdotes from real punk rockers to tell a story that emerges out of the deep roots of punk rock.

Another history, From the Velvets to the Voidoids: The Birth of American Punk Rock by Clinton Heylin, has a more scholarly (and some say, snobby . . . YMMV) tone but is jam-packed with information about bands and delves more deeply into the Detroit and Cleveland punk scenes.

punkhistory2

For local flavor, We Got the Neutron Bomb : The Untold Story of L.A. Punk by Marc Spitz and Gimme Something Better: The Profound, Progressive, and Occasionally Pointless History of Bay Area Punk from Dead Kennedys to Green Day by Jack Boulware and Silke Tudor both focus on west coast punk. England’s Dreaming: Anarchy, Sex Pistols, Punk Rock, and Beyond by Jon Savage is considered one of the best tomes out there on the London punk scene.

Memoirs

Punk memoirs

The great thing about the literacy overlap of the punk movement is that we have great writers who also made great music. Patti Smith’s memoir Just Kids was a critical success when it dropped in 2010; her ex-boyfriend Jim Carroll’s second memoir Forced Entries is less famous than its predecessor, The Basketball Diaries, but is probably my favorite punk era memoir. (Then again, I’ve had a Jim Carroll obsession since middle school and I may be biased.) D.H. Peligro wrote about his experiences in The Dead Kennedys in Dreadnaught: King of Afropunk (bonus: he also played with the Red Hot Chili Peppers). Richard Hell mused on the nature of rock and roll in I Dreamed I Was A Very Clean Tramp. Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon wrote about being a Girl in a Band and Viv Albertine’s raw look at male-dominated punk in Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys. lays the foundation of the Riot Grrl movement to come.

Media, Interviews, and Ephemera

Punk ephemera

The era of punk was also the era of DIY culture (no, not the stuff you see on HGTV–not that I don’t love me some HGTV), and that meant DIY media and zines. The Best of Punk Magazine highlights some of the great interviews, photos, and art put out by the publication that helped popularize the term “punk.” MOJO Magazine put out their own collection, Punk: The Whole Story, and Tesco Vee and Dave Stimson collected 22 issues of their zine in Touch and Go: The Complete Hardcore Punk Zine ’79-’83. If you’re into post-punk (Joy Division, Talking Heads, The Specials), Simon Reynolds’ compilation of interviews in Totally Wired will be well-thumbed in a hurry.

If you’re into pictures (and who isn’t?), Punk Press: Rebel Rock in the Underground Press 1968-1980 and CBGB & OMFUG: Thirty Years from the Home of Underground Rock will provide hours of pleasure. (CBGB was Hilly Kristal’s attempt at a country and western music venue that accidentally birthed punk rock instead. Whoops!) Once you get through those, Jon Savage’s collections Punk 45: Original Punk Rock Singles Cover Art and Punk: An Aesthetic will help fill the punk void.

If you’re not completely punked out at this point, A Cultural Dictionary of Punk, 1974-1982 by Nicholas Rombes is an “obsessive[ly], exhaustively researched” yet subjective and personal dictionary of punk that people hail as being absolutely brilliant.

These are my go-to titles for people who want to immerse themselves in punk or venture into the punk realm for the first time, but they’re by no means exhaustive. If you have favorite punk titles, let me know in the comments!



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Stealing All Transmissions A Rw in Louder than Warevie

By Dave Jennings
Louder Than War
February 19th, 2015

Stealing All Transmissions: A Secret History of the Clash is a brilliant account of the rise of The Clash and their impact on America, with a foreword from Barry ‘The Baker’ Auguste. Louder Than War’s Dave Jennings reviews.

Randal Doane has produced a superb account from an American viewpoint of the development of one of the iconic punk bands and placed their career and legacy firmly in context, not just of their time, but in the wider picture of the history of Rock.

First up is a brilliant foreword from Clash roadie and confidante, Barry ‘The Baker’ Auguste. The Baker weaves an intriguing narrative of life with the band, from their early London roots to US sports stadiums. The reality of touring at the time is brought starkly into focus, none more so than when he describes the daily chore of scraping the previous night’s gob off amps and drums. ‘The Baker’ is ideally placed to recount the massive highs of Clash live shows and the mundane life between the shows. However, maybe his most perceptive comments emphasise the importance of this book in not just  chronicling the meteoric rise of The Clash in America, but also the importance of those who paved the way for this to happen.

Throughout this riveting narrative, we learn not just about the rise of The Clash from the cradle of UK Punk, but also the development and relevance of the phenomenon of ‘free-form radio’. This is essentially the rise of FM radio in 1960’s America which developed as a reaction to the DJ’s on AM radio who were simply pulling playlists from a small pool of well-known hit songs. DJ’s like Meg Griffin and Jane Hamburger emerge as unsung heroes for their determination to push an alternative to the celebrity-obsessed mainstream agenda. New York regional radio started increasingly playing the likes of Television, Talking Heads, Ramones and The Clash which was integral to paving the way for the success of The Clash in America. In fact, when free-form radio began to struggle New York’s WNEW effectively contrasted their playlist of over ten thousand records with that of WPLJ, their main rival, which consisted of a playlist of around thirty LP’s.

Meanwhile, over in the UK, the rise of The Clash is examined in the wider context. Doane identifies The Ramones as the single most important band that changed Punk Rock as after their debut album came out, all English bands tripled their speed overnight. The Clash were at  the forefront of the UK punk explosion, influenced by Bernie Rhodes mantra that they should not write love songs, but what was affecting them. Joe Strummer, who said that he realised his former band, The 101’ers, were dead the first time he saw The Sex Pistols, was the lyrical powerhouse assisted by what he called “the genius arrangements” of Mick Jones. The author states that the songs on the first Clash album are exactly what Punk should be, full on tracks that end at full volume and don’t fade out.

As big an impact as the band were having in the UK, their supporters across the pond were vigorously championing the band. Robert Christagu, Music Editor for New York magazine The Village Voice, called the debut Clash album “notoriously under-produced” and it was only released in the UK as CBS deemed the sound quality too low for US radio. Christagu, however, advised his readers to snap up import copies of this classic while they could which exemplifies the growing interest in the band in America.

While a certain view in the UK was that “Punk died the day The Clash Signed for CBS”, the band saw the move as a way to reach wider audiences in America. Maybe the widening gap between how the band were viewed in America, compared to their home country is best illustrated by reaction to Give ‘em Enough Rope. Described in the US as having “more guitars per square inch than anything in the history of Western civilisation”, the record was slammed in the UK with NME describing them as “a dying myth” and Melody Maker stating ”so do they squander their greatness”.  Lester Bangs writing in New York’s Village Voice however, described them as “the greatest Rock and Roll band left standing”. We are left to question whether America actually “got” The Clash more than their home country did after the initial surge of punk subsided.

There is a compelling description of The Clash’s two night stint at the New York Palladium in 1979 which vividly describes the opening of the show and reminds us what this book is essentially about, the music. An intro tape of Frank Sinatra’s High Hopes gave way to Simonon’s driving bass and Jones’s feedback drenched guitar as an opening salvo of Safe European Homes, I’m So Bored With the USA and Complete Control rang round the venue. Critics enthused about the tightness and overall quality of the live performance alongside the band’s attempts to involve the audience. However, it may have been the reluctance of the audience to engage that led to the iconic shot of Simonon’s bass smashing that adorns the cover of London Calling and this book.

By 1980, The Clash were embarking on a three week residency on Times Square and, in the words of Don Letts “practically ran New York for the time they were there. They graduated to playing stadiums and claimed America as their own, also paving the way for the likes of The Police, U2 and other ‘New Wave’ acts who would go on to play to large US audiences. The effect The Clash had on American music fans was undoubtedly massive, a fact underlined to me when talking to Patterson Hood of The Drive By Truckers and he explained how big an impact they had had on him and his approach to song-writing,

However, maybe the most poignant aspect of this absorbing account is the posing of the question, have we lost the likes of The Clash for ever? Could a band follow a similar career path with a similar philosophy today? The world and how we access music has undoubtedly changed beyond recognition from the time of The Clash, but we can still hope to see a band hurtling through full-on performances, singing songs that matter so much to them and their audience, can’t we? Maybe then the reality of who The Clash were, and the scope of what they achieved, which is captured brilliantly by Randal Doane in these pages, will be brought home vividly to a new generation.

~

You can purchase Stealing All Transmissions: A Secret History of The Clash here. Randall can also be found on Twitter as @stealingclash.

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One Chord Wonders on Louder than War

By Adrian Bloxham
Louder than War

October 2nd, 2015

One Chord Wonders was first published in 1985, in a new preface Dave Laing states that he has had many requests for copies from both scholars and fans who could not find the out of print edition. It is essentially unchanged from the former publication. Dave also says that he would be thrilled if hos book finds a place alongside other excellent chronicles of punk. Louder Than War’s Adrian Bloxham has been reading it, read what he thinks below.

One Chord Wonders was originally published nine years after the initial explosion of the cultural movement that we know and love as Punk. This means that it isn’t looking back to far to understand those heady days, we aren’t looking at a view from thirty years on crusted over and half forgotten, we a looking at a viewpoint from a decent amount of time to give a fair perspective on the times.
It has an introduction by TV Smith who states that ‘There are many books that describe what happened during the Punk era. A few even dare to ask questions about it. Here at last is one that provides some answers.’

It’s a dry read, very factual and informative. This puts it in a class of its own really. I’ve read lots of books about music and Punk in general but most of those are emotionally charged and visceral. This is a reasoned and well researched history of those times, it explains where the movement came from and how it fitted into the social patterns of the times.

There’s a very informative section on how the music industry worked at the time and how Punk moved away from that and the independent sector was created. It talks about where the names for the bands came from, their image and the wider influences of Punk. One section that intrigued me was when the author compared the subjects tackled in the songs on the first few punk records with the subjects sung about in the top 40 of the time.

It makes you think about where it all came from and what it meant at the time and that I feel is the reason for the book. Well worth reading if you are interested and intrigued by those days of anarchic one chord wonders.

~

You can buy a copy of the book from the PM Press website.

All words by Adrian Bloxham. More writing by Adrian can be found at his author’s archive.


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New book ‘Jewish Noir’ serves up tales of crime and other dark deeds

By lyn davidson
JWeekly
October 8th, 2015

Jews and the noir genre have a lot in common, says Kenneth Wishnia, editor of the new book “Jewish Noir: Contemporary Tales of Crime and Other Dark Deeds.”

The dark themes of the noir genre — alienation, outsider status, fighting against an unjust or hostile society — resonate throughout Jewish history, says the Long Island-based editor. “We have this history of angry prophets telling the leaders, ‘You’re not doing your job,’ ” Wishnia says.


Look at Moses, the quintessential Jewish leader who did God’s bidding all his life and then was barred from entering Canaan for what might be considered a minor offense — striking a rock instead of just speaking to it.

“He sees the Promised Land and God says, ‘By the way, you’re not going.’ … Talk about noir,” says Wishnia. “In Judaism,” as in noir, “you can follow the right path and still get screwed.”


“Jewish Noir,” published this month by PM Press, is an anthology of 32 stories on Jewish themes including ethnic identity and the challenges of assimilation, the Jewish presence in the civil rights movement, and echoes of pogroms and the Holocaust. The characters are tough Jewish cops and gangsters, stereotypically predatory Jewish businessmen, the corrupt, the obsessed, the downtrodden, the tarnished heroines and the anti-heroes.
jnoir3

“Many Jews were drawn to film noir because of the theme of being hunted to death,” says Wishnia, a novelist and writing instructor at a New York community college.


Many of the stories were solicited by Wishnia specifically for this anthology. Others are reprints of sparkling noir tales from the past, including a Yiddish-influenced story from World War I New York and a tale by famed sci-fi writer Harlan Ellison. Four of the writers are based in Northern California.


By the 20th century, Wishnia says, both Jews and the noir genre had developed an identity centered in “not being at home anywhere in the world, feeling persecuted irrationally, having this sense of not being sane and settled, but that any day they could turn on you, like in [the 1903 pogroms of] Kishinev.”


Or, as a Yiddish proverb says, “A Jew’s joy is not without fright.”


Berkeley resident and contributor Summer Brenner knows about persecution, and her fury propels her writing. “I knew the world was divided into black and white,” she says of her childhood in the well-to-do Buckhead district of Atlanta. Her family attended the city’s famed Temple (Hebrew Benevolent Congregation), which was bombed in 1958 by white supremacists. “I grew up really aware at a young age of the apartheid world I grew up in,” she says.

Kenneth Wishnia and companion at work  photo/leah wishnia
Kenneth Wishnia and companion at work photo/leah wishnia

“I want to cut open the belly of the beast and cut out the organs and throw them in your face,” Brenner says in the elegant, soft-spoken tones of her Southern upbringing. Writing is “almost like a surgical procedure.”


Brenner’s just-completed novel, “Devil for a Witch,” is the basis for her story of the same name in this collection. Set in the 1960s civil rights era, it concerns a corrupt Atlanta Jewish business owner who fakes his suicide in an FBI pact and assumes a new identity as a bigot to infiltrate a violent hate group. The “devil for a witch,” says Brenner, is “when circumstances present themselves where you can make a change.”


Wishnia picked Brenner to lead off “Jewish Noir” for a reason. “She’s really able to create guys you want to strangle.”


Now a grandmother, Brenner channels her passion for social justice into young adult novels about the African American and Latino communities of Richmond and Oakland. Those books are on Common Core reading lists in local schools. Her 2009 novel “I-5,” for adults, came from her reading of heartrending news stories about sex trafficking.


“A good crime book is a great social critique,” says Brenner. Noir adds “an element of discomfort. It can hit you in the head, it can sock you in the mouth, it can kick your ass down the street. There’s something about noir that has some kind of assault.”


Berkeley writer Michael Cooper, whose work also appears in the new anthology, sees noir as paradox — hope hidden in darkness.


“Jewish noir obviously speaks very loudly and clearly to us as a people, given our trauma,” he says. Noir is “what we’re experiencing looking at the world.”


Cooper’s story, “Good Morning, Jerusalem 1948,” posits 20-something Palmach commander Yitzhak Rabin as a noir hero trying to keep a book of archaeological diagrams from falling into the hands of a postwar Nazi conspiracy. The story reworks part of Cooper’s recent novel “Foxes in the Vineyard.”


In many ways, says Cooper, Rabin was a noir hero. The former Israeli prime minister, assassinated by a right-wing Israeli Jew at a peace rally in 1995, “appeared in the ’90s to really be coming back into his own, not just in war, but also in peace … His ultimate end was poetically sad.”


A Berkeley native, Cooper — born in 1948, the same year as Israel — grew up Zionist and moved to Israel in 1966, attending Hebrew University and earning his medical degree at Tel Aviv University. He returned to Berkeley in 1977 and worked as a pediatric cardiologist at Kaiser Permanente and UCSF for decades, and still works part-time with UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital. Cooper volunteers for medical missions in Israel and the West Bank, where he does diagnostic triage for Palestinian children.


Rabin’s assassination, and the peace process leading up to it, propelled Cooper’s writing and his worldview. “There hasn’t arisen a figure with the bravery and the credentials that Rabin possessed to bring us back to that tactic in an ultimately successful way,” he says. Out of that sense of despair, Cooper says, “the writing came almost naturally.”


Wishnia’s own story in “Jewish Noir” is based on the experience of his politically progressive parents when they were  part of the Jewish minority at Ivy League colleges in 1948. His father, victimized by hazing for refusing to wear his college’s freshman beanie, still finds it hard to discuss the incident, which is fictionalized in Wishnia’s story.

Wishnia, 55, sees two branches of noir. “Classic noir is often very much just the ‘Double Indemnity’ sort of thing … A couple get on this subway car going straight to hell and ignore all the screaming red signs saying, ‘Turn back!’ They keep on going straight to the end.”


The other kind of noir involves “the ordinary guy who just by some complete accident of fate ends up in trouble. Destroyed by, perhaps, a femme fatale or the system.” In the 1950s, Wishnia says, that scenario was “a metaphor for McCarthyism,” the anti-communist witch hunt that targeted a fair number of Jewish Americans.


“It’s no coincidence that a lot of the blacklisted filmmakers and directors were making film noir,” says Eddie Muller, a San Francisco native behind the city’s Noir City Film Festival and founder of the Film Noir Foundation.


“When these films were originally made, they caused a big uproar because they were saying things about society that were previously off limits,” says Muller, who contributed the short story “Doc’s Oscar” to the new anthology. “They were saying there was corruption at the core of the culture.” 


The model for his story’s hero is Frank King, one of three larger-than-life brothers, movie producers all, whom Muller wrote about in his nonfiction book “Gun Crazy.” Even as much of Hollywood shied away from hiring blacklisted artists and writers, King gave work to screenwriter Dalton Trumbo (nicknamed “Doc”) after Trumbo refused to “name names” in a McCarthy-era hearing. 


Noir, Muller says, involves “the keeping of secrets, the stepping over the line into the dark … The most un-noir thing a person can do in a story is call the police.”


Like several of the writers in the anthology, Muller isn’t Jewish; his two Irish grandmothers made sure the kids were raised Catholic. Muller’s “sliver” of Jewishness comes from his maternal grandfather. His father was a legendary sports writer at the San Francisco Examiner who changed his name from Vojkovich when he was told no one would run stories under such a byline — an immigrant experience shared by many Jews.


To Muller, film noir “looked like my dad’s home movies.” Growing up, Muller was fascinated by his father’s cronies, “guys from another time. I don’t want to say they were gangsters, but tough guys in a tough racket.”


Only 23 when his father died, Muller says that as a young writer he felt “I [had] to keep the past alive for people.” His novels “The Distance” and “The Shadow Boxer” put boxing center-ring. 


The immigrant experience features largely in “The Legacy,” a short story by historian and Edgar Allen Poe Award-winning author Wendy Hornsby, who relocated to the Sierra foothills two years ago after teaching at Long Beach City College and Cal State Long Beach.


Hornsby’s tale features a young Jewish American woman fighting her way out of the Soviet Union in 1952 with a secret cache of czarist treasure.


“Think of the great events of the 20th century,” Hornsby says. “Huge upheavals, horrible disruption of two world wars and the profound Depression, this diaspora of people in the late 1800s and continuing into the 20th century.”


Hornsby found the germ of her story in her own garden. “People are still around here panning for gold, and some are finding gold. We moved into a house where a family with children used to live, and they left things behind: plastic beads and Hot Wheels cars, toy soldiers with one arm. I was thinking about treasure hunting — when you have something of great value, where do you put that when no institutions are secure?”


The author, who grew up Methodist in the San Gabriel Valley, says that in noir, “there is an assumption that there is an outsider class and that the officials, the insiders, are corrupt, not to be depended upon. So the way that one finds a way in the world, justice in the world, protects themselves and their family, is by finding a way around that corrupt officialdom.”


To Hornsby, 68, “Noir is a dark time. I saw a photo not long ago of the refugees from Europe into North Africa, into Israel, just after World War II. … The parallels [to our own time] are stark — the resistance, the fighting, the xenophobia.


 “I like the tone of the noir genre,” she says, “the structure, the assumption that you don’t know anything about anybody, and you can’t really trust anybody.”

Bay Area book talks

Writers featured in “Jewish Noir” will hold readings at several Bay Area venues this month.

  • Summer Brenner, Melanie Dante and Stephen Jay Schwartz will read from “Jewish Noir” and discuss crime and Jewish fiction from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 15 at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, 736 Mission St., S.F.
  • Kenneth Wishnia, local writers Michael Cooper, Eddie Muller, Brenner and L.A.-based Schwartz will read from their stories at 7 p.m. Oct. 28 at Books Inc., 1491 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley.
  • Wishnia, Brenner, Cooper, Muller, Wendy Hornsby and others will appear at 7 p.m. Oct. 30 at Green Apple Books, 506 Clement St., S.F.
  • Wishnia will discuss “Jewish Noir” at 7 p.m. Oct. 31 at Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera, and a talk and book signing will be held at 3 p.m. Nov. 1 at Congregation B’nai Shalom, 74 Eckley Lane, Walnut Creek.

For additional readings: http://www.kennethwishnia.com

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