Dog Days Classics: Digging Joan Didion in the Age of Feelings

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In her review of 2015’s The Last Love Song, Tracy Daugherty’s biography of famed writer Joan Didion, Meghan Daum noted the influence that the California essayist and novelist cast upon many a writer over the years. That The Last Love Song serves as the only biography of Didion, she noted, seemed odd. “Given the number of writers who, especially early in their literary lives, go through a period of Didion-mania intense enough to put most of her vital statistics permanently at their fingertips (the rain-soaked silk curtains in the apartment on 75th Street! the house on Franklin Avenue! the Corvette!),” Daum wrote, “you would think we’d have seen at least as many biographies of her in the past … [Read more...]

Sexual Equality: Los Angeles, the Military Industrial Complex, and the Gay Liberation Movement

ONE Magazine front cover, volume 1, number 9, September 1953

When we talk about advances in civil and gay rights, we often talk in terms of famous firsts: Los Angeles' first Black Mayor Tom Bradley or the state's first openly gay elected official, San Francisco's Harvey Milk. Yet, the struggles of average folk lay the groundwork for these larger victories and it is their stories that rarely get told. In 1975, one obscure Southern California gay man fought the good fight and in doing so achieved a triumph that would bring new rights and job opportunities for homosexual men and women across the U.S. Forty years ago, Rancho Palos Verdes resident and computer defense systems analyst Otis Francis Tabler challenged both the federal government's security … [Read more...]

“Even Richard Nixon has got soul”: Evan Thomas’s take on the late President in “Being Nixon”

Nixon bumper sticker, circa 1962 - 1968, David Broder Papers, Manuscript Division Library of Congress

In 1976, Pat Nixon, wife of the former President, suffered a stroke. Television cameras caught a distraught Richard Nixon propelling himself through a set of hospital revolving doors. Musician Neil Young watched the scene unfold from afar and took pity on the disgraced president, penning what would become the song “Campaigner” and offering Nixon a slice of humanity: Hospitals have made him cry But there’s always a freeway in his eye Though his beach got too crowded for a stroll. Roads stretch out like healthy veins And wild gift horses strain the reins Where even Richard Nixon has got soul. The Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young member and solo artist proved an unlikely source of … [Read more...]

Nixonian Trump?: The Similarities and Differences between The Donald and Tricky Dick

Jose Perez and Robert F. Patton, Nixon/Agnew Coloring Book, 1969, David S. Broder papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

In a satirical take on the 1968 election, Jose Perez and Robert F. Patton produced The Nixon-Agnew Coloring Book, in which Hubert Humphrey in the form of a bird named “Hubird” narrated events and instructed readers on how to decorate the characters therein. Having lost to Dick Nixon in the ’68 race, Hubird admitted the new president had worked for it: “This is President Nixon. See him run, And run, and run, and run. He finally made it. Color him Patient.” Later in the book, Hubird basically calls Nixon a used car salesman, but you get the idea.[1] Nixon secured victory—301 electoral votes to Humphrey’s 191 and George Wallace’s 45, with less than 45 percent of the popular vote. In … [Read more...]

Doc Sportello and the Dude: Separated at Birth?

Doc Sportello and the Dude

When I heard that Paul Thomas Anderson would be translating a Thomas Pynchon novel for the the screen, I could not help but be excited. Here was one of today’s most ambitious and talented filmmakers interpreting an author of such dazzling obscurantism that his novels were generally considered by critics to be the acme of unfilmable.  It was like the unstoppable force finally met the immovable object.  Who would prevail? The answer was probably not Anderson.  The film adaptation of Inherent Vice only made back $14.7 million on its $20 million budget, though it earned a respectable 74% approval from critics on Rotten Tomatoes.  The movie was universally ignored by the award shows and seemed … [Read more...]

Los Angeles Black Worker Center Pushes for Inclusion

Workers learn about apprenticeship, training and job opportunities. The LABWC addresses the black job crisis by actively working to increase access to quality jobs, reduce employment discrimination, and improve industries that employ Black workers through action and unionization. Photo courtesy of the LABWC.

LeDaya Epps grew up in foster care until adolescence. When she finished high school, bouncing from job to job with no real career path, she struggled to land steady employment. By 2010, she had three children to care for as well and prospects looked tough. Then in 2013, the Los Angeles Black Workers Center along with a coalition of partners including LA County Federation of Labor and LA/OC Building and Construction Trades and LAANE, successfully negotiated an employment agreement with the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA,) her life changed. For years, the city had been expanding its subway and light rail systems; the Crenshaw/LAX Light Rail Train that runs through several … [Read more...]

Black History Month Part III: Race, Taxes and Schools in Compton, CA

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“To be educated in my Baltimore mostly meant always packing an extra number 2 pencil and working quietly,” writes Ta-Nehisi Coates in his recent work, Between the World and Me. “Educated children walked in single file and on the right side of the hallway, raised their hands to use the lavatory, and carried the lavatory pass when en route. Educated children never offered excuses – certainly not childhood itself. The world had no time for the childhoods of black boys and girls. How could the schools?”[1] Coates’ work, amounts to a long rueful, cautionary love letter to his son, describing his own upbringing in West Baltimore, coming of age at The Mecca (aka Howard University in Washington, … [Read more...]

Transforming the Military Amidst Austerity: The 1970s and the All Volunteer Army in Jennifer Mittelstadt’s The Rise of the Military Welfare State (Part I)

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In 1974, in the wake of the nation’s retreat from Vietnam and the institution of the all volunteer military, President Gerald Ford and Congress agreed to end the long-standing G.I. Bill. It cost too much, critics suggested, particularly in an era of austerity. Moreover, veterans no longer needed it. In the context of a volunteer force, many argued, soldiers would make careers of the military and the adjustment to civilian life in peace time would not be so severe as to warrant the costly provisions of the bill. Needless to say, army leaders sharply disagreed, warning that the number and quality of recruits would decline. “I told you I could make the volunteer army work, but I never told you … [Read more...]

From South Gate to L.A. Live: Demographic Change, Homeowner Ethos and Redevelopment in Southeastern Los Angeles

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When Becky Nicolaides chairs or comments on a panel, people show up. The author of the now seminal My Blue Heaven: Life and Politics in the Working Class Suburbs of Los Angeles, 1920-1965 always draws a crowd. As her book has assumed a sort of Crabgrass Nation status, the suburb at the heart of it, South Gate, has become an ur-text for Southeast Los Angeles more broadly. Nicolaides ended her study in 1965 but in her epilogue noted that twenty-first-century South Gate now served as a predominantly working-class Latino American suburb, representative of larger structural shifts in economics, demographics, and perhaps even immigration (though commentator Philip Ethington might differ on this … [Read more...]

SACRPH 2015: The Politics (and Non-Politics) of the Unplanned City in the US, UK, and Germany

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Panels at conferences often feel like a hastily assembled mishmash of different things, like a fruit salad made by Mr. Magoo. Scholars who do not know each other and know less about each other’s research work together over email to try to slap together panel proposals that seem just plausible enough to pass muster with weary conference organizers, who have papers to grade, toddlers with runny noses, and annoying emails from students to answer. (In my best John Oliver voice: If the reading is listed next to the class date on the syllabus, you read it BEFORE CLASS on that day Jeremy!) But occasionally you get to see a panel where all the papers interlock in meaningful and intellectually … [Read more...]